Sarai & Hagar
This next tale, like all of the animal sacrifice (more of which is found in later books of The Old Testament) and odd customs, such as sprinkling animal blood upon altars and upon their congregations (also in later books) is something I didn’t expect to find in The Holy Bible. It has a tawdriness to it, not to mention inherent misogyny operating on multiple levels. In fact, the story serves no purpose except to explain how Abram’s son, Ishmael, came to be.
Perhaps it was simple naiveté on my part, but many such stories in The Old Testament had the same effect on me. Again, I expected more fable-type passages, bolstering all of the fundamentalists’ claims that God is all-loving and benign. But these stories, when viewed in their proper context as a whole, paint a much different picture of Judaic and Christian origins, indeed.
And, like the story of Lot and his daughters in the cave outside of Sodom—which we will get to in due time—the story of Sarai and Hagar isn’t one which Judaists or Christians like to dwell upon.
Thus far in the narrative, Sarai has been nothing but a good and faithful wife. She went along with Abram’s schemes in Egypt, and stuck with him through thick and thin. Unfortunately, though, Sarai wasn’t able to bear Abram any children, which must have left her feeling quite inadequate. So, still good, still faithful, Sarai looked to her Egyptian maid, Hagar, for an answer:
Genesis 16:2, And Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, the Lord hath restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai.
Yeah, I’ll bet he hearkened.
Just as fast as he could.
Genesis 16:3, And Sarai Abram’s wife took Hagar her maid the Egyptian, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife.
Talk about devotion, eh?
Abram, of course, fulfilled his wife’s wishes, and Hagar conceived. But Sarai’s plan backfired. After giving birth, Hagar turned on her mistress, despising Sarai (Genesis 16:4). And when Sarai saw this, she lamented to Abram that she’d made a mistake, entreating The Lord to judge between her and Hagar (Genesis 16:5).
Genesis 16:6, But Abram said unto Sarai, Behold, thy maid is in thy hand; do to her as it pleaseth thee. And when Sarai dealt hardly with her, she fled from her face.
And now we have Abram giving Sarai free reign to treat Hagar as she pleased. And “dealt hardly” is an interesting turn of phrase. Given the nature and tone of this story, one has to assume that Sarai did more than just berate Hagar. And whatever abuse Hagar suffered at the hand (or rod) of Sarai, it was enough to make Hagar flee from the house of Abram.
Now, before we go any further, let’s just take a moment to fully examine the situation as it stands. The author(s) of Genesis certainly haven’t painted a very flattering picture of God’s chosen disciple, or his wife. Abram, it seems, was all too happy to marry Hagar (because having multiple wives is moral, but having sex without marriage is not), impregnate her, then wash his hands of the situation afterwards. There is also no mention of whether or not Hagar had any choice in the matter, or why she grew to despise her mistress after giving birth. But I think it’s safe to say that, being a mere servant, Hagar was coerced into a loathsome situation and quite rightly loathed her mistress for it.
And let us not forget that the whole scheme was Sarai’s idea in the first place. She could’ve chosen to be merciful, but no. Instead, she “dealt hardly” with Hagar. And Abram let her.
So far, this story begs the question:
How cruel, capricious, and daft can two people possibly be?
Now, just in case you’re wondering what Almighty Jehovah thought about all of this:
Genesis 16:7, And the angel of the Lord found her by a fountain in the wilderness, by the fountain in the way to Shur.
I’m sure there are differing interpretations amongst biblical scholars as to what “angel of the lord” means, but to the layman it’s very clear. Either God Himself has found Sarai, or one of His underlings has found Sarai. And either way, it’s God’s will being carried out.
Genesis 16:8, And he said, Hagar, Sarai’s maid, whence camest thou? And whither wilt thou
go? And she said, I flee from the face of my mistress Sarai.
Unfortunately, this last passage doesn’t really clear things up. One could assume it’s God speaking since He’s always referred to in the masculine form throughout The Holy Bible. On the other hand; most, if not all, of the holy angels also have male names. Of course, whoever may be speaking, He continues God’s irritating habit of asking wholly asinine questions which gods and angels should already know the answers to.
And as to His command? Well, as He is often wont to do, God—or His angel—decided to get personally involved with His creations at this point. Again, I have to question not only God’s judgment but His followers’ claims of being benevolent and all-loving. Given Hagar’s plight, would a benevolent, all-loving deity have bade her thus?:
Genesis 16:9, And the angel of the Lord said unto her, return to thy mistress and submit thyself under her hands.
In other words: return to your servitude.
In exchange, however, The Lord—or His angel—offers what seems to be the most prized of gifts to Hagar if she agrees to obey His command: more children (Genesis 16:10). Then, Hagar is told that her child shall be named Ishmael (Genesis 16:11), and is even given a quite a preview of the man Ishmael is to become:
Genesis 16:12, And he will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man’s hand against him; and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.
Sounds like quite a guy, this Ishmael.
But here the mystery of who is addressing Hagar seems to clear up:
Genesis 16: And she called the name of the Lord that spake unto her, Thou God seest: for she said, have I also here looked after him that seeth me?
So it was God, after all.
So, at the ripe old age of eighty-six, Abram became a father (Genesis 16:16). Thus ends the quaint little tale of Sarai and Hagar, and there just isn’t much else to say about it—except that it reads like a blueprint of modern soap operas. And, of course, it’s worth noting again how misogynistic the story is, with both women bringing worry and strife to poor Abram.
Oh, and there is one other small item of note:
In Genesis 17:16, God decides to grant the previously infertile Sarai a son, which renders the whole thing pointless to begin with.
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