Sarah’s Egyptian maidservant; later, Abraham’s concubine and the mother of Ishmael. While in Egypt because of a famine in the land of Canaan, Abraham (Abram) came to have menservants and maidservants, and it may be that Hagar came to be Sarah’s maidservant at this time.—Ge 12:10, 16.
Since Sarah (Sarai) remained barren, she requested that Abraham have relations with Hagar, giving her to Abraham as his wife. But upon becoming pregnant, Hagar began to despise her mistress to such an extent that Sarah voiced complaint to her husband. “So Abram said to Sarai: ‘Look! Your maidservant is at your disposal. Do to her what is good in your eyes.’ Then Sarai began to humiliate her so that she ran away from her.” (Ge 16:1-6) At the fountain on the way to Shur, Jehovah’s angel found Hagar and instructed her to return to her mistress and to humble herself under her hand. Moreover, she was told that Jehovah would greatly multiply her seed and that the son to be born to her was to be called Ishmael. Abraham was 86 years old when Ishmael was born.—Ge 16:7-16.
Years later, when Abraham prepared “a big feast on the day of Isaac’s being weaned” at the age of about 5 years, Sarah noticed Hagar’s son Ishmael, now about 19 years old, “poking fun.” This was no innocent child’s play. As implied by the next verse in the account, it may have involved a taunting of Isaac over heirship. Here Ishmael was making early manifestation of the antagonistic traits that Jehovah’s angel foretold would be shown by him. (Ge 16:12) Apparently fearing for the future of her son Isaac, Sarah requested Abraham to drive out Hagar and her son. This displeased Abraham, but at Jehovah’s direction he followed through on his wife’s request. Early the next morning he dismissed Hagar with her son, giving her bread and a skin water bottle.—Ge 21:8-14.
Hagar wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba. “Finally the water became exhausted . . . and she threw the child under one of the bushes.” Ishmael’s being referred to as a “child” is not an anachronism, for the Hebrew word yeʹledh here rendered “child” also means “young man” and is so translated at Genesis 4:23. As to his being thrown under one of the bushes, although it was foretold that he would be “a zebra of a man,” Ishmael may not have been very strong as a teenager. (Ge 16:12) Hence he may have given out first, necessitating his mother’s supporting him. This would not be inconceivable, for women in those days, especially slave women, were accustomed to carrying heavy burdens in everyday life. It seems that in time Hagar also gave out, making it necessary for her to withdraw her support from him, depositing him, perhaps somewhat abruptly, under the nearest sheltering bush. Hagar herself sat down “about the distance of a bowshot” (a common Hebrew expression denoting the usual distance at which archers placed their targets) away from her son.—Ge 21:14-16.
God’s angel then called to Hagar, telling her not to be afraid and that Ishmael would be constituted a great nation. Furthermore, God opened her eyes so that she saw a well of water, from which she filled the skin bottle and gave her son a drink. “God continued to be with the boy,” and in time he became an archer and “took up dwelling in the wilderness of Paran.” Hagar procured a wife for him from the land of Egypt.—Ge 21:17-21.
According to the apostle Paul, Hagar figured in a symbolic drama in which she represented the nation of fleshly Israel, bound to Jehovah by the Law covenant inaugurated at Mount Sinai, which covenant brought forth “children for slavery.” Because of the sinful condition of the people, the nation was unable to keep the terms of that covenant. Under it the Israelites did not become a free people but were condemned as sinners worthy of death; hence, they were slaves. (Joh 8:34; Ro 8:1-3) Jerusalem of Paul’s day corresponded to Hagar, for Jerusalem the capital, representing the organization of natural Israel, found herself in slavery with her children. Spirit-begotten Christians, though, are children of the “Jerusalem above,” God’s symbolic woman. This Jerusalem, like Sarah the freewoman, has never been in slavery. But just as Isaac was persecuted by Ishmael, so also the children of the “Jerusalem above,” who have been set free by the Son, experienced persecution at the hands of the children of enslaved Jerusalem. However, Hagar and her son were driven out, representing Jehovah’s casting off natural Israel as a nation.—Ga 4:21-31; see also Joh 8:31-40.