Genesis 16:1-16 “Sarai & Hagar: When Culture & Faith Clash” Part Two

Posted on December 13, 2009. Filed under: Genesis: Answers to Life's Crucial Questions |

Redeemer Church Sunday School- Genesis Class

Genesis 16:1-16 “Sarai & Hagar: When Culture & Faith Clash”

Part 2 Sunday, 12-13-2009

Bryan E. Walker

Read Genesis 16:1-16

Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. She had a female Egyptian servant whose name was Hagar. 2 And Sarai said to Abram, “Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children  by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. 3 So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her servant, and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife. 4 And he went in to Hagar, and she conceived. And when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress.  5 And Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my servant to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the Lord judge between you and me!” 6 But Abram said to Sarai, “Behold, your servant is in your power; do to her as you please.” Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she fled from her.

7 The angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur. 8 And he said, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” She said, “I am fleeing from my mistress Sarai.” 9 The angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress and submit to her.” 10 The angel of the Lord also said to her, “I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude.” 11 And the angel of the Lord said to her,

“Behold, you are pregnant
and shall bear a son.
You shall call his name Ishmael, 
because the Lord has listened to your affliction.
12 He shall be a wild donkey of a man,
his hand against everyone
and everyone’s hand against him,
and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen.”

13 So she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, “You are a God of seeing,”  for she said, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.”  14 Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi;  it lies between Kadesh and Bered.

15 And Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. 16 Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram.


Introduction: Last week we began looking at Gen. 16 and the situation that unfolded when Sarai lost patience waiting on the Lord and resorted to a cultural practice that was fairly common in order to have a child through the servant girl Hagar. This was an effort to do God’s work in man’s way and was a loss of faith on Abram’s part that had consequences even down to our own day.

We started our study by discovering what the text actually says. We did our literary analysis of the text and saw that the outline was like this: vs.1 was the introduction, vss 2-6 were Sarai’s Scheme, vss.7-14 the Angel of the LORD’s plan, vs 15 is the resolution to the story, Hagar bears Abram a son, Ishmael and vs. 16 provides the conclusion. This chapter continues the theme of childlessness introduced in 11:30 and continues in two more generations after Abram and Sarai. The theme of conflict in the family, introduced in ch.13, builds significantly here, and is carried on in the lives of Jacob and Esau and then in Joseph and his brothers. The major theme is that of the trials Abram must face as he believes in God’s promises. Chapter 16 also sees a change from the theme of the Land of Promise in chapters 12-14 and now focuses on the Child of Promise.

After the Literary Analysis of the text we began our theological analysis seeking to understand what is in the text. We looked at the relative positions of Sarai and Hagar as Mistress of the household and maidservant, then how Sarai blames the LORD for her childlessness. When we looked at Abram’s response to Sarai’s plan we saw that Moses uses language that points us back Gen. 3:17 and Adam’s response to Eve. We concluded last week by discussing the temptation Abram faced and the whole issue of polygamy. We determined to come back to that perplexing issue in January when we reconvene Sunday School.

Today I want to pick up with vs 3 where we left off and see how Sarai and Hagar handle this difficult situation. Again, the main ideas for us are these: We cannot do God’s work in the flesh, Faith is always essential and the ways of our culture may sometimes conflict with the ways of the Lord.

II.       Theological Analysis of Genesis 16:1-6

  1. D.     Verses 3-4 Sarai’s Action and Hagar’s Response
    1. 1.      after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan- the ten years may indicate that to some degree the Promise of Land is being fulfilled, but it also indicates that Sarai’s patience is wearing out. She is getting old.
    2. 2.      wife…took…and gave…to…her husband- Mathews writes (p.185), “That Sarai ‘took’ (laqah) her and ‘gave’ (natan) Hagar ‘to her husband’ (v.3) portrays the matriarch as another Eve (3:6). Wenham writes (p.7-8), “Note the identical sequence of key nouns and verbs in 3:6: ‘The woman [wife]…took…gave it to her husband.’ But Berg points out, it is not merely the terminology that is close here but also the actions involved. ‘The actors correspond: in Gen.16:3 the woman takes the initiative as she does in 3:6b. The recipient of the gift is in both texts the man, in Gen 16:3 the husband, in Gen 3:6b the man for whom the woman was created as partner. In both stories the man reacts appropriately to the woman’s action. In 3:6b he eats the proffered fruit: in 16:4a he goes in to the offered Hagar. The means (of sin), the fruit/Hagar, is accepted by the man. The sequence of events is similar in both cases: the woman takes something and gives it to her husband, who accepts it. This leads to the conclusion. By employing quite similar formulations and an identical sequence of events in Gen 3:6b and 16:3-4a, the author makes it clear that for him both narratives describe comparable events, that they are both accounts of a fall.’” Just as Sarai was ‘taken’ by Pharaoh, now Hagar is taken by Sarai and given to Abram. Hagar is but a slave and has no choice in the matter.
    3. 3.      Sarai’s proposal was a ‘normal’ human response to her problem that did not require faith. Sarai took the initiative without any seeking of the Lord similar to when Abram led them into Egypt, from whence Hagar came.
    4. 4.      and she conceived- it would appear that Sarai’s plan worked! Some commentators say that Abram only slept with Hagar once. I tend to think that is an overly optimistic picture of the situation.
    5. 5.      she looked with contempt on her Mistress- Calvin, (p.427), “Meanwhile, in Hagar, an instance of ingratitude is set before us; because she, having been treated with singular kindness and honour, begins to hold her mistress in contempt.”  One can imagine the pregnant Hagar with morning sickness, ordering her former mistress around.
  2. E.      Verse 5 Sarai’s Complaint
    1. 1.      Sarai said…may the wrong done to me be on you!- In Gen. 3 it was the man blaming God and the woman, in 16 it is Sarai blaming God in vs.2 and now her husband in vs.5 even though it was her plan that has backfired. Is it possible that as Moses spoke this to his people that there might have been a few chuckles from the men, some winks and nudges going on in the crowd, “Imagine that, the woman blaming the man!” The word for “wrong” is a very strong word elsewhere translated as “violence” in 6:11, 13 and 49:5. Sarai is over reacting here! Jealousy is a strong motivator.


  1. F.       Verse 6a Abram’s Response-
    1. 1.      Abram’s response is passive, he doesn’t really seem to want to get in between the two fussing women. But it seems to me that Abram has this passive streak at times, like in Egypt and then again later in Abimelech’s court. He doesn’t take charge here, he basically tells Sarai, “Do whatever you want with Hagar, but treat her for the good.” This is a woman he has been sleeping with and is now carrying his child, his long expected child. And he treats her this way? His answer does re-assert Sarai’s claim to be the chief wife.


                   G. Verse 6b,c Sarai’s Action and Hagar’s Response 

1.Then Sarai dealt harshly with her- Sarai humiliated her, Moses uses the same word as in Exodus 15:13 to describe how Egypt treated Israel. Again, the conflict between the two women prefigures the conflict between Egypt and Israel.

2.And she fled from her- Hagar’s rebellious attitude and     Sarai’s harsh treatment led to her fleeing.


  1. H.    Application
    1. 1.      Patiently Waiting on the Lord

                                                                                       i.      When we are called  to follow Jesus, that may mean tolerating a burdensome, even a grievous situation for a long time. Some things will not get fixed in this life and we must wait for heaven or the coming of the Lord. Psalm 27:14 “Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!”

  1. 2.      Our Ways Are Not God’s Ways

                                                                                       i.      A lot of times we want to move faster than God, take short cuts that look OK, but simply are not God’s best for us. We rely on our own wisdom and we fall short. Prov.14:12 “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” We must diligently seek the Word to discern what is best. Waiting is often the best. Isaiah 55:6-9 “Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; 7 let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. 8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

  1. 3.      When God’s Ways and the Culture Conflict

               a.   Just because our culture says it is legal, moral and ethical does not make it so. Can you imagine some of the pressure put on Sarai by other women in the neighborhood? “Well Sarai, why don’t you just do this…?” “Everybody else does it this way…!” What are some things that are Legal, but not biblical? What does our culture say is moral but the Bible says is immoral? Maybe there are some things that our culture is now saying is immoral but the Bible tells us is good?

  1. 4.      Pride
    1. Pride proved harmful to both Hagar and Sarai. How does pride harm our relationships with others?


5.Passive Husbands

he doesn’t really seem to want to get in between the two fussing women. But it seems to me that Abram has this passive streak at times, like in Egypt and then again later in Abimelech’s court. He doesn’t take charge here, he basically tells Sarai, “Do whatever you want with Hagar, but treat her for the good.” This is a woman he has been sleeping with and is now carrying his child, his long expected child. And he treats her this way? His answer does re-assert Sarai’s claim to be the chief wife.

Abram has a failure to lead here and he all too easily jumped into sin with Hagar. Do we see weak male leadership in the homes of any of Abraham’s descendants? Isaac in the matter of Jacob and Esau? Jacob in the various problems with his children? Has weak male leadership in the home affected the American families? Has weak male leadership in the Church been a problem?


Walton, John H. and Matthews, Victor H. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Genesis-Deuteronomy. InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove, Ill. 1997 (pp.42-43).

Francisco, Clyde T. Broadman Bible Commentary, vol.1, Rev. “Genesis”. Broadman Press: Nashville, TN. 1973 (pp.166-169).

Boice, James Montgomery. Genesis: An Expositional Commentary, volume 2. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 1985 (pp.122-127).

Wenham, Gordon. Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 2 Genesis 16-50. Word Books: Dallas, 1994 (pp.1-13).

Pink, Arthur W. Gleanings in Genesis. Moody: Chicago 1922 (pp.173-180).

Ross, Allen P. Creation & Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis. Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, 1996 (pp.315-325).

Waltke, Bruce K. Genesis: A Commentary. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 2001 (pp. 247-257).

Mathews, Kenneth A. New American Commentary Series, vol. 1B, Genesis 11:27-50:26. Broadman&Holman: Nashville, TN 2005 (pp.178-192).

Currid, John D. An EP Commentary, Genesis volume 1 Genesis 1:1-25:18. Evangelical Press: Darlington, England 2003 (pp.300-309).


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