The Birth of Isaac, 1-7

Gen 21:1 Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised.

Now ends the suspense that began in ch. 12.

Gen 21:2 Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him.

Gen 21:3 Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son Sarah bore him.

Gen 21:4 When his son Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him, as God commanded him.

Gen 21:5 Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.

Gen 21:6 Sarah said, “God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.”

‘Sarah…is no visionary: she has faith, Heb 11:11, but her bent is domestic and physical – no doubt providentially, for Isaac had the ordinary needs of a child, who must be enjoyed for himself as well as for his destiny.’ (Kidner)

Gen 21:7 And she added, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.”

Hagar and Ishmael Sent Away, 8-21

Gen 21:8 The child grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast.

The child grew and was weaned – Weaning would have taken place at about 2-3 years old. Ishmael wouldhave been 16-17 by this time.

Gen 21:9 But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking,

‘There are two accounts of the flight of Hagar from Abraham’s home. The one in Gen 16:4-14 is attributed to J (relating how she fled before Ishmael was born) and the E account, Gen 21:9-21, relates how she fled again when Ishmael was already a young lad. But considering the tensions existing between Sarah and Hagar over the years, was it not reasonable for two such incidents to occur at different times and under dissimilar circumstances? Does not history abound in such repeated episodes in the lives of other important personages, such as Bishop Athanasius and his three banishments (in A.D. 335, 339, and 356)? (Would not the same type of divisive literary criticism have to parcel out these three banishments to three different “sources” whose several traditions have later been combined by a redactor?).’ (Archer, Survey of OT Introduction)

Mocking – Up until the time of Isaac’s birth, Ishmael would have been seen as Abraham’s heir. It is not surprising, then, that he was scornful of this untimely birth to an aged mother. But in doing so, he was also being scornful of God, whose hand he could not discern in these events, Gen 16:12 Gal 4:28f. The name ‘Isaac’ means ‘he laughs’; Ishmael is literally ‘Isaacing’ his half-brother.

Gen 21:10 and she said to Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.”

Sarah had total control over Hagar, who was her slave. She probably saw Ishmael as a continuing threat, and in doing so was not fully trusting in God’s promises.

This verse is quoted in Gal 4:30, in which Paul uses the story of Sarah and Hagar as an allegory of the relationship between the gospel and the law.

‘Wives had much more power than they are often credited with. Sarah, for example, after urging Abraham to have sexual relations with Hagar to father a child, expels both the girl and her infant child over Abraham’s protests. (Gen 21:9-13) The numerous stories of women who were heroes (Deborah, Jael, etc.) or villains (Jezebel, Athaliah) show that free women had a degree of self-determination that modern writers sometimes ignore.’ (EDBT)

‘Sarah sinned in recommending that Abraham take Hagar as his wife and sinned again in the attitude that prompted her to urge Abraham to send her away. But just as in the case of Joseph, where his brothers intended him harm, God meant it for good-the good of both Isaac and Ishmael.’ (HSB)

Gen 21:11 The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son.

The matter distressed Abraham greatly – Even this is too weak a translation. Abraham exploded in anger.

Ishamel was Abraham’s first son, and precious to him (cf. 17:18). But he was not the son of the promise.

This whole episode indicates how much evil can come from a polygamous marriage.

Gen 21:12 But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your maidservant. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.”

For Hagar and Ishmael to have stayed would have caused intolerable hostility. Sarah’s attitude in not condoned, but God will show that he can work through even our weaknesses and mistakes.

“God does not require Abraham to acquiesce in Sarah’s proposal because he approved the spirit which prompted it, but because it accorded with his counsel and his repeated declarations that all the blessings of the covenant were to belong pre-eminently to Isaac.” (George Bush)

This verse is quoted in Heb 11:18.

Gen 21:13 “I will make the son of the maidservant into a nation also, because he is your offspring.”

Gen 21:14 Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the desert of Beersheba.

Abraham has to trust the God will look after Ishmael, even though he cannot be sure how. This trust foreshadows Abraham’s trust when tested in the case of Isaac.

Skin of water – The whole skin of a lamb or kid, with the legs used as handles.

She went on her way – ‘If Hagar and Ishmael had conducted themselves well in Abraham’s family, they might have continued there; but they threw themselves out by their own pride and insolence, which were thus justly chastised. Note, By abusing our privileges we forfeit them.’ (MHC)

Gen 21:15 When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes.

Gen 21:16 Then she went off and sat down nearby, about a bow-shot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there nearby, she began to sob.

She began to sob – ‘We are apt to forget former promises, when present providences seem to contradict them; for we live by sense.’ (MHC)

Gen 21:17 God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there.”

God heard the boy crying – for ‘wherever we are, there is a way open heaven-ward.’ (MHC)

Gen 21:18 “Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.”

“Lift the boy up” – ‘Note, God’s readiness to help us when we are in trouble must not slacken, but quicken, our endeavours to help ourselves.’ (MHC)

‘Note, (1.) Nations are of God’s making: he founds them, he forms them, he fixes them. (2.) Many are full of the blessings of God’s providence that are strangers to the blessings of his covenant. (3.) The children of this world often fare the better, as to outward things, for their relation to the children of God.’ (MHC)

‘Have you ever wondered if you were born into the wrong family? We don’t know much about how Ishmael viewed life, but that question must have haunted him at times. His life, his name, and his position were bound up in a conflict between two jealous women. Sarah (Sarai), impatient with God’s timetable, had taken matters into her own hands, deciding to have a child through another woman. Hagar, servant that she was, submitted to being used this way. But her pregnancy gave birth to strong feelings of superiority toward Sarah. Into this tense atmosphere, Ishmael was born.

For 13 years Abraham thought Ishmael’s birth had fulfilled God’s promise. He was surprised to hear God say that the promised child would be Abraham and Sarah’s very own. Sarah’s pregnancy and Isaac’s birth must have had a devastating impact on Ishmael. Until then he had been treated as a son and heir, but this late arrival made his future uncertain. During Isaac’s weaning celebration, Sarah caught Ishmael teasing his half brother. As a result, Hagar and Ishmael were permanently expelled from Abraham’s family.

Much of what happened throughout his life cannot be blamed on Ishmael. He was caught in a process much bigger than himself. However, his own actions showed that he had chosen to become part of the problem and not part of the solution. He chose to live under his circumstances rather than above them.

The choice he made is one we must all make. There are circumstances over which we have no control (heredity, for instance), but there are others that we can control (decisions we make). At the heart of the matter is the sin-oriented nature we have all inherited. It can be partly controlled, although not overcome, by human effort. In the context of history, Ishmael’s life represents the mess we make when we don’t try to change the things we could change. The God of the Bible has offered a solution. His answer is not control, but a changed life. To have a changed life, turn to God, trust him to forgive your sinful past, and begin to change your attitude toward him and others.’ (Life Application)

Gen 21:19 Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.

Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water – ‘Note, Many that have reason enough to be comforted go mourning from day to day, because they do not see the reason they have for comfort. There is a well of water by them in the covenant of grace, but they are not aware of it; they have not the benefit of it, till the same God that opened their eyes to see their wound opens them to see their remedy, Jn 16:6,7.’ (MHC)

‘Oh, that men were not so much like Hagar in the wilderness, blind to the well of living waters close beside them!’ (J.C. Ryle)

‘It is a sweet and comfortable thought, that “the LORD takes delight in his people” and “cares for those who trust in him.” (Ps 149:4 Na 1:7) But I fear that little is known, and only dimly seen, of exactly how much the Lord cares for them. Beyond question, believers have a great many trials. The flesh is weak. The world is full of snares. The cross is heavy. The way is narrow. The companions are few. But still they have great consolations, if only their eyes were open to see them. Like Hagar, they have a well of water near them, even in the wilderness, though often they do not see it. Like Mary, they have Jesus standing by their side, though often they are not aware of it because of their very tears..’ (Gen 21:19 Jn 20:14) (J.C. Ryle)

Gen 21:20 God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer.

‘The episode tellingly portrays man’s plight and God’s grace: on the one hand, diminishing supplies, scant refuge and fnial despair; on the other, the abundance of the well (once it was revealed), the promise of life and posterity, and (20) the presence of God.’ (Kidner)

Gen 21:21 While he was living in the Desert of Paran, his mother got a wife for him from Egypt.

Choice of a Spouse

‘Usually the parents of a young man chose his wife and arranged for the marriage, as Hagar did for Ishmael (Gn. 21:21) and Judah for Er (Gn. 38:6). Sometimes the young man did the choosing, and his parents the negotiating, as in the case of Shechem (Gn. 34:4, 8) and Samson (Jdg. 14:2). Rarely did a man marry against the wish of his parents, as did Esau (Gn. 26:34-35). The girl was sometimes asked whether she consented, as in the case of Rebekah (Gn. 24:58). Occasionally the girl’s parents chose a likely man to be her husband, as did Naomi (Ru 3:1-2) and Saul.’ (1Sa:18:21) (NBD)

The Treaty at Beersheba, 22-34

Gen 21:22 At that time Abimelech and Phicol the commander of his forces said to Abraham, “God is with you in everything you do.”

Gen 21:23 “Now swear to me here before God that you will not deal falsely with me or my children or my descendants. Show to me and the country where you are living as an alien the same kindness I have shown to you.”

Gen 21:24 Abraham said, “I swear it.”

Gen 21:25 Then Abraham complained to Abimelech about a well of water that Abimelech’s servants had seized.

Gen 21:26 But Abimelech said, “I don’t know who has done this. You did not tell me, and I heard about it only today.”

Gen 21:27 So Abraham brought sheep and cattle and gave them to Abimelech, and the two men made a treaty.

Gen 21:28 Abraham set apart seven ewe lambs from the flock,

Gen 21:29 and Abimelech asked Abraham, “What is the meaning of these seven ewe lambs you have set apart by themselves?”

Gen 21:30 he replied, “Accept these seven lambs from my hand as a witness that I dug this well.”

Gen 21:31 So that place was called Beersheba, because the two men swore an oath there.

Gen 21:32 After the treaty had been made at Beersheba, Abimelech and Phicol the commander of his forces returned to the land of the Philistines.

Gen 21:33 Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba, and there he called upon the name of the LORD, the Eternal God.

Gen 21:34 And Abraham stayed in the land of the Philistines for a long time.