CONTEXT: Difficulty in having children is a recurring motif in the patriarchal stories. God permits conception by divine schedule. In this instance we have an action to circumvent infertility and the consequence is no less than the teleology of conflict between Jew and Arab, more than kin and less than kind. The outcome of Sarah offering her maid as surrogate mother in ch. 16 can be found, skipping a series of interludes, in ch. 21:1-21, expulsion of Hagar and her son and alienation between descendants of Avraham.
            Chapter 16 is mostly from the J source. Lines from the priestly writer/editor are here centered and marked with braces, { }. P tells a thumbnail version of the events, with emphasis on vital statistics and chronology, and with Avram naming his son rather than Hagar naming him as instructed by the angel. Parentheses, ( ), indicate a gloss, a later, scribal, interpolation. Chapter 21 opens with a line from J and a few from P. Verses 6-21 are from the E source.
Polygamy was unremarkable in the days of the narrator and it seems no stretch at all for a childless woman to have offered her personal slave to her husband as surrogate womb. Ephriam Speiser, in his Anchor Bible volume on Genesis, cites remarkably similar practices in the contemporary Mesopotamian Code of Hamurabi and in a Hurrian document. (pp 120f)
            Shur is probably to be located on the northeast border of Mitsrayim/Egypt, a logical route for a fleeing Mitsrit. Area springs were few and far between.
            J’s angel speaks in poetry.  Why not?
            THE INTERVENING CHAPTERS: Chapter 17 describes the b’rit, the “bond” between God and Avram/Avraham and circumcision, the sign of the b’rit. The writing is priestly in content and form, and advances the narrative to Avraham circumcised at 99 and Yishmael at 13.
            Chapters 18 and 19 divert to J’s account of two annunciations. First, unto Sarah will be born a son, to happen in ch. 21. Second, the destruction of S’dom and Amorah. The bargaining, the threat of violence at S’dom with its heroic response, the fire and brimstone, the pillar of salt, and the drunken Lot. Then the story gets back to having children in the worst way.
            Chapter 20 is E’s version of the Wife?Sister! episode. See the three in parallel columns. Here too, the story returns to the subject of birthing.
GLOSSARY: Biblical Hebrew has no word for “husband” or “wife.”  The words ish and ishah, meaning “man” and “woman” could be understood in context to refer to married persons but there is no ceremonial wedding involved here or elsewhere. Hagar seems to be given the same status as Sarai (Avram took Sarai, his ishah… Gen 12:5) but in v. 6, she is called–and derogated–as a maidservant, shifchah. The E writer, in the continuation of the story has Sarah disparaging Hagar as amah. Shifchah and amah refer to the same status. The writers consistently use their preferred term.
Sexual intercourse is indicated here by the verb bo, “come,” with the preposition el, “to.”
SIGNIFICANT NAMES: Yishma’el, “God hears.” When Avram, in v. 15, so names his first born, it is a piety. When, in v. 11, Hagar is told so to name him, it is expresses confidence that God will hear her pain. The latter led to the best known opening line of a novel in all American literature.
ElRoi, “God of Seeing.” In v.13, Hagar offers a personal appellation for Yahh. The following verse links the name to a well in the neighborhood, an example of popular etiology. Ro’i can also be read as “sees me,” as indeed it appears in Hagar’s explaining in the second half of the verse, which is difficult and likely corrupt. Reading ro’i as an infinitive form, hence the abstract “seeing,” is based on the notion that one cannot see god and live. It is also based on a textual ememdation. Hagar is relieved and happy in what she says. The narrator sets an angel of Yahh in the scene. As far as Hagar is concerned, she saw and was seen by Yahh.

{1Sarai, Avram’s wife, had borne him no children.}
She had a maid, a Mitsrit named Hagar. 2So she said to Avram: “It appears that Yahh has restrained me from giving birth. How about you come to my maid? Perhaps, from her, I can be built up.”
            Avram listened to Sarai’s voice.
{3So, following ten years of Avram living in the Land of K’na’an,
Sarai took Hagar the Mitsrit, her maid,
and gave her to her man Avram to be woman to him.}
4He came to her and she conceived. When she saw that she was pregnant she trivilized her mistress with her eyes.
5Sarai said to Avram: “My outrage is on you. I gave my maid into your embrace. She sees she’s pregnant and I am trivialized by her eyes. Yahh judge between me and you.”
            6Avram said: “She’s your maidservant. She’s in your hands. Do to her as you see fit.”  Sarai tormented her and she fled.
            7An angel of Yahh found her by the spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the road to Shur. 8“Hagar, maid of Sarai, Whence come you and whither go?”
“I am fleeing from Sarai, my mistress,” she said.
9Said the angel of Yahh:
“Return to your mistress            be tormented under her hand.
  10I will massively multiply your seed         such a mass it can’t be counted.
       11Now you’re pregnant          you shall bear a son. 
              Call him Yishma’el          for Yahh has heard your pain.
                  12A wild ass of a man he’ll be         his hand at all, all hands at him,
                            He’ll dwell in the face of his brothers.”
            13She called Yahh, who had spoken to her: “You are ElRo’i/God of Seeing, for did I both see God–who sees me–and live?” 14That’s how the well came to be called B’erLachaiRo’i. (It’s between Kadesh and Bered.)
{15Hagar bore Avram a son. Avram named his son, whom Hagar had born,
Yishma’el. 16Avram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Yishma’el.}

Genesis 21:1-21

            1Yahh took account of Sarah, as he had said.
{Yahh did for Sarah as he had spoken.}
2She conceived and bore Avraham a son for his old age
{at the set time God had spoken to him.
3Avraham named his son, born to him, whom Sarah had borne to him, Yitschak.
4Avraham circumcised Yitschak his son when he was eight days old,
as God had commanded him.
5Avraham was a hundred years old when his son Yitschak was born.}

6Sarah said: “God has made a joke of me. Anyone who hears will laugh/yitschak at me. 7Who would have said of Avraham, ‘Sarah is nursing?’ Well I’ve borne a son for his old age!”
            8The child grew and was weaned. Avraham made a great party to celebrate the day of the weaning of Yitschak.
9Sarah saw Hagar the Egyptian’s son she had borne to Avraham, joking. 10“Send away this maidservant and her son,” she said to Avraham, “for the son of this maidservant shall never inherit along with my son, along with Yitschak.”
11The thing was very bad in Avraham’s eyes concerning his son. 12God said to Avraham: “Let it not be bad in your eyes regarding the boy and your maidservant. Listen to the voice of Sarah, all that she says to you. Though your seed will be called by the name ‘Yitschak,’ 13I shall also set up as a nation the son of the maidservant, for he is your seed.”
            14Avraham rose early in the morning.  He took bread and a water skin and gave it to Hagar, loading it onto her shoulder along with the child.  And he sent her away.
            She walked, she wandered, in the wilderness of B’er Sheva. 15The water gone from the skin, she shoved the child under one of the shrubs 16and went and sat apart, a bow shot away, for she said, “I shall not see the child’s death.” She raised her voice and wept.
            17God heard the lad’s voice.  An angel of God called from the sky: “What is it, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the lad’s voice, just as he is, there. 18Up!  Pick up the lad. Hold him by your hand. I am going to set him up as a great nation.” 19God opened her eyes so that she saw a well. Water! She went and filled the water skin and gave the lad a drink.

            20God was with the lad, and he grew.  He lived in the wilderness and became a bowman. 21He lived in the Wilderness of Paran. His mother got him a woman from the land of Egypt.
© Rabbi David L. Kline  

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