Women in the Bible | Hagar, An Attitude Adjustment

This bible study was written as a part of an ongoing series during the years of 2000-2002. It has been recently modified. If you desire to REPRINT this bible study, please send inquiries to ty [at] tyoramoody dot com.

So Abram had sexual relations with Hagar, and she became pregnant. But when Hagar knew she was pregnant, she began to treat her mistress, Sarai, with contempt.  — Genesis 16: 4 New Living Translation

FULL SCRIPTURE LESSON: Genesis 16:1-6; 21:8-18


  • Sarai’s Egyptian maidservant
  • Mother of Ishmael


God promised Abram and Sarai a child. In Genesis 15:4, "… a son coming from your own body will be your heir … Look up at the heavens and count the stars…if indeed you can count them … so shall your offspring be."

Sarai, Abram’s wife, had been barren or unable to conceive a child. In her haste (Read Sarah, Wait on the Lord) to remove the burden of childlessness, she asked Abram to sleep with her maidservant, Hagar. When Hagar became pregnant, she openly despised her mistress. In response, to the changed attitude, Sarai mistreated the young woman provoking her to runaway.

While Hagar was in the wilderness, the angel of the Lord arrived with a message. "Go back to your mistress and submit to her …I will so increase your descendants they will be too numerous to count (Genesis 16:10)." With a renewed attitude, Hagar returned to her mistress, and later gave birth to Ishmael.

Years later, God fulfilled his promise and Sarai finally gives birth to her own child, Isaac. During Isaac’s weaning celebration, Sarai noticed Ishmael mocking her son. She demands Abraham to remove Hagar and Ishmael from their home.


Background Information

Male offspring were vital to the continuation of Hebrew genealogy lines. It was a common practice for a slave or a maidservant to bear children for her barren mistress in biblical times. If a slave had a child, the child belonged to the family of the mistress not the slave.

A similar example can be found later in Genesis, when a barren Rachel offers her maidservant, Bilhah, to Jacob. Bilhah had two of Jacob’s sons, Dan and Naptali. Leah (Rachel’s sister and Jacob’s other wife) had already given birth to four sons. Motivated by the competitive spirit between the sisters, Leah offers her maidservant, Zilpah, to Jacob. Zilpah gave birth to Gad and Asher. One half of the twelve tribes of Israel (Jacob’s twelve sons) were born to maidservants.

Why Hagar Despised Sarai

In the beginning, Sarai and Hagar had a pleasant relationship as mistress and maidservant. The pregnancy changed everything. When Hagar realized she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. To despise means to show extreme malice or defiance with contempt.

image In Every Woman in the Bible, the co-authors explained, Hagar may have despised Sarai because her pregnancy proved her mistress infertility–thus Sarai was less of a woman in comparison to her. Hagar may have also felt contempt toward Sarai because she was considered property, not a human being with feelings and emotions. This young girl was commanded to have sex with her much older master.

As a result, she conceived and carried a child that was her flesh and blood, but not legally her child. Up until this point, Hagar simply served Sarai, but now her body was the object of use as a surrogate. Sarai, who created the situation by not staying faithful to God’s timing, may have been oblivious to the girl’s emotions.

Submit to Authority

While Hagar was in the wilderness, God sent her a messenger. The first portion of the message was " Hagar, servant of Sarai … go back to your mistress and submit to her (Genesis. 16:9a)". To submit means to do what is right by obeying a person in charge. The second portion of the conversation was a promise to increase her "descendants that they will be too numerous to count" (Genesis 16:16). Hagar  was also given a name for her unborn son – Ishmael which means "God hears."

An Attitude Adjustment

"You are the God who sees me… I have now seen the One who sees me. Genesis 16:13 NIV

Hagar couldn’t change her circumstances and couldn’t have her baby alone. This Egyptian maidservant, who probably had her own gods, chose to adjust her attitude and trust in the real and living God.


Let’s Talk About Submission

We are all under authority — whether it’s the government, at the workplace, or in the home. Submission really boils down to one’s attitude.


In Romans 13:1, it states "Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God."

Elected politicians create and pass laws, while other public officials (judges, police officers) carry out the written laws. Whether we agree or disagree with those in government, we must submit to all "governing authorities." If we choose to break laws, the consequences of disobedience are tickets/fines, probation, prison terms, and in some cases, death.


In Hagar’s situation, we witnessed the consequences of her unwillingness to submit to her employer/mistress. "Slaves obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. (Ephesians 6:5)" Hagar’s extreme change in attitude resulted in unnecessary cruelty from Sarai. "Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves (Romans 13:2)".

Employees can avoid conflict at the workplace by following Hagar’s example–even though her situation was difficult, she chose to trust God. Hagar remained with Abraham and Sarah for many years until Isaac, the promised child, was born. Only the Lord could have strengthened her to stay so long in this obviously strained environment.

Family Life

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother — that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth. — Ephesians 6:1-3 NIV.

We often see rebellion in the home. As a child comes to terms with his/her blossoming manhood/womanhood, struggles usually breakout between parent and child/young adult. The bible has a solution for a young rebellious spirit and even an older child who must take on the responsibility of an aging parent.


"Wives, submit to your husband as to the Lord. — Ephesians 5:22

Women may cringe at this verse, but someone must
serve as head of
the household or be the main decision maker. God designated the husband with this role. In order to keep husbands from mistreating their wives, God commands men to submit as well.

"Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her. –Ephesians 5:25

The art of submission requires obedience and an occasional attitude adjustment. If we can’t submit to earthly laws how can we expect to submit to heavenly laws. Certain circumstances may push the boundaries of our ethics and morality. In these instances, we must seek the highest authority for answers, NOT decide to blatantly step out of God’s will, but allow the Holy Spirit to guide us. Through prayer and attentive listening for the still small voice, the Lord will show us the paths that we must take just as he sent an angel of the Lord to meet with Hagar.

Tyora Moody is the author of Soul-Searching Suspense novels in the Reed Family Series, Serena Manchester Series, Victory Gospel Series and the Eugeena Patterson Mysteries. She is also the author of the nonfiction book, The Literary Entrepreneur’s Toolkit, and the compilation editor for the Stepping Into Victory Compilations under her company, Tymm Publishing LLC.

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