Genesis 16:1-17:27 Exploring the Passage

Below are some preliminary questions to assist in the study of this passage. For a comprehensive study of the passage, download the Study Guide (PDF download).

1. How many years had elapsed since the Lord made His covenant with Abram and renewed His promises? See Genesis 16:3 (printed below) What course of action does Sarai now suggest to Abram? See Genesis 16:1-3 (printed below)

Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, bore him no children; but she had a maidservant, an Egyptian, whose name was Hagar. (2) And Sarai said to Abram, Listen, Jehovah has prevented me from bearing children; so I ask you, please go and sleep with my maidservant; it may be that I shall have children by her. And Abram agreed to what Sarai suggested. (3) Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her maidservant—after Abram had been living for ten years in the land of Canaan—and gave her to Abram her husband to be his wife. (Genesis 16:1-3)

Ten years have passed since the Lord renewed His promise to Abram that he would have a son. Verse 3 informs us that the events recorded here took place “after Abram had been living for ten years in the land of Canaan.” Now, through impatience and a sense of desperation, Sarai suggests to Abram a plan designed to “help” God fulfill His promises. Sarai suggests that Abram take her maidservant, Hagar the Egyptian, and seek to have a son by her.

2. When Abram acts on Sarai’s advice, what is the result and what are the consequences? See Genesis 16:4-6 (printed below)

And he slept with Hagar and she conceived. But when Hagar realized that she was pregnant, her mistress became despised in her eyes. (5) Then Sarai said to Abram, You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my maidservant into your arms; and when she saw that she had become pregnant, she despised me. May Jehovah judge between me and you. (6) But Abram said to Sarai, Look, your maidservant is in your hands; do to her whatever seems right to you. So Sarai treated Hagar harshly, and she fled from Sarai’s presence. (Genesis 16:4-6)

Abram acted upon Sarai’s advice and as a result Hagar conceived and bore a son. But Hagar now looks upon Sarai with contempt: because the Lord enabled her to do what He had withheld from Sarai, Hagar no longer treats her mistress with respect. These events bring about another series of unintended consequences. Sarai blames Abram for the attitude Hagar now exhibits (verse 5). Abram informs Sarai that Hagar is her maidservant and Sarai can do with her as she sees fit (verse 6). Now follow yet another series of adverse and tragic circumstances. Because Hagar has treated Sarai with contempt, Sarai now proceeds to make life miserable for Hagar. When Hagar can’t take any more, she flees into the wilderness—still carrying Abram’s son.

3. Who comes to Hagar? What does he say to her? See Genesis 16:7-12 (printed below) What lessons does this teach us about how God expects us to handle interpersonal relationships and about the consequences of our actions?

Then the angel of Jehovah found her by a spring of water in the wilderness—by the spring that is on the way to Shur. (8) And he said, Hagar, Sarai’s maidservant, from where have you come? And where are you going? And she said, I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai. (9) And the angel of Jehovah said to her, Return to your mistress, and submit yourself to her. (10) The angel added, I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count. (11) Furthermore the angel of Jehovah said to her, You are pregnant. You shall give birth to a son, and you shall name him Ishmael, because Jehovah has paid attention to your misery. (12) He shall be like a wild donkey among men. His hand shall be against every one, and every one’s hand against him; and he shall live in hostility against all his brothers. (Genesis 16:7-12)

We might be tempted to reason, Maybe it’s for the best that Hagar left: a sad ending to an increasingly tense and frustrating and complicated relationship, a sad ending to an intolerable situation. But the Lord did not allow it to be the end. The Lord didn’t just let Hagar go, He went after her and brought her back. The Lord instructs Hagar to return and submit to her mistress, Sarai. The attitude of submission would do much to change Sarai’s attitude towards Hagar (cp. Proverbs 15:1). The Lord’s counsel to Hagar shows that He expects us to deal with interpersonal conflicts in a godly way. Note, too, that the Lord also informs Hagar that her son will be “a wild donkey among men” (verse 12). Far from being the promised son, Ishmael will be a rebel for most of his life. What we learn from this whole episode is that the Lord does not just cause the consequences of our actions to disappear. On the contrary, He sometimes causes us to live with them, even though they may be painful and unpleasant (consider that Abram had to watch the life of Ishmael take its rebellious course).

4. What new name does the Lord give Abram? See Genesis 17:5 (printed below) Why does He give Abram this new name? How old was Abram at this time? See Genesis 17:1 (printed below)

No longer shall your name be Abram, but from now on your name shall be Abraham; because I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. (Genesis 17:5)

And when Abram was ninety-nine years old, Jehovah appeared to Abram and said to him, I am God Almighty, walk before me and be blameless. (Genesis 17:1)

After another 13 years pass, the Lord again appears to Abram and once more renews His covenant promise. Abram was 86 years old when Ishmael was born (Genesis 16:16), now he is 99 when the Lord appears to him (17:1) and renews these promises. The Lord now changes Abram’s name to bring it into conformity with the reality of his future identity. “Abram” (Exalted Father) is changed to “Abraham” (Father of a Multitude). Note: this change of name becomes a further pledge of God’s commitment to fulfill His promise; He has given Abram his new name, and if He does not fulfill His promises, then the Lord’s own name will be dishonored.

5. When the Lord announces that Sarai shall bear Abraham a son, what is Abraham’s reaction? See Genesis 17:17 (printed below) What does Abraham request (see Genesis 17:18, printed below?) How does God respond (see Genesis 17:19, printed below?)

Then Abraham fell upon his face and laughed, and said in his heart, Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? And shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear children? (Genesis 17:17)

And Abraham said to God, Oh that Ishmael might live before you! (Genesis 17:18)

But God said, No; on the contrary, Sarah, your wife, shall bear a son to you, and you shall name him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. (Genesis 17:19)

In response to these renewed covenant promises at this late date in his life, Abraham fell on his face and laughed (verse 17). Abraham thought to himself: How can this be? I’m almost 100 years old, Sarah is 90 years old, how can this now happen? Abraham suggests to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before You” (verse 18)—Abraham is requesting the Lord to choose Ishmael to be the covenant son. But God’s reply is, “No; on the contrary, Sarah, your wife, shall bear a son to you; and you shall name him Isaac” (verse 19). The name Isaac (meaning “laughter”) would remind Abraham of his unbelief and of God’s “unbelievable” ability to fulfill his promises.