Summary: Abraham was a man who seemed to struggle with relationships and created a 4000 year old problem.
As we continue to walk with Abram through his tests, I am amazed at the similarities in my life and his. We both have begun a new journey. We both have made choices on who we shall depend for our needs to be met. We both have had to guard against bitterness. And today we will talk about relationships.
Let us begin by reading Genesis 16:1-6 “Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had not been able to bear children for him. But she had an Egyptian servant named Hagar. So Sarai said to Abram, “The Lord has prevented me from having children. Go and sleep with my servant. Perhaps I can have children through her.” And Abram agreed with Sarai’s proposal. So Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian servant and gave her to Abram as a wife. (This happened ten years after Abram had settled in the land of Canaan.)
So Abram had sexual relations with Hagar, and she became pregnant. But when Hagar knew she was pregnant, she began to treat her mistress, Sarai, with contempt. Then Sarai said to Abram, “This is all your fault! I put my servant into your arms, but now that she’s pregnant she treats me with contempt. The Lord will show who’s wrong—you or me!”
Abram replied, “Look, she is your servant, so deal with her as you see fit.” Then Sarai treated Hagar so harshly that she finally ran away.”
I have heard many people want to beat up on poor Abram about his relationship with Hagar. However, we must look at this story in the atmosphere of their culture. These things were natural and acceptable then. In addition, she was actually given the privilege of becoming his wife. Abram also had many concubines. A concubine was a woman who was probably a slave and, being of lower status, could not marry the man. Sarai gave her to Abram, freeing her from being a slave and therefore eligible to be his wife.
Why would she do this? In an archeological dig, it was discovered that this was a common practice in Mesopotamia in the second and first millennia. A text was discovered dating to about 1900 b. c. It was a marriage contract that stipulates that if the wife does not give birth in two years, she will purchase a slave woman for the husband. This was done to prevent the husband from exercising his right to take a second wife. This slave woman could be seen as an incubator, much like a surrogate mother would be today.
Once Hagar became pregnant she became disrespectful toward Sarai. She was no longer a slave but Abram’s wife and now soon to be the mother of his child. Sarai was not angry over Abram’s actions or the pregnancy. She was angry over the disrespect that was being shown to her by this ex-slave.
So to keep peace in the family Abram reduced Hagar’s status back to one of being a slave and returned her to Sarai.
As the story continues, we read, “So Hagar gave Abram a son, and Abram named him Ishmael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Ishmael was born.” (Gen 16:15-16)
I imagine Abram was happy to finally have a son. God had spoken to him in a vision that he indeed would one day have a son to inherit his wealth and that his descendants would be more numerous that the stars. God made a covenant with Abram that night. However, there was a problem. It was God’s intention for the promise to come through Sarai and not Hagar. Abram, without intent to be disobedient to God, had actually circumvented what God desired and created a problem that plagues us today.
The story continues to unfold. God comes again to Abram. About 13 years have passed. Ishmael is now a teenager living in a strange situation. His biological mom is a slave, his step-mom is her mistress, and his dad seems to be uninvolved in the battle. However it seems that God’s plan has changed a bit. Abram was to be a father of a great nation. Now God says he will be the father of many nations and changes his name to Abraham. And Sarai would be the mother of many nations and changes her name to Sarah.
Another 3 years has passed. Ishmael would be about 16 years old. The time has come to wean Isaac. We read in Genesis 21:8-14 “When Isaac grew up and was about to be weaned, Abraham prepared a huge feast to celebrate the occasion. But Sarah saw Ishmael—the son of Abraham and her Egyptian servant Hagar—making fun of her son, Isaac. So she turned to Abraham and demanded, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son. He is not going to share the inheritance with my son, Isaac. I won’t have it!”