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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 16

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary


HAGAR AND ISHMAEL, Genesis 16:1-16.

It is sad to pass from such a sublime elevation as that into which we have seen Abram lifted in the last chapter, to the low moral plain in which he next appears before us. It would seem that the presence and force of the divine revelation and promise begat a burning expectation, which grew impatient at the long delay. This impatience shows itself in Sarai, and prompts her to resort to an unhallowed expedient in order to build her house. The polygamous conduct here recorded is not to be defended or even apologized for. It had its reason and occasion, but, like other immoralities in Abram’s life, is to be condemned as contrary to God’s order. Comp. Genesis 2:24, and Mark 10:2-12. The history of polygamy everywhere shows how the unholy practice breeds mischief, strife, bitterness, and sorrow . In this short chapter all these evils are seen to flow from a single instance of bigamy in one of its mildest forms . Polygamy has ever been practiced among the descendants of Ishmael, and has been to them a moral and physical curse, never more manifest than at the present time .

Verse 1

1. Handmaid A family servant, whose special duty it was to wait upon the mistress of the household . The Sept . has παιδισκη , a young girl, or a young female slave . From her being here called an Egyptian, we infer that Abram obtained her during his sojourn in Egypt, when he received from Pharaoh “menservants and maidservants . ” Genesis 12:16. The name Hagar means flight . So, also, the well-known Arabic word hezrah or hegira, used so commonly in the flight of Mohammed from Mecca . It may have been given to Sarai’s handmaid after her flight from her mistress, and used here proleptically; or it may have been given her on account of her departure out of Egypt.

Verse 2

2. It may be that I may obtain children by her Hebrews, Perhaps I shall be builded from her . The word rendered obtain children is בנה , to build, from which comes the Hebrew word בן , ben, son . Hence to be builded means, to become a house; to beget a family . See Ruth 4:11, note . Sarai’s expedient to obtain offspring was according to an ancient custom still prevalent in the East . Comp . Genesis 30:3. The child of her waiting-maid, thus given to her husband, she might call her own, and her impatient haste to see the word of God fulfilled urges Abram into this unholy measure. Sarai’s zeal, like Eve’s hasty and mistaken expectation of the promised seed, (Genesis 4:1, note,) is a fitting type of the impatience and feverish excitement of New Testament times touching the promised millennial kingdom .

Verse 3

3. Ten years in… Canaan Abram was now eighty-five years old, (compare Genesis 16:16; Genesis 12:4,) and Sarai seventy-five . Genesis 17:17.

Verse 4

4. Her mistress was despised Sarai is thus the first to feel the natural curse of the adulterous union . “Among the Hebrews barrenness was esteemed a reproach, (see Genesis 19:31; Genesis 30:1; Genesis 30:23; Leviticus 20:20,) and fecundity a special honour and blessing of God, (chapter 21:6, 24:60; Exodus 23:26; Deuteronomy 7:14;) and such is still the feeling in the East . But very probably Hagar may have thought that now Abram would love and honour her more than he did her mistress . Comp . Genesis 29:33. ” Speaker’s Com .

Verse 5

5. My wrong be upon thee Sarai, stung by feelings of jealousy, and suspecting that Abram’s affections were turned from herself to her handmaid, complains to him of the wrong she suffers . She assumes that it is his place to redress the wrong, and in passionate haste implies that he has failed to do so because of his devotion to Hagar .

The Lord judge “She would leave his conduct to the judgment of Jehovah, more as an appeal to his conscience than as a decided condemnation . ” Lange .

Verse 6

6. Thy maid is in thy hand By this he repudiates the implication of having wronged his wife by exalting another to her place in his affections, or in his household . Sarai’s maid is still her own . At her proposal he had treated her as a wife, and now she has her at disposal to treat her as she pleased .

Dealt hardly with her Treated her with such oppressive rigour and humiliation that she fled from her face, resolved not to submit to such affliction. “The proud, unyielding passion of the Ishmaelite for freedom shows its characteristic feature in their ancestress.” Lange.

Verse 7

7. The angel of the Lord Here we meet, for the first time, with this much-debated expression מלאךְ יהוה , angel of Jehovah; but we are not to assume that this was the first appearance of this angel . Comp . Genesis 12:7, note . There have been two different opinions of this mysterious angel: one that he was a created angel, a ministering spirit, (Hebrews 1:14,) sent forth to speak the message of Jehovah, and to act in his name; the other that he was a manifestation of God in human form, and accordingly Jehovah himself, speaking in his own divine name . Each of these opinions has been maintained under two forms. Of those who hold that he was a created or ordinary angel, 1) some regard him as an angel specially commissioned at each different appearance; not necessarily the same angel every time: 2) another class regard him as the same individual angel, here appearing as Jehovah’s angel; again, as Captain of the Lord’s host, (Joshua 5:14,) and in Daniel 12:1, as the great Prince of the covenant people . Of those, again, who hold him to be Jehovah himself, in human form, 1) one class of interpreters understand the word Jehovah, in the term angel of Jehovah, as a genitive of apposition; that is, angel-Jehovah, or Jehovah-angel; a mysterious and miraculous manifestation of the God of Abram. This would be a sort of Sabellian exposition. 2) Others distinguish between Jehovah and his angel as between sender and sent, and see in the latter the Old Testament administration of the second Person of the Trinity, the Logos or Word of God. The main question to determine is, whether this was a created angel or Jehovah himself, a question on which devout and eminent divines have divided. On the principle that “what one does through another, he himself does,” many exegetes, with much show of reason, hold that the angel of Jehovah was a created spirit, capable of assuming human form and modes of life, (comp. Genesis 18:2; Genesis 18:8,) sent forth as the representative of Jehovah and authorized to speak in his name . Accordingly such language as that of Genesis 16:10; Genesis 16:13, and Genesis 18:13-14, and many similar passages, is to be understood as Jehovah speaking by his angel. In Genesis 21:17, where the angel of God ( Elohim) again addresses Hagar, there is nothing to indicate that the speaker was other than an ordinary angel . And the expression angel of Jehovah occurs in many other places where there is no necessity of understanding that the angel is Jehovah, but quite the contrary . See Numbers 22:22; 1 Kings 1:3; 1 Kings 1:15; Zechariah 1:11-13; Zechariah 3:5-6. Further, the angel of the Lord, in the New Testament, ( αγγελος κυριου ,) is an ordinary angel, (Luke 1:11; Luke 2:9, etc . ;) and Kurtz asks, “Why should the ‘angel of the Lord’ who announces the birth of John the Baptist be different in nature from him who announces that of Samson?

Why should the ‘angel of the Lord’ who smites Herod Agrippa, so that he dies, be different in nature from him who, in one night, destroyed the host of Sennacherib? Why should the ‘angel of the Lord’ who encourages Paul in his bonds be different in nature from him who comforts Hagar when she is driven forth?” If this view be adopted, it matters little whether we regard the angel as one chosen messenger for every occasion, or different angels of heaven, each selected for his separate and special mission.

But while some passages readily admit and favour the view that Jehovah’s angel is only an ordinary angel, there are passages in which the language is not fully met by such an exposition. The other and profounder view, according to which the angel of Jehovah is the revealing Word of God, the Old Testament gracious manifestation of Him who in the fulness of time became flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, is maintained by the following considerations: 1) The sacred writer uses the terms Jehovah and angel of Jehovah interchangeably. Compare Genesis 16:9-10; Genesis 50:13; Genesis 18:13; Genesis 18:16-17; Genesis 18:22; Genesis 18:33; Genesis 48:15; Genesis 16:2) While other angels are careful not to identify themselves with God, (see Genesis 19:13; Revelation 19:10; Revelation 22:8-9,) this angel speaks so absolutely in God’s name and person as to exclude the idea that he is an ordinary messenger . See Genesis 16:10; Genesis 18:17; Genesis 18:20-21; Genesis 22:12, etc . 3) The solemn and explicit language of Exodus 23:20-23, is utterly inappropriate to any created angel, especially the language of Gen 16:21, “Beware of him, and obey his voice, provoke him not; for he will not pardon your transgressions: for my name is in him . ” Comp . Exodus 32:34; Exodus 33:14; Isaiah 63:9. Isaiah 63:4) He allows prayers and sacrifices to be offered unto him, as if he were Jehovah himself . Genesis 18:22-32; Judges 6:11-22; Judges 13:19-20.

This view of the angel of Jehovah is very ancient. It was a part of the theology of the ancient synagogue, according to which this angel was the Shekinah the manifested power and mediation of God in the world. This was the doctrine of the Metatron, who was regarded as an emanation from God, equal with him, and in whom he revealed himself to man. This doctrine, divested of some of its later foreign elements, was adopted by most of the Fathers of the early Christian Church, and is held by the majority of evangelical divines of the present day.

We should not deem it strange that thus early in the history of the covenant there should have been such a mysterious revelation of God by the divine angel of his presence. The doctrine is not contrary to the idea of a progressive revelation, for these ancient administrations of the Word of God evidence no higher a consciousness of God and his self-manifestation than the deep symbolism of sacrifice and covenanting. Nor are we to suppose that the mediation of this angel would supersede the necessity of the ministry of other angels. Many of these latter accompanied him in his ways, and who the particular angel was, in any instance, must be determined from the context. Even the title angel of Jehovah may, in some passages, be used of any ministering angel, and, as Keil observes, “where the context furnishes no criterion, it must remain undecided.” Such passages as Psalms 34:7; Psalms 35:5-6, where the angel of Jehovah is not more particularly described, or Numbers 20:16, where the words are general and indefinite, furnish no evidence that the angel of Jehovah, who proclaimed himself on his appearance as one with God, was not in reality equal with God; unless we are to adopt as the rule for interpretation of Scripture the inverted principle, that clear and definite statements are to be explained by those that are indefinite and obscure .

As to the less-important question, whether in angel of Jehovah we are to understand the latter word as a genitive of apposition, or as defining more fully the word angel, we believe the latter to be the true construction. We naturally distinguish between the angel and Jehovah, although this distinction is one of the profoundest mysteries of Deity. Like the Word of God in John 1:1, this Angel was with God and was God . So in the expressions “servant of Jehovah,” and “messenger of Jehovah,” there is the same obvious distinction as between sender and sent .

The angel… found her It has been often asked why the angel of Jehovah should have appeared first to an Egyptian bondmaid. But that this was the first appearance of this angel is a pure assumption. See note on Genesis 12:7. Nevertheless, would it not be just as well to ask, Why should Jesus, after the resurrection, have appeared first to Mary Magdalene? Why not rather to his mother, or else to that disciple whom he loved? The redeeming angel, (Genesis 48:16,) whose great work is to seek and to save the lost, found this lost child by the fountain in the way to Shur. The wilderness of Shur extended between Beer-sheba on the north-east, and Egypt on the south-west. Into this wilderness the Israelites entered after they had passed the Red Sea. Exodus 15:22, note . Hagar, the Egyptian, would naturally have fled by the most direct route to Egypt, which lay through this desert .

Verse 8

8. Sarai’s maid The words were calculated to remind her that she was not her own, nor yet Abram’s wife .

Whence… whither These questions were adapted to arouse her conscience and her fears .

Verse 9

9. Return… submit The only way to attain the true freedom and independence . The word rendered submit thyself is the Hithpael form of the verb rendered dealt hardly in Genesis 16:6. עני , rendered affliction in Genesis 16:11, is from the same root. The sense is: Go back, and allow thyself to be afflicted under the hands of thy mistress. Her reward for such self-humiliation is announced in the next three verses.

Verse 11

11. Ishmael The name means God will hear, and would ever remind Hagar how Jehovah heard her affliction . Compare 1 Samuel 1:20, note . “Misery sighs; the sighs ascend to God; hence misery itself, if not sent as a curse, is a voiceless prayer to God . But this is true especially of the misery of Hagar, who had learned to pray in the house of Abram . ” Lange .

Verse 12

12. He will be a wild man Hebrews, a wild ass man, that is, a man like the wild, free, untamable creature described in Job 39:5-8, that makes the wilderness his dwelling, and “scorneth the multitude of the city, neither regardeth he the crying of the driver . ” Hagar is to be the mother of a numerous and mighty race, but not of the chosen seed . Her progeny were to become the lawless rovers of the desert . “The character of the Ishmaelites, or the Bedouins,” observes Kalisch, “could not be described more aptly or more powerfully . They have preserved it almost unaltered during three or four thousand years . Against them alone time seems to have no sickle, and the conqueror’s sword no edge. They have defied the softening influences of civilization, and mocked the attacks of the invader. Ungovernable and roaming, obeying no law but their spirit of adventure, regarding all mankind as their enemies, whom they must either attack with their spears or elude with their faithful steeds, and cherishing their deserts as heartily as they despise the constraint of towns and communities; the Bedouins are the outlaws among the nations.”

His hand… against every man Such a wild and lawless race could never be at peace with a civilized community, and hence, whenever there is any contact with other peoples, there is continual discord. They are also known to have constant feuds among themselves.

In the presence of all his brethren The brethren here are doubtless to be understood of other descendants of Abram, especially those by Keturah, (see Genesis 25:1-4,) and the fact that the descendants of Ishmael have ever occupied the deserts south and east of Palestine is to serve in interpreting these words . Many critics understand the phrase in the presence of as equivalent to east of, a meaning which the words will bear . The persons of whom the words are thus used are supposed to be looking toward the sunrise . But the expression may with equal propriety be used in the sense of contiguity . The Ishmaelites occupied the country in front of the Hebrews, bordering on the south and east, and especially dwelt in immediate proximity to the Midianites, Edomites, and other descendants of Abram .

Verse 13

13. Thou God seest me Translate, And she called the name of Jehovah, who spoke unto her, Thou art a God of sight, (that is, capable of being seen,) for she said, “Have I also hither seen after sight?” The words of Hagar here are emotional and broken, and, therefore, obscure. The meaning seems to be: “Jehovah is truly a God that may be seen, for I also have seen him, and yet here I am seeing still after having seen God!” She is astonished that she has had this vision of God and yet lives. Compare Genesis 32:30; Exodus 33:20; Judges 13:21. The common version follows the Sept . and Vulg . , and mistakes the noun ראי for a participle . But if it were designed for a participle, we should have the form ראני .

Verse 14

14. Beer-lahai-roi באר לחי ראי , well of life of sight, or, well of living vision; that is: well where one saw God and remained alive after the vision . This well is mentioned again in Genesis 24:62; Genesis 25:11. Its location, between Kadesh and Bered, is now unknown . On the identification of Kadesh with Ain Qadees, see note on Genesis 14:7. The spring el Muweileh, far to the south of Beer-sheba, has been suggested as Hagar’s well, but this suggestion has not been sufficiently confirmed .

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Genesis 16". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/genesis-16.html. 1874-1909.
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