09 May, 2017

Genesis 16—The Lord’s Kindly Speech to Hagar

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. And the angel of the Lord said unto her, Return to thy mistress, and submit thyself under her hands. And the angel of the Lord said unto her, I will multiply thy seed exceedingly, that it shall not be numbered for multitude. And the angel of the Lord said unto her, Behold, thou art with child and shalt bear a son, and shalt call his name Ishmael; because the Lord hath heard thy affliction. 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. And she called the name of the Lord that spake unto her, Thou God seest me: for she said, Have I also here looked after him that seeth me? Wherefore the well was called Beerlahairoi; behold, it is between Kadesh and Bered. And Hagar bare Abram a son: and Abram called his son’s name, which Hagar bare, Ishmael. And Abram was fourscore and six years old, when Hagar bare Ishmael to Abram (Gen. 16:8–16 KJV).

Hagar is assumed by many commentators to be a reprobate/non-elect, and that therefore God’s promise to “multiply [her] seed exceedingly, that it shall not be numbered for multitude,” as well His whole "kindly speech" towards her, is said to be an example of “common grace”—i.e., God's blessing and favor upon the non-elect/reprobate.


Rev. Robert C. Harbach

[Source: Studies in the Book of Genesis, pp. 317-323; emphasis added.]

The language of the Angel of the Lord to her is not like that directed to Cain, but similar to that directed to Adam (3:9, 11, 13). The Angel’s approach is pedagogical, intended to convict her of sin, to lead her to confession, to return her to her calling. The address, “Hagar, Sarai’s maid,” [v. 8] expresses full knowledge of her and her circumstance, as was the case with Elijah in, “What doest thou here Elijah?” [I Kings 19:13]. He reminds her what she is, a fugitive, a stranger, a slave. For His address to her as “Sarai’s maid,” and not as Abram’s wife, censured and disallowed her “marriage,” and pointed her to her proper place as a servant. So we by nature are fugitives from God, strangers from the covenant of Israel, and the slaves of sin with no right to be His servants until He restore us in Christ. “Whence camest thou?” This reminds us of our sinful origin: we came from corrupt Adam, we came from the Fall, we came from a depraved race, we came from the comforting presence of God, as Adam fled from His presence. The call of the gospel is to return to Him, for He is the only place of safety. The question, “Whither wilt thou go?” should remind us of the place of danger and of condemnation in which we are by nature, and that by ourselves there is no way out. Whither wilt thou go? Thou canst not, thou hast not the power to go out of death into life! Whither wilt thou go, but deeper into sin, and down into hell? The question is asked as though it were a strange thing for her to be “in the way to Shur,” which was on the way down to Egypt. “And now, what hast thou to do in the way of Egypt?” (Jer. 2:18). That is not the way that leadeth to life, but the broad way that leadeth to destruction. What then? Return! That is the call of God to His prodigal sons and daughters. Return to your place in God’s family (cp. Luke 15:20). Therefore, these questions are calculated to prepare us to listen to the counsel of God, and that we may find “the way out” in Jesus Christ, the only Mediator and Savior. Then what evidence is that that grace has, in the call of the gospel, comforted our hearts? That we conform in prompt compliance with the will of God, and return to Him (Jer. 3:22)  


“I will multiply thy seed exceedingly that it shall not be numbered for multitude.” The words of this pronouncement are used throughout Genesis as the expression of a blessing which falls upon the elect. Words to this effect were spoken to Adam and Eve (1:28), concerning the animals (8:1), to Noah and his sons (9:1, 7), here, to Hagar, to Abraham (17:6), to Jacob (28:3, 4), of God’s people in Egypt (47:27), and of Israel in the land (Lev. 26:9). These words are used in Scripture either in connection with a blessing or to indicate that which God would make a blessing. No exception to this regular usage of the expression is made with respect to Hagar. The Angel of the Lord gives her to expect a portion of the blessing of Abraham in a numerous offspring. Then the expression as it appears throughout Scripture applies not to the reprobate. Not blessing, but cursing is for them.


“And the Angel of the Lord said unto her, ‘Behold, thou art with child, and shalt bear a son, and shalt call his name Ishmael …’” The Lord’s kindly speech to Hagar continues, promising her more than the mere providential gift of many descendants, but also proceeding to prescribe the name of her yet unborn son. We find five other real parallels of this predicting the birth and name of a son in Scripture, as in the instances of Isaac (17:19), Solomon (I Chron. 22:9), Josiah (I Kings 13:2), John (Luke 1:13), and Jesus (Matt. 1:21). In this vein there is a self-consistency of Scripture. Where is there a divergence from it in the Lord’s foretelling to parents(s) the birth and name to be given to a reprobate? Invariably these instances apply only to the elect. Also the name Ishmael, “God-shall-hear,” indicates the Lord’s kindly disposed approach, first, toward his mother, “because the Lord hath heard thy affliction.” Then the Lord approached his father with, “As for Ishmael, I have heard thee: Behold, I have blessed him.” Finally, God heard the lad himself (21:17).

“… because the Lord hath heard thy affliction.” This is the full implication of the name Ishmael, “God hath heard thy affliction.” Affliction is the experience of the elect, punishment that of the reprobate. Take your Bible concordance and trace the word “affliction” in the Old Testament. See in Exodus 2:23-25 how “the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. And God looked upon the children of Israel, and God had respect unto them.” “And the Lord said, I have surely seen the affliction of My people, which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry” (3:7). In II Samuel 22:26-28 we read, “With the merciful Thou wilt show Thyself merciful, and with the upright man Thou wilt show Thyself upright. With the pure Thou wilt show Thyself pure; and with the forward Thou wilt show Thyself unsavoury. And the afflicted people Thou wilt save …” Elihu reminded Job that wicked men “cause the cry of the poor to come unto Him, and He heareth the cry of the afflicted” (Job 34:28). And David says, “For He hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath He hid His face from him; but when he cried unto Him, He heard” (Psalm 22:24). But the Lord despises the workers of iniquity, according to Psalm 5:5 and 53:4, 5. He abhors them (5:5; 10:3). When “they call upon Me,” says the Lord, “I will not answer” (Prov. 1:28)! While there is no specific mention that she had prayed and called upon the Lord, yet the Lord heard her affliction, her cry, and groaning. For He had sought her, drew her to Himself at the well, corrected her, and comforted her.

There is the opinion, of course, that Ishmael was a reprobate. This thought comes as no great surprise. It is far more surprising to read that this reprobate was yet a partaker of temporal benefits, such as the ”blessing” of not being overcome by his enemies. Thus he was not entirely without God’s favor, and that, with respect to this present life, the goodness of God extended to him and to the fleshly seed. Only a brief remark is here in order, since critique more at length on the point runs through this work. Scripture does not teach that God ever blesses the reprobate, either in time or in eternity. It is contradictory thought to hold that God curses the reprobate eternally, but blesses them in this life. The Bible teaches no such contradiction, for God’s goodness is always particular, bestowed, as it is, only on the elect. (See Canons of Dort, II, 8 and Prov. 3:33-35).

“He will be a wild ass of a man,” or, a wild-ass man. This is not meant in any derogatory way, but indicates his desert-man nature, his love of freedom (Job 39:5, 6-8), and desire to live away from civilization (Dan. 5:21), a free nomad. It was his aim to be “alone by himself” (Hos. 8:9). That is why we read, “his hand against all, and hand of all against him.” It was as though he would hold off everyone at arm’s length to be alone and be left alone. With difficulty will any one, or any one people, live an isolated life in the midst of this world, especially “in the visible presence of” his fellow men. For some people, to the rest of the world, seem strange, especially when it becomes known that they prefer to dwell by themselves away from the settlements of society. For this “strangeness” they are often pestered by the curious, stereotyped citizenry. They are opposed by at least a kind of snobbery for having an intellect and temperament different from the average.

“And before the faces of all his brethren he shall dwell.” This is not to say that he preferred absolute independence of the covenant family, thus rejecting the covenant. For there were throughout the Old Testament dispensation remnants of God’s people here and there, outside of the established, instituted body of Israel, such as Melchizedek, Lot, the Ninevites who repented at the preaching of Jonah, the elect Egyptians (Isa. 19:19-25), Esther and Mordecai, the Ethiopian eunuch, and the saints in Caesar’s household. These all dwelt before their brethren, but not among (the greater body of) them.

Verses 13, 14. “And she called the name of Jehovah who spoke unto her, Thou God seest me.” The last four words are, literally, Thou! God of seeing! She could not say from the heart, “Thou God seest me,” without her seeing God! These words reveal her knowledge of God, as one of the many servants of Abram, he having about 318, who were trained, that is, dedicated to the Lord (14:14), or instructed in the knowledge of God. For it was Abram’s policy to command his entire household after him to “keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment” (18:19). These servants worshiped the Lord (24:48), knew how to pray (v. 12), and how to use God’s name without taking it in vain (v. 9). Hagar, numbered among this sanctified company, must have given evidence of regeneration and conversion, or Sarai never would have thought to make her the mother of the promised seed; nor would Abram have consciously taken a mere heathen woman with a view to producing covenant seed.

This expression of hers is evidence that Hagar rejoiced in the promise of a son just given her, and that grace was shown her. Rev. George M. Ophoff on this passage wrote, the Lord “knew her down-sitting and her uprising, understood her thoughts afar off, compasses her path and her lying down, was acquainted with all her ways … her wandering, put her tears in His bottle, and kept them in His book. This she knew now. ‘Thou God seest me.’”3

“For she said, ‘Have I also here looked after Him that seeth me!’” Here is Hagar’s wonder that she should have been favoured with a vision of God. Also here suggested is the idea that the sight of God is deliverance. (Cp. the serpent of brass, Num. 21:8-9; Isa. 45:22). “Have I?” I, so unworthy! a mere run-away slave! a sinner! “Who am I, O Lord God? and what is my house, that Thou hast brought me hitherto?” (II Sam. 7:18). “Have I here … ?” That is, in this place, as though tapping with a foot to indicate a spot. Have I here seen Him? here in this wild desert, far from the center of God’s people, and out of my real calling? “Have I here looked after Him?” No, I was careless and unmindful of Him. But He has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. He saw me in my sin, in my contempt of my mistress, in my unheeding flight; He saw me by the well. He saw me in the wilderness, saw it all! Thus it was that she had come to see God in one of the incommunicable attributes of His majesty, His divine omniscience. Realizing that He first saw her, she then saw Him as the living God, in the true, spiritual sight of whom she herself lived! Here is an early instance of, “I am sought of them that asked not for Me; I am found of them that sought Me not” (Isa. 65:1).


“And Hagar bare Abram a son, and Abram called his son’s name, which Hagar bare, Ishmael.” Thus Abram also believed the truth conveyed in Hagar’s vision of God. The word of God was fulfilled to her in that she was saved through child-bearing (I Tim. 2:15), and that not merely by providence, but by promise.


3. The Standard Bearer, VI, 370.



Rev. Angus Stewart

Check out the following sermon on Genesis 16 by Rev. Stewart. This is part ‘7’ of a 16-part series going through Genesis chapters 12 to 25.

Sermon Title: “The Birth of Ishmael”
Scripture Text: Genesis 16 KJV
Sermon Series: “Abraham, the Father of the Faithful.”

To listen to the entire sermon series and others like it, click the following:



More to come! (DV)

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