Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. She had a female Egyptian servant whose name was Hagar. 2 And Sarai said to Abram, “Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. 3 So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her servant, and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife. 4 And he went in to Hagar, and she conceived. And when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress. 5 And Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my servant to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the Lord judge between you and me!” 6 But Abram said to Sarai, “Behold, your servant is in your power; do to her as you please.” Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she fled from her.
7 The angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur. 8 And he said, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” She said, “I am fleeing from my mistress Sarai.” 9 The angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress and submit to her.” 10 The angel of the Lord also said to her, “I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude.” 11 And the angel of the Lord said to her,
“Behold, you are pregnant /and shall bear a son. /You shall call his name Ishmael, /becausethe Lord has listened to your affliction. 12 /He shall be a wild donkey of a man, /his hand against everyone /and everyone’s hand against him, /and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen.”
13 So she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, “You are a God of seeing,” for she said, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.” 14 Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi; it lies between Kadesh and Bered.
15 And Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. 16 Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram. 
We would naturally think that the events of Abram’s life we have recently read would lead him to greater unwavering trust into God and his promises of land, Seed, and blessing. After all, God had used Abram to rout a confederation of four great Mesopotamian kings and rescue Lot. Following this event, God showed up and restated his promises of land and Seed, but also confirmed his personal relationship to Abram. God himself was Abram’s reward. When Abram asked to read the fine print of God’s sovereign treaty, God walked the bloody covenant path between carved animals and gave Abram specific details of his plans and a long-term perspective of his land and seed promises. Surely, Abram was convinced that God was his great reward and his sovereign provider and that all God’s promises would be fulfilled in God’s way and God’s time.
Now that Abram had not only heard God repeat his promises but had also seen God enact the ceremony of an ancient Near-East treaty, promising death for himself if his covenant was broken in any way, surely Abram would continue in life-long unwavering faith. God showed up at Abram’s camp meeting and threw his own stick in the fire in the most dramatic way possible. What an emotional high! What a mountain-top experience for Father Abraham. Abram must have been all blessed-up and completely rededicated. And, no-doubt, he was – for a time. He woke up from his vision refreshed and rededicated and singing to himself “All for YHWH I surrender.” But Abram is going to show us the problem with singing hymns with “I” in them. Abram and Sarai’s trust will waiver yet again. Yet again, they will presume to help God out by trying to accomplish God’s promises in their timing and their way. Yet again, a man of wavering faith will listen to his wife of wavering faith and take what she gives him. Yet again the consequences of their sin will create lasting strife upon the earth. Yet again, God will come to the rescue.
CAOS OF FLESHLY EFFORT (1-6)
Abram and Sarai had lived in the Promised Land for at least ten years by the time chapter 16 opens. Despite God’s repeated promises and revelation that his plans were long-term and called for patience, they are still childless. Sarai’s womb is rocky soil upon which Abram’s seed can find no purchase. Human observation and divine revelation are still butting heads. Sarai is 75 years old. Despite the fact that Peter would later describe her as a woman who submitted to her husband and did not give in to fear (1 Pt. 3:6), she still feels the pressure of her culture where bearing many children is the mark of a successful woman. Human observation accuses Sarai of being a failure. From her point of view, her biological clock has stopped ticking. God had promised her husband would produce a promised seed (15:4), but he didn’t specifically mention Sarai. So, Sarai turns to a perfectly legal, culturally acceptable, and humanly logical plan to acquire the promised seed.
“She had a female Egyptian servant whose name was Hagar. 2 And Sarai said to Abram, “Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” Moses tells us Sarai’s slave was an Egyptian, letting us know Hagar was property acquired during Abram’s morally disastrous sojourn in Egypt. Moses reminds his Israelite readers that long before they experienced abuse from the Egyptians, their Father Abram owned Egyptian people as property and dealt contemptuously and abusively with them. Again, we see God takes even our sin and writes it into his great story for his own glory. As an Egyptian, Hagar was a descendant of Ham, not the blessed line of Shem (9:26-27). It was theologically impossible for any child Hagar produced to be in the line of the Promised Seed at this stage of salvation history. It was theologically impossible; but not legally or culturally impossible.
“While we are scandalized by Sarai’s polygamous solution, it was perfectly logical and acceptable in the culture from which she had come as well as in the culture that surrounded her. And it had been so for a thousand years from Babylon to Egypt.” Just one example of producing an heir by a slave proxy is found in Hammurabi’s Code, § 146:
When a [free man] married a [priestess] and she gave a female slave to her husband and she has then borne children, if later that female slave has claimed equality with her mistress because she bore children, her mistress may not sell her; she may mark her with the slave-mark and count her among the slaves.”
Sarai’s polygamous solution was proper in the eyes of everyone but God whose will was made clear at the time of Eve’s creation (2:24; Matt. 19:5). In fact, in the laws of her culture it was her obligation to provide Abram a fertile salve woman. Hagar was Sarai’s personal property. But Sarai’s choice of a slave out of the line of Ham discounted both God’s power and his promise to bring blessing through Shem’s line. It likely violated Hagar’s consent as well. But Hagar was a nobody; she was property, not a person. Although, bearing Abram a son raised her status from a mere slave to that of a combination concubine-wife.
Though Sarai’s plan involved sacrificing her exclusive relationship with her husband, her scheme was wrong against God’s promised line of blessing, wrong against her husband (leading him out of his path of waiting upon YHWH’s timing), wrong against Hagar (violating her rights a human creation of the Lord), and wrong against Sarai herself (robbing her of the high privilege of marriage and leading her into further disobedience). There’s also irony in this story. In Egypt, trustless Abram had given Sarai over to the Egyptian Pharaoh. Now back in Canaan, untrusting Sarai gave Abram over to her Egyptian servant. The consequences of Abram’s sins in Egypt continued to pay off even after a decade back in the promised land.
Abram’s passive conduct is even more scandalous than Sarai’s culturally permissible plan. It follows the same pattern as Adam and Eve’s sin in Genesis 3. Here Abram listened to his wife (2), just as Adam listened to his (3:17). Here Sarai took Hagar (3a), just as Eve took the fruit (3:6a). Here Sarai gave Hagar to her husband (3b), just as Eve gave the fruit to hers (3:6b). And in both cases the man willingly and knowingly partook. In great faith, Abram had chased the armies of Mesopotamia for 120 miles and thoroughly routed them. Now, in weak faith, Abram listens to his wife instead of God’s promises and he falls. Abram and Sarai trusted into their own abilities to “help God out” with his promises while ignoring God’s the revelation that God’s Promised Seed would come through a direct line from Shem. The couple does an “end run” around God’s plan in God’s time to get their version of their best life now.
Even if there were no more Bible passages than this to go on, we know that this was not God’s way of solving Abram’s difficulty. But we do have another passage in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, where the apostle writes about this incident and relates it to those who are children of bondage versus those who are children of the promise:
For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. 23 But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. 24 Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. 
Paul’s discussion becomes highly technical in the following verses. But what is clear for our purposes is that Hagar’s child could not have become the Promised Seed.
One thing we note in Genesis 16:3-6 is that when we stop trusting God – no matter how reasonable our observations seem compared to his revelation –we begin to blame God and other people for the consequences of our own sins. Sarai is a prime example. “So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her servant, and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife. 4 And he went in to Hagar, and she conceived. And when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress. 5 And Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my servant to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the Lord judge between you and me!”
Sarai conceived her socially acceptable plan by blaming God: “Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children” (16:2). Now, when her plan produces an arrogant slave woman proud of her new-found status as the mother of the heir apparent, she blames Abram: “May the wrong done to me be on you!” “This always happens when we stop trusting God. We do wrong. We say God caused it to occur. Then, when our plans go sour, we blame either God or others for the outcome. The difficulty is not with God. The sin is in ourselves. The fault is in our own bad choices. Abram was at fault. Sarai was at fault.” 
Things begin to fall apart. Applying the world’s solutions to a problem that arises from a lack of trust in God produces a landslide of misery. Logically, Sarai was wrong to place all the blame at Abram’s feet. This was her plan to which Abram merely acquiesced. But in fact, Sarai was also right. Abram was God’s prophet. He directly received God’s promises. He knew the Promised Seed could not possibly come out of the line of Noah’s cursed son Ham. He let his and Sarai’s observations trump God’s revelation. He chose to be his own god and create his own solution. Sarai uses the word “wrong” (Heb. “violence”), indicating she was suffering – a suffering from which a trusting Abram could have saved her if he had refused her plan. Sarai appealed to God as the judge who sees all and knows all – and, as we’ll see, he was watching.
Abram could have played the man. He could have accepted full blame, reassured his wife, and kindly but firmly corrected Hagar. But he did none of those things. He hid behind the law of the Code of Hammurabi which allowed Sarai to brand her with a mark indicating her to be the lowest of slaves. It was a legally and culturally acceptable way to deal with sin, and Abram took it as his way out of the mess he created. “6 But Abram said to Sarai, ‘Behold, your servant is in your power; do to her as you please.’ Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she fled from her.” Notice how Hagar has become a “thing.” Neither Abram nor Sarai mention Hagar by name. To both of them, Hagar has become an icon of their sin and shame
Kent Hughes sums up the story so far, writing:
The thing that shouts loudest here in the story is that there was not an honorable character in the lot. All were ignoble. Abram was the worst. He was pathetic, passive, impotent, and uncaring of either woman. Neither woman had any compassion on the other. Sarai was worse, but you get the idea that Hagar would have done the same if she could. Notwithstanding, Hagar was the prime victim. And Sarai was a not-so-distant second. Remember that it all began when people of faith began to distrust God’s word.
It’s sad to watch people of faith distrust and rationalize their way out of God’s revealed will. As a pastor, it’s heart-breaking to see people worm their way out of Jesus-dependence because they refuse to accept God’s work in God’s way and in God’s time. Some Christians create such complications and horrible consequences from their distrust that there can be no solution left in this earthly life. There is always grace available from a generous, forgiving God. But the consequences of some sins can never be taken back and brings only pain for generations to come. Christian, take note of this story! It’s a warning for all who are rationalizing their way out of God’s will and into the head-on train wreck of sin’s disastrous consequences.
GOD SEES AND RESCUES (7-16)
Used, abused, and desperate Hagar runs away. Far away. She has made it to Shur, near the border with Egypt (Gen. 25:18; 1 Sam. 15:7). She has run from Abram’s camp in Beersheba, through Kadesh-Barnea to the Bitter Lakes in the northwestern Sinai desert. She was fleeing back to Egypt, back to her fellow descendants of Ham with her unborn half-Shemite baby. And she was almost back in her homeland when the Angel of the Lord showed up.
“7 The angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur.” From this interaction, Hagar would learn that the Angel of the Lord was God himself. As we learned studying Revelation, the Angel of the Lord is a Christ figure. In Genesis 48:16, Joseph describes him as “the angel who has redeemed me from all evil.” The most likely explanation for this angel is that he is the pre-incarnate God the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. The angel knows everything about this lowly and despised slave woman and speaks with the authority of God:
8 And he said, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” She said, “I am fleeing from my mistress Sarai.” 9 The angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress and submit to her.” 10 The angel of the Lord also said to her, “I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude.”
The world, the flesh, and the devil have a way of making all of us feel small and insignificant, beaten down and hopeless. So far in Genesis, Moses has concentrated on the stories of important people – patriarchs. But here he shifts the focus to an oppressed, despised, pregnant slave woman. If you’re feeling tiny and unimportant for some reason today, this is your story! You cannot get more “last, lost, least, and little” than Hagar fleeing from oppression in the Promised Land and back to Egypt. There are numerous instances where God promises descendants to the Patriarchs. There are six promises to Abram (12: 2; 13: 14-16; 15: 5; 17: 8; 18: 14; 22: 17). There is one each to Isaac and Jacob (26: 4; 28: 3, 4). This oppressed and violated slave is the only women to whom God appears and promises he will make a great nation of her descendants. She is the only matriarch to receive such an honor from God. God values the last, the lost, the least, the little, and the dead. There are many verses in the Bible to show that God is especially attentive to the cry of the distressed. Are you one? Then cry out to him. You will find that he is not far from you and that he hears your cry. King David sang, “This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles.” 
Having promised her matriarchal glory, the Lord declares the gender, name, character, and future of her child. “Behold, you are pregnant and shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, because the Lord has listened to your affliction. 12 He shall be a wild donkey of a man, his hand against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen.”  The name Ishmael means, “God has heard.” Every time she would speak the name of her child, she would testify to the fact that God rescues the last, the lost, the least, the little, and the dead.
Ismael would be like a wild donkey in the desert. In the Old Testament, wild donkeys are figures of rugged individualism who live outside the constraints of social conventions (Jer. 2:24; Hosea 8:9). He was to be wild, a free Bedouin who lived in conflict with those around him. “To some degree this son of Abram would be a shadow, almost a parody, of his father, his twelve princes notable in their times (17:20; 25:13) but not in the history of salvation; his restless existence no pilgrimage but an end in itself; his nonconformism a habit of mind, not a light to the nations.”
Ismael’s offspring became and remain enemies of God’s people. They claim Abram as their father through Ishmael, the firstborn, and believe themselves to be Abram’s true representatives on earth. We never foresee the consequences of our sin. Abram and Sarai were no different. They never foresaw that their refusal to rest in God’s will and timing would produce lasting conflict in the world and spill blood for millennia to come. Out of his faithlessness, Abram had fathered a troubled seed that lives in conflict with the Promised Seed to this very day. God forgives sin, but he rarely saves us from sin’s consequences.
Hagar’s response to God’s message was wonderful. “13 So she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, ‘You are a God of seeing,’ for she said, ‘Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.’ 14 Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi; it lies between Kadesh and Bered.”  Rather than celebrate the promised status of her child and the fact that she would be an honored matriarch, she celebrated God. She was amazed that he would not only see but also reach out to such a lowly figure. In awe and wonder she created two names— one for God and the other for the place. Both celebrate the same reality— God’s omniscience. She named God, “You are a God of seeing.” She named the well “well of the living one who sees me.”
Hagar saw that all her knowledge of God was completely dependent upon his initiative in knowing her. She was not seeking Abram’s God. Abram’s God came to seek and save her. Hagar was the only person in the entire Bible to give a name to God. Further, because she trusted into God’s word, she acted upon that trust and returned to the hard situation from which she had run. She walked all the way back through Kadeah-barnea to Abram’s tents in Beersheba where she submitted to Sarai. She believed God and became a child of grace dwelling in the tents of Shem.
Moses pens an epilogue to this brief story. “15 And Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. 16 Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram.” From this we learn that she testified to Abram of her newfound relationship to his God. It’s clear Abram believed her change in trust since he gave the child the name God commanded. In the midst of Abram and Sarai’s sinful mess, Hagar found grace. But the consequences of their sins would continue to haunt them all. Sarai and Hagar’s conflict only intensified with Isaac’s birth. Hagar and Ishmael would be kicked out and come close to death before they returned to their Hamite roots in Paran where Ishmael would father twelves patriarchs of his own line.
It’s tragic when we abandon our trust into God as the One who sovereignly ordains and sustains all things simply because we don’t like our hard circumstances. For whatever does not proceed from trust is sin. There is grace and forgiveness for those who repent and return. Christ comes to the oppressed slaves in the wilderness. He comes to Abram and Sarai. He ministers grace to the repentant sinner. Sometimes he restores the years the locusts have eaten. But the consequences of some sins will never be undone, some things remain scarred until we reach Mt Zion.
Are you tired of waiting on Jesus to deliver something you believe you cannot live without? Are you searching an expedient way to achieve some result you believe you must have for your personal happiness? Are you working to rationalize your way around God’s will in God’s Word? If so, stop and take a deep breath. Take some time. Consult with a wise believer. Read God’s Word. Think. Pray. And obey the revealed will of God.”
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ge 16:1–16.
 Hughes, 238. Kindle Edition.
 Hamilton, 444.
 Id., 446.
 Boice, 569–570.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ga 4:22–24.
 Boice, 570.
 Hughes, 241. Kindle Edition.
 Id., 242. Kindle Edition.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ps 34:6.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ge 16:11–12.
 Kidner, 138.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ge 16:13–14.
 Hughes, 243. Kindle Edition.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ro 14:23.
 Hughes, 244. Kindle Edition.