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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 21

Wells of Living Water CommentaryWells of Living Water

Verses 1-21

The Birth of Isaac

Genesis 21:1-21


Genesis 20:1-18 is a chapter that is vital in many ways.

1. It shows us that even God's best may err through unbelief. Abraham, in fear, passed off his wife as his sister. She was, indeed, his sister, inasmuch as she was the daughter of his father, yet not of his mother. However, Sarah was more than Abraham's sister, she was his wife; and Abraham deceived Abimelech.

Unbelief always affects the fate of others. Because of Abraham's fear and strategy, Abimelech almost lost his life. Abimelech took Sarah to make her his wife; then, God said unto him, in a dream, "Behold thou art but a dead man, for the woman which thou hast taken; for she is a man's wife."

Would that all of us would weigh our every act in the light of its effect upon others. God help us not to entail others in our unbelief and sins. And yet, if we do sin, or doubt, others will be affected.

2. It shows the kindness of God. When God warned Abimelech He did it in kindness. He wanted to save the king from being slain, therefore He gave him an opportunity to restore Sarah to Abraham.

God also was manifesting kindness to Abraham, in spite of his unbelief. Sarah also had her share of kindness, in that God kept her from harm. Beyond all of this God was kind to us all, for He was safeguarding Sarah against the time when she should be mother to Isaac, and thus fulfill her part toward us all in the granting to us of a Savior who was born of Sarah's lineage, so far as the flesh is concerned.

3. It shows that there was a nation that feared God even in the days of Abraham. Abimelech said, as he pled for himself and his nation, "Wilt Thou slay also a righteous nation?" To what extent Abimelech served the Lord we may not know; we do know that he dared to call his nation, righteous.

4. It shows how careful all of us should be in our treatment of God's people. To Abimelech God said, "Restore the man his wife; for he is a Prophet, and he shall pray for thee, and thou shalt live."

The Lord's servant is worthy of double honor. He should be true to his calling, and men should be true to him. He who sins against one of God's prophets sins against God.

5. It shows the magnanimous spirit of a man who ruled in Gerah. Abimelech gave back to Abraham his wife, but he also gave him gifts, and said, "Behold, my land is before thee: dwell where it pleaseth thee."

Thus did Abimelech bless Abraham, and thus, in return, did God bless Abimelech. God sendeth His blessing upon all of those who seek His face and endeavor to walk in His ways. Blessed be the Lord.

I. A FULFILLED PROMISE (Genesis 21:1 )

1. God kept His promises to Abraham and Sarah. How convincingly the words ring out: "The Lord visited Sarah as He had said." "The Lord did unto Sarah as He had spoken." In full assurance of hope Abraham had believed contrary to all human possibility of hope. The impossible is far from the improbable with our God. God works miracles and wonders and signs, with more ease than we mortals can work the simplest matters in the realm of the possible.

Here is the query of the prophet: "Is any thing too hard for the Lord?" Nay, we know that our God can do anything. Every page of Holy Writ is filled with unspeakable marvels. From Genesis 1:1 to Revelation 22:21 God is described as One who does wonders. Thus, when Sarah and Abraham had reached the end of their row, God stepped in and undertook.

God delights in beginning where we end. When we are all spent in the power to accomplishment, God undertakes.

2. God still keeps faith with His children. There has arisen in these last days some who teach that God has ceased to manifest His presence in the performing of the miraculous. Whether this is an effort to excuse their own lack of faith, or, whether they sincerely believe that God has purposefully ceased to show Himself strong in our behalf, we. may not know.

For our part we believe that the Lord is manifesting most striking manifestations of the miraculous in behalf of His own today. The experiences of missionaries on the far front show unmistakable marks of God's all-powerful and miraculous deliverances.

Only last night in our church, a missionary, Rev. Young from near the China-Burma frontier, told us how a squad of armed persecutors endeavored time and again to shoot him and his son. Their aim was good, their guns and cartridges were good, but the guns simply would not fire when leveled at the heads of the missionaries. One persecutor deliberately pulled his trigger twice while leveled on the missionary, and the gun would not work; then, in disgust, he raised the gun toward the sky and pulled the trigger and it immediately "went off." Thus God kept tryst with Sarah and Abraham and fulfilled His promise, in spite of the impossible and God still keeps tryst with us.


1. Abraham circumcised his son as God commanded him. There is something refreshing in this simple statement as to Abraham's obedience. God spake, Abraham obeyed. There was no hesitancy, no quibbling, no arguments, no effort to evade. Abraham did as the Lord commanded.

2. Let us do all of His commands. There is nothing in all of His commands that will interfere with our happiness and prosperity. Let us stop and run through the things which He commands relative to our separation from the world and from sin, all of these will only lead us to better things.

The child may not think that the demands of his parents are for his good, but every true father or mother will only act in behalf of the welfare of his offspring.

All things in God's physical creation obey the word of the Lord. Shall we who stand far above them refuse to obey? Nay, we will bend the knee and take His yoke. We will listen to His voice, and seek always to do all of His will.

III. THE FLY IN THE OINTMENT (Genesis 21:9-10 )

1. The joy centering in Isaac. Sarah was a very happy mother. She said, "God hath made me to laugh." She even looked with the eye of a Prophet, and said, "So that all that hear will laugh with me."

Mothers usually, we are told, dream dreams as they fondle their children. Sarah must have dreamed with unusual joy. She knew that her babe was a child of destiny. She could sit with her beloved Isaac in her arms, and picture to herself his future glory and power, upon the sure word of the Lord. Wondrous things had been spoken of Isaac, and these things were her song.

2. The great day of feasting. On the day of Isaac's weaning, Abraham made a great feast. He called in many to rejoice with him and with Sarah over God's gift. That day, many far-reaching words were spoken of the little one in whose honor the feast was given. God's promises were no doubt discussed. Perhaps some Simeons were there to bless the babe, and to speak of his marvelously prophetic future.

3. The fly in the ointment. As the feast progressed, Sarah observed the son of Hagar mocking. This spoiled the joy in her heart. She could not endure the mocking of the son of her handmaiden, the son of the bondwoman mocking at her son, the son of the freewoman.

Abraham was called to the rescue, and Hagar and Ishmael were cast out. How often does the evil one seek to spoil our joy and rejoicing in Christ! He is always casting out insinuations of doubt as to God's fidelity. He is always setting the promises of God at nought.

Let us not waver in our faith nor slacken in our hope. God's Word will surely come to pass. There shall not fail one good thing of all that He has spoken.


1. There is no place for fellowship between the spiritual and the carnal. The Holy Spirit in Galatians 4:1-31 speaks at some length on this very thing. He says: "Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by the free-woman." The one was born by the flesh, the other was by promise.

We have but one thing to do with our "flesh," that is, to reckon it dead. The flesh stands for our self-life the "ego." The flesh is filled up with deceitful desires. It is corrupt. It is enmity to God. It is the representative of our old man.

We are commanded to reckon our flesh as dead. We are to put off the old man, with the workings thereof.

When Abraham took Sarah's maid to wife, he acted in unbelief. He was prompted by the flesh. His action brought him sorrow. It is always so.

2. There is no place for fellowship between the law and promise. Hagar and Ishmael stand for legality. Hagar stands for Mount Sinai, which gendereth bondage. She stands for the Jerusalem which now is. Sarah stands for Grace. She answers to Jerusalem, which is from above, which is the mother of us all.

Let us examine deeply into our hearts and lives. Are we like unto Abraham, prompted by the flesh, and tying himself down in bondage to earthly things; or, are we like Abraham led by the Spirit, and looking forward to that marvelous vista of coming things the things which are from above?

There was a while when Ishmael seemed to be Abraham's chief joy. Ishmael's mother Hagar thought herself the supplanter of Sarah. However, there came a time when Sarah the desolate became the mother of many more children than Hagar ever knew, or could know. The spiritual always predominates over the carnal, and the fleshly. Let us walk in the Spirit, and we shall not fill up the lusts of our flesh.


1. The command to cast out the bondwoman and her son. God spoke unto Abraham as the strife raged in Sarah's heart, and as she urged Abraham to cast out Hagar. God said, "In all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called."

As Isaac, we too are children of the freewoman and not of the bondwoman.

The son of the flesh cannot inherit with the son of the spiritual. All that is of the flesh must be burned it is the wood, the hay, and the stubble. If we sow to the flesh, our harvest must perish. Thus, we sow to corruption. If we sow to the Spirit, we sow to that which will reap in life everlasting.

2. God's watching over Hagar and her child. When Abraham rose up and cast out Hagar, he gave her a bottle of water, and bread, and sent her away. Thus she departed, and wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba. When the water was spent, she cast the child under one of the shrubs, while she herself sat down in the distance saying, "Let me not see the death of the child." There she mourned and wept.

God heard the voice of the lad and He called to Hagar put of Heaven, encouraging her, and saying, "I will make him a great nation."

When we refuse the flesh, we must remember that the accomplishments of the flesh are great. Think of what the genius and prowess of man have done. The world today in its marvelous development is due, for the most part, to the flesh and its skill. Paul knew this when he said, "If any other man * * trust in the flesh, I more." Yet, Paul also said, "What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ." God did make of Hagar a great nation; but He made of Abraham, a greater.

The flesh weighed by things of earth, and seen in its present temporal glory seems great. However, when the world and its works are consumed, and the earth passes away with a great noise, then the things which remain will glow with a glory that will outshine the stars, and abide forever.


When Hagar lifted up her eyes at God's command she saw a well of water. From this she filled her jug and gave the lad drink. Thus, God was good to the lad; and he grew and dwelt in the wilderness and became an archer.

1. God sendeth His rain upon the just, and upon the unjust. Never should we think that God has not been good to those who walk after the flesh. He has been good. He has given to all men all things richly to enjoy. God did not hedge about His temporal blessings and say to the wicked, "Stand thou there." God opened wide the door, and bade all to eat, to drink, and to be clothed.

The very earth is laden with blessing. These blessings are unstinted, and unguarded. God places no price upon the fruit of the field, or, upon the hidden riches within the earth. The birds of the air are freely given to man.

2. The call of God's blessings. Every cup of water, every fruit that is good for food, every good and perfect gift from the hand of God is God's call to man to trust in Him, to hear His voice, and to follow Him. If God has given us all things temporal, richly to enjoy, we may assure our hearts that He has also given us all things spiritual.

God's goodness to Hagar and to Ishmael should have led them to repentance. How could they accept these things from the hand of God, and yet close their eyes to the better and more enduring things?

We have read how the Lord said concerning food and raiment, "After all of these things do the Gentiles seek." He also said, "But seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness."

Over God's spirituals He has written just as large and cordial a "Whosoever will," as He has written over His temporals "Come and dine."


1. Abimelech's observations. Abimelech saw that God was with Abraham. He and his captain-general said: "God is with thee in all that thou doest."

We, who name the Name of the Lord, need to so live that we may magnify the Name of our Lord. God does bless us in a thousand ways, yet, how often do we obscure His favor upon us, by our bickerings and strife.

God grant that those who meet us may take knowledge of us that we have been with Jesus. We must be unto Him for a name, and for a praise, and for a glory. We must, as His chosen generation, royal priesthood, holy nation, and peculiar people, show forth His praises.

2. Abimelech's plea for a covenant of peace. When the king saw that God was with Abraham, he wanted to conclude a binding covenant with him that would safeguard him from Abraham's wrath. Abimelech had been most kind and generous to God's patriarch, therefore it was a joy to Abraham to seal the covenant.

The sealing was effected by seven ewe lambs which Abraham gave to Abimelech. There they sware unto each other and made their tryst.

Our God has made tryst with us. He has given us a covenant that is sealed in the Blood of His Son. It is a sure covenant. Heaven and earth may pass away, but He will never let His covenant pass. Thank God for the Blood of the Cross, and the Covenant of Grace which it seals. This is a joy forever to His saints.

3. Abraham calls upon the Name of his God. It was at Beer-sheba, the well of the oath, that Abraham planted a grove, and called there upon the Name of his God.

It was at Beer-sheba that the Name of the Lord was called, the Everlasting God. Blessed revelation, blessed fellowship. What a privilege it is to us to have access unto God, the Everlasting! How marvelous that we worms of the dust may worship the One all Divine!



"' A corpse may be laid in state, and sumptuously adorned, but there is no life within.' Adornments are out of place in the chamber of death; they do but make the scene the more ghastly. We have heard of a dead prince who was placed upon a throne, dressed in imperial purple, crowned, and sceptered! How pitiful the spectacle! The courtiers mustered to so wretched a travesty of state must have loathed the pageantry.

"So is it when a man's religion is a dead profession; its ostentatious zeal and ceremonious display are the grim trappings which make the death appear more manifest. When, like Jehu, a man cries, 'Come with me, and see my zeal for the Lord,' his false heart betrays itself. The more he decorates his Godliness the more does the hypocrite's spiritual death appear. It is not possible to supply the lack of the Divine life. There is an essential difference between a dead child at its' best and a living child at its worst, and it needs no Solomon to see it. Unless the Spirit of God shall give life, sustain life, and perfect life, none of us can ever dwell with the Living God. This is the point to look to: the vestments and trappings are a secondary business."

Bibliographical Information
Neighbour, Robert E. "Wells of Living Water Commentary on Genesis 21". "Living Water". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lwc/genesis-21.html.
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