I'll get to the end of Gen 18 tomorrow. I don't want to skip over the drama at the beginning of this passage.
God had promised Abram a son but it didn't happen right away. Infertility can really mess with your mind. Can you imagine Abram dreaming of teaching his boy to pray, make sacrifices or lead the family business? We watched an episode of Duck Dynasty last night that included a friendly competition between the brothers about fishing (and selling fish). Each father took great pride in teaching his boy the secrets of his own success--and they were very different.
Can you imagine Sarai wondering what's wrong with herself? After more than a decade of trying with no success, she was getting desperate so she hatched a fool-proof scheme to get a baby. It was socially acceptable but somewhat abusive to Hagar. No one asks Hagar if she wants this. Only the plan backfires. What Sarai gets is a cocky, disrespectful servant and she picks a fight with Abram over it. To be fair, Abram should have been loyal to his wife and really believed God would provide through Sarai, but God hadn't explicitly said as much. Poor guy can't win for losing, and "When Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy."
Hagar can't stand it and runs away, pregnant and all. That's when God steps in and He puts it all to rights for the time being. He re-establishes the chain of authority with His own presence--a gift of unbelievable worth to Hagar. The unnoticed, disregarded slave is personally noticed by the God of the Universe. Wow! Ishmael means "God will listen." What a name! Her son will be a wild man, but a great man.
At 99, nearly 25 years after the original promise, God visits Abram twice confirming that he will have a son, but the child of promise will not be 13 year old Ishmael. Both Abram and Sarai laugh at God over this. Their hearts have given way to fatigue. It is only when both Abram and Sarai fully recognize that it would take a miracle for them to have children, that God shows up and promises it again, this time with a timeline and a name change for both of them. The sound added at the end of their names is merely a breath, but it is the breath of God himself.
God doesn't do miracles through human schemes. He does miracles and keeps His promises in His own way. We don't have to help God out so that He can keep His promises. Sounds silly when you put it that way, doesn't it? God is big enough to do whatever He says He will do all on His own. Our help can cause more trouble than we can imagine because it is born out of unbelief. Abraham is diligent to obey whenever God gives him a task to do, no matter how painful that task may be, but he and Sarai didn't need to do any more than what God asked them to do. God didn't need the help.
What has God promised you? Have you been obedient? Have you tried to help God out? When things look like they've gone from hard to impossible, it's time for God to show up.