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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 21

Poole's English Annotations on the Holy BiblePoole's Annotations



God visits Sarah; she conceives and bears a son, Genesis 21:1-2.

He is named Isaac, Genesis 21:3; circumcised the eighth day, Genesis 21:4.

Sarah's joy and thanks, Genesis 21:6-7.

Abraham makes a feast at the weaning of Isaac, Genesis 21:8.

Ishmael mocks; Sarah sees it, Genesis 21:9.

She complains to Abraham, and desires to have him cast out, Genesis 21:10.

Abraham is grieved, Genesis 21:11.

God commands it; the reason, Genesis 21:12; promises a blessing to Ishmael for his sake, Genesis 21:13.

Abraham sends Hagar and her son away; they wander in the wilderness, are like to perish for want of water, Genesis 21:14-16.

God calls to her, Genesis 21:17; repeats his promise to Ishmael, Genesis 21:18; opens her eyes; she sees a well, Genesis 21:19.

They dwell there, and Ishmael is an archer, Genesis 21:20; marries an Egyptian, Genesis 21:21.

Abimelech convinced that God was with Abraham, desires a covenant, Genesis 21:22-23.

Abraham consents, Genesis 21:24.

Abimelech's servants having taken a well from him, Abraham reproves him for it, Genesis 21:25.

He pleads ignorance, Genesis 21:26.

Both of them make a covenant, Genesis 21:27-32.

Abraham plants a grove, and calls on the Lord the everlasting God, Genesis 21:33-34.

Verse 1

The Lord visited Sarah, i.e. performed his gracious promise of giving her strength to conceive and bear a child. God's visitation of a person in Scripture use, is the manifestation and execution of his purpose or word towards that person, and that either for evil, and so it is an inflicting of evils threatened, as the word visiting is used, Exodus 20:5; Psalms 59:5; or for good, and so it is used for the actual giving of mercies promised, as here, and Genesis 50:24; Exodus 4:31; Ruth 1:6.

Verse 2

In his old age, or, for his old age, i.e. for the comfort of his old age.

Verse 6

Before, my own distrustful heart made me to laugh, now God makes me laugh, not through diffidence and irreverence, as before, Genesis 18:12, but through excess of holy joy.

All that hear will laugh with me; or, at me; some through sympathy rejoicing with me and for me, laughter being oft put for joy, as Isaiah 54:1; Galatians 4:27, &c.; other’s through scorn and derision, as at a thing which well may seem incredible to them, because it did so to me. See Genesis 17:17; Genesis 18:12,Genesis 18:13,Genesis 18:15.

Verse 7

What man or woman could believe so improbable a thing? Or, who but a God could have foreseen and foretold it? She saith

children, though she had but one child, either by a usual enallage of the plural number for the singular, whereby the word sons or daughters is used when there was but one, as Genesis 36:25; Genesis 46:23; Numbers 26:8; or presaging, that having received from God a new strength, she might have more children. By her expression she showeth all mothers what their duty is, viz. to give their children suck when they are able to do it; and that neither greatness of quality, nor multitude of business, nor other difficulties and inconveniences, will be a sufficient excuse to those that neglect it.

Verse 8

It doth not appear how old Isaac was, because the time for the weaning of children is very various, according to the differing tempers and necessities of children, or inclination of parents; and in those times, when men’s lives were longer than now they are, proportionably the time was longer ere children were weaned.

Verse 9

Signifying either by words or gestures his contempt of Isaac, and his derision of all that magnificence then showed towards his younger brother. And this carriage proceeding from a most envious and malicious disposition, and being a sufficient indication of further mischief intended to him, if ever he should have opportunity, it is no wonder it is called persecution, Galatians 4:29, although the Hebrew word may be rendered beating him, as it is used 2 Samuel 2:14.

Verse 10

1892 She was enraged by this fact, and perceived it was but a beginning and earnest of greater evil designed by him against her beloved Isaac; being also guided by the wise counsel and providence of God, as appears from Genesis 21:12. Though the fact was done by Ishmael, yet Sarah plainly saw that this and other like carriages were from his mother’s instigation and encouragement, who being of an imperious and petulant disposition, as appears from Genesis 16:4,Genesis 16:9, in all probability comforted herself, and animated her son, by that right he had to his father’s inheritance as he was his first-born, as may be gathered both from the custom of women in such cases, and from the last words of this verse. Besides, if the mother had been continued, she would easily have prevailed with Abraham to fetch the child back again.

Verse 11

Because of his tender affection to him, and God’s promise concerning him. See Genesis 17:18,Genesis 17:20. He who cheerfully parted with Isaac, was hardly brought to part with Ishmael, because the former was done by God’s command, which he was obliged to obey; the latter by the passion of an enraged woman, wherewith he thought not fit to comply; and probably he had denied her desire if God had not interposed in it. He doth not say because of his wife; from whence may be gathered, either that Hagar was not properly his wife, or that this was another of Abraham’s infirmities, that he had not that affection for her which he should have had. Whereby we may also see the excellency of God’s institutions, who appointed but one woman for one man, that each might have the entire interest in the other’s affections; and the danger of men’s inventions, which brought polygamy into the world, whereby a man’s affections are divided into several, and sometimes contrary streams.

Verse 12

Thus Abraham had better authority for his divorce from Hagar than he had for his marriage with her, Genesis 16:2.

Thy seed, to wit, the promised Seed, the heir of thy estate, covenant, and promises, the progenitor of my church and people, and particularly of the Messias.

Called, i.e. reputed and valued, both by me and other men. The words may be thus rendered, by Isaac shall thy seed be; for to be called is ofttimes put for to be, as Isaiah 1:26; Isaiah 47:1,Isaiah 47:5; Matthew 5:9,Matthew 5:19.

Verse 14

He who before doubted and lingered to do it when Sarah’s passion suggested it, when once he understands it to be God’s will, he makes haste to execute it. An excellent example of prudence and piety.

Bread, by which may be here understood all necessaries, as Malachi 1:7,Malachi 1:12; Matthew 6:11; Matthew 14:15, compared with Mark 6:36; Luke 14:1.

Quest. How is it likely that so rich and liberal a person as Abraham would send away such near and dear relations with so mean accommodations?


1. This might be done by particular command from God to Abraham, though it be not here expressed, as many things were said by God, and done by men, which are not mentioned in Scripture, as is evident from John 20:30,John 20:31; John 21:25, and many other places. And God might order it thus, partly, to chastise Abraham’s irregular marriage with Hagar; partly, to correct and tame the haughty and rugged temper of the bond-woman and her son, and to prepare them for the receiving of God’s help and mercy; and partly, that he might more eminently show his care and kindness to Abraham, in providing for such forlorn and neglected creatures, because they belonged to him.

2. It cannot be reasonably doubted that Abraham gave her these provisions only for the present, and intended to send further and better afterward to a place appointed by him, which also he did. But she missed her way, as well she might, in the wilderness, and thereby came into these straits designed by God for the signification of greater mysteries, as may be gathered from Galatians 4:1-31.

Beer-sheba, a place near Gerar, so called here by a prolepsis. See Genesis 21:31.

Verse 15

Not as if she carried him in her arms, or upon her shoulders, for he was now about eighteen years old; but being weak and faint, and no doubt much dejected in spirit upon the prospect of his desolate and distressed condition, she was forced to support and lead him by the hand; but now, despairing of his life, she lays him down under a shrub.

Verse 16

Who wept? Either Hagar, for the verb is of the feminine gender; or the lad, as the words following seem to intimate. And for the change of the genders, that is not unfrequent in Scripture use.

Verse 17

God heard his cries, though not flowing from true repentance, but extorted from him by his pressing calamity. Though he be in a vast and desolate wilderness, yet my eye is upon him, and I will take care of him.

Verse 18

i.e. Support or sustain thy languishing child with thy hand; for I will bless him, and thy care shall not be in vain.

Verse 19

Not that her eyes were shut or blind before, but she saw not the well before; either because it was at some distance, or because her eyes were full of tears, and her mind distracted and heedless through excessive grief and fear; or because God withheld her eyes that she might not see it without his information. Compare Numbers 22:31; Luke 24:16.

Verse 20

i.e. A skilful hunter of beasts, and warrior with men too, according to the prediction, Genesis 16:12. For the bow was a principal instrument in war, as well as in hunting, Genesis 48:22; Genesis 49:23,Genesis 49:24. And these two professions oft went together. See Genesis 10:9.

Verse 21

In the wilderness of Paran; in the borders of that wilderness, by comparing Genesis 14:6, for the innermost parts of it were uninhabitable by men or beasts, as ancient writers note.

His mother took him a wife; by which we see both the obligation that lies upon parents, and the right that is invested in them, to dispose of their children in marriage in convenient time. Compare Genesis 24:4; Genesis 28:2; Judges 14:2.

Out of the land of Egypt, rather than out of Canaan, concerning whose accursed state and future destruction she had been informed in Abraham’s house.

Verse 22

We plainly see that God blesseth and prospereth thee in all thy undertakings.

Of Abimelech, see Genesis 20:2.

Verse 23

That thou wilt not deal falsely with me; that thou wilt not do me any hurt or injury; Heb. That thou wilt not lie unto me; i.e. as thou hast formerly professed kindness and friendship to me, give me thy oath to assure me that thou wilt be true and constant to thy own professions.

Verse 24

Quest. How could Abraham lawfully swear this, when Canaan was given by God to him and his seed for ever?

Answ. Neither Abraham nor his seed had any present and actual right to the possession of the land, but only the promise of a right in it, and possession of it after some hundreds of years, and therefore he gave away none of his right by this oath. For this oath did only oblige Abraham, and not his posterity; and Abimelech extended that obligation no further than to his son’s son.

Verse 25

That the foundation of true friendship might be firmly laid, and the peace inviolably observed, he removes an impediment to it, an occasion of quarrel and just exception on Abraham’s part.

A well of water in those hot and dry countries was of great esteem and necessity. Compare Genesis 26:19-21; Judges 1:15. Besides, a well may be put for wells, as the Greeks render it, and as may seem probable by comparing this with Genesis 26:15,Genesis 26:18; it being an ordinary thing to use the singular number for the plural, as hath been showed. See Genesis 3:2; Genesis 4:20.

Verse 26

By which he wisely and truly suggests, that Abraham should not have smothered the grudge in his mind so long time, but should instantly have reproved him for it, and endeavoured a speedy redress, which hereby he intimates that he was ready to give.

Verse 27

Abraham gave them unto Abimelech; partly, as an acknowledgment to him for his former favour and friendship; partly, as an assurance of his sincere friendship, both present and for the future, of his acquiescence in his answer about the well; and partly, for sacrifice, and for the usual rite in making covenants, which was, that the persons covenanting might pass through the parts of the slain beasts. See Genesis 15:17.

Verse 30

That this care of Abraham’s was not superfluous may appear from Genesis 26:15.

Verse 31

Which name was communicated unto a city adjoining: of which see Genesis 26:23; Joshua 15:28; 2 Samuel 17:11; 2 Samuel 24:2.

Verse 32

1891 i.e. Into their part of that land, to wit, Gerar, which was not far from this place. It is a usual synecdoche, whereby the whole land is put for a part of it; otherwise they were at this time in that land.

Verse 33

Abraham planted a grove, not so much for shade, which yet was pleasant and necessary in these hot regions, as for religious use, that he might retire thither from the noise of worldly business, and freely converse with his Maker. Which practice of his was afterwards abused to superstition and idolatry, for which reason groves were commanded to be cut down. See Deuteronomy 12:3; Deuteronomy 16:21.

Called there on the name of the Lord. He thankfully acknowledging God’s great goodness in giving him the favour and friendship of so great and worthy a prince and neighbour.

Bibliographical Information
Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Genesis 21". Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/mpc/genesis-21.html. 1685.
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