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Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters


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WHICH things are an allegory,' says the Apostle when he brings in Sarah and Hagar her handmaid into the fourth chapter of his Epistle to the Galatians. And no doubt, his first readers must have understood the Apostle's mystical argument and must have got the good they needed in their day out of his spiritual exposition. But if Paul had only been led to take up our text of tonight, and to treat Sarah and her childlessness as an allegory, what an evangelical argument, and what a fruitful and far-reaching application both the Galatian Church and all the churches ever after would have got! For, out of this little, parenthetical, hidden-away verse the whole of the succeeding eleven epoch-making chapters of Genesis immediately spring. Chaldea, and Canaan, and Egypt; Hagar and Ishmael; the promise of Isaac, and then the birth, the circumcision, the sacrifice, and the deliverance of Isaac; all the trials and all the triumphs of his father's and his mother's faith; all their falls; all their victories; all God's promises, and all His wonderful and adorable providences in their so exercised lives; all their attainments in truth and in obedience; and then, to crown all, the complete fulfilment of God's so long delayed promise-all that, and much more that has not been told-it all arose out of this, that Sarah had no child. 'It is an allegory,' says Bengel, 'when anything is said and another thing more excellent is signified.' And I cannot get it out of my heart that my text tonight, biographical reality, real historicity, and all, is somehow an allegory also. It will persist in my heart that Abraham is my faith in God's promise to me of the fruit of the Spirit in me; while childless Sarah, Abraham's married wife, is my still unfruitful heart. For I have some faith, but I have no love. I have not enough faith to make my love fruitful. My heart is as much without a spiritual seed as was Sarah's silent tent. I laugh at the idea, like Sarah behind her tent door. I say to myself, half in faith, half in fear, half in mockery at myself, Shall I ever have pleasure? Shall Christ ever be formed in me? Till I am sometimes, like poor Sarah in her sterile tent, driven desperate. Driven desperate, and reckless, and wild. Like Sarah, I fall into sore temptations between the Divine promise on the one hand, and my own evil heart on the other hand. Like her, also, I am driven to dangerous, and, sometimes, I fear, to positively sinful expedients, in my desolation and desperation. And, like Sarah, I involve and fatally injure other people also in my desperation. But still the great promise holds on its course, and is repeated, and enlarged, and enriched, and sealed; and still it is with me as it has been from the beginning. Till, as I believe, and am determined to go on believing-God help my unbelief!-God's promise to me also shall, in God's way and at God's time, be all fulfilled. And my heart also, like Abraham and Sarah, shall see of her travail and shall be satisfied. Yes. Had Paul, or even Philo; had Behmen, or Bunyan but taken up this text, and said, 'Which things are an allegory,' we would have had doctrine, and depth, and beauty, and assurance, and comfort to our heart's content.

But to come back to solid ground, and to speak no more about parables. As time went on, and as the hope of any possibility of her ever becoming a mother died out of Sarah's heart, she became absolutely desperate. Had meekness, and humility, and resignation, and the blotting-out of herself, but grown apace with her disappointment, that would have hid Sarah from all her temptations, and it would at the same time have hastened the lifting off of her cross. But her terrible cross had but inflamed and intensified her pride; it had but determined her to find some wild and wilful way for herself out of God's way and God's will. It was intolerable to Sarah to live on any longer such an embarrassment to her husband, such an evident obstacle to the prosperity of his house, and such an eye-sore and jest to all the camp and to all the country around. And in the wildness of her pride Sarah determined to as good as slay herself, and to make it impossible for Abraham in his heart of hearts any longer to despise her. And thus it was that what looked like a perfect miracle of humility in Sarah, was really an act of exasperated pride. Sarah sacrificed herself on the cruellest altar on which any woman ever laid herself down; but the cords of the sacrifice were all the time the cords of a suicidal pride; till the sacrifice was both a great sin in the sight of God, a fatal injury to herself, to her husband, and to innocent generations yet unborn. What looks to all men's eyes like a martyr's devotion may all the time be but impatience, and petulance, and pride, and revenge. The outward act may sound heroic, while all the time cowardice and selfishness and exasperated pride may be at the bottom of it. To sacrifice yourself, therefore, is not enough. Your mind, your motive, your spirit, and your temper in making the sacrifice, that is everything. Sarah sacrificed herself to the last drop of a woman's blood; but all the time her heart was as high as heaven and as hot as hell both against God and against her husband also. 'Behold, now, the Lord hath restrained me; but there is my maid!'

You are a truly humble man when you are truly despised in your own eyes. But your humility has not stood its very last test till you are despised in our eyes also every day. The truest humility is attained; the truest humility is ascertained, and certified, and sealed only by humiliations being heaped upon it from without; from above, from beneath, and from all around. And, had Sarah's humility been a true and a genuine humility; had her ostentatious sacrifice of herself not had its secret roots in a deep and a cruel pride; she would have opened her heart to all Hagar's contempt. Hagar's scorn would have been an excellent oil to Sarah's head, and she would thus have secured and hastened her own fruitfulness and motherhood. But Sarah of herself had run herself into a temptation too terrible for her to bear. Her humiliating childlessness was honour, and rest, and peace, and love compared with her uttermost and incessant misery now. 'My wrong be upon thee,' she assailed her husband, 'for I am despised in the eyes of my own maid!' My brethren, you must make up your mind to bear with what has sprung upon you out of your own past misdeeds. It is the least you can do to hold your peace, and to bear with meekness the hand of God. Your life all your days may henceforth be made bitter to you because of your past. But what would you have? Would you have a peaceful, a free, an untrammelled, and a happy after-life out of a past life like yours? You cannot have it. Life is not built on that plan. God does not live in heaven and rule on earth on that principle. Or, if He does, the worse it will be for you in the long-run. Put it in words and look at it. Would you run yourself and other people into sin and guilt as suits you, and then would you wipe your mouth and walk off as a guileless anil an innocent man? You cannot do it. And you need not try. Kiss the rod rather. Kiss the rod, and the hand that holds it. Say, It is the Lord. Say that though He should slay you, yet you will not complain. Say this; say it with Micah when he was in some such distress, say, 'I will bear the indignation of the Lord, because I have sinned against Him, until He plead my cause and execute judgment for me.' Cast out the bondwoman and her son! No, Sarah, you cannot do it. You may try to do it, but the angel of the Lord will bring Hagar and Ishmael hack again upon you. You surely know Hagar, Sarah! She is your own handmaiden. But for you, you must remember, Hagar would have still been a pure, modest, obedient child. And if she and her unlawful son are thorns in your eyes, they are both thorns of your own planting. You bought Hagar in Egypt. You bribed her to leave her mother's house. You engaged to be a mother to her. You took her, and made her your tool; you debauched her, and then you would cast her out. And you did, and would do all this, in spite both of God and man. And now you would like to get back to where you were before your terrible trespass. You would fain have Hagar and her fatherless boy back in Egypt, and your tent in Canaan the abode of peace and love and honour it was at the beginning. No, Sarah, mother of so much mischief, you cannot have it. It cannot be. Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?

Hagar had not come from Ur of the Chaldees with the immigration, neither had she been bought by Abraham in Canaan. Hagar, originally, was an Egyptian child. When Sarah was down in Egypt with her husband Abraham, young Hagar had been recommended to Sarah for a lady's maid. And Sarah had made trial of the girl in the place, and had been glad to find that she had all the talent and all the character she had been certificated to have. And though it looked a wild proposal that Hagar should leave her mother's house, and all the religion and civilisation of Egypt, to go to the savage land of the Philistines, yet, what a princess like Sarah had once set her heart upon, poor people like Hagar's parents could not oppose. Sarah was rich, and she had the imperious temper of riches. And, besides, Sarah, the sister of Abraham, was a favourite in Pharaoh's palace. Hagar's expatriation and banishment so far from home made her all the better a maid to Sarah. Hagar had no choice. She must please her mistress. She had no temptation or opportunity to do anything else. She was so far from home bow that Sarah became both mistress and mother to the poor Egyptian girl. All went well, only too well, indeed, with Sarah and Hagar till Sarah's sin began to find her out. And when Sarah dealt hardly with Hagar she fled from the face of her mistress. Poor Hagar! Mother of so many miserable women in all lands and in all ages ever since. Hundreds of miles, weeks of wilderness, and of tears, and of bleeding feet, and of a bleeding heart from her mother's door. Afraid to face her mother. Terrified at the thought of her father. Spat upon and cast out of doors by her sisters and their husbands. Shall she kill her child? Shall she kill herself? Oh, why was I born? Oh, why did I ever come to this cursed land? Why did I ever take the wages of that wicked woman? Let the night perish on which she took me and led me up into her bed! Let darkness and the shadow of death stain it; let a cloud dwell upon it; let the gross darkness terrify it! Till she awakened and found herself with a well of water close beside her. 'Return to thy mistress. Submit thyself to thy mistress. Not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward,' said the angel at the well. And as she drank of the well she said, Beer-lahai-roi. Thou God seest me! Behold, that well still springs up in the wilderness of Shur; it is to be found on the road between Kadesh and Bered.

Beer-lahai-roi. Thou God seest me! Hagar, by reason of the extremity of her sorrow; by reason of the utter desolateness and brokenness of her heart; and by reason of the sovereign grace and abounding mercy of God-Hagar, I say, stands out before us in the very foremost rank of faith, and trust, and experience, and assurance. Hagar, to me, stands out among God's very electest saints. Hagar has only one or two who can stand beside her in her discovery of God, in her nearness to God, in her face-to-face fellowship with God, in the instructiveness, in the comfort, and in the hopefulness of her so close communion with God. Not Adam before his fall; not Enoch, who so pleased God; not Abraham at his call, or after offering his son; not Jacob at Bethel, nor Israel at the Jabbok; not Moses on the mount and in the cleft rock; not Isaiah in the temple, and not John in the spirit-not the best and the most blessed of them all was more blessed or better blessed than was Hagar the polluted outcast on her weeping way to Shur. The pure in heart shall see God. And, what impurity Hagar had contracted of Sarah and Abraham she had washed away, her head waters and her eyes a fountain of tears, all the way from Abraham's tent door to that well in the wilderness. She had washed her polluted body and her scornful and revengeful heart with her penitential tears, till, by the time she came to the well, she was counted clean enough to see God. And she saw God at that wilderness-well with a clearness, and with an assurance, and with a rapture, and with a submission, and with an immediate obedience that all combine to lift up Ilagat and to set Hagar beside, and even before, both her master and her mistress in the favour and in the fellowship of God. For, from that day on the way to Shur, all the days of Hagar's pilgrimage on earth, we still see Sarah and Abraham entreating Hagar with hardness till she drinks again and again of the well of God, and again and again has Almighty God given to her and to him as the heavenly Father of her fatherless son. In Thee, O God, the fatherless have always found mercy.

Now, in God's mercy, is there any Hagar here? Is there any outcast here? Is there any soul of man or woman ready to perish here? Who can tell who is here? Where would such be found if not here? Is not this the house of God? Does this house not stand on the wayside to Shur? Has this house not been Beer-lahai-roi to many who were in far greater straits, and under far greater guilt, than ever Hagar was? Many have said of this house, Thou God seest me! Many have come up to this house with a secret burden. Many have gone home from this house to take up their cast-off cross, and to endure to the end. Is there a motherless woman-child here? Is there a deceived, injured, cast-out sinner here? My sister, thy God is here. Thou hast been led of His angel in coming here. His well is here. He has dug that well for thee. Spring up, O well! And that is He Himself, His true and very Self, Who is now laying His hand on thy dishonoured and downcast head. That is His Holy Spirit who is now bringing these tears to thine eyes. That is His voice in thy heart, saying 'Hagar, Sarah's maid, whence comest thou, and whither wilt thou go?' stoop down, Hagar, and drink and be refreshed and revived. Fall down and weep. Lift up thy heart and pray. Behold, Hagar, He is lifting thee up. He is washing thy feet. He is washing thy hands. He is washing with water and with blood thy heart Think, Hagar, think. Believe, Hagar, believe. Admire, Hagar, and praise. For He is the same wonderful, wonderful, most wonderful God who met the first Hagar on her way back to her mother's disgraced and angry door. Wonderful is His name. He was in Egypt, He was in Canaan, He was in Mamre, and He appeared at Shur. He was there when thou wert born in thy mother's house in Scotland also. He swaddled thee, He girded thee, He called thee by thy name. The foolishness of thy youth was not hid from Him He bore with thee, and still bore with thee. And when thy lovers had hold of thy deceived heart, He pitied thee, and had thoughts of love toward thee. And when thy lovers wearied of thee, and had served themselves of thee, then His time of love began with thee. When thou didst fall His hand held thee up. When thou hadst destroyed thyself He redeemed thee. He made thy sin bitter to thee. He made thy life a wilderness around thee. He made thy heart a wilderness within thee. He made this whole world flint to thy feet, and dust to thy mouth, and a very hell to thy cast-off heart. And when He had humbled thee, and tried thee, and utterly broken and silenced thee, He came near at the well of Shur to thee, and these, to His everlasting praise, were His words to thee, 'Fear not, for thou shalt not be confounded. For thy Maker is thy husband. For the Lord hath called thee as a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit. For a small moment have I forsaken thee, but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy upon thee, saith the Lord, thy Redeemer. O thou afflicted, tossed with tempest, and not comforted; no weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper, and every tongue that shall rise in judgment against thee shalt thou condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is of Me, saith the Lord.'

'Doubtless Thou art our Father, though Abraham be ignorant of us, and Israel acknowledge us not. Thou, O Lord, art our Father, our Redeemer. Thy name Is from everlasting.'

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Whyte, Alexander. Entry for 'Sarah'. Alexander Whyte's Dictionary of Bible Characters. 1901.

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