No doubt these thoughts are not original to me (especially points 3 and 4, I’m sure I’ve heard them from someone else), but I think there are some striking similarities between Genesis 16 and the fall narrative of Genesis 3.
1. A misrepresentation of God
Does Sarai’s assertion that ‘the LORD has prevented me from bearing children’ in 16:2 echo Εve’s extension of God’s prohibition of eating the tree to touching it in 3: 3? Could both be cases of a skewed view of God as more harsh than in reality? Could both cases be evidence of the husband’s failure to communicate what God had really said adequately?
2. An arrogant attempt to grasp what God alone would provide
This is certainly true of Abraham and Sarai, they failed to trust God as the one who would provide them with a child as he had promised and tried to do it their way. Similarly, God emerges in Genesis 1 and 2 as the source of knowledge about what is good and evil (cf. 1:31, 2:18) and presumably humanity, rather than remain in innocence, where to progress to wisdom and maturity over time and under God (cf. this blog entry). Snatching at the knowledge of good and evil becomes then an arrogant attempt to become wise without God.
3. A husband who failed in his responsibilities
Adam should have listened to God not to Eve since after all he was created first and therefore received the word of God about the tree directly from the LORD. Similarly, Abraham should not have listened to Sarai’s reasoning instead of the promises of God he had received (in Ch 12:1-9 but also in Ch 15 where God addressed Abraham’s concerns over his childlessness and established a covenant). Compare the similarity between 3:17 and the end of 16:3.
4. A wife who ‘took’ and ‘gave’ when she shouldn’t have
See how the language of 16:3 compares with and echoes 3:6. Accidental? Coincidental? We think not.
5. A bout of blame-shifting
Hagar hates Sarai, Sarai blames Abraham, Abraham shrugs his shoulders and passes the buck back to Sarai. Is all this meant to echo the blame shifting in Genesis 3:10-13?
6. An intervention by the LORD in judgment mixed with mercy
The LORD intervenes in the crisis, beginning by asking a question (cf. 3:9 with 16:8) and following by pronouncing the way things will be from now on, a mixture of mercy and judgment.
7. A judgment which involved ongoing family tension
Ishmael will fight with his brothers (16:12) whilst Adam and Eve will engage in a power-struggle (3:16b). Also, could 16:12 be meant to evoke memories of the family tension that flowed out of the fall in Genesis 4 with Cain and Abel? This is surely judgment on Abraham and Sarai who have failed to be any better than Adam and Eve, a cursing of their attempts to obtain blessing independent of God?
8. A display of divine mercy in the promise of offspring
Compare 16:10-11 and 3:15 and examine them in the context of Genesis 12:1-3 and Genesis 15:1-5.
So what then? Is this any more than a neat literary trick? Or does this passage indicate that we should expect Israel’s history, covenant/bible history and human history to contain a repetition of the mistakes of the fall. The tragic drama of Genesis 3ff. is played out across the bible, across history, across our lives. We really are like our parents Adam and Eve, we repeat their choices every time we fail to trust God, or seek to find what God alone has promised from our own resources (see Paul’s use of the Hagar story to illustrate salvation by works vs. salvation by grace in Galatians 4:21ff.).
Similarly God's intervention in judgment and mercy is repeated throughout the bible and throughout history. Especially, scripture testifies that salvation comes through child-bearing. Though not the legitimate heir (and hence why the Messianic promise of 3:15 and that given to Abraham will not be ultimately fulfilled through Ishmael’s line) there is a measure of blessing for Hagar and her line which must surely be understood in relation to the Abrahamic promises and as a mini-experience of the original creation blessing (1:28) to which all the offspring promises of scripture relate. This offspring theme finally reaches climax in the true seed and heir of Abraham and the blessing to the nations which comes through him. In him, who experienced the full judgment of God (including the social/relational/familial dynamic in the curse found in Genesis 3-4 and 16:12 – he was truly hatred by his ‘brothers’) the promises of God are graciously fulfilled and the Ishmaels of the world are invited to become full heirs and sons of Abraham by faith (Galatians 4:1-7).