Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, bore him no children. She had an Egyptian slave-girl whose name was Hagar, and Sarai said to Abram, “You see that the LORD has prevented me from bearing children; go in to my slave-girl; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.”
When I led a Bible Study on the Book of Genesis recently, one woman exclaimed, “This is better than a soap opera! I had no idea the Bible had such characters, and such stories. What have I been missing?” She spoke for many of us who were enthralled with the family saga that unfolds in Genesis.
As Jesus knew, when you want to teach something true and meaningful, tell a story. The Book of Genesis is deservedly exalted and respected, and it is also a great, compelling story…and not always a “G-rated” one. It is an earthy tale of love and betrayal, a drama that does not shy away from passion, rage, or jealousy.
This vignette, “A Tale of Two Women,” begins with Sarai offering her slave-girl Hagar to Abram, and evolves into a vivid example of the proverb, “No kindness goes unpunished.” It’s the story of good intentions turning sour, of the emotional pitfall of a “selfless” act, and it’s as timely today as the day it was written.
After ten years in Canaan with no sign of pregnancy, Sarai takes matters into her own hands and “gives” Hagar to Abram (a rather common ancient Near Eastern practice; Hagar would be a surrogate mother and the son, should there be one, would legally be Sarai and Abram’s). Abram readily agrees (imagine how Sarai felt about that!), and soon a son, Ishmael, is born. Things go steadily downhill from there.
Sarai becomes intensely jealous and ultimately insists that Abram ban the boy and Hagar from the community. He does, and they go into the wilderness where God intervenes to save Ishmael as he is perishing from thirst. Meanwhile, back in Abram’s family tent, Sarai is left to ruminate on the outcome of her action, and I can sympathize with her.
Whether it is being overcommitted to “good causes,” or overestimating my ability to handle emotionally charged family situations, I know the consequences of thinking I am equal to anything I have taken on. I am not.
Enable me, dear Lord, to honor my vulnerabilities as well as my abilities. Amen.
Copyright © 2010 Margaret Jones.