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When Abraham's wife Sarah did not have children of her own, she resorted to surrogate motherhood, a practice that is as ancient as it is modern.
"Now Sarai, Abram's wife, bore him no children. She had an Egyptian maid whose name was Hagar; and Sarai said to Abram, "Behold now, The Lord has prevented me from bearing children; go in to my maid; it may be that I shall obtain children by her." And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai." (Genesis 16:1-2 RSV)
After Hagar was with child, she became contemptuous of Sarah. Although both were then the wives of Abraham, in the Biblical sense, Hagar was still the servant of Sarah.
"So, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram's wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her maid, and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife. And he went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress. And Sarai said to Abram, "May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my maid to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May The Lord judge between you and me!"
Hagar fled, but The Lord intervened and told her to return with the assurance that her descendants, as children of Abraham, would prosper and be very numerous (i.e. many of the Arab people of today are descended through Abraham and Hagar's son Ishmael; see Abraham Wasn't A Jew).
"The angel of The Lord said to her, "Return to your mistress, and submit to her." The angel of The Lord also said to her, "I will so greatly multiply your descendants that they cannot be numbered for multitude." And the angel of The Lord said to her, "Behold, you are with child, and shall bear a son; you shall call his name Ishmael [see also Isaac and Ishmael]; because The Lord has given heed to your affliction. He shall be a wild ass of a man, his hand against every man and every man's hand against him; and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen." (Genesis 16:9-12 RSV)
Genesis Chapter 17
Genesis chapter 17 provides an account of two well-known events of Bible History - Abram's and Sarai's name changes to Abraham and Sarah (see Abram and Sarai), and the covenant of circumcision (see the Fact Finder question below regarding how true Christianity is the fulfillment of physical circumcision).
"When Abram was ninety-nine years old The Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, "I am God Almighty; walk before Me, and be blameless. And I will make My covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly."
Circumcision was instituted merely as a symbol of faith and righteousness (e.g. "For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love," Galatians 5:5-6 RSV).
"And God said to Abraham, "As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your descendants after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He that is eight days old among you shall be circumcised; every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house, or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he that is born in your house and he that is bought with your money, shall be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant." (Genesis 17:9-14 RSV)
Sarai's name change to Sarah also brought a glad announcement - Sarah would herself become a mother.
"And God said to Abraham, "As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her; I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall come from her." (Genesis 17:15-16 RSV)
Genesis Chapter 18
"And The Lord appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the door of his tent in the heat of the day. He lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, three men stood in front of him." (Genesis 18:1-2 RSV)
After again stating that Sarah would herself become a mother ("at the appointed time I will return to you, in the spring, and Sarah shall have a son," Genesis 18:14 RSV), The Lord then revealed to Abraham that the cities of Sodom (see Sodomites) and Gomorrah were about to be destroyed, if no good could be found there. Abraham, perhaps thinking of his nephew Lot who had made the poor choice to live there (see the notes for Genesis 13), attempted to bargain with The Lord, progressively asking that the city be spared if even ten righteous people could be found there (Lot was righteous i.e. "he rescued righteous Lot," 2 Peter 2:7 RSV).
"Then Abraham drew near, and said, "Wilt thou indeed destroy the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; wilt thou then destroy the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? ... Then he said, "Oh let not The Lord be angry, and I will speak again but this once. Suppose ten are found there." He answered, "For the sake of ten I will not destroy it." (Genesis 18:23-24,32 RSV)
Fact Finder: As with the later mere outward physical symbolism of Frontlets and Phylacteries, why is physical circumcision unimportant to Christians? Did the apostle Paul (see Paul's Ministry), who was born and raised as a Jew, say that circumcision is irrelevant to Christians, that "real circumcision is a matter of the heart"? What did Paul say about Abraham and circumcision?