God's Promises to Hagar. An Analysis of Genesis 16

Hausarbeit, 2015

14 Seiten


Table of Contents

World 1: The World of the Text
The Situation in Genesis 16

World 2: The World Behind the Text: The Historical Situation
God’s Promise to Abram
Sources of Chapter 16
J Source Narrative
P Source Narrative
E Source Narrative
Reflecting on Historical Context

World 3: The World in Front of the text: Our World

Comparing Genesis 16 to Today’s Society


God’s Promises to Hagar- Genesis 16

World 1: The World of the Text


When one looks to the book of Genesis, the main story, which comes to mind, is the story of Creation, the Fall of Adam and Eve. Next there is Cain and Abel, continuing on to Jacob, to Joseph and from that line comes Moses. Years earlier, between these, the centered character of this paper, are Abraham. Now we hear terms for Abraham that come from God’s promises to him, being a father of many, and a great follower of God. However, looking closer at Genesis 16, it is inevitable for one to question these claims about Abraham, his family, and even to question God’s promises and the truth within them. Throughout this paper, we will look closer at Genesis 16 and the story of Hagar and Sarah, discovering what happens when one disregards God’s will, and how God truly works through every point in time, even when it seems like life is at the lowest point it can be.

The Situation in Genesis 16

In Genesis 16, the problem that is presented is the barrenness of Sarai. She and Abram had not been able to bare any children in their old age, though they had earlier been promised by God to have a child. They become impatient and go against God. Sarai offers her slave girl, Hagar, to Abram in order to bare their child. Sarai says to Abram, “You see that the Lord has prevented me from having children; go in to my slave-girl; it may be that I shall obtain children by her” (Gen 16:2). Now through this chapter, the termslave-girlis used repeatedly, as well as terms that relate to it, being ‘mistress’ and ‘dealt harshly with her’ (Gen 16:6). The major issue within this passage would then appear to be slavery, for it is the story of a mistreated slave, used and abused to bare a child. However, when continuing on, the message shifts from viewing Hagar as a slave, to becoming one delivered by God and given salvation as she runs from Sarai into the desert and is met by an angel of the Lord (Gen 16:7). The major theme of this story is God working to change our hearts, and to accept the ‘otherness’ in the world, as He does with Hagar[1], and blessing her and her unborn son Ishmael by saying, “Now you have conceived and shall bear a son; you shall call him Ishmael, for the Lord has given heed to your affliction. He shall be a wild ass of a man, with his hand against everyone” (Gen 16:11-12).

God is the God of Abram, and Sarai, and as we see in this passage, is also the God of Hagar, and Egyptian slave-girl[2]. Looking in this passage, we see that God does not intercede when Sarai gives Hagar to Abram, nor when she is abused. God does tell Abram to listen to Sarai’s words, sending Hagar off to the desert. When Hagar runs, God confronts her and tells her to return to Sarai. This chapter clearly reveals God delivering in His promises through mysterious means. The big questions to consider, as Andrews states in her commentary on Genesis[3], “Can we passionately live our faith while remaining open to a diverse world? Can we let the final judgment rest with God?” (2015). Throughout this paper, we will look at God’s intervening in the lives of Abram, Sarai and Hagar.

World 2: The World Behind the Text: The Historical Situation

God’s Promise to Abram

This chapter is only minor when put in to a greater context with what precedes it and what follows. In chapters proceeding, Abram shows the Lord that he is a worthy man, denying the King of Sodom the request to give him wealth, for Abram wanted to be wealthy on the Lord’s terms only (Gen 14:21-24). The Lord blesses Abram for his devotion, telling him, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them. So shall your descendants be” (Gen 15:5). This foretells of what will come in chapter 16, through the struggle with Hagar when Abram and Sarai cannot conceive and use her as a surrogate. God had told them that they would have a child, but Sarai, being impatient, advises Abram to sleep with her slave-girl in order to conceive a child for them. Due to this denial of God’s promise for them, they suffer the consequence for their actions. When Hagar runs away and is confronted by the angel, she is told, “He shall be a wild ass of a man, with his hand against everyone, and everyone’s hand against him” (Gen 16:12). In this passage, the Lord is telling Hagar that though she is indeed a slave, her son Ishmael will not be[4]. He will be free and will be both blessed and cursed, in response to Abram and Sarai’s betrayal. This is similar to what we later see through the later periods with the Israelites; a defiance of God, God sends trouble their way; the Israelites repent and are saved. In later chapters following this passage, we see God delivering his promise to Abram and Sarai, granting them the birth of Isaac. Between chapters 17 and 21 of Genesis, there is the struggle between statuses of birthright. As Isaac is born, being the firstborn son of Abram and Sarai, Ishmael is demoted his right of inheritance, and treated as Hagar’s son, instead of Abram’s.

It seems that Sarai is the main cause for distress when it comes to Hagar and Ishmael. At the beginning, she loved Ishmael as her son, but later as Isaac is born, she resented them. Sarah says to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac” (Gen 21:10). Here Sarah completely rejects Ishmael as ever having been her son. Later as Abraham debates what to do, the Lord confronts him and tells him to listen to Sarah (Genesis 21:12). This is a rather odd for a God who appears to be so good and right for them, sending away a slave and her child. It shows how the Lord works in mysterious ways, and that it is impossible to see clearly the long term plan of one who is beyond the world and is omnipotent. As Maalouf points out in a commentary on this section[5], “Ishmael ended up outside of Abraham’s home not because of a curse, but because God’s plan for him was different than the plan He had for Isaac.” Unlike what one would first determine when looking at the passage between the angel and Hagar, the Lord is not curing Ishmael, but merely directing him on a different path than what He has planned for Isaac. Ishamel is to be blessed and saved[6], as the Lord saved his mother Hagar in the desert. On the other hand, he is to be a ‘beast’ (Gen 16:12). God is working in their lives, as He delivers them out of the desert to safety, yet it is difficult to understand how a God with so much influence on Abraham and Sarah would allow them to be sent away. This is therefore a small part of a story with a greater meaning when put into context. It is a prediction of God’s salvation for people of the world, and reveals how change is possible when one waits for his promises to be fulfilled.

Sources of Chapter 16

When taking a closer look at Genesis chapter 16, as well as the passages enclosing it, there are several sources that are incorporated into the writing. James Okoye summarizes this in an article[7]looking at Genesis 16-21 stating, “Scholars categorize these pericopare as J and E, respectively…Between the two accounts is a P account of Abraham’s plea to God on behalf of Ishmael” (2007). The P source, orpriestlysource is written later than the J and E accounts, as determined by scholars. Meanwhile, the J and E sources were written around the same time and are intertwining narratives through this section in Genesis.

J Source Narrative

There are several proofs that can be used when determining the J source within Genesis 16. There is the repetitive use of God as ‘Yahweh’, speaking of the God of Abram as either Yahweh or Lord. Through this passage, Hagar even names God, being the first in the bible to do so, referring to god asEl-Roi.There are also similarities between outcomes within this passage and later passages in the Bible. Sarah oppresses Hagar, resenting her and being the primary reason for her and Ishmael being sent from their home[8]. Later on, it is symbolic how the Egyptians oppress Sarah’s children, after the time of Joseph at the beginning of Exodus. Where once Sarah treats an Egyptian (Hagar) harshly, it will later be reversed. This is another sign of God working in mysterious ways in order to deliver the people of Israel.

The J source is also big on comparing different parts of the Bible, in some ways referring to the future of God’s people. With this passage, it foretells the future of Ishmael before he is even born. This is identified through the verse that says he will defy his brothers and his brothers will defy him (Gen 16:12). This foretells of his being different from his siblings, borne from Sarah and being worthy of inheritance. It also is similar to other sibling rivalry, which has been shown before and after this time, such as with Cain and Abel, Abram and Lot, and even Joseph and his brothers. Okoye goes on to make another good point when introducing the J source[9]in this chapter, discussing how Hagar has a separate god (El-Roi) when compared to Abram, and how Ishmael is put in a similar situation. He seems to be described by the narrator as being a descendant of Hagar, and not of Abram. In their time, birthright was important, especially in terms of who your father is. For Ishmael to be demoted from being firstborn and technically heir to his father’s inheritance justifies his future rebellion against his brothers and his father. Through using J source in this chapter, much is revealed about the future of this family, their descendants and how they see Yahweh working in their lives.

P Source Narrative

This Priestly source is mainly demonstrated through the repetitive talk of God’s covenant with Abraham, and how they constantly refer to this.


[1]Andrews, Susan R.Interpretation (Richmond): Genesis 16:1–16. 68 Vol. Union Theological Seminary in Virginia, 2014. Web. 23 Nov. 2015. Discussing “God’s sovereign right to change, and to startle us into new ways of being. Hospitality is at the core of god’s beating heart”. We need to see the ‘other’ in humanity.

[2]Higgs, Liz Curtis. "Hagar: the woman who named God (Genesis 16:1-13)."Today's Christian WomanSept.-Oct. 2007: 70.Academic OneFile. Web. 4 Nov. 2015. Hagar was found by God and rescued, even though she was: “a slave, not a master; an Egyptian, not a Hebrew; a woman, not a man.”

[3]Andrews, Susan R.Interpretation (Richmond): Genesis 16:1–16. 68

[4]Maalouf, Tony T. "The Inclusivity Of God's Promises: A Biblical Perspective."Cultural Encounters7.1 (2011): 27-35.ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials. Web. 23 Nov. 2015.

[5]Maalouf, Tony T. "The Inclusivity Of God's Promises: A Biblical Perspective."2015.

[6]Sherwood, Yvonne. "Hagar and Ishmael: The Reception of Expulsion."Interpretation68.3 (2014): 286,304,243.ProQuest.Web. 13 Dec. 2015. “This verse and God’s attitude towards Ishmael seem deeply divided.”

[7]Okoye, James C. "Sarah and Hagar: Genesis 16 and 21."Journal for the Study of the Old Testament32.2 (2007): 163-75. Web.

[8]Okoye, James C. "Sarah and Hagar: Genesis 16 and 21."2007

[9]Okoye, James C. "Sarah and Hagar: Genesis 16 and 21."2007 “Ishmael, by being treated by the narrator as a descendant of Hagar and not Abraham, is on the way out of the direct line of promise. The text already envisages him living in the desert and defying all his brothers.”

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God's Promises to Hagar. An Analysis of Genesis 16
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Kaitlyn Vermeeren (Autor), 2015, God's Promises to Hagar. An Analysis of Genesis 16, München, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/323491


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