In Genesis 16:7-11 we have recorded Hagar’s encounter with the Angel of the Lord. I believe this encounter, coupled with God’s blessing of Hagar’s child, Ishmael in Genesis 17:20, tell us something we may have overlooked in Church history. The idea is not specific but the strange blessing of Ishmael by God seems to parallel some of the most notable things in Church history, even up to our own modern era.
Due to the ill treatment she received at the hand of Sarai, her mistress, Hagar fled from Abram and Sarai, probably intending on returning to Egypt, from where Sarai undoubtedly obtained her. When the Angel of the Lord appeared to Hagar (Genesis 16:7-11), he offered a very strange consolation. He said that the child in her womb would be against every man and every man’s hand would be against the child (Genesis 16:12). What does this mean, and why would it be important to point it out here? Moreover, it is also said that Ishmael would dwell in the presence of his brethren. What other people are related to Ishmael. Isaac is his the only relative he knew, while he was in Abram’s household, and both he and Isaac are the only ones mentioned who buried their father Abraham (Genesis 25:9)
I see in Ishmael, that is in the strange blessing he received from the Angel of the Lord in Genesis 16 and later in chapter 17, a parallel for the church today and throughout our history. The Gospel has suffered, that is, it has been misunderstood and blamed, due to the activity of those among us who play an activist role in politics, social justice and civil purity. While such activity is not against the will of God, it is completely cosmetic. It addresses behavior and not the heart. The heart of man is the goal of the Gospel. If the heart is converted, behavior will follow, and that without force.
Activism can be and has been overdone within the church; both today and throughout our history many of us have actively and forcefully been against worldly people, and worldly people have been very vocal and even took violent action against us. The behavior of some people and some governing bodies over our respective communities have been the focal point of protest, at times political and / or economic pressure was brought to bear, and sometimes such protest became violent. To a point, it is the will of God to object to evil behavior and protest the cruelty we see in places of power like the government and commercial industry, because God desires peace not only for his people but for all people. However, ultimately God is the Judge of such behavior, not the church. God has not commissioned his Church to correct behavior, but to preach the Gospel and to live out the life of Christ in our own lives as an example to those who are ignorant. It is the responsibility of the Holy Spirit to convict the world of sin, not ours.
At times and by some among us, this commission was misunderstood to mean to take matters into our own hands, such as what Abram and Sarai did when it was suggested they could obtain the blessing of God through Hagar. Although Abram and Sarai had good intentions, and I don’t doubt the intentions of most of the activists among us, the will of God is not done through our efforts alone, and God will not change his method of carrying out his will to accommodate our impatient desires to see his will done.
What I mean to say is this: if at the end of the day I am known more by what I am against than by the Gospel Christ sent me to preach or make known to the world, then I may have succeeded in my plan, but I have ultimately failed in what Christ has sent me to do. If people know me more for my political viewpoint than for what they see in me (namely Christ in me), then am I not guilty of hiding Christ in my napkin (cp. Luke 19:20 and Matthew 25:25)? I don’t need to be against every man and every man against me in order to fulfill my responsibility before the Lord. It is enough, if I wait upon him and let him be seen both in my behavior and in what I say. The Holy Spirit will address the hearts of the world around me that I seek to affect in the name of Christ through the Gospel.