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Bible Commentaries

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible
Genesis 16

 

 

Introduction

CHAP. XVI.

Sarai, being barren, giveth Hagar her handmaid to Abram: whom afterwards she treats hardly, having been despised by her. The angel of the Lord recals Hagar, who had fled from her mistress, and foretels the birth of Ishmael. Ishmael is born.


Verse 1

Genesis 16:1. Sarai Abram's wife bare him no children, &c.— Sarai, being now seventy-five years old, and having continued ten years in the land of promise, began to suspect, that she should have no offspring by her husband; and therefore, anxiously desirous of the promised seed, she requests her husband to take her handmaid Hagar (an AEgyptian proselyte, most probably born in their house from AEgyptian parents), that she might have children by her: for, as being born of her handmaid, they would have been her children according to the law of those times, Genesis 30:3. Abram, being no doubt equally desirous of an offspring, complied with his wife's request, and took this secondary wife: which, though contrary to the original institution of marriage and the purity of the Gospel, appears to have been allowed in those times. It is, however, proper to remark, that Abram having continued to the age of eighty-five constant to his wife Sarai, cannot be supposed actuated by any improper desires, but by the single wish to be the father of the promised seed: and as no particular revelation had yet been given him, that Sarai should be the mother of this seed, he might perhaps think that God would fulfil his purpose by means of Hagar, and therefore more readily consented to Sarai's proposal.

Hagar signifies a stranger or sojourner in a strange land. The city of Agar or Petra, the capital of Arabia Petraea, derived its name from her: as did the people anciently called Hagarites or Hagarenes, 1 Chronicles 5:10. Psalms 83:6.

REFLECTIONS.—After ten years more waiting, Sarai was solicitous to have children by any means, and never feared in a servant to find a rival. Observe; 1. The most dangerous temptations come from those who are most dear to us: we dare not deny them. 2. God's gifts are wisely distributed. All have much to be thankful for; but there is always some allay, to keep us from seeking our rest in the creature. 3. How many a rich man would give half his estate for an heir; when the peasant, who lives in a cottage, has children like olive-branches round about his table. 4. Inordinate desires after creature-comforts put us on indirect means of obtaining them. 5. The comfort we seek in such ways, generally comes embittered with gall.


Verse 5

Genesis 16:5. My wrong be upon thee, &c.— Hagar, finding that she had conceived, immediately despised her mistress, not only imagining that she should thus stand first in Abram's love, but also bring an heir to all his possessions. Sarai was indignant at her behaviour, which doubtless was insolent; upon which she applies to her husband: "My wrong be upon thee, says she, or is upon thee: i.e.. the injury I receive proceeds from thee: or as others interpret it, I have a subject of complaint against thee, which it is in thy power to remedy. Thy too great indulgence to Hagar, is the reason that I am despised and insolently treated by her. The Lord judge, or will judge between me and thee: I appeal to God for the equity of my cause, and I demand redress from thee, as thou wilt be answerable to our common Judge." 1 Samuel 24:12. We have here an additional argument against polygamy and concubinage, from the altercations and dissensions which reigned between Sarai and Hagar, and which will always reign, more or less, to the destruction of domestic peace, in these cases.


Verse 6

Genesis 16:6. Abram said, Behold, thy maid is in thy hand i.e.. in thy power, ch. Genesis 24:10. Genesis 39:4.

REFLECTIONS.—We have here,

1. Hagar's insolence. No sooner with child, than she forgets her station, and begins, in conceit perhaps of the promised seed, to usurp over the mistress of the family.

2. Sarai's ill-humour: as jealous of her husband, as angry with her maid. Though Abram appears to have been quite blameless, respecting Hagar's pride, she lays the blame at his door, and then appeals to God for judgment. Note; (1.) A person who is angry with himself, generally gives vent to his anger by abusing the innocent. (2.) Nothing is more common, than to quarrel with others for doing what we desired, when the issue happens to fall out otherwise than we designed. (3.) They who take God's name in their mouth in anger, are almost sure to take it in vain. (4.) A person in a passion is always in the wrong, whatever cause may be given him for it.

3. Abram's peaceable answer. Though Hagar was now in some sense his wife, yet he remits her to her mistress Sarai, to know her station, and learn obedience. Note; (1.) Nothing is like a peaceable answer to turn away wrath. (2.) Better yield sometimes even to an unreasonable request of a wife, than by an unseasonable opposition give ground for debate. (3.) Nothing is so fit for proud hearts, as to be degraded, and made to know their place.

4. Sarai's severity to Hagar. When pride and jealousy unite with power, woe to the poor sufferer!

5. Hagar's flight. It was her duty to submit, as it was Sarai's to have treated her mildly: but both were wrong, and therefore both perverse. Note; (1.) They who suffer for their faults, have a double obligation to take the punishment patiently. (2.) To fly from our cross is usually not only the way to sin but suffering.


Verse 7

Genesis 16:7. And the angel of the Lord, &c.— Hagar was treated so harshly by her mistress, that she resolved to fly from her, and seek a retreat in her own country: as she journeyed towards which, she found in the wilderness of Shur (probably that part of Arabia Petraea which lay next AEgypt) a fountain, and there she sat down to refresh herself; when THE ANGEL of the LORD appeared to her. This is the first place, where mention is made of an angel. Expositors vary in their sentiments concerning it. It is universally agreed, that the word מלאךֶ malac, signifies a messenger, a person sent, as αγγελος in Greek, from αγγελλω, to tell, to bear a message: and consequently the context only can determine of what sort the messenger is; for the word is not only applied to human messengers, but to celestial ones, as well as to the second Divine Person in the Trinity. See Cruden's Concordance on the word angel. That this Second Person is here spoken of and appeared to Hagar, is the opinion of very many Christian interpreters, which seems the more probable from Genesis 16:13 where he is spoken to as the Jehovah himself, and from Genesis 16:10 where he speaks in the person of Jehovah: and I cannot help delivering it as my opinion, that all appearances of this kind, where the melac Jehovah, the messenger of Jehovah, the angel of the covenant so speaks and acts, were appearances of the Logos, of him, who was sent into the world to save us from our sins. The angel which appeared in the bush, and conducted the Israelites, I conceive to be the same with this, namely, the Word of God, the Redeemer. See Malachi 3:1. Exodus 14:19; Exodus 23:20-21; Exodus 23:33. Isaiah 63:9.


Verse 8

Genesis 16:8. He said, Hagar, Sarai's maid The angel calls her Sarai's maid, to remind her of her duty and dependence, which she ought not to have relinquished. He advises her, therefore, to return, and patiently to submit to the treatment, however hard to bear, which she had fled to avoid; at the same time comforting her with a prophetic account of her son and his descendants.

REFLECTIONS.—We have here Hagar's flight, and return at the command of the angel.

1. The place where she was: the wilderness. Sin is the wilderness we are sure to get into, the moment we leave the path of duty. She was going homeward, but God interposes. Observe, It is a great mercy to be stopped short by Providence or conscience in a sinful way.

2. The angel's address and question. The address, to humble: the question, to alarm her. Sarai's maid should have taken correction submissively, and not have left that holy family to return to the idols of AEgypt. Note; (1.) It would stop our career often, if we would ask, Whither am I going? What am I doing? (2.) Wilfully to leave the means of grace, is a dangerous step. (3.) If God did not graciously interpose, alas! what often would become of us, when under the guidance of a perverse spirit?

3. Her answer. She pleads her mistress's anger as the cause of her flight. Though it was no excuse for her, yet it was too just an accusation of Sarah. Learn, (1.) The impropriety of others' behaviour to us is no sufficient plea for an ill return. (2.) They are partners of the guilt, who by their provocations lead others to sin. (3.) If masters or mistresses forbear not threatening, their servants will have some reason to complain.

4. The Angel's command, or rather kind advice. Note; (1.) When we are out of the way of duty, it behoves us to make haste to return to it. (2.) We are bound to hope for God's blessing when we do so, however disagreeable or dangerous the step may appear. It is better to return to suffer, than by flight to continue in sin.


Verse 10

Genesis 16:10. I will multiply thy seed, &c.— The angel here speaks authoritatively, and not as bearing a message from another: I will multiply. In the next chapter, Genesis 17:20 the same promise is renewed: "And these passages," says the Bishop of Bristol, "evince, that the prophecy doth not so properly belong to Ishmael, as to his posterity, which is here foretold to be very numerous. Ishmael married an AEgyptian woman; and, in a few years, his family was so increased, that, in the 37th chapter of Genesis, we read of Ishmaelites trading into AEgypt. Afterwards his seed was multiplied exceedingly in the Hagarenes, and in the Nabathaeans, who had their name from his son Nabaioth; and in the Ituraeans, who were so called from his son Ietur or Itur; and in the Arabs, especially the Scenites and the Saracens, who overran a great part of the world: and his descendants the Arabs are a very numerous people at this day." See notes on Genesis 17:20 and Jeremiah 49:31.


Verse 12

Genesis 16:12. He will be a wild man In the original it is, a wild ass man; and the learned Bochart translates it, tam ferus quam onager, as wild as a wild ass. But what is the nature of the animal to which Ishmael is so particularly compared? It cannot be described better than it is in the book of Job 39:5; Job 39:30. Who hath sent out the wild ass free? or who hath loosed the bands of the wild ass? whose house I have made the wilderness, and the barren land his dwelling. He scorneth the multitude of the city, neither regardeth he the crying of the driver. The range of the mountains is his pasture, and he searcheth after every green thing. Ishmael, therefore, and his posterity, would be wild, savage, ranging in the desarts, and not easily softened and tamed to society: and whoever hath ever read or known any thing of this people, knows this to be their true and genuine character. It is said of Ishmael, ch. Genesis 21:20. that he dwelt in the wilderness, and became an archer: and the same is no less true of his descendants than of himself: he dwelt in the wilderness; and his sons still inhabit the same wilderness, and many of them neither sow nor plant, according to the best accounts, ancient and modern. He became an archer: and such were the Ituraeans, whose bows and arrows are famous in all authors: such were the mighty men of Kedar in Isaiah's time, Isaiah 21:17 and such the Arabs have been from the beginning, and are at this time; and it was late before they admitted the use of fire-arms among them.

His hand will be against every man, and every man's hand against him The one is the natural and almost necessary consequence of the other. Ishmael lived by prey and rapine in the wilderness; and his posterity have all along infested Arabia and the neighbouring countries with their robberies and incursions. They are in a state of continual war with the rest of the world, and are both robbers by land, and many of them pirates by sea. And as they have been such enemies to mankind, it is no wonder that mankind have been enemies to them; that several attempts have been made to extirpate them; and even now, as well as formerly, travellers are forced to go with arms and in caravans, or large companies, and to march and keep watch and guard, like a little army, to defend themselves from the assaults of these freebooters, who run about in troops, and rob and plunder all they can by any means subdue. And these robberies they justify, according to Mr. Sale, "by alledging the hard usage of their father Ishmael, who being turned out of doors by Abram, had the open plains and desarts given him by God for his patrimony, with permission to take whatever he could find there. And on this account they think they may, with a safe conscience, indemnify themselves, as well as they can, not only on the posterity of Isaac, but also on every body else; always supposing a sort of kindred between themselves and those they plunder. And, in relating their adventures of this kind, they think it sufficient to change the expression, and instead of, I robbed a man of such a thing, to say, I gained it."

He shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren Shall tabernacle, ישׁכן ishcon; for many of the Arabs dwell in tents, and are therefore called Scenites. This is very extraordinary, that every man's hand should be against him, &c. and yet that he should be able to dwell in the presence of all his brethren; but, extraordinary as it is, this also hath been fulfilled, both in the person of Ishmael and in his posterity. As for Ishmael himself, the sacred historian, ch. Genesis 25:17-18. relates, that his years were an hundred and thirty and seven, and he died in the presence of all his brethren. And as for his posterity, they dwelt likewise in the presence of all their brethren; of Abram's sons, by Keturah; the Moabites and Ammonites, descendants of Lot; the Israelites, descended of Isaac and Jacob; and the Edomites, descendants of Isaac and Esau: and they still subsist a distinct people, and inhabit the country of their progenitors, notwithstanding the perpetual enmity between them and the rest of mankind. It may be said, perhaps, that the country was not worth conquering, and its barrenness was its preservation; but this is a mistake: for, by all accounts, though the greater part of it consists of sandy and barren desarts, yet beautiful spots and fruitful vallies are interspersed. One part of the country was anciently known and distinguished by the name of Arabia, the Happy. And now the Proper Arabia is, by the Oriental writers, generally divided into five provinces. Of these the chief is the province of Yaman, which, as Mr. Sale asserts, "has been famous from all antiquity for the happiness of its climate, its fertility, and riches." But, if the country were ever so bad, one would think it should be for the interest of the neighbouring princes and states; at any hazard, to root out such a pestilential race of robbers; and it has been attempted several times, but never accomplished. They have, from first to last, maintained their independency; and notwithstanding the most powerful efforts for their destruction, still dwell in the presence of all their brethren, and in the presence of all their enemies.

As the history of Ishmael and his descendants, is one of the standing public evidences of the truth of the sacred Scriptures, the reader will excuse me if I enlarge upon it. Diodorus, one of the great heathen Historians, says of them, that neither the Assyrians, nor the kings of the Medes and Persians, nor yet of the Macedonians, were able to subdue them; nay, though they led many and great forces against them, yet they could not accomplish their attempts. And undoubted history informs us of such remarkable interpositions of Providence to preserve them, when they have been upon the brink of ruin; that when we consider them, we cannot help being struck with admiration at the holy Scriptures, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done.

When Alexander the Great overturned the Persian Empire, and conquered a great part of Asia, the neighbouring princes sent their ambassadors to make their submissions. The Arabs (the descendants of Ishmael) alone disdained to acknowledge the Conqueror, and scorned to send any embassy, or take any notice of him. This contempt so provoked him, that he meditated an expedition against them; and, humanly speaking, considering his vast army, the great assistance he would have received from all the neighbouring princes, and his being in want of nothing which could contribute to his success, we can scarcely suppose but he would have entirely destroyed them: but while he was meditating on these things, God took him away by death, and put an end to all his resentment and designs against them; and again shewed the world, that there was one greater than the greatest. When the Romans subdued the rest of the East, Arabia alone stood out; and when Lucullus, one of their generals, had subdued some of the Arabs, he was recalled, and Pompey sent in his room: this latter most successful general gained some victories, and penetrated into the country; but the word of God was against him, so that when success seemed ready to crown him with an entire subjection of the country, other affairs obliged him to leave it, and by retiring he lost all the advantages he had gained. AElius Gallus, a Roman general in the reign of Augustus, penetrated far into the country; but of a sudden a strange distemper made terrible havoc in his army; and after two years spent in the enterprize, he was glad to escape with the small remainder of his forces. But, at the times they were attacked by the Emperors Trajan and Severus, the interpositions of Providence to save them were still more remarkable.

Dio, who must have been impartial in the present instance, informs us, that when Trajan besieged the city of the Hagarenes (who were descended and denominated from Hagar,) as often as his soldiers attacked the city, the whole heavens shook with thunder, rainbows were seen in the sky, (both considered as terrifying omens by the Romans,) violent storms, hail, and thunderbolts, fell upon them; and all these were repeated, as often as they returned to the assault of the city; and as often as they sat down to refresh themselves with a repast, a multitude of flies alighting both on their eatables and liquors, made all they ate or drank nauseous; so that the emperor was at last compelled by these circumstances to raise the siege. It may be observed here, that when they were attacked by Trajan, the power of the whole world was united in one empire, and the whole power of that empire was in his hands; that he was himself a man of great abilities, remarkably beloved by his soldiers, indefatigable in the toils of war, and greatly experienced in all that belongs to it; so that if it were possible that God's promise to Ishmael of subsistence in freedom, though at enmity with the rest of the world, could be defeated by human wisdom or mortal might, it must have been at this time. About eight years after, the emperor Severus besieged the same city with a numerous army; and Dio, the historian, who gives an account of this expedition, as well as of that under Trajan, again remarks, that God preserved the city; who, by the Emperor, called back the soldiers, when they could have entered it; and again, by the soldiers, restrained the emperor from taking it, when he was desirous. The whole anecdote is very wonderful: the emperor being at first repulsed with loss, made great preparations for the second assault, in which (after a great loss of his soldiers) he overthrew part of the city-wall, so that an entrance lay open into the city. Just at that time the emperor caused a retreat to be sounded, imagining that the besieged would intreat for peace; and that, to obtain it, they would discover where the vast treasures lay, which were supposed to be concealed in their temple of the sun, and which he thought might be lost, if the city were sacked and the inhabitants destroyed. But the Hagarenes continued resolute the whole day, giving no intimation of their desire of entering into terms of capitulation. On the morrow following, when the emperor would have renewed the attack, the European soldiers, at all other times most resolute, would make no attempt to enter at the breach; and the Syrians, enforced to take the service, met with a grievous repulse. No persuasions, no promises, no threats could engage the Europeans to renew their attacks; so that, though the conquest in martial esteem appeared so easy after the breach in the walls, that one of Severus's captains confidently undertook to effect it, if he could but have five hundred and fifty European soldiers assigned to the attack, yet the emperor could do no more than reply in a rage, "Where shall I find so many soldiers?" and so departed into Palestine. And yet this very emperor was beloved and revered by his soldiers almost to adoration, but could not now influence them to assault the enemy, when they were almost at their mercy: a fact so extraordinary, that it appears to be manifestly the interposition of that Mighty Being, who at his pleasure poureth contempt upon princes, and bringeth the counsel of the heathen to nought. It may be added, that the Hagarenes stood single in this extremity, against the whole Roman power; for Dio expressly says, that not one of their neighbours would assist them. And we may likewise observe, that the spirit of freedom, which was the declared characteristic of Ishmael before he was born, was remarkable at this time in these his descendants; as they seem to have been fully determined, either to live absolutely free, or to die so; disdaining to capitulate, or make any terms, even with the emperor of the world.

Nothing can be more convincing, that it was God himself who dictated the Scriptures, than to find them thus declaring what shall be, for ages to come; and to know that these predictions have been thus exactly fulfilled without any variation during so many ages; and that the prophecies concerning Ishmael, this son of Abram, should to this day be receiving their accomplishment publicly and exactly in every particular, in his numerous descendants. They who are desirous to see this curious subject more copiously handled, may be referred to a dissertation upon the independency of the Arabs, in the last volume of the Ancient Universal History.


Verse 13

Genesis 16:13. And she called the name of the Lord,—Thou God seest me or perhaps, "she called upon, she invoked the name of the Lord who spoke to her: and one said, Thou [art] the God, seeing me, i.e.. regarding my misfortunes, and revealing thyself to me; and one used this expression the rather, as she had before said, 'Do I even here see,' [i.e. live and use my senses] after my vision; after seeing the God who has appeared to me?" This is Noldius's interpretation; and thus the words should be rendered. There is in the words a manifest reference to a general opinion, that no mortal eyes could endure the sight of the Divine Majesty with safety. See ch. Genesis 32:30. So Gideon says, "Alas, O Lord God, for I have seen an angel of the Lord, &c." to which the Lord replies, Peace, fear not, thou shalt not die. Judges 6:22-23. Such was the case of Manoah too, Judges 13:22. We shall surely die, because we have seen God. See Isaiah 6:5 and compare Exodus 33:20. Let it be observed, if this had been only an angel or ministering spirit, this manner of speaking must have been very absurd. In consequence of this sight and life, the well, where God appeared to her, was called באראּלחיאּראי beer-lechi-roi, literally, the well of the living, seeing: i.e.. of her who saw the Lord and lived. And in this view, the whole is consistent. The well lay between Kadesh and Bered, as we are informed; the former a city of Hebron, lying on the edge of the land of Canaan; but where the latter was situated we know not, as it is no where else mentioned. It was, however, not far from Gerar.

REFLECTIONS.—Hagar immediately returns back, after a grateful acknowledgment of the mercy bestowed upon her: and Abram in his old age is comforted with a son. Observe,

1. The name she gave the place where God appeared to her. Thou God seest me; or, thou art the God seeing me. Note; (1.) It is the comfort of every affliction, the spur to every duty, and the restraint from every sin, to feel the eye of God upon us. (2.) We would do well to acknowledge his gracious visitations, and have them not only in our mind, but in our mouth.

2. Her admiration of God's condescension thus to look upon her. Learn, (1.) A soul brought to a sense of its error, is amazed at the mercy it finds with God. (2.) The eye of faith looks to the all-seeing God, and this is its stability and support.

3. Her son born: Ishmael, long before Isaac. Note; Corruption is always the first-born of the heart: and how many expect no second birth, and die contentedly children of the bondwoman!

 


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Bibliography Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Genesis 16:4". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tcc/genesis-16.html. 1801-1803.

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