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Go to Bible: Genesis 16
|Gen 16:1||- (top)|
“Yahweh has prevented me from bearing.” In that ancient culture, if a woman did not have children it was commonly believed that Yahweh had prevented the pregnancy.
“go in to my slave.” The literal Hebrew text has “go to,” an 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, especially sons, was the best way to assure having protection and support (cp. Ps. 127:3-5).
Hagar apparently got pregnant very quickly. Abraham came into the Land when he was 75 (Gen. 12:4), and had lived in the land ten 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.(top)
|Gen 16:3||- (top)|
“in to.” An idiom for sexual intercourse (see commentary on Gen. 16:2).
“mistress.” In biblical times, a “mistress” was the wife of a slave’s master. The meaning of “mistress” has changed over time and now one of the primary meanings is a woman who is having an adulterous relationship with another woman’s husband.
“insignificant.” Hagar now looked upon Sarah as “insignificant” (HALOT), of little worth, and had contempt for her. Once Hagar conceived, it was abundantly clear that Sarai, not Abram, was the problem, and besides that, now Hagar had Abram’s child.(top)
“abuse.” “Abuse” is the REV translation of the Hebrew word chamas (#02555 חָמָס), and it means “violence,” or “wrong,” or “abuse,” and in this case “abuse” seems the better term.a The abuse and 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 on 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 an 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.
“into your bosom.” This is a euphemism for sex.
“Look, your slave is in your hand.” This is idiomatic. The essence is, “Look, your slave is under your authority.”
“so she ran away from her.” The Hebrew is more literally, “so she ran away from her face (or “presence”).(top)
“angel of Yahweh.” This is the first time “the angel of Yahweh” appears in the Bible. The phrase “angel of Yahweh” is translated as “the angel of the Lord” in most English versions. It appears more than 60 times in the Bible and appears to be an angel who is high ranking in God’s hierarchy of angels, however, that is never clearly stated and so it could be that “angel of Yahweh” refers to an angel that was on special assignment from God at that time. 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. That point is disputed, 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 assumptions. 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 Jesus Christ plays a very active role today as Head of the Church, it does not seem likely that he could have been around throughout the entire Old Testament and yet he never got involved with people. Therefore, many Trinitarians assume that “the angel of the Lord” is Jesus Christ.
However, Biblical Unitarians assert that the very fact that the text uses the phrase “angel of Yahweh” is very strong evidence that it is actually an angel that is being talked about, and that Jesus Christ did not yet exist during the Old Testament. The biblical evidence is that Jesus began his life when God impregnated Mary (Matt. 1:18). Furthermore, very strong evidence that the angel of Yahweh is not Jesus comes from Hebrews 1:1-2, which says that in old times God spoke through prophets, but in these end days God spoke through His Son. But if Jesus was the angel of Yahweh in the Old Testament, then Hebrews 1:2 is misleading at best and is actually wrong. If Jesus was the angel of Yahweh, then God had spoken through His Son in both the olden times and in these last days.
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 Yahweh; 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, but the fact that this angel is addressed as God will be considered first.
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 Judg. 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:
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 Heb. 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 seen 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 Yahweh replied, ‘O Yahweh of Armies, how long will you not have mercy on Jerusalem and on the cities of Judah, against which you have had indignation these 70 years?’ Yahweh answered the angel who talked with me with good words, comforting words.” (Zech. 1:12-13). The fact that the angel of Yahweh asked Yahweh for information and then received comforting words indicates that this “angel of Yahweh” is not a co-equal member of the Trinity with the same power and knowledge as Yahweh God. It is unthinkable that God would need information or need comforting words. Thus, any claim that the angel of Yahweh (“the angel of the lord”) is the preincarnate 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 preincarnate Jesus are that the Bible clearly states that he is separate from God and that he speaks with God’s authority. Biblical Unitarians assert that the reason the Bible shows that he is separate from God is because he is separate from God and he is exactly what the text calls him, an angel. Furthermore, 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 the angel says, “Yahweh has heard and paid attention to your affliction.” 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,” and not “Now I know you fear me.” In Judges 13:5, the angel says Samson will be “a Nazirite to God,” not “a Nazirite 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 preexistent 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 that he was differentiating himself from God. In accordance with the Jewish custom of Author-Agent, we can see that it was an angel speaking for God and representing Him who is called “God” in Exodus 3:4. Importantly, Stephen clearly identified the one who spoke to Moses as an angel (Acts 7:30), and if Stephen knew that the “angel” was Jesus, and he was trying to convince the unbelieving Jews in his audience that Jesus was the Christ, it seems that his speech to them would have been a good time to say it. The simple reason that Stephen said it was an angel who appeared to Moses is that it was an angel.
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, and an “archangel” is a ruling angel (see commentary on Jude 1:9). 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 Jesus 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” (Judg. 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 “preincarnate 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 one 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. For more information on God coming into concretion, see commentary on Acts 7:55. For more information on Jesus being the fully human Son of God and not being “God the Son,” see Appendix 6: “Jesus is the Son of God, Not God the Son.” For more information on “the Holy Spirit” not being a third Person in the Trinity, see Appendix 7: “What is the Holy Spirit?”]
“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. “Shur” is a desert area just before reaching Egypt proper, in northwest Sinai (cp. Gen. 20:1).
“I am running away from my mistress Sarai.” The Hebrew is more literally, “running away from the face (or “presence”) of my mistress Sarai.”(top)
“The angel of Yahweh.” See commentary on Genesis 16:7, “angel of Yahweh.”(top)
“The angel of Yahweh.” See commentary on Genesis 16:7, “angel of Yahweh.”
“I will make.” Here in Genesis 16:10, we see Yahweh’s angel speaking in the first person, as if he was Yahweh. This is a good example of the Jewish custom of author-agent, where the agent of a principal can act or speak as the principal himself. This occurs quite often (e.g., Exod. 3:6; Isa. 7:10).
“I will make your seed many.” This is actually a continuation on the promise to Abraham that his seed would be like the stars in the sky.
“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.” 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); Gen. 17:6; 22:17).
[For more on polyptoton and translating it as many, yes, many, see commentary on Genesis 2:16.](top)
“The angel of Yahweh.” See commentary on Genesis 16:7, “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.(top)
“a wild donkey of a man.” This “description” has both positive and negative connotations. Desert donkeys were tough and survivors. On the other hand, they were stubborn and contentious. Throughout history, the Arab tribes have been both.
“nearby.” 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. It seems from history that 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 (cp. commentary on Gen. 25:18).(top)
“You are a God who sees me,” This translation seems to be the meaning of the text, and other versions agree (e.g., Douay, Geneva, KJV; NAB; NASB2020; NET; NIV; NLT; YLT).
“Here I have seen the one who sees me!” The Hebrew text is admittedly obscure, and there are several translations that have been suggested by scholars. The REV translation works, (cp. NET), and seems to fit with the way Hagar would be feeling. After having been belittled and harshly treated by Sarai even though she was the mother of Abraham’s child, here at last is God who sees her as she is and supports her and sees value in her. Another translation suggested by scholars is basically, “Am I still alive after seeing him,” and while that could be a legitimate understanding of the Hebrew text, it does not seem to fit the situation and context as well as what is in the REV.(top)
“Well of the Living One Who Sees Me.” Some versions leave the Hebrew: Beer-lahai-roi.(top)
“Abram called the name of his son.” The angel gave the name Ishmael to Hagar, so Abram must have listened and believed Hagar and named the boy Ishmael. In naming the child himself, Abram legitimatized the birth of Ishmael. “Ishmael” means “God hears.”(top)
“And Abram was 86 years old.” So Abram had been in the land for 11 years when Ishmael was born (cp. Gen. 12:4).(top)