A Nagging Wife, a Hen-pecked Husband, and the Birth of the Arab-Israeli Conflict (Genesis 16)

Scripture reading – Genesis 16

Today’s Bible reading (Genesis 16) brings us to both a crisis of faith, and a spiritual crossroads. We will comprehend how one man’s failure to trust God has carried consequences that have shadowed the world, 4,000 years after Abram’s sojourn on the earth.

Years had passed, and Abram’s longing for a son had gone unmet (Genesis 12:2-3). He had complained to the LORD, “I go childless…to me thou hast given no seed” (15:2-3). God responded to Abram’s complaint, and graciously assured him that the offspring of his lineage would be in number as the stars of heaven (15:5).

Genesis 16 – “Now Sarai Abram’s wife bare him no children.” (16:1)

Childlessness in Abram and Sarai’s culture was a matter of shame, and was considered a judgment of God. Children were important to a family, and their presence in the home was believed to be a testament of God’s love and blessing. If a wife was unable to bear a son, the tradition of ancient cultures was that she would present one of her maids to bear children to her husband.

In spite of God’s promises, and assurances, a crisis of faith took hold on Abram’s heart when his wife Sarai murmured, “Behold now, the Lord hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai” (16:2).

Abram was eighty-six years old (16:16), and Sarai seventy-six years old, when his faith waned under the pressure of his wife’s grumbling (the word “voice” indicates a loud, thundering sound, like the bleating of a flock of sheep, 16:2). Sarai was barren, and despondent; and contrary to God’s will, she pressed Abram to abandon his faith in God’s promise, and give her a son by Hagar, her Egyptian maid (16:3).

Abram yielded to Sarai’s plea, and went in unto her servant. When Hagar conceived (16:4), instead of the joy she had yearned for, the conception and birth of Ishmael provoked jealousy and division in Sarai’s household (16:4).

“Sarai said unto Abram, My wrong [sin; violence; unrighteousness] be upon thee: I have given my maid into thy bosom; and when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised [cursed; contemptible] in her eyes: the LORDjudge between me and thee” (16:5).

Abram and Sarai had sinned. They had failed to trust God, broken the sanctity of their marriage, and entangled Hagar in their sin.

Sarai blamed the consequences of their sin on Abram, and called for God’s judgment on them both saying, “the LORD judge [pronounce sentence; condemn; execute judgment] between me and thee” (16:5).

Abram failed to repent of his adultery with Hagar, and allowed Sarai to mistreat her (16:6b). Seeking to escape Saria’s harshness, Hagar fled into the desert (16:6b), and stopped at “Shur,” a region on the border of northeastern Egypt (16:7).

“The angel of the LORD found [Hagar]” and said to her, “Return to thy mistress, and submit [humble; be the weaker, the lesser] thyself under her hands” (16:9), and “I will multiply thy seed exceedingly, that it shall not be numbered [counted] for multitude [abundance; i.e. too great to be counted]. 11  And the angel of the LORD said [commanded] unto her, Behold, thou art with child, and shalt bear a son, and shalt call his name Ishmael [lit. – God will hear]; because the LORD hath heard thy affliction [trouble; depression; humiliation]” (16:10-11). (Genesis 16:7 is the first mention of the “angel of the LORD” in Scripture, and I believe was a theophany, a preincarnate appearance of Jesus Christ.)

Ishmael’s character, and that of his lineage, was described as “a wild man [lit. “wild donkey”]; his hand [power; strength] will be against every man [i.e. a man of hostility], and every man’s hand against him; and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren” (16:12).

Ishmael, the son of Abram and Hagar, would become the forefather of the Ishmaelites, and a branch of today’s Arabic nations. His ancestors have been nomads of the desert for four millennium.

Copyright – 2021 – Travis D. Smith