Tuesday, January 31, 2012


The first post can be found here.

In response to the question, What do you make of the triangular relationship between Abraham (Abram), Sarah (Sarai), and Hagar?
When reading Genesis 16, I think it is important to note two key facts before making any analysis.  First, the reason behind Sarai and Abram’s behavior is that they had been promised a son by God.  They were not acting this way simply because they wanted a son, although that was very important in their society, but because Abram was around 86 (Genesis 16:16) and we can assume that Sarai was at least beyond the years of childbearing (as well as medically infertile [Genesis 16:2]).  The second note is that this behavior was acceptable during that time (and still is in some societies today).  Given that an heir was so valuable in that society, and the fact that many men had multiple wives, it was not uncommon for a man to have a son by a woman other than his first wife.  With those two notes in mind, I will continue onto my reaction to this passage.
        The first thing that jumped out at me was how close of a relationship Abram and Sarai seem to have, as well as how unimportant Hagar seems to be.  I would assume that both Sarai and Abram wanted a son, not to mention other children, and it appears that they came to the conclusion they would need outside help (the same way a couple might go to a fertility doctor or consider adoption in modern times).  It is also surprising that it seems to be Sarai’s idea that Abram impregnate her servant (although I’m sure they either talked about it or at least knew it was the only option before she made the final decision), indicating that she was more concerned with his interest (having a son) than her own comfort.  This is just another indication of how strong their relationship must have been.  Of course, once Hagar did become pregnant, Sarai naturally became jealous.
        While it was perfectly natural for Sarai to become jealous that another woman was carrying “her” son, Hagar didn’t help remove any tension as she “looked with contempt on [Sarai]” (Genesis 16:4).  This of course caused Sarai to be infuriated and she went to Abram with her anger saying, “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!” (Genesis 16:5).  Obviously she regretted her decision and wanted Abram to find a solution.  However, Abram seems dismissive and his response is simply to allow Sarai to do with Hagar as she pleases (Genesis 16:6).
        Abram’s reaction doesn’t seem to make much sense.  First, he doesn’t seem to care about the reason all of this started in the first place, his heir.  By allow Sarai to scare off Hagar, he removes the chance (or so it appears) that Hagar will provide him an heir.  Second, he shows a lack of care for Sarai (although given his track record we wouldn’t expect anything else) by not comforting her and by allowing this to happen in the first place.  Third, Abram shows no regard for Hagar who is not only carrying his child (and would-be heir) but who he is openly using simply as a surrogate mother.  It’s as if he is just going to let things play out and then find another servant to impregnate once things die down.  This certainly doesn’t seem like the type of behavior a man of God should be exhibiting (although elsewhere in the Bible, Abram displays just as much cowardice and lack of faith in God).
        On the surface, it seems that this is just another case of the people of God, in this case Abram, ignoring God’s promises.  In spite of this, God still appears to correct their wrong by sending Hagar back to them (Genesis 16:9).  Beneath the surface, we see a relationship between an apathetic man, a desperate woman, and a helpless servant.  While the initial intentions may have been good, ultimately we see that by taking matters into their own hands, all three people (although primarily Hagar and Sarai) suffer unintended consequences.  While it may seem odd to us that this behavior would even be taking place (much less agreed upon), I feel that this is no different (and maybe even less offensive) than a spouse seeking fulfillment through an affair or “open marriage.”

Note: In light of the Adam and Eve story, I find it interesting (although completely irrelevant) that both women (Eve and Sarai) are the first to suggest or take part in sin—Eve with the fruit and Sarai with suggesting Abram’s infidelity.  While I certainly think this is irrelevant to each story (especially this one) I am sure that feminists will point to this fact as an example of androcentrism (which it very well may be).  However, I think there is a much more logical and fitting reason behind both cases.

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