An Atheist Reads the Bible

A godless heathen’s religious experience

Genesis 16

Posted by Urbane Spaceman on February 7, 2008

Hagar and Ishmael

I bet you never knew there were vikings in the bible

OK, a bad joke, but I couldn’t help myself … sorry about that.

1 Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian maidservant named Hagar;
2 so she said to Abram, The LORD has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a family through her. Abram agreed to what Sarai said.

Hands up those people who think Abram’s wife actually told him it was OK to go and sleep with the maidservant … nobody? … Bueller? Didn’t think so, and does poor Hagar get no say in this?

3 So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian maidservant Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife.

Without duress? I’m surprised Abram didn’t go all out and just ask for a threesome.

4 He slept with Hagar, and she conceived. When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress.

I’m pretty sure the despising started before she found out she was pregnant.

5 Then Sarai said to Abram, You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my servant in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me. May the LORD judge between you and me.

“O husband mine,” complained Sarai, “this lowly wench is giving me lip. Do something about it.”

6 Your servant is in your hands, Abram said. Do with her whatever you think best. Then Sarai ill-treated Hagar; so she fled from her.

And Abram, having had his way and getting a little concerned about what the neighbours would say about him getting the maid pregnant, replied, “look, she’s your servant, you deal with her.”

7 The angel of the LORD found Hagar near a spring in the desert; it was the spring that is beside the road to Shur.
8 And he said, Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going? I’m running away from my mistress Sarai, she answered.
9 Then the angel of the LORD told her, Go back to your mistress and submit to her.

Hearing the pitiful story of a maid who has been forced into sleeping with the man of the house and becoming a surrogate mother for his child, then subsequently abused by the wife, god’s messenger tells her to get the hell back to the household and be meek and submissive.

Later on he popped over to africa and started suggesting to the tribal chiefs they might want to start selling their war prisoners to those funny looking white men that showed up from time to time.

10 The angel added, I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count

Oh, well that’s OK then.

11 The angel of the LORD also said to her: You are now with child and you will have a son. You shall name him Ishmael, for the LORD has heard of your misery.
12 He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility towards all his brothers.

Why does the fact that god knows she’s miserable mean she has to name her kid Ishmael? What she really needs following rape and abuse is a good counsellor, possibly an abortion clinic, and a relocation package.

And for the moment I’ll refrain from making any comments about Ishmael being a wild donkey. I’m sure they didn’t have innuendo in those days. Doesn’t sound like he’s going to have a very good life either though. I imagine Sarai’s wondering what the hell god’s picking on her for.

13 She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: You are the God who sees me, for she said, I have now seen the One who sees me.
14 That is why the well was called Beer Lahai Roi; it is still there, between Kadesh and Bered.
15 So Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram gave the name Ishmael to the son she had borne.
16 Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael.

Beer Lahai Roi is Hebrew, meaning “the well of the living one who sees me”. Doesn’t do much for the plot but then the bible seems to be full of filler and we’re only on the 16th chapter of the 1st book.

6 Responses to “Genesis 16”

  1. Kat said

    It was interesting reading your comments on the passage yet I must point out that you make it seem like atheists are unaware of not only the theological issues but also cultural and historical ones. For this passage specifically it was certainly not uncommon in that day for the barren wife to use her maidservant as a sort of surrogate mother. Granted Hagar did not have any say in the matter but as far as societal norms go what she did was perfectly fine. Obviously not fine theologically but that’s a different story. Perhaps to make your points more concrete read the commentaries on the Bible first before you make assumptions, false ones at that. Just a suggestion.

  2. Your comments are well taken, and perhaps I should have mentioned that (no need now, you’ve sorted it with your comment šŸ˜‰ )

    As I see it religion considers itself above societal norms and operates under it’s own set of rules. This is the justification for fundamental objections to pretty much everything, be it abortion or shaving. That being the case, should it matter what the cultural norm was at the time? If something is morally wrong now then surely it was morally wrong then? At least by religious standards.

    I realise religious and societal rules are often one and the same but in most cases religion begins with the current rules of society, many of which do remain unchanged and many which become outdated (like this one). Societies then tend to be flexible and will amend their code. Religions tend to be the opposite, and create predjudice out of these old laws.

    I also don’t think I made any false assumptions. I suggested that Sarai didn’t give the all clear and this is likely true. Women didn’t get a huge amount of say in the laws and the tradition of taking the maidservant to be a surrogate mother was almost certainly enforced by the male half of any given partnership.

  3. Kat said

    On your last comment about females having no say in the matter, it is in fact quite contrary. It is one of the few areas that they did have more control than the man. Since the maidservant is completely under the woman’s (mistress’) control she can do with her as she pleases and generally, as in Abram’s case, the man goes along with it. Sarai devised the plan, mentioned it to Abram, and he did as she told him. He could have just as easily said ‘no’ because of moral issues, but of course this being an acceptable act, he was more so socially obliged. This similarly happened with Rachel and Leah in Genesis chap. 30: 3-13.
    Also on your comment about the religion, yes I agree. It separates itself from the general workings of the world and not necessarily above societal norms but certainly apart from them. Also morals do change by religious standards. They may take a bit longer to change and in the process cause a lot of tension between the church and the rest of the world, but it happens. I feel that even God is bound by time and culture when and if He wishes to reach us. Take for example Jesus who was quite controversial in his day but had to comply to certain norms (such as women’s role in the Ancient Near Eastern times) just to make a smoother transition. He still stirred up the pot (and got himself killed for it) but I’d say he did it effectively.

  4. Kat said

    PS: I agree, the Bible is very much full of “fillers” and is way too repetitive, but at the same time you have to consider the language and a lot of it was more so poetry and story telling than historical documentation. The point was to get an idea across not have facts and data as we frequently emphasize today. I guess those fillers were merely to clarify certain events (the where, when, who, how deal) but as is with any language the meanings don’t always come across and seem pointless to us today.

  5. Sarai having a “true” say in the matter is contradictory to the whole story in this passage. I can appreciate that this was common practice, I can even appreciate that it may well have been Sarai’s suggestion – as that was considered the ‘norm’. What I cannot see is that it is something she wanted to do.

    As soon as Hagar got pregnant Sarai was mistreating her with the express intention of driving her away. That doesn’t sound like the actions of a woman who is confident she did the right thing.

    I haven’t got there yet but I seem to remember from my original reading years ago that Hagar comes back later on and isn’t treated very well then either.

    We’ll get to Jesus in good time, but there are a few more Old Testament books to go yet šŸ˜‰

    The bible being full of fillers and repetition (plagiarism?) is not down to the language of the day – Shakespeare is considered old fashioned language and we manage to understand that all right. It’s because the bible is cobbled together from a multitude of sources written over an extended time period and, taken together, is close to being incoherent. There are inconsistencies and flat out contradictions (which I’ll also get to in good time šŸ˜‰ )

    (Some of the filler I understand – trying to establish genealogical lines for example – but it’s still very dull ;))

  6. primally said

    Primally says : I absolutely agree with this !

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