Bible Reference: Genesis chapter 16
Heart of the Story: Although Hagar became Abraham’s secondary wife or concubine, Abraham allowed Sarah to treat her abysmally.
Back Story: Hagar was Sarai’s servant/slave who came out of Egypt with Sarai. Probably, Hagar was Sarai’s slave in Pharaoh’s harem. Pharaoh gave Hagar to Sarai as a gift to alleviate some of the shame he placed on Sarai by taking her as his wife.
Story Line: After Abram and Sarai lived in Canaan for 10 years (Genesis 16:3), Sarai decided to follow the ancient Near East custom of building a family through her husband and servant. Sarah directed Abram to have intercourse with her slave Hagar. Hagar became Abram’s secondary wife. Frequently, a secondary wife had her own tent. At times her children lived in their birth mother’s and at other times with the primary wife. When Hagar became Abraham’s secondary wife or concubine, she should have no longer been Sarai’s slave (Genesis 16:3, NIV, textnote)
Pondering Relationships: After Hagar became pregnant with Abram’s child, her behavior toward Sarai changed. She started to despise Sarai (Genesis 16:4). Despise is an ugly word and means Hagar looked on Sarai with contempt and aversion. Because Sarai was barren, what good was she as a woman or wife? Hagar regarded Sarai as negligible and worthless. In Abram and Sarah’s minds Hagar conceived and carried a child for Sarai; however, Hagar began to act like she was carrying the child for herself.
Distressed by Hagar’s behavior, Sarai went to Abram. Although it was her idea for Abram to conceive a child with Hagar, Sarai blamed Abram for Hagar’s behavior and told him to do something about it. Abram response to Sarai was “your slave is in your hands. Do whatever you think best” (Genesis 16:6, NIV). Abram’s word choice was significant; clearly he continued to view Hagar as a slave. Abram had few feelings for Hagar despite having intercourse with her. The outcome of Sarai and Hagar’s animosity was that Sarai treated Hagar badly. Consequently, Hagar ran away from Abram’s camp.
Hagar’s getaway took her to a spring of water on the way to Shur, in the direction of Egypt. The angel of God met her there. The angel directed Hagar to return to Abram’s camp and submit herself to Sarai. The angel told Hagar that she would bear a son who she was to name Ishmael. Hagar would have so many offspring that they cannot be numbered.
After this meeting with God, Hagar returned to Abram’s camp and submitted to Sarai, a least for a time. We have no idea how Sarai and Abram acted when Hagar returned. Were they happy or sad? Did they punish her? Did Sarai treatment of Hagar improve or did Sarai punish her all the more?
Reflection: Should Abraham have protected his wife, Hagar?
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Copyright August 10, 2016; Carolyn A. Roth