This is another one of those tricky sections. We hear so little about what these people must feel — especially the women. And it’s the women right now who seem to be suffering the most.
Take Sarai. Abram is still promised his offspring will be numerous. But Sarai is barren. So she offers up Hagar, her servant. As problematic as that has to be for Hagar (and we’ll get to that in a moment), that can’t have been easy for Sarai either. She must have seen herself as unable to fulfill God’s promise, so she does what she has to find necessary. But it must cut to the bone, especially when Hagar becomes pregnant. Taking her anger out on her servant is horrible, but I can see how she would feel that way. To see another with something you so deeply desire and believe you are promised is a special kind of bitterness and pain.
Then there’s Hagar. Let’s assume nobody asks her if she wants to be given up to bear a child for her mistress’s husband. Yet there she is, not only offered up as a surrogate but then pregnant. And treated cruelly by her mistress, the same mistress who got her into this mess in the first place. Yet it gets worse for Hagar, for her child, who bears no responsibility for any of this, is the one who is cursed to have hands set against him, to be at odds with his kin. Not Sarai. Not Abram. But Ishmael, who really is blameless in this whole affair.
What does Abram get? A new name and a covenant with God. God seems to have an interesting thing here; who is chosen is chosen, regardless of what they do. Abraham is not punished for his lack of faith, nor is Sarah.
Then we have the continued promise that Sarah will bear a child. I don’t blame either Abraham or Sarah here for lack of faith; I wouldn’t believe it either if I were them. I, like Sarah, would laugh incredulously.
It is interesting though. It seems like a thing, for God to make these promises that seem outrageous, and take his sweet time to fulfill them. All the while humans fret and muck things up, and suffer from disbelief. I suppose that’s the point of faith, but I can’t imagine it would have been any easier for Abraham and Sarah to let go and trust anymore than it is for us now….