Sometime after Abram was blessed by Melchizadek, God reiterates His promises to Abram. He promises to make Abram great, give him descendants as numerous as the stars, and give him the specific land that will become the nation of Israel after they come out of Egypt. As a sign, God enters into a covenant with Abram marked with the sacrifice of a heifer, a goat, a ram, a turtledove, and a pigeon. Both parties pass through the pieces of the animals as a sign of entrance into the covenant.
If we have learned anything from Adam and Noah, we know that once God enters into a covenant with His people, they will fall short of it (Adam and the fruit and Noah, Ham, and the fruit of the vine). Abram is no exception. He knows that God has promised him an heir. Instead of trusting God to work within their marriage, Sarai gives Abram her servant Hagar to have a child with to produce an heir. As soon as they conceived, Hagar rebelled against Sarai’s authority resulting in Sarah mistreating her while Abram allowed it to happen. Hagar would eventually have a son, and he was named Ishmael who became Abram’ temporary heir.
Years later, God appears to Abram and reaffirms His promise of an heir. He commanded Abram to circumcise all of his descendants and his household as a sign that they belong to the Lord. God changes Abram’s name to Abraham and Sarai to Sarah. He appears to Abraham in the form of Three Persons and Abraham and Sarah wait on the Lord. He tells Abram that he and Sarah will conceive a son who will be named Isaac, because of their laughter when they hear this news. Even in their old age, Abraham and Sarah do conceive and name their son Isaac. Yet, as Isaac gets older, Sarah becomes jealous and forces Abraham to send Ishmael and Hagar away. God protects them in their exile, and Ishmael becomes the father of the Arabic nations. Even if it was messy due to their grasping after God’s promises, Abraham and Sarah finally had the heir through whom the covenant could be fulfilled.
In this story, we can see the immediate reaction to Abraham and Sarah’s grasping at a solution for their infertility problem. Once they take matters into their own hands with Hagar, inequality and mistreatment occur. Jealousy and envy also play a role. When we try to achieve God’s plan in our own way, sin happens. There is a parallel between Eve handing the fruit to Adam to break the covenant and Sarah handing Hagar over to Abraham which breaks their trust in God’s promise. While Abraham is known for his faith and should be honored for it, he still had lapses and was in need of purification. The scene is now set for Abraham to undergo his final test, one that he will show the purification of his faith is complete.