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The Birth of Ishmael


Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, bore him no children. She had an Egyptian slave-girl whose name was Hagar, 2and Sarai said to Abram, “You see that the L ord has prevented me from bearing children; go in to my slave-girl; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. 3So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her slave-girl, and gave her to her husband Abram as a wife. 4He went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress. 5Then Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my slave-girl to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the L ord judge between you and me!” 6But Abram said to Sarai, “Your slave-girl is in your power; do to her as you please.” Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she ran away from her.

7 The angel of the L ord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur. 8And he said, “Hagar, slave-girl of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” She said, “I am running away from my mistress Sarai.” 9The angel of the L ord said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit to her.” 10The angel of the L ord also said to her, “I will so greatly multiply your offspring that they cannot be counted for multitude.” 11And the angel of the L ord said to her,

“Now you have conceived and shall bear a son;

you shall call him Ishmael,

for the L ord has given heed to your affliction.


He shall be a wild ass of a man,

with his hand against everyone,

and everyone’s hand against him;

and he shall live at odds with all his kin.”

13 So she named the L ord who spoke to her, “You are El-roi”; for she said, “Have I really seen God and remained alive after seeing him?” 14Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi; it lies between Kadesh and Bered.

15 Hagar bore Abram a son; and Abram named his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. 16Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael.

6. Behold , thy maid is in thy hand. The greatness of Abram’s humanity and modesty appears from his answer. He does not quarrel with his wife; and though he has the best cause, yet he does not pertinaciously defend it, but voluntarily dismisses the wife who had been given him. In short, for the sake of restoring peace, he does violence to his feelings, both as a husband, and a father. For, in leaving Hagar to the will of her enraged mistress, he does not treat her as his wife; he also, in a certain way, undervalues that object of his hope which was conceived in her womb. And it is not to be doubted that he was thus calm and placid in bearing the vehemence of his wife; because, throughout her whole life, he had found her to be obedient. Still it was a great excellence, to restrain his temper under an indignity so great. It may, however, here be asked, how it was that his care for the blessed seed had then vanished from his mind? Hagar is great with child; he hopes that the seed through which the salvation of the world was promised, is about to proceed from her. Why then does he not set Sarai aside, and turn his love and desire still more to Hagar? Truly we hence infer, that all human contrivances pass away and vanish in smoke, as soon as any grievous temptation is presented. Having taken a wife against the divine command, he thinks the matter is succeeding well, when he sees her pregnant, and pleases himself in foolish confidence; but when contention suddenly arises, he is at his wit’s end, and rejects all hope, or, at least, forgets it. The same thing must necessarily happen to us, as often as we attempt anything contrary to the word of God. Our minds will fail at the very first blast of temptation;386386     Ventum trepidationis.” — “Wind of trembling.” since our only ground of stability is, to have the authority of God for what we do. In the meantime, God purifies the faith of his servant from its rust; for by mixing his own and his wife’s imagination with the word of God, he, in a sense, had stifled his faith; wherefore, to restore its brightness, that which was superfluous is cut of. God, by opposing himself in this manner to our sinful designs, recalls us from our stupidity to a sound mind. A simple promise had been given ‘I will bless thy seed.’ Sarai’s gloss supervened,387387     Additamentum Sarai supervenerat.” — “L’addition ou glose de Sarai estoit survenue.” — French Tr namely, that she could have no seed but a supposititious one by Hagar: this mire of human imagination, with which the promise had been defiled must be purged away, that Abram might derive his knowledge from no other source, than the pure word of God.

And Sarai dealt hardly with her388388     Et afflixit eam Sarai.” “And Sarah afflicted her.” See margin of English version. The word ענה (anah,) which Moses uses, signifies to afflict and to humble. I therefore explain it as being put for reducing Hagar to submission. But it was difficult for an angry woman to keep within bounds, in repressing the insolence of her maid. Wherefore, it is possible that she became immoderately enraged against her; not so much considering her own duty as revolving the means of being avenged for the offenses committed. Since Moses brings no heavier charge, I confine myself to what is certain; that Sarai made use of her proper authority in restraining the insolence of her maid. And, doubtless, from the event, we may form a judgments that Hagar was impelled to flee, not so much by the cruelty of her mistress, as by her own contumacy. Her own conscience accused her; and it is improbable that Sarai should have been so greatly incensed, except by many, and, indeed atrocious offenses. Therefore, the woman being of servile temper, and of indomitable ferocity, chose rather to flee, than to return to favor, through the humble acknowledgment of her fault.

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