1 Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. She had a female Egyptian servant whose name was Hagar. 2 And Sarai said to Abram, “Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai. 3 So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her servant, and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife. 4 And he went in to Hagar, and she conceived. And when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress. 5 And Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my servant to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the Lord judge between you and me!” 6 But Abram said to Sarai, “Behold, your servant is in your power; do to her as you please.” Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she fled from her. 7 The angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur. 8 And he said, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” She said, “I am fleeing from my mistress Sarai.” 9 The angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress and submit to her.” 10 The angel of the Lord also said to her, “I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude.” 11 And the angel of the Lord said to her, “Behold, you are pregnant and shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, because the Lord has listened to your affliction. 12 He shall be a wild donkey of a man, his hand against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen.” 13 So she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, “You are a God of seeing,” for she said, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.”14 Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi; it lies between Kadesh and Bered. 15 And Hagar bore Abram a son, and Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. 16 Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram.
How would you like to see the oldest prenup in the world?
A few years ago this ancient tablet was discovered in Kanesh, which is the modern day province of Kayseri in central Turkey. This tablet with cuneiform inscriptions is four-thousand years old and is believed to constitute the oldest marriage contract in the world. It is a contract between a man named Laqipum and a woman named Hatala. Interestingly, the contract gives detailed instructions for what should happen if Hatala is unable to bear Laqipum a child.
Laqipum has married Hatala, daughter of Enishru. In the country [Central Anatolia], Laqipum may not marry another [woman], [but] in the city [of Ashur] he may marry a hierodule. If, within two years, she [Hatala] does not provide him with offspring, she herself will purchase a slave woman, and later, after she will have produced a child by him, he may then dispose of her by sale where-so-ever he pleases.
Should Laqipum choose to divorce her, he must pay [her] five minas of silver – and should Hatala choose to divorce him, she must pay (him) five minas of silver. Witnesses: Masa, Ashurishtikal, Talia, Shupianika.
Fascinating! So if Hatala is barren, she is to purchase a slave girl to give to her husband so that an heir can be produced through her. The child will then become part of the family and the mother, the slave girl, will be sold off by Laqipum wherever he wants. This is, of course, jarring to modern sensibilities, though it does reflect the mindset and practice of at least some pagan people in the ancient world.
Interestingly, the same concept emerges in Abraham’s story. Sarai (Sarah) is barren. God has promised Abraham and Sarah a lineage, children and grandchildren etc., more than any human being could count. But Sarah is barren and, despite God’s dramatic assurances to Abraham in Genesis 15 that Abraham will have his own children, the couple still struggles to believe. Thus, Sarah takes matters into her own hands and gives a slave girl named Hagar to Abraham to try to make the situation come about in their own way. The results, as you might imagine, are disastrous.
John Walton has observed that, in the ancient world, marriage contracts sometimes specified different options for couples in the case of barrenness: “serial monogamy (divorcing the barren wife to take another, presumably fertile one)…polygyny (taking a second wife of equal status)…polycoity (the addition of handmaids or concubines for the purpose of producing an heir)…adoption.” Walton argues that adoption is what is in view in Genesis 16: that Sarai would adopt the baby Hagar bore. In attempting this, Sarah and Abraham both were showing a lack of faith and a lack of trust in God’s promise to them. Even so, there is much we might learn from this sad chapter.