Jan. 5 Reading: Genesis 16-18 Commentary

Below is our Genesis 16-18 commentary from our Beginning to End Bible reading program. You can find an email link at the end of this page to share your thoughts or comments with us.

Key Verse(s):

“And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you.” (Gen. 17:7)

Genesis 16 – Sarai and Hagar


What happens when you try to take matters into your own hands? Nothing good in the case of Abram’s quest for an heir. He had lived 10 years in Canaan (v. 3). That’s 10 years since God promised that Abram would one day have his own son. It must have seemed like God had forgotten about His promise.

In that culture, a male heir meant everything. Infertility carried with it a stigma in which the woman was blamed. It was a disgrace to be barren and was grounds for a man to divorce his wife. So the fact that Sarai conceived a plan to have a surrogate child through her maidservant would not have been looked down upon by Abram’s peers.

Not to mention the clock was ticking in regards to their age, with Abram being 85 and Sarai 75 at this point in time. So one can see how fear and desperation of missing out on children could have set in at this point. Abram agrees to the plan and Sarai gives her maidservant Hagar to Abram to be his wife (v. 3).

The Fallout from Sarai’s Baby Plan

An interesting thing happens though once Hagar conceives. She becomes prideful and despises her mistress Sarai. Essentially, she was sticking it in Sarai’s face that she had become pregnant and Sarai could not.

Even though this was Sarai’s idea, she’s upset at Abram (and God too) about Hagar’s behavior (v. 5). Abram wants nothing to do with it, saying Hagar is hers to deal with. After some harsh treatment from Sarai, Hagar can no longer stand it and flees.

On her journey, an Angel of the Lord appears to her. Hagar is instructed to return and submit to Sarai. She is also told that the son which she carries will himself become a great nation but “…his hand shall be against every man, and every man’s hand against him…” (v. 12), signifying that his descendants would often be at war.

Hagar is thankful that the Lord has heard her cry for help. She returns to Abram and bear’s a son, calling his name Ishmael (meaning “God hears”). He would become the father of today’s Arab nation.

Genesis 17 – God’s Covenant Sign

14 years later, Abram is now 99 years old. There continues to be no immediate heir in the picture. It has now been almost 25 years since God first promised him a son. That’s a long time to wait.

But God had not forgotten his promise. He appears to Abram again and reiterates the covenant promise. Some key points here include:

  1. Abram would be multiplied exceedingly (v. 2)
  2. He would be the father of many nations (v. 4).
  3. His name was being changed to Abraham, meaning “father of many” (v. 5)
  4. The covenant between Abraham and God would be everlasting (v. 7)
  5. His descendants would possess the land of Canaan as an everlasting possession (v. 8)

As a sign of this covenant and the promise of God, He instructs Abraham to be circumcised (a ritual that removes or cuts off the foreskin from the male’s organ). All males in Abraham’s household were to immediately go through this procedure. Additionally, every subsequent male child that was to be born would go through this ritual on the 8th day of their life.

God has some words for Sarai too. Her name would now become Sarah, meaning “princess.” God says that He will bless her and kings and nations would come from her. Abraham laughs at this notion (v. 17). How could he not? He’s almost 100 years old at this point. Nevertheless, God tells him that a son will be born to him and He even gives him a name – Isaac, meaning “laughter” (v. 19).

Genesis 18 – Strange Visitors with Good and Bad News

In Genesis 18, the Lord appears to Abraham again through three mysterious men who show up near Abraham’s dwelling. Most likely these are angels, but verse 13 implies that one of them was the Lord himself. This is now the fifth time the Lord had appeared to Abraham since he first entered the land. (The other instances are in Gen. 12:7, 13:14-17, 15:1-21, and 17:1-22).

The purpose of this visit was to again announce the birth of a child. As Sarai is preparing food to host their guests, she overhears the men talking about the birth of her son. She doesn’t think this could happen and laughs within herself saying, “After I have grown old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?” (v. 12). Her lack of faith is understandable here. It’s been so long since the promises had been given and she is well beyond the traditional child-bearing years. This event seems impossible in her eyes.

God calls her out her laughter, which she denies doing. But the Lord knows and offers this compelling statement to Abraham regarding the promised child: “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (v. 14). That is frameable statement that should be etched in our minds anytime we question the Lord’s ability to work in our lives.

Potential Bad News for Lot

Remember Abraham’s nephew Lot who had settled in the Jordan plain near the city of Sodom? Evidently the wickedness occurring in that city and the city of Gomorrah has reached the ears of the Lord. He plans to go down into those cities and see the level of wickedness. If it’s as bad as has been reported, the plan is to wipe the cities off the face of the earth with judgment from heaven.

Of course Abraham knows Lot and his family live there. So he pleads with God to not destroy the area if a few righteous people can be found. It’s an interesting and somewhat funny conversation in that Abraham starts by asking God not to destroy the city if 50 righteous people can be found. Eventually, through more and more dialogue, Abraham works that number all the way down to 10 righteous people needed to spare God’s hand. Abraham’s persistence in his requests for leniency can serve as an example and encouragement to us when we approach God in prayer.

Questions and Thoughts to Consider from Genesis 16-18:

We all face doubts, fears, insecurities and impossible situations. Have you ever thought that something in your life is even too hard for the Lord to handle?

How have you seen God work in our own life through your persistent prayers?

Just like Abraham interceded on behalf of Lot, who in your world needs prayer support today? What can you do to give it to them?

What other points would you want to know about in our Genesis 16-18 commentary? Email us here with questions or comments.