Now Sarai Abram's wife bore him no children: and she had an handmaid, an Egyptian, whose name was Hagar.…
Sarai's impulse, even if mistaken, was admirable for its unselfish abnegation of what is most precious to her sex. It was such a sacrifice as only a woman had it in her power to make. Had Abram been a polygamist, or had the adhesion of his house to the primitive marriage law been less loyal than it was, there was one obvious escape from the difficulty. It is instructive that neither Abram nor his wife thought of a second marriage. The usages of the time suggested a different mode. For a childless wife to treat the children born of a favourite slave girl as legally as her own was a resource very foreign to the notions of our western Christendom. Nevertheless, it sprang not unnaturally out of two peculiarities of society in Abram's day. One of these was the disadvantage, amounting positively to social discredit, which attached to childlessness, at a time when the primeval injunction to replenish the earth still retained its full force. The other was the complete surrender of a serf's legal and social rights into the hand of his master, which in the East characterized domestic servitude. Every home slave stood at the disposal of his lord for whatever service the lord might require. His very children were not his own, but his master's. For a mistress, therefore, to seek by means of a female slave and favourite attendant what Providence had denied to herself, was regarded under such a state of feeling as neither immoral nor revolting. It was not even held to be any real departure from the law of monogamy, or any infraction of conjugal fidelity. There is no doubt, however, that it did involve a certain lowering of the original conception of marriage. It paved the way for concubinage of a less excusable description. And in the majority of cases, as in the present instance, it could scarcely fail to turn out ill.
(J. O. Dykes, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Now Sarai Abram's wife bare him no children: and she had an handmaid, an Egyptian, whose name was Hagar.