Original Publication Date
May 7, 2023
May 7, 2023 12:12 PM
Character StudyHagarWomenSarahAbrahamIshmael
Bible References
Genesis 16; 21


The story of Hagar begins in Genesis 16. We are introduced to her in this chapter as the handmaid of Sarah. In Sarah’s desperation to have a child, Hagar is eventually taken as concubine for Abraham and bears his first child, Ishmael. When friction rises between her and Sarah, life gets difficult until she is ultimately sent away with her son. It is at Hagar’s lowest point that God sends an angel to answer her cries.


Whenever I read the story of Hagar, I always have questions. Below are a few:

  1. What exactly was Hagar’s role as a handmaid?
  2. Did Hagar agree to become a concubine or was she forced into that position?
  3. Was the friction between Sarah an Hagar merely Sarah’s jealousy or did Hagar become proud?
  4. What does Hagar’s situation reveal about God?

Was Hagar a Slave or a Servant?

In today’s society a servant is a person who is paid to attend to domestic chores or serve a household, while a slave is someone who is forced to do this without pay. As a black person in the US, its difficult to separate the ideas of American slavery from the term “slave,” but before the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, slavery was based on poverty and/or loss of a war. There were no food stamps or section 8 housing or other forms of assistance in the past. As such, poor people often sold themselves into slavery to have a home and access to food. How they were treated would be dependent upon the master of the house. Based on the countless Biblical passages on treatment of the poor, I am confident that God intended for Israel to treat their servants and slaves well—not the way slaves were looked down on in America. Since Abraham was a man of faith, I would infer that most of the time Hagar was treated well. We know that Abraham wasn’t perfect and that Sarah “dealt harshly” with Hagar at least once.[2][3]

Did Hagar Have a Choice?

The Bible doesn’t tell us a lot of detail about the situation, only that it was Sarah’s idea. It is possible that Sarah asked Hagar and Hagar consented. If Hagar was more like a slave than a servant, it’s possible that Hagar didn’t really have a choice (even if given one, as one answer would please her mistress and the other would displease her), and thus could not consent. Because the Bible condemns rape in several passages, and generally is explicit in telling us something is rape, I believe that Abraham did not force himself on Hagar.

Friction Between Women

4 And he went in unto Hagar, and she conceived: and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her eyes. 5 And Sarai said unto Abram, My wrong be upon thee: I have given my maid into thy bosom; and when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her eyes: the LORD judge between me and thee. 📚 Genesis 16:4-5 KJV

The first instance of tension between Sarah and Hagar occurs in Genesis 16 just after Hagar discovers she is pregnant. When Hagar discovers she is with child she despises Sarah, which sparks tension. This can actually be taken two different ways…

One possibility is that Hagar is upset when she learns she is pregnant and blames Sarah. More likely, however, is that Hagar became proud when she discovered she was pregnant. During that time period, a woman’s value was heavily tied to her ability to have children—specifically sons. Thus, when Hagar became pregnant she may have seen herself as better than Sarah.

The final straw, however, actually has more to do with Ishmael than it does to do with Hagar! In Genesis 21:9 we find Ishmael mocking someone, likely Isaac. This is what ultimately drives Sarah to request Hagar be sent away.

Hagar’s Story’s Revelation About God

Quite a few things are revealed in Genesis 21:9-21. In this passage, Sarah asks Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael away—something which Abraham struggles with. Surprisingly, when Abraham goes to God with this request, God instructs Abraham to listen to his wife. This exchange shows us that husbands were meant to take the requests of their wives to the Father, not merely make decisions on their own. It also shows that in some cases the wife’s request is the one honored by God.

In fulfilling this request, however, Hagar ends up in the wilderness. Hagar and Ishmael are in the harsh conditions of the desert struggling to the point that Hagar believes they will die. Hagar is to the point of giving up when both she and Ishmael begin to cry out. YHWH answers their cry and promises to make Ishmael a great nation. It seems only fair that God would show up for Hagar when He is the one who told Abraham to listen to Sarah’s request to send Hagar away. On a surface glance, or a biased glance from one person’s point of view, it may seem as though God is on one person’s side. It is easy to read this a God siding with Sarah and Isaac, condemning Hagar, and playing favorites. However looking at how God responds to Hagar, it proves that He actually negotiated a situation that was best for all involved. Hagar and Ishmael are not condemned, they are just taken to another place where both families can live in peace.

The Meaning of Hagar

Hagar is an Egyptian woman so the name Hagar is likely of Egyptian origin as well. Strong’s Concordance does not have a definition for the name, but in Hebrew if became synonymous with flight (probably due to the situation Hagar found herself in).[1]

References & Footnotes

  1. Strong’s H1905. הָגָר“. Blue Letter Bible; visited May 2023
  2. M.G. Easton M.A., D.D. “Handmaid”. Bible Study Tools; visited May 2023
  3. Handmaid or Handmaiden”. Mclintock and Strong Biblical Cyclopedia; visited May 2023

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