************ Sermon on Genesis 16 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on June 24, 2012
"God Builds the Church His Way"
I Covenant Disobedience
A Do you remember how Genesis 15 ends? It ends with God doing the covenant walk by Himself. God, and Abraham, were supposed to walk together in the river of blood that flowed between the cut-up heifer, goat, and ram. They were supposed to walk together in the river of blood as they made promises to each other. They were supposed to walk together in the river of blood as they called upon themselves the fate of the dead animals if they were to break their promises – that is, they asked to be cut in two like the dead animals.
But Abraham fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him. Why? Because Abraham knew he couldn't and wouldn't keep the covenant. Because Abraham knew he was imperfect. Because Abraham knew his sin. Abraham knew he was not worthy to walk through the river of blood with God. In fact, Abraham knew he could not so much as dip even one toe into the river of blood without being slain like one of the cut-up animals.
So, God did the walk by Himself. God made promises by Himself. God called down curses upon Himself if those promises were not kept.
The full significance of what God did for Abraham is not seen until the New Testament. There, in Christ, the covenant of grace reaches its highest expression. In Christ, God keeps the covenant promises and suffers the covenant penalties. By Himself. For it is Christ Who perfectly obeyed the law in our place and it is Christ Who also bore the curse of the law in our place.
Abraham was terrified so God did the covenant walk by Himself.
B Good thing Abraham did not do the covenant walk because look at what we see in Genesis 16. It is a story of sin and more sin. It is a story of covenant disobedience. It is a story showing that Abraham deserved judgment because he utterly failed to keep God's covenant requirements.
Do you remember God's intention for marriage from the beginning? God's intention for marriage is one man and one woman being joined together as one flesh (Gen 2:24; cf Mt 19:3-9). We know this as a creation ordinance – something God has built into His creation; a command or a structure that is true for all times and all places.
Lamech was the first man in Scripture to violate God's will for marriage. Lamech, if you remember, had two wives at the same time, one named Adah and the other Zillah (Gen 4:19ff).
Lot, the nephew of Abraham, was worse than Lamech. He slept with his two daughters and got them both pregnant (Gen 19:30-38).
Jacob, too, was no better than Lamech. Jacob had two wives and two concubines at the same time (Gen 30:1-12).
1 Chronicles 3 names eight wives for King David, but there were numerous other wives and concubines that are not named (1 Chron 3:1-9). King Solomon, following his father's example, had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines (1 Kings 11:1-3).
Abraham, the friend of God, was no better than those who came before him and after him. God's will for marriage was one man and one woman. But what did Abraham try? He first tried two men and one woman. Remember how Abraham allowed his beautiful wife, Sarah, to be Pharaoh's plaything (Gen 12:10-20)? Even though God stopped Pharaoh and protected Abraham's marriage, Abraham later tried the same arrangement with Abimelech (Gen 20). In today's passage, Abraham followed the suggestion of Sarah of two women and one man.
Even though Mormons and Muslims like to point to the patriarchs as their reason for multiple wives, God's will since the beginning remains the same. God's will is that "a man will leave his father and mother and be united to this wife, and they will become one flesh" (Gen 2:24; cf Mt 19:3-9).
People today are no different and no better, even within the church. We live the same sins but cover it up under a legal nicety called "divorce." Instead of multiple wives or husbands at one time, we have multiple wives or husbands following each other. As one commentator puts it, people today practice polygamy – just like in times past – but it is now serial polygamy.
With this in mind I want to mention what came to light about Newt Gingrich during the Republican primaries. Newt claims to be a born-again Christian who shares our values. Yet, he is on his third wife and proposed to his second wife a three-way arrangement with another woman. In response to this, "The New York Times" put the issue of "open marriage" before its readers on January 20, 2012, with columns from eight authors or pairs of authors. Seven of the eight columns supported "open marriage." Only one column reviewed sociological data showing that "open marriage" is "unfair to women [and] also likely to be a terrible idea for children." Even that column, though, did not use words such as "wrong" or "sin."
Coupled with this is a growing trend that is just as bad as "open marriage" or marriage redefined. It was recently reported by "The New York Times" that more than half of all births to mothers under the age of 30 in our country now occur out of wedlock. Remember the old schoolyard taunt, "First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in a carriage"? This no longer holds true for today. The college educated still get married and then have babies, but the bulk of the poor and the working class no longer order their lives by this age-old wisdom.
Whether it happened at the time of Lamech and Abraham and Jacob or today, God's will for marriage remains the same: "a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh" (Gen 2:24; cf Mt 19:3-9). No multiple wives. No multiple husbands. No concubines. No affairs. No multiple partners. No gay or lesbian relationships. No sex outside of marriage. Any attempt by man to redefine marriage is simply wrong and always wrong.
C Consider, too, Abraham's reason for his covenant disobedience. Abraham was tired of waiting for children. Abraham was tired of waiting for God to keep His promises. Abraham thought God needed his help.
If you remember, the Lord God made a series of astonishing promises to Abraham about a nation, a name, and a blessing:
(Gen 12:2-3) I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. (3) I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.Great promises, wonderful promises. But the fulfillment of these promises hung on the birth of a child.
Abraham was 75 years old when he first heard these promises from the mouth of God Himself. But after years of waiting nothing seemed to come of them; they seemed nothing but empty words and broken promises because Abraham and Sarah remained childless.
Abraham, quite understandably, became impatient – after all, neither he nor Sarah, his wife, were getting younger with every passing year. So Abraham inquired of the Lord if his servant, Eliezer of Damascus, was to be considered as the heir of the promise. In response, God took Abraham outside and told him he would have an heir from his own body and that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the heavens (cf Gen 15:2-5).
In the story in front of us ten whole years have passed since God first gave the promise – and still no child has been born. So Abraham and Sarah decided to take matters into their own hands. It seemed to them that God needed help in accomplishing His promises. It seemed to them that without human intervention God's promises would be just like the promises of a politician in an election-year campaign – meaningless and empty. They decided to go the route of surrogate motherhood by using a slave woman, Hagar. I want you to notice that Hagar was given no choice and no say in the matter. She was a piece of property to be used as her owners saw fit.
Many couples today – like Abraham and Sarah – are so desperate for children that they also resort to godless means to obtain them. I am sure you have heard of "in vitro fertilization." It is one thing if the donor is the husband and wife. It is an entirely different matter if the donor is another man or another woman. And, a surrogate mother is sometimes paid to carry the baby to term. What is wrong with all of this, you may ask? Notice, it is no longer one man and one woman as God has ordained since the beginning. Plus, many clinics today wrongly destroy the fertilized eggs they no longer want.
The heartache and sorrow that followed Abraham's and Sarah's experiment were to be expected. We can lay blame on all sides.
Abraham was wrong in allowing Sarah to mistreat Hagar. Abraham was wrong in not intervening when he saw what was happening. Sarah was wrong in mistreating Hagar to the point that she drove Hagar to run away. God is never pleased when people mistreat and abuse and take advantage of one another. Hagar was wrong in despising her mistress. Probably she taunted Sarah by flaunting her pregnancy. She might have used her relationship with Abraham to avoid work and to disobey Sarah. She might even have attempted to take Sarah's place as wife. But however she showed it, Hagar was wrong in despising her mistress. Furthermore, Hagar was wrong in running away.
I have not yet mentioned the biggest failure. In going the route of surrogate motherhood Abraham and Sarah showed an enormous lapse of faith in God and His promises. Abraham and Sarah, as I already mentioned, decided to take matters into their own hands. They decided that almighty God, the Creator of heaven and earth, needed their help. They decided God's promises needed human intervention in order to come to fruition. They decided that God's promises about a nation, a name, and a blessing required them to take matters into their own hands. They decided, quite simply, that it was up to them to build the church in their way and their time. But this is not God's way of building His church.
Paul stresses this point in Galatians 4. One should never read Genesis 16 (or Genesis 21) without also reading Galatians 4. Paul mentions Abraham's son Ishmael. Ishmael was born in the ordinary way of the slave woman, Hagar. In other words, Ishmael was conceived and born through human activity. Paul identifies this way as the way of Hagar, the way of Sinai, the way of the Pharisees and the Jews, the way of legalism. The way of Hagar bears children who are slaves.
Anytime we try to build the church and kingdom through our efforts, our work, our plans, our strategy, our giving – says Paul – we are following the path of Hagar and Ishmael. And the fruit is slavery and we end up empty and barren and dissatisfied.
II God's Way to Build the Church
A We've looked at man's way of building the church and kingdom. Now we need to look at God's way. To do so, I want you to listen to three texts:
(Zech 4:6) Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says the LORD Almighty.God's way is not by human strength but by His grace and His Spirit.
(Hosea 1:7) Yet I will show love to the house of Judah; and I will save them--not by bow, sword or battle, or by horses and horsemen, but by the LORD their God.
(1Cor 2:4-5) My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, (5) so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power.
B We see this way, God's way, of building His church in Genesis 16. There we see clearly that it is God's intention to build His church in His time and in His way without human aid. Abraham and Sarah are being taught that they need to wait upon the Lord. They are being shown that God needs no help in carrying out His promises. They are being told that all is of grace and not by human planning or human action.
To drive home this point – that God builds the church His way – God delays the coming of the promised child until Abraham and Sarah are too old to give God any aid. The promised child will come – but only as a miracle, as an act of God, as an act of grace.
C This is also the point of what Paul says in Galatians 4. Abraham's son by Sarah was born as the result of a promise. No human effort, just grace, God's power, a miracle.
Abraham was forced to make a choice. He could not have both the son of Hagar and the son of Sarah. And we also have to make the same choice. Either we are a child of Abraham according to the law or we are a child of Abraham according to grace. We need to choose between law and grace. If we choose law, we are slaves: slaves of sin, of Satan, of evil, of wickedness. If we choose grace, we are free: children of God, of righteousness.
Like Abraham, we break the covenant. Like Abraham, we think almighty God needs our help. Like Abraham we wonder what we can do instead of trusting in God and His promises. Like Abraham, the temptation always exists to live by law rather than by grace.
But brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman but of the free woman. In Christ, God has set us free. "Stand firm, then," says Paul, "and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery" (Gal 5:1). For, if we try to live by the law, we are alienated from Christ and have fallen away from grace (Gal 5:4).
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