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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 21

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Verses 1-34


The birth of Isaac. Ishmael’s expulsion. The Covenant of peace with Abimelech at Beer-sheba

Genesis 21:1-34

1And the Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did unto Sarah as he had spoken. 2For Sarah conceived, and bare Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God [Elohim] had spoken to him. 3And Abraham called the name of his son that was born unto him, whom Sarah bare to him, Isaac [Jitzhak; he or one will laugh].4And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac, being eight days old [at the eighth day], as God 5[Elohim] had commanded him. And Abraham was an hundred years old when his son Isaac was born unto him.

6And Sarah said, God [Elohim] hath made me to laugh, so that all that hear will laugh with me. 7And she said, Who would have said unto Abraham, that Sarah should have given children suck? for I have borne him a son in his old age. 8And the child grew and was weaned: and Abraham made a great feast the same day that Isaac was weaned.

9And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, which she had borne unto Abraham, mocking. 10Wherefore she said unto Abraham, Cast out this bondwoman and her son: for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac. 11And the thing was very grievous in Abraham’s sight, because of his son.

12And God said unto Abraham, Let it not be grievous in thy sight, because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed [thy descendants] be called.1 13And also of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation, because he is thy seed. 14And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and took bread, and a bottle of water, and gave it unto Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, and [took with her] the child, and sent her away: and she departed, and wandered in the wilderness of Beer-sheba [seven wells; well of the oath]. 15And the water was spent in the bottle, and she cast the child under one of the shrubs. 16And she went, and sat her down over against him a good way off, as it were a bowshot [as archers]: for she said, Let me not see the death of the child. And she sat over 17against him, and lifted up her voice and wept. And God [Elohim] heard the voice of the lad; and the angel of God2 [Elohim] called to Hagar out of heaven, and said unto her, What aileth thee, Hagar? fear not; for God [Elohim] hath heard the voice of the lad where he Isaiah 18:0 Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him in thine hand; for I will make him a great nation. 19And God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water; and she went, and filled the bottle with water, and gave the lad drink. 20And God was with the 21lad; and he grew, and dwelt in the wilderness, and became an [mighty] archer. And he dwelt in the wilderness of Paran [Gesenius: prob. a region abounding in caverns]: and his mother took him a wife out of the land of Egypt.

22And it came to pass at that time, that Abimelech and Phichol [mouth of all; i.e., commanding all] the chief captain of his host [general] spake unto Abraham, saying, God 23[Elohim] is with thee in all that thou doest: Now therefore swear unto me here by God [Elohim] that thou wilt not deal falsely [injure deceitfully] with me, nor with my son, nor with my son’s son: but [rather] according to the kindness [truth] that I have done unto thee, thou shalt do unto me, and to the land wherein thou hast sojourned. 24And Abraham said, I will swear. 25And Abraham reproved Abimelech [brought a charge against him] because [in the case] of a well of water, which Abimelech’s servants had violently taken away. 26And Abimelech said, I wot not [have not known] who hath done this thing; neither didst thou tell me, neither yet heard I of it but to-day. 27And Abraham took sheep and oxen, and gave them unto Abimelech; and both of them made a covenant.

28And Abraham set [still] seven ewe-lambs of the flock by themselves. 29And Abimelech said unto Abraham, What mean these seven ewe-lambs, which thou hast set by themselves? 30And he said, For these seven ewe-lambs shalt thou take of my hand, that they may be a witness unto me that I have digged this well. 31Wherefore he called that place Beer-sheba; because there they sware both of them. 32Thus they made a covenant at Beer-sheba: then Abimelech rose up, and Phichol the chief captain of his host, and they returned into the land of the Philistines.

33And Abraham planted a grove [Tamarisk, tree] in Beer-sheba, and called there on the name of the Lord, the everlasting God. 34And Abraham sojourned in the Philistines’ land many days.


1. Delitzsch holds (“not led astray by Genesis 21:1”) that Genesis 21:1-21, forms the fourth Elohistic part of the third section of the life of Abraham. The first part (Genesis 21:1-8, of Genesis 21:0) goes back to Genesis 17:0, unfolds itself with a clear reference to it, and forms one whole with it. The second verse here refers to Genesis 17:21. According to Knobel on the contrary, only Genesis 21:2-5, belong to the original writing; the rest consists of Jehovistic enlargements, out of records which, at the most, may possibly be Elohistic. Since Delitzsch describes Genesis 20:0 also as Elohistic, it is plain that he must assume different Elohistic sources. But out of this assumption the whole arbitrary and artificial hypothesis may be developed. There must certainly be some internal reason for the change of the names in the first and second verses. That the name Elohim should be used in the history of the expulsion of Ishmael, and of the covenant of Abraham with Abimelech requires no explanation: Abimelech does not know Jehovah; Ishmael walks under the general providence of God. The reason lies in the fact that in Genesis 21:2 there is a reference to Genesis 17:21, while Genesis 21:1 refers to Genesis 18:14. So likewise it is with the circumcision of Isaac, which Elohim commanded (Genesis 21:4); it embraces in Isaac both Esau and Jacob. Sarah also (Genesis 21:6), refers the name of Isaac to the arrangement of Elohim; since every one in the world (existing under Elohim), would recognize Isaac as a miraculously given child—awakening laughter and joy.3

2. It is questionable whether we should refer Genesis 21:8 to what precedes, or what follows. Delitzsch favors the first connection, Knobel and Keil the last. They suppose that the feast at the weaning of Isaac gave occasion for the expulsion of Ishmael. But this is not certain, and were it even certain, Genesis 21:8 could, notwithstanding, belong to the conclusion of the history of the childhood of Isaac.


1. Isaac’s birth, circumcision, and the feast at his weaning.—(Genesis 21:1-8).—And the Lord (Jehovah) visited. [“The Sept. has ἐπεσκέψατο, a word adopted by St. Luke in two places in the song of Zacharias (Luke 1:68-78), who thus intimates the connection between the birth of Isaac and the birth of the promised seed.” Wordsworth p. 93. He refers also to the connection of the song of the blessed virgin with these exultant and thankful words of Sarah. See also Genesis 17:17-19; Luke 2:21; John 8:56; and Luke 1:44-47.—A. G.] Sarah.—פָקַד to come to, to visit, to visit with the purpose of aiding, of saving, or with the design to punish, marking the great transitions in the providence of God; an idea running throughout the Scriptures (Genesis 50:24; Exodus 3:16), to express which, according to Knobel, the Elohist uses זָכָר (ch.Genesis 8:1; Genesis 19:29; Genesis 30:20); where, however, in the two first cases, the ideas are widely different. The pregnancy of Sarah is traced back to Jehovah, since the conception of Isaac is a fruit of faith, i.e., of that connection of the sexes, on the part of both parents, animated and sanctified through faith.—As he had said (Genesis 18:14).—As God had said to him (Genesis 17:21).—[These expressions have an exegetical value, not only as showing the divine faithfulness, and the development of his plan, but as showing also how the different parts of this book are inwoven together, and thus prove its unity.—A. G.]—As God had commanded him (Genesis 17:12).—It is assumed, alluding to what had been done before on this occasion, that the son should bear the name Isaac. God had given him this name already, before his birth (Genesis 17:19; comp. Genesis 19:11). The special cause of this name lies in the laughing of Abraham (Genesis 17:0) whose darker echo is heard in the laugh of Sarah (Genesis 18:0), and the laughter of the people at this singular birth, of which Sarah speaks further here. The one thread running through all these various laughs is the apparently incredible nature of the event. Knobel, therefore, holds, without sufficient ground, that these are “different attempts to explain the origin of the name.”—An hundred years old (see Genesis 17:24).—And Sarah said, God hath made me to laugh.—Delitzsch signalizes the poetical force of the two sentences of Sarah. “They are joyful cries, the first a distich, the second in three lines. Hence also the term מִלֵּל instead of דִּבֵּר. Sarah, without doubt, goes back to the divine giving of the name, which the laughing of Abraham had occasioned. But then also, she glances at her own laughing, which is now followed by another and better laugh, even the joyful cry of a thankful faith. That laugh arose from her unbelief, this Jehovah has given to her as the fruit of her faith. But she must explain still further, and that not without a certain feeling of shame.” (Delitzsch, comp. Genesis 18:12.)—All that hear will laugh with me.—[מִי with the perfect has the sense of the conjunctive. Keil, p. 172.—A. G.]—i.e., with astonishment at the miraculously given child.—A great feast.—Starke: “The Hebrews, and other eastern nations, named their feasts from the drinks (מִשְׁתֶּה), as if more regard was paid to the drinks than to the food.” But as the joy over Isaac, in respect to the promise given in him, was directed more to the spiritual than the bodily, so also without doubt this feast was arranged with reference to the same thing.—And the child grew.—Knobel and Keil refer the eighth verse to the following section. “Ishmael,” Keil remarks, “mocked at the feast held at the weaning of Isaac.”4Knobel: he had made sport. But it is hardly probable that Ishmael had thus made sport or mocked on one occasion only. “The weaning of the child was often delayed, sometimes after three (2Ma 7:27; Mungo Park’s “Travels,” p. 237), and even after four years, (Russel: “Natural History of Aleppo,” I. p. 427). [“The weaning from the mother’s breast was the first step to the independent existence of the child” (Baumgarten), and hence gave occasion for the profane wit and mocking of Ishmael, in which there was, as Keil remarks, unbelief, envy, and pride.—A. G.] It was observed by Abraham, as also to day in the lands of the east, as a family feast. Schröder: “The Koran fixes two years, at least, as the period of nursing children.”

2. The expulsion of Ishmael (Genesis 21:9-21).—And Sarah saw the son of Hagar.—It is not said that this happened at the feast upon the weaning of Isaac. The different explanations of מְצַחֵק. The first explanation: The word describes one making sport, as Genesis 19:14; Ishmael appears as a playful lad, leaping and dancing around, who thus excited the envy of Sarah. Thus Knobel, after Aben Ezra, Ilgen, Gesenius, Tuch. The Septuagint and Vulgate introduce so much into the text: “playing with Isaac.” Since Ishmael was fourteen years of age at the birth of Isaac, and now about sixteen to seventeen, Sarah must certainly have seen him playing with Isaac much earlier, with jealousy, if his playfulness generally could indeed have excited her jealousy. But if Ishmael, at the feast-day of Isaac, was extravagantly joyful, he thus gave an assurance of his good-will towards her son, the heir of the house. Hence the second explanation: The word describes the act of scoffing, mockery. Keil and others, after Kimchi, Vatabl, Piscat, Grot, against which Knobel objects that the word in question was never used of mocking. “Still less,” he adds, “are we to think of a persecution of Isaac (Galatians 4:29; Rosenm.; Del.), or of a controversy about the inheritance (the old Jewish interpret.), or of an idolatrous service (Jonathan, Jarchi).” Delitzsch explains: “Ishmael, at the feast of the weaning of the child, made sport of the son of his father instead of sharing the joy of the household.” But the text certainly says only that Sarah made the observation that he was a jesting, mocking youth. But since the מְצַֹחֵק follows so directly upon יִצְחָק, so we may certainly conjecture that the word is here used to denote that he mimicked Isaac, jeered at him, or he ridiculed Isaac. [He does not laugh, but makes himself sportive, derides. This little feeble Isaac a father of nations! Hengstenberg: Beiträge, ii. p. 276. Kurtz urges well in favor of the stronger meaning of the word, the force of the Pihel and the fact that the conduct of Ishmael so described was made the reason by Sarah for her demand that the son of the bondwoman should be driven out, p. 202.—A. G.] Leaving this out of view, the observation of Sarah was certainly the observation of a development of character. Ishmael developed a characteristic trait of jealousy, and such persons pass easily, even without any inclination, to mockery. It is probable that this reviling conduct appeared in some striking way at the feast of the weaning of Isaac, although this cannot be inferred with certainty from the text. “The Rabbins feign here a controversy between the children, about the descent of Isaac from Abimelech, about the inheritance, and the like.” Schröder. Sarah does not regard him directly as a pretender, claiming the rights of primogeniture, but as one unworthy to be heir with her son. Even later, the moral earnestness and the sense and love of truth in the heir of the promise, are wanting in the talking and fiction-loving Arab. But tradition has added to this feature, his hand is against every man, and thus has found the explanation, that he persecuted Isaac with his jests and scoffs, a tradition which Paul could use in his allegorical explanation. [The apostle does far more than merely use a Jewish tradition. He appears to allude to the use made of this history by the prophet Isaiah (Gen 54), and in his explanation of the allegory states that the conduct of Ishmael towards Isaac was a type of the conduct of the self-righteous Jews towards those who were trusting in Christ alone for righteousness, or who were believers. This mocking, therefore, was the persecution of him who was born κατὰ σάρκα against him who was born κατὰ πνεῦμα. In this view, the word can only mean the unbelieving, envious sport and derision of this youth, proud of his mere fleshly preëminence, as Keil and Hengstenberg hold. He was thus, obviously, in heart separated from the household of faith.—A. G.] The passages, however, which Delitzsch quotes (Genesis 39:14 and Ezekiel 23:32) for the meaning of צחק, to scoff, must not be overlooked. In her estimate of character, Sarah was far superior to Abraham, as Rebekah was also superior to Isaac in judgment in reference to her two sons.—Cast out5 this bondwoman and her son.—Knobel thinks that according to Genesis 25:6 the Elohist has not admitted into the record any such expulsion. The unmerciful severity towards his own son and his mother, does not agree well with the character of Abraham, and it is doubtful, therefore, whether we are dealing here with a literal fact. But this is a mere human arbitrariness, in which the lofty, pure motive, remains unappreciated. [There is underlying all these objections of Knobel and others who sympathize with him, a false hermeneutical principle, viz., that we must interpret and explain the word by what we conceive to have been the moral state and feelings of these historical personages.—A. G.] The word of Sarah was displeasing to Abraham also. It is not the Angel of the Lord, but God as Elohim, who confirms the judgment of Sarah. For the exclusion of Ishmael was requisite not only to the prosperity of Isaac and the line of the promise, but to the welfare of Ishmael himself.—For in Isaac shall thy seed be called (see Genesis 17:19).—There are three explanations of these words: 1. After Isaac shall thy seed be named (Hofmann). But Delitzsch reminds us that the people of the promise are only once called Isaac (Amos 7:9). 2. In Isaac shall thy seed be called into existence (Drechsler); better, 3. In Isaac shall the people which is, and is called (Isaiah 41:8) the peculiar seed of Abraham, have its point of departure (Bleek, Delitzsch).—And also of the son of the bondwoman (comp. Genesis 17:20; Genesis 16:12).—And Abraham rose up early in the morning.—He did not yield to the will of Sarah, but indeed to the command of God which, as it seems, came to him in a revelation by night. This decided, perfect, prompt cheerfulness, proves that he would, at the command of God, sacrifice Isaac also (Genesis 22:3).—And took bread and a bottle of water.—The narrative passes over the provision of Hagar with the simple requisites for her journey; with the bread it may be thought (Genesis 25:6) that there was included a provision with money for a longer time. He had doubtless made known to his household the revelation of the night, so that Sarah might not be elated nor Hagar depressed.—And the child.—[He was now about sixteen or seventeen—a youth. “Boys were often married at this age.” Ishmael was soon after married. This must be borne in mind in our estimate of the command given to Abraham.—A. G.] According to the Septuagint, Tuch, and others, the author places the burden upon the boy also; [The ו conjunctive makes it necessary that the וְאֶת הַיֶּלֶד should be connected with the principal verb יִקַּח. Keil, p. 172.—A. G.] but this does not follow from the text. Knobel correctly recalls to view that Ishmael was at this time at least sixteen years old. Delitzsch, on the contrary, understands the passage in the first instance thus: Abraham placed Isaac [Ishmael?—A. G.] also upon the back of Hagar; and speaks of inconsistencies and contradictions in the context; but then, he himself destroys this interpretation in a casual side remark. The Vulgate also here corrects the Septuagint.—She departed and wandered.—In the first case she found the way easily, for her flight was voluntary, but in this case she is quickly lost, no doubt because of the extreme agitation of her mind on account of her sudden dismissal. Luther has admirably shown these inward causes for her wandering.—In the wilderness of Beersheba.—Southerly from Beersheba (see Genesis 21:33), bordering upon the desert El Tih.—And the water was spent in the bottle.—This was the special necessary of life for those passing through the desert. The boy began to faint from thirst.—And she cast the child.—The words here have certainly the appearance as if spoken of a little child. But a wearied boy of sixteen years, unacquainted with the straits of the desert, would naturally be to the anxious mother like a little child. The expression, she cast him, is an expression that, with a feeling of despair, or of renunciation, she suddenly laid down the wearied one, whom she had supported and drawn along with her, as if she had prayed that he might die, and then hastened away with the feeling that she had sacrificed her child. A whole group of the beautiful traits of a mother’s love appear here; she lays her child under the protecting shadow of a bush; she hastens away; she seats herself over against him at the distance of a bowshot, because she will not see him die, and yet cannot leave him, and there weeps aloud. Thus also Ishmael must be offered up, as Isaac was somewhat later. But through this necessity he was consecrated, with his future race, to be the son and king of the desert. And now Hagar must discover the oasis, which is also a condition of life for the sons of the desert.—As it were a bowshot.—Just as the stone’s throw in Luke 22:41.—And God heard the voice of the lad.—The weeping of the mother and the child forms one voice, which the narrative assumes. It is a groundless particularism when it is said Ishmael was heard because he was the son of Abraham.—And the Angel of God.6—As Jehovah himself is Elohim for Ishmael, so the Angel of the Lord (Jehovah) also is for him the Angel of God. There is no word here of a peculiar angelic appearance, for Hagar only hears the call of the Angel from heaven. But the call of the Angel was so far completed by the work of God that he opened her eyes. Since she suffers on account of the people of revelation, the angel of revelation here also, as in her flight, Genesis 16:0, protects and rescues her.—What aileth thee, Hagar? Fear not.—Her heart grows firm and strong again under the revelation from above.—And hold him in thine hand.—Jerome infers admirably from this expression as to the sense of the former passage, “from which it is manifest that he who is held could not have been a burden upon his mother, but her companion.”—For I will make him a great nation.—A repetition of the earlier promise in Genesis 16:0. He therefore cannot die.—I will make him.—It is only the Angel of Elohim, who is Elohim, who can thus speak.—And she saw a well of water.—A living fountain, not merely a cistern. The cisterns were covered, and only discoverable by signs which were known only to those who were entrusted with the secret. Some have conjectured that Hagar now discovered these marks of a cistern. But it is a well in the peculiar sense which is here spoken of.—And gave the lad drink.—Ishmael is saved, and now grows up as the consecrated son of the desert.—And became an archer.—The bow was the means of his livelihood in the desert. “Some of the Ishmaelitish tribes, e.g., the Kedarenes and Itureans (Genesis 25:13-15), distinguish themselves through this weapon.” Knobel. For the twofold signification רֹבֶה, see Delitzsch, p. 410.7And he dwelt in the wilderness of Paran.—Ishmael is already in the way from Palestine to Arabia. The wilderness of Paran is the present great desert El Tih. It runs from the southern border of Palestine, especially from the desert of Beersheba, beginning with the desert of Sin, between Palestine and Egypt, southeasterly down to the northern part of the Sinaitic peninsula, where it is limited by the mountains of Paran [Robinson and Coleman think it embraces the whole great desert, and this supposition best meets the various notices of this desert in the Scriptures.—A. G.] (See the article in the “Bible Dictionary for Christian People.”)—A wife out of the land of Egypt.—Hagar takes a wife for her son from her own home. Thus the heathen element at once receives additional strength. The Ishmaelite Arabs are thus, as to their natural origin, sprung from a twofold mingling of Hebrew and Egyptian blood; of an ideal and contented disposition, inwoven with a recluse, dream-like, and gloomy view of the world.

3. The covenant between Abraham and Abimelech (Genesis 21:22-34).—And Abimelech spake unto Abraham.—Abimelech, i.e., father of the king, or father-king, the king my father, the title of the kings at Gerar; Phichol, i.e., the mouth of all, probably also a title of the highest officer of the kings at Gerar. The proposition of Abimelech to Abraham to make a covenant with him rests upon a deep feeling of the blessing which Abraham had in communion with God, and upon a strong presentiment that in the future he would be a dangerous power to the inhabitants of Canaan. It is to this man’s praise that he does not seek in a criminal way to free himself from his anxiety, as Pharaoh in his hostility to the Israelites in Egypt, or as Saul in his hostility to David, but in the direct, frank, honest way of a covenant. Abimelech has indeed no presentiment how far the hopes of Abraham for the future go beyond his anxieties. The willingness, however, of Abraham to enter into the covenant, is a proof that he had no hopes for the personal possession of Canaan. As a prudent prince, Abimelech meets him in the company of his chief captain, who might make an impression of his power upon Abraham, although he addresses his appeal chiefly to his generosity and gratitude. He appeals to the faithfulness which he had shown him, and desires only that he should not be injured by Abraham either in his person or in his descendants. But Abraham distinguishes clearly between political and private rights, and now it is for him to administer rebukes.8And he reproved Abimelech because of a well of water (see Genesis 13:7; Genesis 26:15; the great value of wells in Canaan).—But the ingenuous prince in part throws back the reproach upon him: Abraham had not spoken of the matter until to-day, and he had known nothing of it. He is ready, therefore, to make restitution, and now follows the making of the covenant.—Sheep and oxen.—The usual covenant presents (Isaiah 30:6; Isaiah 39:1; 1 Kings 15:19).—Seven ewe lambs of the flock.—Although the well belonged to him, he secures again in the most solemn way its possession, through the execution of the covenant, since a gift which one of the contracting parties receives from the other binds him more strictly to its stipulations (Ewald: “Antiquities,” p. 18).—Beersheba.—It is a question, in the first place, how the name is to be explained, and then, what relation this well, in its derivation, sustains to the wells of Beersheba (Genesis 26:32). Knobel asserts that the author explains Beersheba through oath of the wells, since he takes שֶׁבַע for שְׁבוּעָה, oath; but literally the word can only signify seven wells. Keil, on the other hand, asserts that the sense of the passage is this: that the wells take their name from the seven lambs with whose gift Abraham sealed his possession. When we recollect that in the name of Isaac differently related titles were united, we shall not press the antithesis between the seven wells and the wells of the oath. The form designates it as the seven wells, but the seven really marks it as the well of the oath. “נִשְׁבַּע, they sware, literally they confirmed by seven, not because three, the number of the deity, is united in the oath with four, the number of the world (Leopold Schmidt, and this exposition is undeniably suggestive), but on account of the sacredness of the number seven, which has its ground and origin in the number seven of the creation (which, however, may be divided into the three and the four); they chose seven things for the confirmation of the oath, as Herodotus, among others, testifies of the Arabians (Genesis 3:8).” Keil. According to Knobel, the narrative of the name Beersheba (Genesis 26:30) is only another tradition concerning the origin of the same name. “But Robinson,” Delitzsch replies, “after a long time the first explorer of the southern region of Palestine, found upon the borders of the desert two deep wells, with clear, excellent water.”9 These wells are called Bir es Seba, seven wells; after the erroneous explanation of the Bedouins, the well of the lions. According to Robinson, Beersheba lay in the bed of a wide watercourse running here towards the coast, called Wady es Seba (Rob. “Pal.” i. p. 300).—And he planted a grove (tamarisk).—“Probably the Tamarix Africana, common in Egypt, Petrea, and Palestine; not a collection (compare with this tamarisk of Abraham, that in Gibeah, 1 Samuel 22:6, and that in Jabesh, 1 Samuel 31:13).” Delitzsch. “They were accustomed to plant the tamarisks as garden trees, which grew to a remarkable height and furnished a wide shade.” [Calvin remarks that the planting of the trees indicates that Abraham enjoyed more of quiet and rest after the covenant was made than he had done before.—A. G.] Michaelis. The tamarisk, with its lasting wood and evergreen foliage, was an emblem of the eternity of God, whom he declared, or as Keil expresses it, of the eternally enduring grace of the true God of the Covenant. But it is questionable whether Abraham, the great antagonist of all that is traditional in mythology, overthrowing the symbolism of nature, would make such an exception here. We must then also suppose that his preaching of Jehovah, the eternal God, both preceded and followed the planting of the tamarisk. Knobel thinks it is clear that a remarkable tamarisk stood there, which one then traced back to Abraham. As a planter of the tamarisk, Abraham appears a prophet of civilization, as in his proclaiming of the eternal God (the קָרָא with beth is always more definite than simply to call upon; it designates also the act of proclaiming) he is the prophet of the faith (the cultus).—The name אֵל עוֹלָם appears to be used here as a peculiar explanation of יחוה, and thus to justify the translation of this name by the words, the eternal. But Abraham had earlier (Genesis 14:22) designated Jehovah as El Eljon, then recognized him (Genesis 17:1) as El Shaddai. It follows from this that Jehovah revealed himself to him under various aspects, whose definitions form a parallel to the universal name Elohim. The God of the highest majesty who gave him victory over the kings of the East, the God of miraculous power who bestows upon him his son Isaac, now reveals himself in his divine covenant-truth, over against his temporary covenant with Abimelech, as the eternal God. And the tamarisk might well signify this also, that the hope of his seed should remain fresh and green until the most distant future, uninjured by his temporary covenant with Abimelech, which he will hold sacred.—Abraham sojourned in the land of the Philistines.—Abraham evidently remained a longer time at Beersheba, and this, together with his residence at Gerar, is described as a sojourn in the land of the Philistines. But how then could it be said before, that Abimelech and his chief captain turned back from Beersheba to the land of the Philistines? Keil solves the apparent difficulty with the remark, the land of the Philistines had at that time no fixed bounds towards the wilderness; Beersheba did not belong to Gerar, the kingdom of Abimelech in the narrower sense.—Many days.—These many days during which he sojourned in the land of the Philistines, form a contrast to the name of the eternal God, who had promised Canaan to him.


1. Sarah’s visitation a type of the visitation of Mary, notwithstanding the great distinction between them. The visitation lies in the extraordinary and wonderful personal grace, to which an immeasurable general human salvation is closely joined. But with Sarah this visitation occurs very late in life, and after long waiting; with Mary it was entirely unexpected. Sarah’s body is dead; Mary had not known a husband. The son of Sarah is himself only a type of the son of Mary. But with both women the richest promise of heaven is limited through one particular woman on the earth, a conception in faith, an apparently impossible, but yet actual human birth; both are illustrious instances of the destination of the female race, of the importance of the wife, the mother, for the kingdom of God. Both become illustrious since they freely subjected themselves to this destination, since they yielded their sons in the future, the sons of promise, or in the son of promise; for Isaac has all his importance as a type of Christ, and Christ the son of Mary is the manifestation of the eternal Son.—The visitation of Sarah was that which Jehovah had promised a year before. He visits the believer with the word of promise, and visits him again with the word of fulfilment. Abraham must have waited five and twenty years for the promise, Sarah only one year.

2. Isaac: he will laugh, or one will laugh (see Genesis 17:19). The believer laughs at the last.

3. The sons of old age and miraculously-given children: the sons of Noah, Isaac, Joseph (Genesis 37:3), Benjamin (Genesis 44:20), Samuel, John the Baptist, and Christ.

4. The little song of Sarah, the sacred joyful word of the mother over Isaac. The first cradle hymn.
5. The feast of the weaning of Isaac. “The announcement, the birth, the weaning of the child.—All this furnishes matter for manifold joy and laughter; יִצְחַק, i.e., the laughter, the fulness of joy in his name. Our Lord reveals the profoundest source of this joy when he says (John 8:56), Abraham your father rejoiced to see my day, and he saw it, and was glad. Since Sarah, the wife of one, became the mother of Isaac, she became the mother of Israel (Isaiah 51:2; Malachi 2:15; Ezekiel 33:24), and since she is the mother of Israel, the ancestress, and, in some sense, the mother of Jesus Christ, who derives his flesh and blood from Isaac, out of Israel, and in whom Abraham is a blessing to all the nations, the birthday of Isaac, spiritually viewed, thus becomes the door or entrance of the day of Christ, and the day of Christ the background of the birthday of Isaac.” Delitzsch. Calvin dwells especially upon the circumstance that Sarah nursed her child. “Whom he counts worthy of the honor of being a mother he at the same time makes nurse; and those who feel themselves burdened through the nursing of their children, rend, as far as in them lies, the sacred bonds of nature, unless weakness, or some infirmities, form their excuse.” It is remarkable that a century after the Genevan Calvin, the Genevan Rousseau should again hold up the sacredness of this law of nature, that mothers should nurse their own children, against the unnatural custom at his time of using wet-nurses, although, indeed, he himself had fundamentally no right to plead it.

6. The whole context confirms the Hebrew tradition, which finds in the jests of Ishmael the kindred idea of mockery, and upon this rests the confirmation of the allegorical explanation of Paul (Galatians 4:0; comp. “Biblework” on Galatians 4:22-30). [The apostle, however, does not say that the history was designed to be typical, but had been used and may be used to illustrate the truth he was discussing.—A. G.] [Ishmael mocked the child of promise, the faith of his parents, and therefore the word and purpose of God. His mocking was the outward expression of his unbelief, as the joy of his parents, which gave rise to the feast, was of their faith. It thus reveals his character as unworthy and incapable of sharing in the blessing, which then, as now, was secured only by faith. Hence, like Esau, Saul, the carnal Judaizers of the apostle’s day, all who trust in themselves rather than in the promise, he was cast out.—A. G.]

7. Female tact and accuracy in the estimate of youthful character. Sarah. Rebekah. Sarah’s interference with the order of Abraham’s household cannot be without sin, but in this case she meets and responds to the theocratic thought. This fact is repeated in a stronger form in the position of Rebekah over against that of Isaac, since she secures to Jacob the right of the first-born. Both fathers must have their prejudices in favor of the rights of the natural first-born corrected by the presaging, far-seeing mothers.
8. Abraham rose up early in the morning, especially when a command of the Lord is to be fulfilled or a sacrifice is to be brought (Genesis 22:0).

9. The expulsion of Hagar. Since Ishmael had grown to nearly sixteen years of age in the house of Sarah, her proposal cannot be explained upon motives of human jealousy. The text shows how painful the measure was to Abraham. But the man of faith who should later offer up Isaac, must now be able to offer Ishmael also. He dismisses him, however, in the light of the promise, that his expulsion confirmed his promotion to be the head of a great nation, and because the purpose of God in reference to Isaac could only become actual through this separation. The separation of Lot from Abraham, of Ishmael from Isaac, of Esau from Jacob, proceeds later in the separation of the ten tribes from Judah, and finally in the excision of the unbelieving Jewish population from the election (Romans 10:0.; Galatians 4:0.). These separations are continued even in the Christian Church. In the New-Covenant, moreover, the Jews for the most part have been excluded as Ishmael, while many Ishmaelites on the contrary have been made heirs of the faith of Abraham. The Queen of Sheba perhaps adheres more faithfully to wisdom than Solomon.

10. The moral beauty of Hagar in the desert, in her mother-love and in her confidence in God. Hagar in the desert an imperishable pattern of true maternal love.

11. The straits of the desert the consecration of the sons of the desert. The terrible desert, through the wonderful help of God, the wells, and oases of God, became a dear home to him. There is no doubt, also, that after he had learned thoroughly by experience that he was not a fellow-heir with Isaac, he was richly endowed by Abraham (Genesis 25:6), and also remained in friendly relations with Isaac (Genesis 25:9).

12. Abimelech’s presentiment of Abraham’s future greatness, and his prudent care for the security of his kingdom in his own person and in his descendants. The children of Israel did not attack the land of the Philistines until the Philistines had destroyed every recollection of the old covenant relations. Abimelech ever prudent, honest, and noble. The significance of the covenant of peace between the father of the faithful and a heathen prince (comp. “Covenant of Abraham,” ch.14).
13. Abraham gives to Abimelech upon his desire the oath of the covenant, as he had earlier sworn to the king of Sodom. “I will swear,” the sign of the condescension of the believer, in the relations and necessities of human society. Bearing upon the doctrine of the oath.
14. Abraham learns the character of Jehovah in a living experience of faith, according to his varied revelations, and with this experience the knowledge of the attributes of God rises into prominence. As Elohim proves himself to be Jehovah to him, so Jehovah again proves himself to be Elohim in a higher sense. God the Exalted is the Covenant God for him; God the Almighty performs wonders for him; God the Eternal busies himself for him in the eternal truth of the Covenant.
15. Abraham calls upon and proclaims the name of the Lord. The one is in truth not to be separated from the other. The living prayer must yield its fruit in the declaration, the living declaration must have its root in prayer. The faith of Abraham in Jehovah develops itself into a faith in the eternal truth of his covenant, and in the ever green and vigorous life of the promise. [“He calls upon the name of the Lord with the significant surname of the God of perpetuity, the eternal, unchangeable God. This marks him as the sure and able performer of his promise, as the everlasting vindicator of the faith of treaties, and as the infallible source of the believer’s rest and peace.” Murphy.—A. G.] For the tamarisk (see Dictionaries of the Bible) and for the meaning of the desert of Beersheba and the city of the same name (see Concordances).

16. Abraham, Samson, and David, in the land of the Philistines. Alternate friendships and hostilities. Abraham at first gains in South-Canaan a well, then a grave (ch, 23.). Both were signs of his inheriting the land at some future time.

17. Beersheba, honored and sanctified through the long residence of Abraham and Isaac. This city marking the southern limits of Israel in contrast with the city of Dan as a northern limit was, later, also profaned through an idolatrous service (Amos 5:5; Amos 8:14).

18. Passavant dwells upon the glory of the Arabians in Spain for seven centuries. “Indeed, they still, to day, from the wide and broad desert, ever weep over the forsaken, crushed clods of that heroic land.” But what has Roman fanaticism made of the land of Spain? He says again: “Arabia has also its treasures, its spices, and ointments, herds of noble animals, sweet, noble fruits, but it is not a Canaan, and its sons, coursing, racing, plundering, find in its wild freedom an uncertain inheritance.” “Galatians 4:29 is fulfilled especially in the history of Mohammed.”

19. Upon the covenant of Abraham and Abimelech, Passavant quotes the words, Blessed are the peace-makers. Schwenke represents Abimelech as a self-righteous person, but without sufficient reason.


See the doctrinal paragraphs.—The connection between Isaac’s birth and Ishmael’s expulsion.—The joyful feast in Abraham’s house.—Hagar’s necessity; Hagar’s purification and glorification.—Abraham’s second meeting with Abimelech.—Abraham at Beersheba, or the connection between civilization and the cultus in Abraham’s life. An example for Christian missions.
1. Isaac’s birth (Genesis 21:1-8). Genesis 21:1. In the providence of God we first experience that he himself visits us, that he gives us himself; then that he visits us with his deeds of salvation. “Noble natures regard what they are as one with what they do.” It is true of God above all others, that we come to know him in his gifts, and his gifts in his visitation.—The section affords appropriate texts for baptismal discourses. Starke: the repetition (as he had spoken, of which he had spoken) has the utmost emphasis. The promises of God must at last pass into fulfilment, even when all hope has been lost by men. His promises are yea and amen.—Luther: “Moses abounds in words, and repeats his words twice, in order to bring before our minds the unutterable joy of the patriarch. This joy would be increased also (if it is true, as some say, that the Son of God in human form appeared to Sarah in the sixth week, and wished her joy of her young son, Genesis 18:10).—H. C. Rambach: Isaac’s birth in many respects resembles greatly the birth of Christ: 1. Both births were announced long before; 2. both occur at the time fixed by God; 3. both persons were named before they were born; 4. both were supernaturally (miraculously) conceived; 5. both births occasioned great joy: 6. the law of circumcision begins (as to its principle) with Isaac, and ceases in (through) Christ. Genesis 21:7. In her joy Sarah speaks of many (several) children, when she had borne only one son, who, however, was better to her than ten sons.—She will say: Not only has my dead body received strength from God, to bring a child into the world, but I am conscious of such strength that I can supply its food which sometimes fails much younger and more vigorous mothers.—Sarah did this (nursed her child) although she was a princess (Genesis 23:6) and of noble blood, for the law of nature itself requires this from all, since, with this very end in view, God has given breasts to all and filled them with milk. The Scriptures united these two functions, the bearing of children and nursing them, as belonging to the mother (Luke 11:27; Luke 23:29 : Psalms 22:10). Thus these two things were reckoned among the blessings and kindness of the Great God (Genesis 49:25), while an unfruitful body and dry breasts are a punishment from him (Hosea 9:11-14).

Genesis 21:8. (Whether, as the Jews say, Shem, Melchizedec and Selah were present at this feast, cannot be said with certainty.)—Abraham doubtless had his servants to share in the feast, and held instructive conversation with them, exhorting them to confidence in God, to the praise of his name. It is a peculiarly spiritual, joyful, and thankful feast.—An enumeration of biblical feasts (2 Corinthians 1:20).—The blessing of children. Ingratitude, in regarding many such gifts (children) as a punishment.—Feasts after baptism are not opposed to the will of God, but they should still be observed to his honor, with pious people, without luxury, and other poor women in childbed should not be forgotten.—Schröder: Genesis 21:1. He is faithful (Numbers 23:19).—Since every birth flows from (is a gift from) God (Psalms 127:3), so we may rightly say, that the Lord visits those to whom he sends children.

Genesis 21:3. Isaac was the son of the free-woman, born through the promise of God (Galatians 4:22-23), consequently a type of every child of God, who through the strength of the promise, or of the gospel, is born to freedom and of a free-woman. (Roos.)—What strange disappointments! The son, who receives from God who hears the cries and wishes of men, his name Ishmael (God hears) is not the promised one, but the promise was fulfilled in the other, Isaac, who was named according to a more common human custom! [The laughing of Abraham (Genesis 17:17) has however a greater spiritual worth than the cry of Hagar for help (Genesis 16:11).]—Passavant: Behold, two children of one father and in the same house, reared under one discipline, consecrated before the same altar, of like hearts, borne before God upon the same prayer and thus offered to him, and still so unlike in their minds and ways, in their conduct and aims, etc.; the dark mysteries of nature and grace.—Taube: The birth of Isaac and expulsion of Ishmael an example of what occurred at the Reformation, and of what must take place in us all.

2. Ishmael’s removal (Genesis 21:9-21). The theocratic separations in their import: a. Judgment in respect to the fitness for theocratic purposes, but not, b. in respect to a destination to blessedness.—[So Henry. We are not sure that it was his eternal ruin; it is presumption to say that all those who are left out of the external dispensation of God’s covenant, are therefore excluded from all his mercies.—A. G.]—The providence of God over Ishmael.—The Arabians.—The Mohammedan world.—Mission Sermons.—The external separation presupposes an inward estrangement.

Starke: Genesis 21:9. A laughing, jesting, gay, and playful youth. It may be that Ishmael had reviled Isaac because of his name which he had received from a laugh, and had treated him with scorn.—Lange: Genesis 21:10. Sarah could not have been without human weakness in this harsh demand; but the hand of God was in it.—Cramer: The faults and defects of parents usually cleave to their children, hence parents, especially mothers during pregnancy, should guard themselves lest they stain themselves with a grave fault which shall cleave to their children during their lives.—Bibl. Tüb.: The mocking spirit is the sign of an evil, proud, jealous, envious heart; take heed that thou dost not sit with the scorner (Psalms 1:1)—Bibl. Wirt.: Cases often occur in a family in which the wife is much wiser than her husband, hence their advice and counsel ought not to be refused (1 Samuel 25:3; 1 Samuel 25:17). Polygamy produces great unhappiness.—Cramer: There will arise sometimes disputes between married persons, even between those who are usually peaceful and friendly. Still one should not give loose reins to his passion, or allow the difference to go too far.

Genesis 21:12. Lange: Here we see that the seed of the bondwoman shall be distinguished from Isaac.—The general rule is, that the wife shall be subject to her husband, and in all reasonable things obey him, but here God makes an exception.—Since Abraham in the former case had followed his wife without consulting God, when she gave him Hagar to wife, so he must now also fulfil her will.—The comparison of Ishmael with the unbelieving Jews at the time of the New Testament: the haughty, perverse, scoffing spirit of persecution; the sympathy of Abraham with Ishmael, the compassion of Jesus towards the Jews; the expulsion and wandering in the wilderness, but still under the Divine providence; the hope that they shall finally attain favor and grace.—Cramer: The recollection of his former sins should be a cross to the Christian.—One misfortune seldom comes alone.—Bibl. Wirt.: There is nothing which makes a man so tender and humble as the cross, affliction, and distress.—Gerlach: The great truth that natural claims avail nothing before God, reveals itself clearly in this history.—Isaac receives his name from a holy laughing; Ishmael was also a laugher, but at the same time a profane scoffer.—Calwer, Handbuch: What we often receive as a reproach, and listen to with reluctance, may contain under the rough, hard shell a noble kernel of truth, which indeed agrees with the will of God.—Schröder: (Luther supposes Abraham to invite to the feast all the patriarchs then living; with Melchizedec and the King of the Philistines.)—Isaac, the subject of the holy laugh, serves also as a laughing-stock of profane wit.—Ishmael is the representative of that world in the church yet scoffing at the church. (In the letter to the Galatians of the bond-church, in opposition to the free.—Both, if I may say so, are the sons of laughter but in how different a sense. Sarah does not call Ishmael by his name (a clear sign of her indignation), and shows her contempt by calling him the son of this bond-woman. (Luther: Genesis 3:24; Proverbs 22:10; John 8:35.)

Genesis 21:13. Ishmael remained his son, and indeed his first-born, whom he had long held for the heir of the blessing. It is never easy to rend from our hearts the objects of our dear affections. But he who must soon offer Isaac also is here put into the school for preparation. Michaelis sees in this removal the evidence that God was displeased with polygamy.

Genesis 21:14. In many points surely the men of God seem somewhat cold and hard-hearted (Exodus 32:27; Deuteronomy 13:6 ff; Deuteronomy 33:9; Matthew 10:37; Luke 14:26). After this distinction was clearly made, Ishmael himself might draw near again (Genesis 25:9) and indeed share in the possessions of his rich father. Baumgarten.—The expulsion of Ishmael was a warning for Israel, so far as it constantly relied upon its natural sonship from Abraham.—Thus the Papists to-day, when they parade their long succession, say nothing more than if they also called Ishmael the first-born.

Genesis 21:17. We see moreover here that if father and mother forsake us, then the Lord himself will take us up. Calvin.—The same: Genesis 21:19. If God withdraw from us the grace of his providence we are as surely deprived of all means of help, even of those which lie near at hand, as if they were far removed from us. We pray him, therefore, not only that he would supply us with what we need, but give us prudence to make a right use of it; otherwise it will happen that, with closed eyes, we shall lie in the midst of our supplies and perish.10—Passavant: Hagar’s marriage was Sarah’s own deed, not the work of God, and this also made her fearful. Men easily become anxious about their own, self-chosen ways.—Abraham obeys.—The obedience of the pious blessed in its results in all cases.—God knows how to find us, even in the wilderness.

3. Abraham’s covenant with Abimelech (Genesis 21:22-34).—Traces of noble minds in the heathen world.—The Hebrews and the Philistines.—Why they attract and why repel.—Starke: Bibl. Tub.. Even the world wonders at the blessedness of the pious.—Bibl. Wirt. It is allowed the Christian truly to enter into covenant with strange, foreign, and, to a certain extent, with unbelieving people.—A pious man ought to complain to the rulers of the reproach and injustice he suffers.—Rulers should themselves guard the care of the land, since courtiers often do what they wish.—The Rabbins (Genesis 21:33) think that Abraham planted a garden of fruit-trees, in which he received and entertained the strangers, from which he did not suffer them to depart until they became proselytes.—It is probable that Abraham had pitched near a grove or wood, from which he might have wood for his sacrifices, and in which he might perhaps hold his worship, and also that he might have more shade in this hot Eastern land.—I am also a stranger here upon the earth.—Gerlach: Genesis 21:22. The blessing of God which rested upon Abraham awakened reverence even in these heathen, who served still the true God; a type of the blessing which, even in Old-Testament times, passed over from the covenant people upon the heathen.—Schröder: A consolation follows upon the great sorrow (Calvin).—The oath was an act of condescension to the evident mistrust of the Princes; in the other aspect an act of worship.—The Holy Scriptures regard the oath as if a peculiar sacrament; there is the name of God, and the hearts of the people are reconciled, and mistrust and strifes destroyed. (Luther).—Nature fixes itself firmly when all goes well. But faith knows here no continuing city (Berlenburger Bibel).—Moses reports three sacred works of Abraham: 1. He labored; 2. he preached; 3. he bore patiently his long sojourn in a strange land.


[1][Genesis 21:12.—In Isaac shall seed be called to thee.—A. G.]

[2][Genesis 21:17.—Not מלאךְ יהוֹה, as in Genesis 16:7.—A. G.]

[3][“The birth of Isaac is the first result of the covenant, and the first step toward its goal. As it is the germ of the future development, and looks to the greater than Isaac—the New Testament Son of Promise—so it is the practical and personal pledge on God’s part, that the salvation of the world shall be accomplished.” Jacobus.—A. G.]

[4][Kurtz says that Ishmael laughed at the contrast between the promises and corresponding hopes centring in Isaac, and the weak nursling, p. 201.—A. G.]

[5][Bush suggests that it is some legal divorce which is intended. The Heb. word has that meaning, see Leviticus 21:7; Leviticus 21:14; Leviticus 22:13; Isaiah 57:20.—A. G.]

[6][The angel of Elohim, not Jehovah, because Ishmael, since the divinely ordained removal from the house of Abraham, passes from under the protection of the covenant God, to that of the leading and providence of God, the ruler of all nations. Keil, p. 173.—A. G.]

[7][Baumgarten renders a hero an archer; and refers for an analogy to the phrase נַעֲרָה בְתוּלָה, p. 223.—A. G.]

[8][Murphy renders Kin and Kith to represent the Hebrew נִינִי נֶכְדִּי, p. 334.—A. G.]

[9][There are thus, in fact, two wells, from which the city might have been named, and from which it was named, according to the two accounts or testimonies in Genesis. Delitzsch, p. 296.—A. G.]

[10][So we do not see the fountain opened for sinners in this world’s wilderness until God opens our eyes. Jacobus.—A. G.]

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Genesis 21". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/genesis-21.html. 1857-84.
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