Genesis Chapter 16 Questions and Answers

In Genesis chapter 16, we see Abram giving in to the impatience of his wife instead of waiting on God’s promise.   They both suffer greatly for it, as we do today also.

About these Answers

Day One

1.  To set the background for this chapter develop answers to the following questions:

  • How long had Abram and Sarai been in the promised land?  Abram was in Canaan for ten years (verse 3).
  • About how old was Abram at this time? Abram was about 85 years old (Genesis chapter12, verse 4).
  • Why did Sarai say she was unable to bear children? She said the Lord had prevented her from bearing children (verse 2).

2.  How does Sarai’s reasoning of why she couldn't bear children both make sense and also not make sense?

On one hand, it makes sense because the Lord in fact is the provider of children (Genesis 29:31; Genesis 30:2; Psalm 113:9 and 127:3; Isaiah 66:9).

On the other hand, it doesn’t makes sense at all since the Lord promised to provide Abram an heir from his seed (chapter 15, verse 4).  Since marriage was a divine arrangement created by God (Genesis 2:24), the proper thing would be for Sarai to have a child by Abram.  However, in the ancient near east, it wasn’t uncommon for a couple where a wife was barren to devise ways to have an heir through other means.  For example:

  • A wife could offer her husband to father a child by a wife’s personal servant or slave (handmaiden) as Sarai had done.  The child would be considered her “property” just as a slave that bore the child was hers.
  • A husband could take another wife.  She would be in “second position” to the first wife and was considered a concubine, any children would be considered the wife’s not the concubine.
  • The couple could adopt a servant as an heir as discussed in chapter 15 by Abram when talking to the Lord.
  • The husband could divorce the wife and take another wife.  

God's plan and design for men and women from the beginning was that one man and one woman were to be united in marriage.  We understand this from Genesis chapter 2.  The Bible explains to us that when one man and one woman are united in marriage they become one flesh (Genesis 2:24).  This can't happen with one man and two women. 

God created us; therefore, it's His design for marriage that are correct.  God didn't design marriage so that one man would marry another man or one woman would marry another woman.  That's just nonsense and it's not how God designed marriage to be.  

Day Two

3.  Describe the anguish of Sarai, Hagar, and Abram in this chapter.  Identify the cause, proposed remedies, and results of the remedies for all three people.  Use a table similar to the one below to help you structure your answers.

The Anguish

The Cause

The Remedy

The Result


no heir and Hagar's contempt

lack of faith in God's promise

Hagar as a surrogate mother

conflict in her home and family

remorse over her lack of faith?


mistreatment by Sarai

her contempt of Sarai

run away from Sarai

met The Angel of the Lord

understood God's plan for her


no heir

& his two wives fighting

lack of faith in God's promise

Hagar as a surrogate mother

& Sarai's abuse of Hagar

remorse over his lack of faith?

conflict in his home and family


The Anguish and The Cause:

She was in anguish because she had no children, which was cause for great distress in the life of a barren wife in the ancient near east.  Women without children were considered to be cursed by God.  Children were a means to sustain the family through increased material prosperity and prestige.  The Bible tells us that a man with many sons was considered to be richly rewarded by the Lord (Psalm 127:1-5). In the ancient near east, women who were barren were considered a disgrace (Luke 1:5-25).

The Remedy and The Result:

For Sarai the remedy was to have children through her husband and her handmaiden.  This was customary for barren women in the ancient near east.  In his book Understanding Genesis, Nahum Sarna notes that husbands often drew up marriage contracts stipulated that a barren wife was to acquire a slave woman to bear a child so the family would have an heir.

Although Hagar did become pregnant, it wasn't as pleasant a thing for Sarai like she had anticipated.  Her initial anguish over the lack of a son was now accompanied by regret and remorse for her chosen remedy.  Interestingly, she blamed Abram for her discomfort.


The Anguish and The Cause:

She was in anguish because of her mistreatment by Sarai.  There are no details on what the mistreatment was but it must've been considerable.  Her mistreatment, and therefore her anguish, were the result of Hagar treating Sarai with contempt. 

Victor Hamilton points out the portion of the Hammurabi Code (before the law of Moses was given) that dealt specifically with a wife in Sarai’s situation:

“. . . and she gave a female slave to her husband and she has then borne children, if later that female slave has claimed equality with her mistress because she bore children, her mistress may not sell her; she may mark her with the slave-mark and count her among the slaves.”  Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1–17, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 444.

The Remedy and The Result:

Her despair was compounded by her remedy of running away and being in the wilderness.  She was probably trying to return to Egypt.  The result of her remedy was that she was met by The Angel of The Lord who instructed her to submit to the mistreatment of her mistress.  


The Anguish and The Cause:

He was previously in anguish because of his lack of an heir as he lamented to the Lord in chapter 15.  He believed God’s promise but it’s likely he was, to some degree, in anguish over his wife’s despair regarding her lack of children.  Then he was also likely grieved by Sarai and Hagar in conflict over the supposed heir.

The Remedy and The Result:

His remedy was to allow his wife to mistreat her maidservant.  The result was Hagar’s flight and her return with news that she had met the Angel of the Lord.

Day Three

4.  Compare the passage of Genesis 16:1-6 to the earlier passage in Genesis 15:1-6.

Specifically, compare the different approaches, proposed solutions, and results of the plans pursued by Abram and Sarai to their problem of the lack of an heir.  Use a table similar to the one below to develop your answers.

Abram in Genesis 15:1-6


  Actively sought the counsel of the Lord


  Proposed the adoption of a slave


  Believed in the promise of God and waited- his fear was replaced with faith

Sarai in Genesis 16:1-6


  Did not seek the counsel of the Lord


  Proposed the marriage of a slave


  Fear brought impatience resulting in conflict for her home and family

Day Four

5.   How can we develop patience when waiting on God's promises?

Your Answer Here

6.  The term angel means messenger and occurs hundreds of times in the Bible.  The expression “The Angel of the Lord” occurs only once in the New Testament but over 50 times in the Old Testament.  Here in Genesis chapter 16 is the first occurrence.  The angel is a messenger directly from God.  Victor Hamilton explains in his commentary The Book of Genesis, that this angel is a "visible manifestation of Yahweh that's essentially indistinguishable from Yahweh Himself . . . more a representation of God than a representative of God."

From your analysis of the message of God from the angel, identify the:


  1. God will greatly multiply your offspring and there will be too many to count (verse 10).

Two Questions:

  1. Where have you come from (verse 8)?  
  2. Where are you going (verse 8)?

Three Commands:

  1. Go back to your mistress (verse 9).
  2. Submit to her mistreatment (verse 9).
  3. You will name your son Ishmael (verse 11).

Seven Revelations: 

1. You have conceived (verse 11).

2. You will have a son (verse 11).

3. The Lord has heard your affliction (verse 11).

4. This man will be like a wild donkey (verse 12).

5. His hand will be against everyone (verse 12).

6. Everyone’s hand will be against him (verse 12).

7. He will live at odds with all his brothers (verse 12).

Day Five

7.  How do we know that Abram was informed about what The Angel of the Lord said to Hagar; and secondly, what may have been the impact of the information?

We know that Hagar told Abram about the revelation of The Angel of the Lord to her because verse 15 tells us that Abram named the child she bore Ishmael.  This was the name given to the child by The Angel of the Lord; therefore, Hagar had to have relayed the revelation to Abram and likely Sarai.

As verse 11 points out, it was revealed to Hagar that not only did she have a child, but the child was a boy and therefore an heir to Abram.  In a sense, she returned with more status than she left.  Not only was she pregnant, she was going to fulfill the desire for an heir by having a son.  Perhaps she took comfort in that but she obeyed the angel and returned to submit to Sarai’s mistreatment.

On the other hand, Hagar may have brought another impact when she informed Abram and Sarai of the revelation of The Angel of the Lord.  When she returned Hagar must have been different.  She must have acted differently because of the revelation to her from God.  The Bible doesn't tell us, but it seems likely Hagar became confident in her future because she knew two things: 

  1. God was watching over her (verses13-14); and, 
  2. She was going to have a son who would be one of many offspring too many to count (verse 10).

So here returns the slave who ran away.  She is confident in her future so much that she returns to the mistress who mistreated her.  She returns not only with this knew perspective and confidence, she returns with a revelation from God that she must have shared with both her mistress and her husband.   

By the way, this does not condone mistreatment of women or wives.  God doesn’t want husbands to mistreat their wives, but to love them as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25).  This particular command of God is to Hagar alone and should not be generalized to apply to other women.  

When Hagar reveals the message from God, Abram and Sarai must have been shocked.  God has spoken to an Egyptian slave they had driven away by mistreating her, Saria by the treatment and Abram by allowing it.  Not only would Abram and Sarai probably feel guilty for the mistreatment, they would feel most likely have felt guilty for not seeking God’s counsel an His promise of an heir.

God promised an heir from Abram’s own body (Genesis 15:4).  Instead of seeking God’s guidance on that process and promise, Sarai concocted a scheme of her own according to the customs of her day.  Abram agreed to he scheme without divine counsel.  In doing so, both either acted on a lack of faith in God’s promise, or thought they needed to “give God a hand” or “play their part” in the deliverance of His promise.

8.  As we see Sarai do in this passage of Scripture, many times we try to solve our problems without seeking the counsel of the Lord in our lives.  Often the solutions we develop are ineffective or back fire on us.  Can you describe a time in your life, or in the life of someone you, know when seeking the counsel of the Lord provided a wonderful solution to a problem?  

Your Answer Here

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