Getting to Christ from Genesis 16

Yesterday I preached on Genesis 16 at the church my in-laws attend (sorry, no audio available to post). Genesis 16 is the story of Sarai giving her Egyptian maid Hagar to Abram to produce a child, the eventual result of which is the birth of Ishmael. As I have reflected on this text, I thought it would serve as an excellent text to discuss how to connect this passage to the larger storyline of Scripture and get to Christ from here. In preaching it yesterday, I made my own stab at moving from Genesis 16 to Christ, which I may share in the comments. But I want to hear from you. As you look at Genesis 16, how would you make the move from this story to Christ in a way that (1) emerges from Gen 16 itself; (2) does not seem “tacked on”; and (3) connects to the larger biblical storyline?

As I said, I made my own attempt, but before I share what I did (not that I think how I did it is the only or even the “best” way) I’d like others to take a stab at it.

8 thoughts on “Getting to Christ from Genesis 16”

  1. Matt,

    I have not worked through Genesis 16 before, but will give it some consideration before I make any serious statements. Paul does make connections to parts of the Hagar, Sarah, Abraham situation in Galatians 4, but clearly states that he is speaking allegorically (a hermeneutic not to be replicated if serious about doing responsible BT). I have started a new series of posts at my blog on taking OT texts or ideas and showing BT put into practice. I’ll repost some thoughts after I reflect more on the text.


  2. matt,

    i see a couple options:

    romans 9:6-9–not all abraham’s children are regarded as God’s people, but only those of the promise are descendants. Paul shows us this example in that ishmael was not chosen (for he symbolized man’s working) but isaac was (who represents the promise and work of God).

    galatians 4:21-31–here ishmael (through hagar) is again a type of man’s striving. it is incomplete and condemning. yet, through the promise (found in the type of isaac) we can receive freedom.

    romans 4–a beautiful picture of abraham’s faith. God makes a promise to abram. abram attempts to accomplish that promise through his own labor. this only results in strife. however, God reinforces to him that He will fulfill the promise. it will be accomplished through God’s miraculous working, not through abraham’s efforts. therefore, abraham is promised a son and promised that God will accomplish it.

    i believe in looking at galatians 4 and romans 9, there is justification to see genesis 16 as presenting the greater story of Christ. the “Seed” which was promised will not be fulfilled through man’s effort, but by God’s alone. even before the law, God was more glorified by His promise (and faith in that promise) than man’s efforts.

    just a few of my thoughts. thanks for posting this. it was a joy to reread the text and see the Savior. i’m anxious to hear your approach.

  3. Matt, here are my points. Basic as they may be I did want to post something.

    1.) As strange as it may seem, Sarah is demonstrating faith in the promise of God by expelling the woman from her midst recognizing that she (Sarah) is the one to carry on the promised seed. God is gracious to Hagar and she is commanded to return to Sarah.

    2.) Hagar submission to Sarah at the command of the Lord makes it clear that despite human attempts to bring about the promise God will ultimately do it his way, which will be in Sarah.

    3.) Hagar as the “mother” of Arab nations finds peace and protection in the house of Sarah who will bear the promised seed. In other words, we are given a picture of the Gentiles finding salvation in the “tents of Shem” (i.e., ultimately Christ, Gen 9).

    4.) The encounter of Hagar (an Egyptian maidservant) with the angel of the Lord foreshadows Israel’s harsh life in Egypt and eventual exodus. It is almost as if the roles are reversed. As God surely heard the lesser Hagar (Egyptian and persucted in the Israelite household)and showed mercy, how much more will he do with his people whom he has chosen (Exo 14, Israelite, persecuted in the Egyptian household).

    5.) Even Hagar and her son foreshadow Christ. As God visited Hagar, so he visits Mary and announces the same things: favor, name, future, etc. concerning her son(Luke 1). It is not uncommon to even see unbel. represent types of Christ (e.g., Cyprus, Isa 45).


  4. Chad & Danny2:

    Thanks for the comments. When I approach any OT text and want to think through making the move to Christ, my first step is to determine whether any NT passage quotes or alludes to the OT passage I am looking at. The first place that led me was Gal 4:21-5:1. But here was the sticking point: Gal 4:21-5:1 is a difficult passage, and my fear was that in order to explain it I would almost need another sermon!

    So that led me to a different route. I made much of the fact that God names Hagar’s son “Ishmael [God hears]” as a reminder to Abram, Sarai, and Hagar of his faithfulness to his promises. Next, I pointed out that within Genesis itself it becomes clear that Ishmael is not the promised seed of Abram – Isaac is. And if we trace the theme of who is the ultimate seed of Abraham in whom all the promises converge, it is Jesus Christ (Gal 3:16). And how does Scripture describe the birth of the ultimate seed? In Matt 1:18-23 (quoting from Isa 7:14) language is used that is quite similar to Gen 16:11 – “BEHOLD, THE VIRGIN SHALL BE WITH CHILD AND SHALL BEAR A SON, AND THEY SHALL CALL HIS NAME IMMANUEL,” which translated means, “GOD WITH US.” So I make a “lesser to greater” argument. If it is amazing that God hears Hagar, Abram, and Sarai to further his covenant purposes, how much much more that God is with us in Christ to fulfill his covenant purposes.

    That’s the line I took. Later in the day I’d like to comment on the 5 remarks that Chad has made.

  5. As promised, here are my thoughts on the five threads suggested by Chad.

    1) I think this one may be a stretch, at least referring to Sarai’s actions as faith in the promise of God. This action is certainly “endorsed” when it happens in Gen 21, but not here.

    2) Though I had not thought of this, I think I agree.

    3) I had not explicitly thought of this one either, but on a biblical-theological level it seems to fit.

    4) Perhaps, though this one is admittedly subtle.

    5) This one is obviously very similar to the direction I went, though I went to Matt 1 instead of Luke.

    Thanks again for the thoughtful discussion; it has been stimulating!

  6. Hey Matt,

    Thanks for your response to my points. I agree with your comments about number one. I just was thinking off the “top” of my head. The clear indication of Sarah’s faith is in Genesis 21, which is played out in Gal 4. It is interesting the way Paul ultimately understands the passage. The comparrison is to expel unbelieving Jews just as Hagar was expelled, which indicates that ethnic origin plays no factor in God’s salvation. Thus, why would we think Jews today are “God’s chosen people.”

    The two points I am most comfortable with is points three and five. I would love to hear your interaction and some similar series of posts I have started at my blog.

    Thanks again, Chad

  7. Dear Matt-

    I’m sorry I didn’t meet you at ETS this past March. I’m reading CCC’s McCollister letter and saw you spoke at Ohio’s Fall Retreat. I’m an ’84 OU grad, ThM ’95 DTS grad, and pastor a small church in KS.

    Glad to know there’s other OU grads out there active in the kingdom!

  8. What about Hagar/Ishmael being sent off into the desert with (specifically) bread and water (only KJV– Gen. 16:21) and later Abraham and Isaac taking wood.
    Do the bread, water and wood (the cross) all point to Christ?

    Also, Hagar was royalty (a pharoah’s daughter who consented — in obedience to God) to giving up her royal place to go with Sarai and become a bondservant) Christ did this too, born as a child

    I know the overall lesson given to us by Paul is that we have grace (Sarai), not the law (Hagar which name means Mt. Sinai), light not darkness, freedom not slavery, Christ and only Christ, nothing added to it–

    but i’m trying to figure out the whole picture –how this would be meaningful to bring Christ to Arabs, to Muslims – there is something bigger here and i am not seeing it all yet. Does this make sense?

    In other words, my viewpoint is not to accept that God “cast out” Hagar and Ishmael and with them all Ishmael’s descendants, but what exactly are the blessings given to Hagar if it’s not a curse?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *