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Genesis 16:1-3

Context
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 

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.



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