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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible

Genesis 16

 

 

Verses 1-16

HUMAN EFFORT TO ACCOMPLISH GOD'S PROMISE

Though Abram was a man of faith, Sarai his wife had not borne children, and she weakened his faith by making a mere fleshly suggestion that he should use Sarai's bondmaid, Hagar, by whom to bear a child for Sarai (v.2). Abram's experience with the Lord in chapter 15 ought to have strengthened him to realize that God's promise was sure even though they had to wait so long for its fulfilment. As to the fulfilling of the promise, Abram did not have to resort to a means, not only merely human, but morally wrong. But he listened to the voice of Sarai rather than undividedly listening to the voice of God.

Sarai should surely have realized that a child born in this way would not be hers at all. Sarai could never be attached to the child in the same way that his mother would be. In fact, her giving her maid to Abram is expressed in verse 3 as giving her to Abram "as his wife." Therefore the child could not possibly belong to Sarai. Hagar knew this, and when she had conceived she despised Sarai because Hagar had achieved what Sarai could not. What could Sarai do now? She becomes so distressed that she blames Abram for her dilemma: "My wrong be upon you" (v.15). How much better it would have been if she had accepted the blame for her own mistake and humbled herself before the Lord to ask His forgiveness.

In blaming Abram for the situation that arose after Hagar's conception, Sarai asks that the Lord should judge between her and Abram, no doubt because she felt that Hagar was virtually robbing her of her husband. Abram did not remind her that the whole matter was her suggestion, but he made it clear to her that he had no intention of considering Hagar his wife. He tells Sarai that Hagar is her maid and she may do with her as she pleases. Sarai took advantage of this permission from Abram, and made life hard for Hagar, as countless numbers of employers have kept their employees in virtual misery by their cruel oppression. Understandably, Hagar became a runaway, not knowing where she was going, but going anyway.

But the Lord still had a good and kindly interest in Hagar. The angel of the Lord comes to her in her lonely distress as she is by a spring of water. At least she could find water, but it was a different matter to find food and shelter. The angel asked her where she had come from and where she would go. She could answer the first, but had no answer for the second. Though fleeing from her mistress, where could a pregnant woman go, specially when having no relatives or friends to contact?

There was only one course open to her, as the angel tells her, "Return to your mistress, and submit yourself under her hand." She was not only to return, but to cease from despising her mistress, and instead submit to her. A wrong attitude had made it hard for her: to change her attitude into one of submission would of course make Sarai's attitude more favorable toward her.

Then Hagar, though a bondmaid, is given the promise that the Lord would multiply her descendants so greatly that they would be more than could be counted. This is true: all of Ishmael's family (of Arabic descent) who have ever lived and are living today cannot possibly be numbered.

In these verses where the angel of the Lord is mentioned (vs.7,9,10) the angel is clearly the Lord Himself, for it is He who multiplies Abram's posterity. The term "angel" is used to signify a messenger, and Malachi 3:1 speaks of "the Lord whom you seek" as "the messenger of the covenant."

Though Hagar was not to be the mother of God's promised child to Abram, yet the Lord is interested in her and concerned about her and her expected child. He tells her that she is to name the child "Ishmael," meaning "God will hear" (v.11). However, the character of the boy would be consistent with the fact of his being born from a union of contrary parents, the father a free man but the mother a slave. Ishmael would be figuratively "a wild donkey of a man," self-willed and rebellious (v.12). He would be contentious, his hand against all other men, and of course they would therefore be against him. This had been one of the characteristics of the Arabs from that time, and their animosity will culminate in the violent attack of the king of the north against Israel in the tribulation period (Daniel 11:40). But it will be God's sovereign way of teaching Israel a lesson they sorely need (Isaiah 10:5-6). Consider also verse 12 of the same chapter. Abram learned by experience, and all this history teaches us that a wrong union leads to trouble and sorrow.

Added to this is the interesting statement, "he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren." This is an intended contrast to his father Abram who made a practice of dwelling in the presence of God. Chapter 25:18 also tells us that Ishmael "died in the presence of all his brethren." Legality always places more importance upon the people and the opinions of the people than it does upon God and His word. Even in death a legal minded man does not abandon his desire for men's approval in order to make God the supreme object of his heart.

Hagar was so impressed by this intervention of God that she called Him "the God who sees." "For," she adds, "Have I also here seen Him who sees me?" Not that she had seen God personally, but recognized Him in the words He had spoken to her, and was evidently subdued. Perhaps we cannot be fully sure if she was born again, but no-one can ever be the same again after having an interview with the Lord of glory. Usually such an experience either draws one nearer to Him or, if resisted, tends to harden the heart toward Him. The latter case does not seem to be true of Hagar.

The well seems to infer that she was in a good place, for typically it speaks of the refreshment of the living word of God, and this one is Beer-Lahai Roi, which means "the well of Him who sees me." Thus, though Hagar is typical of the legal covenant, it is not necessary to suppose that she was therefore personally without God. No doubt there were many in Old Testament times of whom we can not speak definitely as to their being born again, but we know that this is true even now, when there is fullest reason for a clear, positive knowledge of salvation, since Christ has come and brought eternal redemption through the great sacrifice of Himself The birth of Ishmael is recorded in verse 15 He is called Abram's son, not Sarai's.

 


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Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Genesis 16:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/genesis-16.html. 1897-1910.

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