It has been said that a wise man learns from his mistakes; but a wiser man learns from the mistakes of others. One of the reasons that the Bible tells us of the failures, and not just the triumphs, of the men and women of faith, is that we are to recognize their mistakes, learn from them, and avoid them. Children of the Lord do not live error-free lives.
They make mistakes; sometimes far too many mistakes. But there are four common errors that Christians make; four mistakes that could be avoided by a better understanding of the Bible. Abraham was the father of the faithful. See Romans 4:16. He is known throughout the scriptures as a man of faith. See Galatians 3:9; Hebrews 11:8. But Abraham committed each one of these four mistakes. If we can profit from the mistakes of others, perhaps we can avoid them. But if we refuse to learn from the past, we are condemned to repeat the errors of the past. Abraham did not need a lifetime to mess up his life.
He made all four mistakes in a short period of time. All four are recorded in the 16th chapter of Genesis. I don’t say these are stupid mistakes. From God’s, perspective, they were certainly foolish. But from Abraham’s perspective – in the problems and difficulties of life, his actions seemed reasonable and plausible at the time. So many times we make mistakes in our dealings with the uncertainties of life. Looking back, we see that our decisions were foolish. But at the time, they seemed so logical and right. We need to be able to avoid wrong decisions; instead of just being able to recognize them later. In Genesis 16:1, we read that Sarah, Abraham’s wife, was barren. This was a grievous condition for her. Sarah’s barrenness was seen as a curse in her time.
She was suffering emotional pain. Her marriage was unhappy. At this time, she was 75 years old. Her inability to conceive was a torment that she had lived with for a long time. Now it was medically impossible for her to bear a child. Sometimes humans cook up schemes to remedy problems that are worse than the problems themselves. Both Abraham and Sarah committed the first common error: they let fleshly desire overrule good sense. In Genesis 16:1-2, Sarah gave Abraham her servant to be a second wife. Sarah wanted a child so bad, that she proposed that Abraham take a second wife and have a child through her.
Today we would call that surrogate motherhood. It was a common practice among the heathen in the land of Canaan at the time. But polygamy was not God’s intended plan for His people. In Genesis 2:24, God had only made one wife for Adam. A man was to leave his parents and cleave to his wife, not wives. Malachi 2:14-15 shows that monogamy was to protect a godly seed. Yet polygamy and surrogate motherhood were accepted practices among the heathen in the land. Sarah’s proposal would not have raised an eyebrow at that time, in that part of the world. But they should not have come up with this scheme.
They were abandoning their faith in God’s promise. In Genesis 13:16, Abraham received the promise of seed. In Genesis 15:1-6, the promise was confirmed again, and Abraham believed God. When people are desperate, or frustrated, they do strange things. Has desperation driven any of your decisions? A young person, seeking a spouse, may get desperate and just take anyone, rather than waiting for the spouse God wants them to have. Men and women are driven to sin by desperation in the boredom of what we call a middle-age crisis. Sarah wanted this – so she could have a surrogate child.
Abraham conceded to fleshly desires, too. An old man had reason to want to be married to a young, shapely wife with the intent of having relations to produce a child. And Abraham gave in to those desires. Genesis 16:2b. Hagar’s pregnancy did not bring peace nor happiness. Verses 3-4. The character of the home changed. It wasn’t just Abraham and Sarah anymore; it was Abraham and Sarah and Hagar. The relationship of Sarah and Hagar changed, and the relationship of Abraham and Sarah lost something very valuable. Unfaithfulness to your spouse in marriage cannot produce happiness. Sometimes there can be forgiveness and even reconciliation, but it is almost impossible to restore the trust and closeness in the relationship that existed when it was exclusive.
The problem: “Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai.” Verse 2b. Husbands, you should listen to your wives, and wives should listen to their husbands – except when their counsel violates the Word of God. God spoke to Abram, not Sarah about leaving Ur. God told Abram, not Sarah, that he would have children. How could Abraham believe Sarah knew more about the will of God than he did? Today, many Christians make the second mistake: they listen to the wrong counselors. Especially when they are wanting to act outside the permissive will of God, they ask or receive advise from friends who are weak in the faith or from those outside the church. Fallen men and women seek advice from those who will tell them what they want to hear, instead of those who will tell them what they need to hear. Psalm 1:1 teaches to walk not in the counsel of the ungodly. But Proverbs 12:15 shows that there can be good counsel.
Seek good counsel from godly men and women. Proverbs 20:5. Abraham should have refused Sarah’s suggestion and reminded her of what God had promised. But in Genesis 16:4-5, Sarah fell into the 3rd mistake: blaming others. Neither Abraham nor Sarah recognized their own fault in this situation. Each sought someone else to blame. Most humans do this. Very few people can say: “I was wrong, please forgive me.” Every error has to be someone else’s fault. Hagar had been elevated from slave to second wife.
She no longer treated Sarah with the same honor and respect that a slave had to have toward her mistress. After all, she was able to conceive – a sign of God’s blessing that Sarah did not have. Things did not work out the way Sarah thought they would. (They never do when we violate the revealed will of God.) So what did Sarah do? She blamed Abraham. Verse 5. And Abraham could just as well blame Sarah – but they both were at fault for failing to trust God. It is a mistake to blame others for the things we bring on ourselves. When man fell in the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3:12-13, Adam blamed Eve; and Eve blamed the serpent.
The fault was not in others, they should have each accepted their own responsibility. Jesus said that most humans are mote-hunters, with beams in their own eyes. Matthew 7:5. It is a sign of Christian maturity to accept responsibility for your own faults. When King David fell into sin in II Samuel 12:7,13, he did not blame Bathsheba, or anyone else. At this point in the family crisis, Abraham should have taken charge of the situation, and implement the godly principles in his home that would have defused and resolved the problems. He was to be the head of his home. Abraham should have accepted responsibility for the wrong that brought on the situation. He should have said it was his fault for letting the thing happen.
He did not have to consent to the scheme. He should have asked for forgiveness first, and then told Sarah that she was at fault, too. She brought it on herself. And he should have told Hagar that she should not have been in the position of second wife, but now that she was, she must still treat Sarah with the respect and honor that she is due. Abraham should have administered righteousness in his home. Instead, he committed the fourth common mistake: he shirked his responsibility for the sake of peace. Genesis 16:6 shows that Abraham told Sarah: “Do whatever you think is right, dear.” Shirking his responsibility was wrong. Hagar suffered for it. But it got Sarah off Abraham’s back. Peace purchased at the cost of shirking your duty is neither valuable nor lasting.
Queen Esther could not shirk her duty. Esther 4:14, 16b. In four verses, Genesis 16:2-6, Abraham committed all four mistakes. He let fleshly desires overrule God’s will for his life; he listened to the wrong person; he blamed others for the thing he brought on himself; and he shirked his responsibility for the sake of peace. Please note that there are no mistakes from God’s point of view. Everything that happens is according to His plan. Everything is either His direct will, or it is in His permissive will.
Abraham’s mistakes were part of the process the Lord was taking him through to mature him. He learned to trust the Lord because he got into trouble whenever he failed to believe God. But mistakes have consequences. In Abraham’s case, there were major consequences that continue to trouble his family until today. If you can’t handle the consequences, then don’t make the mistakes. Abraham had a child through his relationship with Hagar, Ishmael, progenitor of the Arabs. Genesis 16:7-12 shows us that he was a wild man, a donkey’s colt. His hand was to be against his neighbor. And his descendants, the Middle East Arabs, are still that way.
The current trouble in the Middle East, the bloodshed between the Jews and the Arabs, is a continuing result of Abraham’s mistakes. Abraham’s mistakes were part of the plan of God; but they had massive consequences. Despite his mistakes, God saved Abraham. Sarah also died saved. They are both in the Hebrew Hall of Fame – Hebrews, the 11th chapter. God can raise you above your mistakes, too. But part of growing in Christ is learning to avoid mistakes. Philippians 2:12-15 speaks of Christian growth, reaching the point of being blameless & without rebuke. Part of reaching that point is to avoid the common mistakes of life.