Hagar given to Abraham. — V.1. Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, bare him no children; and she had an handmaid, an Egyptian, whose name was Hagar. V.2a. And Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, the Lord hath constrained me from bearing; I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. The fact of Sarai’s barrenness had been mentioned at the time of their coming to Canaan, chap. 11, 30. It is repeated here for the sake of the emphasis upon the miracle which the Lord wrought in her case. Ten years had now passed by, and yet, in spite of the promise, chap. 15, 4, Sarai remained without a child. She therefore be came impatient and suggested to Abram that, since the Lord hindered her from bearing, denied her offspring, her Egyptian slave Hagar might be the one through whom she was to have children, that her family might be built up through the slave. According to the custom of the Orient the children of slaves belonged to the master and mistress, Ex. 21, 4; 1 Chron. 2, 35. V.2b. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai. V.3. And Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar, her maid, the Egyptian, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife. Although Abram also should have shown more faith and patience, he consented to the plan of his wife, not for fleshly reasons, but with the earnest desire for offspring, forth at seed which was to be as the stars of the heaven in number.
Hagar’s pride and flight. — V.4. And he went in unto Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her eyes. The plan of Sarai to which Abram had consented was decidedly human and did not have the divine approval. Hagar having conceived, her mistress was looked down upon in her eyes. The Jews, like the Orientals in general, regarded barrenness as a great evil and a divine punishment, Lev. 20, 20, and fruitfulness as a great good and a divine blessing, Ex. 23, 26; Deut. 7, 14. Still, the attitude of Hagar was a presumption, since she was not Abram’s second wife, but retained her subordinate position throughout. V.5. And Sarai said unto Abram, My wrong be upon thee; I have given my maid into thy bosom; and when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her eyes. The Lord judge between me and thee. This outburst on the part of Sarai was altogether unjustified; what she was suffering came upon her in consequence of her interference with God’s plans. Yet she wanted the wrong and injury which had been heaped upon her to be blamed upon her husband, and even called upon Jehovah to be the judge between them. Sarai’s outburst of temper was probably due to the very indifference which Abram showed with regard to the slave woman, for she wanted him to have seen and rebuked the latter’s insolence, whereas he held that the relations in the household had in no way been altered by the consequence of Sarai’s plan. V.6. But Abram said unto Sarai, Behold, thy maid is in thy hand; do to her as it pleaseth thee. This was not evading the responsibility, but insisting upon its remaining where it had been during the entire incident: Hagar was still the slave of Sarai, who might use force in making her conscious of her subordinate position. And when Sarai dealt hardly with her, she fled from her face. The mistress took measures to make the slave woman feel her power, probably by demanding that the latter perform the most menial services in the household, whereas Hagar seems to have occupied a position of some importance before. The proud spirit of the slave refusing to yield to such treatment, she fled from Hebron, willing rather to brave the wilderness than to submit to Sarai’s harsh treatment. Thus the sins and weaknesses of the saints are openly narrated in Scriptures, the story forming a mirror in which we may see our own hearts.
The return of Hagar and the birth of Ishmael. — V.7. And the Angel of the Lord found her by a fountain of water in the wilderness, by the fountain in the way to Shur. The providence of the Lord was watching over this erring child. The great Angel of the Lord, the Son of God as He often appeared in the Old Testament, went out and found her by a spring of water near Shur, on the way to Egypt, her old home. V.8. And he said, Hagar, Sarai’s maid, whence camest thou, and whither wilt thou go? And she said, I flee from the face of my mistress Sarai. From the entire story it is apparent that the angel speaking with Hagar is not an ordinary, created angel, but the Son of God, who even in the Old Testament was near His people and proved a very effective help to the patriarchs of Israel. Upon His calling Hagar by name and demanding an account of her coming and going, the slave gave a truthful answer. She herself was probably a believer in the true God, as a member of Abram’s home congregation. V.9. And the Angel of the Lord said unto her, Return to thy mistress, and submit thyself under her hands. The Lord having brought Hagar to a sense of her real position in the house of Abram, namely, that she was Sarai’s maid, not Abram’s wife, now bids her return to her duty, to humble herself under her mistress’s hand. V.10. And the Angel of the Lord said unto her, I will multiply thy seed exceedingly, that it shall not be numbered for multitude. First the call to duty, then the gracious promise, one which was especially welcome to the Oriental mother, and ought to be to the mothers of all time. V.11. And the Angel of the Lord said unto her, Behold, thou art with child, and shalt bear a son, and shalt call his name Ishmael, because the Lord hath heard thy affliction. V.12. And he will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man and every man’s hand against him; and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren. Because the fruit of her body was the seed of Abram, Hagar was to return to her mistress, and for the sake of his father the promise of innumerable progeny is given. The very name of her son is given her, namely, Ishmael, “God hears,” because the Lord had heeded the cry of her misery and distress. This son should, moreover, unlike his mother, be free from the oppression of men, as free as the wild ass of the deserts, wild-roving and untamable; and his descendants would be characterized by the ceaseless feuds between themselves and with their neighbors, as they dwelt in the presence of their brethren, of the children of Israel, to whom they were a constant menace and challenge. To this day the Ishmaelites are in unimpaired, free possession of the great peninsula lying between the Euphrates, the Isthmus of Suez, and the Red Sea, whence they have spread over wide districts in North Africa and Southern Asia. V.13. And she called the name of the Lord that spake unto her, Thou, God, seest me; for she said, Have I also here looked after Him that seeth me? V.14. Wherefore the well was called Beerlahairoi; behold, it is between Kadesh and Bered. Hagar realized that it was no ordinary angel that had spoken with her, as her confession shows, for she calls Him: Thou art a God that sees me; for His all-seeing eye had not overlooked the helpless and forsaken, even in that remote corner of the desert. She had experienced the goodness and mercy of the Lord: she had had the privilege of seeing and speaking with Him that had looked after her and protected her. The incident even gave a name to the spring in the desert, since it was afterward known as “the well of Him that lives and sees me.” It is located in the wilderness, south of Beersheba. V.15. And Hagar bare Abram a son; and Abram called his son’s name, which Hagar bare, Ishmael. V.16. And Abram was fourscore and six yearn old, when Hagar bare Ishmael to Abram. To the son which Hagar bore after her return to his house, Abram, then eighty-six years old, gave the name Ishmael, the mother undoubtedly having given him an account of the occurrence in the desert which caused her to return. Thus the places and the times which remind us of special acts of God’s goodness and mercy are written in the memories of the believers, and ever and again cause them to break forth in prayers of thankfulness.