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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 21

Garner-Howes Baptist CommentaryGarner-Howes

Verses 1-5


Verses 1-5:

The conception and birth of Isaac occurred after Abraham’s experience in Gerar, likely while he lived in the region of Beersheba. "Lord" is Jehovah, the Covenant-God, who fulfilled exactly the terms of His promise to Abraham made in Mamre one year earlier (see ch. 17). Abraham circumcised his son eight days after his birth, as God had instructed.

Verses 6-8

Verses 6-8:

The name of Abraham’s son was given by Divine instruction (Ge 17:10): Isaac, meaning "laughter." Both Abraham and Sarah laughed at God’s promise of this child in their old age (Ge 17:17; 18:12). Abraham’s laughter was for joy at the prospect of the promise. Sarah’s laughter was in unbelief, for she saw no possibility of fulfillment due to her advanced age. But now that the son was born as God had promised, Sarah’s laughter turned from unbelief to joy. Thus the name of her son was appropriate to the occasion.

Isaac grew as a normal child. When the time came for his weaning, Abraham made a banquet to mark the joyous occasion. Isaac’s age at this event is not known. Some suggest it was one year. Josephus implies it was three years. (Antiquities, II, 9). The custom is still common in the East, to have a festive occasion when a child is weaned.

Verses 9-11

Verses 9-11:

Ishamel, Hagar’s son, was likely at least fifteen years of age, and possibly seventeen. Sarah observed him "mocking" Isaac, literally, "that he was a mocker." The implication is that Ishmael’s taunting of Isaac was not an isolated event on the occasion of his weaning. Rather it was an on-going practice, and the mockery at the weaning-day was the "last straw."

Sarah demanded that Abraham do something about this situation. He must "cast out" Hagar; He must take the necessary legal steps amounting to a divorce, which would send Hagar away, and at the same time deprive Ishmael of any legal right of inheritance. Sarah’s primary motive was not jealousy; she was the one who had encouraged Abraham to take Hagar as a secondary wife. Her primary concern was for Isaac, the heir of the promise. He must not be allowed to be influenced by the proud, bitter, angry spirit of Ishmael; but neither must he face the danger of losing his inheritance to any claim Ishmael might make.

Ishmael’s spirit was one of unbelief, envy, and pride and in his fleshly position as Abraham’s firstborn. He made Isaac the object of his profane taunts and unholy wit. Doubtless he found it laughable to think that this little boy born to an old woman could ever become the "father of many nations." It was for this reason that Sarah demanded Ishamel be expelled. Paul evidently saw the situation in this light, as he described Ishamel’s conduct, "He who was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit" (Ga 4:29).

Sarah’s proposal was to Abraham "very grievous," yera, "exceedingly evil." He evidently loved Ishmael dearly. Likely he saw that part of the problem was of his own making, as he had gone ahead of the Lord in seeking the promised heir after the energies of the flesh.

Verses 12-21

Verses 12-21:

Verses 12, 13: God (Elohim) spoke to Abraham to give him guidance in the matter of Ishmael and Hagar. Use of the term "bondwoman" with reference to Hagar indicates that God did not recognize her as Abraham’s wife (see Ge 16:8). In this vision, God instructs Abraham to heed the counsel of his wife Sarah. Abraham had listened to her on a previous occasion (Ge 16:2), and this had led him into a troublesome situation. The difference in the two occasions: in the matter of taking Hagar as a secondary wife, Sarah followed her own reasoning; in the matter of expelling Hagar and Ishmael, she followed the counsel and will of God. God reconfirmed His choice of Isaac, not Ishmael, as the promised seed.

God repeated a promise made earlier (Ge 17:20) concerning Ishmael. He would not be left utterly destitute, and die a pauper. Because of his relationship to Abraham, Ishmael would be the father of a great nation in his own right.

Verse 14-21: The next morning, Abraham sent Hagar and Ishmael away. The language implies that they started in the direction of Egypt. They did not at this time reach their destination.

Abraham supplied a bottle (skin) of water, and bread for the journey. After the custom of Egyptian women, Hagar took these supplies on her shoulder and set out on her journey with Ishmael as her companion - not carrying him literally but leading him by hand or arm. "Wilderness of Beer-sheba," the uncultivated wasteland between Palestine and Egypt. Soon the water supply was exhausted, and the two travelers became exhausted and in danger of fainting for thirst.

Hagar "cast the child under one of the shrubs." This translation conveys the erroneous impression that Ishmael was an infant, and that Hagar threw him violently to the ground under a bush. However, Ishmael was in his mid-teens, not an infant. The language indicates that Hagar supported his steps as long as she could. But she became exhausted and let him droop underneath a "shrub" siach (Sept. elates) or fir tree. Hagar then went about a "bowshot" from the fallen lad, and collapsed and began to weep in utter despair."

God (Elohim) heard Hagar’s weeping, and the piteous cries of Ishmael, and came to the rescue. He encouraged Hagar with the promise that Ishmael would live to become the father of a great nation. God showed Hagar a nearby well, a fountain or spring of living water. She replenished their supply, revived Ishmael, and went on the way. God exercised a special providence over Ishmael. He grew to manhood, living a roving, unsettled life, and acquired skill as a bowman. The "wilderness of Paran" (desert of El-Tih) became Ishmael’s home. Hagar secured a wife for him, from Egypt (see Ge 24:4, 55; Ex 21:10).

Verses 22-34

Verses 22-34:

Verses 22-34: These events occurred after the birth of Isaac, possibly after the expulsion of Ishmael. Abimelech sought confirmation of a treaty between himself and Abraham, and between their sons and grandsons. This is the same king whom Abraham had earlier tried to deceive (see ch. 20). Abraham evidently remained in his territory for a considerable time.

"Phichol" appears to be the title of the prime minister or commander-in-chief of the army of Abimelech. Both Phichol and his master were convicted of the reality of Abraham’s God, by the life which Abraham lived and by the evident blessings of God upon him.

Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on Genesis 21". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/genesis-21.html. 1985.
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