This morning I ended up reading only one chapter. I was "reading the 16s" (see this entry for more explanation) so I decided to start with the first one--Genesis 16--and I never made it anywhere else.
Here's what you find in chapter:
1. Sarah suggests that Abraham sleep with their Egyptian servant Hagar.
2. Abraham agrees.
3. Hagar gets pregnant.
4. Hagar shows contempt for Sarah.
5. Sarah blames Abraham.
6. Abraham says, "She's your servant. Do whatever you like with her."
7. Sarah treats Hagar so harshly that she runs away.
8. Hagar ends up in by a spring in the wilderness where the angel of the Lord speaks to her.
9. The angel tells her to return to Sarah and promises that Hagar will have more descendants than she can count.
10. She will have a son named Ishmael who will be like an untamed donkey.
11. He will live in open hostility to all his relatives.
12. Realizing that she had seen the Lord, Hagar calls him "El Roi," the God who sees.
13. She returns home and gives birth to Ishmael.
There is nothing but trouble in this chapter of the Bible. No one looks good except the Lord.
Sarah makes a foolish suggestion.
Abraham follows the foolish suggestion.
Hagar disrespects Sarah.
Sarah complains to Abraham who passes the buck.
Sarah mistreats Hagar who runs away.
And then the Lord himself intervenes.
I love stories like this because they remind me that God is the real hero of the Bible. During a radio interview I was asked why so many Bible characters had serious flaws. My answer was simple. That’s all God has to work with. All the perfect people are in heaven. The only ones on earth are the folks with serious weaknesses. The talent pool has always been pretty thin when it comes to moral perfection. God works with sinners because that’s all he has to work with. In heaven we will all be vastly improved–perfected by God’s grace. But until then, he uses some pretty ornery people who fall short in many ways, and he does some amazing things through them.
Genesis 16 is a mess.
And then God steps in.
That's what grace is all about. We do the messing up--and God does everything else.