Glossary of Terms



Harper’s Bible Dictionary

edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)

You are strongly recommended to add to your library the excellent revised edition of Harper's Bible Dictionary titled, The Harper Collins Bible Dictionary, Revised Edition [book review], edited by Paul J. Achtemeier, with the Society of Biblical Literature (NY: Harper Collins, 1996). It is currently the best one-volume Bible dictionary in English, and it is available at Border's Books, Christian Science Reading Rooms,, or

Hagar, the Egyptian maidservant whom Sarah gave to Abraham as his concubine; she bore him Ishmael. There are two stories concerning Hagar, both showing the rivalry between her and Sarah. In the first (Gen. 16:1-16) Sarai (Sarah) was barren and, in accordance with custom, gave her maidservant to her husband so that she could bear a child in place of her mistress. When Hagar became pregnant, she acted arrogantly towards Sarah and so Sarah, with Abraham’s permission, dealt so harshly with her that Hagar fled into the Wilderness of Shur. There she met an angel who announced that she should return to her mistress and that she would bear a son, to be named Ishmael, from whom would spring many descendants.

In Gen. 21:8-21 Hagar is back in Abraham’s household. Some time has passed and Sarah has given birth to Isaac. Sarah felt that Ishmael threatened Isaac’s position as heir, so she urged Abraham to expel Hagar and Ishmael. He acquiesced only after God assured him that he should heed Sarah, for Abraham’s main line of descent was to be through Isaac, although God would also make a nation from Ishmael’s descendants. Hagar was sent away with some bread and water and her child. When the provisions were used up and the child’s death seemed imminent, an angel appeared and reassured Hagar that the child would produce a great nation. A well of water appeared and she gave her son water to drink. Ishmael grew up and became an archer in the Wilderness of Paran and married an Egyptian woman.

These stories show that Ishmael’s descendants, the bedouins living to the south of the Israelites, were of the same stock as the Hebrews but from a religiously less important branch of the family. The inferiority of Hagar and Ishmael is used allegorically in the NT by Paul (Gal. 4:21-31).


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Edited for by Robert Nguyen Cramer
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