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Bible: What Does Genesis 16-18 Teach Us About Hagar, Sarah, and the Angel of Yahweh?

Updated on September 8, 2016

Hagar's Banishment

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The LORD Meets With Hagar

Ten years pass, and Sarai remains barren.

Seeking to fulfill God’s promise to him in his own way, Abram, at Sarai’s urging, “goes into” his new “wife” Hagar, their Egyptian maidservant, and she conceives a child (vv. 1-4a).

This turn of events causes enmity between Hagar and Sarai; consequently, the latter turns on her husband, who allows her to do what she wants with their slave (vv. 5-6).

[This episode shows how badly believers can behave.

Why did Sarai turn on Abram?

Did she not even consider that she might have a problem?

Why does Abram allow Sarai to banish Hagar?]

Sarai’s harsh treatment of Hagar makes the slave flee into the wilderness where the Angel of Yahweh (a Christophany) finds her by a spring/well, asks her where she is going, and then sends her back in submission (vv. 7-9).

He also promises her that “wild man” Ishmael—her son and Abram’s child—will grow to be a great multitude “in the presence of all his brethren” (vv. 10-12).

[Does Ishmael’s not being the son of promise automatically disqualify him from spiritual salvation, or does the promise only apply to physical blessings?]

Hagar designates the Angel “the God Who Sees” (v. 13), and the well “the Well of the One Who Lives and Sees Me” (v. 14).

She bears Ishmael when Abram turns eighty-six, eleven years after Yahweh “cut” the covenant with the patriarch (vv. 15-16; cf. Gen. 15:10-17).

The Angel of Yahweh

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Abraham's Responsibility


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The Enlargement of the Abrahamic Covenant

Genesis 17

Thirteen years later (in the year 2107), Yahweh appears to ninety-nine year-old Abram, reintroducing Himself as El Shaddai (Almighty God), and commands him to live blameless before Him (v. 1).

In addition, He promises to make another covenant with him and to multiply his descendants (v. 2).

[This covenant appears to be the one involving circumcision.]

Awestruck, Abram falls prostrate and listens while Yahweh details His part (“as for Me”; cf. 9:7, 9) in the covenant:

(1) Yahweh has established it between Himself and Abram.

(2) God will make Abram a father of many nations.

(3) Consequently, the LORD changes His servant’s name from Abram (“Exalted Father”) to Abraham (“Father of a Multitude”).

(4) Yahweh promises Abraham that he will beget kings.

(5) Not only does God establish this covenant with Abraham, but also with his descendants forever.

(6) God gives the Land (Canaan) to Abraham’s descendants as an “everlasting” possession (vv. 3-8).

Abraham’s part (“As for you”) involves keeping the covenant by circumcising every eight-day old male child either born in his house or bought from unrelated foreigners (vv. 9-13).

No uncircumcised male has a part in the covenant community (v. 14).

Sarai (“As for Sarai your wife”) also has a part to play (v. 15a).

The LORD changes her name to Sarah (“Princess”) [v. 15], and promises Abraham that she will bear him a son in her old age (v. 16).

In four successive actions Abraham falls prostrate, laughs, thinks, in essence, “Impossible!” and pleads that Yahweh might consider Ishmael as his heir (vv. 17-18).

But God has His own plan, correcting His servant’s wish and even naming Abraham’s future heir through Sarah (v. 19).

[Interestingly, the name “Isaac” (derived from the Hebrew word meaning “laughter”) was Abraham’s very response to God’s announcement].

Though Yahweh does not give Ishmael the role of heir of the covenant (“And as for Ishmael”), He does promise Abraham that He will make this son a great nation composed of twelve princes (vv. 20-21).

Having delivered His message, Yahweh “goes up” from Abraham (v. 22).

Verses 23-27 report Abraham’s immediate obedience to God’s command to circumcise all the males; even he himself underwent circumcision at his great age.

[Romans 4:9-12 points out that Abraham’s circumcision occurred after God had declared him righteous; circumcision is merely a “sign”—a seal of the righteousness of the faith he had earlier exercised].

A Third Visitor


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The LORD's Promise to Sarah

Genesis 18

Shortly thereafter, Yahweh, appearing in a Christophany accompanied by two other “men,” visits Abraham while the latter is resting at his tent door (vv. 1-2a).

When the patriarch sees them and immediately recognizes his adonai, he humbly rushes to greet Him and show them all hospitality (vv. 2b-5).

Hurrying into his tent, he instructs Sarah to make some pancakes for the visitors, and tells his servant to prepare a veal dinner; Abraham also provides butter and milk for his visitors (vv. 6-8).

[Abraham had undoubtedly rethought his original intention just to “bring a morsel of bread” (v. 5)].

After supping, the LORD’s attendants ask about Sarah’s whereabouts and Abraham replies, “In the tent” (v. 9).

[Why did they need to ask where she was? Maybe they wanted her to continue listening.]

At this point, Yahweh reveals His intentions to “return” when Sarah gives birth to her son (v. 10).

Old Sarah, eavesdropping behind the tent flap, laughs internally at the prospect of “having pleasure” with ancient Abraham (vv. 11-12).

Knowing all her thoughts, the LORD gently rebukes her unbelief, thus reminding both Sarah and Abraham of His omnipotence and omniscience (vv. 13-15).

Sodom's Demise

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On the Road to Sodom

Departing from Abraham’s tent near the terebinth trees of Mamre, the LORD and His two companions walk toward Sodom (v. 16).

Soliloquizing, Yahweh “debates” whether to reveal to Abraham, His chosen and blessed servant, what He planned to do to Sodom (vv. 17-19).

[He already knew how Abraham was going to react to Sodom’s destruction; undoubtedly, He desired to keep him from knowing this painful news.

Again, His deliberations appear for the reader’s benefit].

Nevertheless, He informs Abraham that He intended to investigate fully the terrible reports about Sodom, and afterwards decide its fate (vv. 20-21).

[Again, why is this trip necessary?

Why does He need to visit the place to see “whether they have done altogether according to the outcry against it that has come to Me”?

Does He “come down” to show His personal concern?]

As the “men” journey toward Sodom (v. 22), Abraham remains with the LORD and attempts to convince Him (using a bargaining technique, vv. 23-32) not to destroy the righteous with the wicked if He finds ten righteous people living in Sodom.

At first, Abraham seems to question whether Yahweh, the “Judge of all the earth,” would do right and not destroy the city if it contained people right with God (v. 32).

Satisfied with his session with the LORD, Abraham returns home as the LORD also goes “His way” (v. 33).

© 2013 glynch1

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