Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
As the promise of a lineal heir (Gen 15:4) did not seem likely to be fulfilled, even after the covenant had been made, Sarai resolved, ten years after their entrance into Canaan, to give her Egyptian maid Hagar to her husband, that if possible she might "be built up by her," i.e., obtain children, who might found a house or family (Gen 30:3). The resolution seemed a judicious one, and according to the customs of the East, there would be nothing wrong in carrying it out. Hence Abraham consented without opposition, because, as Malachi (Mal 2:15) says, he sought the seed promised by God. But they were both of them soon to learn, that their thoughts were the thoughts of man and not of God, and that their wishes and actions were not in accordance with the divine promise. Sarai, the originator of the plan, was the first to experience its evil consequences. When the maid was with child by Abram, "her mistress became little in her eyes." When Sarai complained to Abram of the contempt she received from her maid (saying, "My wrong," the wrong done to me, "come upon thee," cf. Jer 51:35; Gen 27:13), and called upon Jehovah to judge between her and her husband,
(Note: בּיניך, with a point over the second Jod, to show that it is irregular and suspicious; since בּין with the singular suffix is always treated as a singular, and only with a plural suffix as plural.)
Abram gave her full power to act as mistress towards her maid, without raising the slave who was made a concubine above her position. But as soon as Sarai made her feel her power, Hagar fled. Thus, instead of securing the fulfilment of their wishes, Sarai and Abram had reaped nothing but grief and vexation, and apparently had lost the maid through their self-concerted scheme. But the faithful covenant God turned the whole into a blessing.
Hagar no doubt intended to escape to Egypt by a road used from time immemorial, that ran from Hebron past Beersheba, "by the way of Shur." - Shur, the present Jifar, is the name given to the north-western portion of the desert of Arabia (cf. Exo 15:22). There the angel of the Lord found her by a well, and directed her to return to her mistress, and submit to her; at the same time he promised her the birth of a son, and an innumerable multiplication of her descendants. As the fruit of her womb was the seed of Abram, she was to return to his house and there bear him a son, who, though not the seed promised by God, would be honoured for Abram's sake with the blessing of an innumerable posterity. For this reason also Jehovah appeared to her in the form of the Angel of Jehovah. הרה is adj. verb. as in Gen 38:24, etc.: "thou art with child and wilt bear;" ילדתּ for ילדת (Gen 17:19) is found again in Jdg 13:5, Jdg 13:7. This son she was to call Ishmael ("God hears"), "for Jehovah hath hearkened to thy distress." עני afflictionem sine dubio vocat, quam Hagar afflictionem sentiebat esse, nempe conditionem servitem et quod castigata esset a Sara (Luther). It was Jehovah, not Elohim, who had heard, although the latter name was most naturally suggested as the explanation of Ishmael, because the hearing, i.e., the multiplication of Ishmael's descendants, was the result of the covenant grace of Jehovah. Moreover, in contrast with the oppression which has had endured and still would endure, she received the promise that her son would endure no such oppression. "He will be a wild ass of a man." The figure of a פּרא, onager, that wild and untameable animal, roaming at its will in the desert, of which so highly poetic a description is given in Job 39:5-8, depicts most aptly "the Bedouin's boundless love of freedom as he rides about in the desert, spear in hand, upon his camel or his horse, hardy, frugal, revelling in the varied beauty of nature, and despising town life in every form;" and the words, "his hand will be against every man, and every man's hand against him," describe most truly the incessant state of feud, in which the Ishmaelites live with one another or with their neighbours. "He will dwell before the face of all his brethren." פּני על denotes, it is true, to the east of (cf. Gen 25:18), and this meaning is to be retained here; but the geographical notice of the dwelling-place of the Ishmaelites hardly exhausts the force of the expression, which also indicated that Ishmael would maintain an independent standing before (in the presence of) all the descendants of Abraham. History has confirmed this promise. The Ishmaelites have continued to this day in free and undiminished possession of the extensive peninsula between the Euphrates, the Straits of Suez, and the Red Sea, from which they have overspread both Northern Africa and Southern Asia.
In the angel, Hagar recognised God manifesting Himself to her, the presence of Jehovah, and called Him, "Thou art a God of seeing; for she said, Have I also seen here after seeing?" Believing that a man must die if he saw God (Exo 20:19; Exo 33:20), Hagar was astonished that she had seen God and remained alive, and called Jehovah, who had spoken to her, "God of seeing," i.e., who allows Himself to be seen, because here, on the spot where this sight was granted her, after seeing she still saw, i.e., remained alive. From this occurrence the well received the name of "well of the seeing alive," i.e., at which a man saw God and remained alive. Beer-lahai-roi: according to Ewald, ראי חי is to be regarded as a composite noun, and ל as a sign of the genitive; but this explanation, in which ראי is treated as a pausal form of ראי, does not suit the form ראי with the accent upon the last syllable, which points rather to the participle ראה with the first pers. suffix. On this ground Delitzsch and others have decided in favour of the interpretation given in the Chaldee version, "Thou art a God of seeing, i.e., the all-seeing, from whose all-seeing eye the helpless and forsaken is not hidden even in the farthest corner of the desert." "Have I not even here (in the barren land of solitude) looked after Him, who saw me?" and Beer-lahai-roi, "the well of the Living One who sees me, i.e., of the omnipresent Providence." But still greater difficulties lie in the way of this view. It not only overthrows the close connection between this and the similar passages Gen 32:31; Exo 33:20; Jdg 13:22, where the sight of God excites a fear of death, but it renders the name, which the well received from this appearance of God, an inexplicable riddle. If Hagar called the God who appeared to her ראי אל because she looked after Him whom she saw, i.e., as we must necessarily understand the word, saw not His face, but only His back; how could it ever occur to her or to any one else, to call the well Beer-lahai-roi, "well of the Living One, who sees me," instead of Beer-el-roi? Moreover, what completely overthrows this explanation, is the fact that neither in Genesis nor anywhere in the Pentateuch is God called "the Living One;" and throughout the Old Testament it is only in contrast with the dead gods of idols of the heathen, a contrast never thought of here, that the expressions חי אלהים and חי אל occur, whilst החי is never used in the Old Testament as a name of God. For these reasons we must abide by the first explanation, and change the reading ראי into ראי.
(Note: The objections to this change in the accentuation are entirely counterbalanced by the grammatical difficulty connected with the second explanation. If, for example, ראי is a participle with the 1st pers. suff., it should be written ראני (Isa 29:15) or ראני (Isa 47:10). ראי cannot mean, "who sees me," but "my seer," an expression utterly inapplicable to God, which cannot be supported by a reference to Job 7:8, for the accentuation varies there; and the derivation of ראי from ראי "eye of the seeing," for the eye which looks after me, is apparently fully warranted by the analogous expression לדה אשׁת in Jer 13:21.)
With regard to the well, it is still further added that it was between Kadesh (Gen 14:7) and Bered. Though Bered has not been discovered, Rowland believes, with good reason, that he has found the well of Hagar, which is mentioned again in Gen 24:62; Gen 25:11, in the spring Ain Kades, to the south of Beersheba, at the leading place of encampment of the caravans passing from Syria to Sinai, viz., Moyle, or Moilahi, or Muweilih (Robinson, Pal. i. p. 280), which the Arabs call Moilahi Hagar, and in the neighbourhood of which they point out a rock Beit Hagar. Bered must lie to the west of this.
Having returned to Abram's house, Hagar bare him a son in his 86th year. He gave it the name Ishmael, and regarded it probably as the promised seed, until, thirteen years afterwards, the counsel of God was more clearly unfolded to him.