Today we begin Genesis Chapter 16.
For the Complete Jewish Bible, click here.
For the King James version, click here.
In this chapter, we are introduced to a series of events leading to the birth of the forefather of the Arab race.
A good long 10 years has passed since Abram departed from his hometown in Mesopotamia.
Much has happened since then.
Abram had been through famine as well as war and although the Lord had protected Abram and kept him strong and healthy throughout the years, God’s promises seem increasingly distant and unlikely to happen.
So one day, no longer able to bear the shame and tension of failing to produce a son for her husband, Sarai decides to take matters into her own hands.
Sarai summons Abram and suggests that he impregnate her slavegirl Hagar so that she can have a son through her.
“Slavegirl” is the word translated from the Hebrew SHIFAH.
Now I understand that most English versions will use the term “maid” or “handmaiden” but frankly this just imposes a misleading sense of European gentility on the sociology of the story that just isn’t there.
The point is that Hagar belonged to Sarai as property.
So Sarai could pretty much do with Hagar as she pleased.
The existence of this type of surrogate maternity institution was well attested to in ancient Near Eastern legal documents.
As a result of this action, the legal status of both Sarai and Hagar did not change.
Hagar did not acquire extra rights nor did she legally achieve equality with the barren Sarai.
However, socially, something did change.
When one examines the Law Codes of Ur-Nammu dating to 2100 BC or the Law of Hammurabi from about 1800 BC, it is made clear that when a barren wife took the serious step of making her slavegirl a concubine for her husband, her social status decreased in the eyes of those around her.
To put it plainly, she was looked down upon.
I think this backdrop explains quite well why Sarai dealt with Hagar so roughly following the birth of a child through her.
Ironically, she used Hagar, her own property, as a means to ward off humility but ended up inviting more humility because of her.