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
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).
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?