“The Lord has prevented me”: a meditation on Genesis 16:2

April 11, 2019

The following reflection on Genesis 16:2 comes from handwritten notes in my ESV Journaling Bible, Interleaved Edition.

And Sarai said to Abram, “Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.

16:2: “The Lord has prevented me”: Sarai’s view of God’s sovereignty is correct: her inability to have children is a purposeful part of God’s plan for her life.[1] What she should have said, however, is not “the Lord has prevented me,” but “the Lord has prevented me so far.” After all, on what basis can she presume to believe that too much time had passed for God to keep his promise and fulfill his plan? It will take a miracle, regardless—whether Sarai conceives a child today or ten years from now.

Nevertheless, instead of waiting on the Lord, she takes matters into her own hands.

And here’s the problem: Up to this point in the story, God has made his will known to Abram by speaking directly to him. Surely if God wanted Abram to take Hagar as a secondary wife by whom God would fulfill his promises, God would have revealed that to him.[2] Besides, since when is it our job to “help God out,” or “improve God’s plan,” or “speed up God’s timing”—especially when doing so masks a lack of trust in God?

Not that I’m one to judge. I’m the biggest hypocrite! I like taking matters into my own hands. I like feeling in control. I like depending on myself.

By contrast, waiting on God, surrendering to God, depending on God alone—it makes me feel deeply insecure.

I would much rather know, regardless what God does or doesn’t do for me, that I have options. Like Sarai: “I’ll wait on God to help me for a certain amount of time, but if he doesn’t come through in the way that I expect, I’ll always have a ‘Plan B’ to fall back on.” How comforting! Hagar was Sarai’s Plan B.

What about me? Do I have a Plan B?

At this moment, for instance, for reasons of which you may be aware, the future looks far less secure than it used to look for United Methodist pastors. “Will I still have a career if this or that other ‘worst case scenario’ happens?” One anxious family member said, “At least you have that engineering degree to fall back on.”

Ugh! No! Don’t tell me that!

I know he meant well. And I’d be lying if I said the thought didn’t cross my mind, too—along with this troubling thought: “I’ve forgotten all engineering knowledge. I have nothing and no one to fall back on if this career doesn’t work out. I have no Plan B.”

But that’s beside the point: Following Jesus means that I shouldn’t have a Plan B! Either I’m all in for Jesus or I’m not!

Either Jesus is going to be my rock, my fortress, and my refuge (Psalm 31:3-4), or he’s not. He’s going to “supply every need of [mine] according to the riches of his glory” (Phil. 4:19), or he’s not. He’s telling the truth when he says that “all these things will be added to [me]” (Matt. 6:33), or—make no mistake—I am “of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:19), and I have wasted my life.

But as his disciple, I’m supposed to be willing to bet my life that Jesus is telling the truth!

Am I betting my life? Or am I the Rich Young Ruler? “I’ll trust you, Lord, with 90 percent of my life. Ninety percent! That’s a lot! Just let me have 10 percent for myself.”

If so, be sure of this: Jesus has been and will continue disciplining me until I surrender that ten percent. Maybe that’s what “sanctification” is.

It hurts. But it’s good for me. So thank you, Jesus.

Footnotes:

1. One of those purposes, as with the blind man in John 9:3, is likely that “the works of God might be displayed” in her. Regardless, Christians who deny God’s meticulous providence over events in the world will hardly find evidence for their view in this particular scripture.

2. Not to mention the potential sinfulness of doing so: God’s intention for marriage, as revealed in Genesis 2:24, is one man and one woman only in a lifelong monogamous relationship.

3 Responses to ““The Lord has prevented me”: a meditation on Genesis 16:2”

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    I can particularly relate to your point of “all knowledge gone”! I started off in college believing I would become a math professor, as I had done very well on math in high school and on the PSAT/SAT. However, in my second Calculus course, all mathematical understanding simply drained from my mind! I barely escaped with a D! First and only one in my life! So I took a Political Science class the next semester, loved it, and the rest is history! All that to say, I feel confident that God will continue to use you in the way that he has now gifted you.

    • brentwhite Says:

      Recently, I read a Charles Stanley book that someone gave me. In it, he talks at length about “waiting on God” to reveal to him or tell him what to do next. He would even ask God for signs to guide him. Then… full steam ahead. Up to this point in my life I’ve hardly done that. But reading about his example was inspiring. What do you make of that?

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        I’m not too much on signs. I do think we should pray more about what to do, but then I think we should “do our homework” and proceed with the best plan that we can come up with–always with a willingness to be stopped or led elsewhere by God if he has something else in mind. I think this is consistent with Paul planning to go here or there, but then being stopped by the Spirit, and then he had a vision which persuaded where he should go instead. Also, I believe it is James who said, “Don’t say, ‘I am going to do this or that,’ but say, ‘If it is God’s will, I will do this or that.'” The idea being, it seems to me, that the planning to do this or that is okay, only recognizing God can override plans. Solomon tells us to seek wisdom as a treasure. Anyway, I think God does want us to “seek his will,” but then “use our ‘noggin.'”


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