So, Genesis chapter 16. Recently, Abraham has been in a big battle (Genesis 14) and protected some slaughtered animals from birds (Genesis 15) and God has revealed to him that 1. His seed will be numerous and 2. Abraham’s seed “shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years”. However, in chapter 16, there seems to be a bit of a threat to this, as Abraham’s wife, Sarai (Sarah) “bare him no seed”. So, what Sarah suggests is that Abraham sleep with her handmaid instead, and the handmaid can have Abraham’s children. The handmaid is an Egyptian called Hagar (not this Hagar).
Sarah actually ‘gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife’. Hagar and Abraham get together, she becomes pregnant, but Sarah now realises she doesn’t like the whole situation. Sarah is mean to Hagar, she runs off to a well in the desert, where the LORD reveals himself to her (ooh er..etc). God tells Hagar that her seed shall be multiplied exceedingly, to call her son Ishmael, that Ishmael shall be a ‘wild man’, and that he will face a number of difficulties. She seems to relax, and returns to Abraham and gives birth to Ishmael. Abraham is currently 86 years old.
– It’s ok to sleep with your wife’s handmaid, as long as it’s her idea.
– The handmaid doesn’t get to have a say in this.
– Abraham’s seed has longevity.
– Has Sarah lost patience with God, and is she trying to speed up the multiplication of Abraham’s seed with this idea?
There are a number of artworks based on this scene, here are some.
This one shows Hagar already getting undressed, and she seems to be concerned for Abraham, reaching out to him, but with a little encouragement from Sarah. Abraham seems a bit not bothered either way, though obviously is ready for bed. His left hand and eyes seem to say “you sure?”, though who he might be directing the question to is debatable.
‘Spranger’ here is a little racier – Abraham seems distracted by her naked breasts, while Sarah looks a little like she’s trying to convince him it’s a good idea. He isn’t really listening though. While Abraham looks relatively ‘old testament’, Hagar doesn’t look that Egyptian. She is obviously a fine figure of a woman though, and is wearing some very thin material over her hip. Why the artist bothered with that I’m not sure, unless its just to suggest some tension, something holding her back (barely). I don’t know what that monster in the corner is.
This is also by Stomer, and is a little creepier. Hagar has waddled in, and Abraham is ready to go, inspecting her and peeling off the blanket. He may also have a boner under the blanket. The wee dog is symbolic of his lust I guess, though the dog seems to be looking the wrong way. The little boy (perhaps a dwarf) on the other hand seems to be almost bowled over by Hagar. This time Sarah doesn’t seek Abraham’s approval, instead she is performing a purely perfunctory role. Everything is a little rubbery looking.
This one is a little different, showing Hagar by the well. I guess the angel is a personification of the LORD (angelification?). I quite like this, Hagar is desperate, feet on the edge of the well, holding a big pot thing – perhaps she is considering jumping in, weighed down by the pot. The angel pretty chilled out though.
I might put these illustrations in future posts. They seem to have done a number for Genesis. At least here Hagar has a hint of Egyptian (I do wonder what bible illustrators are thinking when they draw such fabric tension between the breasts of Hagar, and also “are Sarah’s breasts old enough”?)- she is also embarrassed looking, casting her eyes to the floor. Abraham seems ready to spring from his chair. Sarah is positively delighted to present her handmaid to her mulleted 86 year old husband.