Eighty-six years old, Abram became a father. His firstborn son, Ishmael was not born of Sarai, but of Sarai’s slave, Hagar. This presents some problems for Abram and his family. And it comes out of Sarai and Abram taking matters into their own hands again.
All this time, Abram and Sarai have been unable to have children. And God has made a covenant with Abram declaring he will be the father to a great nation. And yet, he is eighty-six-years-old and Sarai is not that far behind him. They are beginning to forget God’s covenant with them.
Problem #1: Hagar Was An Egyptian Slave Girl
The way I see it, there are three problems with this problem. And it can be hard for people to work through these problems before we even get to the crux of the matter. Especially, in this day and age.
- Hagar was Egyptian. While Abram may not have known his future nation would be born out of Egyptian captivity, it seems to be Abram’s new status of being a Hebrew (which is first mentioned in chapter 14), will present problems for his future nation when it comes down to multi-ethnic marriage.
- Hagar was a Slave. People have used the Bible for terrible things. And whenever slavery is brought up in the Bible it is a difficult subject. Especially, since it was used to enslave other people groups in history. What makes this a problem, is she is a slave or servant in Abrams's house and Sarai treats her as such.
- Hagar was not Abram’s wife. But she does become his wife. And this is another topic which is difficult. However, Hagar was not part of the original plan to create a great nation out of Abram’s family. And so Abram and Sarai clearly take matters into their own hands by acting out of fear again.
Problem #2: Hagar Becomes Pregnant
While Abram and Sarai wanted this outcome, it causes a terrible rift in their relationship. And it shows just how far they were going to go to get what they wanted, a child.
The problem is this: Ishmael was not Sarai’s son.
And because of this, many people would end up suffering. Abram and Sarai would suffer, Hagar would suffer, and Ishmael would suffer. Their need to take control of the situation causes a great deal of suffering.
How often do we do this in our own lives?
Problem #3: God Was Not in the Picture
Through the first six verses of this chapter while they are taking these drastic actions God is not mentioned. Not because he was silent, I believe, but because they may not have been listening.
There is also another interesting moment in verse six where Sarai declares judgment over Abram and declares the Lord to do so as well. What is she thinking? To drop that on someone is never a good thing, especially when both people have colluded to do things themselves.
And then we have a turn of events. We have the first mention of Angels in the Bible. And we see God enter back into the story. He sees what is happening and takes action at just the right moment.
“The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur.” — Genesis 16:7
God sends an angel to Hagar. Not Abram. And not Sarai. But to Hagar who is running away from the madness which has entrenched Abram and his family and clearly is causing problems even amongst the slaves and servants.
At this point, the angel commands Hagar back to Abram’s family and for her to submit to Sarai’s authority. And then, the angel confirms Hagar’s descendants will be numerous.
Unfortunately for her son, there is another part to the angel’s declaration over Hagar’s family:
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.” — Genesis 16:11–12
Ishmael’s life will be hard and full of hostility. He will be a “donkey of a man,” which my best guess is that he will be tough but stubborn. However, for Hagar, the Lord gives her something to hold onto for the rest of her life.
And then she declares something about God in an attitude of praise:
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.” — Genesis 16:13
The One Who Sees Me
While Abram and Sarai decided to forgo remembering how God planned to create a nation from their family, Hagar found out she would also have a nation from her family. And most of all, she, and Egyptian was seen and acknowledged by the God of Abram.
He doesn’t play favorites. And it is not clear that Hagar believed in God prior to her encounter with the angel. But she is so filled with hope in God, she declares that even she, an Egyptian Slave Girl, was seen by the Lord. And he called out to her in her moments of suffering.
As Christians, we could use a little reminder of this on a daily basis.
Not for ourselves, but for others. The homeless person at the on and off-ramps of the freeway. Or for the rough and tumble people we might see at a gas station or store. And even those who might due to the difficult, manual labor jobs in our world.
God sees the people.
Why aren’t we seeing them? I mean, we see them with our eyes, but what if we could see them with God’s eyes. See them in their brokenness or joy. How might it change the way we interact with them?
And in the end, Abram had a son. Hagar had a son. And Sarai did not. But finally had his firstborn at age eighty-six.
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 16:15–16