Despite God’s promise, years went by. Still Abram’s wife Sarai remained childless. But she did have an Egyptian servant girl whose name was Hagar. Sarai had an idea so she approached her husband.
Sarai (to Abram): You can see that the Eternal One has still not allowed me to have any children. Why don’t you sleep with my servant girl? Maybe I could use her as a surrogate and have a child through her!
Sarai’s solution to her problem is not unique. Ancient Near Eastern custom allows for these kinds of arrangements.
Abram listened to Sarai and agreed to follow her plan. After they had lived 10 years in Canaan, Abram’s wife Sarai took her servant girl Hagar, the Egyptian, and gave her to her husband Abram as a wife. So Abram slept with Hagar. It was not long before she conceived. But as soon as she knew she was pregnant with Abram’s child, Hagar’s attitude changed and she became haughty toward Sarai. Sarai would not tolerate her servant looking down on her, so she approached Abram again.
Sarai (to Abram): This is all your fault. I allowed my servant girl to be intimate with you, and as soon as she saw she was pregnant with your child, she started behaving arrogantly and disrespectfully toward me! I have done nothing to deserve this. Let the Eternal One judge who is in the wrong here—you or me!
Abram (to Sarai): Sarai—look, she’s still your servant girl. Do whatever you want with her. She’s under your control.
So Sarai clamped down on Hagar severely, and Hagar ran away. The Special Messenger of the Eternal One found Hagar alone by a spring of water out in the desert. It was the spring of water along the road that went to Shur.
When the Lord sends His Special Messenger, it is generally an important and sensitive mission (see, too, Exodus 3; Numbers 22; and Judges 6). This special agent bears God’s unique, covenant name and speaks with divine authority in ways other messengers do not. In fact, by what Hagar says and does next, it is clear she thinks she has encountered the Lord Himself.
Special Messenger: Hagar, Sarai’s servant girl? Where have you come from, and where are you planning to go?
Hagar: I am running away from my mistress, Sarai!
Special Messenger: Hagar, go back to your mistress, and change your attitude. Be respectful, and listen to her instructions. You’re pregnant, and you need to go home. Trust me: I am going to give you many children and many descendants, so many you won’t be able to count them!
The descendants from Hagar are included in the promise given to Abram that his family will be so large that he will not be able to count them.
Look, you are pregnant,
and you’re going to have a son.
I want you to call him Ishmael
because the Eternal One has heard your anguished cries.
Just to warn you, though:
Ishmael, your son, is going to be a wild and rowdy man;
he’ll put his fist in every face,
And everyone will turn against him,
and he will live at odds with all of his relatives.
As a result of this encounter, Hagar decided to give the Eternal One who had spoken to her a special name because He had seen her in her misery.
Hagar: I’m going to call You the God of Seeing because in this place I have seen the One who watches over me.
Because of this, the well between Kadesh and Bered is called Beer-lahai-roi, which means, “Well of the Living One who watches over me.”
So Hagar returned home and gave birth to Abram’s son. Abram named his son (that is, the one born to Hagar) Ishmael. Abram was already 86 years old when Hagar gave birth to Ishmael.