Genesis 16:4-6, “And he went in to Hagar, and she conceived. And when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress. 5 And Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my servant to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the Lord judge between you and me!” 6 But Abram said to Sarai, “Behold, your servant is in your power; do to her as you please.” Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she fled from her.”
Predictably, Abram and Sarai’s faithless attempt to bring about the promised heir only produces additional problems. However, as we will see, none of the actors in this story is entirely blameless.
In today’s passage, Abram lies with Hagar, and the Egyptian maid conceives. Yet instead of expressing gratitude to Sarai for providing her with a more honorable estate as Abram’s child-bearer, Hagar looks “with contempt on her mistress” (Gen. 16:4). The Hebrew for contempt in this verse is the same word used in 12:3 for the “curse” that will fall upon all who dishonor Abram. It is unlikely Hagar actually vocalized a curse; she probably just became proud of her fertility in light of Sarai’s barrenness. This pride and contempt was actually common enough in the ancient Near East for other cultures to regulate the behavior of surrogate wives in similar situations. In any case, Hagar’s response is clearly at odds with Scripture’s warning against overt pride (Prov. 11:2; Mark 7:21–23).
Refusing to take blame for the situation, Sarai comes awfully close to cursing her husband when she blames him for the unexpected consequences of her plan (Gen. 16:5). Such blame shifting recalls the response of Adam and Eve when the Lord questioned them about their nakedness (3:8–13), thereby providing additional evidence Abram and Sarai have not acted in faith. Instead of dealing appropriately with their sin and its aftermath, Sarai points the finger at Abram just like Eve blamed Satan for her failure.
Finally, Abram compounds the problem and increases his culpability for these events. Even though Abram erred in lying with Hagar, he was required to protect her from Sarai’s potentially harsh retaliation nonetheless (Ruth 3–4; 1 Sam. 1:1–6; 1 Peter 3:7). But Abram, like Adam when Satan tempted Eve (Gen. 3:1–6), is passive and permits Sarai to do with Hagar as she will (16:6a). Hagar is then treated with a harshness akin to what the covenant nation endured under Pharaoh; the Hebrew phrase describing Sarai’s conduct is the same one used when God foretold Israel’s abuse in captivity (16:6b; 15:13). The Egyptian flees, preferring destitution to maltreatment.
Pride, blame shifting, and passivity are generally some of the first responses a sinner wants to make when dealing with the consequences of transgression. Yet as we have seen, none of these helps; in fact, they only aggravate the situation and render us even more guilty before God. Is there a situation for which you are to blame and yet refuse to admit culpability? Own up to your part in it today, even if no one else is willing to do so.
In Your Power, Copyright (2022), Ligonier Ministries.