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Monday, June 17th, 2024
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 21

Gray's Concise Bible CommentaryGray's Concise Commentary

Verses 1-8


Why Abraham took the journey in Genesis 20:1 is not stated, but perhaps to better his pasturage, for he remained in the vicinity for some time (Genesis 21:34 ). Why he employed the same subterfuge about Sarah as before also is not stated except in a general way (Genesis 20:12 ), but it resulted as it did then (Genesis 20:2 ). The chapter illustrates certain principles of God’s dealings with different men:

1. Imputed righteousness, while instantaneously giving man a right standing before God, does not make that man instantaneously righteous in his own character. If it did, Abraham would not have been guilty of this falsehood, if it were such.

2. God can reveal Himself to the heathen as clearly as to one of His own people. Abimelech had no doubt that he had received a revelation from the God of Abraham.

3. The sin of a heathen is against God, no matter what religion he professes or what gods he worships: “I withheld thee from sinning against Me.”

4. God is the conservator of His own truth, and man cannot be trusted with it. Twice has He interposed against Abraham himself for the protection of his wife, in whom were deposited the hopes of the whole human race. These hopes would have been disappointed if Abraham had controlled them (Psalms 105:13-15 ).

5. Natural graces of disposition are not a ground of acceptance with God. Abimelech commends himself to us by his expostulation with Abraham (Genesis 20:9-10 ), his restoration of Sarah and his generous treatment of both (Genesis 20:14-16 ), and yet it is Abraham (whose conduct suffers by comparison) and not Abimelech who has the privilege and power of intercession: “He is a prophet, and he shall pray for thee, and thou shalt live” (Genesis 21:7 ).

6. God deals with His own people, those to whom His righteousness is imputed, on a different principle from that on which He deals with others. Abraham suffers no punishment for this repeated offense, although in the course of his life he had his share of chastisements and corrections, but God is dealing with him not as a criminal before a judge, but as a child before a loving father.


The circumstance in this section belongs to that of the previous one, although it seems to have taken place at a later time and subsequent to the birth of Isaac. Notice how God blessed Abraham in such a way as to glorify Himself (Genesis 21:22 ), and recall the teaching in an earlier lesson that this was His purpose in the whole history of Israel, which their disobedience at the present time has defeated. Abraham must have had much influence and power for Abimelech to have found it worth while to make a covenant with him (Genesis 21:23 ), but his “kingdom” was very likely limited to the city of Gerar and the surrounding territory. Abraham takes advantage of the occasion to present a claim for damages, as we would say (Genesis 21:25 ), and serious damages, too, when we reflect on the value of wells in an oriental country to the possessor of sheep and cattle. In Genesis 21:27-30 we have a repetition of the transaction in chapter 15. “Beer-sheba” means “the well of the oath.” This now becomes the dwelling place of Abraham for some time (Genesis 21:34 ). What new name is ascribed to God in the verse?


1. How does this lesson teach that the ground of our righteousness is objective rather than subjective?

2. What encouragement does it afford in preaching the Gospel to the unsaved?

3. How does it illustrate God’s faithfulness to His promises?

4. How does it exhibit the difference between the natural and the spiritual man?

5. Can you find here an illustration of Matthew 5:16 ?

Verses 9-34



There is little requiring explanation in this chapter, but Genesis 21:9-13 should not be passed without a look at Galatians 4:21-31 . Christians are the spiritual seed of Abraham, and those who would supplement faith in Christ by the works of the law are the children of the bond-woman, who have no place with the children of the promise.

God, however, is not unmindful of Hagar and Ishmael, nor of His promise to Abraham concerning the latter. Although the blessing on the nation is not to flow down through them, yet they are not precluded from partaking of it when it comes. Abraham, there can be little doubt, followed the steps of Ishmael with deep interest, although at the moment appearances are not that way. He was probably included in the gifts spoken of at Genesis 25:6 , while his presence at his father’s obsequies (Genesis 25:9 ) shows that the bond of affection between them was not broken.

We know little of Ishmael’s subsequent life except that gathered from Genesis 25:12-18 , but the presumption is that he afterward abandoned the religion of his father, since his descendants preserved no trace of it except the rite of circumcision.

ABRAHAM’S HARDEST TEST (Genesis 22:1-24 )

The shock communicated to Abraham by this command may have been qualified by the fact that the sacrifice of human beings, and even one’s own children, was not unknown to heathenism; but this could not have explained his patient obedience had it not been for that faith mentioned in Hebrews 11:17-19 . He knew that God’s honor and faithfulness were involved in the preservation or renewal of the life of Isaac, and reposed confidently in that fact. Indeed, there is reason to believe from Genesis 22:8 that he foresaw the very means by which God would interpose for his son.

That verse is a beautiful foreshadowing of the substitutionary work of Christ. Transpose the emphasis, and we learn that God is the source or originator of our salvation through Christ “God will Himself provide a lamb”; that God had as much necessity for Christ as we, since He purposed to redeem us “God will provide Himself a lamb”; and that God is the provision as well as the provider “God will provide Himself,” i.e., He is the lamb!

Note several other interesting things:

1. that Solomon built the temple to Jehovah on Matthew Moriah (2 Chronicles 3:1 ), and that the eternal Father afterward sacrificed His only begotten Son in the same place; this circumstance of the sacrifice of the Son of God for the sins of men silences the charge of infidelity that it was barbarous for God to command Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. If it was not barbarous for God to sacrifice Christ, neither was it barbarous that it should have been prefigured in the history of Abraham; and

2. Isaac himself becomes a notable type of Christ, especially in the meek and submissive spirit shown throughout, and when we remember that although called a “lad” he was presumably twenty-five years old at this time (compare John 10:18 ).

3. What new name of God is suggested by this event (Genesis 22:14 )? This means “Jehovah will see” or “Jehovah will provide.” How does God now further confirm His promise and covenant (Genesis 22:16 )? Note the marginal references to Psalms 105:9 , Luke 1:73 , Hebrews 6:13-14 . What additional promise or prediction is now added to the original one (Genesis 22:17 )? The gate of ancient cities being the strongest part of the wall and the most stoutly defended, to possess it was to possess the city itself.

Do not pass this lesson without observing how Abraham showed his faith by his works (James 2:21-24 ). “All our righteousness are as filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6 ) as a ground of merit before God, but as the fruit of our faith obedience is of great price. Abraham’s faith without the works of obedience would have been a lie, while his work without faith would, in this case, have been a sin. The virtue of this act consisted in the fact that he obeyed God.

THE CAVE OF MACHPELAH (Genesis 23:1-20 )

That Sarah should have died not in Beersheba but in Hebron, and that Abraham should have “come” to mourn for her, are facts which the record nowhere explains; but the chapter affords an insight into the customs of the Orientals of this period. For “the children of Heth” compare Genesis 10:15 , etc. It will be seen by Genesis 23:10 that these people were the Hittites whom Joshua (Joshua 1:4 ) mentions as occupying a great territory in that day, of whom the Egyptian and Assyrian monuments speak as a cultured and powerful nation of antiquity, although until recently critics were disposed to say that they never existed because secular history had lost sight of them.

Let it not be supposed, however, that the courteous formality of this occasion meant that Ephron intended to give Abraham the field for nothing. It was the oriental way of raising the price, so that in the end Abraham paid many times its value. Four hundred shekels of silver were equal to about $240 of our money, the value of which at that time would be five or ten times as much.


1. Name books and chapters of the New Testament which refer allegorically to Sarah and Hagar.

2. Name books and chapters which show Abraham’s faith in the resurrection.

3. In what three ways does Genesis 22:8 foreshadow the work of Christ?

4. What three events are associated with Mr. Moriah?

5. Give chapter and verse which speak of Abraham’s fruit of faith.

Bibliographical Information
Gray, James. "Commentary on Genesis 21". Gray's Concise Bible Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jgc/genesis-21.html. 1897-1910.
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