This is a short study and could be combined with Genesis 15 or 17.


So far we have looked at the account of creation, Adam and Eve, Noah, the flood, God’s covenant, the Tower of Babel, how nations were formed and the move that would bring Abram from the mouth of the Euphrates, to Canaan. We saw how lot and Abram parted, and how Abram rescued Lot when the kings from the north attacked. We then saw how God specifically repeated his covenant with Abram: that he would have many descendants and occupy the Promised Land.

Genesis 16

1 Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; 2 so she said to Abram, ‘The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.’

Abram agreed to what Sarai said.

The thinking was, if Abram had been promised a son, and Sarai could not have children, then if he could have a child with her slave, Sarai could take it as her own and thus provide an heir for Abram.

That was a perfectly acceptable, legal, normal, sensible idea. A slave that you had purchased was yours to do with as you wished. In Sarai’s mind only Abram had been promised a son – and Abram agreed to the plan.

Never in their wildest dreams could they have imagined what that would lead to – although the Arab world is grateful to Abram’s firstborn son.

Neither did they stop to think what would happen to the relationship between Abram, Sarai and Hagar. So far it had been a straight line (Draw arrow on board and label it)

     Abram: head,

     Sarai:   wife of Abram, and mistress of Hagar

     Hagar: slave.

Now it had become a triangle (Draw triangle on board and label the corners)

                               Abram: head

        Sarai: wife of Abram             Hagar: mistress of Abram

Sarai had been living in Pharaoh’s palace while they were in Egypt. As an obviously influential person, the slave selected for her (or by her) was in all probability younger than her and would have been intelligent and attractive.

In Hagar’s mind she could imagine that Abram had chosen her to become his concubine because his wife had failed him.

For Abram the task may not have been an onerous one, in fact, it may have been agreeable. And it may have been repeated over the next weeks – even months.

The relationship had changed – look at verse 3: to be his wife.

3 So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. 4 He slept with Hagar, and she conceived.

When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress.

Why was that?

It had all seemed so simple – but playing God with people’s lives is never a good idea. Hagar was a person – not just a slave. She had had a fruitful relationship with Abram where Sarai had failed. She was to have an important son where her mistress couldn’t. And who was she to think she could take him as her own? And she began to despise her mistress.

So Sarai said to Abram ‘It’s all your fault!’

5 Then Sarai said to Abram, ‘You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my slave in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the Lord judge between you and me.’

What do you make of the phrase ‘May the Lord judge between you and me.’ ?

6 ‘Your slave is in your hands,’ Abram said. ‘Do with her whatever you think best.’ Then Sarai ill-treated Hagar; so she fled from her.

Hagar, now pregnant, had overstepped herself and was in trouble. She would get no support from Abram, so she flees.

7 The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur.

Hagar was on the road leading to Egypt; in her mind, the only obvious direction. But she was probably unprepared for such a journey and as this road had to pass through the desert, Hagar would be unlikely to survive. But the Lord knew about Hagar, and where to find her.

8 And he said, ‘Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?’

What a good question. Perhaps from time to time we need to ask it of ourselves!

Hagar’s response to the question was totally honest, but she had no answer to the second part:

‘I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,’ she answered.

9 Then the angel of the Lord told her, ‘Go back to your mistress and submit to her.’ 10 The angel added, ‘I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.’

Her child is Abram’s son and will therefore share in his blessing

11 The angel of the Lord also said to her:

‘You are now pregnant and you will give birth to a son.
You shall name him Ishmael, for the Lord has heard of your misery.

Ishmael means ‘God hears’. He hears his selected man Abram, but he also hears the runaway slave girl.

Is God selective in his dealings with people? Does he choose one but ignore another?

Knowing all that the future would hold for Ishmael, the Lord still saved him and his mother from perishing in the desert. However, the future for Ishmael will be very different to that mapped out for Isaac:

12 He will be a wild donkey of a man;
his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him,
and he will live in hostility towards all his brothers.’

13 She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me,’ for she said, ‘I have now seen the One who sees me.’ 14 That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi; it is still there, between Kadesh and Bered.

This was not a casual encounter. Hagar may have named the well ‘Well of the Living One who sees me’, but the story she told of her encounter with God was such that the name became accepted by everyone for several hundred years ‘it is still there’.

Hagar returned. It is likely that tempers had cooled and that Sarai and Abram had realised that they had lost their only hope of a son. Hagar no doubt told them of her encounter with the Lord and Hagar was received back into the family.

15 So Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram gave the name Ishmael to the son she had borne. 16 Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael.

And they brought Ishmael up as their son and heir for the next thirteen years (Genesis 17:26).

Genesis 17Genesis 15

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Genesis 16:1-16 Hagar and Ishmael