Hagar and Ishmael, Genesis 16

Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian maidservant named Hagar; so she said to Abram, ‘The LORD has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a family through her.’ Abram agreed to do what Sarai said.” –Genesis 16:1-2

Genesis 16 is bittersweet.

Bitter from the consequences of Abram and Sarai’s efforts to “help God by helping themselves”, which have snowballed into the Israeli-Arab conflict we see today. (The Arabs descended from Ishmael.)

But this chapter is not without some sweet spots. In compassion, God reaches out to Hagar—who is forced into an ugly situation—and graciously promises that her son, Ishmael, will also have many descendants.

You may read Genesis 16 here: Bible Gateway.

The Back Story 

“So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised.” – Hebrews 10:35-36

Abram and Sarai, now 85 and 75 respectively, have demonstrated great faith in God’s promise of many descendants. But after years without conceiving—not to mention the human impossibility to birth babies in their old age—the thin scraps of their faith finally snap.

Unwilling to forfeit the possibility of having a family, Sarai proposes a last-ditch effort that aligns with the common practice of their day.

Go, sleep with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a family through her.”

Since Hagar is their own personal property, any children she might bear to Abram would belong to Sarai (according to customs).

Abram concedes. And Hagar conceives.

Naturally, sparks begin to fly between Sarai and Hagar with this newly arranged marital affair. As tension builds, Sarai—who instigated this plan—blames Abram. So Abram allows Sarai to handle Hagar however she pleases.

The result? Sarai’s burning anger and frustration—against Abram, herself, and Hagar—boil into harsh mistreatment. In desperation, Hagar runs away.

El Roi: The God Who Sees

As the journey through the wilderness (probably towards her home in Egypt) would be tough, the “angel of the Lord” meets Hagar and tells her to go back to Abram.

This is the first use of the “angel of the Lord” in the Bible. The context (vs. 13) implies that this “angel” was God Himself, another preincarnate appearance of the Messiah.

I love that God addresses Hagar by name. Although He gave special promises to Abram, His love and concern for individuals are shown here. And though it wasn’t God’s will for Abram and Hagar’s union, He promised Hagar a son who would also have many descendants. God gave him the name, Ishmael, which means “God hears”. Hagar would likely remember how God met her need. She also named the well where God spoke to her “the well of the Living One who seeth me” (Beer-lahai-roi), and called God El Roi: “the God who sees”.

God also reveals Ishmael’s future disposition to Hagar: “a wild donkey of a man” who will live in hostility toward all his brothers (vs. 12).

Hagar Returns

Encouraged from her encounter with God, Hagar returns to Abram. She must have told Abram her experience because when their baby is born, Abram (86 yrs.) names him Ishmael.


  • Sometimes our biggest test is waiting for God to act. The temptation to fix things is strong, but even our best intentions—apart from God—interfere with His plans. Although our motives may begin with a pure heart, God never justifies sinful means.
  • Anger, if left unchecked, can be dangerous. . . . Instead of blaming others, do we need to fess’ up and ask forgiveness in an area?
  • God often wants us to face our problems head-on instead of running away (even though it may be justified) . . . . Do we need an attitude adjustment? Which promise(s) of God do we need to stand on?

God Seals His promise to Give Abram the Land: Part 2, Genesis 15:12-21

My last post covered God’s renewal of His promise to give Abram the land (Part 1, Genesis 15:7-11).

In Summary

After inquiring God about possessing the land of Canaan, Abram obeys God’s instructions regarding an animal sacrifice. On completion of the sacrifice, Abram’s patience and perseverance are stretched as he drives away birds of prey swooping down on the carcasses. In the meanwhile, Abram waits for God’s response to his question.

We pick up with Genesis 15:12-21. You may read this section here: Bible Gateway.

As the sun sets Abram falls into a deep sleep. God is about to connect Abram’s sacrifice with His promise through a vision.


“Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him (Genesis 15:12).”

Although fear is often the response of people in the Bible who have encountered God, Henry Morris (The Genesis Record) suggests: “This [dreadful darkness] could only symbolize death itself, from which Abram was to be delivered by God’s covenantal grace. In the case of the nation sired by Abram, it also symbolized their long tribulation in the land of Egypt before they could inherit the promised land. Perhaps ultimately it also symbolized, as Adam’s ‘deep sleep’ had symbolized, the death of Christ and the glory that would follow.”

During Abram’s vision God prophesies the enslavement of Abram’s descendants in Egypt for 400 years. (The book of Exodus tells this story and how God powerfully delivers them.) Abram wouldn’t live through this horrible enslavement, however, or see the fulfillment of the promised land. But God advised him that he would die peacefully at a ripe old age.

Why Did God Delay His Judgment on the Canaanites?

The reason God delayed judgment on the people of Canaan was that “the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure” (vs. 16). God—not willing that anyone perish (2 Peter 3:9)—delayed His judgment just as he did with the Flood for 120 years.

Legalized Agreements

In Abram’s day involved parties legalized an agreement with a graphic ceremony. The dividing of an animal sealed the covenant. After the animal was cut in half the two parties would pass between the halves and repeat the covenant’s terms. In this way they were agreeing: “If I fail to fulfill my commitments to this covenant, may I suffer the same fate as this animal.”

Although Abram had divided the animals in his sacrifice, he could now only observe God pass between the animal halves as he was still engulfed in terrified darkness.

d3faee8c7577df9fa2d9c3a5bc2ea8b5God Seals His Covenant

In an unforgettable scene, God portrays Himself as a smoking firepot with a blazing torch as He alone passes between the pieces and seals His covenant. God—in response to Abram’s believing faith—was not dependent on Abram to fulfill His part of the contract.

The fire and smoke suggests God’s holiness, His zeal for righteousness, and His judgment on the nations. God took the initiative, gave the confirmation, and followed through on his promises.” (The NIV Life Application Study Bible)

After sealing His covenant God specifies the boundaries of the promised land (vs. 18-21). (For more on God’s covenant land borders see: Israeli Frontline.)

Next week we’ll see how Sarai, impatient with God’s timing, devises a plan in hopes of jump-starting God’s promise of many descendants. Have a terrific week!

God Renews His Promise to Give Abram the Land: Part 1, Genesis 15:7-11

I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.” – Genesis 15:7

This is my third post from Genesis 15 on the Abrahamic Covenant. You may read the first two posts here: The Word of the Lord; God Renews His Promise to Abram.

In summary (Genesis 15:1-6):

  • God’s word came to Abram in a vision. He told Abram to not be afraid, for He would be his shield and very great reward (15:1-2).
  • Abram questioned God: “What can you give me since I remain childless?”
  • As God’s vision to Abram continued, He told Abram that his son would come from his own body. Once again, God renewed His promise to give Abram many descendants. This time He told him to count the stars—if indeed he could count them—“So shall your offspring be,” (15:4-5).
  • Abram believed God, and God credited (imputed) it to him as righteousness (15:6).


This post covers Genesis 15:7-11. You may read it here: Bible Gateway.

God renews His promise to give Abram the land, (Part 1).

Unlike us, Abram didn’t have access to a Bible for guidance. We know that Abram believed God’s words (Gen. 15:6). So Abram’s questions were more of an inquiry, seeking confirmation of details and assurance, rather than an expression of doubt:

O Sovereign LORD, how can I know that I will gain possession of it [the land of Canaan]?” – vs. 8

God’s answer ends in an unforgettable ceremony. But first, God gives Abram specific instructions.

Abram’s Sacrifice

God tells Abram to bring: a heifer, a goat and a ram, (each three years old), along with a dove and a young pigeon.

Animal sacrifices in the Old Testament sound strange. But when Abram practiced God’s instructions, he knew that sin’s curse could only be removed by sacrifice in the shedding of blood.

Layman’s Bible Commentary notes: “The sacrifice that God instructs Abram to make involves the same ceremonially clean animals that are used later in the sacrificial system under the Law of Moses. The use of five different kinds of sacrificial animals underlines the solemnity of the occasion. The text implies that Abram is familiar with the ritual to take place, because God does not explicitly state what to do with the animals; he also sacrifices them and lays them out as an offering (15:9-10).”

God’s Timing

In His perfect timing, God would connect the sacrifice with His promise. When God finally responded, (which we will explore next week), Abram could only observe in an unforgettable, sensory enriched ceremony (vs. 12-21).

But after Abram prepared his sacrifice, God was silent.

Abram waited. . . . And he waited. . . . And he waited.

In the meanwhile, birds of prey swooped down on the carcasses. But Abram held his ground and successfully drove them away.

Why Did God Wait to Respond?

(Picture Source: bklynmed.tumbler.com) Henry Morris suggests: “The delay possibly symbolized the fact that, although God’s covenant would be sure, its accomplishment would take a long time. . . . This experience [having to drive off the birds of prey] no doubt symbolized the attempts of Satan to thwart the plans of God, plus the need for alertness in the believer in order that the enemy not succeed.”

Satan’s tactics include:
  • Doubt – of God and His Word
  • Discouragement – taking our focus off of God and onto our problems
  • Diversion – making the wrong things appear more attractive than the right things
  • Defeat – making you feel like you’ve failed, so why try?
  • Delay – convinces us to procrastinate, so we don’t act on the right choice

When you find yourself waiting on God, keep praying and hold tight to His promises (Eph. 6). Our all-knowing God will act in His perfect timing.


Stay tuned . . .  Next week we’ll discover how God seals the deal concerning the land (Part 2, Genesis 15:12-21).  Have a great week!

God Renews His Promise to Abram, Genesis 15:2-7

After God promises Abram that He will be his shield and very great reward (Gen. 15:1), Abram voices his concern:

O Sovereign LORD, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus? . . . .You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir,” (Gen. 15:2-3).

You may read Genesis 15:1-7 here: Bible Gateway.

The custom in that day held that if Abram died without a son, his oldest servant would become his heir. Even though Abram valued Eliezer, his chief administrator (Gen. 24), he yearned for a son to carry on the family line. And his nephew, Lot—with no record of appreciation for Abram saving his life—had returned to Sodom.

God’s promise of many descendants didn’t align with Abram’s present reality.

But our God—being the God of the impossible—reminded Abram that his son would come from his own body.

Once again, God confirms His promise to Abram (12:2; 13:15-16).

“Before, God said Abram’s seed would be as the dust of the earth. Now, He says they will be as the stars of heaven. Not only does this imply a great number, but perhaps also that the sphere of activity of the promised seed in the eternal ages will be both on earth and in heaven.” – Henry Morris

God Credits Abram with Righteousness

Abram’s response in Genesis 15:6 is considered by some to be the most important verse in the Old Testament: “Abram believed the LORD, and He credited [or imputed] it to him as righteousness.”

For the first time, the principle of true salvation is set forth in the Bible. The New Testament not only confirms salvation by faith, but also sets Abraham as a type of all who would be saved (Rom. 4:3; Gal. 3:6; James 2:23).

God declared Abram clean and morally right—righteous—not from his outward actions of obedience and/or works, (although these are by-products of faith), but rather on the basis of his faith.

In Noah’s case, ‘grace’ comes before ‘righteousness’; in Abram’s case, ‘faith’ comes before ‘righteousness.’ The one stresses God’s sovereignty, the other man’s responsibility. Both are true and necessary. ‘By grace are ye saved through faith. . . . For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works” (Eph. 2:8, 10).  – Henry Morris, The Genesis Record


  • There are many times when we can’t see God’s big picture for our lives, but He is constantly working to accomplish His purposes. “In all things He works for the good of those who love Him (Rom. 8:28).”
  • God has always yearned for His people to trust Him: to believe He is who He says He is and does what He says He will do.
  • Today, we live under God’s new covenant: God graciously provides forgiveness of our sins and gives salvation (unto righteousness) through faith in His Son, Jesus Christ, because of His atoning sacrifice on the cross.
  • Have you taken this step of faith? (For more on salvation and righteousness see: Peace Through Christ.)

The Word of the Lord, Genesis 15:1

After this, the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: ‘Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.’ – Genesis 15:1

Because there are so many great insights in chapter 15, I am breaking this chapter into four sections/posts.

It’s easy to gloss over Genesis 15:1. But a deeper inspection reveals many great firsts in Scripture. This is the first time the words “vision”, “shield”, and “reward” are used. More importantly, this is the first of the great “I am’s” mentioned. God’s very name is: “I am that I am” (Exodus 3:14). Christ began many of His words with “I am”:

  • the light of the world
  • the way, truth and life
  • the door
  • the Alpha and Omega
  • the root and offspring of David, and the bright and morning star

    Proverbs 30:5

    Proverbs 30:5

This is also the first time “word” is used. It is significant that this first occurrence of “word” conveys God’s message to man—not man’s message—and communicates a huge claim and promise to Abram.

God considers His word so important that He values it over His name (Psalm 138:2).

Henry Morris (The Genesis Record) writes: “The concept of the Word of God includes both the written Word, Holy Scripture, and the living Word, God the Second Person [Jesus]. . . . He is the sum of all that can be communicated. [His title] “Alpha and Omega” are, of course, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, the language chosen by God in which to inscripturate His new covenant with man. This proclamation seals the oneness of the written and living Words.”


Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.”

God had just given Abram victory over the eastern kings. So why was he afraid? Like everyone else, Abram fought fear. Maybe he was exhausted and feared the wrath of the kings he just defeated. Or—as verse two implies—maybe he feared that his servant, Eliezer, would inherit his estate since he was childless.

Whatever the root of Abram’s anxiety, God knew, just as He knows our fears.

I love how God encouraged and comforted Abram with a familiar hands-on tool. The Old Testament warrior’s primary defensive weapon was the shield. This mobile fort protected the soldier’s flesh from the enemy’s blade.

Not only would God be Abram’s great reward, He would also be his defender.

So What?

When fear knocks on our doors, remember: God is the great “I am”. Not only is He near, but He is also bigger than the sum of all our fears.

I like Morris’ commentary: “For the believer, Christ is both protection from all harm and provision of all needs. He provides our ‘shield of faith’ (Eph. 6:16)—indeed the “whole armor of God,” so that we can be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might (Eph. 6:10-11). He is also our ‘exceeding great [literally abundant] reward. . . . He is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us’ (Eph. 3:20).”