Chapter 16


Now comes one of the first great trials of Abraham. For ten years Abraham and Sarah lived in Canaan. They still did not have any children. This is a long time since God had told Abraham he was to a father of a nation.

In those days, although monogamy was the general rule (and God's rule), the laws in Abraham's time allowed the men flexibility in having children. Land was very important to the people of those times. Therefore, it was very important to be able to keep whatever land they had and pass it on. The laws in those days favored the man for descendants. In other words, all fathers wanted to have a son so they could pass it on. Women could inherit; but, the first priority for ownership was the oldest son of the father.

As the study goes on, keep in mind that all of these laws and actions were not necessarily God's plan or idea. Abraham was doing what he felt was the thing to do because he had no children, boys or girls. A man could adopt, marry another woman, have a baby with a concubine, or the wife could give a slave girl to the husband to have babies. The family father would still have the responsibility of the child. The child could be the official heir. Even though women could inherit, the goal was to have a boy to carry on the father's name. In this case, Hagar was a handmaiden of Sarah. With this background, now we can understand a little more about Abraham's life at this time and why he made the decisions he made.

Gen. 16:1-3:

With the promise and information Abraham had, it was difficult for Abraham and Sarah to understand God when nothing was happening. Who was to be this mother of the promised seed. Did Abraham understand what God promised? Was all he heard from God symbolism or something similar (i.e. he really wasn't going to actually have a child). Perhaps he misinterpreted God.

As far as Sarah and Abraham were concerned, God prevented her from having children. Instead of waiting further for direction from God, they took it upon themselves to "speed" up the process. In those days, when there was ownership of a servant, the owner could demand anything of the servant. Ownership also included any fruits and children of the servant. So, using her authority, Sarah offered Hagar, her Egyption servant, to Abraham to have the baby Sarah could not have. Hagar probably was given to Sarah or Abraham by the Pharaoh when they were in Egypt. Even though God had told him to trust and follow, Abraham probably by this time thought it was not going to happen. Scripturally, he had not heard from God in about ten years. Therefore, he took Hagar, whom he later marries, who had a boy, Ishmael. Abraham loved Ishmael very much. Even though the law allowed this kind of "sharing" to have children, this kind of an act always causes some kinds of repercussions.

Gen. 16:4-6:

In this case, it appears Hagar takes advantage of her position as the mother of the heir of Abraham. She "despises" Sarah. It seems the ability to have a baby made her feel of more value than Sarah. However, Sarah could not accept the responsibility of having caused the whole problem. She is the one who directed Hagar to have a child with Abraham. It also appears, Sarah partially blames Abraham even though Sarah came up with the whole idea. She throws the whole problem onto Abraham since he had normal sole household authority. However, Abraham gives it back to Sarah since Sarah has sole authority over the servant. Hagar is Sarah's maid and, therefore, her responsibility. At this point Sarah started mistreating Hagar, even though Hagar did not cause the problem. With the humiliation that Sarah apparently gave to Hagar, Hagar runs away.

Gen. 16:7-9:

So Sarah mishandles the problem and the pregnant Hagar runs away. An angel of the Lord finds Hagar in the wilderness and tells her to return to Sarah and submit. In other words, it is up to Hagar to bring peace.

Gen. 16:10-14:

The angel makes some promises to Hagar. She will have a son and name him Ishmael. The son will be the "seed" of a great number of descendants, also, as Abraham was told, would be to great to count. From all appearances, God has taken heed to her affliction and will do something to "make up" for it. The angel promises that when Ishmael is born, he will also become the father of another great nation.

However, the angel said that Ishmael will be a wild (wild donkey) man that will constantly be in turmoil and in constant defiance with everyone, including Abraham's son and descendants by Sarah. Hagar calls out and speaks to God. She knows she has been seen continuously with passion and concern by God. The last clause in v13 is not very clear to most people. It is understood differently by all the versions. However, it appears the general sense taken out of it is this: Hagar was now convinced that God himself had appeared to her. She was surprised to find tha she was still permitted to live. In those days, it is generally thought that if God appeared to any, they must be consumed (die) by his glories. This is frequently alluded to in the sacred writings. The well where the angel met her was then called Beer Lachay Roi which means “well of the living One that sees me”.

Gen. 16:15-16:

.She goes back to Sarah and humbles herself into total submission to Sarah. In time, she has Ishmael. Abraham was 86 years old. He does not hear from God for another 13 years

Reflections on Chapter 16 as Related to Us Today

In Abraham's time, the laws allowed another woman to be designated to have a baby for a barren woman. However, God had promised Abraham that Abraham would father a nation. If he were truly faithful, Abraham would have waited. However, he was impatient. It is obvious that he either did not believe God or he felt he really did not understand what God meant. Perhaps some of what God said to him was symbolic. He was not really going to have any children; the promise was for something else that Abraham did not understand. It is easy for us to examine what happened. We have 20-20 hindsight. However, Abraham had waited a long time (about 12 years) and had not heard anything else from God, Sarah was out of the child-bearing years. He might have, again, lost some faith and trust. So his wife persuaded him to use Hagar, her servant, to be the surrogate mother for Sarah. This itself shows a different culture than we would understand. In those days, it was extremely important to pass on the name and heritage of a family. Abraham needed an heir. So, he made one without God's blessing.

How many times have we waited and waited for an answer to come from God. Maybe an answer came and we did not recognize it. Maybe, because God answers in his own time, God was not ready yet. Some of our positive character attributes (trust, faithfulness, trustworthiness, strength, honesty, moral attitudes, integrity, and reputation) are eliminated when we feel God is not answering us and is not going to answer us. Those of us, who know God, speaks understand deep down what God wants. However, when it seems as if God has left us, we will take another road. Most of the time, we realize later that we were wrong. God did not talk to Abraham after Ishmael was born until Abraham was 99 years old. This was all 24 years after leaving Haran for the land of Canaan. That is a long time to wait for starting a nation.

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