Well thank you once again for checking out the podcast, I’m glad you are tuning in. I am your host Randy Duncan, and if this is your first time listening, we are making our way through the book of Genesis verse by verse.
In the last episode we completed chapter 15, which saw God’s covenant with Abraham. I mentioned last time that the most frequent statement of God to man in the Hebrew Bible is “Do not fear”, and a couple of possible explanations for that. I also spent quite a bit of time explaining God’s covenenant with Abraham, that it was a unilateral covenant, and how covenants were cut back in the ancient near east. But the chapter ends as God once again ratifies the covenant to give the land to Abraham’s descendents, although they would have to wait 400 years.
Which brings us now to chapter 16. In this chapter we are going to see a change of pace from what we have seen over the previous three or four episodes. This chapter is going to see Sarah become much more involved in the narrative. Also as a reminder, I am well aware that God has not yet changed Abraham and Sarah’s names yet, but I am still referring to them that way for the sake of our listeners. And so with that, let’s jump into chapter 16.
Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. She had a female Egyptian servant whose name was Hagar. 2 And Sarai said to Abram, “Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. 3 So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her servant, and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife.
First of all, notice that it has now been 10 years since Abraham departed his own land to follow God. V3 tells us that he has now lived in Canaan for 10 years. God told Abraham that he would have many descendants of his own, from his own loins. And yet, still, 10 years after that promise, Sarah still has not had a child.
Imagine how confused and frustrated she must be by now. And as she likely considers God’s promise to Abraham that he would have a child, an heir, of his own issue, through his own loins, she realizes perhaps that God did not specify her as being the mother. And so, in her desperation, she resorts to providing a surrogate wife to Abraham.
So, a couple of things here. First, notice that Sarah gives her servant Hagar to Abraham as a wife. She is not part of some harem. She is not a concubine. She is given to Abraham as a wife.
Hagar was a maidservant of Sarah’s. A maidservant was a personal servant who attended to the needs of her mistress. Hagar’s relationship to Sarah would have resembled Eleazer’s relationship to Abraham that we saw back in chapter 15. If you remember, Abraham said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus? And Abram said further, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household (the one in charge of my household) will be my heir.
Of course, God corrected him, telling him that Eleazer would not be his heir, but the point is that Hagar’s relationship to Sarah would have been this type of relationship. And now she is giving Hagar to Abraham as a wife so that he can have a child by her.
Now of course, this sounds a bit strange as we sit here in our culture in 2021. But for the people of the ancient near east, this was not at all strange. In fact, this was common practice, and is well documented. It was even sometimes part of a marriage contract that stipulated that if the wife was barren, she would supply the husband with a surrogate child-bearer.
So what we see is Sarah trying to engineer the fullfillment of God’s promise herself, and Abraham goes along with it. It is interesting that there is no mention of Sarah seeking God’s advice or direction or help. This is in contrast to Abraham, who in the last chapter spoke with God about his servant Eleazer becoming his heir. As I just mentioned, God said no to Abraham regarding his servant. I feel certain if Sarah would have gone to God, he would have also told her no to her servant becoming a surrogate for God’s promised son to Abraham.
If you think back, remember, when the famine struck the land, Abraham sets off to Egypt without consulting God. How did that work out for him? Not good! Sarah gets taken by Pharaoh. God of course bails him out of that mess, but here, Abraham listens to Sarah without consulting God on such a weighty matter. And we are going to see that this will not work out well either.
It is a bit reminiscent of Adam and Eve, where Adam listened to Eve at a time when Eve was not acting out of faith, but out of her own desires. That didn’t work out so well either.
It is also interesting if you look at even the verbs associated with Sarah and Eve’s faithless acts. Listen again to what Eve did in Gen 3:6, when she saw that the fruit of the tree was to be desired, what did she do? She took, she gave, and who did she give it to? Her husband. What did Sarah do here? She took Hagar, she gave Hagar, and to whom did she give? Her husband. They both desired, took, then gave to their husbands.
Now, before we are too harsh with Abraham’s decision here, let’s consider a couple of things. One, he has been told by God that he would have a child that would be his biologically. Sarah was obviously not able to have children, so the Hagar option, fitting with the custom of the day, probably seemed like a reasonable option.
Did Abraham convince himself that this was how God was going to provide him with a son? Was he trying to help God out a little maybe?
I think there is a lesson here for all of us, in that we can err in one of two ways. If we decide Abraham was wrong to get ahead of God’s timing, rather than wait on God, we may be inclined to sit on the sidelines for much of our life, waiting on something to happen and for God to move, when in reality, God may be waiting for us to move forward in faith.In other words, don’t sit and continue praying for a hole when God has supplied you with a shovel.
On the other hand, if we think that Abraham was justified in coming up with creative solutions to help God’s plan along, and we get out ahead of God, then we might find ourselves getting away from God’s will for our life. I think there is balance, and that in all things we should go to God in prayer, and ask him to lead us, to guide us in decisions that are in line with His will, and through which He will be honored.
Now getting back to the text, it mentions that Hagar was Egyptian. I wonder if she was one of the maidservents given to Abraham by Pharaoh after Pharaoh had taken Sarah, you know, when Pharaoh sent Abraham away after God explained things a little more clearly to Pharoah?
It is also ironic that now Abraham is going to have a child born to him by an Egyptian servant, a member of the very people who will enslave Abraham’s promised descendants for 400 years.
V4-6 read “4 And he went in to Hagar, and she conceived. And when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress. 5 And Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my servant to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the Lord judge between you and me!” 6 But Abram said to Sarai, “Behold, your servant is in your power; do to her as you please.” Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she fled from her.
Well, this is going about how you would expect. Abraham has sex with his new wife, Hagar, she gets pregnant, and then Hagar begins to looks at Sarah with contempt. She has a bit of spite and resentment and feeling of superiority to Sarah. Sarah was lowered in her esteem is the context here.
Back in that culture, a woman’s barreness was regarded as a disgrace, and in some ancient cultures actually involved the diminished social position of a barren wife. And Hagar probably felt like Abraham was dependent upon her since she was carrying his heir.
However, this attitude was a mistake on Hagar’s part. Ancient Near East laws protected the first wife against this exact scenario. And now, because Hagar begins to treat Sarah with disdain, Sarah tells Abraham that it is his responsibility to address the situation and remind the maidservant of her role in the family. In other words, to put her in her place. Remember, Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham as a wife, so she no longer has exclusive authority over her.
Again, the similarities to Adam and Eve are interesting here, because Sarah is now placing the blame on Abraham, just as Eve shifted the blame to Satan. And just like Adam, Abraham sort of shrugs off his responsibility. Adam blames Eve, whereas Abraham simply tells Sarah that Hagar is under her control and to do her as she pleased.
Sarah says to Abraham, “May the wrong done to me be on you”. What is being communicated in the actual Hebrew here is that the wrong is some sort of flagrant violation of law. And when she refers to the wrong done against me, Sarah is expressing the fact that she is suffering. So she is taking her complaint to Abraham.
So this situation is not turning out real well, It is interesting what we read in Proverbs 30:21-23…Under three things the earth trembles; under four it cannot bear up:22 a slave when he becomes king, and a fool when he is filled with food; 23 an unloved woman when she gets a husband, and a maidservant when she displaces her mistress”. Interesting. And now Sarah wants something done about Hagar’s attitude.
After Abraham tells Sarah that she can deal with Hagar however she wants, how does Sarah respond to Hagar? She mistreats her. The Hebrew verb used here ,ana (uh,nah), suggests that she treated her harshly, she afflicted her, oppressed her. In fact, this is the same exact Hebrew verb used by God when telling Abraham that his descendents would be afflicted by the Egyptians for 400 years. And it carries with it the nuance of a critical judgment concerning her actions. In other words, Sarah was wrong to treat Hagar the way she did.
Female Torah scholar Nehama Leibowitz has made the point that while it may have been noble in some ways for Sarah to offer her handmaid to Abraham as a wife, she should have thought in advance about how she would react to seeing another woman carrying his child. And she makes the good point of cautioning that if we are going to undertake a mission that requires moral and spiritual discipline, that we should first make sure that we possess moral and spiritual discipline!
One thing about the Bible, it does not sugarcoat anything or anybody. It presents people, even great people, warts and all. And we all know that this is how life and people actually are. That’s just another thing that separates the Bible from any other religious book, it tells it like it is. The Bible doesn’t try and paint perfect pictures of imperfect people. There are no perfect people. Jesus reminded us of that when he was asked a question by the rich ruler. Luke 18:18-19 it says “ 18 And a ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.
Interesting that Jesus clarifies that there are no good people even before he answered his question concerning eternal life. You see, we have lost a sense of and perspective of what it actually means to be good. You may be nice, but you are not good. You might be good compared to your neighbor. But unfortunately, your neighbor is not the standard. God is the standard. And what is that standard? Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount.
Now, many people are familiar with many of the teachings from the Sermon on the Mount, many of the beatitudes, such as blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are the pure in heart, as well as his teachings regarding anger, lust, loving your enemies, and so forth. But rarely do you hear anyone mentioning the way Jesus ended that whole section. He ends it in Matthew 5:48 by saying, You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. So, you want the standard, there is the standard. Be perfect, just like God is perfect.
And you know, of course, that you haven’t been perfect. You are unable to be perfect. You have sinned. Which is why it is not possible to have a right relationship with God. That is why your relationship with God is broken. And for you to be reconciled to God, there is a penalty that must be paid. God’s perfect holiness and justice requires punishment for wrongs and evils committed against Him. The Bible tells us that the wages of sin is death. And we are all going to pay that penalty of death. We all have it coming. Which is the reason Jesus came in the first place.To pay the penalty for us. To take upon himself the punishment that we deserved. And if you will accept his payment for you, repent of your sin, turn away from your sin and go the other direction, accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior, your sins will be forgiven. The issue many people have though is that they want a Savior, they just don’t want a Lord. Yes, you are still going to die physically. But the real you, your soul, what makes you, you, will live on forever. And the only question is whether you spend eternity in God’s presence or away from God’s presence.
Getting back to our text then, how does Hagar react to Sarah’s mistreatment? She flees. She heads out. And we pick-up the text then with verses 7-12
Verse 7 begins….7 The angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur. 8 And he said, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” She said, “I am fleeing from my mistress Sarai.” 9 The angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress and submit to her.” 10 The angel of the Lord also said to her, “I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude.” 11 And the angel of the Lord said to her,“Behold, you are pregnant and shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, because the Lord has listened to your affliction. 12 He shall be a wild donkey of a man, his hand against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen.”
So Hagar leaves, and the angel of the Lord comes to her on the way to Shur. This implies that Hagar was heading back to her homeland of Egypt. The place name of Shur in Hebrew means “wall”, and is probably a reference to the border forts and walls that were constructed along the Isthmus of Suez to protect Egypt from Asian attacks. So if Abraham is still in Hebron, this means Hagar has travelled about 70 miles, and has been on the road for at least a week at this point.
Now the angel asks Hagar, “Where are you going and where have you come from?” The angel is asking simply to elicit a response from Hagar, not to learn something that he doesn’t already know. Of course the angel already knows, because in the next couple of verses, he tells Hagar that she is pregnant, what gender the child will be, what type of man he will become, and what to name him! In other words, the angel already knows who she is, and so this encounter is not by chance, it is deliberate and on purpose.
It also tells us what kind of man Ishmael will be, a wild donkey of a man, which is sort of a metaphor for a fearless and individualistic lifestyle not shackled or chained by social conventions. His passion for freedom will lead him into conflict with everyone. Although God will bless him and his family, it will not be in the land of promise.
Now, a word regarding the angel. The Hebrew word for Angel means messenger of God, and even the Greek words for Angel mean messenger. And this is the first of several instances of announcements by a divine messenger predicting the birth and destiny of someone who will be significant in God’s plan for history.
For example, we see an angel announcing the birth of John the Baptist and of Jesus. The angel in those two instances identifies himself as Gabriel. In Luke 1:19 where the angel is telling of the future birth of John the Baptist we read 19 And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.
So is this angel who comes to Hagar also Gabriel? We don’t know for certain. In fact, there are some who argue that this is actually a visit from the pre-incarnate Christ. They argue that the phrase the Angel of the Lord is the pre-incarnate Christ, and it also appears in other places in the Old Testament. I don’t have the time to get into that right here, but perhaps we will broach that subject in a couple of episodes from now prior to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
13 So she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, “You are a God of seeing,” for she said, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me. 14 Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi it lies between Kadesh and Bered.15 And Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. 16 Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram.
Now, this is the only instance in all of the Bible where somebody actually confers a name on God. And she gives God a name that has a special significance to her. The name she provides God means “God of seeing”, or “God who sees me”.
But Hagar returns to Abraham, bears him a son just as the angel described, and Abraham names him Ishmael, just as the angel instructed.
This chapter ends giving us Abraham’s age when Ishmael was born. He was 86. We also know that Sarah still had no children, and that it would now be about another 10 years before God would deliver on his promise to supernaturally provide Abraham and Sarah a child.
And so as we close chapter 16 out, we see Sarah, still childless, now struggling to deal with the consequences of trying to help God make things work out. But nowhere does the Bible record Sarah going to God asking for guidance, or even praying for God to help her understand how it was possible for Abraham and her to have children.
We also see that Abraham doesn’t consult God either on this most serious of matters. They both followed the social customs of the day without seeking direction from God, or receiving a word from God.
And so sometimes in our eagerness to help God out, we may very well be interrupting his perfect timing. Especially when he has already promised what he is going to do. All we need sometimes is to exercise a bit more patience, a little more faith, and to trust and know that God is working things out according to His perfect will and perfect plan in a way that we can’t always know and that we can’t always see.
I leave you this week with Romans 8:28, which tells us “28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose”