Who Pays? – Abraham, Compromise, and Me

In the last post, I alluded to God righting the wrongs done to Hagar. Clearly, everything didn’t suddenly fall into place for Hagar. She had to go back to a harsh mistress and a master who took no responsibility for her predicament. The family was still a dysfunctional mess. Ultimately she and Ishmael were cast out—and the intervening years were probably no picnic.

However, it has come to my attention that there may be more to “Vengeance is mine” and “I will repay” than I have tended to think. (Deut. 32:35; Rom 12:19; Heb 10:30) I usually understand these declarations in terms of ultimate, eschatological judgment—or as support for the Christian virtue of  “turning the other cheek.”

Yet, in the speech where God explains to Hagar the things that will come about because he has “seen her affliction”, he says this concerning Ishmael:

12 “He will be a wild donkey of a man, His hand will be against everyone, And everyone’s hand will be against him; And he will live to the east of all his brothers.”  Genesis 16:12

Basically, Ishmael and his descendants will be trouble for the other inhabitants of middle/near east. Why? Well, contextually it seems that it was because Abraham and Sarai had done wrong by Hagar—and God had taken up her offense. God would see to it that she was avenged through Ishmael.

In Genesis 21, when Sarah expresses her desire that Hagar and Ishmael be sent away, we are told that “the matter greatly distressed Abraham because it concerned his son” (11). An argument from silence only goes so far, but it is significant that there is no mention of Abraham’s concern for Hagar. Interesting that when God addresses Abraham, he says,  “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your maidservant” (12). Everywhere else, Hagar is referred to as Sarah’s maidservant, but God sees her as Abraham’s responsibility—one that he has neglected.

If we doubt that God’s response to the wrongs done to one slave woman would involve entire nations for generations, we need only take a look at the results of a couple of Abraham’s other exploits.

Twice he lied and sacrificed his wife’s honor for the sake of his own safety (and perhaps prosperity). Both times, Abraham’s deceit brought guilt and consequences on men who took his wife in ignorance. And both times, Abraham’s actions seem to have profoundly affected the future of his descendants. In Egypt, Pharaoh’s household broke out with plagues, and Abraham walked away with plunder. It was after this incident that God told Abraham his descendants would be enslaved and oppressed for four hundred years in a foreign land—a land that turned out to be Egypt.

In Gerar, Abimelech narrowly escaped death and the women of his household became barren because of Sarah. Again, Abraham received plunder out of the deal—and this time he was also given a nice piece of land to settle in. Abimelech was the king of the Philistines. We all know what a blessing those people ended up being to future generations of Israelites.

In both cases, Abraham basically walked away scott-free—even with some bennies! The consequences of his compromises did not nullify God’s intentions for him and his offspring. But neither did the injustice go unnoticed or untended. The repayment of the debt played out over centuries.

This is sobering. I am often steadied by thinking that my actions could bring unfavorable consequences to me or to people I love. If, in the immediate or the near future, my marriage may be adversely affected, or my kids might somehow be hurt , or even if I might look bad—I am usually motivated to take a different course.

But little compromises, deceits, manipulations, and injustices are all too inviting when I anticipate no such consequences. Like Abraham, I can justify myself. Technically, she is my half-sister. It’s not really a lie (Genesis 20:12).  Then I go on my merry way, enjoying whatever benefit I think I have derived.

I tell a “white lie” to avoid confrontation or consequence.

I connive and manipulate instead of owning my motives and acting with integrity.

I hide from responsibilities out of fear.

I boast to build myself up.

I have no problem living for me as long as I don’t think anyone notices.

This is what I call pulling a Hezekiah. 

When Isaiah informed Hezekiah that his foolishness and pride would ultimately result in the plundering of Jerusalem and the captivity of his sons, he responded, “The word of the LORD which you have spoken is good.” For he thought, “For there will be peace and truth in my days.” (Isaiah 39:8)

Yuck! I DO NOT want to be like that!

I cannot know who will pay for my “little compromises” or for how long, but I do know that someone will. If that’s okay with me as long as I’m not directly affected by it…well, that’s just sick.

Comments welcome.

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