All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. - 2 Timothy 3:16-17
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A Very Bad Idea

When Abram leaves Ur he is childless, and by the time he leaves Haran for Canaan, he’s 75 years old. Ten years later, Genesis 16 tells us Abram and Sarai still have no children—and that she blames God. Childlessness was considered a divine curse in ancient times, often bringing social difficulties, disdain, and even divorce. Inversely, having children was a sign of God’s favor and a fulfillment of His promise to Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply.

From Bad to Worse

In Sarai’s eyes, God’s covenant promise of a son is in jeopardy, so she uses her logic and suggests Abram take her slave as a second wife to provide him an heir—a common practice in her country.

Hagar, Sarai’s slave, is Egyptian, although her name is not. She may have been a gift to Abram when Pharaoh unknowingly took Sarai to be his wife in Genesis 12. Slave women were considered both property and extensions of their mistresses, so Hagar might fulfill household tasks and bear children for Sarai. She would be Abram’s concubine—a lesser, but legal wife, different from her mistress­­­ in that she wouldn’t receive a dowry. Polygamy often came about from a first wife’s barrenness, but contemporary Canaanite moral standards would hardly have called concubinage polygamy.

Abram goes along with Sarai’s suggestion. Believing this will fulfill God’s promise of an heir, he takes Hagar as his second wife and she conceives. But by consummating the marriage, both Abram and Hagar suddenly become Sarai’s instruments. She’s now giving the orders!

However, Hagar knows that she’ll now produce an heir, so she becomes insufferable. So much so that Sarai accuses Abram of being the cause of her plight—similar to what Eve did to Adam. Realizing her husband’s dependence on Hagar for an heir, her wrath ends in a virtual curse. “My wrong be upon you!” she says to her husband. “The Lord judge between you and me.”

Abram struggles with this huge dilemma, since Hagar’s his wife—and the mother of the unborn child he thinks God’s promised him! Finally, he answers, “Your maid is in your hand: do to her as you please.”

The Bible says Sarai deals “harshly” with her maid, probably implying corporal punishment, and Hagar flees. Their attempt to help God fulfill His promise has created new jeopardies: If God fulfills His promise, there’s the jeopardy of competing heirs. And with Hagar gone, Abram’s in jeopardy of losing his son before he’s even born!

Amazing Compassion

The angel of the Lord finds the suffering and abandoned Hagar by a spring in the wilderness. She’s on her way to Shur, fleeing south, towards her native Egypt.

Then God speaks to her through His messenger. Referring to her position, he calls out, “Hagar, Sarai’s maid,” then asks where she’s coming from, and where she’s going. When she answers him, he instructs her to return to her mistress—even though she must suffer at Sarai’s hand—but assures her that He sees her affliction.

He then names her unborn child Ishmael, meaning “God hears,” and tells her that he will be a wild man—literally an onager, or wild ass—living a roving, untamed life in which he is “against every man” and every man is against him.

God then gives Hagar the same amazing promise He gave Abram: “I will multiply your descendants exceedingly.” What grace, compassion, and love God extends to this woman! And although Hagar doesn’t recognize His voice at first as He speaks through the angel, she eventually comes to her senses. Calling Him “The God Who Sees,” she’s astonished she’s still alive, and exclaims, “Have I also here seen Him who sees me?”

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Was I spinning? It must have worked.

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