Summary: Hagar has long represented the plight of the foreigner, the slave, and the sexually abused woman. She was a Slave. She was abused by Sarah, and abandoned by Abraham. Appreciated by God.

Theme: Hagar, the Runaway Slave

Text: Genesis 16:5-16


Introduction: Hagar is both a minor character and an important figure within Genesis. She is an important figure within Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. In Genesis 16, Hagar is introduced as an Egyptian slave woman who belongs to Abram’s wife Sarai. Hagar, could be called as Hagger, meaning “the alien”. Although the Qur’an does not tell Hagar’s story, a collection of the words of the prophet Muhammed extol Hagar (Hajar). Hajar, means “splendid” or “nourishing.”


She was an Abused Woman

Hagar has long represented the plight of the foreigner, the slave, and the sexually abused woman. She was a Slave. She was abused by Sarah, and Abraham. She has been the focal point for oppressed peoples. Her story resonates with sexual abuse survivors, the poor and vulnerable.  Hagar’s identity as an Egyptian woman has led some interpreters to see Hagar as African and dark-skinned woman was enslaved by Sarai as a white female oppressor.

A practice of surrogacy was found in a number of ancient Near Eastern texts. For e.g., the cuneiform texts of the second and first millennia BCE explains that this custom found in ancient Mesopotamia.

The Old Assyrian colony in Anatolia, dates from around 1900 BCE, narrates a marriage contract, it stipulates that if wife does not give birth in two years, she will purchase a slave woman for her husband.

Another reference is found in The Code of Hammurabi (law 146), says that if a wife is not able to bear a child. Her husband has the right to take a second wife, but if she wishes to forestall this, she can give her husband a slave. A slave woman was an incubator.

The Hammurabi laws acknowledge the possibility that a pregnant slave woman can claim equality with her mistress. However, it allows the mistress to treat her as an ordinary slave (law 146). This may be what Sarai is doing. However, Hagar is not passive. (ref: Jewish Women’s Archives).


She was Abraham’s concubine and the mother of his son Ishmael. She was gifted to Sarah by King of Egypt. Sarah gave her to Abraham to conceive an heir.

After pregnancy, Hagar meek manner changed to arrogance. Abraham’s reluctant permission led Sarah to treat her harshly that she fled into the wilderness.


She was an Abandon Woman

Hagar had so many things going against her. She was a slave, a foreigner, and hated by a woman in power. She was an outsider in every way. She was deserted.

And yet, God treats her with so much favor and kindness. Hagar returned to the house of Abraham and bore him Ishmael. Since Ishmael was fourteen years older than Isaac, Abraham was eighty-six years old when he was born (Gen. 16:16) and one hundred years old (Gen. 21:5) at Isaac’s birth. Sarah having borne Isaac told Abraham to cast out Hagar and Ishmael.


Gen. 21:9–10 relates that after the birth of Isaac, Sarah feared Ishmael’s negative influence on her son (21:9).

According to Rabbis, Sarah saw that Ishmael was engaged in idolatry building pagan altars and trapping locusts, which he offered as sacrifices. Ishmael had licentious sexual acts, raping women and mistreating them. Ishmael was man of bloodshed took a bow and arrows and shoot at Isaac.

Ishmael’s conduct was so extreme a fashion as to be totally unacceptable to the spirit of Judaism, the spirit in which Sarah wanted to raise her son. No doubt Environment influences us.


Abraham is distressed, but God tells him to accede to Sarah’s request as Isaac will be Abraham’s heir. Also, God promises that Ishmael will become a great nation as he is Abraham’s offspring. Abraham sends them away and they wander in the wilderness. After the water in the skin is gone, Hagar sits away from Ishmael and prays not to see his death. (Genesis 21:17).


The Midrash explains that Abraham knew that the members of his household were indulgent, fearing lest they give Hagar presents, gold, and silver. Genesis 21:14 states that Abraham “took some bread and a skin of water, and gave them to Hagar. He placed them over her shoulder, together with the child, and sent her away.”

In the Rabbinic exegesis, Abraham put the child on Hagar’s shoulder. According Rabbis, Ishmael was twenty-seven years old at the time, so then why did Abraham place him on Hagar’s shoulder? Because, Sarah had put an evil eye on Ishmael, thus inflicting him with a fever and illness.

This Midrash explains why Ishmael is presented as a small child in the expulsion narrative: he is called “boy” and “child,” and when the water is exhausted his mother leaves him under one of the bushes. Such behaviour is not suitable for a twenty-seven-year-old young man. The Midrash explains Ishmael’s helplessness by the debilitating nature of his illness.

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