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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 21

Peake's Commentary on the BiblePeake's Commentary

Verses 1-7

Genesis 21:1-7 . Birth of Isaac.

Genesis 21:1 b and Genesis 21:2 b Genesis 21:5 belong to P, the editor having changed Elohim into Yahweh in Genesis 21:1 b. To J Genesis 21:1 a, Genesis 21:2 a, Genesis 21:7 may be assigned, and Genesis 21:6 a to E. Genesis 21:6 b should probably be placed in Genesis 21:7 before “ for,” and assigned to J. It supplies a better reason than Genesis 21:7 a for Genesis 21:7 b. Genesis 21:6 contains two suggestions as to the origin of Isaac’ s name— Sarah’ s own glad laughter at the birth of a son, and the kindly amusement of the gossips that two such old folks should at last have a baby. Not indeed that either J or E thought of Abraham as a centenarian and Sarah as ninety.

Genesis 21:6 . with me: rather “ at me,” but not maliciously.

Verses 1-34

Genesis 12:1 to Genesis 25:18 . The Story of Abraham.— In this section the three main sources, J. E, P are present. Gunkel has given strong reasons for holding that J is here made up of two main sources, one connecting Abraham with Hebron, the other with Beersheba and the Negeb. The former associates Abraham with Lot. (For details, see ICC.) On the interpretation to be placed on the figures of Abraham and the patriarchs, see the Introduction. The interest, which has hitherto been diffused over the fortunes of mankind in general, is now concentrated on Abraham and his posterity, the principle of election narrowing it down to Isaac, Ishmael being left aside, and then to Jacob, Esau being excluded.

Verses 8-21

Genesis 21:8-21 . Sarah Forces Abraham to Send Hagar and Ishmael away.— The narrative is from E. Note the use of Elohim, the revelation to Abraham by night, the voice of the angel from heaven, Abraham’ s residence in the Negeb. The story is told with wonderful literary power and pathos. The writer deeply feels and conveys to his readers the brutality of the treatment accorded to Hagar and her son, the mother’ s helpless agony, and the child’ s pitiful torture by thirst.

As was customary, a feast was made when Isaac was weaned, about the age of three. Sarah saw Ishmael and Isaac playing together on equal terms (RV “ mocking” is quite misleading). She resents this, and sees that if they grow up together her son’ s prospects may be injured. Presumably the children of a concubine had a claim to some share in the property. Sarah is determined that Ishmael shall have nothing. She leaves nothing to chance; Hagar and Ishmael must be driven away at once; what will become of them she neither knows nor cares. Abraham comes out better than his tigerish wife; not so much indeed— he betrays little concern for Hagar, whom yet he had made the mother of his son; for the son himself he has some compunction. Perhaps he would not have consented but for God’ s bidding. That He should bid him acquiesce does not represent Him in an unfavourable light, for mother and child are in His care, and from the son a nation will spring. So with scanty provision, though more than our “ bottle” suggests, Hagar is turned out early next morning, with her child on her shoulder (so LXX). Her hoarded water spent, with no prospect of replenishing her waterskin, she puts down the child she has wearily carried, under a shrub to shield him from the sun. She leaves him that she may not watch his death agony, but still keeps him in sight as she sits in dumb despair. The child is not dumb but lifts up its voice and weeps (so LXX). Man’ s extremity is God’ s opportunity; He hears the lad’ s voice, bids her be of good cheer, for He will make him a great nation. She sees a well of water, to which her eyes had been sealed, and gives her child water. He thrives and becomes an archer, like his descendants. He dwells in Paran ( Genesis 14:6) W. of Edom, and marries a wife of his mother’ s country ( Genesis 21:9; Genesis 16:1).

Genesis 21:9 . playing ( mg.) : add with LXX, Vulg., “ with Isaac her son.”

Genesis 21:10 . Quoted Galatians 4:30. Paul’ s reference to Ishmael as persecuting Isaac rests on Rabbinical exegesis of the word rendered “ mocking.”

Genesis 21:12 . in Isaac· . . . called: quoted Romans 9:7, Hebrews 11:18. Isaac alone is to be reckoned as Abraham’ s seed.

Genesis 21:14 . Beersheba: (p. 32) 28 miles SW. of Hebron.

Genesis 21:19 . Presumably E added at this point “ Therefore she called the name of her son Ishmael” (God hears), as Genesis 21:17 leads us to expect. It would be omitted by the redactor of JE as it would clash with the explanation in J’ s story ( Genesis 16:11).

Verses 22-34

Genesis 21:22-34 . Abraham and Abimelech Make a Covenant at Beersheba.— Probably from JE. The analysis is uncertain; perhaps Genesis 21:25 f., Genesis 21:28-30, Genesis 21:32-34 belong to J, the rest to E. One narrative represents Abraham as making a covenant of friendship with Abimelech at the king’ s request, the other as securing a recognition from Abimelech of his claim to the wells of Beersheba. The point of Genesis 21:25 f. is probably that whenever Abraham reproved Abimelech, as he did on various occasions, he could get no satisfaction from him. It does not continue Genesis 21:24, but begins an independent narrative, which is continued in Genesis 21:28-30. The variant in Genesis 26:13-33 should be compared. There are two suggestions as to the origin of the name Beersheba. One is that it refers to the seven ewe lambs ( Genesis 21:28-30), the other that it means “ well of the oath” ( Genesis 21:31). The true meaning is probably “ well of seven,” the reference being to the seven wells at Beersheba. A dispute about wells is very common in those regions (p. 32). For seven as a sacred number cf. Numbers 22:41 to Numbers 23:6 *.

Bibliographical Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Genesis 21". "Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pfc/genesis-21.html. 1919.
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