September 17, 2012

That hated “S” word…

Hagar was a servant to Sarai (Sarah), the wife of Abram (Abraham). When this couple were barren and anxious to have the descendents God promised them, Sarai had the bright idea to have her husband sleep with Hagar and thus produce a child for them. Apparently this was a common practice at that time because people with children were considered blessed by God, so those without a family must be under His curse.

Hagar could be considered a victim in this situation. She had no say in the matter and yet when she conceived, she “looked with contempt” on Sarai, a common attitude others had toward barren women. Slave or not, she was just as prone to pride as her mistress was to scheming. Sarai simply wanted to make the will of God happen in her timing rather than waiting for Him.
So then what? Abram, a typical husband, wasn’t about to suffer with two women fighting each other in his presence and in his household, so he decided Sarai should have her way concerning this slave woman.

Abram said to Sarai, “Behold, your servant is in your power; do to her as you please.” Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she fled from her. (Genesis 16:6)

It is hard to say where Hagar thought she would go. Slaves didn’t have the same freedom as today’s hired hands. She could not offer her service to the neighbors. She was also pregnant, changing her value as a servant. Whatever was on her mind, the Lord God knew her peril. He told her what to do, and also made obedience attractive…

The angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress and submit to her.” The angel of the Lord also said to her, “I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude.” (Genesis 16:9–10)

This command to submit to the one in authority over you is repeated throughout Scripture. Even though submission has become a hated and greatly misunderstood concept, it is still an important Christian principle. Children are to submit to their parents, wives to their husbands, slaves to their masters. We are all to submit to each other, and of course we are to submit to Jesus Christ. 

The New Testament word for submission comes from a Greek military term. It means to line oneself up under, as standing behind a military leader and following him into battle. When thought of in that light, submission is more a demonstration of unity against a common problem or enemy by cooperating with my leader in the battle against that enemy. 

Most people who despise the idea of submission are concerned about abuse of power. The one who is supposed to lead (against a common foe) turns and exercises unreasonable demands on those who are supposed to line up under him. This abuse of power has been displayed by governments, bosses, husbands, even parents. It happens in churches, businesses, schools, anywhere there are people in charge of other people.

Does that let the rest of us off the hook? If someone else does not obey God in what they do (as Sarai disobeyed God by taking matters into her own hands), does that give me license to disobey God also? Obviously, this is faulty reasoning and not biblical. I might argue that the abuse I suffer is unfair, even unbearable, but what then?

From what the Bible says, and from my experience, submission is a way to show others that they are important and that God’s ways are right. However, if in their position of authority they begin to flaunt their importance as if God was not in the equation, or abuse their power in defiance of God’s ways (He also has rules for those who rule) then my compliance is apt to show them their way is important and God’s ways are not. This is not what God wants either.

The hard part is being objective about this. Like Hagar, the human tendency is fleeing from abuse and thank God, He allows that as a way out. On the other hand, He also knows ways to help those with submissive hearts stay in tough situations and even be blessed in them. 

God can also deal with the Sarai’s of this world. My problem, unlike powerless Hagar, is wanting to do that myself. I retaliate or find some human way of “fixing” those people who are supposed lead with submissive and servant hearts of their own. More than once I’ve tried that route, only to find that God knows far better than I do when to fight, when to flee, and when to stay in submission. Very often, it is submission that brings the greatest blessing and reward.

Lord, while Abram and Sarai are the key figures in this scenario, it is good to think about Hagar and how difficult life must have been for her. You intervened with instruction and gave her a blessing that sustained her. This blessing is beyond my understanding (for her offspring have been the enemies of Israel ever since) but I do know that Your command to submit to those in authority over me is right, whether I understand Your reasons for it or not. I also know from the story of Hagar, that even though someone may suffer in submission, You will bless anyone who decides to listen to Your Word and do what it says.

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