Genesis 16. Hagar, Ishmael and God.
Key Notes: Abram and Sarah try it their way. God sees. Ishmael's hostile tribe. God cares for people we do not like.
This episode in the life of Abram is full of tension and puzzle. Why Ishmael? We can understand the story because it is simple and beautifully told. We do not understand why God would support a bigamous relationship and the emergence of a new tribe that will be troublesome.
16:1–6 Sarai was barren, and was now in her menopause. She knew that God would give Abram a son, but that the Lord had prevented her from conceiving. So she proposed her personal servant as a concubine, a surrogate mother. Abram consented without hesitation. Surrogate parenting was common in the Middle East. (On the Reliability of the Old Testament. K.A.Kitchen. Eerdmans; 2003, p.325–326). Hagar was an Egyptian; her name means "wanderer". She may have been a fugitive from her native land. She was soon pregnant. Trouble erupted when Hagar flaunted her biological superiority over her mistress. She was evidently a proud woman, not a servile house-maid. Sarai was jealous and blamed Abram for the trouble she had brought on herself. He should have refused in the first place. Probably Abram was now favoring Hagar. Abram shrugged. Sarai punished. Hagar ran.
16:7–12 The Angel of JHWH (who is JHWH, 16:13) found her at an oasis eighty miles to the south. The Angel asked, "Hagar, maid of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?"
It was a tender address to a distraught pregnant woman. Hagar said she was running from Sarai and the Angel told her to go back to the safety of Abram's house. God had heard her cry and would give her a son named Ishmael (meaning "God hears"). He would be a wild and combative man.
16:13 She called the name of God "El Roi" (The God who sees) for she said "...Have I seen God and remained alive after seeing Him?" Two ideas are expressed: God sees and cares for her; the Angel is God and she did not die when she saw Him. We believe that she saw a Theophany, the pre-incarnate Christ, speaking softly to her.
How was Hagar greeted when she returned to Abraham and Sarai? Were there apologies on both sides? We would love to know how this mother of Abraham's first child was treated by her masters. There would be much gossip in the tents of the servants.
We wonder at God's support of a bigamous relationship between Abram and an Egyptian servant, knowing that the Ishmaelites would become traditional enemies of Israel. Traditionally they have been considered ancestors of the Arabians from whom Mohammed sprang and from whom Islam, sworn enemy of Christendom, developed. [However, see footnote.] We will be also puzzled to see the emergence of the Edomites and Amalekites from Isaac's older son, Esau. We lament the Moabites and Ammonites from the incestuous daughters of Lot, also adversaries of Israel. We would not do things this way. But God's ways are not our ways.
We know from other events that God cares for people Israel would not like. Israel had no interest in the healing (and salvation) of Naaman the Leper. He was the commander of the Syrian army that harassed Israel. (IIK. 5). The Assyrians of Ninevah were anathema to Jonah but God went to great lengths to give them an opportunity for repentance. (Jonah 4). Peter would not go near a Gentile house, but God used a vision and an angel to ensure that Peter would preach salvation to a Roman centurion and his family. Acts 10
God sees. God hears. And He hears our cry as He heard Hagar's.
"The Ishmaelites are never identified with a group designated as the 'Arabs'--a term that refers to various tribes who inhabit the area of the Arabian Peninsula."The term 'arab' is not a gentilic term. 'Arab' takes its modern sense only after the rise if Islam in the seventh century AD....Modern Muslims are not descended from Ishmael, nor do they share common biological descent from Mohammed. Moreover, even the prophet of Islam himself did not claim descent from Ishmael. We have not record of what became of the Ishmaelites after the time of David and have no basis for seeing their survival in any group in the later Old Testament period, and certainly not today."
(Genesis. J.H.Walton. Zondervan, 2009; p.103–104)