Genesis 16

The Word Made Fresh

1Sarai, Abram’s wife, had given him no children. She had an Egyptian maid, Hagar, 2and Sarai told Abram, “Since the LORD hasn’t let me have children, take my maid to bed. Perhaps I can have children through her.”

Abram agreed to do what she asked. 3So after having lived in the land of Canaan for ten years, Sarai, Abram’s wife, brought Hagar, her Egyptian maid, to Abram to be as his wife. 4He slept with Hagar and she became pregnant. When she realized that she was carrying Abram’s child she turned up her nose at Sarai. 5Then Sarai lit into Abram. “It’s all your fault!” she said. “I let you sleep with my maid, and as soon as she knew she was pregnant she lost all respect for me. The LORD will be the judge between us!”

6Abram said, “She is your maid. Do whatever you want with her.” So, Sarai treated Hagar rudely, and Hagar ran away.

7The angel of the LORD found her by a spring in the wilderness on the way to Shur. 8The angel said, “Hagar, you are Sarai’s maid. Why are you here? Where are you going?”

I’m running away from Sarai.”

9The angel said, “Go back to her and do whatever she tells you.” 10The angel added, “Iwill see to it that your heritage will be such a great number of children that they can’t even be counted.” 11The angel went on, “You have conceived, and you will give birth to a boy. Name him Ishmael because God has heard your complaint. 12Your son will be a wild sort of fellow, in competition with everybody, and he will be at odds with all his kinfolk.”

13She said to the LORD, “You are El-Roi, the seeing God.” And she wondered, “Have I really seen God and lived to tell about it?” 14The spring became known as Beer-lahai-roi, “spring of the one who sees me.” It is located between Kadesh and Bered.

15So Hagar gave Abram a son, and Abram named the boy Ishmael. 16He was 86 years old when Ishmael was born.

Commentary

1-6: It is interesting that Sarai blames God for her barrenness, and I would love to know if Abram has told her about the dream he had in which God promised him many descendants. However that may be, it appears that Sarai was determined that if God wasn’t going to give her children for Abram, then she would take matters into her own hands. She offers Abram her Egyptian slave girl (Had she been acquired when they were in Egypt when Abram let Sarai become part of Pharaoh’s harem?) for baby-making. Her plan succeeds, but then she doesn’t like Hagar’s attitude.  Abram is smart enough not to get triangulated with this pair and tells her to handle it. She cracks down on Hagar, and the girl, who has already displayed her immaturity by her haughty attitude, runs away.

7: We meet an important character, the “angel of the LORD,” a mysterious entity who will appear sporadically through Genesis and beyond. The Hebrew word “mal’ach” essentially means “messenger,” and the temptation is to simply translate the phrase “the messenger of the LORD.” Sometimes, though, it is used to describe a temporary manifestation of God’s own person in human guise. That seems to be the case here.

8-9: So, Hagar is in the wilderness and the mal’ach finds her beside the spring on the way to Shur – a landmark that would have been familiar to anyone who lived in that region. He tells her to go back to Sarai, advice which any human adult might give to a wayward girl.

10: But now the mal’ach tells her something we would expect only God to say, that her descendants would be uncountable. This sounds like what God told Abram in his vision of the stars (15:5), which makes us wonder if that promise is to be fulfilled through Hagar.

11-12: The mal’ach tells her that she will have a son, and is to name him “Ishmael,” but then describes her son as a social misfit always in conflict with the rest of the family.

13-16: For her part, Hagar is convinced that she has indeed seen God face to face, and calls the mal’ach “El-roi,” “God who sees.” The spring is given a name that recalls the event, Beer-lehai-roi, “the well of the living one who sees.” She goes back to Sarai, has the baby, and Abram (who is 86 years old) names him Ishmael which means “God hears.” If Abram knew to name the boy Ishmael, it would seem that Hagar has told Abram of her encounter with the LORD, which tells us something about Abram’s relationship with her. It won’t last long, though – Sarai will see to that!

Takeaway

There is no judgment on Sarai for giving her maid to Abram, and no judgment on Abram for having a sexual relationship with the maid. God is willing to overlook much of early human behavior that later is characterized as sinful. It seems that God is willing to allow humanity to move toward a point at which more detailed rules about behavior can be presented. It is very much the way parents raise a child, isn’t it?