Post Series on Genesis 16:1-16:
- The Fall of Abram and Sarai (Genesis 16:1-3)
- The Wilderness Wanderings of Hagar (Genesis 16:4-7)
- The Egyptian Woman at the Well (Genesis 16:7-16)
One of Satan’s deadliest techniques is not to tempt us to pursue the wrong goal, but to pursue the right goal in the wrong way. This is the stratagem that Satan employs in Genesis 16:
1Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. She had a female Egyptian servant whose name was Hagar. 2And Sarai said to Abram, “Behold now, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. 3So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her servant, and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife. (Genesis 16:1-3)
When God had called Abram out of Egypt, he promised him that he would bless him–and specifically, that he would make Abram into a great nation (Gen. 12:2). After ten long years of living and waiting in the land of Canaan (Gen. 16:3), however, Abram has still not become a great nation. But what’s more, Abram and Sarai are completely childless.
The Temptation of the Right Goal
Without understanding God’s promise that he would give Abram a biological son (Gen. 15:4), Sarai’s suggestion is absurd. What wife would prompt her husband to take to himself another woman? Sarai longs for the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abram, but she reasons that to do so, she would need to step out of the way and let a younger, fertile woman take her conjugal place.
Satan rarely suggests that we do the wrong thing outright, because he knows that to do so is a difficult sell. A much simpler temptation, however, is to suggest that an illegitimate means is the only way that we will gain something good.
God does want you to be wise; Satan, though, tempted Adam and Eve to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and to this day he tempts us to exchange the wisdom of God in Christ for the wisdom of this world. God does want you to be happy; Satan tells you not to find your happiness in Jesus, but in illicit pleasures or selfish greed. God does want you to find peace; Satan, then, exploits that God-given (and God-fulfilled) desire for peace by encouraging you to find your own peace, looking to gain “just a bit” more for yourself, despite the consequences to others around you.
The only hope we have, then, is that Jesus resisted exactly this kind of temptation from Satan, even when we fall into it. When Satan tempted Jesus to create bread (satisfying his natural, bodily hunger), to jump off of the temple (satisfying his need for God’s protection), and to worship him (gaining the kingdoms of the world that were rightfully his), Jesus refused every time. Notice, Satan never tempted Jesus to do something wholly illegitimate–instead, Satan tempted Jesus to embrace legitimate goals in illegitimate ways.
In the end, Jesus received all authority in heaven and on earth, but he did so by the means that his Father appointed for him: the cross. Rather than the quick shortcuts to glory that Satan offered, Jesus trusted and obeyed his Father all the way to the point of death on the cross.
And because Jesus pursued the right goals with the right means, he has become the guarantor of a better covenant, enacted on better promises that he has already fulfilled completely.
The Fall of Abram and Sarai
So, like Adam and Eve before, Abram and Sarai fell into temptation. And in fact, Moses goes to great literary trouble to link this story in Genesis 16 with the story of the Fall of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. Consider the following verbal connections:
“And Sarai said to”
“The woman said to”
“Abram listened to the voice of Sarai”
“you have listened to the voice of your wife”
“and [she] gave her to Abram her husband”
“she also gave some to her husband”
(John H. Sailhamer, The Pentateuch as Narrative, 153)
Abram and Sarai distrusted God’s faithfulness to carry out his promise, and so they fell into sin. And just like Adam and Eve, their sin carried severe and long-lasting consequences.
May God keep us from the temptation to take shortcuts to claim God’s promises. Instead, God calls us to faithfulness as we pursue not merely the right goals, but also the right means to those goals.