Genesis 16



Hagar and Ishmael (16:1–16)

1–6 At least ten years had passed (verse 3) since God promised to make Abram into a great nation (Genesis 12:2), and still Sarai had borne no heir to make this possible. From a human perspective there was no hope that she could ever have a child. So taking matters into her own hands, Sarai convinced Abram to have a child by her maidservant Hagar (verse 2).

In ancient times, when one’s wife was barren, it was common for the husband to impregnate a maidservant in order to raise up an heir for himself. However, the Lord could not have been pleased with Sarai’s scheme. Sarai clearly was not trusting the Lord; she was in effect blaming Him for not keeping His promise. Furthermore, from the days of Adam and Eve, the Lord had laid down His ideal for marriage: one man and one woman (Genesis 2:24). As things turned out, Sarai’s scheme caused great strife.

As soon as Hagar became pregnant, she began to despise her mistress Sarai: barrenness was a source of great shame to women in biblical times and remains so today in many parts of the world. Sarai, for her part, began to blame Abram for Hagar’s attitude. Sarai told him: May the LORD judge between you and me; may He side with me against you69 (verse 5). After Abram told Sarai to do whatever she wanted with Hagar, Sarai began to mistreat her, and so Hagar fled into the desert.

We can see from this episode the results of bypassing God and taking things into our own hands. Human plans that are contrary to God’s will cannot lead to a happy outcome. God’s blessing cannot be engineered by human efforts.

7–10 As Hagar was fleeing, the Lord showed mercy to her. Appearing to Hagar in the form of an angel,70 the Lord first told Hagar to return to her mistress. Then He promised that her descendants (from her as yet unborn child) would be too numerous to count (verse 10)—the same promise the Lord had given Abram years earlier (Genesis 15:5). Notice that the Lord’s promise to Hagar was connected with her returning in submission to her mistress. Submission to God’s will is always a requirement for receiving God’s blessing.

11–16 Then the Lord told Hagar that she would have a son and that his name would be Ishmael (verse 11). He would be a wild donkey of a man (verse 12)—that is, he would roam outside human settlements and live in hostility toward his brothers, especially toward his half-brother Isaac, who would be born to Sarai fourteen years later. Thus the hostility between Sarai and Hagar would pass on to their two sons—Ishmael, ancestor of the Arabs; and Isaac, ancestor of the Jews—a hostility that continues to this day.

Hagar identified the angel as the Lord Himself—“the God who sees me” (verse 13). The Lord not only “saw” her in the desert, but He also “saw” right through her and identified her unborn son. So the well where the Lord found her was given a Hebrew name which means “the well of the Living One who sees me” (verse 14).