Sarai said to Abram, “This violence is your fault! I gave my slave into your bosom, and when she saw that she had conceived, I became of little worth in her eyes. May Yahweh judge between me and you.” Bible see other translations

“violence.” “Violence” is the Hebrew word chamas (#02555 חָמָס), and it means “violence,” or “wrong,” and in this case “violence” is the better term. The violence that Sarah was speaking about was the way she was now being treated with contempt by her slave girl. This blaming Abraham for what is happening is a very human outcome of a difficult and emotional situation. Since Hagar got pregnant very quickly, it was now more than apparent that Sarah’s not getting pregnant was not due to Abraham, but to her, and that would have had a huge emotional impact upon Sarah. It is even possible that Sarah did not think Hagar would get pregnant, which would have somewhat freed her from feeling responsible that the family did not have children.

This is also a case of all-too-human lack of foresight and planning for a changing situation, or as we know from life, sometimes when we change things there are unintended consequences. No doubt Sarah wanted a child, but she did not think through how Hagar would react to her if she got pregnant when Sarah could not. Sarah was likely so excited about the prospect of having a child that she did not take the time to even consider how getting pregnant and having a child would change Hagar.

Pregnancy did change Hagar, and somewhat for the worse: she now looked down on Sarah. That, combined with the shame and guilt that Sarah felt for not being able to get pregnant led Sarah to blame Abraham for the situation. We must keep in mind that in the biblical culture, for a woman to have children, especially sons, was of utmost importance, and not having them was considered a curse and shameful. God created women in part to have children, so a barren woman was considered accursed and abandoned by God—and it was public, not a family secret that could be hidden. The very first woman, whose name in English is “Eve,” is Hawwa in Hebrew and Heua in Greek, but the Greek “H” is only pronounced, there is no actual Greek letter “H,” so it is written as Eua, and thus we get the English “Eve.” Eve’s Hebrew name is derived from the Hebrew word hayya, to “live,” and thus even the name of the first woman showed that part of her purpose was to give life. Adam knew this, and named his wife accordingly: “Adam called his wife ‘Eve,’ because she was the mother of all living” (Gen. 3:20).

Sarah blaming Abraham for the situation is very human. It is in part blame-shifting, a common human failure that goes all the way back to the sin of Adam and Eve in Eden, when Adam blamed Eve and Eve blamed the serpent. Sarah’s blaming Abraham is also no doubt in part due to the fact that since Sarah had given Hagar to Abraham as a “wife” (more technically a concubine), she felt that he was responsible to help curb Hagar’s impudent behavior and support Sarah better. This explains Sarah’s concluding remark that Yahweh needed to judge between Abraham and her as to who was really at fault.

Abraham dealt with the situation (Gen. 16:6) by reminding Sarah that Hagar was still her slave and Sarah could deal with her however she wanted. Sarah responded to that in a surprising way when you consider how important having a child seemed to Sarah shortly before: she treated Hagar so harshly that even though Hagar was pregnant, she left and headed toward her homeland, Egypt. As we learn from Genesis 16:7-10, an angel met Hagar and told her to return to Sarah, which she did.

Commentary for: Genesis 16:5