The passage brought out the failings of the characters mentioned. The flaws of Sarai, Hagar her maidservant and Abram were clear in these 16 verses.
(A) Sarai’s Proposal: Impatience and self-centredness (16:1-3)
Chapter 16 begins with a barren Sarai, in spite of God's promise to Abram of many many descendants (Gen 12, 15) which was sealed with a covenant (Gen 15). In verse 2, she proposed that Abram sleep with her servant. She sought to build her own legacy through her own means. To her, God seemed to be against her. Therefore, she felt, she had to resort to her own means to help fulfill God's promises. How did Abram respond? He went ahead with this plan. Abram did not make any effort to stop her. He did not take into consideration God's promises and agreed with her plan. Like him, we often respond to proposals etc without factoring in God. In so many ways too, our faith is inconsistent. Abram came off a vivid encounter of God and covenant making in the previous chapter, yet failed here.
Note that in this passage, polygamy is described, but it is not prescribed in the Bible. The problems of going against God's plan and design for marriage are described in this passage too, as we will see!
(B) Hagar’s Response and its Result: Human pride and anger (16:4-6)
Hagar conceived and became arrogant, and "looked with contempt on her mistress". Suddenly, a servant has been promoted to the status of a second wife, and now bearing an heir. We see her insecurities and pride outwardly manifested in ungracious and ungrateful behaviour.
Sarai, naturally, did not take to this and lashed out at Abram (16:5). Her plan for an heir in the family had succeeded, but she was upset because she did not think that she deserved such contemptuous treatment by her maidservant. The passivity of Abram is once more clear in verse 6. He did nothing to address Sarai's anger and even gave her permission to do as she saw fit.
These verses show us that family conflict, and even national wars often stem from pride as our self-interests clash. The family that God chose to bless was not perfect and not exempt from it too!
(C) God’s Intervention: Hearing, seeing, restoring (16:7-16)
Hagar ran away from the household, and encountered an angel of the Lord (Gen 16:7). The command was given to her to return to the house and submit to Sarai. In verse 11-12, Hagar was also told of her pregnancy, and the future of this son that she bears. Her offspring would be numerous, but they would not live in peace with their neighbours. Hagar responded in praise to this God that saw her need (Gen 16:13), and returned to the house in obedience (Gen 16:15).
This passage helped us to see the consequences of our own sins on human relationships. Sarai's impatience and self-centredness, coupled with Abram's passivity and Hagar's pride led to the breakdown of relationships and conflicts in this narrative. In Gen 15, God made a covenant with Abram, where God pledged His faithfulness and promise to bear the consequences if He broke the covenant, and also if Abram did not keep to it. In Gen 16, one chapter later, we read of Abram's inability to do so, choosing to accept his wife's plans instead of trusting God completely. Yet God remained completely faithful, and intervened. He saw Hagar's plight, reached out to her, and restored her in the household. Once more, God intervened in the lives of this family, and worked things out despite the mess that this family had made.
Like all the characters here, we continue to mess up in life. But God, in and through Christ, has dealt with our sin. Today, let us come to him, confessing our disobedience and pride. Let us also thank Him for the grace shown to us through Jesus Christ!