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Genesis Chapter Sixteen


I. Content of the Chapter


Abram Took Hagar as His Wife

A.  Sarai proposed Abram to marry Hagar (v.1-3);

B.  Conflicts between Sarai and Hagar (v.4-6);

C.  Hagar escaped and returned (v.7-14);

D.  Hagar begot Ishmael (v.15-16);


II. Verse by Verse Commentary


Gen. 16:1 “Now Sarai, Abram's wife, had borne him no children. And she had an Egyptian maidservant whose name was Hagar.”

YLT: “And Sarai, Abram's wife, hath not borne to him, and she hath an handmaid, an Egyptian, and her name Hagar;”

Meaning of Words: Hagar”: sojourn, wander, escape;

The Backgroud: “and she had an Egyptian maidservant whose name was Hagar”, this maidservant Hagar was possibly one of the female servants given by Pharaoh when Abram went down to Egypt (Gen. 12:16).  

Literal Meaning: Sarai, Abram's wife, had borne him no children”, God had promised Abram to give him descendants (Gen. 12:7), declaring that one who would come from Abram’s own body shall be his heir (Gen. 15:4). However, his wife Sarai was barren.

And she had an maidservant”, here Abram was faced with a potential crisis ---- since God did not clearly point that the son ought to be borne by Sarai, the young maidservant at that time seemed to become the substituted wife at hand. 

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) Though our faith is out of the word of God, our circumstance tends to be opposite to the word we believe. This is the trial of God to our faith.  

  2) The object of faith is God rather than environment. However, man is easily to turn their eyes to environments from God.

  3) The past failure (the Egyptian maidservant, Hagar) may become the net of failure again.


Gen. 16:2 “So Sarai said to Abram, "See now, the LORD has restrained me from bearing children. Please, go in to my maid; perhaps I shall obtain children by her." And Abram heeded the voice of Sarai.”

YLT: “and Sarai saith unto Abram, `Lo, I pray thee, Jehovah hath restrained me from bearing, go in, I pray thee, unto my handmaid; perhaps I am built up from her;' and Abram hearkeneth to the voice of Sarai.”

Literal Meaning: the ancient Hebrew women were ashamed of barrenness (Gen. 20:23), so Sarai here intended to solve this problem in her own way.

  “Go in to”, it is different from the other word “know” (Gen. 4:1), which means that the husband and the wife know each other and have deep fellowship with each other. Here “go in to” only means a man “enters into” the house of a woman.

  “Obtain children”, the house would be built, which meant that Sarai would obtain children under her name so that she could lift up her head before all.

  When the promise of God was not fulfilled yet, temptations strike earlier. The stratagem of Sarai seemed to be effective in obtaining children immediately. However, it brought about endless conflicts to the whole family (see v.4-6; Gen. 21:9-10) as well as many troubles to the descendants.

Spiritual Meaning: Sarai said to Abram”, concerning spiritual principles, Sarai here made the same mistakes with Eve who gave the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil to Adam (Gen. 3:6) ---- the woman lets her head uncovered, which typifies that man proposes his means to help God to fulfill His will. That is to say, man works without the covering of God. In the Garden of Eden, Eve caused the fall of man. And here Sarai caused the fall of the called people.

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) God’s promises need not to be fulfilled by man’s flesh.

  2) Once man’s faith gets weak, he will turn to his own way. However, we should not help God by our own ways, for the flesh and lusts cannot fulfill the promises of God.

  3) Though the purpose of Sarai and Abram was good, their way was not good. We shall not achieve good purpose by wrong way.

  4) Let believers trust in God with whole heart rather than trust in man’s shoulder or human wisdom.

  5) Since man has known the present circumstance is because of God ---- “the LORD has restrained me from bearing children”, let him be contented with the present situation and thank God: for so it seemed good in Your sight (Matt. 11:26).

  6) God does not see whether we do right, but by which we do. Even though things that man has done by himself are seemingly good, they can still not satisfy God’s heart.

  7) Indeed, believers shall keep the same mind (Rom. 15:5). However, it is too dangerous that two tempt God in the same mind (Acts 5:9).


Gen. 16:3 “Then Sarai, Abram's wife, took Hagar her maid, the Egyptian, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan.”

YLT: “And Sarai, Abram's wife, taketh Hagar the Egyptian, her handmaid, at the end of the tenth year of Abram's dwelling in the land of Canaan, and giveth her to Abram her husband, to him for a wife,”

Literal Meaning: Abram was seventy-five when he left Haran (Gen. 12:4), so he was eighty-five at this time. He became old after ten years. Even though he had not seen the fulfillment of God’s promise, his faith was still not weak (Rom. 4:19) and wanted to help God to fulfill His promise.

Spiritual Meaning: her maid, the Egyptian”, there are at least six times of mentioning her status of “maid”, for Hagar typifies the law that binds men and enslaves men (Gal. 4:23-25). Abram received Hagar as his wife, which typified that he wanted to fulfill the will of God by law in flesh (Gal. 3:3).

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) Since we have begun in Spirit, we should not be made perfect in flesh.

  2) The whole-hearted trust in God of a man is much more important than the length of days of his waiting for God. He that truly believes in God by heart will not make haste (Is. 28:16).


Gen. 16:4 “So he went in to Hagar, and she conceived. And when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress became despised in her eyes.”

YLT: “and he goeth in unto Hagar, and she conceiveth, and she seeth that she hath conceived, and her mistress is lightly esteemed in her eyes.”

Literal Meaning: her mistress became despised in her eyes”, the dignity of Sarai was trampled by the main, the Egyptian. This was also the chastening of God to Sarai. God dealt with her by Hagar and made her repent.

Spiritual Meaning: Hagar” typifies the law which represents the requirements of God.

  So he went in to Hagar”, it typifies that man desires to answer the requirements of God and please God by flesh.

“And she conceived”, it typifies that the flesh of man come into operation.

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) He who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption (Gal. 6:8).

  2) He who devices for himself shall eat of the fruit of his way.

  3) Flesh cannot work for God and will bring sorrows.

  4) Man is easy to become haughty because of being favored, thus causing many interpersonal problems.

  5) He who has conceived something (“conceived”) (e.g.: he who has a lot of spiritual knowledge) may easily despise others.

  6) Man’s haughtiness lies in his heart. Even though others cannot see it, in certain cases, it will be clearly exposed.


Gen. 16:5 “Then Sarai said to Abram, "My wrong be upon you! I gave my maid into your embrace; and when she saw that she had conceived, I became despised in her eyes. The LORD judge between you and me."”

YLT: “And Sarai saith unto Abram, `My violence for thee; I -- I have given mine handmaid into thy bosom, and she seeth that she hath conceived, and I am lightly esteemed in her eyes; Jehovah doth judge between me and thee.'”

Literal Meaning: Sarai meant it was Abram that indulged Hagar and failed to restrain her so that she treated Sarai in this way and Abram would not be approved by God because he indulged Hagar.

Spiritual Meaning: the two women of Sarai and Hagar represent two covenants (Gal. 4:24). The former represents the covenant of promise, according to which God has promised man something, so this covenant is characterized by God’s works and man’s enjoyment ---- which is essentially a covenant of grace. The latter represents the covenant of law, according to which man has to answer the requirements of God by works, so this covenant is characterized by God’s requirements and man’s works ---- which is essentially a covenant of law.

  Since we believers have received the covenant of grace, we are under grace (Rom. 6:14-15). If we still want to work to help God by flesh, we have put us under the covenant of law. Thus, there will be difficulties concerning the two covenants and the cross of Christ is made vain (1Cor. 1:17-18).

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) If we have done wrong, we are prone to impute it to others. 

  2) He who is self-righteous likes to justify him in the name of God, for he has seen the faults of others, not that of himself.

  3) We often ignore to ask God in our walking. However, once there is a problem, we ask God to make judgment.

  4) Let believers pray for God’s enlightenment humbly and be bold to confess faults and wait for the deliverance of God at rest.


Gen. 16:6 “So Abram said to Sarai, "Indeed your maid is in your hand; do to her as you please." And when Sarai dealt harshly with her, she fled from her presence.”

YLT: “And Abram saith unto Sarai, `Lo, thine handmaid in thine hand, do to her that which is good in thine eyes;' and Sarai afflicted her, and she fleeth from her presence.”

Literal Meaning: Abram received the rectification of Sarai and confessed that Hagar was under Sarai. Therefore, Sarai ruled Hagar harshly so that she escaped for she could not bear it.

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) It is distressing of the “harsh treatment” of others, and even a facial expression may trouble a man. The worst thing in the church is that a brother treats harshly another one.

  2) Hatred divides men (“fled”). Only love gains and edifies.

  3) The law is merely a shadow, and the body is Christ (Col. 2:7). Since Christ has come, the law shall shirk (the original meaning of the name of “Hagar”).


Gen. 16:7 “Now the Angel of the LORD found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur.”

YLT: “And a messenger of Jehovah findeth her by the fountain of water in the wilderness, by the fountain in the way Shur,”

Meaning of Words: Shur”: travel, wall, bulwark;

Literal Meaning: “the Angel of the LORD”, in the Bible, such name often refers to the Lord Jesus, for He is the One sent by God (John 3:17). Therefore, he often speaks in the first person as God.

  “Shur”, it is a land near Egypt, which is close to the Suez Canal now.

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) Though the world is as waste and dry as the wilderness, the Lord’s presence will bring the provision of water. Whenever we meet God, we will obtain the supply of living water.

  2) Many times we do not seek Him deliberately, He comes to seek us and meet us.


Gen. 16:8 “And He said, "Hagar, Sarai's maid, where have you come from, and where are you going?" She said, "I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai."”

YLT: “and he saith, `Hagar, Sarai's handmaid, whence hast thou come, and whither dost thou go?' and she saith, `From the presence of Sarai, my mistress, I am fleeing.'”

Literal Meaning: Hagar, Sarai's maid, here it was reminding Hagar that she had to recognize her status and surrender herself to Sarai.

“Where have you come from, and where are you going?" And this was reminding her that even though she fled from the authority of man, she could not flee from the authority of God.

"I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai”, here Hagar confessed that Sarai was her nistress, so she obtained further indication from God.

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) One has to firstly realize that he is “under the authority of man” so that he can realize the origin of the authority ---- God (Matt. 8:8-10).

  2) All believers are bought by a price. Therefore, we are not of ourselves (1Cor. 6:19-20), but bondservants of the Lord (“maid”).


Gen. 16:9 “The Angel of the LORD said to her, "Return to your mistress, and submit yourself under her hand."”

YLT: “And the messenger of Jehovah saith to her, `Turn back unto thy mistress, and humble thyself under her hands;'”

Spiritual Meaning: God asked Hagar to submit herself under the hand of Sarai, which meant that the law shall be under grace. The law under grace will become “the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).

  The Lord does not come to destroy but to fulfill the law (Matt. 5:17-18). Believers before Christ is under the law (1Cor. 9:21). Therefore, “the law of Christ” here is ruling in believers.

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) The principles of God’s dealing with problems is: return to the position where we come from ---- remember from where you have fallen (Rev. 2:5).

  2) Let us obey the master (superior). Even though the master (superior) is not good, we shall obey him, for there is no authority except from God (Rom. 13:1).

  3) Some believers are willing to obey God rather than men. However, many times, obedience to men is obedience to God.

  4) We believers should not use liberty of grace as an opportunity for the flesh (Gal. 5:13). And we shall still take heed of “the law of Christ” in us.


Gen. 16:10 “Then the Angel of the LORD said to her, "I will multiply your descendants exceedingly, so that they shall not be counted for multitude."”

YLT: “and the messenger of Jehovah saith to her, `Multiplying I multiply thy seed, and it is not numbered from multitude;'”

Literal Meaning: “I will multiply…”, it shows that the speaker is God Himself.

Spiritual Meaning: descendants of Hagar” typify the “religionists” who worship God by flesh.

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) Obedience to the word of God will yield great blessings of God.

  2) There are innumerable religionists now in the church who like to keep the external rules.  


Gen. 16:11 “And the Angel of the LORD said to her: "Behold, you are with child, And you shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, Because the LORD has heard your affliction.”

YLT: “and the messenger of Jehovah saith to her, `Behold thou conceiving, and bearing a son, and hast called his name Ishmael, for Jehovah hath hearkened unto thine affliction;”

Meaning of Words: Ishmael”: my God hears, God has heard;

Spiritual Meaning: Ishmael” typifies those who are born in the flesh (Gal. 4:23).

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) God knows all the afflictions of us (Ex. 3:7; Ps. 25:18) and sympathizes with our weakness (Heb. 4:15).

  2) The greatest trouble of believers is the flesh. God knows it, so He arranges all things to deal with our flesh.


Gen. 16:12 “He shall be a wild man; His hand shall be against every man, And every man's hand against him. And he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren."”

YLT: “and he is a wild-ass man, his hand against every one, and every one's hand against him -- and before the face of all his brethren he dwelleth.'”

Literal Meaning: “He shall be a wild man”, it means that he often leaves away from the human inhabitation and wanders in the wilderness without any restraint and he is hostile to others and is violent and disobedient.

  It is commonly accepted that Ishmael was the forefather of the Arabs. And there were twelve princes out of him (Gen. 17:20), who had enmity against the Israelites from generations to generations.

Spiritual Meaning: this verse typifies that the Spirit is against the flesh (Gal. 5:17). And in most cases, it is the flesh that persecutes the Spirit (Gal. 4:29).

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) If our nature is not subdued, we may easily attack and hurt others.

  2) Man’s flesh is always against the Spirit. Therefore, the flesh should be dealt with.

  3) Religionists are “wild”, for they walk by the flesh without any restraint. Besides, envy and strife (1Cor. 3:3) and arrogance appear among them.


Gen. 16:13 “Then she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, You-Are-the-God-Who-Sees; for she said, "Have I also here seen Him who sees me?"”

YLT: “And she calleth the name of Jehovah who is speaking unto her, `Thou , O God, my beholder;' for she said, `Even here have I looked behind my beholder?'”

The Background: the ancient people believe that one shall die if he sees God face to face (Ex. 33:20).

Literal Meaning: Hagar seemed to be surprised that she could still live when she saw God.

Spiritual Meaning: Hagar saw God, which typified that the function of the law is to manifest the being of God and let men see God. The law on one hand manifests man’s depravity and weakness and on the other hand leads man to see God. Therefore, man will not rely on himself anymore but turn to God and trust in the life of God so that he shall live.

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) When we fall into distress, let us remember that God is a God who sees us.

  2) No matter how low our birth is, and how difficult our situation is, God will still see us.


Gen. 16:14 “Therefore the well was called Beer Lahai Roi; observe, it is between Kadesh and Bered.”

YLT: “therefore hath one called the well, `The well of the Living One, my beholder;' lo, between Kadesh and Bered.”

Meaning of Words: Beer Lahai Roi”: the well of the living one who sees me, the well of the one who lives and sees; “Kadesh”: holy, separation; “Bered”: land of seeds;

Literal Meaning: God is a living and true God (1Thess. 1:9). Whoever meets Him will obtain the supply of living water of life and will “bear fruit” (the meaning of “Bered”). God is also holy. Whoever meets Him will be “sanctified” (the meaning of “Kadesh”).


Gen. 16:15 “So Hagar bore Abram a son; and Abram named his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael.”

YLT: “And Hagar beareth to Abram a son; and Abram calleth the name of his son, whom Hagar hath borne, Ishmael;”

Literal Meaning: Abram named his son according to the name God had indicated to Hargar (see v.11), which showed that he had known in his experience that God is truly a God who sees man’s affliction.

  The birth of Ishmael later brought many sorrows to Abram (Gen. 31:11). The descendants of Ishmael also brought many difficulties to the people of Israel (Ps. 83:5-6).

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) Whatever a man sows, that he will also reap (Gal. 6:7). That which is born of the flesh is flesh (John 3:6).

  2) The problem of Abram did not lie in whether he would bear a son but with whom he bore his son. The problem of believers is not whether we have preached the gospel or not, but that by whom (by oneself or by God) the gospel is preached.


Gen. 16:16 “Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram.”

YLT: “and Abram a son of eighty and six years in Hagar's bearing Ishmael to Abram.”

Spiritual Meaning: “eighty-six”, it is two “seven”s to one hundred, which shows that the birth of this child is still far from the divine perfection ---- that is outside of the perfect will of God.


III. Outlines of the Spiritual Lessons


Crises of Faith

A.  The environment does not seal it ---- Sarai had borne him no children (v.1);

B.  There is an expediency ---- the maidservant Hagar (v.1);

C.  The word of God is not yet seen after waiting for a long time ---- had dwelt ten years (v.3);

D.  Proposal of others ---- Sarai said … (v.2);

E.  One thinks he can still do something ---- Abram received Hagar (v.2);


Conflicts between the Two Covenants (v.4-9)

A.  Sarai represents the covenant of grace;

B.  Hagar represents the covenant of the law;

C.  He who is under the covenant of grace cannot be perfected by law;

D.  The law should be under grace;


Conflicts between the Spirit and the Flesh (v.10-16)

A.  He who is born of Sarai represents the spiritual;

B.  He who is born of Hagar represents the fleshly;

C.  Strife will appear between the spiritual and the fleshly;

D.  The fleshly persecutes the spiritual;


── Caleb HuangChristian Digest Bible Commentary Series

Translated by Mary Zhou