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Bible Commentaries

Kingcomments on the Whole Bible

Genesis 16

Verses 1-6

Abram, Sarai and Hagar


Abram’s stay in Egypt (Gen 12:10-20) brought him quite a lot: a lot of shame, a lot of goods, and also Hagar. Here it appears that his stay in Egypt will have a terrible and long aftermath. A believer can be recovered from a stay in the world, but his stay can have long-term consequences. Ishmael was born of Hagar and his descendants will be Israel’s most bitter enemies – and they are to this day.

There are more lessons in this history. God had promised Abram numerous offspring. That seems to fail, because Sarai can’t have children. Sarai acknowledges that her infertility is from the LORD, because He prevented her from bearing children. However, she can no longer bear this test and comes up with an idea to have children by another way, by her own way. She proposes that Abram go into Hagar. Maybe there will come from Hagar an heir from whom her offspring will be built.

Abram listens. He is as guilty here as Sarai is, or in fact even more guilty. He too succumbed to the temptation to do something himself, because it takes so long for God to keep His promise. And the intention succeeds. But this is not the way God fulfills His promise.

Lack of patience and confidence that God will truly fulfill His promises has led many to premature, self-perpetuating action, the consequences of which sometimes have to be borne throughout the rest of their lives. In Genesis it becomes increasingly clear that every human being and every people who owes their existence to the election of God must live in faith. Human efforts will not help.

In the letter to the Galatians, Paul extensively teaches that Hagar and Sarai represent two principles (Gal 4:21-31). Hagar is the law and Sarai is the grace. God wants to give Abram and Sarai the heir by grace. But man by nature is not inclined to live by grace. Making a personal contribution, an effort to earn what God promises, fits much more his nature. That is why Hagar proposes the law.

The law is given to tell man what he must do to get life: “Do this and you shall live” (Lev 18:5). However, every human being fails in keeping the law and thus comes under the curse of the law. By keeping the law, by one’s own power, the promise of God is not obtainable. God’s promises are only for those who live by grace. That is the lesson Abram is taught and we have to learn through him.

At first it seems that their method is successful. People can go very far. Just look at Paul, who can say that he is blameless as to the righteousness which is in the law (Phil 3:6). But he is a persecutor of the church. The law calls upon the flesh, but nothing that is pleasing to God can come forth from it. Abram has to learn that and we have to learn that.

If someone succeeds in building up his own righteousness, he always will look down on others who have no high opinion of themselves and only want to live by grace. Thus Hagar becomes arrogant and looks despicable down on Sarai (cf. Lk 18:11).

When Sarai presents things again as they are to God– Hagar is a slave after all – Hagar flees.

Verses 7-14

Hagar and Ishmael


“The Angel of the LORD” is the form in which the Lord Jesus appears in the Old Testament, that is, before His coming as Man on earth. He is Yahweh, the LORD. He follows Hagar and finds her on the way to Sur, that is the way to Egypt, the land where she comes from. He calls her by her true name: “Sarai’s maid.”

The questions He asks are meant for her. He knows her well and knows everything about her (cf. Jn 4:29). Through His questions He wants to remind her of where she comes from and make her see where she is going. She comes from a place of blessing and is on her way to destruction. It will be a great humiliation to return to Sarai, but it will be the best choice.

As for the child that she will bear, the LORD also makes an announcement concerning him. She must give him the name “Ishmael”, which means “God hears”. In his name he will carry with him the constant memory of God. Will he live by that? The LORD also makes an announcement on this subject. He will be “a wild donkey” (Gen 16:12). His character will not match his name. Untied, free, without taking anyone into account, the boy will develop. He will show in his life that he is a son of Hagar.

In a symbolic sense it means that he will be an animal of burden, that is a donkey, that will throw his burden off. He is a picture of Israel under the law, which takes no account of that law. The result is that all chase away and repress Israel (Deu 28:25; 33).

Thankful for His looking after her – she did not look for Him, but He for her – she calls him “a God who sees”. She acknowledges the grace He has shown her. The place where she has spoken with the LORD is called “Beer-lahai-roi”, meaning “the (or: well) of the Living One looking at me” or “the pit (or: well) of the Living One revealing Himself”. Here we have a picture of the Word of God, for therein God reveals Himself, in it He shows Himself. This well is mentioned twice more (Gen 24:62; Gen 25:11). Later God also reveals Himself in the Lord Jesus at a well to a woman who is actually fleeing (Jn 4:6-7; 25-26).

Hagar has come to know God as the God Who hears – that is how she had to call her son – and the God Who sees. To know God as the God Who hears and sees is a great encouragement for the faith that is put to the test.

Verses 15-16

Abram Gets Ismael


Abram gets Ismael when he is eighty-six years old. He gives him the name which the angel of the LORD called Hagar. Maybe he has mistaken him for the promised seed, until the moment God’s counsel has got through to him. It will take another fourteen years before the true heir is born.

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Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Genesis 16". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/genesis-16.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniƫl', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.