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Genesis 16

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The Birth of Ishmael

16:1 Now Sarai, 1  Abram’s wife, had not given birth to any children, 2  but she had an Egyptian servant 3  named Hagar. 4  16:2 So Sarai said to Abram, “Since 5  the Lord has prevented me from having children, have sexual relations with 6  my servant. Perhaps I can have a family by her.” 7  Abram did what 8  Sarai told him.

16:3 So after Abram had lived 9  in Canaan for ten years, Sarai, Abram’s wife, gave Hagar, her Egyptian servant, 10  to her husband to be his wife. 11  16:4 He had sexual relations with 12  Hagar, and she became pregnant. 13  Once Hagar realized she was pregnant, she despised Sarai. 14  16:5 Then Sarai said to Abram, “You have brought this wrong on me! 15  I allowed my servant to have sexual relations with you, 16  but when she realized 17  that she was pregnant, she despised me. 18  May the Lord judge between you and me!” 19 

16:6 Abram said to Sarai, “Since your 20  servant is under your authority, 21  do to her whatever you think best.” 22  Then Sarai treated Hagar 23  harshly, 24  so she ran away from Sarai. 25 

16:7 The Lord’s angel 26  found Hagar near a spring of water in the desert – the spring that is along the road to Shur. 27  16:8 He said, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?” She replied, “I’m running away from 28  my mistress, Sarai.”

16:9 Then the Lord’s angel said to her, “Return to your mistress and submit 29  to her authority. 16:10 I will greatly multiply your descendants,” the Lord’s angel added, 30  “so that they will be too numerous to count.” 31  16:11 Then the Lord’s angel said to her,

“You are now 32  pregnant

and are about to give birth 33  to a son.

You are to name him Ishmael, 34 

for the Lord has heard your painful groans. 35 

16:12 He will be a wild donkey 36  of a man.

He will be hostile to everyone, 37 

and everyone will be hostile to him. 38 

He will live away from 39  his brothers.”

16:13 So Hagar named the Lord who spoke to her, “You are the God who sees me,” 40  for she said, “Here I have seen one who sees me!” 41  16:14 That is why the well was called 42  Beer Lahai Roi. 43  (It is located 44  between Kadesh and Bered.)

16:15 So Hagar gave birth to Abram’s son, whom Abram named Ishmael. 45  16:16 (Now 46  Abram was 86 years old 47  when Hagar gave birth to Ishmael.) 48 

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1 tn The disjunctive clause signals the beginning of a new episode in the story.

2 sn On the cultural background of the story of Sarai’s childlessness see J. Van Seters, “The Problem of Childlessness in Near Eastern Law and the Patriarchs of Israel,” JBL 87 (1968): 401-8.

3 tn The Hebrew term שִׁפְחָה (shifkhah, translated “servant” here and in vv. 2, 3, 5, 6, and 8) refers to a menial female servant.

4 sn The passage records the birth of Ishmael to Abram through an Egyptian woman. The story illustrates the limits of Abram’s faith as he tries to obtain a son through social custom. The barrenness of Sarai poses a challenge to Abram’s faith, just as the famine did in chap. 12. As in chap. 12, an Egyptian figures prominently. (Perhaps Hagar was obtained as a slave during Abram’s stay in Egypt.)

5 tn Heb “look.” The particle הִנֵּה (hinneh) introduces the foundational clause for the imperative to follow.

6 tn Heb “enter to.” The expression is a euphemism for sexual relations (also in v. 4).

sn The Hebrew expression translated have sexual relations with does not convey the intimacy of other expressions, such as “so and so knew his wife.” Sarai simply sees this as the social custom of having a child through a surrogate. For further discussion see C. F. Fensham, “The Son of a Handmaid in Northwest Semitic,” VT 19 (1969): 312-21.

7 tn Heb “perhaps I will be built from her.” Sarai hopes to have a family established through this surrogate mother.

8 tn Heb “listened to the voice of,” which is an idiom meaning “obeyed.”

sn Abram did what Sarai told him. This expression was first used in Gen 3:17 of Adam’s obeying his wife. In both cases the text highlights weak faith and how it jeopardized the plan of God.

9 tn Heb “at the end of ten years, to live, Abram.” The prepositional phrase introduces the temporal clause, the infinitive construct serves as the verb, and the name “Abram” is the subject.

10 tn Heb “the Egyptian, her female servant.”

11 sn To be his wife. Hagar became a slave wife, not on equal standing with Sarai. However, if Hagar produced the heir, she would be the primary wife in the eyes of society. When this eventually happened, Hagar become insolent, prompting Sarai’s anger.

12 tn Heb “entered to.” See the note on the same expression in v. 2.

13 tn Or “she conceived” (also in v. 5)

14 tn Heb “and she saw that she was pregnant and her mistress was despised in her eyes.” The Hebrew verb קָלַל (qalal) means “to despise, to treat lightly, to treat with contempt.” In Hagar’s opinion Sarai had been demoted.

15 tn Heb “my wrong is because of you.”

16 tn Heb “I placed my female servant in your bosom.”

17 tn Heb “saw.”

18 tn Heb “I was despised in her eyes.” The passive verb has been translated as active for stylistic reasons. Sarai was made to feel supplanted and worthless by Hagar the servant girl.

19 tn Heb “me and you.”

sn May the Lord judge between you and me. Sarai blamed Abram for Hagar’s attitude, not the pregnancy. Here she expects to be vindicated by the Lord who will prove Abram responsible. A colloquial rendering might be, “God will get you for this.” It may mean that she thought Abram had encouraged the servant girl in her elevated status.

20 tn The clause is introduced with the particle הִנֵּה (hinneh), introducing a foundational clause for the coming imperative: “since…do.”

21 tn Heb “in your hand.”

22 tn Heb “what is good in your eyes.”

23 tn Heb “her”; the referent (Hagar) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

24 tn In the Piel stem the verb עָנָה (’anah) means “to afflict, to oppress, to treat harshly, to mistreat.”

25 tn Heb “and she fled from her presence.” The referent of “her” (Sarai) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

26 tn Heb “the messenger of the Lord.” Some identify the angel of the Lord as the preincarnate Christ because in some texts the angel is identified with the Lord himself. However, it is more likely that the angel merely represents the Lord; he can speak for the Lord because he is sent with the Lord’s full authority. In some cases the angel is clearly distinct from the Lord (see Judg 6:11-23). It is not certain if the same angel is always in view. Though the proper name following the noun “angel” makes the construction definite, this may simply indicate that a definite angel sent from the Lord is referred to in any given context. It need not be the same angel on every occasion. Note the analogous expression “the servant of the Lord,” which refers to various individuals in the OT (see BDB 714 s.v. עֶבֶד).

27 tn Heb “And the angel of the Lord found her near the spring of water in the desert, near the spring on the way to Shur.”

28 tn Heb “from the presence of.”

29 tn The imperative וְהִתְעַנִּי (vÿhitanni) is the Hitpael of עָנָה (’anah, here translated “submit”), the same word used for Sarai’s harsh treatment of her. Hagar is instructed not only to submit to Sarai’s authority, but to whatever mistreatment that involves. God calls for Hagar to humble herself.

30 tn Heb “The Lord’s angel said, ‘I will greatly multiply your descendants….” The order of the clauses has been rearranged in the translation for stylistic reasons.

31 tn Heb “cannot be numbered because of abundance.”

32 tn The particle הִנֵּה (hinneh) focuses on her immediate situation: “Here you are pregnant.”

33 tn The active participle refers here to something that is about to happen.

34 sn The name Ishmael consists of the imperfect or jussive form of the Hebrew verb with the theophoric element added as the subject. It means “God hears” or “may God hear.”

35 tn Heb “affliction,” which must refer here to Hagar’s painful groans of anguish.

sn This clause gives the explanation of the name Ishmael, using a wordplay. Ishmael’s name will be a reminder that “God hears” Hagar’s painful cries.

36 sn A wild donkey of a man. The prophecy is not an insult. The wild donkey lived a solitary existence in the desert away from society. Ishmael would be free-roaming, strong, and like a bedouin; he would enjoy the freedom his mother sought.

37 tn Heb “His hand will be against everyone.” The “hand” by metonymy represents strength. His free-roaming life style would put him in conflict with those who follow social conventions. There would not be open warfare, only friction because of his antagonism to their way of life.

38 tn Heb “And the hand of everyone will be against him.”

39 tn Heb “opposite, across from.” Ishmael would live on the edge of society (cf. NASB “to the east of”). Some take this as an idiom meaning “be at odds with” (cf. NRSV, NLT) or “live in hostility toward” (cf. NIV).

40 tn Heb “God of my seeing.” The pronominal suffix may be understood either as objective (“who sees me,” as in the translation) or subjective (“whom I see”).

41 tn Heb “after one who sees me.”

sn For a discussion of Hagar’s exclamation, see T. Booij, “Hagar’s Words in Genesis 16:13b,” VT 30 (1980): 1-7.

42 tn The verb does not have an expressed subject and so is rendered as passive in the translation.

43 sn The Hebrew name Beer Lahai Roi (בְּאֵר לַחַי רֹאִי, bÿer lakhay roi) means “The well of the Living One who sees me.” The text suggests that God takes up the cause of those who are oppressed.

44 tn Heb “look.” The words “it is located” are supplied in the translation for stylistic reasons.

45 tn Heb “and Abram called the name of his son whom Hagar bore, Ishmael.”

sn Whom Abram named Ishmael. Hagar must have informed Abram of what the angel had told her. See the note on the name “Ishmael” in 16:11.

46 tn The disjunctive clause gives information that is parenthetical to the narrative.

47 tn Heb “the son of eighty-six years.”

48 tn The Hebrew text adds, “for Abram.” This has not been included in the translation for stylistic reasons; it is somewhat redundant given the three occurrences of Abram’s name in this and the previous verse.



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