Genesis 16

Genesis 16:1 Sarai… had an handmaid, an Egyptian, whose name was Hagar
Hagar likely joined Sarai and Abram when they were in Egypt and not before. Some Rabbinical writings suggest that Hagar was not some poor Egyptian waif but the daughter of Pharaoh:
“A Midrash claims that Hagar was Pharaoh’s daughter and royalty in her own right, ‘for he preferred to see his daughter the servant of Sarah to reigning as mistress in another harem’ (Ginzgberg, Legends, 1:223). It seems more likely that Hagar was either an Egyptian child sold by her parents into slavery or a slave born to other Egyptian slaves within Abram and Sarai’s household.” (Camille Fronk Olson, Women of the Old Testament, [SLC: Deseret Book, 2009], 37)
“The temptation is to paint her as the nemesis, the intruder, the foreigner to faith. The biblical text, however, does not allow such an interpretation. Hagar directly communed with God, received inspired directions, and was promised eternal blessings. Unquestionably, God loved Hagar and acknowledged her goodness… A Midrash describes Sarai as Hagar’s spiritual teacher… ‘Taught and bred by Sarah, [Hagar] walked in the same path of righteousness as her mistress.’” (Camille Fronk Olson, Women of the Old Testament, [SLC: Deseret Book, 2009], 29, 37)
Genesis 16:2 Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, the Lord hath restrained me from bearing
Many modern women have little interest in having children. Not so for Latter-day Saints, nor for Sarai. The old term for an infertile woman is “barren” (Gen. 11:30), like an empty desolate space, a desert, or a lifeless wasteland. Unfortunately, this is how worthless and empty some infertile women feel. We can only imagine how difficult this was for Sarai. She must have known all the promises of the Lord to Abram—a posterity as numerous as the stars in the heavens or the sands of the seashore—but she couldn’t produce the first grain of sand. It must have been terribly confusing and frustrating for her.
“Infertility is not uncommon—some 15 percent of couples in the United States have difficulty conceiving a child; other countries throughout the world show similar figures. In 40 percent of instances, the wife is infertile. In another 40 percent, the problem rests with the husband. In 10 percent of cases, both are infertile, and in the remaining 10 percent, the cause is unknown. In the context of the Church, where the family is celebrated as the fundamental unit of society, not having children can be an especially difficult challenge. (“Faith and Infertility,” Melissa Merrill, Ensign Apr. 2011)
“All through my growing-up years, I dreamed of my future family. When I married the man of my dreams, we both had great hope and expectations for our family. He wanted a dozen children; I thought five or six would be fine. As time went on and no children came, we began a roller-coaster ride of hope and disappointment. After years of no success, the emotional pain became intense, and I focused almost exclusively on the elusive baby, which I thought would heal all my heartache.
“This absorption brought about a downward cycle in my life. Not knowing how to deal with my disappointment and despair, I built an emotional wall around myself, trying to shut out the pain. The wall provided a buffer that protected me, for a time, from anyone or anything that reminded me that I had no children…
“The most difficult aspect of infertility to overcome was the effect that it had on my feelings of self-worth. During those pain-filled years, I mistakenly felt that because I could not have children, I must be of no worth. The resulting depression and despair only made my feelings of worthlessness worse.
“Through prayer and scripture study, I learned that the source of my depression was Satan and that his influence can be overcome by going to the Lord for help and then acting upon the impressions received. One of the scripture study topics I felt to focus on was that of charity, the pure love of Christ. Learning about charity brought new insight, for I recognized a source of true and lasting self-worth—the love of our Heavenly Father and our Savior for us all. The more I studied about charity, the greater my desire to feel the pure love of Christ in my life, to know that he loves me even with all my imperfections and problems.
“What a glorious day it was when I knelt and asked if I was loved by my Heavenly Father and his Son. The joy that filled my soul as a result was indescribable. I understand now, to a greater degree, why Mormon tells us: “Pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are the true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ” (Moro. 7:48). (Janet Nelson Christensen, “I Yearned for a Baby,” Ensign, Aug. 1996, 52-53)
Mark E. Petersen
The promises made to Abraham that he and Sarah would yet have a vast posterity seemed ironic in the face of her sterility. The Lord had told them that great nations would come of them, but they had to wait some fifty years for the birth of their son, Isaac.
Sarah did not at any time feel certain that the Lord would keep his word. She had laughed when the promise was made, realizing that she was beyond the usual childbearing period.
In her impatience, as she waited for a child of her own, and not too sure that she would ever have one, she began to feel that posterity would have to come in another way. She felt disgraced in not having become a mother. It was customary in those days when a wife was sterile that she might give her husband a servant woman to serve as her proxy in bearing children to be credited to herself. Hagar was such a servant. (Abraham: Friend of God [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1979], 75)
Genesis 16:2 go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her
“In scriptural text, Hagar is referred to as a ‘concubine’ (Genesis 25:6; D&C 132:37). With none of the immoral overtones inherent in the label today, a concubine in the ancient Near East was a legal wife who was elevated from servant status by her marriage. Her increased status did not, however, equal that of the chief wife, who was always a free woman. Although a legitimate wife to her husband, a concubine remained a servant to her mistress, who could discipline or sell her at will. Receiving free status and giving birth often added confusion to her status in the family and threatened to reverse her importance with that of the chief wife. The ancient Babylonian law, the Code of Hammurabi, rescinded freedom and status should a concubine assume equality with her mistress. The regulation reads, ‘If a man take a wife and she give this man a maid-servant as wife and she bear him children, and then this maid assume equality with the wife: because she has borne him children her master shall not sell her for money, but he may keep her as a slave, reckoning her among the maid-servants’ (no. 146). The ancient Babylonian custom parallels the dynamics between Sarai and Hagar when Hagar knew she had conceived a child (Genesis 16:4-6). Sarai’s remorse after Hagar became pregnant may have been out of fear that Hagar would supplant her as chief wife. Likewise, Hagar’s ‘despising’ of Sarai suggests that Sarai’s importance and status had diminished in Hagar’s eyes. The distinction between authority and possession was beginning to blur.” (Camille Fronk Olson, Women of the Old Testament, [SLC: Deseret Book, 2009], 37-38)
Genesis 16:3 Sarai… gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife
“The decision for Abram to marry an additional wife, however, may not have been theirs alone to make. Extrabiblical sources support the idea that Sarai and Abram acted in obedience to God in this matter. The Jewish historian Josephus indicated that ‘Sarai, at God’s command, brought to [Abram’s] bed one of her handmaidens, a woman of Egyptian descent, in order to obtain children by her’ (Antiquities, 1.10.4)… Finally, through revelation given to Joseph Smith, we learn from the Lord that ‘[Sarah] administered unto Abraham according to the law when I commanded Abraham to take Hagar to wife’ (D&C132:65). Knowing that God willed Hagar to be included in this marriage trio and that she must have therefore believed in Abram’s God directs us to consider her with equal acceptance.” (Camille Fronk Olson, Women of the Old Testament, [SLC: Deseret Book, 2009], 37)
God commanded Abraham, and Sarah gave Hagar to Abraham to wife. And why did she do it? Because this was the law; and from Hagar sprang many people. This, therefore, was fulfilling, among other things, the promises.
Was Abraham, therefore, under condemnation? Verily I say unto you Nay; for I, the Lord, commanded it. (D&C 132:34-35)
“Joseph Smith was given additional insights into requirements made of individuals in ancient times. The Patriarch Abraham was instructed to take Hagar, the servant of Sarah, as a second wife, in order to bring to pass the promises made earlier to the Father of the Faithful—that his posterity would be as numerous as the stars in the heavens or the sands upon the seashore (Gen. 22:17; Abr. 3:14). This modern revelation helps to clarify the Old Testament story considerably (see Gen. 16), and shows that the decision to take an additional wife was a God-inspired directive, and not simply a desperate move by Sarah to insure posterity for her grieving husband. Joseph Smith was told that because of Abraham's perfect obedience he was granted the privilege of eternal increase. The Lord then said to Joseph: "This promise is yours also, because ye are of Abraham, and the promise was made unto Abraham." Then came the command to Joseph Smith, who had in 1836 received the keys necessary to become a modern Father of the Faithful (D&C 110:12): "Go ye, therefore, and do the works of Abraham; enter ye into my law and ye shall be saved" (D&C 124:31-32; cf. 124:58).
“The Lord further explained that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had attained godhood because of their implicit obedience. More specifically, because they only took additional wives as those wives were given by God, they have entered into their exaltation.” (Robert L. Millet and Kent P. Jackson, eds., Studies in Scripture, Vol. 1: The Doctrine and Covenants [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1989], 521 - 522)
Genesis 16:5 Sarai said unto Abram, My wrong be upon thee
The prophets were not free from the same marital difficulties as the rest of us. Abram was in big trouble. Sarai already felt worthless as a barren woman! Now, her servant could boast mothering Abram’s first child and took the opportunity to look down upon Sarai as if she were the handmaid. All Abram did was what Sarai had suggested and the Lord had commanded, but he still got in trouble.
“Sarai said to Abram, “All my humiliation (comes) from you, because I trusted that you would do me justice, (seeing) that I left my country and my father’s house and went with you into a foreign land. And now because I have not borne children, I set my maid free and gave her (to you) to lie in your bosom. But when she saw that she was with child, my honor was despised in her sight. Now let my humiliation be manifest before the Lord, and let him spread his peace between me and you, and let the earth be filled from us, so that we will not need the children of Hagar, the daughter of Pharaoh, the son of Nimrod, who threw you into the furnace of fire.” (Targum Jonathan Extract, Traditions About the Early Life of Abraham, by Tvedtnes, Hauglid, & Gee, [Provo: FARMS, 2001], 67)
Genesis 16:7-9 the angel of the Lord found her by a fountain of water in the wilderness
How alone must Hagar have felt? Pregnant and cast out into the wilderness, she could have expected nothing but a slow and agonizing death. Seeking life amidst the wilderness, she finds a fountain of water. Abandoned, cast out, and destitute she had no one to turn to but the Lord. The Lord’s mercy did not fail her. In her hour of greatest need the angel of the Lord sought her out. It is the same with us. We may not always hear the voice of the Lord, but if we could see through the veil, we would know that God sees us and reaches out to save us in our worst moments. Like with Hagar, he even seeks us out as the Shepherd with his lost sheep. With the Lord, we are never alone—never truly alone.
Genesis 16:10 I will multiply thy seed exceedingly
The descendants of Ishmael call Abraham their father. Ishmael would father 12 princes, analogous to his nephew Jacob’s 12 sons. From this line would descend much of the Arab nations, “the descendants of Abraham include many, many more peoples than those who are descended from Isaac, the son who is discussed most in the Bible. Entire nations are directly descended from Abraham, including citizens of the numerous Arab countries and those from multitudinous groups who have intermarried into other cultures and races.” (Daniel H. Ludlow, “Of the House of Israel,” Ensign, Jan. 1991, 51)
“Islamic traditions consider Ishmael as the ancestor of northern Arab people, while Jewish traditions are split between those who consider Ishmael their ancestor and those, like Maimonides, who believe that the northern Arabs are descended from the sons of Keturah, whom Abraham married after Sarah's death.
“Judaism has generally viewed Ishmael as wicked though repentant… Islamic tradition, however, has a very positive view of Ishmael, giving him a larger and more significant role. The Qur'an views him as an Islamic prophet. According to the contextual interpretation of some early Islamic theologians (whose view prevailed later), Ishmael was the actual son that Abraham was called on to sacrifice, as opposed to Isaac.
“…Ishmael (Arabic: إسماعيل‎ Ismā'īl) is a prophet in Islam. The Qur'an considers him to be a son of Abraham. His name appears twelve times in the Qur'an mostly in lists with other prophets ‘as part of a litany of remembrances in which the pre-Islamic prophets are praised for their resolute steadfastness and obedience to God, often in the face of adversity.’
“Both Jewish and Islamic traditions consider Ishmael as the ancestor of the Arab people.” (
“According to the Koran, Abraham brought Ishmael and his mother to Arabia and settled them near what was to become the great city of Mecca. Eventually the descendents of Ishmael’s twelve sons began to fill the Arabian peninsula. The Biblical account, though it differs in specifics, suggests also that Hagar and Ishmael were directed in their wanderings. Genesis recounts that an angel of the Lord comforted and preserved them, and that ‘God was with the lad [Ishmael].’ (See Gen. 21:14–20.)
“We are familiar with the history of Jacob’s twelve sons—the twelve tribes of Israel; but we are not equally familiar with the history of the twelve sons of Ishmael, a great and noble tradition that has created one of the truly great cultures of the world—the Islamic culture.
“The Muslim’s religion permeates his life from dawn to nightfall and from his inner chamber to his shop in the crowded marketplace, with a thoroughness that most Christians are often slow to understand. Many Westerners have secularized such large areas of their lives that they have forgotten what it is to live a life in which every activity is religiously oriented.
“Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have reached a new threshold in the gospel’s expansion throughout the world. As Africa and Asia become a part of our great missionary program, we need a new sensitivity to the history, cultures, and religions of these areas. We cannot be friends with a person or community if we disdain or ignore what that person or community most deeply cherishes. I strongly feel that we must appreciate the Arab’s feeling for his language, his prophet, Muhammad, the religious duties of the Muslim, and the remarkable civilization Islam produced.” (James B. Mayfield, “Ishmael, Our Brother,” Ensign, June 1979, 27)
Mark E. Petersen
In Smith's Bible Dictionary (2:978) we are told that "in Mohammedan tradition, Hagar is represented as the wife [not the concubine] of Abraham." This is as might be expected, when we remember that Ishmael is the head of the Arab nation and the reputed ancestor of Mohammed. They refuse to put Hagar in a secondary position.
Among the legends of the Muslims, God is said to have commanded Abraham to go to Mecca with Ishmael to build a temple there. It is said also that the angel Gabriel was sent to give Abraham and Ishmael instructions regarding the sanctuary and the conduct of pilgrimages to it. (Abraham: Friend of God [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1979], 20)
Genesis 16:11-12 Ishmael… will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man’s hand against him
The record seems to prophesy that Ishmael will live a nomadic lifestyle—one of danger and conflict—for he was to not to have peace with his neighbors. But he was to have peace with his own people and with his family.
“After roaming the wilderness for some time, Ishmael and his mother settled in the Desert of Paran, where he became an expert in archery. Eventually, his mother found him a wife from the land of Egypt. They had twelve sons who each became tribal chiefs throughout the regions from Havilah to Shur (from Assyria to the border of Egypt).” (
Genesis 16:13 she called the name of the Lord… Thou God seest me
“Through the tangled human relationships the divine mercy does not fail. And as so often happens with the inspired language of the Bible, the words with which Hagar responded to that mercy have come down across the centuries with a length and profundity of suggestion which the ancient writer could not have foreseen: Thou God seest me. In old houses of the stern Puritan tradition those words embroidered could be seen framed upon the wall and usually they were taken to mean the watchful eye of God’s unceasing judgment. But that is not their meaning in the story of Hagar. Rather, they are the glad acknowledgment of the heavenly grace that beholds our human needs… and many a lonely soul for whom the world seemed desolate, as it seemed to Hagar, has been able to take faith that there was One who saw its sorrow and would come with compassion and with help.” (The Interpreter’s Bible, ed. by G. A. Buttrick et al [New York, Abingdon Press, 1952] vol. 1, p. 606-608)