Patterns of Grace

Day 11

Patterns of Grace

Abram, his name meant ‘exalted father’.

But he wasn’t. 

A father.

He and his wife Sarai had been unable to conceive. In our day that means sadness, in those days it also meant disgrace and an uncertain foundation for a marriage. It also meant a dead end for a family line. How could a blessing to ‘become a great nation’ be fulfilled with no children? No descendants? No bloodline heirs? No hope? 

But… “Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed” (Romans 4:18).


“After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram.

I am your shield,

your very great reward.”

But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”

Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.”

Genesis 15:1-6

It would be 25 years from the time God first promises Abram that he will become ‘a great nation’ to when he will hold the newborn Isaac in his arms. God is speaking to Abram throughout this time but 25 years is a desert plod length of time to wait.

Sarai remained childless for 25 long turns around the sun after God’s first promise to bless them. And she would have felt the absence of a child long before the promise arrived. Barren. Empty. Where a child should have been there was nothing. And barrenness for a woman at that time, well it made you feel like nothing. So Sarai (like Eve) decided to take things into her own hands and led her husband to do likewise. She reached for the right thing in the wrong way, the impatient way. She reached for the very thing God had promised before God’s hand had provided it.

‘Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar;  so she said to Abram, ‘The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.’

Abram agreed to what Sarai said.’ Genesis 16:1-2

‘The Lord has kept me from having..’ Sarai’s words hang on the air of history, clanging against the story of all that God eventually did in their lives. She did not yet have the benefit of hindsight, of experience with God, of faith.

And this ‘perhaps’ business. There might be a ‘perhaps I can..’ but there isn’t a ‘perhaps God can’. There is no haphazard ‘perhaps’ no make-shift plan of God. There is no perhaps, no maybe-maybe not, no cross-your-fingers hoping, no striving to make it real.  If God says it, it is already is real. There is no perhaps in God’s Kingdom. Only confidence in what is hoped for and assurance in what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1).

We don’t have to hustle. We just have to trust and wait.


But waiting, well, it can feel like a desert plod and when your yearning-thirst for your childless arms to be filled takes hold… Sarai, like the rest of us, was still learning to trust this God. Sarai saw the absence, the emptiness of her womb, the absence of a child, the absence of a family, the absence of hope. She didn’t wait long enough to see that the absence would become the presence, the wonderful presence of God’s hand giving this child against all odds. The miracle.

Silence can feel like an absence of God. But the truth is God is always present and wants us to see clearly that it is not circumstance or our own striving that gives us good gifts, but His hand alone.  And His gifts are often seen most clearly after an absence, like an oasis in a desert, like a long cool drink after a dehydrating wait, like a child finally born from an ageing barren womb. 

Any fit young person can have a baby… but a baby born to remarkably ageing parents? That alone is a gift from God. Remarkable. How would it be a sign that they are called, chosen and blessed if it was no different to any other pregnancy on earth? This pregnancy was a supernatural gift, not a natural one. And the pain of patience was going to be rewarded one-day with the joy of laughter.

But then, right then in that moment right there beneath Sarai’s feet in all the absence and the longing and the nothingness and fading hopes… all Sarai could see was the lack, and so she reaches for the right thing (God’s promise) in the wrong way. And it costs. Not just her, but Hagar and Abram and not-yet-born-and-not-his fault Ishmael. It will cost Ishmael his bond with his father and Abram his bond with one son.

Their family becomes broken with bitterness, blaming and eventually the abandonment of one child.

“So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. He slept with Hagar, and she conceived.

When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my slave in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the Lord judge between you and me.”

“Your slave is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her.” Genesis 16:3-6

And it played out just like Genesis chapter three, the reaching, the taking. Sarai reaches, Abram concedes and takes, everyone suffers.  Sarai didn’t know, didn’t yet fully understand. This God. This God who is powerful beyond measure and faithful beyond comprehension.  She thought she had to hustle. She thought that nothing in her womb meant she was nothing in God’s plan. Nothing in God’s heart. She couldn’t have been more wrong. She didn’t yet understand who God was. And she didn’t understand who she was. Her husband had lied, asked her to lie and then let her be taken away by other men (Genesis 12:10-20) and he would do the very same thing again (Genesis 20:1-18). It was God who had been faithful to Sarai when Abram wasn’t. It was God who intervened both times on her behalf. Abram was a man who called on the name of the Lord, but he wasn’t perfect. Both he and Sarai were still hustling.