The Story of Patriarchs and Prophets
by Ellen G. White
Chapter 13: The Test of Faith
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Abraham had accepted without question the promise of a
son, but he did not wait for God to fulfill His word in His
own time and way. A delay was permitted, to test his faith in the
power of God; but he failed to endure the trial. Thinking it
impossible that a child should be given her in her old age, Sarah
suggested, as a plan by which the divine purpose might be fulfilled,
that one of her handmaidens should be taken by Abraham as a
secondary wife. Polygamy had become so widespread that it had
ceased to be regarded as a sin, but it was no less a violation of the
law of God, and was fatal to the sacredness and peace of the family
relation. Abraham's marriage with Hagar resulted in evil, not
only to his own household, but to future generations.
Flattered with the honor of her new position as Abraham's
wife, and hoping to be the mother of the great nation to descend
from him, Hagar became proud and boastful, and treated her
mistress with contempt. Mutual jealousies disturbed the peace of
the once happy home. Forced to listen to the complaints of both,
Abraham vainly endeavored to restore harmony. Though it was
at Sarah's earnest entreaty that he had married Hagar, she now
reproached him as the one at fault. She desired to banish her
rival; but Abraham refused to permit this; for Hagar was to be
the mother of this child, as he fondly hoped, the son of promise.
She was Sarah's servant, however, and he still left her to the control
of her mistress. Hagar's haughty spirit would not brook the
harshness which her insolence had provoked. "When Sarai dealt
hardly with her, she fled from her face."
She made her way to the desert, and as she rested beside a
fountain, lonely and friendless, an angel of the Lord, in human
form, appeared to her. Addressing her as "Hagar, Sarai's maid,"
to remind her of her position and her duty, he bade her, "Return [p. 146] to thy mistress, and submit thyself under her hands." Yet with
the reproof there were mingled words of comfort. "The Lord
hath heard thy affliction." "I will multiply thy seed exceedingly,
that it shall not be numbered for multitude." And as a perpetual
reminder of His mercy, she was bidden to call her child Ishmael,
"God shall hear."
When Abraham was nearly one hundred years old, the promise
of a son was repeated to him, with the assurance that the
future heir should be the child of Sarah. But Abraham did not yet
understand the promise. His mind at once turned to Ishmael,
clinging to the belief that through him God's gracious purposes
were to be accomplished. In his affection for his son he exclaimed,
"O that Ishmael might live before Thee!" Again the promise was
given, in words that could not be mistaken: "Sarah thy wife shall
bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and
I will establish My covenant with him." Yet God was not
unmindful of the father's prayer. "As for Ishmael," He said, "I
have heard thee: Behold, I have blessed him, . . . and I will
make him a great nation."
The birth of Isaac, bringing, after a lifelong waiting, the
fulfillment of their dearest hopes, filled the tents of Abraham and
Sarah with gladness. But to Hagar this event was the overthrow
of her fondly cherished ambitions. Ishmael, now a youth, had
been regarded by all in the encampment as the heir of Abraham's
wealth and the interior of the blessings promised to his descendants.
Now he was suddenly set aside; and in their disappointment,
mother and son hated the child of Sarah. The general rejoicing
increased their jealousy, until Ishmael dared openly to mock the
heir of God's promise. Sarah saw in Ishmael's turbulent disposition
a perpetual source of discord, and she appealed to Abraham,
urging that Hagar and Ishmael be sent away from the encampment.
The patriarch was thrown into great distress. How could
he banish Ishmael his son, still dearly beloved? In his perplexity
he pleaded for divine guidance. The Lord, through a holy angel,
directed him to grant Sarah's desire; his love for Ishmael or
Hagar ought not to stand in the way, for only thus could he
restore harmony and happiness to his family. And the angel
gave him the consoling promise that though separated from his
father's home, Ishmael should not be forsaken by God; his life
should be preserved, and he should become the father of a great [p. 147] nation. Abraham obeyed the angel's word, but it was not without
keen suffering. The father's heart was heavy with unspoken grief
as he sent away Hagar and his son.
The instruction given to Abraham touching the sacredness of
the marriage relation was to be a lesson for all ages. It declares
that the rights and happiness of this relation are to be carefully
guarded, even at a great sacrifice. Sarah was the only true wife of
Abraham. Her rights as a wife and mother no other person was
entitled to share. She reverenced her husband, and in this she is
presented in the New Testament as a worthy example. But she
was unwilling that Abraham's affections should be given to
another, and the Lord did not reprove her for requiring the banishment
of her rival. Both Abraham and Sarah distrusted the power
of God, and it was this error that led to the marriage with Hagar.
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