Hagar, the surrogate mother

According to the Jahwist story in Genesis, chapter 16, after living ten years in Canaan, Abram and Sarai still had no children. Sarai felt that Yahweh had prevented her from being pregnant.  Sarai then offered her Egyptian slave, Hagar, הָגָֽר׃ (Hagar), to Abram, with the intention that she would bear him a son.  Abram agreed and took Hagar as a wife.  He had intercourse with Hagar and she conceived.  Having a second wife for a righteous man was not a problem.  Who is this Hagar?  Hagar was a descriptive label meaning “stranger”.  Some commentators assert that Hagar was Pharaoh’s daughter, thus making her a princess rather than a slave girl or a bondswoman.  Others have identified Hagar with Keturah, the woman Abram married after the death of Sarai.  In the New Testament, Paul the apostle made Hagar’s experience an allegory of the difference between the law and grace in his Epistle to the Galatians.  The Christian stereotype of Hagar as evil was first presented by Augustine of Hippo (354-430), and later expounded by Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) and John Wycliffe (1331-1384).  They referred to Hagar as the symbol of the earthly city or the sinful condition of humanity, carnal, and exiled.  In this story, Hagar became the mother of Ishmael.  Although not mentioned by name in the Quran, she is a revered woman in the Islamic faith.  Thus, some modern Muslim scholars hold that Hagar was never a handmaid of Sarai, rather she was a princess of Egypt who willingly followed Abraham and later married him.  Sarai and Hagar got along pretty good at first, as Sarai treated her well.  However, after Hagar found out that she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress, Sarai, and vice versa.  Sarai complained to Abram, but he said that Hagar was her slave girl, so that she could do whatever she pleased.  Sarai got upset and responded by badly mistreating the pregnant Hagar.  Thus, Hagar fled into the wilderness.  An angel or messenger of Yahweh, מַלְאַ֧ךְ יְהוָ֛ה (malak Yahweh), spoke with Hagar at a fountain spring on the way to Egypt.  This messenger of Yahweh, not Yahweh himself, asked Hagar where she was coming from and where she was going.  She responded correctly that she was fleeing from her mistress Sarai.  This messenger angel instructed her to return to her mistress and submit to her, וְהִתְעַנִּ֖י (wehiṯanni), an important word in Islam.  Then this messenger angel told her about her son to be born, indicating that he would be an important man with many descendants.  His name would be Ishmael, יִשְׁמָעֵ֔אל (Yismael).  Yahweh had heard about Hagar’s misery or affliction.  This angel said that Hagar’s son would be a wild man with a lot of conflicts around him with nearly everyone, including his own family.  Hagar then called God who spoke to her “El-roi”, אֵ֣ל רֳאִ֑י (El Roi), the God who sees me, so that this place got a new name, Beer-lahairoi.  She wondered why she was still alive after seeing God, but she did as she was instructed.  She returned and bore a child named Ishmael, when Abram was 86 years of age.  This vision to a pregnant woman, where she was told the name of the child to be born, who would be something special but troublesome, was just like Mary in chapter one of the NT Gospel of Luke.  The first surrogate mother was treated harshly.  Thus, the first triangle relationship did not end well. What do you think about this story?

Hagar (Gal. 4:24)

“Now this is an allegory.

These women

Are two covenants.

One woman,

In fact,

Is Hagar,

From Mount Sinai,

Bearing children

For slavery.”

ἅτινά ἐστιν ἀλληγορούμενα· αὗται γάρ εἰσιν δύο διαθῆκαι, μία μὲν ἀπὸ ὄρους Σινᾶ, εἰς δουλείαν γεννῶσα, ἥτις ἐστὶν Ἄγαρ,

Paul said, “Now this is an allegory (ἅτινά ἐστιν ἀλληγορούμενα).  These women are two covenants (αὗται γάρ εἰσιν δύο διαθῆκαι).  One woman, in fact, is Hagar (ἥτις ἐστὶν Ἄγαρ), from Mount Sinai (μία μὲν ἀπὸ ὄρους Σινᾶ), bearing children for slavery (εἰς δουλείαν γεννῶσα).”  This is a unique word ἀλληγορούμενα, of Galatians that means to speak allegorically.  Paul was the only biblical writer to use this term of “allegory” and only here in this letter.  The story has a moral element in it.  There were two women involved with Abraham.  Paul here hones in on Hagar and her son Ishmael. Paul said that Hagar was linked with Mount Sinai, where Moses will later get the Ten Commandments.  She and her child and their descendants were the children of slavery.  Paul was drawing a contrast between the son of Hagar and the son of Sarah.  First, he explained the role of Hagar, whose descendants would be born into slavery.  Do you know anyone born into slavery?

Abraham (Lk 3:34-3:34)

This is where the genealogy of Matthew ends with Abraham.  Luke continued further back.  He said that Judah was the son of Jacob (τοῦ Ἰακὼβ), who had 12 sons with 4 different women, that become the 12 tribes of Israel.  Jacob was the son of Isaac (τοῦ Ἰσαὰκ), the son of Abraham (τοῦ Ἀβραὰμ), who was the son of Terah (τοῦ Θάρα), the son of Nahor (τοῦ Ναχὼρ).  Throughout the Torah, there was a continual reference to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  These 3 generations were key to Hebrew and Jewish history.  Their stories can be found in the book of Genesis, chapters 12-35.  Remember that Abraham had a son with his wife’s maid, Hagar, who was called Ishmael.  However, both were sent away.  Jacob had a twin brother named Esau, whom he tricked out of his father’s inheritance.  Terah and Nahor can be found in 1 Chronicles, chapter 1:26, and Genesis, chapter 11:24-32.  Nahor was the name of Abram’s grandfather and his brother.  Abram, appeared to be the oldest, took a wife named Sarai, who was barren.  Later it will be revealed that Sarai is his half-sister, since Terah had a concubine.  They all lived at Ur in the Chaldeans, probably in northwest Mesopotamia.  Terah took his son Abram and his wife, Sarai, and his grandson Lot, and left Ur and went to Canaan.  However, they settled in a place that had the same name as his dead son, Haran.  This may have been part of a huge migration in the early second millennium, about 2000 years before the common Christian era.

The lack of knowledge (Bar 3:20-3:23)

“Later generations

Have seen

The light of day.

They have lived

Upon this earth.

But they have

Not learned

The way to knowledge.

They have not

Understood her paths.

They have not

Laid hold of her.

Their descendants

Have strayed far

From her way.

She has not been heard of

In Canaan.

She has not been seen

In Teman.

The descendants of Hagar

Seek for understanding

On the earth.

The merchants of Merran,

With the merchants of Teman

Have not learned

The way to wisdom.

The story-tellers,

The seekers for understanding

Have not given thought

To her paths.”

The people living today on this earth have not learned the way to knowledge. They have not understood the various paths to get there. They are unable to grab knowledge. Their descendants have wandered far off the beaten path towards knowledge. Thus they cannot hear or see of knowledge in Canaan or Teman. Canaan was the old name for the land of Israel, while Teman was a city in Edom, south of Israel that was well known for its wisdom. The descendants of Hagar, the concubine of Abraham, or the Ishmaelites, were also seeking understanding. However, the merchants of Midian or Merran with the merchants of Teman in Edom have not learned the various paths to wisdom. The story-tellers and even those seeking understanding have not learned the way or path to wisdom. In fact, they have given little thought to this question.

Abraham and Abimelech at Beer-sheba (Gen 21:22-21:34)

“At that time Abimelech, with Phicol the commander of his army said to Abraham, ‘God is with you in all that you do.  Now therefore swear to me here by God that you will not deal falsely with me or with my offspring or with my posterity, but as I have dealt loyally with you, you will deal with me and with the land where you have resided as an alien.’  Abraham said, I swear it.’”

Meanwhile Abraham had settled in Gerar.  So King Abimelech asked him to swear that he would not treat him or his descendants falsely, because he had dealt with him loyally.  Abraham said yes and continued as an alien resident.

“When Abraham complained to Abimelech about a well of water that Abimelech’s servants had seized, Abimelech said, ‘I do not know who has done this. You did not tell me, and I have not heard of it until today.’  So Abraham took sheep and oxen and gave them to Abimelech, and the two men made a covenant.  Abraham set apart seven ewe lambs of the flock.  Abimelech said to Abraham, ‘What is the meaning of these seven ewe lambs that you have set apart?’  He said, ‘these seven ewe lambs you shall accept from my hand, in order that you may be a witness for me that I dug this well.’  Therefore that place was called Beer-sheba.  There both of them swore an oath. When they made a covenant at Beer-sheba, Abimelech, with Phicol the commander of his army, left and returned to the land of the Philistines. Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beer-sheba, and called there on the name of Yahweh, the Everlasting God.  Abraham resided as an alien many days in the land of the Philistines.”

Wells in a dry area are a big deal. So Abraham complained to Abimelech about a well of water that Abimelech’s servants had seized.  Abimelech was upset that no one had told him about this.  Then Abraham took sheep and oxen and gave it to Abimelech and they made a covenant. Abraham then set apart seven ewe lambs for Abimelech so that he could be a witness that he had dug this well.  This almost sounds like a bribe.  The place was called Beer-sheba, the same well that Hagar had found in the preceding story.  So this became the covenant of Beer-sheba. Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beer-sheba and called on the everlasting Lord (El Olam) and remained in the land of the Philistines as an alien.

The dismissal of Hagar and Ishmael (Gen 21:8-21:21)

“The child grew, and was weaned.  Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned.  But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac.  So she said to Abraham, ‘Cast out this slave woman with her son.  The son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.’ The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son. But God said to Abraham, ‘Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman.  Whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that your offspring shall be named for you.  As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also.’  So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.”

They had a big feast on the day that Isaac was weaned.  The first eating of solid food of a baby is still a big celebration in India today.  Sarah did not like to see Ishmael playing with her son Isaac, so she wanted to cast out Hagar, the Egyptian slave, with her son Ishmael.  Abraham was distressed about this affair.  So God said to Abraham not to be distressed but to listen to Sarah, because Isaac is where his future was, although Ishmael would have a great nation also.  The next morning Abraham sent Hagar with her child with bread and water into the wilderness of Beer-sheba, at the southern end of Canaan, where Abimelech and Abraham will have a peace treaty.

 “When the water in the skin was gone, Hagar cast the child under one of the bushes.  Then she went, and sat down over against him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot.  She said, ‘Do not let me look on the death of the child.’ And as she sat opposite him, the boy lifted up his voice and wept.  God heard the voice of the boy.  The angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, ‘What troubles you, Hagar?  Do not be afraid. God has heard the voice of the boy where he is.  Come, lift up the boy, and hold him fast with your hand.  I will make a great nation of him.’  Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water.  She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink.  God was with the boy, and he grew up.  He lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow.  He lived in the wilderness of Paran.  His mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.”

The water ran out, so Hagar put the child under a bush.  Then she sat a bowshot away because she did not want to watch him die.  God heard the voice of the boy crying. An angel of God came to Hagar and asked what was troubling her.  The angel told her not to be afraid, a constant theme of angelic messages.  The angel said the child will be the foundation of a great nation.  Hagar opened her eyes and she saw a well of water, and gave the boy something to drink.  God was with Ishmael as he grew up in the wilderness of Paran, somewhere in the Sinai area.  He became an expert with the bow and got married to an Egyptian woman.  Supposedly Ishmael was 13 at this time, but he kind of appears like a toddler in this episode.

The birth of Ishmael (Gen 16:1-16:16)

“Sarai, Abram’s wife, bore him no children.  She had an Egyptian slave girl whose name was Hagar.  Sarai said to Abram, ‘You see that Yahweh has prevented me from bearing children.  Go in to my slave girl.  It may be that I shall obtain children by her.’  Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.  So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her slave girl, and gave her to her husband Abram as a wife.  He went in to Hagar, and she conceived.  When she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress.  Then Sarai said to Abram, ‘May the wrong done to me be on you!  I gave my slave girl to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May Yahweh judge between you and me!’ But Abram said to Sarai, ‘Your slave girl is in your power.  Do to her as you please.’ Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she fled from her.”

The barren Sarai had an Egyptian slave girl named Hagar.  So she went to Abram and said since Yahweh had prevented her from having children that he should have sex with her slave girl so that she might have a child.  After ten years in Canaan, Abram said okay and took Hagar as a wife.  He had intercourse with Hagar and she conceived.  However, Hagar looked with contempt at Sarai.  Sarai complained to Abram, but he said that Hagar was her slave girl so that she could do as she pleases.  Sarai got upset and treated Hagar badly, so that Hagar ran away.  Here we have the first surrogate mother who gets treated harshly. Having a second wife for a righteous man was not a problem.  Thus the first triangle relationship did not end well, especially for Hagar.

”The angel of Yahweh found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur.  And he said, ‘Hagar, slave girl of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?’ She said, ‘I am running away from my mistress Sarai.’  The angel of Yahweh said to her, ‘Return to your mistress, and submit to her.’  The angel of Yahweh also said to her, ‘I will so greatly multiply your offspring that they cannot be numbered or counted.’   And the angel of Yahweh said to her, ‘Now you have conceived and shall bear a son.  You shall call his name Ishmael, for Yahweh has given heed to your affliction.  He shall be a wild ass of a man, with his hand against everyone, and everyone’s hand against him.  And he shall live at odds with all his kinsmen.’   So she named Yahweh who spoke to her, ‘You are  El-roi, a God of vision.’ For she said, ‘Have I really seen God and remained alive after seeing him?’  Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi.  It lies between Kadesh and Bered.  Hagar bore Abram a son. Abram named his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael.  Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram.”

Now the angel of Yahweh appeared to Hagar at a spring of water on the way to Shur, near Egypt.  She admitted that she was running away from her mistress Sarai.  This angel of Yahweh told her to return and call her son Ishmael.  Although he will have many descendents, he will be at odds with nearly everyone, including his own family.  Hagar then asked: are you El-roi, the God who sees all and yet I am still alive?  This well between Kadesh and Bered, which this is the only mention became known as Beer-lahai-roi, a living well that sees.  Actually Isaac, the son of Sarai will live at this Beer-lahai-roi.  Hagar bore Abram’s son and called him Ishmael when Abram was 86 years old. Thus we have another name for God. This vision comes to a pregnant woman where she told the name of the person to be born, who will be something special but troublesome.