Genesis Chapter 16  PDF  MSWord

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Go to Bible: Genesis 16
Gen 16:1(top)
Gen 16:2

“go in to my slave-girl.” “Go into” is a common and graphic idiom for sexual intercourse (Gen. 30:3; 38:8). It was a common practice in the Ancient Near East that a woman who could not get pregnant would have children through a surrogate mother that was a slave. From a man’s point of view, if he wanted children he could just take a second wife, but then the first wife would not have control over those children; they would belong to the second wife. However, if the surrogate mother was the wife’s slave girl, the wife would have control over the children. Although this practice may seem strange to us today, in a time when there was no police force to protect people, and no government that would support people in their old age, having a large family, and especially sons, was the best way to assure having protection and support (cp. Ps. 127:3-5; Prov. 31:

Hagar apparently got pregnant very quickly. Abraham came into the Land when he was 75 (Gen. 12:4), and had lived in the land 10 years when he had intercourse with Hagar (Gen. 16:3), so he was 85 years old. The following year, when Abraham was 86, Hagar gave birth to Ishmael (Gen. 16:16). Sarah was ten years younger than Abraham (Gen. 17:17), so Sarah was 75 when she gave Hagar to Abraham so she could have a child. Since she had been so many years without a child, at her age asking to have one by her slave girl seemed like a reasonable request. At the time this request did not seem like it was breaking any promise God made to Abraham. God said Abraham would have children, but in the biblical culture of the time, this was a way to have children, and Ishmael was indeed Abraham’s son. It was only later that God said specifically that Sarah would have a son (Gen. 17:16), and when He did tell that to Abraham, it is likely that Abraham thought that meant Ishmael would die or be killed, because he said, “Oh, that Ishmael might live before you!” (Gen. 17:18). As it turned out, both boys grew and founded nations, but the Messiah came through Isaac, Sarah’s child.

Gen 16:3(top)
Gen 16:4

“of little worth.” Hagar now looked upon Sarah as of little worth, and had contempt for her.

Gen 16:5

“violence.” “Violence” is The Hebrew word is chamas (#02555 חָמָס), and it means “violence,” “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 that 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.

Gen 16:6(top)
Gen 16:7

“Angel of Yahweh.” It is believed by some Trinitarians that in the Old Testament “the angel of the Lord” is Jesus Christ before he supposedly “incarnated” as a human. This point is disputed by many, and with good reason. There is not a single verse that actually says that Jesus Christ is the angel of the Lord. The entire doctrine is built from assumption. Why then, if the doctrine is not stated, do so many people believe it? The reason is that it is very awkward for Trinitarians to believe that Jesus is co-equal and co-eternal with God from the beginning of time, and yet he never appears in the Old Testament. Since one cannot miss the active role that Jesus plays today as Head of the Church, is it possible that he could have been around throughout the entire Old Testament and yet never have gotten involved with mankind? A Trinitarian answer to this question is to place Jesus in the Old Testament by assumption: he must be “the angel of the Lord.”

However, we answer the question by asserting that this is very strong evidence for our position that Jesus Christ did not yet exist during the Old Testament, but was the plan of God for the salvation of man. We believe that physically he began when God impregnated Mary (Matt. 1:18). Exactly what are the reasons Trinitarians say that the angel of the Lord is Jesus? Trinitarians differ on the points of evidence (which is to be expected when working from assumptions), but the standard reasons are: he seems superior to other angels; he is separate from the Lord; he is able to forgive sins (Exod. 23:21); he speaks with authority as though he were God; his countenance struck awe in people; he was never seen after Jesus’ birth, and, most importantly, he is addressed as God himself. All these points will be considered, and we will start with the last, which is the most essential point of the argument.

A study of the appearances of the angel of the Lord reveals that sometimes he is addressed as the angel and sometimes he is addressed as “the Lord” or “God” (see Gen. 16:13 and Judges 6:16). The Jewish law of agency explains why this is so. According to the Jewish understanding of agency, the agent was regarded as the person himself. This is well expressed in The Encyclopedia of the Jewish Religion:

Agent (Heb. Shaliah): The main point of the Jewish law of agency is expressed in the dictum, “a person’s agent is regarded as the person himself” (Ned. 72b; Kidd. 41b). Therefore any act committed by a duly appointed agent is regarded as having been committed by the principal, who therefore bears full responsibility for it with consequent complete absence of liability on the part of the agent. (R. J. Z. Werblowsky and Geoffrey Wigoder. op. cit., Encyclopedia, p. 15. )

In the texts in which the angel is called “God” or “the Lord,” it is imperative to notice that he is always identified as an angel. This point is important because God is never called an angel. God is God. So if a being is called “God,” but is clearly identified as an angel, there must be a reason. In the record in Genesis quoted above, the angel is clearly identified as an angel four separate times. Why then would the text say that “the Lord” spoke to her? It does so because as God’s agent or messenger, the angel was speaking for God and the message he brought was God’s message. The same basic idea is expressed when “God” is said to “visit” His people, when actually He sends some form of blessing [See commentary on Luke 7:16]. God Himself does not show up, but someone unfamiliar with the culture might conclude from the wording that He did. Also, some of the people to whom the angel appeared, clearly expressed their belief he was an angel of God. Gideon exclaimed, “I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face!” (Judg. 6:22).

There is conclusive biblical evidence that God’s messengers and representatives are called “God” (see commentary on Hebrews 1:8). This is important because, if representatives of God are called “God,” then the way to distinguish God from His representative is by the context. We have already shown that when the angel of the Lord is called “God,” the context is careful to let the reader know that the agent is, in fact, an angel.

Another piece of evidence that reveals that the angel of the Lord is an angel and not a “co-equal” member of the Trinity is that he is under the command of the Lord. In one record, David disobeyed God and a plague came on the land. “God sent an angel to destroy Jerusalem” (1 Chron. 21:15). We learn from the record that it was the angel of the Lord afflicting the people, and eventually “the lord was grieved because of the calamity and said to the angel who was afflicting the people, ‘Enough! Withdraw your hand.’ The angel of the lord was then at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite” (2 Sam. 24:16). These verses are not written as if this angel was somehow God himself. There is no “co-equality” here. This is simply the Lord giving commands to one of His angels.

Another clear example showing that the angel of the Lord cannot be God in any way is in Zechariah. Zechariah was speaking with an angel about a vision he had. The Bible records, “Then the angel of the lord said, ‘lord Almighty, how long will you withhold mercy from Jerusalem and from the towns of Judah, which you have been angry with these seventy years?’ So the lord spoke kind and comforting words to the angel who talked with me” (Zech. 1:12-13). The fact that the angel of the Lord asked the Lord for information and then received comforting words indicates that he is not co-equal with God in power or knowledge. It is unthinkable that God would need information or need comforting words. Thus, any claim that the angel of the Lord is the pre-incarnate Christ who is in every way God just cannot be made to fit what the Bible actually says.

It is interesting that two pieces of evidence that Trinitarians use to prove that the angel of the Lord must be the pre-incarnate Jesus are that the Bible clearly states that he is separate from God and that he speaks with God’s authority. We would argue that the reason he is separate from God is because he is exactly what the text calls him, i.e., an angel, and that he speaks with authority because he is bringing a message from God. The prophets and others who spoke for God spoke with authority, as many verses affirm. Also, the angel of the Lord speaks about God in the third person. For example, in Genesis 16:11 above, the angel says, “The Lord has heard of your misery.” The angel does not say, “I have heard of your misery,” as if he were God. In Genesis 22:12, the angel said, “Now I know that you fear God,” not “Now I know you fear me.” In Judges 13:5, the angel says Samson will be “set apart to God,” not “set apart to me.” So although the text can call the angel God, which is proper for a representative of God, the angel never said he was God and even referred to God in the third person.

Also, if Jesus were the angel of the Lord who spoke to Moses at the burning bush, then he did not say so in his teaching. Mark 12:26 records Jesus speaking with the Sadducees and saying, “Have you not read in the book of Moses, in the account of the bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’” If Jesus had been the angel in the bush, and was openly proclaiming himself to be “the pre-existent God,” he would have used this opportunity to say, “I said to Moses.” The fact that Jesus said it was God who spoke to Moses shows clearly that he was differentiating himself from God. However, due to the custom of Author-Agent, we know it was an angel speaking for God and representing Him who is called “God” in Exodus 3:4, and Stephen clearly identified the one who spoke to Moses as an angel (Acts 7:30;

That the angel of the Lord seems superior to other angels is no reason to assume he is somehow part of the Trinity. Many scholars agree that angels differ in power and authority. The Bible mentions archangels in 1 Thessalonians 4:16 and Jude 9, for example. It would not be unusual that this angel would be one with greater authority. Neither is the fact that the angel of the Lord can forgive sins any reason to believe that he is God. God’s agents can forgive sins. God gave Jesus the authority to forgive sins, and then he in turn gave the apostles the authority to forgive sins [See commentary on Mark 2:7].

Although it is true that the countenance of the angel of the Lord occasionally struck awe in people, that is no reason to assume he is God. A careful reading of the passages where he appears shows that sometimes the people did not even realize that they were talking to an angel. For example, when the angel of the Lord appeared to Samson’s mother, she returned to her husband Manoah with this report: “A man of God came to me. He looked like an angel of God, very awesome. I didn’t ask him where he came from, and he didn’t tell me his name” (Judges 13:6). Note that angels had a reputation for having an awe-inspiring countenance, and the woman thought this “man of God” did too, but she still did not believe he was an angel. When Manoah met the angel of the Lord and the two of them talked about how to raise Samson, Manoah did not discover he was an angel until he ascended to heaven in the smoke of Manoah’s sacrifice. Therefore, just because someone’s countenance may be awesome, he is not necessarily God.

It is also argued that Jesus is probably “the angel of the Lord” because those words never appear after his birth, and it seems reasonable that this angel would appear right on through the Bible. The fact is, however, that the angel of the Lord does appear after Jesus’ conception, which seems inconsistent with the premise that the angel of the Lord is the “pre-incarnate Christ.” The record of Jesus’ birth is well known. Mary was discovered to be pregnant with Jesus before she and Joseph were married, and Joseph, who could have had her stoned to death, decided to divorce her. However, “an angel of the Lord” appeared to him in a dream and told him the child was God’s. Matthew 1:24 states, “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.” Two conclusions can be drawn from this record. First, Jesus was already in Mary’s womb when the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph. From this we conclude that “the angel of the Lord” cannot be Jesus because Jesus was at that time “in the flesh” inside Mary. Second, it should be noted that in the same record this angel is known both as “an” angel of the Lord and as “the” angel of the Lord. This same fact can be seen in the Old Testament records (Cp. 1 Kings 19:5, 7).

There are many appearances of “an” angel of the Lord in the New Testament (Cp. Acts 5:19; 8:26; 12:7, 23). From this we conclude that it is likely that the same angel who is called both “the” angel of the Lord and “an angel” in the Old Testament still appears as “an angel of the Lord” after Christ’s birth. When all the evidence is carefully weighed, there is good reason to believe that the words describing the “angel” of the Lord are literal, and that the being referred to is an angel, just as the text says.

[For more on the custom of the Author-Agent, see commentary on Matthew 8:5].

“spring on the road to Shur.” Water was a vital part of life in the Middle East, and the need for water for humans and animals dictated that roads and caravan routes went where there was water. Thus it seems sure that the spring of fresh water dictated where the road went, and not that there was a road and someone dug a spring next to it.

Gen 16:8(top)
Gen 16:9

“The angel of Yahweh.” See commentary on Genesis 16:7, “the angel of Yahweh.”

Gen 16:10

“The angel of Yahweh.” See commentary on Genesis 16:7, “the angel of Yahweh.”

“many, yes, many.” The Hebrew text has the figure of speech polyptoton, “to increase I will increase.” God was promising Hagar that her descendants would be great in number, and He did that by using the word “increase” (rabah; #07235) twice, in effect, “increase increase.” [For more on polyptoton and translating it as many, yes, many, see commentary on Genesis 2:16]. God had promised Abraham that his seed would be very numerous on a number of different occasions, but this promise is specifically of the offspring that would come through Hagar (Gen. 12:2; 13:16; 15:5; 16:10 (via Hagar); 17:6; 22:17).

Gen 16:11

“The angel of Yahweh.” See commentary on Genesis 16:7, “the angel of Yahweh.”

“Ishmael.” “Ishmael” means “God hears,” but in the Hebrew idiom, “hear” is often used in the pregnant sense of hearing and doing something about the situation. Very often the Bible saying God “hears” is not just a statement of fact, after all, He hears everything, but rather it is a statement that God hears and will act. We conflate the REV text to reflect that point.

Gen 16:12

“in hostility to.” This phrase in Hebrew has two meanings. It is literally more like, “over against,” and it means either “in close proximity to,” or “in hostility to,” or both. We think both meanings are meant, and that is certainly the way the history of the Arab tribes has played out. They usually live quite close to each other, and they have been at war off and on throughout history. We felt that the fact that they were at war fit better with the statement that Ishmael would be a wild donkey of man, and so we put that in the REV text.

Gen 16:13

“gone on seeing.” The text is written this way as a word play, or pun, which is common in Hebrew. The essence of the statement is: Am I still alive after seeing him?

Gen 16:14

“Well of the Living One Who Sees Me.” Some versions leave the Hebrew: Beer-lahai-roi.

Gen 16:15(top)
Gen 16:16(top)

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