Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.”
Abram agreed to what Sarai said. So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. He slept with Hagar, and she conceived.
When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my slave in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the Lord judge between you and me.”
“Your slave is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her.
The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”
“I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered.
Then the angel of the Lord told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” The angel added, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.”
The angel of the Lord also said to her:
“You are now pregnant
and you will give birth to a son.
You shall name him Ishmael,
for the Lord has heard of 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.”
She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi; it is still there, between Kadesh and Bered.
So Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram gave the name Ishmael to the son she had borne. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael.
- Genesis 16:1-16
The child grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, and she said to Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.”
The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son. But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.”
Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the Desert of Beersheba.
When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there, she began to sob.
God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.”
Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.
God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer. While he was living in the Desert of Paran, his mother got a wife for him from Egypt.
- Genesis 21:8-21
Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh, but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a divine promise.
These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written:
“Be glad, barren woman,
you who never bore a child;
shout for joy and cry aloud,
you who were never in labor;
because more are the children of the desolate woman
than of her who has a husband.”
Now you, brothers and sisters, like Isaac, are children of promise. At that time the son born according to the flesh persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. But what does Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.” Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.
- Galatians 4:21-31
“ [Genesis 16:13] When we lift our inward eyes to gaze upon God we are sure to meet friendly eyes gazing back at us, for it is written that the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout all the earth. The sweet language of experience is ‘Thou God seest me’ (Genesis 16:13). When the eyes of the soul looking out meet the eyes of God looking in, heaven has begun right here on this earth. …
“Now, if faith is the gaze of the heart at God, and if this gaze is but the raising of the inward eyes to meet the all-seeing eyes of God, then it follows that it is one of the easiest things possible to do. It would be like God to make the most vital thing easy and place it within the range of possibility for the weakest and poorest of us.
“Several conclusions may fairly be drawn from all this. The simplicity of it, for instance. Since believing is looking, it can be done without special equipment or religious paraphernalia. God has seen to it that the one lite-and-death essential can never be subject to the caprice of accident. Equipment can break down or get lost, water can leak away, records can be destroyed by fire, the minister can be delayed, or the church can burn down. All these are external to the soul and are subject to accident or mechanical failure. But looking is of the heart and can be done successfully by any man standing up or kneeling down or lying in his last agony a thousand miles from any church.
“Since believing is looking it can be done any time. No season is superior to another season for this sweetest of all acts. God never made salvation depend upon new moons or holy days or sabbaths. A man is not nearer to Christ on Easter Sunday than he is, say, on Saturday, August 3, or Monday, October 4. As long as Christ sits on the mediatorial throne, every day is a good day and all days are days of salvation.
“Neither does place matter to this blessed work of believing God. Lift your heart and let it rest upon Jesus and you are instantly in a sanctuary though it be a Pullman berth or a factory or a kitchen. You can see God from anywhere if your mind is set to love and obey Him.”
- A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God
What Do We Know about their Relationship?
We know practically nothing about the relationship between Abram and Hagar. Ishmael was not the one who was part of the covenant. Sarai came up with the idea that Hagar could sleep with Abram and produce the son necessary for the heir, but that was not God’s plan.
After conceiving, Hagar abuses Sarai. Sarai complains to Abram. Abram wants no part of the argument. Hagar is Sarai’s slave. Sarai abuses Hagar and Hagar runs away. God comes to Hagar to give her a prophecy about the offspring of Ishmael, not a covenant, but royalty in the future. She returns and gives birth to Ishmael. Then Ishmael, about fourteen years old, mocks Isaac during the party after Isaac is circumcised. Sarah, after the name change, casts Hagar and Ishmael out.
What Can We Infer about their Relationship?
From theologians, we learn that slaves in those days were often people who owed a debt to someone else, often volunteering to become a slave to pay off the debt. We have no idea when Hagar became a slave to them. Abram and Sarai had gone to Egypt to avoid a famine, and this may have been when Hagar became part of their group. Could Hagar have become Sarai’s attending servant when Pharoah chose Sarai for his harem – leading to sickness among the Egyptians until they found out Sarai was not just Abram’s sister, but his wife?
Sarai becomes abusive after Hagar became abusive. It is probable among the abuse is mocking that Sarai is barren. In Abram refusing to get in between the two, there are several factors: 1) Hagar is Sarai’s slave and 2) Abram only slept with her, 3) at Sarai’s request, to get a son – thus no meaningful relationship with Hagar at all. 4) While Abram stays loyal to his wife, he wants that boy. Thus, the sex was only for procreation and not a relationship. All actions are made by Sarai, the slave owner.
In What Ways Can We Fill in the Gaps about their Relationship?
There are far too many gaps to fill. I can imagine that Abram / Abraham doted on Ishmael during the fourteen years between his birth and he and his mother being cast out. With the rocky relationship between Sarai / Sarah and Hagar, we can imagine that Sarah remained abusive to some extent and Hagar and Ishmael spent time together when Ishmael was not with Abraham.
We will see the same type of jealousy and family squabbles when Leah and Rachel get into the childbearing battle.
What Can We Learn from this Relationship?
Here we have the first man with two “wives” as recorded in Scripture. We could also add sexual intercourse and childbearing through a concubine / slave surrogate. As I have mentioned before, the slave / master is not really a relationship at all. Men, who probably do not really feel that manly, can often dominate the wife in a pseudo slave relationship. When love is no longer the dominant factor, the relationship can crumble as a result. In this case, after the conception, there seems to be no relationship between Abram and Hagar.
And let’s think of why God created us. Yes, the catechism answer is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, but God gave us free will so that some among us, His elect, would choose Him freely. He could have made us like robots, with no thought other than to do as programmed. God could have created us like slaves, without the freedom to make our own decisions, even if they are wrong. But God made us free to choose. That has led to a serious problem of sin, but God even had that figured out by having His Son come to earth and pay the sin penalty so that we could be called Sons of God, brothers of the risen Christ.
What Have We Learned thus far?
In Adam and Eve, we see the initiation of sin and the sin nature. Adam and Eve made excuses for their sin. They blamed someone else. Thus, the sin nature complicates any relationship.
In Cain and Abel, we see jealousy without boundaries. We see sullenness. We see the first person to be cast out from a family unit. All with the first sibling rivalry.
In Enoch and God, we see the closest thing to a perfect relationship. Enoch wanted nothing more than to be with God.
In Abram and Sarai, we see a long-life relationship. Like a glove perfectly fitting the hand, Abraham and Sarah loved one another, even when the warts began to show.
In Abram and Lot, we see a one-sided family relationship. One side always giving and the other side always taking.
And now in Abram and Hagar, we see the lack of relationship due to ownership and being a surrogate.
And in our relationship with God, we can learn little bits from each of these relationships, the good and the bad.
A Closing Prayer
While the ownership of another human is widely frowned upon, if not illegal, it still happens. While not always an abusive relationship, there is nothing that can prevent oppression with this type of situation. Help us to rid the world of human ownership and oppressing people, especially from governments, but even down to the bully level. Forgive us for the times when we get frustrated and demand rather than mutually working with the other person in our relationships. And that even pertains to You. Help us to understand that You are sovereign and You are faithful, but according to Your will and on Your time schedule. Our impatience gets in the way of that part of our relationship. And Thank you Lord for giving us the freedoms that You have given us. Help us to come to You for wisdom so that we can choose wisely.
In Thy Name we pray,
Soli Deo Gloria. Only to God be the Glory.