Hagar & Sarai

Scripture: Genesis 16


Title: Sarai & Hagar



  • Introduction
  • Hagar and Sarai
  • Hagar and the angel
  • Conclusion



Over the past few weeks we have been working our way through the story of Abram, in Genesis

–         Near the beginning of this series I talked about Abram’s journey of faith (and ours) being characterised as two steps forward, one step back

–         Our journey of faith isn’t always linear or straight forward – sometimes we get side tracked or go in circles

–         Other times we seem to be making good progress in the right direction only to become stalled in our faith or even to regress

–         Faith is a journey – two steps forward, one step back


When Abram followed God’s call to leave his homeland and trust the Lord with an unknown future that was a step forward

–         Then when Abram faced famine in the land he took a step back by going to Egypt and deceiving Pharaoh

–         Since returning from Egypt Abram has been moving forward in his faith, with his amicable separation from Lot and then his rescue of Lot

–         Last week we heard how God made a covenant with Abram – another positive step

–         Today though Abram & Sarai take a step backward as they try to provide a son and heir in their own strength

–         From Genesis 16 the story of Abram’s journey of faith continues…


Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian maid servant named Hagar; so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my maid servant; perhaps I can build a family through her.” Abram agreed to what Sarai said.

So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian maidservant Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. He slept with Hagar, and she conceived.

When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my servant in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the Lord judge between you and me.”

“Your servant is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her.

The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”

“I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered.

Then the angel of the Lord told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” 10 The angel added, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.”

11 The angel of the Lord also said to her:

“You are now pregnant and you will give birth to a son.

You shall name him Ishmael, for the Lord has heard of your misery. 12 He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.”

13 She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” 14 That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi; it is still there, between Kadesh and Bered.

15 So Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram gave the name Ishmael to the son she had borne. 16 Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael.


May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate this Scripture for us


Today’s chapter focuses largely on Hagar. It falls naturally into two parts:

–         Verses 1-6, which deal with Hagar & Sarai’s relationship, and

–         Verses 7-14, which describe Hagar’s encounter with the angel of the Lord

–         First let us consider Hagar’s relationship with Sarai, in verses 1-6


Hagar & Sarai:

The famous mathematician and philosopher, Blaise Pascal once said…

–         “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”


This quote is a bit tongue in cheek, but there is truth in it

–         It is our inability to sit still that gets us into trouble – we interfere where we should stay out of it, as countless land wars in Asia have proven

–         Sadly, Sarai interferes where she shouldn’t and the consequences for hostility are far reaching


Let me tell you a story…


Once there was a boy whose father died when he was 12

–         The boy had a brother and a sister, both younger than him

–         As the eldest child he was inclined to feel the weight of responsibility more heavily than most


His mum was pretty distraught for a number of years after his dad’s passing (she kind of checked out for a while) and so the boy took charge

–         Strangely he didn’t cry at the funeral or even in private afterwards

–         Everyone else was a mess so he had to be strong

–         Naturally, as the eldest son, he tried to fill his dad’s shoes, mowing the lawns, putting out the rubbish, washing the car, locking the house up at night and being a sort of surrogate father to his younger siblings

–         Finances were tight but they got by – he worked part time after school to supplement the family’s income

–         And as soon as he was old enough to leave school he found a fulltime job – after all, supporting a teenage family isn’t cheap


The years went by and the 12 year old boy was soon 19

–         All the adults around him thought he was wonderful the way he helped his mum

–         They wished their sons could be more like him and wanted their daughters to go out with him

–         But the way things appear on the outside is not always how they are on the inside

–         You see, in his rush to take care of everyone else the boy had forgotten to take care of himself


Grief is a debt that must be paid – the longer you leave it the more the interest accumulates

–         Sadly, in the 7 years since his father had died, the boy had ignored his grief and now the repo man was calling

–         The wound in his soul had grown hard, like a boil ready to burst

–         He had become so sensitive that no one could get near him

–         He was anxious all the time and couldn’t relax, couldn’t sit still in a room by himself – busy-ness was his sanctuary, rescuing others his comfort


While it appeared to everyone else like he was pure in heart, helping his family selflessly, his virtue was really a cry for someone to save him


Everything came to a head one day when his sister, the youngest of the three, broke curfew

–         It was a Saturday night and his little sister (who was now 14) had gone to the movies with her friends – or at least that’s what she had told him

–         They had an agreement that she would be home by 11pm – the movie finished at 10

–         It was now after midnight and the boy’s sister still hadn’t come home


It’s funny how it’s the little things that undo us in the end

–         An off-hand remark here or there

–         The hint of contempt in someone’s eyes

–         Not getting a reply to the email we sent two weeks ago

–         Not being acknowledged by someone in the supermarket

–         Being defriended on Facebook

–         Or, as was the case with the boy, not getting a single reply to any of the 15 text messages he’d sent his sister since 11pm


In hindsight he should have remained calm and simply trusted his sister but when you are in as much pain as he was, you can’t sit quietly in your room

–         The sense that he was personally responsible for the decisions his sister made was as overwhelming as it was irrational

–         As soon as she walked through the front door he started yelling at her

–         His ranting about how much trouble she was in and how ungrateful she was for all he had done for her, lasted a full 30 minutes

–         Not once did he stop to listen to her – it was a monologue of judgment and condemnation (hostility conceived in his pain)


At the time he felt totally justified in his tirade – after all, he had sacrificed so much for her (for them all really) – but his righteous indignation was short lived

–         Like many teenagers his sister was both sensitive and obstinate at the same time

–         Normally she would have given back as good as she got but this time her response was to run away


The responsible older brother was a complete wreck

–         His already high level of anxiety went into overdrive and after 36 hours with no sleep, not knowing where she was, he finally broke down

–         The boil in his soul burst and seven years of pent up grief came flooding out – the tears kept coming and he was powerless to stop them


The difficult truth he now faced was that all this time he thought he had been helping his family when in reality he was simply avoiding his pain and his grief

–         Worse than that, his pain was hurting those closest to him


Sarai was sort of like the boy in the story except her wound was not being able to have children

–         There are no words that can do justice to the pain of not being able to have kids when that’s the only thing in the world you want

–         On top of her personal grief Sarai also had to deal with the public shame that barren women suffered in her culture

–         In our culture it is not a shameful thing if you can’t have children

–         It might be a sad thing but no one blames the infertile couple – it’s just considered bad luck

–         But in the ancient near east people did apportion blame

–         In Sarai’s culture not being able to have children made people wonder what you had done wrong to offend the gods

–         This sort of prejudice only rubbed salt in Sarai’s wound and created a feeling of alienation and loneliness for Sarai


Not able to sit quietly in her room Sarai conceives a solution herself, out of her own hurt

–         Sarai tells her husband, Abram, to take her maid-servant, Hagar, as a second wife (or a concubine) and try to have children through her

–         God had promised Abram a son from his own body but he hadn’t, as yet, said whether that son will come through Sarai or someone else


Sarai’s solution probably seems wrong to us, on a number of levels

–         Obviously there’s the polygamy aspect but there’s also the question of whether Hagar had any choice in the matter (the text doesn’t say)

–         But 4000 years ago, in the ancient world, this was acceptable practice

–         In fact, one could argue that Sarai would have been considered by many, in her culture, to be doing the right & noble thing by Abram

–         She can’t give Abram children herself so she provides another woman who can. Abram passively goes along with it


Now just because people in ancient times did something it doesn’t automatically follow that it’s a good idea and we should do it too

–         Genesis 16 is not a license for polygamy

–         Nor is it making an ethical judgement on surrogacy arrangements

–         Much of the Bible is simply description, not all of it is prescription

–         Genesis 16 doesn’t make an explicit statement about the right or wrong of Sarai’s solution – the text simply presents the story and leaves the reader to draw their own conclusions

–         This is what they did and this was the consequence

–         Abram agreed to Sarai’s suggestion, he slept with Hagar and hostility was born


As soon as Hagar knew she was pregnant she despised Sarai

–         Funny how it’s the little things that undo us in the end

–         An off-hand remark here or there

–         The hint of contempt in Hagar’s eyes

–         Pretending not to hear when Sarai called her

–         Rubbing her belly in front of Sarai

–         It all gets too much for Sarai – her dream has become a nightmare

–         She blames Abram for this as many a wife is inclined to do


And Abram abdicates responsibility, as many a husband is inclined to do, saying, “Do with her whatever you think best.’

–         Previously Abram had stepped in when he should have stayed well clear of Hagar – now he stays well clear when he should have stepped in

–         The result is that Sarai (who is in a great deal of pain), mistreats Hagar and Hagar runs away, with the hoped for son in utero


Based on Sarai & Hagar’s experience we would have to conclude that polygamy is not a good idea and surrogacy comes with a pretty big emotional cost


In Genesis 12, Abram chose the fertility of Egypt because of the barrenness (or famine) in the land of Canaan

–         Now here in Genesis 16, Abram chooses the fertility of the Egyptian maid-servant because of the barrenness of Sarai

–         This is one step back for Abram

–         God’s promised son will come through divine miracle, not human engineering


Okay, so that’s verses 1-6, Hagar & Sarai’s very difficult relationship

–         Now let’s consider Hagar’s encounter with the angel of the Lord

–         How does God handle Hagar?


Hagar and the angel:

Well, before we get into that, let me finish the story I was telling you before, of the boy and his sister – the one who ran away


As you’ve probably worked out the girl was 7 when her dad died

–         At seven she idealised her father and this ideal was forever preserved with his passing

–         No man could ever live up to the photo shopped memory of him in her mind – not even her older brother

–         While her brother had an over developed sense of responsibility she was the opposite – dreamy and care free

–         Always leaving things lying around the house, never on time, always losing things

–         She just couldn’t understand why her brother was so intense all the time


After he had yelled at her that night she snuck out of the house and went to hide at a friend’s place

–         No way was she going to spend another minute under the same roof as her stupid family – they just didn’t understand her, they didn’t get her

–         She felt like the only one who understood was her dad and he was dead


Hiding at her friend’s house was never going to be a long term solution

–         After a couple of days she bought a bus ticket and headed for Auckland

–         It was a long drive from Wellington and, as she was sitting at the front of the bus, she got talking to the driver

–         Although she didn’t mean to she ended up telling him her life’s story

–         Funny how you can say things to a complete stranger that you would never say to your family


As the driver listened to the girl he guessed she was running away, although she didn’t say as much


The bus stopped in Taihape to give people a chance to stretch their legs and get something to eat

–         The driver shouted the girl some lunch since she had used all her money on the bus ticket. Then he told her straight…

–         ‘You’re a bright kid and you’ve got spunk, I can see that. It’s a tough deal losing your dad so young. But I wonder what he would think about you breaking up the family by running away like you are.’

–         The girl blushed a little – how did he know she was running away?

–         ‘This guy understands me’, she thought to herself


‘If you ask me’, the driver said, ‘you’re better off back at home with your family, even if your brother is a bit intense.

–         Family isn’t perfect, life isn’t perfect, and kid, you might not want to hear this but I bet your dad wasn’t perfect either.

–         Now I can take you all the way to Auckland if you like but there’s another bus heading for Wellington – it’s due to stop here in about 10 minutes. If you want I can talk to the driver and you can get on board that one, no extra charge. You decide.’


The girl thought for a moment

–         The driver’s words were strong but the truth of what he was saying resonated with her – she knew he was right

–         It wasn’t what she wanted to hear but it was what she needed to hear

–         He wasn’t giving her a sales pitch and he wasn’t tip toeing around her feelings either – he was showing her the respect of being honest and trusting her decision, something her brother never did

–         ‘Okay’, she said, ‘I’ll catch the next bus back to Wellington’

–         ‘Smart move kid, smart move. You have a bright future. No sense in throwing it away over wounded pride’


Later that evening, when she walked into the living room at home, she found her brother curled up on the couch

–         It had been 3 days since their argument – he looked terrible

–         She could see he had been crying – he never cried

–         There was no reprisal this time, no accusation, no emotional blackmail.

–         He simply said, ‘I’m pleased you’re home. Sorry for yelling at you. I can get a bit intense sometimes’

–         She smiled and said, ‘Yea, you can. But no one’s perfect. I’m sorry too.’


Things were different after that – better than they had been


When Hagar ran away, she didn’t get on a bus – she probably made her way on foot

–         If Abram’s camp was still in Hebron then Hagar had travelled about 70 miles through inhospitable territory by the time she encountered the angel

–         This means she had been on the road for at least a week [1]


When the angel finds Hagar he asks two open ended questions:

–         Where have you come from and where are you going?

–         By doing this the angel is giving Hagar the opportunity talk about her past and her future – like the bus driver the angel starts by listening

–         Hagar gives an honest answer to where she has come from but can’t say where she is going – she doesn’t see a future for herself


Then the angel of the Lord gives it to Hagar straight…

–         “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.”

–         Submitting to Sarai is the opposite of despising her

–         This isn’t what Hagar wanted to hear but it is what she needed to hear

–         The angel wasn’t giving her a sales pitch and he wasn’t tip toeing around her feelings either – he was showing her the respect of being honest and trusting her decision. Hagar knew he was right


The angel then goes on to say he will increase Hagar’s descendants so that they will be too numerous to count

–         This is essentially the same as what God said to Abram in chapter 15


The angel tells Hagar to name her son ‘Ishmael’

–         Ishmael means ‘God hears’ – so every time she calls her son by name Hagar will be reminded of how the Lord heard her misery and put her back on the right track, like the good shepherd restoring the lost sheep


When the angel had finished Hagar gave the Lord the name…

–         “You are the God who sees me.”

–         To be seen by God means to be understood and valued by the Lord

–         Not only had God seen Hagar’s misery, he had also seen a future for her and her son


That God would even notice her, let alone go out of his way to restore her hope (by revealing her future) was a profound realisation for Hagar of her worth

–         Everyone, including Hagar, would have thought that God would send his angel to comfort and encourage Sarai – after all, Sarai is the first wife of Abram and she is clearly in a lot of pain because she can’t have kids

–         But the Lord plans to speak to Sarai later – on this occasion God attends to Hagar, the outsider


All this takes place by a well

–         In this way the angel of the Lord reminds us of Jesus who, 2000 years later, would talk to another outsider by a well, the Samaritan woman [2]

–         That woman would also come away from her conversation with Jesus knowing that God had seen her misery – that she was understood and valued by the Lord



Who is it that you identify with most in this story?


Are you in pain like Sarai (unable to sit quietly in a room alone), unwittingly hurting others, even as you try to solve the problem in your own strength?


Or are you like Abram, abdicating your responsibility when you should be manning up and giving your family Godly leadership?


Or are you like Hagar, despising those in authority and running away when the going gets tough?


Or are you like the angel of the Lord, listening to the runaways and putting them back on the right path with words of truth & hope?


Questions for discussion / reflection:


1.)    What stands out for you in reading this Scripture and/or in listening to the sermon?


2.)    Discuss Blaise Pascal’s statement…

–         “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

–         What do you think Pascal meant?

–         Why was Sarai unable to sit quietly in a room?


3.)    What ‘little things’ threaten to undo you (or at least irritate you the most)?


4.)    What does Abram, Sarai & Hagar’s experience, in Genesis 16, show us about polygamy and surrogacy?


5.)    How did the angel of the Lord approach Hagar initially?

–         What difference does listening first make?


6.)    In what sense does God “see” Hagar?

–         (What does it mean to be seen by God?)


7.)    How does the angel of the Lord remind us of Jesus?


8.)    Who do you identify with most?

–         Sarai (in pain)

–         Abram (who abdicates)

–         Hagar (who runs)

–         The angel (who listens and guides)



[1] John Walton, NIVAC Genesis, page 448.

[2] John 4