Here's something we can all relate to ... not wanting to be patient but trying to control things ourselves. When Sarai gives Hagar to Abram so they can have children she is following the trends of the time. However, both Abram and Sarai are not trusting God when they take the standard, easy way out.
|Matthias Stom (fl. 1615–1649), Sarah Leading Hagar to Abraham|
It was the custom of the time for a barren wife to give her slave girl to her husband, in the hope of having an heir. "It was not strictly polygamy but rather a means the lawful wife used in order to give her husband children. From what we know of Babylonian laws of the time, if the slave girl became pregnant and then began to look down on her mistress, she could be punished and revert to being treated as a slave. That is what Hagar fears will happen, so she runs away." (The Navarre Bible: Pentateuch; Princeton, NJ: Scepter Publishers, 1999; p. 97-98)When God repeats his promise to give Abram children, he establishes a covenant with a painful and somewhat ironic sign ... circumcision. I always thought that circumcision was a very unusual sign of faith that God required. Turns out it wasn't as unusual as all that...
The practice of circumcision was fairly extensive in the world of Abraham's time. The Egyptians circumcised boys at the age of 13, which would have been Ishmael's age at this time. For the Jews, it became a sign of the covenant God made with Abraham. This is one of many instances of God's appropriating an already existing practice and dedicating it to His own purpose.God also changes Abram's name to Abraham which is explained at that time. Sarai's name change signifies something important as well.
Sarai also gets a name change, to Sarah, which means something like "queen mother" or "princess" - in other words, a suggestion of royalty. From her descendants would come King David, in whom this part of the covenant ("kings of peoples shall come from her") was fulfilled. When David sat on Israel's royal throne (c. 1010-970 B.C.), God made a covenant with him that someone from his line would always sit on the throne of Israel (see 2 Sam. 7). Jesus, born of the house of David, would be that King, reigning forever over the New Israel, the Church.
All quotes from Genesis, Part II: God and His Family. This series first ran in 2004 and 2005. I'm refreshing it as I go. For links to the whole study, go to the Genesis Index. For more about the resources used, go here.