THE FOUNDING OF A CHRISTIAN FAMILY.
544. Hagar's son is past fourteen, and Sarah demands that she and her son go elsewhere to live. Abraham demurs, but God commands him to comply. Nor were Hagar and Ishmael sent away without due provision for their support (Genesis 25:6), though Hagar gave herself up, for the moment, to needless despair, in which the Lord met and comforted her (Genesis 21:14-21). It was hard for Hagar to bear, for being a mere slave, she was not to be held responsible for having borne a child; but now, at any rate, she was emancipated. The setting of wrong conditions to rights made undeserved but unavoidable suffering for Hagar.
545. God cannot always elect,¾that is, select¾persons who are ideal, for they cannot be found. He takes faulty ones, but those capable of development. Such was the condition in which he found Abraham and Sarah. It is simply ludicrous to read some of the attempts that have been made by blundering expositors to explain away all the wrong things Abraham did: "Abraham's venture was not from laxity as to the sanctity of marriage, or as to his duty to protect his wife: it was from a presumptuous confidence in the wonderful assistance of God,"¾thus speaks Lange's Commentary. Such men, in their strained efforts to make Abraham appear ideal from the day God called him, leave no place for that most valuable and much-needed lesson, as to the wonderful transformation of character which the grace of God can bring about in the faultiest person who will submit to God's authority, as Abraham began to do when he left his home in Chaldea.
546. The character of Abraham changed greatly under the moulding influence of divine grace, but we will not occupy the space to describe this transformation, for the reason that, as women, we are more interested in the character of Sarah, who, we hold, has been greatly belittled by the same commentators who will not admit that Abraham ever had many faults. Her character underwent a transformation quite as wonderful as Abraham's. Think what she was, as the servile female who went, apparently without protest, into the harems of Pharaoh and Abimelech, not knowing that she could ever come out undefiled; accepting polygamy weakly, if not happily. Like almost any Oriental woman of today, her husband's wish seemed as law, even when it bade her do that which was immoral, and which she may have utterly detested to do. She makes no complaint, but obeys.
547. Now study her character a little later, when she wakes up to resent the way she had been treated by Abraham in the matter of Hagar. She accuses Abraham as in the wrong, and appeals to God to judge between them. There were reasons why she might have been very cowardly at this moment, for Hagar was in the ascendancy just then, and was making the most of her position. Sarah might have reasoned: "I must not offend Abraham now, while Hagar seems so much more in his favor because of the boy.” Doubtless Hagar counted on such a compromise. But Sarah was courageous, and met the situation boldly, calling upon Abraham to defend her in refusing Hagar the right to be a concubine, or a second wife, in the family,¾for Sarah had yielded to the provisions of Hammurabi's Code on purpose to prevent this. (See par. 537).
548. Then follows the later scene. Ishmael is older now, and Sarah demands that the last vestige of the semblance of polygamy be cleaned out of the household. If she again called on Jehovah to judge between her and Abraham, we do not know, but we do know that when she made the demand, God told Abraham to obey what Sarah said, and it was done. If Abraham improved in character and saw the hatefulness of mixed marriage relations in the sight of God, it was under the joint training of God and Sarah. And later, after the old man had lost Sarah, and mourned deeply, her loss, he married one Keturah (Genesis 25:1). But though the word "concubine" is used in the sixth verse of this chapter, since Abraham did not marry Keturah until after Sarah's death, the word is not used in its ordinary sense, for, too, Hagar never bore this relation to Abraham.
549. But to return to Sarah: How are we to account for this development of such force of character, as that she has become quite "imperious"? Men usually do not like "imperiousness" in women; they think it "unwomanly" and they criticize Sarah because of this trait. But was it not of God's own planting and development, in Sarah's case? God called her "Mine Anointed" and God uses no idle words. He anointed her to be the Prince of the tribe, for God gives no empty titles. God commanded Abraham to cease calling her Sarai: "As for Sarai they wife, thou shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah (prince) shall her name be,"¾Genesis 17:15. The older form "Sarai" meant the same as "Sarah" in Chaldea, but it did not in Canaan, hence the change. Sarah means "prince.” We do not say "princess," for the reason that the--"ss" has been used as rather a wifely termination among us, signifying the rank of the husband. Abraham was not called "Prince" by God. His name was changed from Abram to Abraham, "father of a multitude.” Sarah was constituted by God a ruler, in her own right; she, not Abraham, was the anointed ruler of the tribe. Not because she was a woman, ¾not at all for that reason; but because she had better views than Abraham on the subject of social purity, and probably on other subjects.
550. God had laid His hand upon a previously pagan family, to make of them a Christian household. He began by checking sensual tendencies in Abraham, taught him the benefits of monogamy, and respect for his wife; wrought upon his instincts of fatherhood, and taught him to aspire to have a progeny that would bless the world, because of its excellencies. Furthermore, in receiving a special revelation as to the right course of dealing with spurious matrimonial relations (Genesis 21:12), Abraham must have learned the lesson that the headship or leadership in a household turned not upon sex, but upon which one, husband or wife, know best what to do. As for Sarah, He taught her He was her Protector and Deliverer from peril; trained her in self-respect; restored her to her place as the recipient of His promises when she had yielded it to another to secure a child for her husband; named her the Prince of her tribe, and anointed her for the office. We have shown that the oldest and most inveterate faults of man are the love of ruling and sensuality. Abraham's training was to correct these. Sarah's training was in dignity, authority and self-respect; and both in faith.
551. We may not do more than merely refer briefly to what a source of misfortune to the Israelites, God's people, the descendants of Ishmael always were. The Bible recurs to this again and again. The lesson of it all was summed up by Paul in the words: "He who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the free woman was by promise . . . as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now" (Galatians 4:23, 29).
552. Abraham, in his waiting for the son of Sarah, became a notable instance (cited in Hebrews 6:12) of "them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” But few expositors have paused to consider the part of Sarah in the fulfillment of these same promises. She laughed at the possibility, when she first heard the promise, and made a remark (Genesis 18:12) which was given a sensuous turn in our translation, which is open to criticism. The expression is one common in the Orient today among women, and refers wholly to the "pleasure" of having a child, very much desired, as the angel's own words show, for it puts the expression into plain words. "Wherefore did Sarah laugh, saying, Shall I of a surety bear a child, which am old?" Sarah was very old; she had also been barren all her lifetime. By faith Abraham waited patiently to receive the promise. Through faith Sarah rose above her age and her infirmity as well, and became, before the eyes of Abraham, the living embodiment of those promises fulfilled. "Through faith also Sarah herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged Him faithful Who had promised,"¾Hebrews 11:11. Abraham had the faith to expect and receive a child; Sarah, the faith to expect and conceive a child.Notes
 This term Abimelech, meaning "father-king" was the title (like Pharaoh in Egypt) of the rulers of the Philistines.