Genesis 16:2
And Sarai said to Abram, Behold now, the LORD has restrained me from bearing: I pray you, go in to my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(2) That I may obtain children by her.—Heb., that I may be builded by her. The words, ben=a son, bath (originally banth)=a daughter, baith (banith) =a house, and bânâh=to build, all belong to the same root in Hebrew, the idea being that the children build the house, and give a man the pledge of continuance. Until late times the tent was the habitation, while the house was the family (Genesis 7:1). Thus the phrase “to build a man a sure house” meant, to give him lasting prosperity (1Samuel 2:35). Hence, too, the close connection between building and the bestowal of children in Psalms 127. As then the children of a woman bestowed by her mistress upon the husband were regarded as belonging to the wife (Genesis 30:3), Sarah, despairing of bearing a son herself, as she was now seventy-five, and had been ten years in Canaan, concluded that her heir was to be born of a substitute.

As regards the morality of the act, we find that marriage with one wife was the original law (Genesis 2:24), and that when polygamy was introduced it was coupled by the inspired narrator with violence and licence (Genesis 4:19). Monogamy was the rule, as we see in the households of Noah, Terah, Isaac, and others; but many, like Esau and Jacob, allowed themselves a greater latitude. In so doing, their conduct falls below the level of Christian morality, but everyone’s actions are strongly influenced by the general views of the people among whom he lives; and in Abram’s case it must be said in his defence that, with so much depending on his having offspring, he took no steps to obtain another wife, but remained content with the barren Sarai. When he did take Hagar it was at his wife’s request, and for a reason which seemed to them adequate, and even religious. Rachel subsequently did the same for a much lower motive. The consent of the wife was in such cases all-important; and so in India, in ancient times, it was necessary to make a second marriage valid (see Wilson’s Hindu Theatre, i. 179).

16:1-3 Sarai, no longer expecting to have children herself, proposed to Abram to take another wife, whose children she might; her slave, whose children would be her property. This was done without asking counsel of the Lord. Unbelief worked, God's almighty power was forgotten. It was a bad example, and a source of manifold uneasiness. In every relation and situation in life there is some cross for us to bear: much of the exercise of faith consists in patiently submitting, in waiting the Lord's time, and using only those means which he appoints for the removal of the cross. Foul temptations may have very fair pretences, and be coloured with that which is very plausible. Fleshly wisdom puts us out of God's way. This would not be the case, if we would ask counsel of God by his word and by prayer, before we attempt that which is doubtful.A Mizrite handmaid. - Hagar was probably obtained, ten years before, during their sojourn in Egypt. "The Lord hath restrained me." It was natural to the ancient mind to recognize the power and will of God in all things. "I shall be builded by her," אבנה 'ı̂bāneh, built as the foundation of a house, by the addition of sons or daughters (בנים bānı̂ym or בנית bānôt). She thought she had or wished to have a share in the promise, if not by herself personally, yet through her maid. The faith of Sarah had not yet come fully to the birth. Abram yields to the suggestion of his wife, and complies with the custom of the country. Ten years had elapsed since they had entered the land they were to inherit. Impatience at the long delay leads to an invention of their own for obtaining an heir. The contempt of her maid was unjustifiable. But it was the natural consequence of Sarai's own improper and imprudent step, in giving her to her husband as a concubine. Unwilling, however, to see in herself the occasion of her maid's insolence, she transfers the blame to her husband, who empowers or reminds her of her power still to deal with her as it pleased her. Hagar, unable to bear the yoke of humiliation, flees from her mistress.CHAPTER 16

Ge 16:1-16. Bestowment of Hagar.

1. Now, Sarai … had a handmaid—a female slave—one of those obtained in Egypt.

She reckons the children of her bond-woman (as Hagar was, Galatians 4:22) would be accounted her children. See Genesis 30:3 Exodus 21:4 2 Samuel 21:8 Esther 2:7.

Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai; supposing that God would accomplish his promise of a seed to come out of his loins by this way; and knowing that Sarai was not yet mentioned in the promise, as the person by whom he should have that seed; and not consulting with God, which he should have done. And Sarai said unto Abram, behold now, the Lord hath restrained me from bearing,.... Or, "hath shut me up" (d); that is, her womb, as were the wombs of the house of Abimelech, Genesis 20:18; so that she could not conceive and bear children; she now at this age despaired of having children, perceiving very probably that it ceased to be with her after the manner of women; and this she refers to the will and power of God; for, as children are his gift, and an heritage from him, Psalm 127:3, so it is his will and pleasure sometimes to withhold this blessing from those who are very desirous of them:

I pray thee go in unto my maid; Hagar, the Egyptian before mentioned; her meaning is, that he would take her to wife, and use her as such:

it may be that I may obtain children by her; for whatsoever were born of her handmaid, and in her house, were her own, and so she should account them, and especially as they would be her husband's, see Exodus 21:4; or, "may be builded by her" (e); for women, by bearing children, build up an house, see Ruth 4:11; hence a son in Hebrew is called "ben", from "banah", to build:

and Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai; without consulting God about it, the proposal being agreeable to the flesh, which may be imputed to the infirmity of the good man; though it does not appear to arise from previous lust predominant in him; but both Sarai's proposal, and his compliance with it, might be owing to the eager desire of each after the promised seed; they both believed the promise, but did not know it, being not as yet revealed, that Abram should have a son by Sarai; so that Sarai knowing her own case and circumstances, might conclude it was to be by another, and by her handmaid; and Abram might reason and judge after the same manner, which inclined him to listen to her: Josephus (f) says, indeed, that Sarai moved this to Abram by the direction and order of God himself; and the Jewish writers say (g), that Abram hearkened to the Holy Spirit of God that was in her.

(d) "couclusit me", V. L. Pagninus, Montanus, Vatablus, Drusius, Schmidt; "occlusit me", Junius & Tremellius, Piscator, Cocceius. (e) "aedificatur", Montanus, Piscator, Cocceius, Schmidt, Cartwright; so Ainsworth. (f) Antiqu. l. 1. c. 10. sect. 4. (g) Jarchi in loc. Bereshit Rabba, ut supra. (sect. 45. fol. 2.)

And Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, the LORD hath {b} restrained me from bearing: I pray thee, go in unto my maid; it may be that I may obtain children by her. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai.

(b) She fails by limiting God's power to the common order of nature, as though God could not give her children in her old age.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
2. it may be that I shall obtain children by her] Heb. lit. be builded by her; the same expression occurs in Genesis 30:3; the idea is that of the building up of a house (cf. Ruth 4:11, Deuteronomy 25:9). The suggestion which Sarai here makes, may be illustrated from Genesis 30:3-4; Genesis 30:9. Childlessness was, and still is, in the East, a great reproach (cf. 1 Samuel 1:2-20). It was the custom also in Babylonia, as is shewn by the Code of Hammurabi, that “if a man’s wife was childless, he was allowed to take a concubine and bring her into his house, but he was not to place her upon an equal footing with the wife. Or, the wife might give her husband a maidservant (amtu), and, if she brought up children, he was forbidden to take in addition a concubine” (S. A. Cook, The Laws of Moses and the Code of Hammurabi, p. iii).

by her] By the adoption of Hagar’s children as her own.Verse 2. - And Sarai said unto Abram, Behold now, the Lord hath restrained us from bearing. Literally, hath shut me up (i.e. my womb, Genesis 20:18; συνέκλεισέ με, LXX.) from bearing. Her advancing age was rendering this every day more and more apparent. I pray thee go in unto my maid (cf. Genesis 30:3, 9). It is so far satisfactory that the proposal to make a secondary wife of Hagar did not originate with Abram; though, as Sarai's guilt in making it cannot altogether. be excused, so neither can Abram be entirely freed from fault in yielding to her solicitations. It may be that I may obtain children by her. Literally, be built up by her; from banah, to build, whence ben, a son (Deuteronomy 25:9; Ruth 4:11). Calvin notes that Sarai s desire of offspring was not prompted by natural impulse, but by the zeal of faith which made her wish to secure the promised benediction. As yet it had not been clearly intimated that Sarai was to be the mother of Abram's child; and hence her recourse to what was a prevalent practice of the times, while unjustifiable in itself, was a signal proof of her humility, of her devotion to her husband, and perhaps also of her faith in God. And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai. "The faith of both was defective; not indeed with regard to the substance of the premise, but with regard to the method in which they proceeded" (Calvin). When the sun had gone down, and thick darkness had come on (היה impersonal), "behold a smoking furnace, and (with) a fiery torch, which passed between those pieces," - a description of what Abram saw in his deep prophetic sleep, corresponding to the mysterious character of the whole proceeding. תּנּוּר, a stove, is a cylindrical fire-pot, such as is used in the dwelling-houses of the East. The phenomenon, which passed through the pieces as they lay opposite to one another, resembled such a smoking stove, from which a fiery torch, i.e., a brilliant flame, was streaming forth. In this symbol Jehovah manifested Himself to Abram, just as He afterwards did to the people of Israel in the pillar of cloud and fire. Passing through the pieces, He ratified the covenant which He made with Abram. His glory was enveloped in fire and smoke, the produce of the consuming fire, - both symbols of the wrath of God (cf. Psalm 18:9, and Hengstenberg in loc.), whose fiery zeal consumes whatever opposes it (vid., Exodus 3:2). - To establish and give reality to the covenant to be concluded with Abram, Jehovah would have to pass through the seed of Abram when oppressed by the Egyptians and threatened with destruction, and to execute judgment upon their oppressors (Exodus 7:4; Exodus 12:12). In this symbol, the passing of the Lord between the pieces meant something altogether different from the oath of the Lord by Himself in Genesis 22:16, or by His life in Deuteronomy 32:40, or by His soul in Amos 6:8 and Jeremiah 51:14. It set before Abram the condescension of the Lord to his seed, in the fearful glory of His majesty as the judge of their foes. Hence the pieces were not consumed by the fire; for the transaction had reference not to a sacrifice, which God accepted, and in which the soul of the offerer was to ascend in the smoke to God, but to a covenant in which God came down to man. From the nature of this covenant, it followed, however, that God alone went through the pieces in a symbolical representation of Himself, and not Abram also. For although a covenant always establishes a reciprocal relation between two individuals, yet in that covenant which God concluded with a man, the man did not stand on an equality with God, but God established the relation of fellowship by His promise and His gracious condescension to the man, who was at first purely a recipient, and was only qualified and bound to fulfil the obligations consequent upon the covenant by the reception of gifts of grace.
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