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Genesis 16:1-16: Hagar and Ishmael
Bible Essentials: Set 3, Lesson 12 (and 13)
Individuals: Take time to think back about your past week. Where have you seen God work in your life or answer prayer? Write down any prayer requests you have.
Group: Open the study by sharing life updates, reviewing highs and lows of your past week, or sharing prayer requests and praises.
Icebreaker: Have you ever been bullied by someone? How did you respond to it? Or have you ever been the bully? What were the underlying reasons for your actions?
All: Begin the study with a word of prayer, asking God to open your heart for today’s study. You can also pray for any prayer requests now, or save that for the end.
Read today’s passage: Genesis 16:1-16.
16 Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; 2 so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.”
Abram agreed to what Sarai said. 3 So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. 4 He slept with Hagar, and she conceived.
When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. 5 Then Sarai said to Abram, “You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my slave in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the Lord judge between you and me.”
6 “Your slave is in your hands,” Abram said. “Do with her whatever you think best.” Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her.
7 The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur. 8 And he said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?”
“I’m running away from my mistress Sarai,” she answered.
9 Then the angel of the Lord told her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her.” 10 The angel added, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.”
11 The angel of the Lord also said to her:
“You are now pregnant
and you will give birth to a son.
You shall name him Ishmael,
for the Lord has heard of your misery.
12 He will be a wild donkey of a man;
his hand will be against everyone
and everyone’s hand against him,
and he will live in hostility
toward all his brothers.”
13 She gave this name to the Lord who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.” 14 That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi; it is still there, between Kadesh and Bered.
15 So Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram gave the name Ishmael to the son she had borne. 16 Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael.
What is the context for this passage?
In last week’s lesson in Genesis 15, we learned that God re-confirmed his covenant with Abram to give Abram a son, to make him into a great nation, and to give him a land. Abram questioned how this can be since he has no children. He lamented that he’s going to have to give his entire estate to one of his servants instead. In a pretty dramatic scene with sacrificed animals laid out and a smoking firepot with a blazing torch passing between them, God made a covenant with Abram that he will have descendants. And even after all that, Abram still feels like he needs to take things into his own hands, as we see in today’s passage.
Read the passage again.
Explore a different version if you have one available. If you are online, here is Genesis 16:1-16 in NIV through Bible Gateway. You can change the version by using the dropdown menu at the top right of the page.
Try to summarize the passage in your own words.
Answer these three questions about the passage:
1. What does the passage say about God?
God is in control of conception. As the creator of everything, God has control even of natural human functions such as conception. God can close wombs, and God can open them. God has a plan for his exact timing for conception for each person.
God is a judge. As the only one who is perfect and holy and righteous, God is the only one who has the right to judge people. Sarai knew that, and she asked God to judge between her and Abram for their respective parts in Hagar becoming pregnant.
God cares for all people. Even though Hagar was not part of the covenant that God made with Abram to make him into a great nation, when Hagar was treated poorly and ran away from Sarai, God sent an angel to comfort her and minister to her. God has a heart of compassion, especially for those who are treated poorly by others.
God sees his people. When Hagar spoke to the angel that God sent, she felt seen by God. No matter how significant (or insignificant) we think we are, God always sees us. He knows when we are troubled, he knows when we are mistreated, he knows when we are alone and scared. If you are going through a difficult time in your life, pray that you will feel seen by God. Because he does see you.
2. What does the passage say about people?
People often blame God when something isn’t going their way. When Sarai continued to not get pregnant, she blamed God. God had sent this promise, and he wasn’t fulfilling it. It was his fault that she wasn’t having children. Her attitude of blame rather than acceptance and patience revealed the state of her heart.
People get impatient waiting for God to fulfill his promise. It had been 10 years since God first made his promise to give Abram a son. God made his initial promise when Abram was 75, and once Ishmael is born, he’s 86. Ten years is a long time to wait for a child, especially when you are well past when most people have children. Abram and Sarai got impatient and decided to take things into their own hands. How often are we like this? God’s timing is often not the same as our timing. What is God asking you to be patient about now?
Sometimes when people get what they wish for, it doesn’t end up as they imagined. Abram and Sarai wanted a son to be their heir and to fulfill God’s promise. And when they took steps to make it happen outside of God’s plan, they got exactly what they wanted. Hagar became pregnant. That’s when all the emotions came out. Hagar despised Sarai, and Sarai was jealous of Hagar. It created strife where there was no strife before.
People who are jealous will treat others badly. Sarai was jealous of Hagar’s pregnancy, so Sarai began to mistreat Hagar. This made Hagar flee from her home. Jealousy often brings out the worst in people. Sarai likely never thought of mistreating her servant before the pregnancy. But when those feelings of jealousy started, and sin entered her heart, she acted in ways that previously might have been against her character. Guard your heart against jealousy so it doesn’t turn you into someone you don’t want to be.
People who have encountered God have a change of heart. After Hagar fled her home to escape Sarai’s mistreatment, she encountered the angel of the Lord in the desert. She felt seen by God, and this changed her heart. She followed God’s command to return to Sarai and submit to her. This couldn’t have been easy for Hagar, but she did it anyway because she knew that God saw her circumstances and still cared for her.
3. What does the passage say about God’s plan?
God’s plan was for Hagar to submit to Sarai. In spite of how Ishmael was conceived and how Hagar was mistreated, God still had a plan for Hagar and Ishmael. Part of that plan was for Hagar to go back home to Sarai and submit to her. This allowed Hagar and Ishmael to be cared for during the time that Ishmael was growing up.
God’s plan was to increase Hagar’s descendants. Although God’s covenant would be fulfilled through the birth of a son to Abram and Sarai, Hagar’s descendants were not completely left out of God’s promise. God promised to increase Hagar’s descendants until they were too numerous to count, just as he had promised Abram.
God’s plan was for Hagar’s descendants to live in hostility with others. Although Hagar’s descendants would be numerous just as Abram’s would be, the promise for Hagar’s descendants was not as favorable as for Abram’s. While God would make Abram’s descendants into a great and favored nation, Hagar’s descendants would live in hostility with those around them. This is the result of working outside of God’s will.
How does the passage fit into the overarching story of the Bible?
Sometimes it’s easier to understand a passage if you have a little outside knowledge from other passages in the Bible. This section will help provide that outside perspective.
This passage shows us the distinct contrast between those who are God’s chosen people and those who are not. For those who are not part of God’s covenant people, God still cares for them, sees them, and has a plan for them, but that plan is not quite the same as the people under his covenant. For those who are his chosen people, he has a better plan for them, even if that plan requires patience to come to fulfillment.
This contrast continues under the new covenant seen in the New Testament after the death and resurrection of Christ. Under the new covenant, the people who follow Christ may have troubles and afflictions on this earth, but they have a heavenly eternal reward that is worth any persecution on earth. Those who do not follow Christ are still under God’s rule—he still sees them and cares for them, and he still has a plan for them. He waits patiently for them to turn to him (2 Peter 3:8-9). But if they do not, God’s plan does not include eternal rewards. Instead, it includes hostility, destruction, and an eternity separated from God. Which side do you want to be on? Under the new covenant, it’s your choice to make.
Individual: Answer the following questions thoughtfully for yourself.
Group: Pose these questions for discussion.
All: If you are willing to share, I’d love to hear your thoughts to these questions. Feel free to use the comment section to start a discussion about this passage.
What else strikes you about this passage?
How does the passage affect how you view God? How you view yourself?
How does this passage affect how you will live your life?
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Bible Essentials: Set 3, Lesson 13
In Genesis 16, Ishmael is born when Abram is 86. By Genesis 17, Abram is now 99, and he still has no son with Sarai. But God appears to Abram again and confirms his covenant again, adding the practice of circumcision to it. In the process, God changes Abram’s name to Abraham and Sarai’s name to Sarah. God tells Abraham that Sarah will bear a son, and Abraham laughs at the idea. But God is firm: Sarah will have a son, and he will be the one through whom the covenant will be fulfilled.
For Bible Essential studies, you can use my thoughts as your devotional, or you can download and use the journaling sheet to work through the passage on your own. If desired, you can then compare your thoughts to mine. Journal sheets can be downloaded and used now or later. They can be printed and filled in by hand or saved and filled out electronically. Journal sheets are available for individual or group use.
If you plan to lead a group study, a PowerPoint presentation is also available.
You can access these resources by clicking here: Genesis 16 Resources
Or you can download the journal sheets here*:
*Substack doesn’t support PowerPoint file downloads yet, so if you want to access the PowerPoint file for group study, you will need to download it from the resource page linked above.