Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, July 16th, 2024
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 21

Coke's Commentary on the Holy BibleCoke's Commentary



Isaac is born, is circumcised and weaned. At Sarah's request Hagar is driven out; to whom, wandering in the wilderness, an angel promises that Ishmael shall be the father of a numerous posterity. Abraham and Abimelech make a covenant.

Verse 1

Genesis 21:1. Visited Sarah Had regard to her. To visit, in Scripture, denotes the attention of Providence to execute his promises and designs, whether of good, as Genesis 50:24.Exodus 4:31; Exodus 4:31. Luk 1:68 or of evil and chastisement, as Exodus 20:5.Psalms 89:32; Psalms 89:32.Numbers 16:29; Numbers 16:29. The Chaldee has it, the Lord remembered Sarah, and the word is used in that sense, 1 Samuel 15:2.

Verse 2

Genesis 21:2, &c. Sarah—bare Abraham a son, &c.— Isaac at last is born; the wonder and expectation of his day. Observe,

1. The fulfilment of the promise, when all human prospects were at an end; when Abraham was as dead, and Sarah past the time of child-bearing. Note; (1.) Promised mercies will come in God's time. (2.) God can work for us, when we most despair of ourselves. (3.) What nature cannot do, faith can, Hebrews 11:11.

2. Abraham's carefulness to observe God's prescribed order, to circumcise him on the eighth day, and give him the name of Isaac. Note; When our hearts are circumcised, and our new name given us, as sons of Abraham, Isaac's, sons of laughter, then shalt we rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.

Verse 6

Genesis 21:6. God hath made me to laugh Sarah, alluding to the laughter of herself and her husband, whence their son had his name, observes, that God had now caused them to laugh indeed, or in such a manner as not only expressed their own joy, but would occasion all her friends, all who should hear it, to rejoice with her, and to congratulate her felicity.

Verse 7

Genesis 21:7. Have given children suck The plural (children) is put for the singular; and possibly Sarah might flatter herself that she should have more children after this. Hence we learn, as well as from many other instances in antiquity, that women of the highest distinction did not disdain the duty of suckling their children. Modern luxury has introduced a different practice; but she who is able and omits to suckle her own child, is, without all question, deficient in one of the first and most essential duties of a mother.

Verse 8

Genesis 21:8. Grew, and was weaned It is uncertain how long they suckled children in those days. Parker observes, "That it was the usage of various nations from time immemorial, solemnly to initiate their children, and especially if it was the first-born, and a son, by certain festival rites, soon after they could walk about and had the use of their tongues, till which time it was not usual to take them from their mother's breast. This was done generally when they were about two years old, and had got over the chief difficulties and infirmities of infancy." See his 24th Occas. Annot.

REFLECTIONS.—Observe, Sarah laughed once in distrust; but now, with thankfulness and wonder filled, she acknowledges God's goodness, to make her give suck, and be a joyful mother. Who could have thought of it? But God doth more for us than all we can ask or think. Learn, 1. When mercies come, to receive them with wonder and love. 2. To rejoice with those who rejoice. 3. Not to forget our sinful distrusts, if we felt any, while the mercy was delayed. 4. To take care of the children God gives us. 5. Every redeemed soul in glory will wonder at himself: Who could have said or thought that such a vile sinner should have such a blessed portion?

Verse 9

Genesis 21:9. Son of Hagar—mocking St. Paul calls this persecuting, Gal 4:29 and the original word מצחק metsachek, would lead one to think that Ishmael's ill-usage consisted, in part, of ridicule and abuse of Isaac for his name. The feast was, in fact, the initiation of Isaac, and his father's declaration concerning him, which Ishmael, who thought he had a prior right, was not able to bear; and there is no ground to imagine more, than that this exasperated his rough nature to commit such rudenesses as could not but interrupt the pleasures of the festival, and gave occasion to his own and his mother's expulsion out of the family; she, most probably, inciting and encouraging, or at least justifying her son, in his maltreatments of the heir, the promised and beloved Isaac. The verse does not seem to confine the mocking which Sarah saw, to one particular period; she might possibly see this frequently repeated.

Verse 10

Genesis 21:10. Cast out this bond-woman and her son, &c.— It is evident from what follows, Gen 21:12 that Sarah acted, in this affair, by a Divine impulse. While, at the same time, the character of Abraham appears in a very amiable light, from the anxious tenderness which he discovers for Hagar and Ishmael; nor can he be charged either with cruelty to them, or with a too uxorious deference to Sarah, when we remark, that he acted entirely by the Divine direction, and upon the certain assurance that Ishmael should live and flourish under the protection of God. See Genesis 21:12-13.

Verse 12

Genesis 21:12. In Isaac shall thy seed be called This promise refers to the Messiah, the Spiritual Seed more especially, and to the children of Abraham by faith.

REFLECTIONS.—The casting-out the bond-woman and her son is here commanded. We have,

1. The cause: Ishmael's mockery and persecution of Isaac. Observe, (1.) Mockery is real persecution. (2.) This at least all who will live godly in Christ Jesus must suffer. (3.) None are rejected of God without cause. (4.) They who are the seed of the bond-woman, all self-righteous and carnal persons, have no part in the kingdom of God or of Christ.

2. Abraham's unwillingness. Though Ishmael was not the favoured seed, he was a son. Abraham was sorry for the provocation, but more grieved at the thought of his son's expulsion. Learn, (1.) How great a grief to godly parents is the sin of their children. (2.) That when extremities of punishment are necessary, it is as bitter to the parent to inflict them as to the child to suffer them.

3. God determines the matter by a revelation of his will, and Abraham is satisfied. Note; When we are in doubt about duty, God will make the way clear before us; and when he doth, we should be satisfied. The reason God gives, is the promised seed, which should descend from Isaac. Not that Ishmael is utterly rejected: God may have mercies for him, though not under the peculiar covenant of Isaac; and he is promised to become a nation for Abraham's sake. God hath variety of gifts to bestow, but he hath surely a right to do as he will with his own—to give one less, another more.

Verse 14

Genesis 21:14. Abraham rose up early, &c.— After so express a declaration from God, Abraham delayed not to obey: and though it is certain that God directed his conduct in this whole transaction, yet he has not escaped the charge of cruelty; in answer to which it must be remarked, that though the ambiguity of our English translation, which seems to intimate that Hagar took the child upon her shoulder, and afterwards, Gen 21:15 that she cast the child under one of the shrubs, represents Hagar's circumstances as very calamitous; yet they were far from being so distressful as this representation seems to make them: for, 1st, Ishmael was not an infant at this time, but at least fifteen or sixteen (Le Clerc says seventeen) years old; for at the birth of Isaac he was fourteen. Compare chap. Genesis 16:16. with ch. Genesis 21:5. And if Isaac were two years old when Sarah weaned him, Ishmael must at least have been sixteen, when Abraham sent away him and his mother. Hagar therefore had not a child to provide for, but a youth capable of being a comfort and assistant to her. 2nd, It was easy then for any person to find a sufficient livelihood in the world: those who had flocks found ground enough to spare in every country to maintain them; and the creatures of the world were so numerous, that a person who had no flocks might, in the wildernesses and uncultivated grounds, kill enough of all sorts for maintenance, without injuring any one: and thus Ishmael dwelt in the wilderness, and became an archer, Genesis 21:20. Neither are we to imagine that this wilderness was quite an uncultivated desart, for there were houses, and even cities, or villages, scattered up and down in it; but it is called a wilderness, as being a mountainous tract, and less inhabited than other parts of the country. Thus, if other means failed them, they might let themselves for hire to those who had flocks and herds of sheep and cattle, and find, perhaps, as easy a maintenance in their service as Hagar and Ishmael had even with Abraham.

Accordingly, it appears that Hagar met with no great difficulty in providing for herself or her son. In a few years she saw him in so comfortable a way of life, as to get him a wife out of another country to come and live with him, Genesis 21:21. 3rdly, Ishmael, and consequently Hagar, fared no worse than the younger children used to fare in those days, when they were dismissed in order to their settling in the world. We mistake therefore in imagining that Hagar and Ishmael were such sufferers in Abraham's dismissing them. At first it might, perhaps, be disputed, whether Ishmael the firstborn, or Isaac the son of his wife, should be Abraham's heir; but after this point was determined, provision was to be made, that Ishmael should either go and plant a family of his own, or he must have been Isaac's servant, if he had continued in Abraham's family. Read the history of Jacob's journey, ch. 28: and 29: The bread and water which Abraham gave Hagar includes all sorts of provision for their present necessity, till they came to the place to which Abraham in all probability directed them to bend their course.

She departed, and wandered in the wilderness of Beer-sheba Hagar, departing from the place of Abraham's abode, lost her way, as appears from the text, and wandered, so lost, in that wilderness, which was afterwards called Beer-sheba; see Genesis 21:31. This occasioned her distress, especially her want of water, which frequently was rare to be found in desarts of this kind: a distress, it is to be observed, merely accidental, if this interpretation be allowed. Her son, wearied and fainting for want of water to allay his thirst, was unable to proceed farther; she laid him down therefore, Genesis 21:15. (not cast him, as in our translation) under one of the shrubs; and expecting nothing less than his death, as she saw no possibility of relieving his or her own wants, she sat down at a distance from him, not able to endure the miserable prospect of his departure. Her situation was truly pitiable; and the heart cannot but feel for the unhappy mother weeping for her son. It is most probable that Abraham directed Hagar to go down into the land of AEgypt.

Verse 17

Genesis 21:17. Called out of heaven i.e.. the air or clouds: arise, (Genesis 21:18.) lift up the lad, and hold him in thine hand: the Hebrew is, and strengthen thy hand (or thou shalt strengthen thy hand) in, or by him, because I will make him a great nation; a promise which must necessarily have afforded her great comfort. And in this view the words contain a comfortable exhortation to Hagar, Arise, and raise up the lad, free from all fears of his death; and, grow strong in him, be assured thou shalt be supported and strengthened through him, whom I will certainly make a great nation.

Verse 19

Genesis 21:19. God opened her eyes God caused her to see what she had not before observed, through her grief and disorder of mind. Le Clerc observes from Diodorus Siculus, that it was usual with the Arabians to cover up their wells' mouths, and lay them over with sand or earth, leaving only some mark, whereby they themselves might know them.

Verse 20

Genesis 21:20. God was with the lad See ch. Genesis 17:20. God immediately protected Ishmael, as well as gave him all the blessings which he had promised. See note on Gen 17:12 of ch. 16:

Verse 21

Genesis 21:21. His mother took him a wife out of the land of AEgypt One of her own countrywomen, as was most natural. It appears most likely that Abraham and Ishmael had an intercourse together in future life. Ishmael however, we read, as well as Isaac, took care of the patriarch's funeral.

REFLECTIONS.—Abraham no longer hesitates, when God commands; though parental tenderness might plead, or Hagar's fate appear severe, it is enough for him to hear and obey. Thus he is trained by one exercise of obedience to the severer task preparing for him in Isaac. He gives them provision, and sends them away. Note; Nature may struggle hard, but when God's glory requires, wife and children must be parted with. We have hereupon,

1. Hagar's distress with her son in the wilderness. Her provision exhausted, weary with wandering, fainting with drought, famished with hunger, her poor boy sinks down by her side; while she, unable to relieve his wants, with tenderness, such as mothers feel, aggravated by distress so bitter, with face averted from her dying son, a scene too moving to behold, bursts into a flood of tears, and fills the solitary wilderness with unavailing lamentations. The former promises are all forgotten, and despair of help finishes her wretchedness.
2. Now was God's time of mercy. He who beholds the tears of the miserable, and hears the groans of those who cannot cry to him, oppressed beneath their load of grief too big for utterance, He is near. God's voice is heard; a voice of tender pity, What aileth thee? Arise, lift up the lad. He opens the fountain, dries up her tears, and Ishmael lives; nay more, he is great, grows up under God's care, and begins, in the settlement of his family, to see the fulfilment of the promise. Behold here a lively picture of the faithful soul. (1.) He is brought into the wilderness, his misery overtakes him, no help is near, and nothing but unavoidable death before his eyes. (2.) Then God opens the fountain of mercy in the side of Jesus, and opens his eyes to see it near. (3.) Instantly the heart flies to this relief, and finds life in those waters which Christ alone can give. (4.) From that hour God is with him; and though in the wilderness of the world, he grows under his care, till (5.) he reaps the final blessing promised in the land of bliss and glory everlasting. O! happy are those whose eyes are opened by the Spirit of God, to see the well of living water, the fountain and fulness of grace which is in Christ, where thirsty souls may come and drink, and take their fill.

Verse 22

Genesis 21:22. Came to pass at that time, &c.— Hence it is plain that Abraham had continued in the country of the Philistines for a considerable time; when Abimelech, struck with God's providential regard to him, was desirous of entering into a league and alliance with him.

Verse 25

Genesis 21:25. Abraham reproved Abimelech, &c.— Abraham was very ready to enter into a covenant with Abimelech, and to assure him of his friendship and protection, but thought it necessary first to settle a right understanding between them; and therefore he argued with Abimelech about a well dug at his own cost, (a matter of much labour, and a possession of great consequence in those hot and dry countries,) which had been wrested from him forcibly by some of Abimelech's servants. Abimelech, who in his whole character appears a man of justice and integrity, was very ready to admit the claim; accordingly a solemn covenant, by sacrifice most probably, was made between them; and Abraham gave the king a present, as a memorial of his right to the well, which, from that mutual covenant or oath, was called the Well of the Oath, Beer-shebah. Upon which Abimelech and Phicol departed into that part of the land of the Philistines where they dwelt, while Abraham continued in that part of the same land where this transaction passed.

REFLECTIONS.—The remarkable blessings continually accompanying Abraham's undertakings engaged the growing respect of his neighbours, which brings Abimelech to renew his acquaintance with him, and to cement it by a solemn covenant. Observe,

1. Abimelech's proposal. Convinced of God's peculiar regard to him, he would engage him for his perpetual friend, and under oath of mutual kindness, secure to his son and son's son this great blessing of Abraham's friendship. Note; (1.) It is wise to take care that our children, when we are dead and gone, may be in good hands, and connected with the friends of God. (2.) Good done us is an obligation to return it, as Abimelech pleads.

2. Abraham consents; but first acquaints Abimelech with a transaction, of which he denies the knowledge, respecting a well. This matter is amicably adjusted, as differences between brethren should be. Note; Servants are often alone in fault when the master is blamed. The treaty then is passed, and Abraham ratifies it with an oath. Learn, (1.) It becomes us not to reject proffers of friendship from those who fear God; yea, we should be courteous to all men. (2.) An oath is lawful on solemn occasions, and a confirmation of confidence, as well as an end of strife.

Verse 33

Genesis 21:33. Planted a grove Abraham planted this grove, no doubt, to erect an altar there, and to perform the duties of religion. These groves were universal in the Heathen world; nunquam est lucus sine religione, says Servius, there is never a grove, but it is consecrated to religion. The pious fathers of the most early antiquity seem to have chosen groves as their temples and solemn theatres of devotion, to which their silence and natural gloom dispose the contemplative mind. From them the custom seems to have been derived to the heathen world: Pliny tells us, that as groves and trees were the ancient temples, so even in his days, among the country people, where primitive simplicity still remained, it was usual to consecrate to God the most stately tree of the grove. This custom, very likely, began with Abraham, but it soon degenerated into gross and barbarous superstition; on which account groves were prohibited by the Levitical law, and ordered universally to be destroyed. See Exodus 34:13; Exodus 34:35.Deuteronomy 12:3; Deuteronomy 12:3.

Called there In the grove dedicated to the Divine service, he worshipped the Lord, the everlasting God, that Jehovah, who alone enjoys an essential underived existence, without beginning or end of duration, and from whom all other beings are derived; the God, who is, and was, and is to came.

Here for a while he settles in comfort, yet hath not a home, but a lodging; but wherever his abode, there shall be a house of prayer. He plants a grove, a place for contemplation, meditation, and prayer, and probably an open oratory, set apart not only for his own private, but also his family devotions, and those of any of his neighbours who choose to join with him; and the object of his worship is the Everlasting God. Happy they who follow his steps, and find the everlasting arms of this everlasting God under them, as Abraham did!

Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Genesis 21". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tcc/genesis-21.html. 1801-1803.
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