Walking by Faith: A Study of the Life of Abraham,

Two’s Company But Three’s a Crowd!

By Dr. Robert Jeffress

Edward Murphy was an engineer who worked with the Air Force in the late 1940s on rocket sled experiments that would gauge how humans reacted to high speeds. In one experiment, the subject of the test was to have 16 sensors placed on his body. There were only two ways to attach the sensors. After the expensive test, it was discovered that ALL 16 sensors had been attached in the wrong way. It was that failure that Caused Edward Murphy to offer the axiom: Anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Over the years, there have been other similar observations we know as Murphy’s laws.  

Murphy’s Technology Law: Tell a man there are 300 billion stars in the universe, and he’ll believe you. Tell him there is wet paint on a bench, and he will have to touch it to be sure.

Murphy’s Law of Copiers: The legibility of a copy is inversely proportional to its importance!

Murphy’s Military Law: Never share a foxhole with anyone braver than you.

I do not know if Murphy ever made any observations about spiritual matters. But if he had, I am sure this observation would be at the top of his list: Running ahead of God will always lead to bad decisions and painful consequences. That would also be the testimony of Abraham and his family after the experience of Genesis 16.

1. Abraham’s Problem (Genesis 16:1)

Infertility is a problem common to many couples today. One out of every 12 couples in our country suffers from it.   

But Abraham and Sara’s inability to conceive a child represented more than a physical crisis; it was also a crisis of faith. God had promised to bring them a child, and now ten years had passed since they first entered the promised land, and there was still no child.   

Any time our life situation is incompatible with the promises of God, we are faced with a dilemma. Do we wait on God to do what He has promised to do in his time, or do we take matters into our own hands?

How God Says “Go” 

  • Biblical Commands

God will never lead you to do something that violates the clear commands of Scripture. He will never lead someone to marry an unbeliever. He will never lead someone to an immoral relationship. Related to our church, God will not lead us to do something that leads to massive indebtedness. In the Bible, debt is taking on a financial obligation for which you have no reasonable means to repay. If we raise $50 million, God will not lead us to build a $200 million campus.

  • Wise Counsel

The Bible says we should seek the counsel of spiritual men and women. First, that means the spiritual authority figures he has placed in our lives. For children, your parents. For wives, your husbands. In the church, it is the pastor and deacons. Additionally, we should seek the counsel of knowledgeable people about the issues we are facing. 

  • Outward Confirmation

What is true of Abraham is true of all of us—the tendency to run ahead of God and take matters into our own hands will remain with us until we die. We are to be on guard constantly against the temptation to run ahead of God, especially when that temptation comes from an unexpected source, as it did in Abraham’s case.

2. Sarai’s Proposal (Genesis 16:2-4)

Sara says, “Abraham, we’re not getting any younger. And it is apparent that God is the one who has kept us from having children.” That is true. The Bible teaches that God is the one who opens and closes the womb. But there is a difference between attributing something to God and blaming God.

When you read between the lines in verse 2, you sense a spirit of bitterness toward God. “God can’t be trusted to do what he has promised; therefore, we had better take matters into our own hands.”

But in Abraham’s day, man’s law allowed a barren wife to give her maid to her husband. Law number 146 of Hammurabi’s code said that a son born of such a union could be the legal heir if the husband so chose. Although such a proposal made sense and was even in keeping with the day’s culture, it was not how God intended to fulfill his promise.

3. Hagar’s Provocation (Genesis 16:4-6)

Hagar had been raised from the position of slave to the position of equal with Sarah and could even exceed Sarah’s capability of conceiving a child. Hagar began to believe that she was the queen of Abraham’s castle and took no pains to conceal her contempt for Sara.

Notice the results of running ahead of God as the second act of this drama comes to a close. An action that seemed so logical at first has now brought sorrow to Sara, who feels cheated. To Hagar, who has been mistreated and flees into the wilderness, and most of all to Abraham. He thinks the child he so desperately wanted has now been banished with his mother, never to be seen again.

Running ahead of God leads to bad decisions and painful consequences. Fortunately, we serve a God who is merciful and who understands our weaknesses.

4. The Angel’s Promise (Genesis 16:7-14)

Here was Hagar running away from everyone and everything. Yet, while she was running away, God ran toward her. Isn’t it interesting that the first person to whom Christ appeared in the Bible was a single, unwed mother who was an outcast from society? Those are the people whom Christ came to save. And although Hagar thought no one saw or cared about her situation, God saw, He cared, and He made this command followed by a promise.

First, the command: “Hagar, where have you come from, and where are you going.” Hagar, how did you get to this place in your life? Where did you get off track? Go back to Sara and Abraham and submit to her authority.   

Then the promise: I will give you a son who will also be the father of a great nation. And, of course, her son Ishmael would be the father of the Arab nations who, to this day, live in conflict with the descendants of Abraham’s other son Isaac.

5. God’s Provision (Genesis 16:15-16)

Hagar obeyed the voice of God, returned to the point of her departure, and gave birth to a son. It is significant that Abraham readily accepted the son that Hagar brought back—“Ishmael”—the Lord hears. Abraham noticed in Hagar something different about her. She was a changed woman. She had seen the face of God.

I don’t know where you are in your spiritual life, but I believe some of you are anxious about a promise of God’s that has yet to be fulfilled in your life, or maybe there is a need that must be met soon—and you are tempted to take matters into your hand, to run ahead of God. Don’t do it. Running ahead of God leads to bad decisions with painful consequences. God knows your situation. He will act in his time and in his way. And the time of waiting will only strengthen your relationship with him. 


Full Passage: Genesis 16:1-16