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HAGAR (hā'gar, Heb. hāghār, emigration, flight). An Egyptian handmaid to Sarai, wife of Abram. God had promised him a son and heir (15:4), but Sarai was barren. Following the marital customs of the times, she gave Hagar to her husband as her substitute (16:1-16). When Hagar saw that she had conceived, she despised her mistress, causing trouble in the household. Hagar was driven out, but the angel of the Lord appeared and sent her back to her mistress (16:7-14). When her son Ishmael was fourteen years old, his father one hundred, and Sarah ninety, Isaac was born. At a great feast held in connection with Isaac’s weaning, Ishmael scoffed at the proceedings (21:9), so Sarah insisted that Hagar and her son be cast out, and Abraham unwillingly complied. God told Abraham that Ishmael’s descendants would become a nation. Hagar is last seen taking a wife for her son out of the land of Egypt, her own land (21:1-21). Paul made Hagar’s experience an allegory of the difference between law and grace (Gal.4.21-Gal.5.1).

HAGAR hā’ gär (הָגָֽר, flight). The concubine of Abraham and the mother of Ishmael. To understand the story of Hagar, it is necessary to begin ten years before she appears upon the scene, to the time when God called Abraham to leave his own country for a new land that He would show him. God then promised that even though Abraham was old (seventy-five years) and childless, He would make of him a great nation (Gen 12:1-3). After ten years of fruitless waiting for the promised son, Sarah offered to Abraham her personal Egyp. maid, Hagar (prob. acquired during their brief stay in Egypt, Gen 12:10ff.), as a concubine in the hope of producing a son by her. The code of Hammurabi and the Nuzi tablets (which come from the region of the patriarchs although from a slightly later period) show it was customary for a childless wife to provide her husband with a concubine. If a son was born of the union, he was regarded as the child of the wife. Apparently both Abraham and Sarah were convinced that God would not give them children by Sarah, but that God’s promise could be fulfilled by a son through Hagar.

Abraham followed Sarah’s suggestion. Hagar conceived and then began to show contempt and disdain for her mistress in various ways, causing distress to Sarah. Bitter feelings and wounded pride caused Sarah to blame Abraham for doing what she herself had suggested (Gen 16:5). He replied that Sarah could do anything she wanted with Hagar, her maid. Sarah decided to humble Hagar, prob. by having her do menial work and live with her servants. Hagar refused to accept correction and fled from her mistress.

It may be that Hagar decided to go back to her own country, Egypt, for the angel of the Lord appeared to her not far from its border and told her to return to her mistress and submit to her. He also comforted her by adding that she would bear a son, whom she was to call Ishmael (meaning “God hears”); and he told her what kind of man he would be—a wild and lawless one, quarrelsome even with his own kindred, and that she would have innumerable descendants. Hagar’s son was born when Abraham was eighty-six years old.

Fourteen years later, when Abraham was one hundred years old, and Sarah ninety, God gave them a son whom they named Isaac. The day the child was weaned (among the Jews this was about three years after it was born), at a great feast made to celebrate the occasion, Sarah became incensed when she saw Ishmael, now a lad about seventeen years old, mocking Isaac. (The RSV has “playing with,” but the KJV and ASV, more correctly, have “mocking,” which the context and Gal 4:29 demand; indeed, the RSV renders the same Heb. word “jesting” [Gen 19:14] and “insult” [39:14, 17].) Sarah told Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael away. Abraham loved Ishmael and was therefore very unwilling to do this, but God told him to do what Sarah asked, and Abraham obeyed.

Hagar and Ishmael left the home of Abraham and went into the wilderness of Beersheba. When the water they had with them gave out, Hagar placed her exhausted son in the shade of some bushes and waited for him to die. The angel of the Lord spoke to her that God had heard his cry and showed her where there was a spring of water. He also assured her that God would make of him a great nation. Ishmael lived in the wilderness of Paran and became an expert hunter, and his mother got for him a wife from the land of Egypt.

In Galatians 4:22-31 Paul applies the story of Hagar allegorically, indicating that Hagar the bondwoman and her son represent the old covenant, while Sarah and Isaac typify the grace and freedom of the new covenant.


H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Genesis (1942), 493-510, 594-609; G. Von Rad, Genesis. A Commentary (1956), 185-230; J. A. Thompson, Archaeology and the OT (1959), 24-31; D. W. Thomas (ed.), Documents from OT Times (1962), 27-37.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

An Egyptian woman, the handmaid or slave of Sarai; a present, perhaps, from Pharaoh when Abram dissembled to him in Egypt (Ge 12:16). Mention is made of her in two passages (Ge 16; 21:8-21).

1. The Scornful Handmaid and Her Flight:

In the first narrative (Ge 16) it is related that Sarai, despairing at her age of having children, gave Hagar to Abram as a concubine. As Hagar was not an ordinary household slave but the peculiar property of her mistress (compare Ge 29:24,29), any offspring which she might bear to Abram would be reckoned as Sarai’s (compare Ge 30:3-9). In the prospect of becoming a mother, Hagar, forgetting her position, seems to have assumed an insolent bearing toward her childless mistress. Sarai felt keenly the contempt shown her by her handmaid, and in angry tones brought her conduct before Abram. Now that her plan was not working out smoothly, she unfairly blamed her husband for what originated with herself, and appealed to Heaven to redress her grievance. Abram refused to interfere in the domestic quarrel, and renouncing his rights over his concubine, and her claims on him, put her entirely at Sarai’s disposal. Under the harsh treatment of her mistress Hagar’s life became intolerable, and she fled into the wilderness, turning her steps naturally toward Egypt, her native land.

2. Her Vision and Return:

But the angel of Yahweh (who is here introduced for the first time as the medium of theophany) appeared to her as she was resting by a spring and commanded her to return and submit herself to her mistress, promising her an innumerable seed through her unborn son, concerning whom he uttered a striking prediction (see Ishmael). To the angel (who is now said to be Yahweh Himself) Hagar gave the name "Thou art a God of seeing" (the Revised Version (British and American) "that seeth"), for she said, "Have I even here (in the desert where God, whose manifestations were supposed to be confined to particular places, might not be expected to reveal Himself) looked after him that seeth me?"--the meaning being that while God saw her, it was only while the all-seeing God in the person of His angel was departing that she became conscious of His presence. The spring where the angel met with her was called in Hebrew tradition Be’er-lachay-ro’i, "the well of the living one who seeth me" (Revised Version, margin).

Obedient to the heavenly vision Hagar returned, as the narrative implies, to her mistress and gave birth to Ishmael, Abram being then eighty-six years old.

The idea in 30:13 is not very clearly expressed. The word translated "here" generally means "hither," and there is no explanation of the "living one" in the name of the well. It has therefore been proposed to emend the Hebrew text and read "Have I even seen God, and lived after my seeing?"--an allusion to the belief that no one could "see God and live" (compare Ge 32:30; Ex 33:20). But there are difficulties in the way of accepting this emendation. The name of God, "a God of seeing," would require to be interpreted in an objective sense as "a God who is seen," and the consequent name of the well, "He that seeth me liveth," would make God, not Hagar, as in 30:13, the speaker.

3. Her Harsh Expulsion and Divine Help:

The other narrative (Ge 21:8-21) relates what occurred in connection with the weaning of Isaac. The presence and conduct of Ishmael during the family feast held on the occasion roused the anger and jealousy of Sarah who, fearing that Ishmael would share the inheritance with Isaac, peremptorily demanded the expulsion of the slave-mother and her son. But the instincts of Abraham’s fatherly heart recoiled from such a cruel course, and it was only after the revelation was made to him that the ejection of Hagar and her son would be in the line of the Divine purpose--for Isaac was his real seed, while Ishmael would be made a nation too--that he was led to forego his natural feelings and accede to Sarah’s demand. So next morning the bondwoman and her son were sent forth with the bare provision of bread and a skin of water into the wilderness of Beersheba. When the water was spent, Hagar, unable to bear the sight of her boy dying from thirst, laid him under a shrub and withdrew the distance of a bowshot to weep out her sorrow. But the angel of God, calling to her out of heaven, comforted her with the assurance that God had heard the voice of the lad and that there was a great future before him. Then her eyes were opened to discover a well of water from which she filled the skin and gave her son to drink. With God’s blessing the lad grew up amid the desert’s hardships, distinguished for his skill with the bow. He made his home in the wilderness of Paran, and his mother took a wife for him out of her own country.

4. Practical Lessons from the History:

The life and experience of Hagar teach, among other truths, the temptations incident to a new position; the foolishness of hasty action in times of trial and difficulty; the care exercised over the lonely by the all-seeing God; the Divine purpose in the life of everyone, however obscure and friendless; how God works out His gracious purposes by seemingly harsh methods; and the strength, comfort and encouragement that ever accompany the hardest experiences of His children.

5. Critical Points in the Documents:

Genesis 16 belongs to the Jahwist, J, (except 16:1a,3,15 f which are from P), and 21:8-21 to East. From the nature of the variations in the narratives many critics hold that we have here two different accounts of the same incident. But the narratives as they stand seem to be quite distinct, the one referring to Hagar’s flight before the birth of Ishmael, and the other to her expulsion at the weaning of Isaac. It is said, however, that Elohist (E) represents Ishmael as a child "playing" (The Revised Veersion, margin, Septuagint paizonta) with Isaac at the weaning festival, and young enough to be carried by his mother and "cast" under a shrub; while according to the Priestly Code, the Priestly Code (P), (Ge 16:16; 21:5), as a child was weaned at the age of two or three years, he would be a lad of sixteen at that time. The argument for the double narrative here does not seem conclusive. The word metsacheq (16:9) does not necessarily mean "playing" when used absolutely; it is so used in Ge 19:14, evidently in the sense of "mocking" or "jesting," and Delitzsch gives it that meaning there. Then as to 19:14, the Massoretic Text does not state that the child was put on her shoulder, although the Septuagint does; nor does "cast" (19:15) so "clearly imply" that Ishmael was an infant carried by his mother (compare Mt 15:30). It may be added that the words yeledh and na`ar, translated "child" and "lad" respectively, determine nothing as to age, as they are each used elsewhere in both senses.

6. Allegorical Use of the Story by Paul:

In Ga 4:21 ff Paul makes an allegorical use of this episode in the history of Ishmael and Isaac to support his argument for the transitory character of the Jewish ritual and the final triumph of Christian freedom over all Judaizing tendencies. In elaborating his reference, the apostle institutes a series of contrasts. Hagar, the bondwoman, represents the old covenant which was given from Mt. Sinai; and as Ishmael was Abraham’s son after the flesh, so the Judaizing Christians, who wish to remain in bondage to the law, are Hagar’s children. On the other hand, Sarah, the freewoman, represents the new covenant instituted by Christ; and as Isaac was born to Abraham in virtue of the promise, so the Christians who have freed themselves entirely from the law of carnal ordinances and live by faith are Sarah’s children. Thus Hagar corresponds to "the Jerusalem that now is," that is, the Jewish state which is in spiritual bondage with her children; while Sarah represents "the Jerusalem that is above," "our mother" (Revised Version (British and American)), the mother of us Christians, that free spiritual city to which Christians even now belong (Php 3:20). By this allegory the apostle would warn the Galatian Christians of the danger which beset them from their Judaizing brethren, of their subjection to the covenant of works and their ultimate expulsion from the household of faith.

To us Paul’s reference does not appeal with the same force as it would do to those to whom he was writing. The incident taken by itself, indeed, does not contain any suggestion of such a hidden meaning. Yet the history of the Hebrew nation is but typical of the history of the church in all ages, and the apostle’s familiarity with rabbinical modes of interpretation may have led him to adopt this method of confirming the truth which he had already proved from the law itself.

For a discussion of the text and interpretation of Ga 4:25 a, "Now this Hagar is mount Sinai in Arabia," and an account of Philo’s allegory of Hagar and Sarah, see Lightfoot’s notes at the end of chapter iv in his Commentary on Gal.