After Abram received the prophecy from the Lord regarding his descendants and his blessings, Abram and Sarai waited for ten years without any heir. In this passage, we will see how Abram and Sarai dealt with God’s promise using their own ways and the conflict that resulted from their decision. Later, this event also shows us how one’s deeds to achieve a certain promise will affect one’s faith toward God.
Did You Know...?
- Maidservant (16:1): Slave women or bondswomen were considered as property and legal extensions of their mistress. [ref]
- Obtain children (16:2): In Hebrew, the word “obtain” can be translated as “build.” Thus, we may translate the second verse of chapter sixteen as “…perhaps I shall be a builder up out of her.”
- The Angel (16:7) literally means “the messenger” in Hebrew.
- “On the way to Shur” (16:7): In Genesis 25:18, it is said that Shur is located east of Egypt as one goes toward Assyria. Today, it is probable that Shur is the modern Dschifar in the north-west of Arabian Desert. Thus, Hagar was clearly directing her flight to Egypt. [ref]
- Ishmael (16:11) literally means “God shall hear” or whom God hears” in Hebrew.
- Beer Lahai Roi (16:14): In Hebrew, the sentence literally means “Well of The One Who Lives and Sees Me.”
- Kadesh (16:14) is an oasis at the southern edge of Palestine (Josh 15:3). It is probably the modern Ain el-Qureirat, earlier known as En-mishpat (Gen 14:7). Presently, it is the largest spring in the region and flows all year. [ref]
- Bered (16:14) is a place in Negev, beyond the well of Beer-Lahai-Roi. The exact site has not been determined, though it has been differently identified as Ain Muweileh, 12.5 miles northwest of Ain Qedeis, and Khirbet Halaseh, 15 miles southwest of Beer-Sheba. [ref]
- “Gave her to be his wife” (16:3): Concubines did not have the full status of wives but were girls who came to the marriage with no dowry and whose role included childbearing. These women were all legal extensions of their mistress and any children they bore could be designated as the children of their mistress. [ref]
10. “Submit yourself” (16:9): In Hebrew, the sentence can literally be translated as “humble yourself.”
What was the conflict between Genesis 15:4 and 16:1?Hide Answer
In Genesis 15:2-4, the LORD made a promise directly to Abram that his servant, Eliezer—the one who had been born in his house (Gen 15:3)—would not be his heir. Instead, the LORD promised him that an heir would come from his own body. But in Genesis 16:1, both Abram and Sarai must deal with the fact that Sarai had borne no children to Abram. In other words, Sarai was barren—a biological fact that was impossible to be changed or altered.
How old was Sarai in Genesis 16? And how long had she been waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promise regarding of an heir? See also Gen 17:1, 17.Hide Answer
At this point of time in Genesis 16, Sarai was 76 years old (Gen 16:16, 17:1, 17). Since the LORD promised and made a covenant with Abram regarding his heir and descendants—whom would come from his own body in Genesis 15—Sarai had been waiting for ten years in Canaan for the fulfillment of the promise. Yet, after ten years, she was still barren. In fact, she had been barren for all her life.
How did Sarai respond to her barrenness?Hide Answer
In responding to her barrenness, Sarai said that it was the LORD who restrained her from bearing children (Gen 16:2). In other words, Sarai felt that it was the LORD who prevented her from giving birth through Abram’s seed. Sarai also took her Egyptian maidservant, Hagar, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife so that she could obtain children by Hagar (Gen 16:2-3). Since the LORD closed Sarai’s womb, she “borrowed” Hagar’s womb as a means to produce an heir of Abram.
How did Abram respond to Sarai’s plan?Hide Answer
After Sarai proposed her plan, Abram heeded the voice of Sarai (Gen 16:2) and went in to Hagar for the purpose of obtaining children through the maidservant (Gen 16:4).
As Sarai’s husband, what could Abram have done instead to his wife’s proposed plan?Hide Answer
Instead of yielding to Sarai’s plan and succumbing to the custom of his culture, Abram could have reminded his wife that the LORD already promised and made a covenant with him regarding his heir. Abram could also admonished Sarai that the fullfilment of the LORD’s promise was not through their own scheme, but rather it was through the LORD’s time and way.
What can we learn from Abram and Sarai’s attitude in responding to God’s promise?Hide Answer
Like Abram and Sarai, we may have also prayed and waited for God’s help to be fulfilled. Yet, when we become impatient in waiting for the fulfillment, we tend to use our own means to obtain the end result of God’s promise. For an example, we might be praying for God’s guidance for a job hunt. After a certain period of praying and searching, a job interview comes out but it requires us to work on the Sabbath day. While people may say that it is part of the Lord’s guidance, we should be careful not to interpret everything that goes according to our will as the Lord’s will.
Did God agree with the attitude and plan of Abram and Sarai? How did God confront them?Hide Answer
The plan of obtaining an heir through Hagar was not God’s plan. Later, God emphasized to Abram that only through Sarai would He give Abram a son (Gen 17:16).
Share your experience when the Lord disagreed with your method to achieve a certain outcome.
How did Hagar react when she had conceived? And what might have been the reason for her attitude?Hide Answer
When Hagar knew that she had conceived, her mistress, Sarai, became despised in her eyes (Gen 16:4). She despised her mistress most likely because of her ability to give an heir to her master Abram though she was but a maidservant. Her mistress, Sarai, although higher in status and wealth compared to Hagar, biologically failed to provide an heir.
Why did Sarai want the LORD to judge between Abram and her regarding the maidservant?Hide Answer
Sarai wanted the LORD to be the judge between Abram and her due to the wrongdoings that she had received from her own maidservant, Hagar (Gen 16:5). Sarai’s words to Abram suggested that Abram did not do anything and kept letting Hagar to despise her own mistress. Since Hagar was given to Abram’s embrace by Sarai as his wife, it was in Abram’s authority as the maidservant’s husband to prevent her from despising her own mistress.
How did Abram handle the conflict? What could he had done instead?Hide Answer
When conflict arose, Abram gave the maidservant back to the hand of Sarai and told Sarai to do to the maidservant as she pleased (Gen 16:6). Since Sarai gave her maidservant to Abram’s embrace as a wife, Abram—as the husband and the head of the family—should have had the responsibility to admonish the initiator of the conflict and had the responsibility to ease the conflict rather than giving all the responsibilities to Sarai only and letting Sarai dealt harshly with her (see comment 3b).
Share the result of a family conflict, when you acted as: A bystander;
How did the Angel of the LORD address Hagar? And what did it mean?Hide Answer
The Angel of the LORD addressed Hagar as Sarai’s maid (Gen 16:8). Although physically and culturally Hagar was given as Abram’s wife, the Angel of the LORD still considered Hagar as a maid of Sarai.
How did the Angel of the LORD respond to Hagar’s action in fleeing from her mistress? And what did it mean to her?Hide Answer
The Angel of the LORD not only told Hagar to return to her mistress—the one who provided for her when she was given by Pharaoh back in Egypt (Gen 12:16)—but also to submit herself under her mistress’ hand (Gen 16:9). The response meant that Hagar’s escape was not approved by the Angel of the LORD. For Hagar to return and to submit to her mistress’ authority, first she must repent of her mistake in despising her mistress and then she must humble herself to admit and ask for her mistress’ mercy to receive her back.
What teaching can we learn from the Angel of the LORD’s response to Hagar? See also Eph 6:5-6.Hide Answer
The Angel of the LORD told Hagar to submit herself under her mistress’ hand (Gen 16:9). It was not easy for Hagar to return to the mistress who had dealt harshly with her. But this is what humility is about—being obedient to authority. Similarly, the apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesians emphasizes that as servants we need to be obedient to our masters not with eyeservice, as menpleasers, but as the servants of Christ—”doing the will of God from the heart” (Eph 6:5-6). In other words, being obedient is not just lip service, but rather an act of submission shown from our heart through our deeds.
The Angel of the LORD told Hagar to submit herself under her mistress’ hand (Gen 16:9). It was not easy for Hagar to return to the mistress who had dealt harshly with her. But this is what humility is about—being obedient to authority. Similarly, the apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesians emphasizes that as servants we need to be obedient to our masters not with eyeservice, as menpleasers, but as the servants of Christ—”doing the will of God from the heart” (Eph 6:5-6). In other words, being obedient is not just lip service, but rather an act of submission shown from our heart through our deeds.Hide Answer
The Angel of the LORD blessed Hagar by multiplying her descendants exceedingly so that they should not be counted for multitude (Gen 16:10).
What was the prophecy of the Angel of the LORD to Hagar?Hide Answer
The Angel of the LORD also said that Hagar would bear a son and his name should be called Ishmael (Gen 16:11).
What was the meaning of the name of Hagar’s son?Hide Answer
The Angel of the LORD told Hagar to name her son, Ishmael because the LORD had heard her affliction (Gen 16:11)
How does the meaning of the name Ishmael tell us regarding God’s nature?Hide Answer
The Scriptures tell us that Sarai dealt harshly with Hagar. Hagar’s affliction was so severe that she decided to flee from the presence of her mistress (Gen 16:6). Besides telling Hagar to return to make amend with Sarai (Gen 16:7-9), the Angel of the LORD also showed compassion by consoling her that He had heard her misery (Gen 16:11).
What can we learn about Ishmael’s character from the prophecy of the Angel of the LORD?Hide Answer
The Angel of the LORD prophesied that Ishmael “[would] be a wild man, his hand [would] be against every man and every man’s hand [would] be against him.” Moreover, Ishmael “[would] dwell in the presence of all his brethren” (Gen 16:12). The prophecy tells us that Ishmael’s character was rebellious. He was also a man who achieved his goals by violence against anyone, including those who were near him.
What did Hagar call on the LORD who spoke to her? What was the reason behind such a calling?Hide Answer
Hagar called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, “You-Are-the-God-Who-Sees” (Gen 16:13). Though Hagar fled from the presence of her mistress without anyone’s knowledge of her departure and whereabout, the Angel of the LORD found her by a spring of water in the wilderness. Hagar realized that the Angel of the LORD also saw the motives of her journey—fleeing from her mistress—and the misery inside her—crying from Sarai’s harsh treatment. Moreover, the LORD gave His mercy to Hagar by letting her see the back of Him who saw her (Gen 16:13).
How should we live our daily life, knowing that God is aware of everything about us?Hide Answer
The book of Proverbs tells us that the ways of man are before the eyes of the LORD, and He ponders all his goings (Prov 5:21). Though Hagar’s escape was done in secrecy, the LORD knew and found her. Likewise, the Lord knows every intention of our heart and every deed that we have done in secret. Thus, we ought to be careful in what we say, think, feel and do, knowing that the Lord not only ponders but also weighs the hearts (Prov 21:2).
Compare and contrast Genesis 16:1 with Genesis 16:16. How did the birth of Ishmael affect Abram’s belief to the Lord’s promise in Genesis 15:6? See also Gen 17:18f.Hide Answer
The book of Genesis 16:1 tells us that Abram had no children. After going along with Sarai’s plan, Abram now had a child through Hagar, Ishmael (Gen 16:16). A year later, in Genesis 17, when the Lord told Abram that He would give him a son through Sarai, Abram fell on his face and laughed. Abram pleaded with the Lord that instead of Sarai bearing a child in her ninety years of life, he hoped for Ishmael to live before the Lord (Gen 17:17-18). At this point in time, the birth of Ishmael had affected Abram’s belief to the Lord’s promise in Genesis 15:6. Abram had given up hope that a child could come from Sarai’s womb, rather his hope of heir had shifted to Ishmael. But the Lord again emphasized to Abram that it was through Sarai’s womb only that the promised heir would come.
Share an experience when the result of your own plan and effort becomes a hindrance to your faith in God’s promise and providence.