Genesis – Chapter 16: Hagar and Ishmael

We learned, in Genesis Chapter 15, that God made a covenant with Abram.  Abram has no son but God has promised Abram a son in the future.  God has also promised Abram a new land for his people, a land already occupied by others.  Chapter 16 introduces two new characters, Hagar and Ishmael.  Let’s dig in.

“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.’” – Genesis 16:1-2

Uh…said no wife ever!  In addition, notice what Sarai says.  She doesn’t care about Hagar.  She states that perhaps “I” can build a family through her.  Sarai seems to forget that this will be Hagar’s child, not Sarai’s.  Abram sleeps with Hagar and Hagar becomes pregnant.  Sarai should be happy, right?  Nope!

“Then Sarai said to Abram, ‘You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering.  I put my servant in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me.  May the Lord judge between you and me.’” – Genesis 16:5

Excuse me?  Abram certainly holds some responsibility for this situation, but Sarai holds just as much responsibility for telling Abram to sleep with another woman to help Sarai build a family.  Abram tells Sarai to do what she wishes with Hagar.

“Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her.” – Genesis 16:6

Abram and Sarai are such kind people.  Abram allows Sarai to mistreat Hagar.  Sarai loves Hagar so much that she mistreats her.  Such a lovely family!  An angel finds Hagar and asks where she’s going.  After Hagar responds, the angel says:

“Go back to your mistress and submit to her….I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count.” – Genesis 16:9-10

In a way this angel has come to rescue Hagar.  Hagar living off on her own would probably be a difficult life, but the angel tells Hagar to return to Sarai and that may not be the best for Hagar given the way she was mistreated earlier.  In biblical times having many descendants is seen as a good thing, so I’ll give this angel a bit of credit for helping Hagar.  The angel goes on to tell Hagar that she is with child.

“You are now with child and you will have a son.  You shall name him Ishmael, for the Lord has heard your misery.  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 toward all his brothers.” – Genesis 16:11-12

Okay, maybe I should take away some of that credit from this angel.  Ishmael will live in hostility toward all his brothers?  This is the life God has chosen for Ishmael?  Sounds like Ishmael has no choice.  Again, more evidence of a ‘loving’ God.

“Abram was eighty six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael.” – Genesis 16:16

This is highly unlikely, although not impossible.  The Guinness Book of World records places the oldest known, verified father having fathered a child at the age of 92.

Oldest Known Father

I tried looking for the age of Hagar at the time of Ishmael’s birth, but could find no information.

And that concludes Chapter 16.  We learned that Sarai is eager to start a family, and to do so, she has Abram sleep with Hagar.  However, Sarai gets very mad when Hagar becomes pregnant.  Hagar bores a son named Ishmael who will lead a life of hostility toward his brothers.  Finally, Abram was 86 when Ishmael was born.  The story continues in Chapter 17.

Coming Soon:  Genesis – Chapter 17:  The Covenant of Circumcision

One thought on “Genesis – Chapter 16: Hagar and Ishmael

  1. It all makes sense as an origins story, made up. Sarai’s actions seem very inconsistent. Oddly, you would think in a patriarchal origins story, they would not only make the wife capricious and cruel, but would also make Abram look strong. Perhaps the point is that Abram acting weak led to the problems the author sees between tribes. Whatever this story is, it certainly is not clear.


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