15 November 2012

Genesis 16:1-16

"So she named the Lord who spoke to her, 'you are El-roi', for she said, 'Have I really seen God and remained alive after seeing him.'" (v. 13)


Over a period of ten years we learn more about the relationship in Abram's household. Archaeological evidence of the customs of the time indicate that in some marriage contracts a childless wife was required to find a substitute for her husband as childlessness was considered to be one of the greatest of life's tragedies. The custom also provided for the future life of the slave and her child in that they could not be sent away. Sarai, Abram's wife, sent Hagar her servant to Abram (verse 3). Once Hagar is pregnant we are told that she looks with contempt on Sarai (verse 4). Sarai the treats her harshly and Hagar runs away (verses 5-6).

Hagar is one of the oppressed and the story takes a new turn when Hagar is met by an angel, a messenger from God, who tells her to return to Sarai and submit to her (verses 7-9). But she is also encouraged to hear that from her child will come many offspring (verses 10-12). He will be called Ishmael and will be known as a 'bit of a rebel', we would probably say.

With Ishmael's birth it could be said that God has not committed himself exclusively to Abram and Sarai; God's concern is not confined to the elect line. There is passion and concern for those who are the alien and the foreigner.

We have just one sentence that describes Hagar's response to God. In verse 13 she names God and wonders how she can be still alive. The translation of El-roi is commonly "the God who sees'. YHWH has 'seen' to Hagar (ie provided for her ) as well as being the object of her sight.

Here we see all the tensions of family life as people try to make sense of their situation. We can empathise with each person in different ways: Abram seems a eager to hand over the decision to Sarai; Sarai has to find a way of dealing with her childlessness; Hagar is both a slave and a mother to be.

To Ponder

  • Which character are you most able to empathise with and why?
  • Spend a few minutes thinking about the names of God that you know. What are the most helpful ones to you at the moment?
  • Who would you describe as the 'alien' and the 'foreigner' today? How do you react to knowing of God's passion and commitment to them and for them? 

Bible notes author

Susan Johnson

Susan has recently moved house from the north east coast in Durham to the west coast in Cumbria. After completing eight years as the Darlington Methodist District mission and development enabler she is taking time out to explore what next, but hopes to get involved with the local foodbanks in the area.