Notes on Genesis (xxxv) Hagar and her Seed

‘Now the angel of the Lord found her’ (Gen 16:7).

Encountering jealousy from her mistress Sarah after becoming pregnant by her master Abraham, Hagar flees into the wilderness, where she is found by ‘the angel of the Lord’. This is the first occurrence in the Septuagint version of Genesis of the word ‘angelos’, which could also be translated ‘messenger’. This being goes on to mention ‘the Lord’ as someone distinct from himself (16:11). But Hagar later identifies her interlocutor as the Lord, and calls him ‘You are the God who sees me’ (Gen 16:13); just as in the better known story of the hospitality of Abraham, the identity of visitors, whether angelic or divine, is unclear (Gen 18:1-19:1). According to the Septuagint, Hagar is told that the son to whom she will give birth will be ‘a rustic man’ (agroikos), a word later applied in Genesis to another elder brother, Esau, with whom he will share the role in the biblical narrative of being passed over in favour of his younger brother (Gen 25:27); while the word doesn’t seem particularly positive, it is apparently less negative than the Hebrew at this point. Similarly, while the Lord promises to multiply Hagar’s seed exceedingly so that it could not be counted because of its multitude (16:10), and promises that a great nation will arise from Ishmael, he being of Abraham’s seed (Gen 21:13),  Abraham’s seed will nevertheless be reckoned through Isaac, the son of Sarah (21:12).

The name of Hagar’s son, Ishmael, is said to mean ‘God has heard’ in Hebrew, perhaps picking up on Abraham’s hearing Sarah (16:2) and playing off against Hagar’s awareness of seeing and being seen (16:13).

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