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Genesis 16:1. Handmaid.] This term is used in the L
XX. and N.T. in the sense of a female slave. Hagar was a bondwoman, and according to ancient usage was entirely at the disposal of her mistress. (Galatians 4:22.) An Egyptian. She probably entered the family of the patriarch during his sojourn in Egypt, and may have been one of the “maid-servants” presented to him by Pharaoh. (Genesis 12:20.) Hagar. Flight, or a fugitive. The Arabs term the flight of Mohammed Hegira—a word derived from the same root. It is not likely that the name was given by her parents, but was bestowed afterwards in commemoration of the leading events of her history.
Genesis 16:2. I may obtain children by her.] Heb. I may be builded by her. In Heb. the ideas of building and the raising of a family are closely allied. Ben, a son, is derived from the verb bana, to build. (Deuteronomy 25:9; Ruth 4:11.)
5. My wrong be upon thee.] Heb. My wrong lieth upon thee; i.e., the wrong which I suffer. The Lord judge between me and thee. “I made the offer to thee, but the deed was thine; let God apportion the blame between us.” (Alford.)
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Genesis 16:1-1.16.3
FORESTALLING GOD’S APPOINTED TIME
Both Abram and Sarah had long been waiting for the fulfilment of God’s promise. They were sorely tried by the delays of Providence, for they were both far gone in the vale of years and the promised blessing had not come. Their hearts grew sore with hope deferred. In their impatience they seek by methods of their own to fulfil God’s word—to anticipate His time and purpose. They attempt to cross the ways of Providence with the lines of their own wisdom, and frantically to hasten their destination. This was their weakness; for God has His appointed time and way. Man’s duty is calmly to wait.
I. This may be the temptation of those who yet have faith in God. Abram and Sarah had the assured possession of God’s promise. They knew what was its meaning—that it pointed to a definite blessing. They believed in their hearts that the will of God concerning them, as so expressed, would be accomplished. Yet they are weary with waiting, and use an expedient of their own, as if they would assist Providence. Faith may be genuine, and yet betimes prove unsteady through the severe trials to which it is exposed. Faith has to seek its object through clouds and darkness, through delays, disappointments, and dangers; and it is therefore not surprising that it occasionally betrays weakness, or takes some unadvised step. The grace of God is pure and strong, but the results of it are modified injuriously by human infirmity, so that they fall beneath absolute perfection. Sarah, who is most to blame in this history, is yet declared by inspired authority to be an example of faith, and is classed among those renowned believers who all “obtained a good report through faith” (Hebrews 11:11; Hebrews 11:31).
II. Such a course appears to have a rational warrant. The conflict between faith and reason is not the growth of modern times, but one as old as human nature itself. The attempt to hasten the work of God by plans devised by our own wisdom can be defended on many plausible grounds. A sincere man must, in some way, justify such a course to himself, and reason can always aid him. Thus, a believer may unconsciously challenge Divine wisdom, while he thinks all the time that he is doing God’s service. The conduct of Abram and Sarah was capable of some defence on rational grounds. They were sincere, and no doubt their plan appeared to them right and reasonable.
1. There was no human hope that the promise would be accomplished in that form in which they first understood it. Abram thought that God would shortly give him a son, and Sarah expected to be the mother of the promised child. But Abram had now dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan. He was already an old man, and his wife had been hopelessly barren for upwards of twenty years. They both still clung to the promise of God, and believed that in some way it would be accomplished. But now there was no human hope that the promise would be fulfilled in that precise form in which they first expected it. Therefore they might reasonably imagine that God had some other way for making His Word good, and that, by using the means which their own wisdom suggested, they were but working out His plan. Abram was assured that He should have an heir, of his own body begotten: but there was no distinct promise that Sarah should be the mother (Genesis 15:4-1.15.5). In supposing that the blessing might be conveyed through another channel, they did not appear to be departing from the literal construction of the original promise.
2. They were conforming to the common custom of the country. In the East, such expedients were resorted to for perpetuating the household when all other hope seemed to be gone. “It was a method of raising a family by proxy, and it was a virtual adoption of the vicarious posterity—the concubine was said to bear the child ‘upon the knees’ of the wife” (Genesis 30:3).—[Jacobus.] They were only adopting methods which they never heard spoken of with censure, and which seemed to be justified by the necessities of the case.
3. The end they sought was worthy in itself. They were assured that, in some way, mighty nations should spring from them—above all the Promised Seed by whom all the families of the earth should be blessed. It was not base passion that prompted them, but a noble desire to fulfil their exalted destiny. They may have employed a questionable policy, but on Sarah’s part, at least, it involved some high moral qualities—generosity, self-denial, and zeal.
III. All attempts to be beforehand with Providence imply an infirmity of faith. Faith may be real and yet show weakness in the time of great trial and perplexity. A really strong faith looks to the promise, and to that alone; leaving the ways and means for its accomplishment entirely to God. Such was the nature of Abram’s faith at first until he was betrayed into weakness by his wife. All human anticipations of God’s time and purpose, which He Himself in His wisdom has exactly determined, are wrong.
1. They are signs of impatience. Faith has not only to believe the promise of God and to repose a loving confidence in Himself, but also patiently to wait for Him. Waiting is as much a part of our religion as believing. It is the proper attitude of the soul in this state of probation. The trial of our faith worketh patience, and, when patience fails, faith is in that degree impaired.
2. It is not our duty to aid God in the accomplishment of His promises. God knows the whole case, and He has power and wisdom to fulfil His gracious purpose. We are but partial and imperfect judges of the ends He has in view and of the fittest means for attaining them. There is but one path plain and clear to us—the path of present duty. We have but to follow that path, for it is the only certainty upon which we can rely. God will take care of the end, and cause us to realise what we have believed. Faith in duty is faith in God. “He that believeth shall not make haste” (Isaiah 28:16). He shall not make haste to fulfil God’s promises, but rest in them meanwhile, and patiently wait the appointed time. True faith imparts a certain modesty to the habits of the soul. The attempt to assist Providence by the contrivances of our own short-sighted wisdom is presumption.
3. Religion hereby degenerates into fanaticism. In the history of religion fanaticism has chiefly assumed this form, viz., that men strive to realise God’s purposes before their time, and by means which show the hasty, intemperate zeal of short-sighted mortals, and partake not of the solemn and measured progress of the Divine plan. As God’s power is most seen in space, through which His works are scattered, so His wisdom is developed throughout the course of time. The attempt to force His purposes into unnatural ripeness is the very essence of fanaticism. Of such a nature is the communist theory of a perfect and contented human society, and those human anticipations of God’s kingdom on earth which were indulged in by such as the Fifth Monarchy men.
4. Such an interference with the means by which God accomplishes His purpose shows a want of confidence in His power. Faith has one great resource when perplexed by present appearances, and that is the power of God. With Him nothing is impossible. It might, after all, have been God’s design to show forth His power in a most marvellous manner by giving strength to Sarah to conceive at a time when it was naturally impossible. The delay might have been only for the purpose of showing forth His great power by the distinct evidence of His working. When the strength of nature decays, the power of God is most manifest. The faith of Sarah had in it an element of distrust, for it showed a want of confidence in the power of Him who quickens the dead, and calls the things that are not, as though they were. (Romans 4:17-45.4.18.)
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Genesis 16:1. God held Abram long in suspense. The difficulties of faith are acknowledged in Scripture.
The faith of true believers may be exposed to a long trial, which may oppress the heart with a settled sorrow.
God’s providence may place natural difficulties in the very face of His most solemn promises.
God’s promises and covenant can scarcely maintain faith in His children against the discouragements of sense.
St. Paul, in the Galatians, dwells upon the name of Hagar, as being the name of Mount Sinai in Arabia, denoting the legal position. And it would seem that Sinai was so called because Hagar, in Arabic, signifies a rock. (Galatians 4:0.) And this incidental fact St. Paul uses to show the relation between the legal and the Gospel dispensations, and between the two classes of children in Abram’s house—the spiritual seed being those of Sarah (the free woman), represented by Isaac; the carnal being those of Hagar (the bondwoman), represented by Ishmael. Hagar represented the Mosaic Sinaitic dispensation, and her children were born in bondage to the law (Judaising), and yet, according to nature, having the husband; while Sarai typified the Gospel system, and represented the Church, long barren, till the gift of a progeny—the miraculous seed—according to promise. (Jacobus.)
Hagar, an Egyptian. Egypt stood then in the same relation to the covenant people as the world does now to the Christian Church. In their anxiety, believers are tempted to avail themselves of the provisions of the world instead of quietly waiting for God.
The things of faith are distant and mysterious. That which the world offers is near and clear. Egypt furnishes a ready solution; but God’s thoughts are above man’s thoughts.
In all their wanderings, the influence of the world follows the children of God, and becomes a constant source of trial and danger.
Genesis 16:2. Sarai attributes her barrenness to the will of God. (Psalms 127:3.) It is a noble form of faith which traces back all the events of the world to the highest cause; finds the origin and disposition of all things in the energy of a Living Will.
It is possible to acknowledge God’s power, and yet by our conduct virtually to deny it.
The virtue of a good confession may be well-nigh destroyed by those actions which really contradict our creed.
All the promises made to Abram depended upon “one who is to come forth out of his own bowels.” Such is the Lord’s express assurance, and yet he goes childless. His wife, as she herself represents the matter to him, is barren; and it would seem that she is contented to acknowledge her barrenness as hopeless, and to acquiesce in it as a dispensation of God. She does not speak angrily or impatiently, as Rachel did to Jacob, but meekly and submissively she says, “The Lord hath restrained me from bearing.” It is His will, and His will be done. But surely God can never intend that my barrenness should frustrate His purpose, and make void His promise. There must be some way of getting over this difficulty, and reconciling this apparent inconsistency between the promise that to thee a child is to be born—in whom, as the Great Reconciler, thou and thy posterity, and all the kindreds of men are to be blessed—and the Providence which allots to thee a barren, and now aged, spouse. There must be some new expedient to be adopted; some other plan to be tried. It may be that Sarai is to be a mother, as it were by substitute and by proxy, and is to obtain children by her maid; according to the custom already common. And if there be any hesitation about the lawfulness of the course recommended, may it not be justified by the manners of the country sanctioning the usage; by the entire absence of every grosser motive—the end sought being not self-gratification, but the higher good of himself, his children, and the whole human race; and by the necessity of the case, which shuts him up to some such plan? In circumstances so urgent and unprecedented, why should one so favoured and blessed of God have any remaining scruple? It is, in all views of it, an extraordinary position that he occupies; and what he does is not to be judged by common rules. Such was Abram’s temptation. (Candlish.)
Unbelief is very prolific of schemes; and surely this of Sarai is as carnal, as foolish, and as fruitful of domestic misery as could almost have been devised. Yet such was the influence of evil counsel, especially from such a quarter, that “Abram hearkened to her voice.” The father of mankind sinned by hearkening to his wife, and now the Father of the Faithful follows his example. How necessary for those who stand in the nearest relations, to take heed of being snares instead of helps one to another! The plea used by Sarai in this affair shows how easy it is to err by a misconstruction of Providence, and following that as a rule of conduct, instead of God’s revealed will. “The Lord,” says she, “hath restrained me from bearing,” and, therefore, I must contrive other means for the fulfilment of the promise. But why not inquire of the Lord? As in the crowning of Adonijah, the proper authority was not consulted.—(Fuller.)
There is a stage when grace itself, and the promise of fruitfulness which is connected with it, by acting on our impatience, may so excite as to lead the spirit of faith to try carnal means, even though for ends which God has promised. Indeed impatience, a zeal for God, without a corresponding faith in the zeal of the Lord of Hosts, is ever leading to this. Even to faith it is hard to wait on God, and let Him do His own work in His own way. Thus did Abram hearken to Sarai; and thus excited even by the truth, and with right ends, does the elect yet try his own resources. Christ the true seed is by many longed for ardently. Both in the Church and world we fain would see Him. But He tarries. Then Sarai speaks to those who, though men of faith, are so far from “being as dead,” that they are still full of self-will. The result is one scheme after another, all aiming to obtain the promised seed, by doing rather than by dying. Vain hope! Ishmaels enough may be thus gotten. Isaacs are not so born.—(Jukes: “Types of Genesis.”)
Abram’s temptation was similar to that of Jesus in the wilderness.
1. The temptation of Jesus had reference to a previous declaration of God. The voice from heaven, at His baptism, had declared that He was the Son of God. Therefore Satan rests his temptations upon that word. “If thou be the Son of God.”
2. Jesus was tempted to employ plausible means to secure His own preservation and advancement. Thus, to turn the stones into bread to preserve His life—by casting Himself from a pinnacle of the temple, to seek an extraordinary interference of Providence, and so attract public attention—by aiming at the world’s throne lest the world should give Him nothing but a cross. To Christ, therefore, we must look for a perfect example of uniform and complete resistance to temptation. Abram, as all other human examples, do but most serve for a beacon to warn us.
Nature may throw difficulties in the way of faith, but faith should be able to see through nature and behold God who is above it. The soul can only “endure as seeing Him who is invisible.”
Genesis 16:3. Human experiments for reconciling sense and faith are possible. But God’s purpose cannot in this way be discovered.
There may be a self-sacrifice, in itself praiseworthy, but of no value in the sight of God because He does not demand it. To offer up a service to God, suggested by our own short-sighted activity, and when He does not require it, is of the nature of will-worship.
It is easy to persuade ourselves that we are carrying out the will of God, and acting up to the requirements of true religion, when we are only showing a fanatical devotion to an idea.
Faith in God may require long and patient waiting for Him, but there is no need that we should be anxious as to how He intends to accomplish His will.
Sarai, the wife of Abram, was undoubtedly a godly woman. She is commended as an example to all Christian matrons, who are her daughters as long as they do well. She “obeyed Abraham, calling him Lord.” With him she came out from among her idolatrous kindred, and with him she was willing to lead the life of a stranger and pilgrim. During all the ten years which they had spent in the land of Canaan she was constantly and faithfully with her husband, sharing all his trials, and witnessing all the great things which the Lord did for him. She was heir, together with him, of the grace of life, and one by whom his prayers were not wont to be hindered. (1 Peter 3:7.) Strange and sad, that at such a season, and from such a quarter, temptation should arise; that after a ten year’s walk with God, in the very height of privilege, in the full assurance of faith, the faithful companion of his pilgrimage and the helper of his joy should beguile and betray him! After such an instance, who can be secure?—at what season, or on what side, secure?—(Candlish.)
“After Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan.” This clause is here thrown in as if to show the pressure of discouragement under which Sarai acted in this matter. Abram, after so long a sojourn in the land, yet remained childless. He was now eighty-five years old, and Sarai seventy-five. She was to be to Abram “for a wife”—to serve the purpose of a wife in this extremity. By the custom, the children of the concubine became the offspring of the wife herself, being regarded as obtained by proxy, and in a vicarious, substitutionary way, so that they were reckoned as hers by adoption. (Exodus 21:7; Deuteronomy 21:10.) Abram might have felt himself at liberty to accede to this proposed arrangement, inasmuch as nothing had been said of Sarai in the case. So the Hebrews have viewed Abram’s conduct. The slave girl was at the disposal of the mistress—her personal property—according to the oriental custom; and it was only by the consent of Sarai that she could become the secondary wife of Abram. And this step was taken for a declared purpose, and to fulfil the promise of God. But the wrong was in the unbelief which could not trust God to work out His own plans and to fulfil His own promise without such human device. Sarai herself would soon see the wrong, and reap the bitter fruits.—(Jacobus.)
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Genesis 16:4-1.16.6
THE EVILS OF ABOLISHING SOCIAL DISTINCTIONS
By the elevation of Hagar from the condition of a bond-servant to that of a wife, her relation to Abram’s family was changed. This sudden advancement to a superior position brought new complications into the patriarch’s household. The evils of abolishing social distinctions receive a sad illustration in this narrative. The same great principles which are at work here apply to all times, though the external facts which spring from them are endlessly varied. All sudden and violent changes which disturb the foundations of human society are fraught with manifold inconveniencies and dangers. Some of these may be seen in this history.
I. Those who are suddenly raised in the social scale are tempted to pride and insolence. Sarai makes the complaint to her husband: “I have given my maid into thy bosom; and when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her eyes.” Hagar’s new position in the household, and her possession of that fruitfulness which was denied to her mistress, made her boastful of the superior advantage, and she became proud and insolent. She reproaches the very person who had been the means of her advancement. Those who are not fitted by natural endowment and training for the higher stations of life are injured and exposed to many temptations by being suddenly forced into them. By a healthy ambition, plodding industry, and laborious self-culture, a man may greatly raise himself in the social scale. But this is a different case from that of those who are suddenly raised by the action of others whose aim is to make all men equal by means of violent changes in human society. Such forces directed towards the new adjustment of the social state can never maintain it in a condition of equilibrium. It is like the attempt to cause the surface of water to assume that of an inclined plane; when the constraining force is removed the water falls back to its original level. Human experience has proved that, in many cases, the morals of men have been entirely changed by their sudden exaltation to place, power, or wealth. They become full of conceit, and are scornful and reproachful towards others. The position of Hagar was not given her from any particular regard for herself, but in order to serve a special purpose. She mistook the grounds of the favours bestowed upon her. This has ever been the delusion of those who have been advanced from humble stations by the artificial regenerators of society, who only cared to serve their own selfish ends, and have but regarded the poor and lowly as steps along which they might climb to power and importance.
II. Those who have taken part in the abolishing of such distinctions are the first to complain of the evils caused thereby. Sarah herself proposed the elevation of Hagar to this honour, and she is the first to complain of the bitter evils which this false step had brought upon her. This has often been repeated in the history of mankind. Men have been forgetful of God’s order, and have tried to reconstruct society upon a new basis. Then they find that they have plunged themselves into unforeseen complications and troubles, and like Sarah—
1. They complain of their troubles so as to excuse themselves. Sarah throws the blame upon her husband. “And Sarai said unto Abram, My wrong be upon thee.” Men cling to the consolation that the evils from which they suffer are not due to their own conduct. The last thing they can be brought to do is to charge their evils upon themselves. Thus sinners who reap the reward of their own doings peevishly blame Heaven for their misfortunes. When a man by his own folly has perverted his way, then his heart fretteth against the Lord.
2. They often make rash appeals to divine justice. “The Lord judge between me and thee,” said Sarah to her husband. There is an appeal to Eternal Justice which is quite becoming in pure and strong souls when the oppression of human injustice lies heavy upon them. Job could appeal to his Vindicator on high, who would redress his wrongs and assert his integrity. But rash appeals to Heaven are mostly the sign of a weak cause. Men hide their own evils from themselves and others, and seek a passing comfort by claiming the consolations of the just. To invoke God seems, for the time, to put an end to all strife and to leave the matter with Him. Thus religion is used by some as a sanctuary whither they flee in the time of trouble. They use it only in emergencies. Many of those who have tried to anticipate God’s time by precipitating His purposes towards humanity, have to the last appealed to Heaven in vindication of the justice of their cause.
III. The recognition of original rights is the best way of dealing with such evils. Abram does not dispute the matter with his wife, but meekly says, “Behold, thy maid is in thy hand; do to her as it pleaseth thee.” (Genesis 16:6.) He takes no side, nor does he defend, as he might consistently have done, the just rights of Hagar in her new position. He refers back to Sarah’s original rights as mistress of the household, as his wife entitled to his affection, and as one who had the sole disposal of a servant who was still her property. Times have changed since then, the paid servant having succeeded the bond servant; still, the policy of Abram may be recommended to those who are called upon to act in similar domestic and social complications.
1. This is a better course than the immediate imputation of such evils to those who have caused them. It is sometimes better to quiet such disorders by presently using gentle means. To go at once to the bottom of the evil, and to apportion blame to those to whom it properly belongs, may cause irritation. Even a righteous reproof may be given at a wrong time, and in circumstances unfavourable to its success. Peace is sometimes better than vindication.
2. Meek submission becomes true might in the end. Meekness was the only treatment which was suited to a mind enduring the tortures of self-reproach. The time for calm reason would come, when that meek spirit which endures evils rather than give offence would gain the true victory.
IV. The evils brought about by sudden and violent changes in the social state are never fully remedied. Abram by his yielding spirit appeased the anger of his wife, and cut off all further occasion of quarrel. But he yielded too much. Hagar, indeed, was the bondmaid of Sarah, and, according to the usage then prevailing, her property; still she was in some sense the wife of Abram, and entitled to his protection. He ought not to have given her up entirely to the will of a passionate and jealous woman. But things could not be exactly as they were before in Abram’s household. A false step had been taken, and though the evils it caused might be mitigated yet they could not be wholly undone. When once social usages and relations are disturbed, the reformation of the evils caused thereby can only be partial.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Genesis 16:4. The success of our schemes in gaining our own immediate ends is no sure indication that God approves of them.
The most abject, when placed in positions where their natural advantages give them a superiority over others, are the most tempted to pride.
The results of our own presumptuous anticipation of God’s time and purposes soon show themselves. By our short-sighted wisdom we often set a snare by which our own feet are taken.
Solomon says that “an handmaid that is heir to her mistress” is one of those things for which the “earth is disquieted” (Proverbs 30:23).
If carnal strength succeeds in bearing any fruit, the immediate result is contempt of better things. For the flesh can achieve nothing without being exalted. Sarai, therefore, instead of being “built up,” as she hoped, by Hagar, reaps through her fresh humiliation.—(Jukes: “Types of Genesis.”)
The jealousies, the heart-burnings, and mutual reproaches which we now find disturbing the peace of his pious family, are such as might have been anticipated from the course of policy unhappily pursued. That the Egyptian bondmaid, so strangely and suddenly honoured, taken out of her due place and station and admitted to the rank and privileges of a spouse, should forget herself and become high-minded, was precisely such conduct as might have been expected on the part of a slave treated as Hagar was, and having a temper unsubdued and a mind uninstructed, as Hagar’s probably were. She could not enter into the plan which the heads of the house had formed, or into the reasons and motives which led them to form it. To their servant, if not to themselves, it must have been fraught with a vitiating and corrupting tendency; and assuredly it did prove to her a temptation to insolence and insubordination stronger than she could withstand. Hence Abram and Sarai had the greater sin. There was a cruel want of consideration in what they did. Even if they felt that they were at liberty, so far as they themselves were concerned, to do it, and that they were safe in doing it, were they not bound to ask how it might affect their dependent, whom they made a party in the transaction? Is not this the duty of all heads of families? Alas! how is it discharged! Do parents and masters—do the heads and members of households among Christians—duly weigh and recognise their responsibility in this particular? Do you, we might say to them, in all affection—do you, with special reference to this consideration, apply the maxim, “All things are lawful unto me, but all things edify not?”—(Candlish.)
Genesis 16:5. There is often a sad reaction which follows an over-strained zeal. Those who have been driven to adopt insane schemes of policy, when their own failures are brought home to them wildly impute the blame to others.
We cannot disturb the settled order of society, even when the end proposed is good, without producing serious evils.
We are too ready to blame others for those misfortunes in which we have taken the chief part in bringing upon ourselves. Passion dulls the moral perceptions of the soul.
Being now made to reap according to that she had sown, she begins, when it is too late, to repent of her rashness. But instead of condemning her own conduct, and confessing that her folly had recoiled upon herself, she turns the edge of her resentment against her husband. Had the good man formed a deliberate design of injuring and insulting her, she could not have employed harsher language. Indeed, her conduct throughout was that of a peevish, unreasonable, and disappointed woman; and its weakness and wickedness are aggravated by her appealing to God in a case where she was clearly and consciously in the wrong. As if she had taken it for granted that her husband would not hear her, she exclaims: “The Lord judge between me and thee!” Such hasty and passionate appeals to heaven, instead of indicating a good cause, are commonly the marks of a bad one. A truly serious spirit will pause before interposing the name of God on any occasion, and will shudder at the thought of employing it on a false or frivolous one.—(Bush.)
When evils come upon us, we often regret them merely because of their sad consequences to ourselves. There may even be a sorrow for sin which is not “after a godly sort.”
We can only retain our true dignity and power by quietly waiting for God’s time.
He must not be sent for all in haste to decide the controversy, who, if He had come, you may soon see which of them would have had the worst of it. The best, we see, have their domestic contentions; some household words will now and then pass betwixt them; we match not with angels, but men and women. Two flints may as soon smite together, and not fire come forth, as two persons meet in marriage and not offences fall out. Publius Rubius Celer was held a happy man among the Romans, that commanded it to be engraven upon his gravestone that he had lived three and forty years and eight months with C. Ennia, his wife, sine querela, without the least quarrel. (Trapp.)
We may with confidence appeal to God when our conscience is clear and our cause is just; but to do so in the spirit of rashness and peevishness, in order to relieve our passionate temper, is impiety.
Genesis 16:6. As Abram’s faith was tried on other occasions, so here is a trial to his spirit of meekness—to the power of Divine grace within him in maintaining his temper amidst the provocations of domestic life.
How to meet quarrels.
1. By a calm demeanour. To catch the contagion of the passion and rage of others is to impair the accuracy of our judgment, and to make ourselves partakers of their evils.
2. By recognising whatever rights those who quarrel with us may have on their side. Abram acknowledged the fact that Hagar belonged to her mistress and was entirely at her disposal.
3. By meekly yielding to the weak when there is no prospect of bringing them to a rational mind. Sarah was the “weaker vessel,” and it was of no use, in that state of her temper, to reason with her upon the whole question. It is better to turn away wrath by a soft answer than to prolong a hopeless struggle.
Abram is tempted to carry too far his indulgence towards one who is apparently to realise his anxious longing; and under this natural feeling, has he become less sensitive than otherwise he would have been in regard to her whom he should honour, and more tolerant of disrespect or insult shown to her? We may gather this from Sarai’s complaint; for she would not probably upbraid her husband without a cause. And if it were so, how sad an instance we have here of the difficulty of stopping short when a single doubtful step is once taken! Abram, when he consented to the specious proposal made to him, thought that he was acting disinterestedly and for the best. But other and less worthy motives began to mingle with his better purposes; and, at all events, he is now entangled in a net of his own making. He is no longer free; he is a slave of circumstances; and he is compelled to make the best he can of a painful perplexity and hard necessity; to do violence to his feelings, perhaps even to his convictions of duty; and to consent, at last, to the degradation and disgrace of one whom now, after what had passed, he is surely bound, not less in duty than in the current opinion of the age, to consider as having claims upon his regard.—(Candlish.)
Abram seems to have been brought into a situation wherein he was at a loss what to do; and thus, as Sarai is punished for tempting him, he also is punished with a disordered house for having yielded to the temptation. And now Sarai, incited by revenge, deals hardly with Hagar—much more so, it is likely, than she ought—for though the young woman might have acted vainly and sinfully, yet her mistress is far from being a proper judge of the punishment which she deserved. The consequence is, as might be expected, she leaves the family and goes into a wilderness. Indeed, it were “better to dwell in a wilderness than with a contentious and angry woman.”—(Fuller.)
Sarai deals hardly with the bondmaid, who therefore flees the house. If through faith’s impatience the principle of law is exalted out of its place, and thus dishonour is done to the free woman, a re-action follows, for Sarai is best loved, and though barren never loses her rightful empire over the believing heart. The spirit of faith at once gives Hagar up, and for a season the bond-maid is lost to Abram’s house; the elect permits her to be so abused that for awhile she flees and is lost sight of. Who that knows this path but has seen how the affection of law, when contempt has through it been poured upon a higher principle, is ejected even from that place, where as hand-maid it might be most useful. So does legality lead to antinomianism, and this when law as yet cannot be dispensed with. The time comes, indeed, after Isaac is born, when there is no further need for the bond-maid, and she is cast out for ever. At present the bond-maid is needed. She is therefore sent back by the Lord to her true place as Sarai’s maid. For “the law is good if it be used lawfully.” (1 Timothy 1:8.) The sorrow comes from exalting it out of its proper place.—(Jukes: “Types of Genesis.”)
Genesis 16:6. Dealt hardly.] Heb. Afflicted her. The word is too strong to indicate merely the employment of sharp and reproachful expressions; acts of oppression are intended.
Genesis 16:7. The angel of the Lord.] This remarkable title occurs here for the first time in the O.T. Here it is evidently to be understood of God Himself. (Genesis 16:13.) God, who is Himself invisible, visited her under the appearance of an angel, the Angel of the Covenant—the Second Person in the Blessed Trinity who has ever manifested God to men. Alford regards this identity as probable, but not to be held as an ascertained fact:—“We know who it is that is the shining out of the Father’s glory, and the expressed stamp of His Deity (Hebrews 1:3), even the Divine Word, who is the Declaration of the Father to man. (John 1:18; John 14:9.) But the more we feel this in our hearts, the more lightly and reverently should such thoughts be touched. It has not pleased God positively to declare to us that it was the Divine Son who was present in these Divine appearances, and therefore we should not on our parts positively declare, nor build systems upon it.” Shur. “Hagar seems to have made her way towards Egypt, as if aiming to return thither. Her route lay from Hebron, through the wilderness of Shur, which stretched from the south-west corner of Palestine to the head of the Red Sea. There is a caravan road through this wilderness or desert to this day.” (Jacobus.)
Genesis 16:9. Submit thyself.] Heb. Humble, or afflict thyself. This is the same word which occurs in Genesis 16:6, and is there rendered “dealt hardly with.”
Genesis 16:10. I will multiply thy seed exceedingly.] Heb. Multiplying, I will multiply thy seed. Thus the Angel claims to be God.
Genesis 16:11. A son.] “The hope of a Hebrew household lay in the son, as the representative of the family name, and the protector and perpetuator of the family line. A daughter was held in small estimation among the Orientals.” (Jacobus.) Ishmael. Heb. God will hear; or as it is interpreted immediately, God hath heard. The L
XX. has, God hath given heed to thy affliction. The Chal. Hath received thy prayer. Targ. Jon. Thine affliction is revealed before the Lord. This is the first instance of a name being given by Divine direction before birth.
Genesis 16:12. A wild man.] Heb. A wild ass man. Targ. Onk. A wild ass among men. “The raving fierceness of the wild ass of the desert is described. (Job 6:5; Job 24:5; Job 39:5; Job 39:8; Psalms 104:11; Isaiah 32:14.) The A.V., by omitting the central word in the sentence, loses altogether the point in the prophecy.” (Alford.) His hand will be against every man, and, every man’s hand against him. As this could not be literally true of any individual man, we must have here the prophetic description of a race. The Ishmaelites (whose representatives are the modern Arabs) were and still are noted for their frequent quarrels amongst themselves. One of their national proverbs is, “In the desert everyone is everyone’s enemy.” And he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren. The Heb. for “dwell” signifies “to dwell in tents.” This is still the manner of life of a portion of the Arab tribes. In the presence of is interpreted by Delitzsch as rather meaning to the east of, but Kalisch, and other commentators, render as in the text, and understand it as describing “the wide and almost indefinite extent of territories through which the Bedouins roam, so that they seem to be everywhere before the eyes of their brethren.” (Alford.)
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Genesis 16:7-1.16.12
PROVIDENCE AND THE OUTCAST
Hagar chooses rather to brave the dangers of the wilderness than to remain any longer under the tyranny of her mistress. She undertakes a wild journey, insensible to the real dangers which lay before her. The extremity of her misery is God’s opportunity. His Providence interfered to comfort and console—that Providence which does not desert even the outcast and the miserable.
I. Providence finds them. “And the angel of the Lord found her by a fountain of water in the wilderness. (Genesis 16:7.) God brought help to this fugitive and outcast by the ministry of an angel, and He still interferes on behalf of such though the agencies of His Providence are unseen.
1. There are occasions in human life when the Providence of God specially manifests itself. The care and concern of God for His creatures is watchful and constant. Infinite power cannot be wearied, nor can infinite skill pause in its designs through perplexity. The action of God towards His creatures never intermits. But from our point of view, there are times when God’s providential interference is distinctly manifest. This happens usually in the season of great trouble, when we are driven to our wits’ end. When all human resources fail we obtain a more distinct view of the operation of God. By the checks to our happiness in this life we are taught that there is a Power above us. Providence is sure to find us at some time or other of our lives.
2. That Providence finds us for a purpose of mercy. Hagar was now at her worst estate, in the most lonely and miserable condition, on the point of perishing in the wilderness. God revealed Himself, not as the lightning’s flash reveals the awfulness of a shipwreck, but in order to show His tenderness and compassion. He had “heard her affliction,” and sent His angel to comfort and console. In all our wanderings God finds us to the end that He might bring us back to Himself.
3. That Providence is minute in its care and knowledge. The angel calls Hagar by name; asks her questions, not for information, but to draw out her honest reply, and to produce the feeling that she was specially cared for. (Genesis 16:8.) We think of all the departments of Providence as classes of things and persons over which God exercises care and dominion. It is a necessity of our mind to view the subject in this way, for our knowledge of individuals and particulars is limited. For the convenience of our thought we include much in our words, but the impressions made upon our minds are thereby less vivid. There is no such infirmity with infinite knowledge. God is under no necessity to conceive of persons and things as great wholes, but knows perfectly and intimately all the parts of which they are composed. He calleth the stars by their names. It is difficult for us to believe in this special knowledge and care of God for us, His dominion being so wide and long, extending over all time and space. Hence the necessity of revealed religion to teach us that God’s government over all His creatures is not a heartless routine, but proceeds upon an exact knowledge of the condition and wants of each. Without this faith we should feel ourselves but at the mercy of a ponderous machine, whose wheels would crush us if we could not get out of their way. Man, in his misery, might utter a complaint against ruthless force, but could appeal to no heart of compassion, nor behold an eye of regard and pity turned upon him. God’s voice must be heard within the soul in tones of mercy, or else the greatness of His majesty would make us afraid. As the telescope shows us God’s attention to the infinitely great, so the microscope shows us His care for the infinitely small. It is one of the purposes of revelation to teach us the personal interest which God takes in us. Hence Christ is the Shepherd “who calleth His own sheep by name.” (John 10:3.)
II. Providence teaches them. All the ways of God with men are for the purpose of enlightening them with the light of the living. They are intended to impart to us, not that kind of knowledge which satisfies curiosity, but that which is needful to correct our sinful courses, and to teach us our duty.
1. Lessons of reproof. “And He said, Hagar, Sarai’s maid, whence comest thou? and whither wilt thou go?” (Genesis 16:8.) Thus the folly of our own ways is brought home to us, and the dark suggestion of a future, hiding in it unknown troubles, is forced upon our mind. “Whither wilt thou go?” When the past and the future like two gulfs overwhelm us, then is the time to give ear to God if haply we may hear some words of mercy and hope. In all God’s reproofs of our way wardness and folly, conscience approves. “And she said, I flee from the face of my mistress, Sarai.” However we may be pained at them, or rebel against them, we know that the chidings of God are just and right, and that sin must end in our destruction.
2. Lessons of instruction and guidance. Hagar was told to return to her mistress and submit herself under her hands. (Genesis 16:9.) Thus it is only in the humble ways of duty that we can fulfil God’s pleasure and serve Him. If we have quitted the place of duty, or the place of religious privileges, we must return. Though in such a lot there is much that is unpleasant, and that we would gladly avoid, yet this is our calling of God, and we forsake it at our peril. The Church of God is a home for the lonely and the wanderer.
III. Providence inspires hope in them. Hagar was informed by the Angel that she should be the mother of a numerous race, which was destined to act an important part in the history of mankind. The very name of the son which was to be born to her was to preserve the memory of God’s gracious dealings with her. (Genesis 16:10-1.16.12.) God cannot impart to us the future in the present, but He gives us what is next to it, that principle of hope which links the present with the future. Thus our soul is sustained amidst the varied trials of life, and we are kept in the attitude of waiting upon God. Without hope in the future, Providence would be a dark enigma. We take refuge in the thought of that goodness which God has laid up for us when we are oppressed by the apparent exceptions to His goodness here. All are not called to the same kind of destiny to which Hagar was appointed. It is given but to the few to act the part of principals in the affairs of human history. But God deals with all so as to give them an interest in the future. No soul can listen to God’s voice and obey His will without being inspired by an unquenchable hope which gives it an interest in all that eternal ages shall unfold.
1. The lowest and most despised have some purpose of Providence to serve. God has His plan concerning them also, and they are needed to work out the great designs of His will. They are called to answer some wise and worthy end. God does not design that the life of any creature made in His own image should be aimless. The thought that we have some Divine purpose to serve should inspire us with the hope that a great future is reserved for us. Until God’s plan concerning the human race is completed it is impossible for us to estimate the real importance of single lives, however humble they may be in the ordinary view of mankind.
2. All who have consciously felt the action of a Divine Providence have some memorial of God’s goodness. Hagar was commanded to give her son a name which was ever to preserve the memory of God’s compassion in her misery. If we have been made to feel that there is a Divine Providence over our lives, we can recount such instances. God has heard our affliction, and calls us to the inheritance of a noble future. The Angel of the Covenant met Hagar and announced the destined purpose of her life; and Christ now meets the sinner, apprehends him as He did St. Paul, so that he, too, may apprehend the purpose of his calling.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Genesis 16:7. The Lord finds sinners when they lose themselves.
Egypt, to which Hagar was fleeing, was the representative of the world kingdom. The Angel of the Covenant still arrests sinners while they are on their way to join His enemies. Thus Saul was met while he was bent on his journey to persecute the saints.
Christ often finds human souls, and brings them to Himself, when this world becomes a desert to them and no earthly hope is left.
Abram and his wife were of the family of God—the Church that then was. The Church has, through mistaken zeal, persecuted men and made them outcasts and wanderers. But this cannot shut such out from the Divine mercy and regard.
There are junctures in our lives where God’s Providence manifestly crosses our path. It is as if an angel met us. In the wilderness the fugitive meets with a better friend. She wanders on in her solitary way, weary of the heat and toil of travel, and half repenting of the hasty step she had taken. At last she sits down beside one of the fountains of water which, with their little spots of freshness around them, form the grateful resting places for the worn and fainting traveller in the desert, as the burning sun beats upon his aching head, or the shades of evening invite his exhausted limbs to rest. There, as she meditates at leisure and alone, the excitement of angry strife having passed away, many bitter thoughts crowd upon her mind. The pride which sustained her is gone, and her spirit is mortified and tamed. She cannot now find support in justifying herself and blaming others. Her heart is beginning to yearn towards the home in which she has dwelt so long in peace, and which, for all that had passed, might still, through God’s mercy, and the mutual forgiveness and forbearance of His erring servants, have proved to her a refuge of holy tranquillity and repose. While feelings like these are swelling her bosom and dimming her eye, a heavenly stranger unexpectedly stands beside her, and a heavenly voice reaches her ear. Trained in the household of one familiar with such divine fellowship, Hagar easily recognises the Angel of the Lord; the Being of whose visits she has heard her master speak.—(Candlish.)
The angel of the Lord finds Hagar; that pre-supposes he had sought her (Deuteronomy 32:10). God meets thee in thy desert; He comes to thee in thy conscience; He kindles in thee the sparks into a flame, and comes to thy help in His grace.—(Lange.)
Genesis 16:8. When Hagar found her name familiarly called by One who knew her state and occupation, and the purposes of her mind, she must have been impressed that the voice which had spoken to her was more than mortal. When we hear a voice within telling us what we are, and convincing us of the folly of going on in our own way, we know that God has spoken to us.
In calling Hagar “Sarai’s maid,” he seems tacitly to disallow of the marriage, and to lead her mind back to that humble character which she had formerly sustained. The questions put to her were close, but tender, and such as were fitly addressed to a person fleeing from trouble. The first might be answered, and was answered: “I flee from the face of my mistress, Sarai.” But with respect to the last, she is silent. We know our present grievances, and so can tell “whence we came” much better than our future lot, or “whither we are going.” In many cases, if the truth were spoken, the answer would be, From bad to worse. At present this poor young woman seems to have been actuated by mere natural principles, those of fleeing from misery. In all her trouble there appears nothing like true religion, or committing her way to the Lord: yet she is sought out of Him whom she sought not.—(Fuller.)
By nature we are homeless, and wandering in uncertainty; it is a turning point in our moral history when we can put the question to ourselves, From whence have we come, and whither are we going. Like the prodigal, we have left our Father’s house, and we can have no true peace or joy till we return thither.
When God’s light shines in upon us, conscience answers faithfully; and though we may be alarmed, yet we need not be dismayed; for that light, though revealing, is kindly.
God never questions us to increase the misery of our condition, but to bring us back to Himself.
She recognises her old and true relation to her “mistress Sarai.” This would indicate some softening of her spirit, left, as she was, to her reflection, and cast out upon that dreary desert alone, and now also met by the Covenant Angel, who was ready to counsel her, and to do her good. If her heart was now humbled so as to own her mistress, and cease her proud boasting over her, why might she not return? She would probably have perished on the route of weariness and thirst.—(Jacobus.)
Genesis 16:9. The injunction of the angel to Hagar was to return and submit. The reason was, that she had done wrong in despising her mistress, and by her exposure in endangering the fruit of her womb, and now she must be humbled for it. Hard as this might appear, it was the counsel of wisdom and mercy. A connection with the people of God, with all their faults, is preferable to the best of this world where God is unknown. If we have done wrong, whatever temptations or provocations we have met with, the only way to peace and happiness is to retrace our footsteps in repentance and submission.—(Bush.)
Religion does not place us above the duties arising from the social relationships of human life.
It is in the humble ways of duty that we can best glorify God. It is enough if we are faithful in that which is least. We should resist the temptation of seeking large places and occasions in which to do our duty.
The angel, in commanding Hagar to return to duty, virtually promised her support and favour under it. All God’s commands are really promises to those who obey them. Therefore, we should not hesitate to follow at God’s command, though the prospect may seem uninviting.
Abram was to become a blessing to Hagar as he had been to Lot (ch. 12). It is best for us to dwell with those whom God has appointed to minister to us spiritual good.
The household of God on earth is not perfect. The operations of divine grace are here complicated with human passion and infirmity. Still, this is the place of our greatest safety, and where our souls can thrive best.
The Angel of the Covenant is still inviting wanderers home—calling them out of the wilderness of this world into His own chosen family. It is when we are toiling and labouring for very vanity, with nothing but the wildest chances before us, that He invites us to come to Him.
God’s favourable time for speaking to our souls often is in the time of our affliction, when the desert is about us, and every other voice is hushed.
When God appears, it is not for the end that He might gratify our curiosity, but to instruct us in the humble tasks of duty.
Genesis 16:10-1.16.11. In God’s gracious dealings with mankind comfort follows counsel.
The angel-speaker here adopts a style suited only to the Deity, and for Hagar’s encouragement, gives her grounds to expect a portion of Abram’s blessing, of which she must often have heard—viz., a numerous offspring. This was the prompting of Divine benignity; for it is clear that the language of absolute authority might have been used without any intermingling of gracious promises; but God delights rather to win than to compel the hearts of His people into the ways of obedience.—(Bush.)
It was in God’s plan to increase the family of Abram in the Iśhmael branch for Abram’s sake. This son is to be trained in the family of the patriarch in order to be capable of obtaining the measure of blessing reserved for him. Here is a memorial in his very name of that Divine interposition to which his life, first and last, would be due. And whether Hagar distinctly prayed to God or not, He heard her groans and sighs, and came to her relief for the Covenant’s sake.—(Jacobus.)
This is the first instance of a name given by Divine direction before birth, though many such instances occur hereafter. It is remarkable that God is not said to have heard her prayer, for it does not appear that she had yet called upon His name. She merely sat bewailing herself, as not knowing what to do. Yet, lo, the ear of mercy is open to what we may term the silent voice of affliction itself. The groans of the prisoner are heard of God, not only theirs who cry unto Him, but, in many cases, theirs who do not. See a parallel case (Genesis 21:17).—(Bush.)
God is pleased with such memorials as cause us to remember His mercy.
Genesis 16:12. Nations of the most diverse character owe their origin alike to the will of Providence.
Those nations which have become the plagues of mankind may yet boast of manifest instances of God’s mercy.
The descendants of Ishmael have been for ages the enemies and tormentors of the Church of God. They have oppressed its children and retarded its progress. Thus the worldly policy of Abram has spread itself out disastrously in human history.
He will be a wild ass which is fierce, untractable, and untameable. And such by nature is every mother’s child of us (Job 11:12) “a wild ass’s colt.” An ass is none of the wisest of creatures, much less an ass’s colt; least of all, a wild ass’s colt. Lo, such is man.—(Trapp.)
Their character drawn by the pen of inspiration (Job 24:5), exactly corresponds with this view of their dispositions and conduct. Savage and stubborn as the wild ass, which inhabits the same wilderness, they go forth on the horse or the dromedary, with inconceivable swiftness in quest of their prey. Initiated in the trade of a robber from their earliest years, they know no other employment; they choose it as the business of their life, and prosecute it with unwearied activity. They start before the dawn to invade the village or the caravan; make their attack with desperate courage and surprising rapidity; and plunging instantly into the desert, escape from the vengeance of their enemies. Provoked by their continual insults, the nations of ancient and modern times have often invaded their country with powerful armies, determined to extirpate, or, at least, to subdue them to their yoke; but they always return baffled and disappointed. The savage freebooters, disdaining every idea of submission, with invincible patience and resolution maintained their independence; and they have transmitted it unimpared to the present times. In spite of all their enemies can do to restrain them, they continue to dwell in the presence of all their brethren, and to assert their right to insult and plunder everyone they meet with on the borders or within the limits of their domains.—(Paxton.)
Every addition to our knowledge of Arabia and its inhabitants confirms more strongly the Biblical statements. These Ishmaelites became formidable in history under the name of Saracens. They marched out to curb the world to their dominion, and to force the nations to their faith; they inundated Persia, the districts east of the Caspian Sea and India; they carried their victorious arms into Syria and Egypt and the interior of Africa; they occupied Spain and Portugal, Sicily and Sardinia, and have beyond their native tracts ascended more than a hundred thrones. Although they sent presents of incense to Persia, and of cattle to Jehoshaphat, King of Judah, they were never subjected to the Persian empire. They are expressly mentioned as independent allies. Nor had the Assyrian and Babylonian kings more than transitory power over small portions of their tribes. Here the ambition of Alexander the Great and of his successors received an insuperable check, and a Roman expedition in the time of Augustus totally failed. The Bedouins have remained essentially unaltered since the time of the Hebrews and the Greeks.—(Kalisch.)
God has provided that the separate existence and persistent characteristics of some nations shall be a standing witness to the truth of the early records of Revelation. The Bible has rich evidence in the external facts of human life, as well as in the native excellence and force of its spiritual truths. For upwards of four thousand years has this prophetic voice been made audible to mankind in the history of this people. How lasting is the Word of God!
Those of an alien faith and nation may still be our brethren, for they too can speak of mercies from a common Father.
Before the eyes of civilised nations God has provided evidences of His faithfulness through many generations.
Genesis 16:13. The name of the Lord.] Heb. The name of Jehovah. Thou, God, seest me. Heb. Thou art the God of vision, or rather “of visibility”—who dost cause Thyself to be seen—dost manifest Thyself. Have I also here looked after Him that seeth me? Heb. Have I here seen after the vision; or, The back parts of my seer—of Him who saw me. (Exodus 33:23.) The general sense is plain—“Thou art still to me a God whom I, yet unpunished, saw: for, although I saw Thee, I still live and see the light of day.”
Genesis 16:14. Beer-lahai-roi.] “The fountain for the life of beholding.” The name embodied the idea of the last verse. It was the well of seeing God, and yet living. Kadesh and Bered. It is said that the site of this well has lately been discovered. Its present name is Mai-lahhi-Hagar. Mai means water, being equivalent to Beer—a well. It lies twelve miles from Kadesh. Near it is a ruin, now called Beit Hagar (House of Hagar). A full account of this discovery is found in Williams’ Holy City.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Genesis 16:13-1.16.14
THE RETROSPECT OF A SPECIAL PROVIDENCE
Hagar had heard the voice of the Lord, and had distinct evidence of His providential care and regard. She was appointed to take a remarkable position and importance in the history of mankind. Now, when the surprise of this visitation is over, she has time calmly to reflect upon God’s gracious dealings—to take a retrospect of His special Providence, of which two things are here asserted:—
I. That it is a revelation of God. “She called the name of the Lord that spake unto her, Thou God seest me.” God in His ultimate essence is invisible, and His nature is mysterious beyond the reaches of our souls. But God is pleased to reveal himself to some extent in His works and in human history, and to a still greater extent by a distinct voice from heaven, either as uttered to individuals or as expressed in the language of inspiration. The doctrine of a general Providence affects us languidly; the impression of it is vague; but there are times in our history when the events are so remarkable that it is as if God had spoken. His finger is plainly seen. To Hagar, the thought of this was more vivid; for she heard an audible voice, and saw the form of an angel, which was to her as the face of God. This revelation of God had three aspects.
1. It was severe. Hagar was reminded of her fault, and exhorted to instant duty. When God distinctly speaks, there must be a severe element in the voice, because He is holy and His creature is sinful.
2. It was soothing. God abounds in mercy, and speaks, not to afflict His creatures, but to assure them of His favour and compassion. But for this, the revelation of God would only alarm us and throw an awful light upon our misery. It is because God “has heard our affliction” that He speaks to us.
3. It produces the impression that God knows us
(1) intimately. Sight imparts most vivid and extensive knowledge. One glance conveys more to the mind than the most accurate and laboured description. God not only sees us, but sees through us, and knows us altogether. When we feel that we are thus thoroughly known in the inmost recesses of our soul we recognise the presence of God
(2) graciously. God sees us for good and not for evil. Were it not for this the thought of His piercing eye would overwhelm us. But the eye that looks upon us is kind. The light of love is in God’s countenance.
II. That it should excite amazement and gratitude.
1. Amazement. Hagar cried, “Have I also here looked after Him that seeth me?” It was a special privilege vouchsafed by Almighty God to one so obscure and miserable. It was far beyond the measure of His ordinary dealings with mankind. She saw but the hidings of God’s face, and yet she wondered that she could still see (i.e. live) after the vision. The thought of God when manifestly brought home to the soul is overpowering. It would seem as if when God appears that there is no room for any but Himself—that the glory of the self-existent One would quench all else. God declared to Moses that “no man should see His face alive.” (Exodus 33:20.) Even he could but see the subdued glory of God, and could only endure by a special privilege. This feeling of awe lies at the root of all religion. It is the property of the childlike nature when the feelings are fresh and healthy. Those who affect to be superior to every feeling of awe and wonder put themselves out of sympathy with all that is spiritual and Divine.
2. Gratitude. The “well” was called Beer-lahai-roi, or well of life of vision; i.e., of life after a vision of God. This name was given by universal consent, for it was the memorial of God’s special kindness. After every manifestation of God, wonder resolves itself into praise. Where He appears, a well springs up in the wilderness to refresh our souls, and to impart the impulse of perpetual joy and thanksgiving.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Genesis 16:13-1.16.14. Hagar gratefully acknowledges the interposition of God as a very present help in trouble. It was the Lord, Jehovah, that came to her rescue. It was no created angel, but the very Messenger of the Covenant Himself, the Lord, the Eternal God. As such, Hagar hails this heavenly visitor: “Thou regardest the low estate of thy handmaiden.” And she seems to dwell on the seasonable and unlooked-for promptness of the help afforded: “Have I also here looked after Him that seeth me?” Was I looking out for Him? Or did His gracious Providence surprise me, and His gracious eye almost startle me, when He sought out one, alas! too far gone in hardness of heart ever to have thought of seeking Him? It is undoubtedly a memorable crisis in her history if it be rightly followed up and followed out. Truly may the well be called “the well of Him that liveth and seeth me”—of the living God who looketh on my affliction; and justly may the child be named “Ishmael,” as the token that “the Lord will hear” the cry of the oppressed, and deliver the fainting soul.—(Candlish.)
Under the old Covenant such manifestations of God were only given to Moses, to Hagar, and to some others. But under the new Covenant, God was revealed in His Son. Men saw their invisible Maker and Judge. The special care of God for each individual man was seen in the gracious ministry of our Lord on earth.
A particular Providence.
1. Difficult to believe. We imagine God as working upon a large plan, but not as seeing and caring for individuals. It is not easy to bring ourselves to the belief that He is “about our path, and about our bed, and spieth out all our ways.” We think of God in heaven, and forget that He is also on earth. What an effect it would have upon our lives if we really believed that God sees, and hears, and notes down everything we do!
2. Sufficiently attested by examples in Holy Scripture. Under the law we have many instances of God’s special dealings with some men. The whole history of the Jewish people was an example of a particular Providence. All this is intended to show us God’s care and concern for each man. In the Bible this doctrine is demonstrated in a few selected instances, so that we might learn the principles upon which God rules the whole world of mankind.
3. Made clear and certain by the history of our Lord’s work on earth. Christ was the “image of the invisible God,” making known to us what God is, and how He feels towards mankind. In this ministry on earth He showed us how each man is known and cared for; how the sorrows and wants of each touch the heart of infinite love. He spoke distinctly to men, and for the time (as it were) concentrated all His power and grace upon them.
4. Realised in the history of every believer. The Christian believes not only in God’s great love towards all mankind, but can say with St. Paul, “Christ loved me, and gave Himself for me.” He knows that Divine love is not a vague feeling towards the mass of mankind, but a distinct affection for each. His own heart has answered to that love. The Shepherd of his soul has called him by name. He can no longer doubt that God knows and remembers him, and orders all his ways.
God beholds thee, individually, whoever thou art. He “calls thee by name.” He knows what is in thee, all thy own peculiar feelings and thoughts, thy dispositions and likings, thy strength and thy weakness. He views thee in thy day of rejoicing, and thy day of sorrow. He sympathises in thy hopes and thy temptations. He interests Himself in all thy anxieties and remembrances, all the risings and fallings of thy spirit. He has numbered the very hairs of thy head and the cubits of thy stature. He compasses thee round and bears thee in His arms; He takes thee up and sets thee down. He notes thy very countenance, whether smiling or in tears, whether healthful or sickly. He looks tenderly upon thy hands and thy feet; He hears thy voice, the beating of thy heart, and thy very breathing. Thou art not only His creature; thou art man redeemed and sanctified, His adopted son, favoured with a portion of that glory and blessedness which flows from Him everlastingly unto the Only-begotten. Thou wast one of those for whom Christ offered up His last prayer and sealed it with His precious blood. What a thought is this, a thought almost too great for our faith!—(J. H. Newman.)
“Thou God seest me.” Pause for a moment to contemplate the force of this impressive thought. Life is spent beneath the eye of God. In every part of His dominion, in all the worlds He has formed, His never-closing eye is present, His creative power is felt. The beams of His all-observant thought surround us. His omnipresence has been compared to a circle whose centre is everywhere, and whose circumference is nowhere. God, said the Greeks, is “All Eye.” It is not the feeble and changing glance of fickle guilty man, but it is the pure and perfect scrutiny of the Eternal God, “in whose hand our breath is.” His smile is life. His frown despair. Everything depends upon it. “Thou God seest me.” Then it is not a vague and general observation, but a particular and minute notice—the sinner in his guilt equally with the Christian in his devotions—the peasant in his cottage equally with the prince on his throne. Not the actions only, but the principles, “me”—all that constitutes our essence, all that forms our character, the interior recesses of the spirit, the hidden motives of the heart, the secret springs of the character. This thought may be one—
1. Of grandeur. With respect to God—His infinite dominion—His immense survey. With respect to man—his dignity—his responsibility—his destiny—he must, some day, come immediately before this Being.
2. Of terror. We are never safe. Sin cannot be even thought of without being known. Think of this when temptation invites. There is no darkness which can hide from God.
3. Of consolation in sorrow. He sees with a Father’s eye which fills with compassion. He sees our sin and folly, and the sorrows of our repentance. He know all the trouble of our spirit and our desires to be purer and better.
4. Of hope in danger. He sees, not to increase our misery, but to help and save. When we are at our worst estate, when our grief is at its height, when the world fails us and casts us off—then is God’s gracious opportunity and the time of His appearing to comfort us with His love. He sends His Covenant Angel to succour this desolate woman. None need despair, since God thus helps the outcast and the miserable.
The believer finds a well in the wilderness where Christ appears to strengthen and console. Memory afterwards returns to that, as the first bright-spot in the soul’s history.
The vision of God is the beginning of spiritual life.
Nomus, one of the heathen gods, is said to have complained of Vulcan, that he had not set a grate at every man’s breast. God hath a glazed window in the darkest houses of clay; He sees what is done in them, when none other can. To God’s omnipotence there is nothing impossible; and to God’s omniscience there is nothing invisible.—(Secker.)
The celebrated Linnaeus acknowledged the omniscience of God by placing over the door of the hall in which he gave his lectures, the inscription, Innocui vivate! Numen adest. Live guiltless! God is present.
“Have I also here looked after Him that seeth me?” On Hagar’s part, this was the language of admiration, gratitude, devotion, love. Have I here in the desert, as contrasted with Abram’s home where visions were to be looked for—for the visions of God were with him—here where I least expected them, and when I was out of the way of duty!
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Genesis 16:15-1.16.16
THE CONVICTION OF A SPECIAL PROVIDENCE: PRACTICAL EFFECTS
I. That we enter again the paths of duty. The impression of this special visitation of God was not lost upon Hagar. She translated it into duty, and at the Divine command returned to the home which she had deserted. There, in the ways of humble duty, she was to serve God, and work out the designs of His Providence. The soul’s true life is found not in prolonged rapture and amazement, but in simple faith, love, and obedience.
II. That we are found in the way of religious privilege. When Hagar wandered in the wilderness she put herself out of the way of the religious privileges which were found in Abram’s family. She now returns to that home where God was feared with a holy dread, and confided in with a trusting love. If we have wandered from the place of religious privilege, and God has met us so that we can distinctly trace His dealings, it is our duty to return. The Church of God is our true home, where alone our graces can revive and grow.
SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS ON THE VERSES
Genesis 16:15-1.16.16. It is here implied that Hagar told Abram of the vision, and of the name which God had appointed for her son. God’s children take their part in carrying out His designs concerning others. Abram gives that name which had been revealed to another.
The trials of waiting for promised blessings.
1. The time is often long. Abram was now eighty-six years old, and up to this point of time was childless. He had to wait through many long and weary years till the sight of this child gladdened his eyes. God sometimes delays the fulfilment of His promises so long that the patience of His people is sorely tried.
2. We may be deceived by what is only intended to be a provisional fulfilment. Abram thought that the son of Hagar was the promised and long-desired son by whom he was to be a blessing to all generations. But he had to wait fourteen years for the true son of promise. He rejoiced too soon. God often gives us some fulfilment of His word, which stays for a time the desires of our soul. Thus we are led on till we find, at last, that real and solid good which is laid up for us.
During thirteen years of the time of Abram’s waiting, it would seem that all those delightful personal manifestations of the Almighty which he had hitherto enjoyed were suspended; but whether this was designed, as some have suggested, as a token of the Divine displeasure, or whether it is to be referred to the sovereign good pleasure of Him who giveth not account of any of His matters, it is not for us to say. It is certain, however, as a general fact, that similar conduct is productive of similar results, and that if we find that it is not with us as in times past—that communion with God is more than usually difficult—that our intercourse with heaven is sadly impeded, our prayers hindered, and our praises deadened—the cause is to be sought in ourselves. It is not a mere sovereign withdrawal of the light of God’s countenance, but a merited rebuke of some secret offence, some unrestrained temper, some unholy compliance, some unchecked and unchastened desire, which is suffered to remain undetected in the heart, and to rob us of the promised blessing.—(Bush.)
The posterity of Ishmael were earliest in the field of history. In the ordinary view they seemed the greater and the more important; yet these were not to be the channels of God’s highest blessings to mankind. Thus it is that “the first shall be last.”
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Genesis 16". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent