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The Pulpit Commentaries
Genesis 16



Verses 1-6


Genesis 16:1

Now Sarai Abram's wife bare him no children (literally, bare not to him, notwithstanding the promise; the barrenness of Sarai being introduced as the point of departure for the ensuing narrative, and emphasized as the cause or occasion of the subsequent transaction): and she had—literally, to her (there was)—an handmaid, an Egyptian (obtained probably while in the house of Pharaoh (Genesis 12:16)—whose name was Hagar"flight," from hagar, to flee. Cf. Hegirah, the flight of Mahomet. Not her original designation, but given to her afterwards, either because of her flight from Egypt (Ambrose, Wordsworth), or because of her escape from her mistress (Michaelis, Bush, 'Speaker's Commentary'). Though not the imaginary or mythical (Bohlen), it is doubtful if she was the real (Ainsworth, Bush), ancestor of the Hagarenes (1 Chronicles 5:10, 1 Chronicles 5:19, 1 Chronicles 5:20; 1 Chronicles 27:31; Psalms 83:6, Psalms 83:8).

Genesis 16:2

And Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, the Lord hath restrained us from bearing. Literally, hath shut me up (i.e. my womb, Genesis 20:18; συνέκλεισέ με, LXX.) from bearing. Her advancing age was rendering this every day more and more apparent. I pray thee go in unto my maid (cf. Genesis 30:3, Genesis 30:9). It is so far satisfactory that the proposal to make a secondary wife of Hagar did not originate with Abram; though, as Sarai's guilt in making it cannot altogether. be excused, so neither can Abram be entirely freed from fault in yielding to her solicitations. It may be that I may obtain children by her. Literally, be built up by her; from banah, to build, whence ben, a son (Deuteronomy 25:9; Ruth 4:11). Calvin notes that Sarai's desire of offspring was not prompted by natural impulse, but by the zeal of faith which made her wish to secure the promised benediction. As yet it had not been clearly intimated that Sarai was to be the mother of Abram's child; and hence her recourse to what was a prevalent practice of the times, while unjustifiable in itself, was a signal proof of her humility, of her devotion to her husband, and perhaps also of her faith in God. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai. "The faith of both was defective; not indeed with regard to the substance of the premise, but with regard to the method in which they proceeded" (Calvin).

Genesis 16:3

And Sarai Abram's wife took Hagar her maid the Egyptian, after Abram had dwelt ton years in the land of Canaan (i.e. in his eighty-fifth, and her seventy-fifth year; a note of time introduced, probably, to account for their impatience in waiting for the promised seed), and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife. Afterwards styled a pilgash or concubine (Genesis 25:6), she is here improperly called a wife quae praeterDei legem is alienum thorum inducitur (Calvin), from whom the pilgash or concubine differed

Genesis 16:4

And he went in unto Hagar. בּוֹא אֶל־, a linguistic peculiarity of the Jehovist, occurring Genesis 29:21, Genesis 29:30; Genesis 30:3, Genesis 30:4; Genesis 38:2, Genesis 38:9, Genesis 38:16 (Vaihinger, Davidson); but by some partitionists Genesis 29:1-35 and Genesis 30:1-43. are assigned to the Elohist (Tuch, Bleek, De Wette). And she conceived: and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her eyes. As Hannah by Peninnah (1 Samuel 1:6); barrenness among the Hebrews having been regarded as a dishonor and reproach (Genesis 19:31; Genesis 30:1, Genesis 30:23; Le 20:20), and fecundity as a special mark of the Divine favor (Genesis 21:6; Genesis 24:60; Exodus 23:26; Deuteronomy 7:14). Whether Hagar imagined Sarai to be through her barrenness "tanquam a Divino promisso repudiatam" (Lyra), or anticipated Sarai's displacement from her position as Abram's wife (Inglis), she, immediately on perceiving her condition, became insolent (cf. Proverbs 30:23).

Genesis 16:5

And Sarai said unto Abram, My wrong be upon thee. Ἀδικοῦμαι ἐκ σοῦ (LXX. ); indue agis contra me (Vulgate); My injury is upon thee, i.e. thou art the cause of it (Jonathan, Rosenmüller, Ainsworth, Clarke, 'Speaker's Commentary'); or, it belongs to thee as well as to me (Clericus, Bush, Alford); or, perhaps better, May the injury done to me return upon thee! cf. Genesis 27:13 (Keil, Kalisch, Lange, Wordsworth)—the language of passionate irritation, indicating repentance of her previous action and a desire to both impute its guilt to, and lay its bitter consequences on, her husband, who in the entire transaction was more innocent than she. I have given my maid into thy bosom (very imprudent, even had it not been sinful; the result was only what might have been expected);—and when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her eyes: the Lord judge between me and thee (cf. 1 Samuel 24:15; 11:27). An irreverent use of the Divine name on the part of Sarai (Calvin), and a speech arguing great passion (Ainsworth).

Genesis 16:6

But Abram said unto Sarai, Behold, thy maid is in thy hand (regarding her still as one of Sarai's servants, though elevated to the rank of secondary wife to himself); do to her as it pleaseth thee. Literally, the good in thine eyes; in which conduct of the patriarch may be seen perhaps


Genesis 16:3

Crooked ways, or marrying with Hagar.


1. The author of it; Sarai, the wife of Abram, a daughter of the faith, the mistress of a household. To the first, the suggestion referred to in the narrative should have been impossible; in the second, it was inconsistent; while, proceeding from the third, it was calculated to be harmful.

2. The wickedness of it. It was

3. The extenuations of it.

II. THE SINFUL COMPLIANCE. "Abram hearkened unto the voice of Sarai."

1. Deliberately. He was not surprised into this secondary marriage with the Egyptian maiden. The scheme of Sarai appears to have been talked over between them; and if at first he had scruples in complying with her proposition, they were eventually overcome.

2. Inconsiderately. That is, the ulterior consequences were not taken into account in assenting to this device for the anticipation of the promised seed; only its immediate feasibility and superficial recommendations. So men are morally shortsighted, and cannot see afar off when confronted by some sweet temptation. Had Abram only dimly discerned the outcome of Sarai's counsel, he would have seen that the thing was not of God. A perception of the coming whirlwind would often hinder the sowing of the wind.

3. Inexcusably. Though not dictated by carnal desire, Abram's acquiescence in Sarai's scheme was far from being faultless. It evinced a want of faith, and, indeed, a want of true spiritual discernment in supposing that what God had promised as a gift of grace could be surreptitiously snatched from his Divine hand in the way proposed, or even by any purely human stratagem; and a want of patience in not calmly waiting for the accomplishment of God's word in God's own time and way.


1. Humiliation to Sarai. Elated by the prospect of maternity, the young Egyptian slave-girl despised her mistress; by haughtiness of carriage, perhaps silently discovering contempt for Sarai's sterility, and possibly assuming airs of superiority, as if, in consequence of approaching motherhood, anticipating her displacement from the throne of Abram's love (Proverbs 30:23).

2. Misery to Abram. The womanly nature of Sarai, stung to jealousy by the success of her own plan, and incapable of longer enduring the scornful triumph of a maiden whom her own hands had transformed into a favored rival, with something like vindictive heat turned upon her meek, submissive, and in this matter wholly innocent lord, reproaching him as, if not the cause of her barrenness, at least the patient and half-satisfied witness of her humiliation; she almost called down upon him the judgment of Heaven. To a noble spirit like that of Abram the anguish of Sarai must have been distressing to behold; and the pain which it occasioned must have been intensified when he came to realize the painful dilemma in which he stood between her and Hagar.

3. Oppression to Hagar. Reminding Sarai that Hagar, though a wife to him, was still a maid to her, the patriarch unwisely extended sanction to whatever remedy the heated breast of Sarai might devise. The result was that the favored maiden was at once thrust back into her original condition of servitude, deprived of whatever tokens of honor and affection she had received as Abram's wife, and subjected to injurious treatment at the hands of her incensed mistress and rival, from which she ultimately sought refuge in flight.


1. That eminent saints may lapse into grievous sins.

2. That a child of God is specially liable to temptation after seasons of high religious privilege.

3. That the strongest temptations sometimes proceed from the least expected quarters.

4. That trying to anticipate the Divine promise is not an uncommon form of temptation.

5. That when God's people take to crooked ways, nothing but evil can come of it.


Genesis 16:1-16


The history of Hagar has its two sides—that which is turned towards God and illustrates Divine grace, that which is turned towards man and illustrates human infirmity and sinfulness. Jehovah brought forth compassionate bestowments of revelation and promise out of his people's errors. Abram and Sarah both sinned. Hagar sinned. The angel of the Lord, representative of the continuous gracious revelation of Jehovah as a covenant God, appeared in the cloud of family sorrow, drawing once more upon it the rainbow of promise. Until the heir came there was a call for patience. Unbelief appeared at work—in the patriarch's weakness, in Sarah's harshness, in Hagar's pride and rebellion, for she was, as a member of the household, partaker of the covenant. In the wilderness appeared the messenger of grace.

I. THE NAME OF THE LORD WAS THE TESTIMONY. Thou God seest me; or, Thou God of vision. The idea is that the sight of God was deliverance. Hagar's seeing God was God seeing her. The vision was both objective and subjective. So the world has wearied itself in the wilderness of its own ignorance and moral helplessness (cf. —Galatians 4:22-31). The unspiritual, carnal mind is the bond slave, which must give way to the true heir. All true religious life is a response to revelation. In his light we see light.

II. THE REVELATION TO HAGAR MAY BE CONNECTED WITH HER PERSONAL HISTORY. She turned back with a new light in her heart. Submission and obedience are commanded, but abundant reward is promised. Our life is under the eye of Jehovah and in his hand. "Thou God seest me" is the cry of a grateful memory, the note of a bright future. The nearness of God, his knowledge, may be not terror, but blessing, angels round about us, gracious sunshine of love in which we are invited to walk as children of light.—R.


Genesis 16:1-6

The maid, the mistress, and the master.


1. Pride.

2. Contempt.

3. Insubordination.

4. Flight.


1. Tempting her husband.

2. Excusing herself.

3. Appealing to God.

4. Afflicting her servant.


1. Yielding to temptation.

2. Perpetrating injustice.

3. Acquiescing in oppression.—W.

Verses 7-16


Genesis 16:7

And the angel of the Lord. Maleach Jehovah, elsewhere styled Maleach Elohim (Genesis 21:17; Genesis 31:11); supposed but wrongly to be a creature angel, for the reasons chiefly

1. The Maleach Jehovah explicitly identifies himself with Jehovah (Genesis 16:10) and Elohim (Genesis 22:12).

2. Those to whom he makes his presence known recognize him as Divine (Genesis 16:13; Genesis 18:23-33; Genesis 28:16-22; Exodus 3:6; 6:15, 6:20-23; 13:22).

3. The Biblical writers constantly speak of him as Divine, calling him Jehovah without the least reserve (Genesis 16:13; Genesis 18:1; Genesis 22:16; Exodus 3:2; 6:12).

4. The doctrine here implied of a plurality of persons in the Godhead is in complete accordance with earlier foreshadowings (Genesis 1:26; Genesis 11:7) and later revelations of the same truth.

5. The organic unity of Scripture would be broken if it could be proved that the central point in the Old Testament revelation was a creature angel, while that of the New is the incarnation of the God-Man.

Found her by a fountain of water in the wilderness. Properly an uninhabited district suitable for pasturing flocks, from a root signifying to lead to pasture; hence a sterile, sandy country, like that here referred to, Arabia Deserta, bordering on Egypt (Genesis 14:6; Exodus 3:1). By the fountain. The article indicating a particular and well-known spring. In the way to Shur. "Before Egypt, as thou goest toward Assyria" (Genesis 25:18); hence not Pelusium on the Nile (Jos; 'Ant.,' 6.7, 3), but probably the modern Dachifar in the north-west of Arabia Deserta (Michaelis, Rosenmüller, Keil, Lange). Hagar was clearly directing her flight to Egypt.

Genesis 16:8

And he said, Hagar, Sarai's maid. Declining to recognize her marriage with the patriarch, the angel reminds her of her original position as a bondwoman, from which liberty was not to be obtained by flight, but by manumission. Whence camest thou? and whither wilt thou go! And she maid, I flee from the face of my mistress Sarai. "Her answer testifies to the oppression she had experienced, but also to the voice of her own conscience" (Lange).

Genesis 16:9

And the angel of the Lord said unto her—as Paul afterwards practically said to Onesimus, the runaway slave of Philemon (vide Philippians 12)—return to thy mistress, and submit thyself—the verb here employed is the same as that, which the historian uses to describe Sarah's conduct towards her (Philemon 1:6); its meaning obviously is that she should meekly resign herself to the ungracious and oppressive treatment of her mistress—under her hands.

Genesis 16:10

And the angel of the Lord said unto her (after duty, promise), I will multiply thy seed exceedingly (literally, multiplying I will multiply thy seed; language altogether inappropriate in the lips of a creature), that (literally, and) it shall not be numbered for multitude.

Genesis 16:11

And the angel of the Lord said unto her, Behold, thou art with child, and thou shalt bear a son, and shalt call his name Ishmael. "God shall hear," or, "Whom God hears," the first instance of the naming of a child before its birth (cf. afterwards Genesis 17:19; 1 Kings 13:2; 1 Chronicles 22:9; Matthew 1:21; Luke 1:13). Because the Lord hath heard thy affliction. τῇ ταπεινώσει (LXX.), "thy prayer" (Chaldee), of which there is no mention, though men's miseries are said to cry when men themselves are mute (Calvin; cf. Exodus 1:1-22 :24; Exodus 3:7).

Genesis 16:12

And he will be a wild man. Literally, a wild ass (of a) man; the פֶּרֶא, snarler, being so called from its swiftness of foot (cf. Job 39:5-8), and aptly depicting "the Bedouin's boundless love of freedom as he rides about in the desert, spear in hand, upon his camel or his horse, hardy, frugal, reveling in the varied beauty of nature, and despising town life in every form" (Keil). As Ishmael and his offspring are here called "wild ass men," so Israel is designated by the prophet "sheep men" (Ezekiel 36:37, Ezekiel 36:38). His hand will be against every man, and every man's hand against him. Exemplified in the turbulent and lawless character of the Bedouin Arabs and Saracens for upwards of thirty centuries. "The Bedouins are the outlaws among the nations. Plunder is legitimate gain, and daring robbery is praised as valor (Kalisch). And he shall dwell in the presence of—literally, before the face of, L e. to the east of (Rosenmüller, Gesenius, Tuch, Knobel, Delitzsch); or, "everywhere before the eyes of" (Kalisch, Wordsworth); or, independently of (Calvin, Keil, Lunge, Murphy)—all his brethren. The Arabs of today are "just as they were described by the spirit of prophecy nearly 4000 years ago".

Genesis 16:13

And she called the name—not invoked the name (Chaldee, Lapide), though occasionally קָרָא שֵׁם has the same import as קָרָא בִשֵׁס (vide Deuteronomy 32:3)—of the Lord—Jehovah, thus identifying the Maleach Jehovah with Jehovah himself—that spake unto her, Thou God asset me. Literally, Thou (art) El-Roi, a God of seeing, meaning either the God of my vision, i.e. the God who revealest thyself in vision (Gesenius, Furst, Le Clerc, Dathe, Rosenmüller, Keil, Kalisch, Murphy), or, though less correctly, the God who sees all things, and therefore me (LXX; Vulgate, Calvin, Ainsworth; Candlish, Hofmann, Baumgarten, Delitzsch, Wordsworth). For she said, Have I also here looked after him that seeth me? Literally, Have I also hitherto seen? i.e. Do I also still live after the vision? (Onkelos,. Gesenius, Furst, Keil, Kalisch, Rosenmüller, Murphy).

Genesis 16:14

Wherefore the well was called—in all likelihood first by Hagar—Beer-lahai-roi, or the well of him that liveth and seeth me (A.V.); but either

Genesis 16:15

And Hagar bare Abram a son: and Abram called his son's name—a peculiarity of the Elohist to assign the naming of a child to the father (Knobel); but the present chapter is usually ascribed to the Jehovist, while the instances in which the name is given by the mother do not always occur in Jehovistic sections (cf. Genesis 30:6, which Tuch imputes to the Elohist)—which Hagar bare, Ishmael—thus acknowledging the truth of Hagar's vision.

Genesis 16:16

And Abram was fourscore and six years old, when Hagar bare Ishmael to Abram.


Genesis 16:7

The capture of the runaway, or Hagar and the angel of the Lord.


1. The agent of her capture. The angel of Jehovah (vide Exposition), whose appearance to Hagar at this particular juncture was doubtless—

2. The place of her capture.


1. The question of the angel.

2. The answer of Hagar.


1. To return to Abram's house. The tent of Sarai, though to Hagar's quick Southern blood a place of humiliation, was nevertheless for her the true place of safety, both physically and spiritually. The first counsel that God's word and spirit give to those who flee from duty, forsake the company of saints, and venture out upon perilous and sinful courses is "to stand in the ways, and ask for the old paths" (Jeremiah 6:16).

2. To submit to Sarah's yoke. Her alliance with the patriarch could not in God's sight alter her original position as a slave. Though soon to be the mother of Abram's seed, she was still a bondwoman, whose duty was submission, however galling to her hot blood, and however unreasonable it might seem in the case of one whose child might yet inherit Canaan. God's people are required to abide in those stations in life in which they have been called, until they can be honorably released from them (1 Corinthians 7:20-22), and to endure those afflictions which God in his providence may impose, rather than impetuously and sinfully endeavor to escape from them (Matthew 16:24).


1. The richness of the offered consolation.

2. The efficacy of the offered consolation.

See in the angel's appearance to Hagar—

1. An adumbration of the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

2. An illustration of God's care of those who are within his Church.

3. An indication of the kind of people that most attract the Divine notice and compassion.

4. A revelation of the tenderness with which he deals with sinners.

5. A proclamation of God's gracious readiness to forgive the erring.


Genesis 16:7

Wells in the wilderness.

1. God provides them for the rest and refreshment of pilgrims.

2. God visits them to meet with wear), and afflicted pilgrims.

3. God dispenses from them life and hope to all repenting and believing pilgrims. Compare with the angel of Jehovah and Hagar at the fountain of Shur, Christ and the woman of Samaria at Jacob's well (John 4:6).—W.

Genesis 16:7-13

Glimpses of the Godhead.

1. Divine condescension. God visits men as the angel visited Hagar.

2. Divine omniscience. God knows men as the angel knew Hagar.

3. Divine compassion. God pities and comforts men as the angel did Hagar.

4. Divine wisdom. God instructs men as the angel directed Hagar.

5. Divine grace. God pardons and accepts men as the angel did Hagar.—W.


Genesis 16:8

God pleading with wanderers.

"Hagar, Sarai's maid, whence camest thou? and whither wilt thou go?" She knew not, cared not. Undisciplined, smarting under effects of her own willfulness (Genesis 16:4), she thought only of escaping pain—a type of those weary, yet unconverted (cf. Jeremiah 51:13; Jeremiah 5:3). But God saw her. The Shepherd sought her (cf. Genesis 3:9; Luke 15:9). Though not of the chosen race, and having no claim upon his care, of his own mercy he calls her (cf. Psalms 145:9; Ephesians 2:4; Titus 3:5). The angel of the Lord; in Genesis 16:13 called the Lord; the messenger of the covenant (Malachi 3:1)—sent to carry out the Father's purpose (of. John 3:17; Luke 4:18). The same who speaks in the voice of awakened conscience, that he may give peace (cf. Matthew 11:28). "Hagar, Sarai's maid," expresses God's full knowledge of her (cf. Exodus 33:12; John 10:3). The name distinguishes the individual. She a stranger, a slave, a fugitive; yet God's eye upon her; all her life before him (cf. Psalms 139:1-4). A word for those following their own ways, feeling as if hidden in the multitude. Nothing glaring in their lives; men see nothing to find fault with; will God? (cf. Psalms 94:7). He knows thee altogether; thy whole life, the selfishness underlying a fair profession, the unconfessed motives, the little duplicities, the love of worldly things; or it may be thy spiritual pride and self-trusting. He sees thee through. But wilt thou seek to escape the thought of him? For what does he search thee out? Is it not to bring thee to peace? A word of comfort to him who is cast down because of weakness in faith, little progress, want of spirituality. He sees all (cf. Luke 19:5). Not as man—men see the failures; God Sees the battle, the longing desire for better things, the prayers (Psalms 28:1; Psalms 130:1), the searching of heart, the sorrow because of failure. Even in the wilderness he is present to help (Galatians 6:9).

I. "WHENCE CAMEST THOU?" Is the wilderness better than the home thou hast left? (cf. Isaiah 5:4). Thou hast left safety and plenty (cf. Numbers 21:5), impatient of God's discipline. A goodly possession was thine—the place of a child (1 John 3:1), the right always to pray (Luke 18:1; John 15:7; Hebrews 4:16; James 4:2), the promise of guidance (Psalms 32:8; Isaiah 30:21). For what hast thou given up all this? Is thy present lot better? In deepest love these questions are asked. God pleads by providence (Psalms 119:67), by the entering of the word (Psalms 119:130; Hebrews 4:12), by the "still small voice" of the Holy Spirit.

II. "WHITHER WILT THOU GO?" How many have never really considered. Hast thou renounced thy heavenly portion? God forbid. Then is thy life heavenward? Are thy sins blotted out? Hast thou accepted the free gift of salvation? I am not sure of that. And why not? Is it not that thou hast not cared enough to entertain the question as a practical one? (cf. Ezekiel 20:49; Ezekiel 33:32). Meanwhile thou art not standing still. The day of grace is passing away (cf. Jeremiah 8:20). Still Christ pleads (Revelation 3:20). But day by day the ear becomes more dull, and the aims and habits of life more hard to change. "Return," was the Lord's word to Hagar. Take again thy place in God's family (cf. Luke 15:20). Fear not to bear thy cross. There is a welcome and joy in heaven over every returning wanderer.—M.


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Genesis 16:4". The Pulpit Commentary. 1897.

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Monday, November 30th, 2020
the First Week of Advent
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