Genesis tells the intertwining stories of two women, the barren wife of a wealthy man and her Egyptian slave.
Long before there were Jews, God’s chosen-for-a-purpose people, God has always been the Lord of the entire universe and of all nations. This is clearly seen on a macro level in the table of nations in Genesis 10. In chapter 16 we see this same all-nations concern on a micro level, an individual human being, in the story of Sarai and her Egyptian slave, Hagar. This story is instructive of God’s care of Hagar, a foreigner, a slave and a woman. No other deity would have noticed her.
As the story unfolds, Sarai and Abram are unable to conceive a child. So Sarai, in keeping with local customs, offers Hagar to Abram as a surrogate wife so she might conceive a child on Sarai’s behalf. She did conceive, and Sarai, now jealous, drove Hagar into the desert. Now we pick up this remarkable story:
The angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur. And he said, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” She said, “I am fleeing from my mistress Sarai.” The angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress and submit to her.” The angel of the Lord also said to her, “I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude.” And the angel of the Lord said to her,
Behold, you are pregnant
and shall bear a son.
You shall call his name Ishmael,
because the Lord has listened to your affliction.
He shall be a wild donkey of a man,
his hand against everyone
and everyone’s hand against him,
and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen.
So she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, “You are a God of seeing,” for she said, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.”
Note the intimate treatment the God of all creation gives to Hagar. His care extends to the poorest, disenfranchised slave girl. He sends an angel to minister to her. He addresses her by name, unheard of in ancient history. God made a promise that through her offspring a mighty nation would be born. Hagar’s child was to be named Ishmael because “the Lord has listened to your affliction.”
And then this slave woman gave God a name! Who has heard of such a thing in the annals of history? She named God El-Roi, “the God of seeing.” Why? Because the Creator of the universe is mindful of all nations and of every human being, even those the world may call deplorable. He looked after Hagar.
Genesis 21:1 records the birth of Isaac to Sarah and Abraham: “The Lord took note of Sarah as He had promised, and the Lord did for Sarah as He had spoken.” In Dennis Prager’s commentary on the book of Genesis, the author helps us see what is often unseen, even though it’s right in front of our eyes.
It is noteworthy that the text does not read, “the Lord did for Abraham and Sarah as He had spoken,” but only “did for Sarah.” The promise of progeny, after all, was made to both. If the Torah were as sexist as some modern critics suggest, it likely would have mentioned only Abraham. But the Torah affirms the equal worth of the sexes—from the Creation story (where the woman is the final creation) to the demand that children honor both parents to the depiction of women as heroic—frequently more so than the men in their lives: Rebecca, Moses’s mother Yocheved and sister Miriam, the daughter of Pharaoh, among others.
In Genesis 21:6 Sarah said, “God has brought me laughter; everyone who hears will laugh with me.” In chapter 18, Sarah laughs when she hears God tell Abraham that Sarah would have a child. This was indeed an absurdity to be thought funny. Then Sarah laughs after giving birth in her old age. Now, in Genesis 21:7 Sarah adds, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would suckle children! Yet I have borne a son in his old age.”
Women, while different from men in design and purpose, are equal to men in dignity and worth. This is stated in the Cultural Commission of Genesis 1:16-28 and affirmed in the lives of Hagar and Sarah.
These two women are different in circumstances. Hagar is an impoverished Egyptian slave, indentured to Sarah, but able to conceive. On the other hand, Sarah is the wife of Abraham, a wealthy man, a leader of his people and the future father of nations. But Sarah is old; her womb is as good as dead and she is unable to conceive. This is a disgrace in the ancient world.
These two women are different in circumstances but equally valued in the eyes of God. While one is young, poor and fertile and the other old, wealthy and infertile, they are both imago Dei, made in the image of God.
And the Creator of the universe addressed both by name, something unheard of in the ancient world. After all, these are women and everyone knew that the gods spoke to males, not females.
Not only did God speak their names, he spoke tenderly to each of them in the midst of their own circumstances. Of Hagar, the despised slave, alone in the wilderness, cut off from her nation and family in Egypt we read, “The angel of the LORD found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur,” (Genesis 16:7). Of Sarah, the woman with a dead womb, the text says, “Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing,” (Genesis 18:11).
In the midst of their suffering, they cried out to God, God heard them, called each by name, spoke tenderly and compassionately to them. Both bore children from Abraham, each became the mother of a nation, Hagar of the Arabs, Sarah of the Jews.
In the midst of a sexist world, the Bible reminds us of the intrinsic worth of all women. Why? Because each woman is the imago Dei.
- Darrow Miller
 3.3. Prager, Dennis. The Rational Bible: Genesis . Regnery Faith. Kindle Edition.
Jack GutknechtJuly 4, 2020 - 5:42 am
Why the picture of the Governor of California?
adminJuly 4, 2020 - 9:25 am
Sorry for the confusion, Jack. The picture is of Dennis Prager in front of the seal of the governor of California.
We have added a caption.
Jack GutknechtJuly 4, 2020 - 5:44 am
See my previous comment/question a few minutes ago.
Question: What does the Bible say about using a surrogate mother to have a child?
See Answers: http://ebible.com/questions/240?ori=664697
Jack GutknechtJuly 4, 2020 - 12:49 pm
Thanks for the clarification!