August 17, 2007

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Biblical women: The first surrogate mother

John F. Fink(Third in a series of columns)

Abram’s wife, Sarai, was a beautiful woman. Twice, Abram passed her off as his sister because he was afraid that men they met during their nomadic life would kill him in order to get Sarai.

The first time (Gn 12:10-20) was when they went to Egypt because of a famine in Canaan. That time, the Pharaoh took Sarai as his wife and gave flocks and herds to Abram. When he learned that Abram had deceived him, he returned Sarai to Abram and told him to leave Egypt.

The same thing happened later

(Gn 20:1-18) after God changed their names to Abraham and Sarah.

This time, they were living in the Negeb when Abimelech, king of Gerar, took Sarah as his wife after Abraham told him that she was his sister.

But before Abimelech could “approach” Sarah, God appeared to him in a dream and told him that Sarah was Abraham’s wife. He, too, restored her to him and he, too, gave flocks and herds, and even male and female slaves, to Abraham.

Throughout all this time, Sarai had been unable to have children. God had promised Abram that he would be the father of many nations, but how was this to happen if Sarai remained barren?

It was Sarai who came up with a solution (Gn 16:1-16): “Have intercourse with my maid [Hagar]; perhaps I shall have sons through her,” she said to Abram. He did, and Hagar became history’s first surrogate mother.

Then, though, as sometimes happens in cases like this, Hagar’s attitude toward Sarai changed: “She looked on her mistress with disdain.” In turn, Sarai abused Hagar so much that she ran away. But an angel, perhaps God in human form, found Hagar in the wilderness and sent her back to Sarai.

Hagar bore Ishmael, who would become, according to tradition, the father of the Arab nations.

When Ishmael was 13, God made his covenant with Abram and his descendants. God demanded that all males be circum­cised as a mark of the covenant. This was also when he changed Abram’s and Sarai’s names.

God, though, still promised that Sarah would have a child, though she was now 90. Once, three angels (one of whom may have been God) arrived and told Abraham that Sarah would have a son, which made Sarah laugh to herself. One of the visitors asked why Sarah laughed, and she denied laughing. But he said, “Yes, you did.”

Sarah did indeed bear a son, whom they called Isaac. Now that she had her own son, Sarah became even more hostile toward Hagar and Ishmael, demanding that Abraham send them away.

Abraham did so, and once again God found Hagar, this time with Ishmael, roaming aimlessly in the wilderness. He promised Hagar that Ishmael would be the father of a great nation. Ishmael grew up and became an expert bowman. Hagar got a wife for him in Egypt. They had 12 sons.

Sarah died at age 127 in Hebron, where Abraham buried her. She was the first of Israel’s patriarchs and matriarchs to be buried there. †

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