What Is Significance of God's Promise to Hagar Regarding Ishmael?
According to accounts in the Bible and Quran, Hagar was an Egyptian slave girl owned by Abraham and Sarah. When Abraham and Sarah were unable to conceive a child, Sarah encouraged Abraham to have a child with Hagar. This led to contention between Sarah and Hagar after Hagar became pregnant. The contention escalated when Abraham and Sarah conceived a child in their old age, leading Sarah to view Ishmael -- Abraham's son by Hagar -- as a rival to her own son, Isaac.
1 El-Roi, the God Who Sees
According to the biblical account, Hagar became disrespectful towards her mistress after becoming pregnant. Sarah in turn mistreated Hagar, causing her to run off into the wilderness -- an act that meant almost certain death for a young pregnant woman at the time. While in the wilderness, Hagar had a conversation with God -- the first recorded conversation between God and a woman since Eve -- in which God instructed her to return to her mistress. In turn, God made three promises regarding Ishmael. Hagar, in giving thanks to God, referred to him as "El-Roi," Hebrew for "the God who sees."
2 A Father of Nations
The first thing that God promised Hagar was that she would have many descendants through Ishmael. In the patriarchal society of the times, children -- and grandchildren -- were often seen as the measure of a woman's worth. Later, when Hagar and Ishmael were turned away from Abraham's household, God reiterated this promise to Hagar, telling her that Ishmael would become the father of a great nation. Genesis 17, the Jewish Mishnah and the Quran record God's promise that Ishmael would become the father of 12 nations. Most Christian, Jewish and Islamic scholars believe that Ishmael became the father of the Arabic people.
3 At Odds with His Brothers
The biblical account indicates that God told Hagar that her son would be a "wild donkey of a man" and that he would "live in hostility toward all his brothers." Some theologians believe that this foretold of hostilities between Jews and Arabs that continue until the present day. Some hold that this was part of God's promise to Hagar, and that the hostility he foretold meant that Ishmael would not allow himself be made a subject -- a significant promise to a woman who had spent her life enslaved.
4 Different Angles of the Story
Hagar and Ishmael play a more significant role in the Quran than they do in the Bible. In the biblical account, God showed Hagar a well when she and Ishmael were dying of thirst. In the Quran's account, an angel creates a well by digging into the ground with his heel next to Ishmael. To this day, Muslims commemorate Hagar's search for water during the hajj -- a pilgrimage to Mecca which all Muslims who are able to are expected to take at least once in their lifetime. Additionally, Muslims view Ishmael as the rightful heir of Ibrahim -- their spelling of Abraham -- because he was the first born son. Christians and Jews see Ishmael's half-brother Isaac as the rightful heir.