Genesis 21:12-13 - "Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman ..."

But God said to him, "Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring." (Genesis 21:12-13)

Is God condoning slavery?

No, God does not condone slavery. This is not a historical story intended to be taken literally. As stated before, much of Genesis is a collection of allegorical lessons that had been passed down from generation to generation orally in different lineages. While they do include a historical figure - Abraham - they also portray mythological aspects in order to teach moral and devotional lessons.

With regard to slavery, the Hebrew word, אָמָה ('amah) relates to a handmaid, or female servant. In modern times, we would probably use the word "assistant" to describe such a person.

The difference between a slave and a servant is significant. A slave has no freedom. They are imprisoned by their master and have no ability to leave the household. Historically, slaves were also often bought and sold as though they were merchandise.

A servant or assistant is someone who has the power of choice - to serve or not to serve. Such a person is often paid for their service. If they are serving in a devotional way, they may not seek any compensation.

Evidence that Hagar was not a slave is found in Genesis 16, where it states that because Sarah had mistreated Hagar, Hagar left Sarah and Abraham. A mistreated servant has the right to flee from whom they serve, whereas a slave does not.

Does Genesis 16 jive with Genesis 21?

The statement purported to God above comes after the following verses:
The child grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, and she said to Abraham, "Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman's son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac." (Genesis 21:10-11)
There are a couple of inconsistencies here, besides the fact that if Sarah loved her husband, Abraham, she would likely not be so rude and self-righteous about her son's "inheritance." Is this really how Sarah spoke with her beloved husband? Was she that concerned about money - or inheritance otherwise?

Furthermore, from Genesis 16 we find that Hagar was actually Sarah's assistant (servant) (Genesis 16:3). Then Sarah "gave Hagar" to Abraham "to be his wife" (Genesis 16:3).

This means that Hagar wasn't a slave or servant at all. She was Abraham's wife. Why then would the Supreme Being describe Hagar as Abraham's slave?

Again, this is a mischaracterization, resulting from a combination of mistranslation and allegorical inaccuracy presented as the story had been passed down from generation to generation.

Indeed, we also find that God is referred to differently in Genesis 16 compared to Genesis 21. In Genesis 21, God is referred to as אֱלֹהִים ('elohiym), and in Genesis 16, God is referred to as יְהֹוָה (Yĕhovah). This difference is significant, and indicates, as many Biblical scholars have proposed, that Genesis 16 originates from a different lineage and oral tradition than Genesis 21.

This also explains some of the inconsistencies related to Hagar being a servant or Abraham's wife, as well as some of the relationship issues between Abraham and Sarah.

It also resolves the issue of Abraham having sex with his servant. If Hagar was Abraham's wife given by Sarah - as detailed in Genesis 16 - it means the son is legitimate and Abraham was not committing adultery.

Making the boy "into a nation"?

Is God saying that He is going to make the son of Hagar and Abraham into a nation?

Does this mean there will be an entire nation composed of just the descendants of Ishmael? Let's see how the math works out for this. Let's say that each generation produces 10 offspring every 30 years. That would mean in 60 years there would be a hundred offspring, in 90 years there would be a thousand, in 120 years there would be ten thousand, in 150 years there would be one hundred thousand and in 170 years there would be a nation of one million people, all descendants of Ishmael.

But what would be necessary to accomplish this? Incest. Each generation would have to marry and have children between brother and sister or at least cousins over time. But since the first few generations would require brother and sister, this would make the entire nation a nation of incest. Is this the "nation" that God is promising Abraham? A nation of incest?

Doesn't this contradict God's love?

This very concept of nation-building by the Supreme Being runs against every element of the teachings of the various prophets as well as Jesus and his disciples. This type of program - designing a superior race by building a nation from within Abraham's family - is nothing less than racism. It is an assumption that God designed a superior race - as descendants of Abraham. And this superior race somehow has greater rights or inheritance of some kind of "promised land" - over people of other races or nations.

This very notion lies at the foundation of some of the wars that have been fought in the Middle East. Many disputes between Arabs and Israelites are rooted in a belief that some lands have been granted by God to a certain race of people. This is grounded within a concept that some race of people - supposedly Abraham's descendants - are somehow more deserving than others to have certain lands of the Middle East. And this right is somehow sanctioned by God through these texts.

God is not a racist, just as He does not approve of slavery. God does not give any race or family more privileges or rights than others. He does not "choose" one race or family over another - to become His "chosen people."

Every person - regardless of the physical body we wear - has the same opportunity to develop our relationship with the Supreme Being. And any of us - if we take advantage of that opportunity through prayer and service - can establish a devotional relationship with God. And it is this devotional relationship that in fact makes a person "chosen." Such a person becomes "chosen" because they chose to give their life to God.

God simply reciprocates such devotion. He watches over such a devoted person, and helps guide that person back to Him. This is not because they are of any race or family, but because they made the decision to re-develop their loving relationship with God.

What is God saying then?

So if God is not a racist what is He saying above to Abraham?

The last two Hebrew words of Genesis 21:12 are זרע (zera`) and קרא (qara'). To translate זרע (zera`) to "descendants" as the translators did would indeed be odd, because the word קרא (qara') means "to call, call out, recite, read, cry out, proclaim" and to call unto, cry (for help), call (with name of God)".

This combination of words in a phrase - זרע (zera`) and קרא (qara') - indicate something completely different than the translators indicate.

The word זרע (zera`) can mean "seed, sowing, a time of planting" according to Gesenius' lexicon. But when used figuratively, it can also refer to "of moral quality" and "a practitioner of righteousness." This indicates a deeper meaning within this combination of words.

Weren't they followers?

We must consider the context of the Scriptures. This is the word of God. It is a narration supporting the process of coming to love and serve the Supreme Being. It is the process of devotion to God. What takes place with regard to devotion to God? It is taught to others. Teachers - referred to as Prophets - teach devotion to their followers, and those followers then teach the process of devotion to God to their followers.

Yes, the reference is not to descendants of the physical body. The reference is to those who follow the teachings of Abraham and carry on those teachings by teaching them to others. This creates a nation of followers, not a nation of descendants of a certain physical body.

In order to achieve this, devotion to God becomes disseminated, or propagated to others. Consider carefully the root of the word "disseminated." The root of this word is seminate - which comes from the word "semen." In fact the word "seminate" means, according to the dictionary, "to sow, to spread; to propagate."

Is this not also the precise meaning of the word זרע (zera`)? To sow or propagate?

So what is being propagated here? What would God's devoted servants such as Abraham be interested in propagating?

Can we call upon God?

The second word is קרא (qara') and this means, as mentioned above, "to call unto, cry (for help), call (with name of God)."

What is being discussed here by the Supreme Being to Abraham is not the building of an incestual nation of "chosen" "descendants." God is talking about devotion to God - and those who are called to that devotion, leading them to the calling of God's Holy Names - which is disseminated or propagated to others - who then effectively become a legion of followers.

This concept of calling on God's Holy Names in the worship of God has been clearly established in the Scriptures with regard to Abraham. Just consider these clear verses about Abraham and Isaac:
From there he [Abraham] went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the LORD and called on the Name of the LORD. (Genesis 12:8)

From the Negev he went from place to place until he came to Bethel, to the place between Bethel and Ai where his tent had been earlier and where he had first built an altar. There Abram called on the Name of the LORD. (Genesis 13:3-4)

Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba, and there he called on the Name of the LORD, the Eternal God. (Genesis 21:33)

Isaac built an altar there and called on the Name of the LORD. (Genesis 26:25)
We can see from these verses that "calling on the Name of the LORD" was an important practice - important enough to state it as the central practice of a particular settlement established by Abraham and Isaac.

Why would "calling on the Name of the LORD" be so important that this was their central activity once they established their new settlement?

Because "calling on the Name of the LORD" is the greatest act of devotion. It is the pinnacle of worship of God - to call upon God's Holy Names is to reach out to God personally. It is to establish a devotional connection with God.

Just consider how important a person's name is. What if we have a best friend and we forget their name? That would be a disaster to the relationship. The supposed best friend would be insulted, because we value our names - even though the names of this world are temporary.

God's Holy Names have spiritual value. His Holy Names are purifying, and by repeating and praising them in prayer, chants or song with love and devotion we establish a connection with the Supreme Being.

This ancient practice of calling on God's Holy Names, in fact, has been lost among the various ecclesiastical religious institutions of today. This is the result of their teachers not being God's representatives - but rather, elected by these institutions, making them political representatives of those who elected them.

Yet it is this very practice - establishing a devotional connection with the Supreme Being through chanting and glorifying His Holy Names - that is being discussed among these verses. It is this practice of "calling on the Name of the LORD" that the Supreme Being wanted Abraham and his students - of which Isaac and Ishmael were central - to disseminate throughout the region.

And they did, and this produced millions of followers of Abraham over the coming centuries.

Yes, we could consider millions of followers to be as big as a "nation." But the concept of "nation" implies a group bound by a particular government and territory of land.

Wasn't Abraham a traveling preacher?

Abraham was not a nation-builder. He was a traveling nomad, who went from place to place setting up temples ("altars" and "tents") where God's Holy Names were "called" - glorified, chanted and worshiped.

How do we know this? Just consider those "prophets" who followed Abraham; practicing and propagating the "calling of the Name of the LORD" throughout the Scriptures:
"I will proclaim the Name of the LORD. Oh, praise the greatness of our God!" (Deut 32:3)

He and all his men went to Baalah in Judah to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the Name, the Name of the LORD Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim on the ark. (2 Samuel 6:2)

The people, however, were still sacrificing at the high places, because a temple had not yet been built for the Name of the LORD. (1 Kings 3:2)

"I intend, therefore, to build a temple for the Name of the LORD my God, as the LORD told my father David, when he said, 'Your son whom I will put on the throne in your place will build the temple for My Name.'" (1 Kings 5:5)

"My father David had it in his heart to build a temple for the Name of the LORD, the God of Israel." (1 Kings 8:17)

Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the Name of the LORD. The god who answers by fire - He is God." Then all the people said, "What you say is good." (1 Kings 18:24)

With the stones he built an altar in the Name of the LORD, and he dug a trench around it large enough to hold two seahs of seed. (1 Kings 18:32)

But Naaman went away angry and said, "I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the Name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. (2 Kings 5:11)

So David went up in obedience to the word that Gad had spoken in the Name of the LORD. (1 Chron 21:18)

David said to Solomon: "My son, I had it in my heart to build a house for the Name of the LORD my God." (1 Chron. 22:7)

Now devote your heart and soul to seeking the LORD your God. Begin to build the sanctuary of the LORD God, so that you may bring the ark of the covenant of the LORD and the sacred articles belonging to God into the temple that will be built for the Name of the LORD." (1 Chron 22:19)

Now I am about to build a temple for the Name of the LORD my God and to dedicate it to Him for burning fragrant incense before Him, for setting out the consecrated bread regularly, and for making burnt offerings every morning and evening and on the Sabbaths, at the New Moons and at the appointed festivals of the LORD our God. This is a lasting ordinance for Israel. (2 Chron 2:4)

"The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the Name of the LORD be praised." (Job 1:21)

I will give thanks to the LORD because of his righteousness; I will sing the praises of the Name of the LORD Most High. (Psalm 7:17)

Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the Name of the LORD our God. (Psalm 20:7)

The nations will revere the Name of the LORD, all the kings of the earth will revere your glory. (Psalm 102:15)

So the Name of the LORD will be declared in Zion and His praise in Jerusalem (Psalm 102:21)

Praise the LORD. Praise the LORD, you His servants; praise the Name of the LORD. (Psalm 113:1)

Let the name of the LORD be praised, both now and forevermore. (Psalm 113:2)

From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the Name of the LORD is to be praised. (Psalm 113:3)

Then I called on the name of the LORD: "LORD, save me!" (Psalm 116:4)

I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the Name of the LORD. (Psalm 116:13)

I will sacrifice a thank offering to you and call on the Name of the LORD. (Psalm 116:17)

Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the LORD. From the house of the LORD we bless you. (Psalm 118:26)

That is where the tribes go up - the tribes of the LORD - to praise the Name of the LORD according to the statute given to Israel. (Psalm 122:4)

Our help is in the Name of the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. (Psalm 124:8)

Praise the LORD. Praise the name of the LORD; praise Him, you servants of the LORD (Psalm 135:1)

Let them praise the Name of the LORD, for at His command they were created (Psalm 148:5)

Let them praise the Name of the LORD, for His Name alone is exalted; His splendor is above the earth and the heavens. (Psalm 148:13)

The Name of the LORD is a fortified tower; the righteous run to it and are safe. (Proverbs 18:10)

Therefore in the east give glory to the LORD; exalt the Name of the LORD, the God of Israel, in the islands of the sea. (Isaiah 24:15)

Who among you reveres the LORD and obeys the word of his servant? Let the one who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the Name of the LORD and rely on their God. (Isaiah 50:10)

And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to minister to him, to love the Name of the LORD, and to be His servants, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant (Isaiah 56:6)

From the west, people will revere the Name of the LORD, and from the rising of the sun, they will revere His glory. (Isaiah 59:19)

At that time they will call Jerusalem The Throne of the LORD, and all nations will gather in Jerusalem to honor the Name of the LORD. No longer will they follow the stubbornness of their evil hearts. (Jeremiah 3:17)

You will have plenty to eat, until you are full, and you will praise the Name of the LORD your God, who has worked wonders for you; never again will my people be shamed. (Joel 2:26)

And everyone who calls on the Name of the LORD will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the LORD has said, even among the survivors whom the LORD calls. (Joel 2:32)

All the nations may walk in the name of their gods, but we will walk in the Name of the LORD our God for ever and ever. (Micah 4:5)

He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the Name of the LORD his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. (Micah 5:4)

"Then I will purify the lips of the peoples, that all of them may call on the Name of the LORD and serve Him shoulder to shoulder." (Zephaniah 3:9)

But I will leave within you the meek and humble. The remnant of Israel will trust in the Name of the LORD. (Zephaniah 3:12)

"Blessed is he who comes in the Name of the Lord!" (Matt. 21:9, Matt. 23:39, Matt. 23:39, Mark 11:9, Luke 13:35, Luke 19:38, John 12:13)

Didn't the Prophets teach love of God?

We can see from all these verses that practically every prophet of the Old Testament "seminated" or propagated the practice of "calling on the Name of the LORD." And we find that despite the intense mistranslation of the New Testament by ecclesiastical scribes, Jesus is defined throughout as having "come" "in the Name of the LORD."

What does this mean? We can see it from the previous prophets' teachings, especially from David's - and Jesus quoted David often. To "come" "in the Name of the LORD" quite simply means the propagation of honoring God's Holy Name in ones devotional practice - glorifying and praising God's Holy Names. This, we find, is the very foundation of Jesus' teachings - even though it was virtually ignored by the scribes and translators of those texts.

We can see that Jesus' teachings sought to establish the practice of praising of God's Holy Names amongst his students:
"In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven." (Matt. 5:16)

To "glorify your Father in heaven" undoubtedly means, as David taught: "Praise the LORD. Praise the Name of the LORD; praise Him, you servants of the LORD" (Psalm 135:1)
We can see from the above verses that praising - repeating, chanting, singing - God's Holy Names is the highest form of worship of God. And clearly, we can see that God's Holy Names have the power to save each of us. Consider this additional statement by David:
Save me, O God, by Your Name (Psalm 54:1)
We can now understand this Genesis verse spoken by the Supreme Being to Abraham was not about what was translated by ecclesiastical Jewish scribes seeking to establish the position of their nation or race.

Here is a more appropriate translation of God's paraphrased statement in Genesis 21:12-13, utilizing understandings about Hagar's relationship with Abraham from Genesis 16:
"Do not be so distressed about the boy and your wife. Sarah speaks the truth, because it is through Isaac that the teachings of calling on My Name will be propagated. But I will also make the son of your other wife a great teacher with many followers due to your mentoring." (Genesis 21:12-13)