Bad Timing, Bad Results

“Hagar and Ishmael Sent Away,” woodblock print, Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1860.

Genesis 16:1-6 (NRSV)

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.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her slave-girl, and gave her to her husband Abram as a wife. He went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress. Then Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my slave-girl to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the Lord judge between you and me!” But Abram said to Sarai, “Your slave-girl is in your power; do to her as you please.” Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she ran away from her.


This piece of a larger story can sound foreign, but there is a behavior within that should be familiar to us.

In the previous chapter in Genesis, we hear the Lord make powerful, ceremonially bound promises to the man we now know as Abraham, including the promise of a son. This son was to result in an uncountable multitude of descendants.

While no details were given regarding how the son would be born, there also were no codicils added to the promise—God simply told Abraham, “No one but your very own issue shall be your heir.”

Rather than simply accepting the promise, the ancient man and his old wife, who believed she was far beyond child-bearing years, tried to figure out what they must do to make the promise come true. The plan to impregnate a young servant sprang from Sarai’s mind, but her husband, who had witnessed God’s dramatically presented covenant, did nothing to dissuade her.

What ensues is a story of rivalry, jealousy, and some painful choices that have to be made once the real child of promise arrives.

Need I say it? God’s timing is what matters, not ours. In our haste, in our eagerness to see things the way we want them to be, we may take some of the shine off the miracle that will eventually happen.

It seems to me that the best strategy is to be faithful in our everyday tasks, trusting that God will lead us to better places and situations than we could ever devise on our own.

Lord, we are all afraid to pray for patience, but we do need it. May we rejoice one day in how perfect your timing has been throughout history. Amen.

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