The Birth of Ishmael1 Now Sarai, ▼
▼ The disjunctive clause signals the beginning of a new episode in the story.Abram’s wife, had not given birth to any children, ▼
▼ On the cultural background of the story of Sarai’s childlessness see J. Van Seters, “The Problem of Childlessness in Near Eastern Law and the Patriarchs of Israel,” JBL 87 (1968): 401-8.but she had an Egyptian servant ▼ named Hagar. ▼
▼ The passage records the birth of Ishmael to Abram through an Egyptian woman. The story illustrates the limits of Abram’s faith as he tries to obtain a son through social custom. The barrenness of Sarai poses a challenge to Abram’s faith, just as the famine did in chap. 12. As in chap. 12, an Egyptian figures prominently. (Perhaps Hagar was obtained as a slave during Abram’s stay in Egypt.)2 So Sarai said to Abram, “Since ▼
▼ Heb “look.” The particle הִנֵּה (hinneh) introduces the foundational clause for the imperative to follow.the Lord has prevented me from having children, have sexual relations with ▼ ▼
▼ The Hebrew expression translated have sexual relations with does not convey the intimacy of other expressions, such as “so and so knew his wife.” Sarai simply sees this as the social custom of having a child through a surrogate. For further discussion see C. F. Fensham, “The Son of a Handmaid in Northwest Semitic,” VT 19 (1969): 312-21.my servant. Perhaps I can have a family by her.” ▼
▼ Heb “perhaps I will be built from her.” Sarai hopes to have a family established through this surrogate mother.Abram did what ▼
▼ Heb “listened to the voice of,” which is an idiom meaning “obeyed.”▼ Sarai told him.
3 So after Abram had lived ▼
▼ Heb “at the end of ten years, to live, Abram.” The prepositional phrase introduces the temporal clause, the infinitive construct serves as the verb, and the name “Abram” is the subject.in Canaan for ten years, Sarai, Abram’s wife, gave Hagar, her Egyptian servant, ▼
▼ Heb “the Egyptian, her female servant.”to her husband to be his wife. ▼
▼ To be his wife. Hagar became a slave wife, not on equal standing with Sarai. However, if Hagar produced the heir, she would be the primary wife in the eyes of society. When this eventually happened, Hagar become insolent, prompting Sarai’s anger.4 He had sexual relations with ▼ Hagar, and she became pregnant. ▼ Once Hagar realized she was pregnant, she despised Sarai. ▼
▼ Heb “and she saw that she was pregnant and her mistress was despised in her eyes.” The Hebrew verb קָלַל (qalal) means “to despise, to treat lightly, to treat with contempt.” In Hagar’s opinion Sarai had been demoted.5 Then Sarai said to Abram, “You have brought this wrong on me! ▼
▼ Heb “my wrong is because of you.”I allowed my servant to have sexual relations with you, ▼
▼ Heb “I placed my female servant in your bosom.”but when she realized ▼
▼ Heb “saw.”that she was pregnant, she despised me. ▼
▼ Heb “I was despised in her eyes.” The passive verb has been translated as active for stylistic reasons. Sarai was made to feel supplanted and worthless by Hagar the servant girl.May the Lord judge between you and me!” ▼
▼ Heb “me and you.”▼
▼ May the Lord judge between you and me. Sarai blamed Abram for Hagar’s attitude, not the pregnancy. Here she expects to be vindicated by the Lord who will prove Abram responsible. A colloquial rendering might be, “God will get you for this.” It may mean that she thought Abram had encouraged the servant girl in her elevated status.
6 Abram said to Sarai, “Since your ▼
▼ The clause is introduced with the particle הִנֵּה (hinneh), introducing a foundational clause for the coming imperative: “since…do.”servant is under your authority, ▼
▼ Heb “in your hand.”do to her whatever you think best.” ▼
▼ Heb “what is good in your eyes.”Then Sarai treated Hagar ▼
▼ Heb “her”; the referent (Hagar) has been specified in the translation for clarity.harshly, ▼
▼ In the Piel stem the verb עָנָה (’anah) means “to afflict, to oppress, to treat harshly, to mistreat.”so she ran away from Sarai. ▼
▼ Heb “and she fled from her presence.” The referent of “her” (Sarai) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
7 The Lord’s angel ▼
▼ Heb “the messenger of the Lord.” Some identify the angel of the Lord as the preincarnate Christ because in some texts the angel is identified with the Lord himself. However, it is more likely that the angel merely represents the Lord; he can speak for the Lord because he is sent with the Lord’s full authority. In some cases the angel is clearly distinct from the Lord (see Judg 6:11–23). It is not certain if the same angel is always in view. Though the proper name following the noun “angel” makes the construction definite, this may simply indicate that a definite angel sent from the Lord is referred to in any given context. It need not be the same angel on every occasion. Note the analogous expression “the servant of the Lord, ” which refers to various individuals in the OT (see BDB 714 s.v. עֶבֶד).found Hagar near a spring of water in the desert – the spring that is along the road to Shur. ▼
▼ Heb “And the angel of the Lord found her near the spring of water in the desert, near the spring on the way to Shur.”8 He said, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?” She replied, “I’m running away from ▼
▼ Heb “from the presence of.”my mistress, Sarai.”
9 Then the Lord’s angel said to her, “Return to your mistress and submit ▼
▼ The imperative וְהִתְעַנִּי (vehit’anni) is the Hitpael of עָנָה (’anah, here translated “submit”), the same word used for Sarai’s harsh treatment of her. Hagar is instructed not only to submit to Sarai’s authority, but to whatever mistreatment that involves. God calls for Hagar to humble herself.to her authority. 10 I will greatly multiply your descendants,” the Lord’s angel added, ▼
▼ Heb “The Lord’s angel said, ‘I will greatly multiply your descendants….” The order of the clauses has been rearranged in the translation for stylistic reasons.“so that they will be too numerous to count.” ▼
▼ Heb “cannot be numbered because of abundance.”11 Then the Lord’s angel said to her,
“You are now ▼
▼ The particle הִנֵּה (hinneh) focuses on her immediate situation: “Here you are pregnant.”pregnant
and are about to give birth ▼
▼ The active participle refers here to something that is about to happen.to a son.
You are to name him Ishmael, ▼
▼ The name Ishmael consists of the imperfect or jussive form of the Hebrew verb with the theophoric element added as the subject. It means “God hears” or “may God hear.”
for the Lord has heard your painful groans. ▼
▼ Heb “affliction,” which must refer here to Hagar’s painful groans of anguish.▼
▼ This clause gives the explanation of the name Ishmael, using a wordplay. Ishmael’s name will be a reminder that “God hears” Hagar’s painful cries.
12 He will be a wild donkey ▼
▼ A wild donkey of a man. The prophecy is not an insult. The wild donkey lived a solitary existence in the desert away from society. Ishmael would be free-roaming, strong, and like a bedouin; he would enjoy the freedom his mother sought.of a man.
He will be hostile to everyone, ▼
▼ Heb “His hand will be against everyone.” The “hand” by metonymy represents strength. His free-roaming life style would put him in conflict with those who follow social conventions. There would not be open warfare, only friction because of his antagonism to their way of life.
and everyone will be hostile to him. ▼
▼ Heb “And the hand of everyone will be against him.”
He will live away from ▼
▼ Heb “opposite, across from.” Ishmael would live on the edge of society (cf. NASB “to the east of”). Some take this as an idiom meaning “be at odds with” (cf. NRSV, NLT) or “live in hostility toward” (cf. NIV).his brothers.”
13 So Hagar named the Lord who spoke to her, “You are the God who sees me,” ▼
▼ Heb “God of my seeing.” The pronominal suffix may be understood either as objective (“who sees me,” as in the translation) or subjective (“whom I see”).for she said, “Here I have seen one who sees me!” ▼
▼ Heb “after one who sees me.”▼ 14 That is why the well was called ▼
▼ The verb does not have an expressed subject and so is rendered as passive in the translation.Beer Lahai Roi. ▼
▼ The Hebrew name Beer Lahai Roi (בְּאֵר לַחַי רֹאִי, be’er lakhay ro’i) means “The well of the Living One who sees me.” The text suggests that God takes up the cause of those who are oppressed.(It is located ▼
▼ Heb “look.” The words “it is located” are supplied in the translation for stylistic reasons.between Kadesh and Bered.)
15 So Hagar gave birth to Abram’s son, whom Abram named Ishmael. ▼
▼ Heb “and Abram called the name of his son whom Hagar bore, Ishmael.”▼ 16 (Now ▼
▼ The disjunctive clause gives information that is parenthetical to the narrative.Abram was 86 years old ▼
▼ Heb “the son of eighty-six years.”when Hagar gave birth to Ishmael.) ▼
▼ The Hebrew text adds, “for Abram.” This has not been included in the translation for stylistic reasons; it is somewhat redundant given the three occurrences of Abram’s name in this and the previous verse.
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