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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible


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HAGAR (prob. ‘emigrant’ or ‘fugitive’) was Sarah’s Egyptian maid ( Genesis 16:1; Genesis 21:9 ). Her story shows that Sarah renounced the hope of bearing children to Abraham, and gave him Hagar as concubine. Her exultation so irritated Sarah that the maid had to flee from the encampment, and took refuge in the wilderness of Shur ( Genesis 16:7 , Genesis 25:18 ), between Philistia and Egypt. Thence she was sent back by ‘the angel of the Lord’; and soon after her return she gave birth to Ishmael. After the weaning of Isaac, the sight of Ishmael aroused Sarah’s jealousy and fear ( Genesis 21:9 ); and Abraham was reluctantly persuaded to send away Hagar and her son. Again ‘the angel of God’ cheered her; and she found her way southwards to the wilderness of Paran ( Genesis 21:21 ), where her son settled.

This story is compacted of traditions gathered from the three great documents. J [Note: Jahwist.] yields the greater part of Genesis 16:1-14 and E [Note: Elohist.] of Genesis 21:9-21 , while traces of P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] have been found in Genesis 16:3; Genesis 16:15 f. The presence of the story in sources where such different interests are represented is in favour of its historicity; and instead of the assumption that Hagar is but the conjectural mother of the personified founder of a tribe, the more obvious explanation is that she was the actual ancestress of the people of Ishmael. Whatever anthropological interest attaches to the passages (see Ishmael), their presence may be defended on other grounds, the force of which a Hebrew would be more likely to feel. They serve to show the purity and pride of Jewish descent, other tribes in the neighbourhood being kindred to them, but only offshoots from the parent stock. The Divine guidance in Jewish history is emphasized by the double action of the angel in the unfolding of Hagar’s career.

The story is an important part of the biography of Abraham, illustrating both the variety of trials by which his faith was perfected and the active concern of God in even the distracted conditions of a chosen household. Further interest attaches to the narrative as containing the earliest reference in Scripture to ‘the angel of Jehovah’ (Genesis 16:7 ), and as being the first of a series (Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Naaman) in which the regard of God is represented as singling out for blessing persons outside Israel, and thus as preparing for the universal mission of Christ. There is but one other important allusion to Hagar in the OT. She is mentioned in Genesis 25:12 in a sketch of the family of Ishmael (so in Bar 3:23 the Arabians are said to be her sons); and she has been assumed with much improbability to have been the ancestress of the Hagrites or Hagarenes of 1 Chronicles 5:10 and Psalms 83:6 (see Hagrites). In Galatians 4:22 ff. Paul applies her story allegorically, with a view to show the superiority of the new covenant. He contrasts Hagar the bondwoman with Sarah, and Ishmael ‘born after the flesh’ with Isaac ‘born through promise’; thence freedom and grace appear as the characteristic qualities of Christianity. There is good MS authority for the omission of ‘Hagar’ in Genesis 25:25 , as in RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.]; in which case the meaning is that Sinai is a mountain in Arabia, the land of bondmen and the country of Hagar’s descendants. Even if the reading of the text stands, the meaning of the phrase will not be very different. ‘This Hagar of the allegory is or represents Sinai, because Sinai is in Arabia, where Hagar and her descendants dwelt.’

R. W. Moss.

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These files are public domain.
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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Hagar'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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