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Genesis 16: Abraham Walks by Sight

Time tests our faith in God's promises. Abram and Sarai substitute trust in God with a trust in their own plans, with far reaching consequences.

Chapter Notes


  • Have you ever been impatient and then regretted it?

  • Genesis 16 records the Sarai encouraging Abram to take her Egyptian handmaid, Hagar as a surrogate mother to try to fulfill the promise of God.

  • The result of the plan is Ishmael, who is born when Abram is 86 years old.


  • vv. 1–3 - Over ten years had passed since God had called Abram out of Ur and into Canaan. In that time, God had reassured Abram of His intentions to give him offspring and the land. In the previous chapter he learned that the land would be given only after a long delay, but where was the promised seed? Sarai knew two things, a) God had promised offspring, b) God had restrained her womb. Rather than trusting God,  and she is pragmatically invents a solution to the problem. This would have been common in that day, but it is not God’s plan. Abram, rather than dismissing the idea, because he also feels the tension between God’s promise and God’s delay, listens to her.

  • vv. 4–6 - So Abram takes Hagar. However culturally accepted this was, Christ’s teaching on marriage in Matthew 19 establishes the sinfulness of this action. The fruit of sin is to bring disharmony into the home. Hagar becomes proud. She views Sarai in less esteem and Sarai can sense it. Since Abram now has responsibility for Hagar, Sarai blames Abram, and so Abram gives back to Sarai her authority over Hagar. So Sarai treats her so harshly that Hagar flees and appears to go towards Egypt, where she was from.

  • vv. 7–9 - As she flees, the angel of the Lord meets with her. This is a revelation of the Son of God, and He instructs Hagar to return and submit to Sarai. Christ is the great seeker of wayward souls.

  • vv. 10-12 - Note the angel does not speak on behalf of God, but as God. “I will multiply thy seed” etc. Hagar is given a blessing similar to what God promised Abram. A multitude of descendants, except this child will be called Ishmael. He will be untamable and in constant conflict. His name will be Ishmael and will be a wild donkey of a man, meaning someone who roams with a nomadic tendency. He will be in conflict with everyone. Hagar must have reported the encounter to Abram for in v15-16, the child is named Ishmael.

  • v. 13 Hagar was not expecting to meet with God, but what a memorable occasion for her. This is perhaps the only women to give God a divine title, literally rendered “The God of seeing.” I think it likely that Hagar may already have been a believer. Abram instructed his household in God’s truth, so why would Sarai give an unbeliever to her husband?

  • vv. 14–16 - ends with the naming of the well and the birth of Ishmael.


  1. Beware of pragmatism and DIY solutions to the problems of life. Often the proof of a lively faith is its ability to wait (see Isaiah 28:16). Parents, don’t try to force the conversion of your children. Young people, don’t try to force a relationship with an unbeliever. Do not succumb to the temptation to take matters into your own hands when you know that God has called you to wait. Waiting and praying is obedience in such instances. The apostolic counsel is, “everything by prayer.”

  2. Fathers, elders, leaders of any kind, do not abandon your responsibility to lead. In this chapter, Abram abdicates responsibility to Sarai, Hagar, and the unborn child. He is just like his father Adam, who instead of rescuing Eve from her sin, he rejected his responsibility to lead, listened to wicked counsel, and rebelled against God. Listen, men, there is a word you must be comfortable with in leadership. It is the word, “No.” Satan may use your nearest and dearest to tempt you. Learn to say no when your discernment perceives dangers others depending on you do not see.

  3. Children, it is when we first realize that God sees us that we realize that we must see Him. If God sees you, and He sees all the ugliness of your sin, what are you to do? You are to see Him as He dies on the cross for sin. Look, my dear child, look! See the Lamb of God that can take away your sin. Many like Ishmael, are born to godly parents. But you need to repent and believe if you are to be saved.

  4. Let us remember to be gracious to God’s people. Not only is Abram an example of faithfulness, but Peter says that godly women are the daughters of Sarah. Let us be patient with one another on our Christian pilgrimage. God didn’t give up on Sarai, Abram, or Hagar. Let us be filled with the love of God for God’s covenant people.

  5. Finally, maybe I speak to someone who feels like running away from a difficulty. God sees you in your affliction. It could be that like Sarai, you are trying to overturn a difficult providence. Or maybe like Hagar, you feel like running from a difficult parent, employer, church elders, or whoever. But God’s Word to you may indeed be as v. 9, return and submit. If you are being wrongfully treated, bring it to the attention of authorities. But, we often need to learn that it is by our submission that God glorifies Himself and fulfills His purposes.

“Be patient, be patient, be patient, and the dark cloud shall drop a sparkling shower.” — Charles Spurgeon

Family Worship Companion
Family Worship Companion
Armen Thomassian