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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Genesis 16

 

 

Verse 1

Now Sarai Abram's wife bare him no children: and she had an handmaid, an Egyptian, whose name was Hagar.

Now Sarai ... had an handmaid - [Hebrew, shipchaah (Hebrew #8198)]. This word, which defines her position in Abram's family, designates a maid-servant who is devoted to the special service (Genesis 29:24), and under the exclusive authority, of the mistress (see the note at Genesis 21:10; 1 Samuel 25:41). She had been a female slave, probably one of those obtained in Egypt (Genesis 12:16).

Hagar - [Hebrew, haagaar (Hebrew #1904), flight; Septuagint, Hagar.] Her Egyptian name is not given; and this, which is purely Shemitic, was that bestowed upon her after her introduction into Abram's household probably in reference to a remarkable incident in her life.


Verse 2

And Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, the LORD hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai.

The Lord hath restrained me from bearing. Eastern women in general have always displayed a passionate desire for a family: it is the result of their social condition in countries where the honour, influence, and strength of a household depend as much on the number of the sons as of the armed retainers belonging to it. The eagerness for offspring, however, displayed by Sarai (and other Hebrew women after her), while it partook in a certain degree of this common Oriental feeling, is traceable to a special cause: it arose from the hope of being the ancestress of the promised Messiah (the seed of God, Malachi 2:15). Having continued so long in that unblessed condition that she had no natural ground of hope that she would be a mother, she, after the lapse of ten years from the date of entrance into Canaan, bethought herself of an expedient for attaining the object of her fondly-cherished wishes by adopting the son of another woman; and accordingly she persuaded her husband to enter into her views, although the proposed connection had apparently formed no part of Abram's plan of life previous to his wife's suggestion.

It may be that I may obtain children by her , [Hebrew, 'uwlay (Hebrew #194) 'ibaaneh (Hebrew #1129) mimeenaah (Hebrew #4480), perhaps I may be built up through her - i:e., obtain children by her] - (see the note at Genesis 30:3.)

And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai. The proposal, originating with Sarai, was entertained by both herself and Abram in the integrity of their hearts. Abram had on three different occasions been divinely assured of offspring: on the last, that his heir was to be a son of his own; and he was content to wait in believing confidence the accomplishment of the divine promise. But Sarai had never been mentioned in connection with this subject. Her hopes of giving birth to the promised seed had vanished with increasing age; and, concluding that she was not destined to enjoy that distinguished honour, she formed the purpose of reaching by proxy the happy consummation which was to all appearance denied to herself.


Verse 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.

Sarai ... took Hagar ... and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife. Wife is here used to describe an inferior, though not degrading relation, in countries where polygamy prevails. In the case of these female slaves, which are the personal property of his lady, being purchased before her marriage, or given as a special present to herself, no one can become the husband's secondary wife without her mistress' consent or permission. This usage seems to have prevailed in patriarchal times; and Hagar, the slave of Sarai, of whom she had the entire right of disposing, was given by her mistress' spontaneous offer, to be the secondary wife of Abram, in the hope of obtaining the long-looked for heir. It was a temporary conversation with a bondwoman with a special object in view; and it ceased as soon as Hagar had conceived.

A similar usage still exists in many parts of the East, where childless wives, being liable, conformably with law or custom, to be divorced, have naturally resorted to a scheme which prevents repudiation. When charms, incantations, and pilgrimages to sacred shrines have failed to render them productive, the wives of Oriental grandees, particularly Hindus and Musselmen, very commonly appropriate their own maid-servants to their husbands for the purpose of procuring an heir; and being acceded to on their part for the attainment of that specific object, it does not alienate their affections from their lawful partners. The son, born of the bondwoman, and nursed by her, is called the child of the lady of the house, and is treated as such by all the friends and visitors of the family. In the patriarch's case, however, this extemporaneous connection, though, according to the usages of the East, not dishonourable or immoral, was a wrong step: it betrayed a want of faith and simple reliance on God; and the issue, as the apostle informs us, was not legitimate, or entitled to inherit the property of Abram (Galatians 4:30).


Verse 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.

Her mistress was despised in her eyes. Sarai was the first to reap the bitter fruits of her device. Hagar having the prospect of becoming a mother, gave herself airs which, as her sensitive mistress felt acutely the reproach of her own sterility, banished domestic peace from the tent of Abram.


Verse 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.

My wrong be upon thee - i:e., the wrong done to me (cf. Judges 9:24; Joel 4:19; Obadiah 1:10; Hab. 11:8,17 ). This was addressed to Abram, and seems to have been a passionate exclamation, signifying either the insolence I am now enduring is on account of thee-from my earnest and disinterested wish to gratify thee with a son and heir-or it is thy duty, I look to thee, my proper and legal guardian (cf. Genesis 27:13; Jeremiah 51:35), to undertake my cause and to redress my wrongs.


Verse 6

But Abram said unto Sarai, Behold, thy maid is in thy hand; do to her as it pleaseth thee. And when Sarai dealt hardly with her, she fled from her face.

Abram said ... Behold, thy maid is in thy hand. Abram being a man of peace, as well as affectionately disposed toward his wife, left her to settle these broils in her own way. In all households where concubinage exists, the principal wife retains her supreme authority over the inferior ones; and in cases where a slave is brought into the relation with her master that Hagar held to Abram, the maid-servant remains in her former position unchanged; or although some more attentions may be paid to her, she is as much subject to the absolute control of her mistress as before. Sarai, left by Abram to act at discretion, exerted her full authority.

And ... Sarai dealt hardly with her - [Hebrew, wat


Verse 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.

And the angel ... found her by a fountain. This well (see the note at Genesis 16:14), pointed out by tradition, lay on the side of the caravan road, in the midst of Shur (now Difar), a sandy desert on the west of Arabia Petraea, to the extent of 150 miles, between Palestine and Egypt. By taking that direction, she seems to have intended to return to her relatives in that country. Nothing but pride, passion, and sullen obstinacy could have driven any solitary person to brave the dangers of such an inhospitable wild; and she must have died, had not the timely appearance and words of the angel recalled her to reflection and duty.

The angel of the Lord. Angel means messenger, and the term is frequently used in Scripture to denote some natural phenomenon, or visible symbol, betokening the presence and agency of the Divine Majesty (Exodus 14:19; 2 Kings 19:35; Psalms 104:4). That the whole tenor of this narrative, however, indicates a living personal being, is allowed on all hands; but a variety of opinions are entertained respecting the essential standing of this messenger of Yahweh. Some think that he was a created angel, one of those celestial spirits who were frequently delegated under the ancient economies to execute the purposes of God's grace to his chosen; while others, convinced that things are predicated of this angel involving the possession of attributes and powers superior to those of the most exalted creatures, maintain that this must be considered a real theophany, a visible manifestation of God, without reference to any distinction of persons. To each of these hypotheses insuperable objections have been urged: against the latter, on the ground that "no man hath seen God at any time" (John 1:18; Colossians 1:5); and against the former, founded on the historical circumstances of this narrative, in which "the angel of the Lord" promises to do what was manifestly beyond the capabilities of any created being (Genesis 16:10), and also did himself what he afterward ascribed to the Lord (cf. Genesis 16:7-8 with Genesis 16:11, last clause).

The conclusion, therefore, to which, on a full consideration of the facts, the most eminent Biblical critics and divines have come is, that this was an appearance of the Logos, or divine person of the Messiah, prelusive, as in many subsequent instances, to his actually incarnate manifestation in the fullness of time (cf. Micah 5:2). Such was "the angel of the Lord," the Revealer of the invisible God to the Church, usually designated by this and the analogous titles of "the messenger of the covenant" and "the angel of His presence." This is the first occasion on which the name occurs; and it has been pronounced a myth, or at least a traditionary legend, intended to throw a halo of dignity and mysterious interest on the origin of the Arabs, by recording the special interposition of heaven in behalf of a poor, destitute Egyptian bondwoman, their humble ancestress. But the objection is groundless: the divine manifestation will appear in keeping with the occasion, when it is borne in mind that "the angel of the Lord," in guiding and encouraging Hagar, was taking a care about the seed of Abraham.


Verse 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.

Hagar, Sarai's maid. This mode of address, indicating a minute acquaintance with her name and history, was designed to impress the fugitive with a full conviction of the supernatural, the divine character of the speaker, and a lively sense of her sin in abandoning the station in which His providence had placed her.


Verse 9

And the angel of the LORD said unto her, Return to thy mistress, and submit thyself under her hands.

Return to thy mistress, and, submit thyself under her hands. The counsel was given in kindness as well as wisdom; for, by continuing to penetrate further into the wilderness, she must inevitably have perished, and all her prospects of maternity been blasted. These circumstances were sufficient to lead her to ponder over the perils of her wayward course; while the fore-shadowing of her son's great destiny, the accomplishment of which, however, depended upon her maintaining a connection with Abram's family, was held out as an inducement for her immediately to retrace her steps to Hebron. The whole tenor of the communication was calculated to soothe and animate.


Verse 10

And the angel of the LORD said unto her, I will multiply thy seed exceedingly, that it shall not be numbered for multitude.

No JFB commentary on this verse.


Verse 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.

Ishmael. Like other Hebrew names, this had a signification, and it is made up of two words-`God hears.' The reason is explained.


Verse 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.

A wild man - literally, a wild ass man, expressing how the disposition of Ishmael and his descendants resembles that of the wild donkey.

His hand will be against every man, and every man's hand against him - descriptive of the rude, turbulent, and plundering character of the Arabs.

Dwell in the presence of all his brethren - dwell, i:e., pitch tents; and the meaning is, that they maintain their independence in spite of all attempts to extirpate or subdue them. Some render the words, "in presence of all his brethren," 'against all his brethren' - i:e., even in dwelling with his brethren he would maintain his characteristic hostility; and others (Rosenmuller and Gesenius) take the words, in a geographical sense, as signifying before - i:e., to the east, eastward (Genesis 25:18); he shall "dwell in the presence of all his brethen," namely, in Arabia. There is truth in each of these versions; but that adopted by our translators is literal and correct, meaning that, though the wild and lawless character of Ishmael's posterity would provoke a host of enemies against them on every side, they would successfully withstand all assaults, and remain established in their land.

In all other countries where the inhabitants have existed in a national capacity, they have gradually acquired the character and habits of a settled community; their pursuits, pastimes, and general mode of life have been moulded by the climate and conditions of the soil, by changes of government, and the progress of society. But no external influences have been able to affect the Arabs: they have continued unaltered in the same social state, and addicted to the same roaming propensities, animated by the same unconquerable love of liberty and independence, bent on the same favourite objects of feud and plunder, since the days of Ishmael, whose wild and irregular features are to this day indelibly impressed upon the marauding tribes of the desert. 'On the smallest computation,' says Sir R.K. Porter, in describing the characteristics of an Arab tribe, 'such must have been the manners of these people for more than three thousand years: thus in all things verifying the prediction given of Ishmael at his birth, that he, in his posterity, should be a wild man, and always continue to be so, though they shall dwell forever in the presence of all their brethren. And that an acute and active people, surrounded for centuries by polished and luxurious nations, should, from their earliest ages to their latest times, be found still a wild people, dwelling in the presence of all their brethren (as we may call these nations), unsubdued and unchangeable, is indeed a standing miracle-one of those mysteries and incontrovertible facts which establish the truth of prophecy.'


Verse 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?

Called the name - common in ancient times to name places from circumstances; and the name given to this well was a grateful recognition of God's gracious appearance in the hour of her distress.

Thou God seest me - i:e., Thou art a God who permittest thyself to be seen.

Have I also here looked after him that seeth me? This appears to be similar to the scene described in Exodus 33:23, where it is promised to Moses, "thou shalt see my back parts, but my face shall not be seen." Hagar, however, meant a very different thing; and the correct view of her exclamation (taking the Hebrew verb to see in the sense it often bears, namely, to enjoy the light, to live) is, 'do I then here see (i:e., live) after the vision of God?' i:e., 'after having seen God?' (Gesenius). Delitzsch gives a different exposition of these words: 'Thou art a God of sight, whose all-seeing eye is directed toward the helpless and destitute, even in the farthest corner of the wilderness. Have I not even here, in this scene of wild and desolate solitude, been brought to recognize Him who looked after me. Wherefore the well was called 'The well of the living One who seeth me.'

But this commentary is not a sound one; because although the epithet "the living," applied to God in contradistinction from dead idols, occurs frequently in the later books of the Old Testament (Joshua 3:10; 2 Kings 19:4; Psalms 106:28), it is not used in any part of the Pentateuch; and, besides, it is at variance with those numerous passages in which a vision of God was supposed to be the precursor of a speedy death, and with which the literal translation of Hagar's words harmonizes her feelings (Genesis 32:31; Exodus 33:20; Judges 13:22).


Verse 14

Wherefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi; behold, it is between Kadesh and Bered.

Wherefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi - well of life of vision; i:e., of life after seeing God. Attempts have been made by Rationalist writers to give an entirely different explanation of this name. By a change of the vowel-points, so as to make lahai into lehi (Judges 15:19), the name has been interpreted to mean, 'the well of the jaw-bone (rock) of vision' - i:e., well of the prominent, far-seen rock. But this sense can be extorted only by a violent alteration of the original text, and is directly opposed to the declaration of the sacred historian.

Behold, it is between Kadesh and Bered. A wady, containing brackish water, is mentioned by Robinson, under the name of Er Muweileh, which he passed without taking much notice of it. But it has since been pitched upon by Rowlands (Williams' 'Holy City') as Hagar's well, called by the Arabs about Ghuzzah, Moilahhi; which he interprets to signify Moi = water, and lahi = lahai. It is situated about ten camels' hours south of Ruhaileh (Rebohoth). But its topography is so exactly given in the text that there could be no difficulty in finding it, if only the localities of Kadesh and Bered were fully ascertained. "Bered" is supposed to be Jebel Helal. Kadesh has been a subject of much dispute; but there is good reason to believe that the place of that name referred to here lay on the northern plateau of the Tih, and may be the one described by Rowlands. The peculiarity of this name, Beer-labai-roi, attests in the strongest manner the truth of this record, independently of the inspired authority of the historian. For how could so strange and remarkable a name originate, as Havernick justly remarks, except from a miraculous occurrence, such as that related.


Verse 15

And Hagar bare Abram a son: and Abram called his son's name, which Hagar bare, Ishmael.

Abram called his son's name, which Hagar bare, Ishmael - (see the note at Genesis 16:11.) The names given to children in ancient times were generally significant, having a reference to some peculiarity in the appearance or the destiny of the child, or to some remarkable incident in the experience of the parents. This is the first instance of a name being fixed before the child's birth, though several occur in later periods of the sacred history; and it was doubtless conferred by Abraham, after learning from the lips of Hagar an account of the angelic communication to which he was indebted for the preservation both of the mother and her child.

 


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Bibliography Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Genesis 16:4". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/jfu/genesis-16.html. 1871-8.

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