When all practical avenues have been exhausted, God is seeding a miracle.
We should keep in mind the events of the previous chapter as we read the narrative of chapter 16. Avram has just received the unconditional covenant of the land and has been shown the future slavery and subsequent deliverance of Israel. He has received all these things as a sign of the fact that God has already established a blood heir for him.
Avram is said to have come to a place of complete trust in G-d and is thus credited with righteousness (Genesis 15:6). Now however, it seems that he has either neglected to pass this information on to Sarai, or, she has chosen to doubt God’s ability to fulfil His promises to Avram. Either way, Avram allows his role as leader of the household to be usurped by the emotional pleas of his desperate wife, and thus makes room for conflict to enter his camp. The lesson for the follower of Messiah is clear: In Messiah we are completely safe at the core of our being (Avram’s trust in G-d). We cannot be possessed by another. However, if we allow our actions to stray from our core (Avram submits to Sarai’s demands), those actions can be utilized by another. Therefore, our actions must always come from our core, which is Messiah in us (Trust in G-d).
In a wonderful redemptive twist, God blesses Hagar and her son, though He also clarifies Ishmael’s cantankerous spirit and his volatile role in the future history of humanity. At the conclusion of this account however, it is Hagar’s choosing to see (recognize) the G-d Who has seen—known her from before the creation of the world—her, and her obedience in returning to serve her mistress; that restores her position within the tents of Avram. Thus HaShem (Mercy) delivers her from perishing in the wilderness.
In a paradoxical sense, Hagar’s symbolic role as an Egyptian, places the soon to be slave master of Israel under the authority of Avram via Sarai. In this account Egypt is seen figuratively as the servant of Israel. Just as Israel was to wander in the desert, so too Egypt, through Hagar, wandered in the desert. However, where Israel’s freedom was to be found by leaving Egypt (Sin) behind, Egypt’s (Hagar) freedom is found in her returning to Israel (Y’sra: overcoming El: in G-d).
In the repetition of the Hebrew words ayin: eyes, and ra’ah: to see, and through the naming of Y’sh’ma-el (heard by God), this historical story emphasizes the all-seeing and all-hearing God of Israel.
Gen 16:1 And Sarai (Princess) the wife of Avram (Father of a nation) didn’t bare him children: and she had a handmaid, a Mitzrit (Egyptian: double distress), whose name was Hagar (Flight).
The shame associated with being barren in Biblical times cannot be overstated. Children and in particular male heirs were essential to the survival of a family and the retention of lands and wealth. In spite of God’s promise Avram had been in the land of Canaan ten years without any sign of an heir. It may well have seemed like God had forgotten him, however, in reality this is yet another step toward complete reliance on God. When all practical avenues have been exhausted, only a miracle of God can establish His promises.
According to the Midrash, as interpreted by Rashi, Hagar was a daughter of Pharaoh, who was gifted to Sarai after Pharaoh had witnessed the power of God at work on Sarai’s behalf, and had concluded, “Better that she (Hagar) be a servant in their household than a princess in someone else’s”.
Gen 16:2 And Sarai said unto Avram, Behold now, HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) has restrained me from bearing: I plead with you, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. And Avram heard, listened, understood and consented (va’yeeshma) to the voice (kol) of Sarai.
It is worth noting here that it is the attribute of Mercy displayed in the Holy Name (YHVH), which is responsible for restraining Sarai from bearing children.
In the ancient near east surrogate mothers were often employed for the purpose of continuing family lines, a custom that is attested to in places such as ancient Ur and Cappadocia. The patriarch Yaakov (Jacob) also had children in a like manner, and the sons born to his wives were all full members of his household. However, in the present case it is election that will determine Isaac’s status as heir to the promises of Avram, while Ishmael, who has been blessed with a different blessing (Galatians 4:22-29), will be put out of the household of Avram.
Avram seems to have momentarily taken his eyes off HaShem and given in to reason rather than walking in trust of God. What’s more he listens to, “l’kol Sarai” (the voice of Sarai) rather than, “Ha’kol Adonai” (the voice of The Lord).
Gen 16:3 And Sarai (Princess) Avram's (Father of a nation) wife took Hagar (Flight) her maid the Mitzrit (Egyptian: double distress), after Avram had dwelt ten years in the land of Kena’an (Canaan: humility, lowland), and gave her to her husband Avram to be his wife.
We find an interesting remez (hint) in the Hebrew text when we read the meaning in the names of the characters:
“The princess, wife to a nation’s father, took flight in double distress, after the nation’s father had spent ten years in a land of humility.”
Sarai is the instigator of this faithless action. She is in double distress because, unlike Avram, she has not trusted HaShem. Therefore she believes she is unable to bear children and that God is unable to provide her with a child. So Sarai is taking flight from God’s promises, a decision that will result in the birth of a child who will bring perpetual conflict to the progeny of Sarai’s womb. Thus the number for completion, “ten” is seen in the remez to represent the complete captivity (humility) of the Hebrews under the Mitzratim (Egyptians). Something that was outlined in detail during Avram’s covenant experience in the former chapter.
Gen 16:4 And he went in unto Hagar, for the purpose of causing her to conceive: and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress became insignificant in her eyes (she despised and looked down upon her mistress Sarai).
It was not unusual for men to have multiple wives at this time and in this context. In fact without the protection of a husband and a wider family collective, a woman living in this historical environment would have surely died from lack of provision. To be given to a man of Avram’s stature would have been considered an honour and does not constitute sexual slavery in the modern sense. Remember that Avram aquired his Egyptian servants and riches through his relationship with the ruler of Egypt (Genesis 12:16). In fact Hagar’s life with Avram’s family may well have been far more comfortable than her former life under Egypt’s religious and cultural rule. Therefore, having been lifted from a position of servitude into the role of second wife, Hagar was being offered an opportunity for greater comfort and status. This makes her actions toward Sarai seem heinous rather than simple pettiness. Instead of showing mercy toward Sarai in her barren state, Hagar looks down upon her and despises her, viewing Sarai’s infertility as a sign of inferiority. For a woman of this time and context, the inability to bear children was disgrace enough without the added ridicule of her pairs.
Gen 16:5 And Sarai said unto Avram, “My wrong be upon you: I have given my maid into your bosom; and when she saw that she had conceived, I became despised in her eyes: may HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) judge between me and you”.
The literal translation, “My wrong be upon you” is ironic. While the plain meaning should be understood to refer to the fact that Sarai has been wronged, the remez (hint) conveys the idea that it is her wrong action that is being visited on Avram due to his lack of leadership. Avram’s desire to please his wife had caused him to temporarily relinquish the promise of God regarding his progeny. Thus the wrong committed by Sarai in insisting that Avram cohabitate with her maid servant has now come back upon Avram, who is the leader of the household and is therefore both explicitly and implicitly responsible for the current situation.
From time to time in the Tanakh we read this spine chilling statement, “May HaShem judge between me and you”. It is not something that should be uttered lightly. In this case Sarai’s profound hurt over her inability to conceive has been compounded by her maid servant’s ridicule and has resulted in an emotionally charged and rash pronouncement. Genesis Rabah 45:5, suggest that Sarai’s litigious actions were the reason that Avram outlived her by fifty years (Gen. 23:1; 25:7). However, a glimmer of hope can be seen in the attribute of mercy that emanates from the Divine Name. Thus we read, “May Mercy judge between me and you”.
Gen 16:6 But Avram said unto Sarai, “Behold, your maid is in your hand; do to her what seems good in your eyes”. And Sarai kept her busy (vat’anah: rt. anah) [with the chores of servitude], and she fled from before her face.
While many English translations choose to say, “Sarai dealt harshly” the reader should be aware that the same Hebrew word, “anah” which is here translated as, “harshly, afflicted etc.” is used by G-d in verse 9 as an instruction to return to humble service, and in this context, does not mean, “affliction” but, “to be busy with the tasks of servitude”. Therefore, Avram, who has taken Hagar as a wife, and has given her all the privileges that come with matrimonial obligation, now returns Hagar to Sarai, for whom Hagar will always be considered a servant. The text doesn’t infer mistreatment but rather demotion. It is most likely that Hagar flees, not because of abuse but because of anger at having been denied her new found pre-eminence in the home.
However, that which seems, good in Sarai’s eyes is not necessarily good in G-d’s eyes. Avram once again abrogates his authority as head of the household in order to please his wife Sarai, and as a result, Hagar, whose name means flight, flees.
Gen 16:7 And seeking to secure her, the angel (Malach) of HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) found her by a spring (ayin: eye) of waters in the wilderness, by the spring (ayin: eye) in the way to Shur (wall).
Shur was located southwest of the land of Israel on or inside of the eastern border of Egypt. Therefore Hagar was seeking to return home to Egypt. The angel of The Lord, Who, based on the pursuant conversation, is clearly a manifestation of The Lord Himself, seeks to give security to insecure Hagar. God need not find her, He knows her location, but manifesting as the angel of HaShem, God relates to Hagar in a tangible and present way: she is found by Him and is privileged to see the unseen One.
The Hebrew word, “ayin” (eye), which has already been used three times up to this point in the chapter, is now translated, “Spring” (an eye in the earth producing water). This entire account emphasizes the all-seeing God. The God Who had already seen the future heir of Avram’s household.
Avram traded his vision for that of his wife. Sarai in turn did what seemed good in her eyes, and Hagar used her eyes to look down on her mistress. Whereas, God saw the end from the beginning. He foresaw his servants’ faithless attempt to acquire their own heir. He foresaw the misery that would result. He also foresaw the rebellion of Hagar (Egypt) and the way she would take flight. So He prepared redemption for the one who would be subjected to misery. He seeded the spring of living water to sustain the wanderer. He saw the repentant heart of the one in flight and made a way for her to return to the tents of His people.
“The poor man and the oppressor have this in common: Adonai gives light to the eyes of both.”
“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. Therefore if your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”
-Matthew 6:21-23 (TLV)
Our Messiah’s words are the foundation for the saying, “The eyes are the window to the soul”. The Hebrew consciousness sees the eye as a symbol of the heart motivation. This is clearly the intended meaning of Yeshua’s words in Matthew 6:21-23. Each of us has been seen by God and each of us has a choice to make: will we look upon Him in return and allow Him to fill our eyes with His light from the inside out, or will we close our eyes to His light and allow the yetzer ha-ra (evil inclination) to blind our vision with darkness? He is the God Who sees, His eye is on the sparrow. Will we look for the unseen reality of His promises or will we rely on the temporal vision of human reason?
“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” – 2 Corinthians 4:18 (NIV)
Gen 16:8 And He said, “Hagar, the handmaid of Sarai, where have you come from? and, where will you go?” And she said, “I’ve fled from the face of my mistress Sarai.”
Notice that God reminds Hagar of her status as, “the handmaid of Sarai”. This is as much a rebuke as it is a rescue. God requires humility from Hagar.
God knows where Hagar has come from and where she is going, therefore, the question is intended to reveal something to Hagar.
Hagar’s words of response show that she has humbled herself and is reconsidering her role in God’s plans. She acknowledges that Sarai is her mistress. This is the first step in her returning to the tents of Avram.
Gen 16:9 And the angel (Malach) of HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit (v’hit’ani: rt. anah) yourself under her hands.
Avram (father of a nation) had said, “Behold, your maid is in your hand”. Now the angel of HaShem instructs Hagar to return and be subservient toward her mistress Sarai. Rather than enabling Hagar’s rebellion, God requires her to return to her mistress in humility, for her own good.
Gen 16:10 And the angel (Malach) of HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) said to her, “I will multiply your seed exceedingly, so that they cannot be numbered due to the multitude of them.”
Notice the differences between this promise and the promises made to Avram. Hagar’s seed will be numerous but the nations of the earth will not be blessed through her seed. Hagar’s seed will be numerous but the covenanted land will not pass to them. Hagar’s seed will be numerous, but they will not be as numerous as the stars or the dust of the earth. Hagar’s seed will be numerous but as is metaphorically indicated in the previous verse, they will return to submit beneath the hand of Avram’s blood progeny via Sarai.
Gen 16:11 And the angel (Malach) of HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) said unto her, “Behold, you are with child, and shall bear a son, and shall call his name Y’sh’ma-el (Heard by G-d); because HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) has heard your misery.
Ishmael’s name does not mean, “He hears God” but rather that, “God has heard” him. It’s unlikely that Hagar knew she would have a son, therefore, the knowledge was an encouragement to her because sons were usually the inheritors of the family name and wealth.
Gen 16:12 And he will be a wild man; his hand will be against every human being, and every person's hand will be against him; and before the face of all his brothers he will dwell.
This is an extremely perceptive prophetic statement regarding the progeny of Ishmael (the Arabic peoples) and the false religion (Islam: Submission) that has now become so prevalent. The irony of which is not lost when one considers the events taking place in today’s world.
Gen 16:13 And she called the name of HaShem (YHVH: Mercy) Who had spoken to her, “You are the God Who sees me”: for she said, “I also in this place have seen after having been seen.”
Here the text makes clear that it is HaShem Himself Who has spoken to Hagar. Therefore, the angel of HaShem is a manifestation of God Himself, Who is God with us, “Emmanuel”.
The Hebrew word play over the root, “ra’ah” conveys a beautiful sense of the unseen causing the seen to receive sight. We are only able to see God because He has first seen us.
Gen 16:14 Wherefore the well was called B’eir-lachai-roi (Well of the living Seer); behold, it is between Kadesh (Holy) and Bered (hail, fig. destruction).
The remez (hint) in the three names of the spring, gives way to a drash (comparative teaching) regarding loss and redemption. The well of the living seer (Yeshua: Malakh ha-YHVH, Messenger of Mercy) is situated between the God we are running away from (Kadesh: Holy) and the destruction we are running toward (Bered: destruction). This well of the living seer is the water of living Himself. If, like Hagar (flight) we choose to see the One Who has seen us, we will be delivered and return to The Father of all Nations (God). Thus the waters of living restore us in the place of our fleeing and strengthen us so that we might return to God.
Gen 16:15 And Hagar bore Avram a son: and Avram called his son's name, which Hagar bore, Y’sh’ma-el (Heard by God).
The events of verse 15 happen some months after Hagar’s meeting with HaShem. She is back among the tents of Avram when she gives birth and he gives his son the name Ishmael, either by a personal revelation of God or by receiving the name from Hagar.
Gen 16:16 And Avram was eighty six years old, when Hagar bare Y’sh’ma-el to Avram.
The miracle of Yitzchak’s (Isaac) birth, which is soon to follow, is accentuated by the ages of Avram and Sarai at the conclusion to the events of Ishmael’s birth.
When all practical avenues have been exhausted, God is seeding a miracle.
© 2016 Yaakov Brown
Spiritual leader of Beth Melekh Community, Auckland, Aotearoa, N.Z.