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Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, [1834], at

Genesis Chapter 16

- The Birth of Ishmael

1. הנר hāgār, Hagar, "flight." Hejrah, the flight of Muhammed.

7. מלאך mal'ak "messenger, angel." A deputy commissioned to discharge a certain duty for the principal whom he represents. As the most usual task is that of bearing messages, commands, or tidings, he is commonly called a "messenger" ἄγγελος angelos). The word is therefore a term of office, and does not further distinguish the office-bearer than as an intelligent being. Hence, a מלאך mal'ak may be a man deputed by a man Gen 32:3; Job 1:14, or by God Hag 1:13; Mal 3:1, or a superhuman being delegated in this case only by God. The English term "angel" is now especially appropriated to the latter class of messengers.

1st. The nature of angels is spiritual Heb 1:14. This characteristic ranges over the whole chain of spiritual being from man up to God himself. The extreme links, however, are excluded: man, because he is a special class of intelligent creatures; and God, because he is supreme. Other classes of spiritual beings may be excluded - as the cherubim, the seraphim - because they have not the same office, though the word "angelic" is sometimes used by us as synonymous with heavenly or spiritual. They were all of course originally good; but some of them have fallen from holiness, and become evil spirits or devils Mat 25:31, Mat 25:41; Jde 1:6; Rev 12:7. The latter are circumscribed in their sphere of action, as if confined within the walls of their prison, in consequence of their fallen state and malignant disposition Gen. 3; Job 1:2; Pe1 2:4; Rev 20:2. Being spiritual, they are not only moral, but intelligent. They also excel in strength Psa 103:20. The holy angels have the full range of action for which their qualities are adapted. They can assume a real form, expressive of their present functions, and affecting the senses of sight, hearing, and touch, or the roots of those senses in the soul. They may even perform innocent functions of a human body, such as eating Gen 18:8; Gen 19:3. Being spirits, they can resolve the material food into its original elements in a way which we need not attempt to conceive or describe. But this case of eating stands altogether alone. Angels have no distinction of sex Mat 22:30. They do not grow old or die. They are not a race, and have not a body in the ordinary sense of the term.

2d. Their office is expressed by their name. In common with other intelligent creatures, they take part in the worship of God Rev 7:11; but their special office is to execute the commands of God in the natural world Psa 103:20, and especially to minister to the heirs of salvation Heb 1:14; Mat 18:10; Luk 15:10; Luk 16:22. It is not needful here to enter into the uniquenesses of their ministry.

3d. The angel of Jehovah. This phrase is especially employed to denote the Lord himself in that form in which he condescends to make himself manifest to man; for the Lord God says of this angel, "Beware of him, and obey his voice; provoke him not, for he will not pardon your transgressions; for my name is in his inmost" Exo 23:21; that is, my nature is in his essence. Accordingly, he who is called the angel of the Lord in one place is otherwise denominated the Lord or God in the immediate context (Gen 16:7, Gen 16:13; Gen 22:11-12; Gen 31:11, Gen 31:13; Gen 48:15-16; Exo 3:2-15; Exo 23:20-23; with Exo 33:14-15). It is remarkable, at the same time, that the Lord is spoken of in these cases as a distinct person from the angel of the Lord, who is also called the Lord. The phraseology intimates to us a certain inherent plurality within the essence of the one only God, of which we have had previous indications Gen 1:26; Gen 3:22. The phrase "angel of the Lord," however, indicates a more distant manifestation to man than the term Lord itself. It brings the medium of communication into greater prominence. It seems to denote some person of the Godhead in angelic form. שׁוּר shûr, Shur, "wall." A city or place probably near the head of the gulf of Suez. The desert of Shur is now Jofar.

11. ישׁמעאל yı̂shmā‛ē'l, Jishmael, "the Mighty will hear."

13. ראי אל 'êl rŏ'ı̂y, "God of vision or seeing."

14. ראי לחי באר be'ēr-lachay-ro'ı̂y, Beer-lachai-roi, "well of vision to the living." ברד bered, Bered, "hail." The site is not known.

Sarah has been barren probably much more than twenty years. She appears to have at length reluctantly arrived at the conclusion that she would never be a mother. Nature and history prompted the union of one man to one wife in marriage, and it might have been presumed that God would honor his own institution. But the history of the creation of man was forgotten or unheeded, and the custom of the East prompted Sarai to resort to the expedient of giving her maid to her husband for a second wife, that she might have children by her.

Gen 16:1-6

A Mizrite handmaid. - Hagar was probably obtained, ten years before, during their sojourn in Egypt. "The Lord hath restrained me." It was natural to the ancient mind to recognize the power and will of God in all things. "I shall be builded by her," אבנה 'ı̂bāneh, built as the foundation of a house, by the addition of sons or daughters (בנים bānı̂ym or בנית bānôt). She thought she had or wished to have a share in the promise, if not by herself personally, yet through her maid. The faith of Sarah had not yet come fully to the birth. Abram yields to the suggestion of his wife, and complies with the custom of the country. Ten years had elapsed since they had entered the land they were to inherit. Impatience at the long delay leads to an invention of their own for obtaining an heir. The contempt of her maid was unjustifiable. But it was the natural consequence of Sarai's own improper and imprudent step, in giving her to her husband as a concubine. Unwilling, however, to see in herself the occasion of her maid's insolence, she transfers the blame to her husband, who empowers or reminds her of her power still to deal with her as it pleased her. Hagar, unable to bear the yoke of humiliation, flees from her mistress.

Gen 16:7-12

The angel of the Lord either represents the Lord, or presents the Lord in angelic form. The Lord manifests himself to Hagar seemingly on account of her relationship to Abram, but in the more distant form of angelic visitation. She herself appears to be a believer in God. The spring of water is a place of refreshment on her journey. She is on the way to Shur, which was before Mizraim as thou goest rewards Asshur Gen 25:18, and therefore fleeing to Egypt, her native land. The angel of the Lord interrogates her, and requires her to return to her mistress, and humble herself under her hands.

Gen 16:10

I will multiply. - This language is proper only to the Lord Himself, because it claims a divine prerogative. The Lord is, therefore, in this angel. He promises to Hagar a numerous offspring. "Ishmael." "El," the Mighty, will hear; but "Jehovah," the Lord (Yahweh), heard her humiliation. Yahweh, therefore, is the same God as El. He describes Ishmael and his progeny in him as resembling the wild ass. This animal is a fit symbol of the wild, free, untamable Bedouin of the desert. He is to live in contention, and yet to dwell independently, among all his brethren. His brethren are the descendants of Heber, the Joctanites, composing the thirteen original tribes of the Arabs, and the Palgites to whom the descendants of Abram belonged. The Ishmaelites constituted the second element of the great Arab nation, and shared in their nomadic character and independence. The character here given of them is true even to the present day.

Gen 16:13-16

God of my vision - (El-roi). Here we have the same divine name as in Ishmael. "Have I even still seen" - continued to live and see the sun after having seen God? Beer-lahai-roi, the well of vision (of God) to the living. To see God and live was an issue contrary to expectation Exo 33:20. The well is between Kadesh and Bered. The site of the latter has not been ascertained. R. Jonathan gives חוּצא chelûtsā' the Ἔλουσα elousa of Ptolemy, now el-Khulasa, about twelve miles south of Beersheba. Rowland finds the well at Moyle or Muweilah, still further south in the same direction. The birth of Ishmael is in the sixteenth year after Abram's call, and the eleventh after his arrival in Kenaan.

Next: Genesis Chapter 17