1 ¶ Now Sarai Abram’s wife bare him no children: and she had an handmaid, an Egyptian, whose name was Hagar. 2 And Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, the LORD hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai. 3 And Sarai Abram’s wife took Hagar her maid the Egyptian, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife.
Sarai acknowledges that her not having children is God’s will at that point. God has restrained her from having a child. How many modern Christian women acknowledge God’s hand in something like this? Since the time of Isaac Newton, Christians have reduced God to the First Cause of things only and do not typically acknowledge His hand in the fundamental processes of life. The modernist’s watchmaker God who winds things up and stands back, available perhaps to wind it if it runs down or correct the time if in error, is not the God of the Bible. Any honest reading of the Bible, in particular, the Book of Job, will show us that God is directly involved in the daily processes of our lives and life’s complexity goes beyond its existence to its moment-by-moment function. If God can be likened to a watchmaker then He is a watchmaker that not only built the clock but moves the hands.
At this point in the narrative we could understand if the promise that God made to Abram, that a great people would come from him, did not include Sarai. But, she is part of the promise as we will find out. Still, as we will see later in Jacob’s life, a woman of substance in those days might regard children coming from her personal servant as her own.(43) This never worked very well emotionally as jealousy and a sense of being held in contempt would rise up in these situations where the patriarch afforded himself intimacy with a servant woman.
Sarai may not have known about the promises made to Abram although I doubt he kept her in the dark. But, if she knew what God had promised to Abram, here is a classic example of going ahead of God. We need to wait on God and not try to improve on His plans and His will. God will do a thing in His own time and our impatience and ego can cause a world of trouble for us when we try to push ahead without God. Sarai is going to “help” God. This is an unfortunate mistake.
Sarai has given her servant, Hagar, to Abram for the purpose of producing a child. We would rightfully regard this as wicked and sin today but remember the culture that Abram and Sarai were brought out of and understand that our veneer of Christianity, even civilization, is very thin. God is merciful, though, and His grace abounds all through the Bible as we will see.
Here, also, we see how the concept of wife is bound to sexual intimacy and we understand the meaning of go in unto my maid.
(43) This shows one of the great differences between slavery and servanthood in the world of the Bible and that of Antebellum (Pre-Civil War) America. The thousands of sexually abused slave girls in America forced to bear their masters’ offspring was never viewed by the unfortunate wife of the slaveowner as representing her. In fact, there are diaries of the wives of slaveowners which revealed that those women were heartbroken over the culturally accepted adulteries they had to suffer.