Bad Choices, Grace, and God’s Word

Scripture: Genesis 16

I remember reading Genesis when I was a kid and I always stumbled over the story of Abraham. I couldn’t understand how Abraham, a great man of God, could have fathered a son by a woman other than his wife. God’s plan, I thought, was for sex to be enjoyed in a marriage between one man and one woman. So how was it that Abraham could do this and get off “scot-free?”

I learned later that this was the custom of the day. If a wife wasn’t able to bear children, men would find another woman who could and would continue their family line this way. It was common practice in those days for men to have multiple wives.

But that still didn’t answer my questions? Was it okay, then, for Abraham to be with Hagaar and Sarah? But having studied the life of Abraham recently and with the benefit of gospel-shaped, Holy Spirit-directed insight, I realize that I was looking at the story of Abraham, and Genesis, all wrong.

When the Scriptures, particularly the Old Testament, share the lives of great men and women, they aren’t condoning their sins. Nor are they giving assent to contemporary customs that violate Scripture. Rather, they are presenting the stories of men and women, as they are. Abraham and Sarah were sinners, just like you and me. The truth is that none of the Bible characters were really great. And thus, you find the real story of the Old Testament: the story of God moving through time to unfold his sovereign plan of redemption.

When you look deeper at Abraham, or any other great man or woman in Scripture, you’ll find flaws and holes in their lives, just as you would if you took the magnifying glass to our lives. This can lead us to only one conclusion: the story of Abraham, of the Old Testament, of the Bible, is not about men, but about God. God chose and worked through imperfect, flawed men to accomplish His purpose, much as He does today.

The Scriptures also show the consequences of poor choices. Abraham and Sarah rushed God. They found a sinful way to accomplish a divine mission. This never ends well. Look at the turmoil that resulted from Abraham’s adultery. And for all of history, the two sons of Abraham have been fighting. The choices we make when we grow impatient, when we rush God, when we act in our own wisdom and strength will forever haunt us. Unbelief is like that. It’s a bitter root that poisons life.

But the Scriptures also show us the sovereign grace of God, even among our poor choices. God appeared (through an an Old Testament appearance of Christ, I believe) and reassured Hagaar of His protection on her, her son, and of a fruitful nation to follow. God loves the outcast, the illegitimate child as much as he loves the favorite son. This is a picture of salvation. When Christ comes to us, we are illegitimate, cast out of the favored family because of our sin. We’re desperate and destitute. But God’s grace unites us back to His family.

So when you read the Scriptures, read them with the eyes of faith, through the lens of God’s glory and Jesus’ blood-stained cross. Then you will come away realizing that the story of the Bible is not Abraham’s story or your story, but the story of God. 

Daniel Darling is an author, pastor, and public speaker. His latest book is Crash Course, Forming a Faith Foundation for Life. Visit him on Facebook by clicking here, follow on him on Twitter at twitter.com/dandarling, or check out his website: danieldarling.com