Sarah and Hagar:
The next text that Pearlstein cites is the Sarah and Hagar episode from Genesis 21. Here, Abraham has a son with his slave Hagar who was to be as Sarah’s own son. When Sarah finally gave birth to her own son, Isaac, she saw Hagar’s son Ishmael as competition for the inheritance of Isaac. There is no doubt from this text that Ishmael was Abraham’s son and was entitled to the inheritance.
Abraham’s wife Hagar and their child Ishmael got booted out into
the wilderness, for no reason except that his other wife, Sarah,
was jealous (Genesis 21:14). The Bible shows no criticism, and
Abraham and Sarah continued to prosper.
The missing piece to this puzzle is found in the legal and sociological customs of that time. Both the laws of Hammurabi and the laws of Lipit-Ishtar (see #3 – also notice their predilection for oxen legislation) say that slaves who were wives can receive freedom in exchange for relinquishing their rights to the inheritance. The sending away of Hagar and Ishmael was freeing them from their obligations as slaves and was totally in line with the custom of their day (Sarna, Understanding Genesis, 155-156). What has the appearance of being a bitter judgment on the part of Sarah should actually be welcomed as giving a slave and her child freedom.