This chapter stuns me every time I read it. Correction: stuns my self-righteousness every time I read it. How, my interior monologue wonders, can Abram and Sarai be the only ones in the universe unable to see that the Hagar plan is not going to end well? I think we’re meant to have that reaction to the folly of their unbelief precisely so that our own foolish unbelief can come into view.
I need to be honest: the logic of unbelief often presents itself as the most sensible of alternatives. Just as it did for Sarai and Abram. If Genesis 15 recorded Abram’s struggle with the gap between the massive promises of God he had been given and the reality he was living, Genesis 16 gives us a window into Sarai’s side of the same struggle.
They were in a difficult position. Holding the promise of God in one hand while finding themselves in what looked like–to the naked eye, anyway–like a dead end with no possibility of fulfillment in the other. So, as time goes by, not only do impatience and anxious longing rise, but also, perhaps, some significant measure of self-doubt: “Did we hear or understand that correctly?”
The irony of their plan is that it appears to be pursuing fulfillment of the promise. They rationalize their decision as walking toward the promise of God, not away from it. I might know someone who’s done that once or twice.
They’ve forgotten (as Maria and I often remind one another) that efficiency is not one of the Lord’s core values. Not because He can’t be, but because process often proves one of His preferred methods for bringing glory to Himself and good to His people. I’ve read about people like Abram and Sarai.
In effect, Abram and Sarai measure the promise of God according to the realities” of their situation. They act in a way that amputates the most dramatic aspects of God’s promise to them. I might know someone quite well who repeats this same mistake over and over again.
I recently came across the following quote regarding unbelief that summarizes well the “logic” of Abram and Sarai’s unbelief in this chapter:
“All unbelief is foolishness, for it takes such wisdom as its own finite perception can attain, and measuring infinity by that petty scale, concludes that what it cannot understand must be impossible. Unbelief is the result of incapacity engaged in argument.”
St. Hilary of Poitiers (c. AD 315—67)