4. THE BIRTH OF ISHMAEL.
Ten years passed, and yet Sarah was barren. Abraham, in sore distress, prayed to God, and reminded Him of His promises. Sarah then said to Abraham, "God has refused me children, therefore take Hagar to wife, the daughter of Pharaoh, who was given to be my servant; I give her thee in all goodwill, that my reproach may be taken away, and to her I give her freedom."
Abraham consented; but Hagar, who had been virtuously brought up by Sarah, objected modestly, till Sarah pointed out to her how great an honour it would be to be the concubine of such a holy man.
But no sooner was Hagar installed as second wife, and felt in herself that she was about to become a mother, than her character changed; she assumed the pre-eminence, and cast bitter words in the teeth of her mistress. "What," said she, "can Sarah be so holy and beloved of God, and He has never given her her heart's desire?"
Sarah was stung to the quick by these words of her former slave. She turned to her husband and said, "I demand of thee my rights. For thee I forsook my father's house, and followed thee into a strange land; for thee I passed myself off in Egypt as thy sister. And now what hast thou done? Thou hast suffered my slave to assume the chief place in the house, and to take upon herself airs, and thou holdest thy peace. Depend upon it, if she bear thee a son there will be no peace in the house, for she is a daughter of Pharaoh, who is of the race of Nimrod, who cast thee into the furnace of fire."
"Hagar is in thy power," answered Abraham; "but do her no harm. After thou gavest her her freedom, she may not again be brought into bondage."
But Sarah paid no attention to these words of gentleness, and treated Hagar with such cruelty, beat her, and cast an evil eye on her, so that she was delivered before her time of a dead child, and she fled for her life from the house.
The All-Righteous, for this offence, shortened Sarah's life, and made her die thirty-eight years before her husband.
Angels appeared to Hagar in the desert by the well of water whither she had fled, and bade her return to Abraham. So she went back, and was again pregnant, and bore a son, and called his name Ishmael.