THE FOUNDING OF A CHRISTIAN FAMILY.
537. The legal requirements of King Hammurabi which Sarah obeyed read: “If a man has married a wife, and she has not granted him children, that woman has gone [shall go] to her fate [is to be divorced], if her father-in-law has returned him the dowry that that man brought to the house of his father-in-law,” etc. (par. 168). Par. 138 of the same Code describes the conditions under which a man may “put away his bride who has not borne him children.” Par. 144 says: “He shall not take a concubine” if his wife “has given a maid to her husband;” and Par. 146 says, if “she has given a maid to her husband and she has borne him children [and] that maid has made [should make] herself equal with her mistress,” the mistress may reduce her to servitude again, but may not sell her. This is surely wonderful confirmation that Sarah’s treatment of this whole matter, up to the time of Isaac’s weaning, was precisely in accord with the legal provisions and customs by which the country was governed. But when Isaac was weaned, she took another course, and God, by express revelation to Abraham, confirmed her new departure as in the line of His will.
538. It is worthwhile for us to pause long enough to call attention to these very unjust and humiliating laws, as relates to women, engraven on that stone which records the Code of Hammurabi, especially as that very Code is being commended by rationalists of the present time as more enlightened and more humane than the Mosaic Code,¾which latter is often represented as a mere attempt to imitate the excellencies of the older Code. But women will prefer the Code of Moses, when once they enlighten themselves as to the vastly superior marriage laws of the latter. (See Additional Note at the end of this lesson.)
539. Sarah did go through the form of asking Abraham to bear a son by Hagar, but the act should be judged by the fact that a man had legal right to divorce a childless wife, and she was now past seventy-five years of age. That Sarah had had reason to fear divorcement seems certain, because when Hagar became arrogant in her treatment of Sarah, the latter accuses Abraham of being himself to blame for Hagar’s conduct, in the words: “My wrong be upon thee.” The Septuagint gives the idea conveyed by the words as, “I am wronged by thee.” Sarah is opening her eyes in new self-respect; she tells Abraham he had no right to have ever brought Hagar¾the price of her humiliation¾into the family; and then to have so conducted himself as to have created in her the fear of being divorced, through no fault of her own, but merely because she had not fulfilled for him the promises of God, that he should have a son. This is what we understand by her expression, and she adds: “The Lord judge between me and thee,” declaring her confidence that her position was just in God’s sight.
540. And Abraham yielded, which he would not have done so readily had he not felt she was right. Then Sarah did the only thing allowable under the law; she attempted to discipline Hagar, and return her to the position of a handmaiden. Sarah was not willing that her household should be polygamous; the law cut Abraham off from the right of a concubine in the family, since Sarah had given him her maid to bear a child for Sarah (see par. 537). But Hagar would be nothing less than a wife, so she left the house, doubtless thinking Abraham, for the sake of his only child, would divorce Sarah and take her back in Sarah’s place. Sarah made no effort to keep the child, so far as we know, which the law allowed.
541. The situation was hard for both Sarah and Hagar. Through fear that law and custom would set her adrift, because a childless wife, she had yielded to the requirements of Hammurabi’s legislative enactments, and provided a maid by whom to secure a son for Abraham; and Hagar had taken advantage of Sarah’s humiliated position,¾to assume the position in the family of another wife. Now Sarah begins to think, and that, on the laws by which women are governed; and she charges upon Abraham with the words: “I am wronged of THEE . . . God judge between me and thee.” Doubtless Abraham, like many another man, wished his wife would stop dwelling upon the injustice of the laws which govern women; and quit accusing him of wrong, if he merely observed them.
542. Sarah’s attempts to obey custom and law had borne heavily upon a poor woman slave, too; and at first Sarah perhaps did not see this; she “dealt hardly,” that is, sternly¾not likely abusively¾with Hagar, to reduce her to her former position in the family; but Hagar fled with her child, rather than become a subordinate again. As God protected Sarah, when Abraham left her in peril in the harems of Pharaoh and Abimelech, so now He appears for the protection of Hagar’s interests (Genesis16:7-13). He gives her promises as to her progeny, but, encumbered as she is with her own and Abraham’s child, as well as far from her own native land, God tells her to return and submit as a servant to Sarah. God certainly knew Sarah would not ill-use her; and Hagar had a right to shelter and support, since the child was Abraham’s to support. The lesson for women to learn, from Sarah’s conduct in seeking a son for Abraham by such a method, is this: Women who have superior advantages cannot yield to enactments that are unjust to themselves without bringing greater injustice upon other women in less fortunate circumstances. Sarah yielded to a wrong to herself as a childless wife; the result was a worse wrong to Hagar.
543. And furthermore, a wrong position of affairs can seldom be put right without suffering to the innocent, or at least without causing more suffering to others than really deserved. The further incidents show this. When Isaac was weaned, a feast was given, at which Sarah saw Hagar’s son “playing.” Some suppose we must understand this to mean “mocking,” and so the A.V. translates (Genesis 21:9). This is not necessary. Sarah was neither angered nor jealous of a rival’s child. Had this been the case, it is impossible that God should have endorsed, as He did, her conduct that day. Sarah had advanced greatly in character by this time, for we are told that “through faith Sarah received strength to conceive seed” (Hebrews 11:11), and this implies no mean state of grace, for a woman barren from youth, and now past ninety. Sarah had become so enlightened that she revolted at any appearance of polygamy in her household, where Isaac was to be brought up,¾for he had been given them to train for a very definite and holy purpose. Such surroundings were neither wholesome for Isaac nor Ishmael.
Additional Note: The Code of Hammurabi.
Beginning with Lesson 71, we discussed the Mosaic laws, which at best were not ideal. But they were far superior to Hammurabi’s in dealing with women. As an illustration we name the following:
Paragraphs 117 and 119 of Hammurabi’s Code provide for the selling of wives and daughters for debt.
Par. 132 reads: “If the finger has been pointed at the wife of a man because of another man, and she has not been taken in lying with another man, for her husband’s sake she shall throw herself into the water.” Contrast with this the much-slandered Trial of Jealousy (Numbers 5), which allowed the suspected wife the protection of the Tabernacle until by voluntary confession, or an express miracle of God the suspected unchastity was revealed (if it ever was revealed by miracle¾see pars. 585, 586). Exodus 21:22-25 provides that when, under certain circumstances, a woman is injured by a man, the penalty is “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” etc., that is, a woman’s eye was worth what a man’s was; the sexes were to be held of equal value. But under similar conditions, Hammurabi provides that the injurer was to pay (whatever the injury short of death) 10 shekels of silver to the woman’s father; and in case of the woman’s death, then a daughter of the murderer was to be put to death (Par. 209).
This shows how completely daughters were reckoned as the chattels of their father’s; and there was an express provision for sisters to become the property of brothers, after the father’s death, in Hammurabi’s Code, and these brothers could sell them for concubines.
A wife who became afflicted with disease could not be divorced, according to Hammurabi, but the husband could bring another wife into the house. Presently we shall show that, although polygamy prevailed to some extent among the Israelites, the Mosaic law did not provide for it, though garbled translations of one or two passages in our English and other versions seem to point the other way.
When rationalists contend for the superiority of Hammurabi’s Code over Moses’ we may feel sure that they are ignorant of their Bibles, whatever they may know of Hammurabi.