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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 21

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

Verses 1-8


Genesis 21:1

And the Lord—Jehovah; not because the verse is Jehovistic (Knobel, Bleek, et alii), but because the promise naturally falls to be implemented by him who gave it (vide Genesis 18:10)—visited—remembered with love (Onkelos), ἐπισκέψατο (LXX.; cf. Genesis 1:24; Exo 4:31; 1 Samuel 2:21; Isaiah 23:17); though it sometimes means to approach in judgment (vide Exodus 20:5; Exodus 32:34). Alleged to be peculiar to the Jehovist (the term used by the Elohist being זָכַר: Genesis 8:1; Genesis 19:29; Genesis 30:20), the word occurs in Genesis 1:24, which Tuch and Bleek ascribe to the Elohist—Sarah as he had said (Genesis 17:21; Genesis 18:10, Genesis 18:14),—God's word of promise being ever the rule of his performance (cf. Exodus 12:25; Luke 1:72)—and the Lord did unto Sarah as he had spoken—i.e. implemented his promise; the proof of which is next given (cf. Numbers 23:19; Hebrews 6:18).

Genesis 21:2

For Sarah conceived,—through faith receiving strength from God for that purpose (Hebrews 11:11); the fruit of the womb, in every instance God's handiwork (Isaiah 44:2), being in her case a special gift of grace and product of Divine power—and bare—the usual construction (Genesis 29:32; Genesis 30:5) is here somewhat modified by the Jehovist (Kalisch); but the clause may be compared with Genesis 30:22, Genesis 30:23, commonly assigned to the Elohlst—Abraham (literally, to Abraham) a son in his old age,—literally, to his old age; εἰς τὸ γῆρας (LXX.)—at the set time (vide Genesis 17:21; Genesis 18:10, Genesis 18:14) of which God had spoken to him. God's word gave Abraham strength to beget, Sarah to conceive, and Isaac to come forth. Three times repeated in two verses, the clause points to the supernatural character of Isaac's birth.

Genesis 21:3

And Abraham called the name of his son—the naming of a child by its father is, according to partitionists, a peculiarity of the Elohist as distinguished from the Jehovist, who assigns that function to the mother; but vide Genesis 16:15that was born unto him, whom Sarah bare to him (the latter clause being added to distinguish him from Hagar's child), Isaac—laughter; the name appointed for him by God before his birth (Genesis 17:19).

Genesis 21:4

And Abraham circumcised (vide on Genesis 17:11, and note at the end of that chapter) his son Isaac being eight days old (literally, a son of eight days), as (not only because, but in the manner in which) God had commanded him.

Genesis 21:5

And Abraham was an hundred years old (cf. Genesis 17:1, Genesis 17:17), when his son Isaac was born unto him. Literally, at the time of bearing to him (ἐν τῷ τεκεῖν) Isaac. Thus Abraham had waited twenty-five years for the fulfillment of the promise—a remarkable instance of faith and patience (Romans 4:20), as Isaac's birth was a signal display of Divine power (Romans 4:17; Hebrews 11:12). Whether Isaac was born at Gerar or at Beersheba cannot with certitude be inferred.

Genesis 21:6

And Sarah said,—the spiritual elevation of her soul being indicated by the poetical form of her speech. Differing from Mary's magnificat in having been uttered after, and not before, the birth of the promised seed, the anthem of Sarah was obviously designed as a prelude to that loftier song of the Virgin (cf. Luke 1:46). It consists of two sentences, the first containing two, and the second three lines—God hath made me to laugh. Or, retaining the order of the Hebrew, To laugh hath made me Elohim; the emphatic position of צְחֹק, containing an allusion to the name Isaac, probably indicating that Sarah's laughter was of a different character now from what it had previously been (Genesis 18:12); and her ascription of it to Elohim intimating that him whom she formerly mistook for a traveler she now recognized to be Divine ('Speaker's Commentary'). So that all that hear me will laugh with me. Not, will laugh at me, deridebit me (Poole), a sense the words will bear (Rosenmüller, 'Speaker's Commentary'), though in the instances adduced (Job 5:22; Job 39:7, Job 39:18, Job 39:22) צָחַק לְ rather conveys the idea of despising difficulties (Kalisch); but, will laugh with me, συγχαρεῖταί μου, congaudebit mihi (LXX; Vulgate, Targums, Calvin, Dathe, Keil).

Genesis 21:7

And she said, Who would have said unto Abraham,—מִלֶּל, the poetic word for דּבֵּר, is introduced by מִי in order to express astonishment; the meaning being that what had happened was altogether out of the ordinary course of nature, was, in fact, God's work alone (Vatablus, Calvin, Rosenmüller, Keil, Kalisch, 'Speaker's Commentary'). Less happy are τίς ἀναγγελεῖ τῳ Ἀβραὰμ (LXX.); quis auditurum crederet Abraham quod (Vulgate); quam fidelis est ille qui dixit Abrahamo (Onkelos)—that Sarah should have given children suck? Literally, Sarah suckleth sons. "Many of the greatest saints in Holy Scripture, and even our Lord himself, were nursed by their own mothers" (Wordsworth). For I have born him a son in his old age. Literally, I have born a son to his old age. The LXX. incorrectly render ἐν τῶ γήρᾳ μου.

Genesis 21:8

And the child grew,—καὶ ἠυξήθη τὸ παιδίον (LXX.): imitated by Luke concerning Christ: τὸ παιδίον ηὔξανε (Luke 2:40)—and was weaned. The verb gamal originally signifies to do good to any one, to do completely; hence to finish, or make completely ready, as an infant; hence to wean, since either at that time the period of infancy is regarded as complete, or the child's independent existence is then fully reached. The time of weaning is commonly believed to have been at the end of the second or third year (cf. 1 Samuel 1:22-24; 2 Chronicles 31:16; 2 Chronicles 2:0 Macc. 7:27; Josephus, 'Ant.,' 2.9, 6). And Abraham made a great feast the same day that Isaac was weaned. Literally, in the day of the weaning of Isaac; probably, therefore, when Isaac was three years old and Ishmael seventeen. "It is still customary in the East to have a festive gathering at the time a child is weaned. Among the Hindoos, when the time for weaning has come, the event is accompanied with feasting and religious ceremonies, during which rice is formally presented to the child".


Genesis 21:1-8

The son of promise, or a young child's biography.


1. A surprising phenomenon. "Who would have said that Sarah should have suckled sons?" "Motherhood at ninety was certainly unusual, especially when conjoined with paternity at a hundred. In a world presided over by a personal Deity there must always be room for surprises.

2. A miraculous production. That the conception and birth of Isaac were due to Divine interposition—that in fact, the child of promise was a special supernatural creation—is asserted by Paul as well as Moses (Romans 4:17).

3. An accomplished prediction. Not only the fact of Isaac's birth, but the exact time was specified beforehand. And now the long-looked-for child had arrived. A signal proof of the Divine veracity, it was another pledge to God's people in every age of the Divine fidelity in implementing his gracious word of promise.

4. A joyous inspiration. Isaac's birth not simply wok o laughing echoes in Sarah's tent, but opened founts of song in Sarah's breast; which was not wonderful, considering that the tender infant over which she exulted was the child of her own and Abraham's old age, the child of promise, the fruit of faith and the gift of grace, and the Heaven-appointed heir of the covenant blessing.

5. A prophetic intimation. Sarah's anthem contained a higher note of melody than that occasioned by a mother's joy; there was in it too the gladness of a faith that saw in Isaac the harbinger and pledge of another and greater Seed. Like the birth of Isaac, that of Christ was fore announced by God, waited for in faith, accomplished through Divine power, and welcomed with bursts of joy.


1. The import of the rite (see on Genesis 17:10). It implied the formal reception of the party upon whom it was imposed within the prime of the Old Testament Church; it signified the putting away of the filth of the flesh; it took the subject of it bound to a holy life. Of a like import is the Christian sacrament of baptism, which, however, differs from the Hebrew rite in looking back upon a Christ already manifested, instead of forward to a Christ that was still to come.

2. The authority for the rite. This was exclusively the Divine commandment the sole reason that can be assigned for the observance of the Christian sacraments, which in themselves are only symbols of spiritual transactions, and have no validity apart from the appointment of Christ.

3. The index to the rite. This was contained in the name generally given on the occasion of its observance: cf. Abraham (Genesis 17:5), John the Baptist (Luke 1:60), Jesus (Luke 2:21). With this ancient custom must be connected the Christian practice of naming children at baptism.


1. A mother's duty fulfilled. The first duty of a mother is to her babe, and to withhold the sustenance God has provided for her babe's necessities is both to violate Divine law and to perpetrate a fraud upon her helpless offspring. Sarah, though a princess, was not above discharging the duties of a nurse—an example which Sarah's daughters should diligently follow.

2. A child's independence begun. From the moment of weaning a child may be said to enter on a separate and as it were independent existence, attaining then for the first time to a distinct individuality of being.

3. A father's joy expressed. The interesting event was celebrated by a festal entertainment, at which, if not Shem, Melchisedeck, and Selah, according to the Rabbis, the inmates of Abraham's household were doubtless present. "God's blessing upon the nursing of children, and his preservation of them during the perils of infant age, are signal instances of the care and tenderness of Divine providence, which ought to be acknowledged to its praise" (Henry).


1. The right of parents to rejoice in their children.

2. The duty of parents to introduce their children to the Church of God.

3. The propriety of parents recognizing the separate individualities of children.


Genesis 21:1-8

Birth, circumcision and weaning of Isaac.

Here, is—

I. THE FAITIIFULNESS OF JEHOVAH. "As he had spoken. At the set time." "God hath made me to laugh."

II. THE FAITH OF HIS SERVANT, which was evidenced in waiting, hoping, naming the son born unto him, obeying the commandment.

III. THE GIFT of God was THE REVELATION of God: his love, his power, his purpose, his patience.

IV. Taken TYPICALLY, the foreshadowing of the miraculous conception, the kingdom of God, as originating in the sphere of human infirmity and helplessness; as being the introduction of bright hope and cheerful promise into the gloomy barrenness of human life; as the lifting up of man's state into the covenant of God, sealed with his appointed ordinance, surrounded with the promised blessings. Isaac was the type of Christ, Sarah of Mary, Abraham of the people and Church of God.

V. SARAH'S SONG, the first cradle hymn of a mother's thankful joy, representing the Divine delight in the pure and simple happiness of those who are children of God. Abraham rejoiced to see the brightness of the future (John 8:56).

VI. THE WEANING FEAST. All called in to share in the joy. Household joy should be widespread. We may suppose that such a banquet was religious in its character so, not only is it a sanction of religious festivals, but it reminds us that we should connect the events of the family life immediately with the word and ordinances of God.—R.

Genesis 21:8-21

The separation of the bondwoman's so, from the promised seed.

It was necessary that this should take place for the accomplishment of the Divine plan. Human conduct is employed, as in so many other cases, as the instrument or occasion. There was mockery or unbelief in Ishmael. It was not personal merely, but a mockery of Jehovah and of his Church. Sarah saw it. The mother's keen affections were sharpened to detect the scorn of her joy. Abraham and Sarah were both severely tried. Their lack of faith must yield fruit of sorrow. The separation was pain to the father, but it was part of the gracious work of God for Isaac. Abraham was being prepared by such discipline for his great climax of trial. There is beautiful tenderness and simplicity in Abraham's conduct (Genesis 21:14). It is—

1. Entire obedience.

2. Kind and gentle consideration for Sarah and Hagar.

3. Strong faith; he committed her to God according to his word.

4. The master and the servant at the door of the house in the early morning; the master himself placing the bottle of water on the bondwoman's shoulder as a sign of continued affinity. God commands separations. In obedience to him they may involve severe struggle with self. Should still be carried out with as little wounding of human affections as possible.—R.

Verses 9-14


Genesis 21:9

And Sarah saw—at the feast already mentioned (Knobel, Keil); probably also on different occasions since the birth of Isaac—the son of Hagar the Egyptian, which she had born unto Abraham, mocking. Παίζοντα μετὰ Ισαὰκ τοῦ υἰοῦ αὐτης (LXX.), ludentem cum Isaaco filio sue (Vulgate), playing like a child (Aben Ezra, Knobel, Tuch, Ilgen), playing and dancing gracefully (Gesenius); but the stronger sense of the word, implying mockery, scoffing, irritating and deriding laughter (Kimchi, Vatablus, Grotius, Calvin, Rosenmüller, Keil, Kalisch, 'Speaker's Commentary,' Murphy), besides being admissible (cf. Genesis 19:14; Genesis 26:8; Genesis 39:14, Genesis 39:17; Exodus 32:6), seems involved in the Piel form of the participle מְצַחֵק (Kurtz), and is demanded by Galatians 4:29. That Ishmael ridiculed the banquet on the occasion of Isaac's weaning (Malvenda), quarreled with him about the heirship (Fagins, Piseator), and perhaps made sport of him as a father of nations (Hengstenberg), though plausible conjectures, are not stated in the text. Ainsworth dates from this event the 400 years of Israel's oppression (vide Genesis 15:13).

Genesis 21:10

Wherefore she said—though with an admixture of sinful feelings, non dubito arcane Spiritus instinctu gubernatam fuisse ejus linguam et mentem (Calvin); vide Galatians 4:30unto Abraham, Cast out—by some kind of legal act (as divorce: cf. Leviticus 21:7, Leviticus 21:14; Leviticus 22:13; Isaiah 57:20), which should insure the disinheriting of Ishmael (Bush); though probably- this is to import later Mosaic legislation rote the records of primitive tunes—this bondwoman—a term ill befitting Sarah, who had given Hagar to her husband as a wife (Genesis 16:3)—and her son (who was Abraham's offspring, though not the promised seed; a consideration which should have mitigated Sarah's anger): for the son of this bondwoman (a repetition evincing the bitter ness of her contempt and the intensity of her choler) shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac. Notwithstanding the assurance (Genesis 17:21) that the covenant was made with Isaac, Sarah was apprehensive lest Ishmael should contrive to disinherit him; an act of unbelief into which she was manifestly betrayed by her maternal fears and womanly jealousy.

Genesis 21:11

And the thing (literally, the word, i.e. Sarah's proposal) was very grievous (literally, evil exceedingly; for the contrary phrase vide Genesis 20:15) in Abraham's sight (literally, in the eyes of Abraham) because of his son—who, besides being bound to him by the ties of natural affection, had for years been regarded as the Heaven-appointed heir of the promise (vide Genesis 17:18).

Genesis 21:12

And God said unto Abraham,—probably in a dream, or night vision (vide Genesis 21:14)—Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman;—who was never recognized by God as Abraham's wife (cf. Genesis 16:8)—in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice. Though Sarah's counsel was approved by God, it does not follow that her conduct was. On a former occasion Abraham's hearkening unto Sarah's voice had led to sin (Genesis 16:2); this time it would lie exactly in the line of duty. For in Isaac shall thy seed be called. Literally, in Isaac shall seed (i.e. posterity) be called to thee; meaning neither, "by Isaac shall thy seed be called, or named" (Hofmann, Kalisch, Ainsworth), nor, "in Isaac shall thy seed be called into existence" (Dreschler); but, "in Isaac shall there be posterity to thee which shall pass as such," i.e. be called or recognized as such (Keil); or, more simply, "in Isaac," i.e. in the line of Isaac, "shall be called to thee a seed," i.e. a seed par excellence, the seed already promised (Bleek, Delitzsch, Rosenmüller, Alford, Murphy).

Genesis 21:13

And also of the son of the bond-woman will I make a nation. Literally, to nation I will set or put him; a promise already given (Genesis 17:20), but here repeated to render Ishmael's dismissal easier. Because he is thy seed. "Thy son according to the flesh, though not after the promise, as Isaac was" (Ainsworth); a proof that men may sometimes receive mercies for their fathers' sakes.

Genesis 21:14

And Abraham rose up early in the morning,—hastening to put in force the Divine instructions (cf. Genesis 19:27; Genesis 22:8, Abraham; Genesis 20:8, Abimelech; Genesis 28:18, Jacob)—and took bread, and a bottle of water,—the bottle, from a root signifying to enclose (Furst); ἀσκόν (LXX.), was composed of skin, the material of which the earliest carrying vessels were constructed (cf. Joshua 9:4, Joshua 9:13; Jdg 4:19; 1 Samuel 16:20; Matthew 9:17). "The monuments of Egypt, the sculptures of Mesopotamia, and the relics of Herculaneum and Pompeii afford ample opportunities to learn the shape and use of every variety of bottles, often surprising us both by their elegance and costliness" (Kalisch)—and gave it unto Hagar, putting it on her shoulder,—the usual place for carrying such vessels among Oriental women. According to Herodotus (2. 35), Egyptian women carried burdens on their shoulders, Egyptian men upon their heads—and the child,—not placing the child, now a youth of over seventeen years, upon her shoulder (LXX; Schumann, Bohlen); but giving him, along with the bottle (Havernick, Kalisch, A Lapide, Ainsworth), or, as well as the bread (Keil, Murphy), to Hagar, not to be carried as a burden, but led as a companion—and sent her away—divorced her by the command of God (A Lapide); but as Hagar was never recognized by God as Abraham's wife, her sending away was not a case of divorce (Wordsworth)—and she departed (from Beersheba, whither Abraham had by this time removed, and where, in all probability, Isaac had been born), and wandered—i.e. lost her way (cf. Genesis 37:15)—in the wilderness (the uncultivated waste between Palestine and Egypt) of Beersheba—introduced here by anticipation, unless the incident in Genesis 21:22-33 had previously taken place (vide on Genesis 21:31).


Genesis 21:9-14

The expulsion of Ishmael.


1. The persecution of Isaac. "Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian mocking." That this was no mere sportive pleasantry may be inferred from the deep feeling it aroused in Sarah, the summary chastisement it brought on Ishmael, and the' severe language in which it is characterized by Paul. The emphasis laid by Sarah on the heirship suggests the probability that Ishmael's offence partook of the nature of wicked, irritating laughter at the position and prospects of Sarah's son, springing partly from envy and partly from unbelief.

2. The apprehension of Sarah. That Sarah was actuated by personal dislike of Hagar's boy, or inspired solely by maternal jealousy, is a gratuitous assumption. It is more satisfactory to ascribe her seemingly harsh counsel to the clearness with which she recognized that Isaac alone was the Heaven-appointed heir, and that nothing must be allowed to either damage his position or endanger his prospects.

3. The commandment of God. Considering the patriarch's former experience of "hearkening to Sarah," his acquiescence in her counsel on this occasion would in all probability have been problematical, had not God interposed to recommend its adoption. It would both secure the happiness of Isaac and remove temptation from the path of Ishmael; while it would serve to educate the patriarch himself for the coming sacrifice on Mount Moriah. To facilitate the patriarch's compliance with the Divine injunction, the promise of future greatness to Ishmael is renewed, and in the end Hagar and her boy are dismissed.


1. With pain to himself. "The thing was very grievous in Abraham's sight because of his son." Parental affection must have urged him to retain his first-born son. Conjugal love must have interceded for her who had been to him as a wife. Self-interest may have represented the advisability of still clinging to Ishmael for the fulfillment of the promise, in case the line of Isaac should fail. Yet grace and faith triumphed. "All things are possible to him that believeth."

2. With tenderness towards the outcasts. Making provision for their immediate necessities, and either then or afterwards adding gifts (Genesis 25:6), he sends them away, doubtless with many prayers and tears. Nature and grace both enjoin tenderness in dealing with those whom God in his providence calls to suffer.

3. With submission to the will of God. The moment the mind of God was ascertained, internal controversy ceased and determined. The patriarch was never irresolute in following when God led. Obedience is the first duty of faith.


1. Ishmael and Isaac representatives of Abraham's natural descendants and Abraham's spiritual posterity; Israel after the flesh and Israel after the spirit; souls in legal bondage and souls enjoying spiritual freedom.

2. Ishmael's mockery of Isaac foreshadowed the persecuting spirit of the unbelieving Jews, who adhered to the system of Moses, towards the disciples of the New Testament faith, who sought salvation through Christ; hence also the antagonism of the sinful principle in man to the renewed life of grace.

3. Ishmael's separation from Isaac prefigured the ultimate removal of unbelievers from believers, of the world from the Church, of those in a state of nature or of legal bondage from those who are children of the promise and of the heavenly Jerusalem. Learn—

1. The wickedness and danger of mocking at sacred persons and things.

2. The superior spiritual insight not infrequently exhibited by woman.

3. The necessity of trying all human opinions by God's revealed will.

4. The care God takes to guide sincere souls as to the path of duty.

5. The proper function of faith, which is to hear and obey.

6. The impossibility of any compromise existing between the world and the Church.

7. The final casting out of the wicked from the congregation of the righteous.

Verses 15-21


Genesis 21:15

And the water was spent in (literally, from) the bottle,—so that the wanderers became exhausted, and were in danger of fainting through thirst—and she cast the child—a translation which certainly conveys an erroneous impression, first of Ishmael, who was not an infant, but a grown lad (vide supra, Genesis 21:14), and secondly of Ishmael's mother, whom it represents as acting with violence, if not with inhumanity; whereas the sense probably is that, having, as long as her rapidly diminishing strength permitted, supported her fainting son, she at length suddenly, through feebleness, released his nerveless hand as he fell, and in despair, finding herself unable to give him further assistance, left him, as she believed, to die where he had flung himself in his intolerable anguish—under one of the shrubs.

Genesis 21:16

And she went, and sat her down—וַתֵּשֶׁב לָהּ, the pronoun being added to the verb, as an ethical dative, to indicate that the action was of special importance to her, meaning, "she, for herself, or for her part, sat down"—over against him a good way off. The hiph. inf. of רָחַק, to go far away, to recede from any one, is here used adverbially, as in Joshua 3:16 (Gesenius, Furst, Kalisch), though by others it is understood as explaining the action of the previous verbs, and as equivalent to a gerund in do, or a participle, elon-gando se (Rosenmüller), or simply" removing to a distance". As it were a bowshot. Literally, as those who draw the bow, i.e. as far off as archers are accustomed to place the target (Keil). The sense is correctly given by the LXX.: μακρόθεν ὡσεὶ τόξου βολήν. For she said, Let me not seei.e. look upon with anguish (cf. Numbers 11:15)—the death of the child—τοῦ παιδίου μου (LXX.). And she sat over against him, and lift up her voice, and wept. The verbs, being feminine, indicate that it is Hagar's grief which is here described, and that the rendering, "and the child lifted up his voice and wept" (LXX.), is incorrect; although the next verse may suggest that Ishmael, like his mother, was also dissolved in tears.

Genesis 21:17

And God—Elohim; Hagar and Ishmael having now been removed from the care and superintendence of the covenant God to the guidance and providence of God the ruler of all nations (Keil)—heard the voice of the lad;—praying (Inglis), or weeping, ut supraand the angel of GodMaleach Elohim; not Maleach Jehovah, as in Genesis 16:7-13, for the reason above specified (Hengstenberg, Quarry)—called to Hagar out of heaven,—it may be inferred there was no external appearance or theophaneia, such as was vouchsafed to her when wandering in the wilderness of Shut (Genesis 16:7)—and said unto her, What aileth thee (literally, What to thee?) Hagar? fear not;—so the word of Jehovah addressed Abram (Genesis 15:1), Isaac (Genesis 26:4), Daniel (Daniel 10:12), and John (Revelation 1:17)—for God hath heard the voice of the lad—i.e. the voice (perhaps the mute cry) of the lad's misery, and in that also the audible sob of Hagar's weeping. It is net said that either Ishmael or his mother prayed to God in their distress. Hence the Divine interposition on their behalf non quid a se peterent, sed quid servo suo Abrahae de Ismaele pollicitus foret, respexit (Calvin)—where he is—an ellipsis for from, or in, the place where he is; ἐκ τοῦ τόπου οὑ ἐστιν (LXX.); ex loco ubi est (Calvin); meaning either "in his helpless condition" (Keil), or out in the desolate wilderness, as contrasted with the house of Abraham (Calvin).

Genesis 21:18

Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him in thine hand. Literally, bind fast ray hand to him, i.e. give him thy support now, and take cars of him till he reaches manhood. Cf. God's promise to Israel (Isaiah 42:6). For I will make him (literally, to) a great nation (vide Genesis 21:13; and cf. Genesis 16:10; Genesis 17:20).

Genesis 21:19

And God opened her eyes. Not necessarily by miraculous operation; perhaps simply by providentially guiding her search for water, after the administered consolation had revived her spirit and roused her energies. And she saw a well of water, בְּאֵר מַיִם, as distinguished from בּוֹר, a pit or cistern, meant a fountain or spring of living water (cf. Genesis 24:11, Genesis 24:20; Genesis 26:19, Genesis 26:20, Genesis 26:21). It had not been previously observed by Hagar, either because of her mental agitation (dolors quasi caeca. Rosenmüller), or because, as was customary, the mouth of the well was covered—and she went, and filled the bottle with water, and gave the lad drink—which was certainly the first of the youth's necessities, being needful to the preservation of his life and the reviving of his spirits.

Genesis 21:20, Genesis 21:21

And God was with the lad. Not simply in the ordinary sense in which he is with all men (Psalms 139:3-9; Acts 17:27, Acts 17:28); not, certainly, in the spiritual sense in which he had promised to be with Isaac (Genesis 17:21), and in which he is with believers (Genesis 26:24; Isaiah 41:10; Matthew 28:20); but in the particular sense of exercising towards him a special providence, with a view to implementing the promise made concerning him to Abraham and Hagar. And he grew (literally, became great, i.e. progressed towards manhood), and dwelt in the wilderness (i.e. led a roving and unsettled life), and became an archer. Literally, and he was רֹבֶה קַשָּׁת i.e. deriving רֹבֶה from רָבַה, to grow great or multiply, either

(1) when he grew up, an archer, or man using the bow (Gesenius, Keil);

(2) growing an archer, or acquiring skill as a bowman (Kalisch, Wordsworth); or

(3) growing, or multiplying into, a tribe of archers (Murphy). With the first of these substantially agree the renderings καὶ ἀγένετο τοξότης (LXX), and factus est juvenis sagittarius (Vulgate). Others, connecting רֹבֶה with רָבַך, in the sense of to cast arrows (cf. Genesis 49:23), read,

(1) "and he was a shooter of arrows from the bow" (Jarchi, Kimchi, Rosenmüller), though in this case קֶשֶׁת would have to be read for קַשָּׁת (Furst);

(2) a marksman, archer, i.e. a marksman skilled in using the bow. Baumgarten translates, a hero (or great one), an archer. And he dwelt in the wilderness of Paran:—the desert of El-Tih, on the south of Canaan (cf. Genesis 14:6)—and his mother took him a wife out of the land of Egypt (cf. Genesis 24:4, Genesis 24:55; Exodus 21:10).


Genesis 21:15-21

Hagar and Ishmael, or the fortunes of the outcasts.


1. Banished from home. Hitherto the household of Abraham had been to Hagar and her boy such a pleasant and doubtless much-prized abode; henceforth their connection with the patriarch's encampment was to be completely severed. So God in his mysterious providence and in many different ways frequently bereaves men of the shelter and society of home.

2. Separated from the Church. Practically the expulsion of this Egyptian slave-mother and her son from the household of Abraham, if it did not involve a casting off from God's mercy, amounted to extrusion from the patriarchal Church.

3. Lost in the wilderness. Whether because the region through which they traveled was unfamiliar, or because, impelled by indignation and excitement, they simply drifted on with aimless feet, the narrative depicts the unhappy pair as having "wandered," turned aside into unfrequented paths, and become lost; in that touchingly portraying the sad condition of thousands or homeless and churchless wanderers to-day, roaming purposeless and perplexed across the trackless waste of life.


1. Perishing through thirst. Extreme thirst one of the most excruciating torments to which the physical frame can be subjected, and a fellow-creature dying for lack of water, one of the commonest of God's mercies, as sad a spectacle as any on which the eye of man can gaze.

2. Sobbing in anguish. Too exhausted to weep aloud, the poor disheartened lad moans out his misery. Happy they who, if they cannot relieve, can at least understand and be affected by their necessities. To recognize and make complaint of one's spiritual destitution is better than to be callous and indifferent to one's dying condition.

3. Praying to God. Though not certain that the "voice" of the lad meant more than the rude cry of his distress, charity may hope that in the day of his calamity he directed his prayer to God. Prayer generally precedes deliverance.


1. The voice of heathen, superstition. "Let me not see the death of the lad." To a Christian mother Hagar's behavior is simply inexplicable. It is doubtful if Sarah would hate been a bow-shot removed from Isaac had he been expiring. But then Hagar, though she had been Abraham's wife, was still a poor untutored slave-girl. It rosy assist us to understand our indebtedness to the humanizing influences of Christ's religion.

2. The cry of material affection "She sat over against her boy, and lifted up her voice and wept." Even in the breast of this Egyptian bondmaid nature asserted her supremacy. Everywhere beautiful and sacred is a mother's love, worthy of being cherished and reciprocated by those who know its sweetness and strength, never failing to bring down retribution on those by whom it is rejected and despised.


1. Sympathizing with the sorrowful. "What aileth thee, Hagar?" What a glimpse into the infinite pitifulness of the Divine nature! Only when Christ came was it surpassed in clearness and fullness.

2. Listening to the suppliant. As the prayer of Ishmael came up into the wakeful ear of God, so the cries of dying men and perishing souls never fail to do.

3. Consoling the dejected. As to Hagar the angel spoke words of encouragement, and renewed the formerly-given assurance concerning the future greatness of her son, so God revives the drooping spirits of his people by directing them to his exceeding great and precious promises.

4. Providing for the destitute. "God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water." And so by the leadings of his providence, the teachings of his word, and the illumination of his Spirit does God guide the meek to the wells of salvation.

5. Abiding with the homeless. "God was with the lad." Ejected from Abraham's house, he was not deserted by Abraham's God. Happy they who amid life's wanderings can count on God's companionship. For desertions of friends and deprivations of goods it will prove ample compensation.


1. To prize the blessing of a home and the privilege of a Church.

2. To commiserate and succor those who have neither.

3. To use God in all the revealed aspects of his gracious character.


Genesis 21:17

Hagar, a weary outcast.

"What aileth thee, Hagar?" Hagar is sent away from Abraham's tents. In the wilderness wandering she is lost. In despair she sinks down and weeps. An angel's voice is heard inquiring, "What aileth thee, Hagar?"


1. Weary.

2. Thirsty.

3. Apparently man-forsaken and God-forsaken.

4. Their dearest comforts slipping from them, as Hagar's child, by death.

5. Death expecting.


1. Realize it.

2. Seek deliverance from above.

God nearer to us than we imagine. He feels for us, hears us, helps us. He gives sustenance, cheer, guidance.—H.


Genesis 21:17-19

God's appearance to Hagar.

The greatest truths in the Bible put before us in a setting of human interest and feeling. Our hearts strangely touched by the picture of the desolate woman and the helpless child. The fatherly character of God exhibited. He heard the voice of the lad. All such facts point to the greatest fact, the union of God and man in the man Christ Jesus. We see here—

I. GOD'S NOTICE OF AND COMPASSION FOR HUMAN SUFFERING: our example, The object of pity apart from antecedents.

II. THE WORKING OUT OF DIVINE PURPOSES notwithstanding, and to some extent by means of, human infirmities, errors, and sins. Ishmael must be preserved, and has his part to play in the future.

III. Taken TYPICALLY, Hagar and Ishmael represent the life of man apart from the covenant of God, outside the circle of special privilege. There is God in the wilderness. The eyes which are darkened with ignorance and self-will may yet be mercifully opened to see the well of water. The angel of deliverance follows even the bondwoman and her son. But the way to God through the wilderness is a hard way, a way of suffering, a way of danger. God was with Ishmael. He was with him through Abraham, for Abraham's sake. The course of Ishmael's life illustrates the contrast between a truly religious career and one given up to natural impulse. Cf. Esau and Joseph's brethren.—R.


Genesis 21:19

Hagar in the wilderness.

"And God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water." Hagar in the wilderness. Why? She had no pleasure in her home; would not accept her position there. Hence Ishmael's mocking. Compare working of pride in Eden—"Ye shall be as gods;" and its result—Adam and Eve driven out. Observe—a soul despising the position of a child of God is driven into the wilderness by its own act. Pride rebels against terms of salvation (Romans 10:3)-a free gift to sinners seeking it as such (Mark 2:17). Hagar felt her misery, like many who find no peace. "All is vanity." She sat down and wept. Did she cry to God? He had met her there before. Past mercies should move to trust (Psalms 42:6). But pride and unbelief hinder prayer (Exodus 17:3-6). But God had not forgotten her (cf. Matthew 18:11). "What aileth thee?" Compare our Lord's dealing with those he helped.

1. Himself taking the first step.

2. Requiring a confession of their want.

3. Rousing expectation (John 4:14; John 7:37).

I. THE WELL WAS NEAR HER, BUT SHE SAW IT NOT. So is it with the water of life. Why are so many without peace? The well is beside them; the sound of the gospel is familiar to them. The Bible is read in their hearing, but it speaks nothing to them (2 Corinthians 3:15). Christ died for all (2 Corinthians 5:14). His blood the ransom for all (1 John 1:7). We have not to go to seek a Savior (Romans 10:6-8). No sin too deep for cleansing, no sorrow too great for comfort; nothing required to give a right to trust him (Isaiah 55:1; Luke 15:2). Why without peace? The eyes are closed to the truth (1 Corinthians 2:14). Human teaching cannot give life (Ezekiel 37:8). What is wanted is not a new fountain, but opened eyes. And it is disbelief of this that keeps so many in anxiety. To them the well is not there; they want God to give it. They look for something they are to do to find a Savior. Important to know what is wanted—spiritual discernment. To many this seems a mere fancy; but they whose eyes are opened know it to be a passing from darkness to light (cf. 2 Timothy 1:10). Words often read become full of new meaning.

II. GOD OPENED HER EYES. It is blindness that causes trouble; but as blind cannot see by his own will, so neither can the unspiritual. The way of salvation is before him, but while it commends itself to his reason it brings him no joy. Are we then without effort to sit still? No; all is ready on God's part. "Wilt thou be made whole?" Want of will alone hinders. Often men would like to drink, but not at God's fountain. Make an effort to believe, and power will be given.

III. WHAT SHE SAW. The well of life; the revelation of Jesus Christ to the soul—this is peace. Not our own powers or wisdom, not our own holiness or advance in grace; but trust in him. No more fears. True, the wilderness is there; the work has to be done, temptations overcome, sorrows borne, graces cultivated; but we can do all through Christ. Now troubles become helps (Psalms 84:6), for they make us flee to Christ (2 Corinthians 12:9). And who can count the blessings revealed to him whose eyes are opened? A Father in everything—protection, teaching, guidance. Everything surrounding him, every event that happens to him, are inlets of ever increasing knowledge of God, whom to know is life eternal.—M.


Genesis 21:20

God's care for Ishmael.

"And God was with the lad." The encampment of Abraham was the scene of joy and festivity on the occasion of the recognition of Isaac publicly as his heir. It is said in Jewish lore that Abraham called a number of the patriarchs to the feast, and that Melchizedek, Nahor, and even Noah were present. Ishmael had been heir-presumptive up to that time. He was then put in the position of a subject to the son of Sarah. He and his mother despised the weakling and nursling. They "mocked." This roused the indignation of Sarah, and she insisted on the banishment of both. Abraham was very unwilling to consent to the proposal, for he had great affection for Ishmael. No wonder that he loved him, for he was, if not the child of promise, at least the son who first roused in his breast the pride and joy of paternity. He seems to have hoped that Ishmael would be the one through whom the great blessings promised to him would be bestowed. Hence he had prayed, "O that Ishmael might live before thee" (Genesis 17:18). Perhaps unbelief had much to do with the expression of the hope. He indicated his own contentment with that mode of fulfillment of the premise; God, however, has another. Abraham evidently loved the lad, and now that he is grown to be a stalwart youth of about sixteen, it is strongly against his inclination to send him away. Sarah insists. She in her indignation will not even speak of him by his name, but calls him contemptuously "the son of this bondwoman" (Genesis 21:10). Abraham was very grieved (Genesis 21:11), but he can see that there is no prospect of any peace in his encampment unless he should do as Sarah wishes. Two jealous women are enough to embitter his life, and bring discord eventually among his retainers For typical reasons the banishment was permitted by God (Genesis 21:12), and Abraham sends both away, laden probably not only with trinkets, which shall suffice for barter, but with a flask of water and strings of small loaves. Abraham had thus to sacrifice his own inclinations in Ishmael, his son after the flesh, as afterwards his will in offering up Isaac, his child of promise. Away towards Egypt Hagar and Ishmael travel. They enter the wilderness of Beersheba. Happiness and home is behind; desolateness, dreariness, lonely journeyings, imminent dangers from the wild beasts and fierce hordes of men, with Egypt, before them. Hagar, with bread dry and water spent, losing her way, waits for some one to guide. Unable to proceed, she and her son sink down to die, to perish in the scorching heat from that most fearful of all deprivations, water. Hagar, with bitter memories of lost happiness and unjust treatment crowding, cannot bear the sight of her son's woe and sound of his moaning, therefore removes to a slight distance, that she might not see his death nor disturb it as she sought to ease her poor heart with tears. Oh, what moral beauty blossoms in the desert in the maternal love of this outcast bondwoman. No human eye detects it, but God notices and hears her voice, and that of the child. Then comes the direction from heaven, and the promise, "I will make of him a great nation." We are told immediately afterwards in the brief record concerning Ishmael that "God was with the lad," and so the promise was fulfilled. We notice God's care even for an Ishmael, for one who would appear to be outside all covenant blessings. He was one whose "hand was to be against every man, and every man's against him" (Genesis 16:12). God manifested care, however, to this Ishmael—

I. BY PRESERVING HIS LIFE. He heard his cry in distress. He knew his needs. God always knows our needs; whence to supply them, and where to find us even in the wilderness. A well of water is unexpectedly pointed out to the mother. Her eyes were opened to see its whereabouts. So God teaches many a mother, that she may lead her children to the well of living water. Every life preserved is only through the mercy of God. "In his hand our breath is" (Daniel 5:23). There is a well for bondsmen as well as free. God's living well is to be reached in any position of life. It is near to us when we think it far off. "The word is nigh thee, in thine heart," &c. (Romans 10:8). If we are to see the treasure, our spiritual understanding must be quickened, our "eyes opened" by the Holy Spirit. If we desire to know the way and well of life, we can pray for that opening. Only as we have this spiritual sight and life can we rejoice in the present existence, in our preservation. God preserved Ishmael that he might know him.

II. GOD ADVANCED HIM IN LIFE. He was with him as he grew up, and gave him favor in the sight of others. God is ever seeking by his Holy Spirit to mould the character of the worst for good. If we have any prosperity and grow up to influence, we should remember that it is from God. The darkest hour for Ishmael had ushered in the dawning of the brightest day. God knew what he would do with Ishmael. Ishmael is to found a nation. It is remarkable that he was the ancestor of the same number of tribes as was Israel (Genesis 25:16). He found various scattered people in the Arabian desert, but the tribes descended from him seem to have absorbed all others. What an honor to be the founder of a house, a dynasty; how much more of a nation! This God granted to an Ishmael.

III. GOD GAVE HIM SKILL. "He became an archer." He had to learn to defend himself, and secure for himself, by God's help, a position. The fighting power is not the highest, but man has always had to protect himself before he could make progress in civilization. Alas, when he supposes himself to be civilized he often clings to the old habit, and still loves the fighting. The archers, like Ishmael, have their sphere as well as the shepherds, like Isaacs. The fiery defenders of faith and the controversial champions of the truth have their sphere as well as the pious, plodding pastors of Christ's flock. If men have skill for the one thing, let them not despise the powers of others. We have all to learn to appreciate diversity of talents, and to remember that skill in any work is the outcome of independence, resolution, and energy. Ishmael had been endowed with these by God.

IV. GOD FURNISHED ISHMAEL WITH A PLACE OF HABITATION. He gave to him the desert for his domain. Here he might roam and pitch his tent at his own suggestion. God knew that the hot blood of his Egyptian mother, which coursed in his veins, would find its most fitting sphere in the desert. Instead of mingling with gentle herdsmen, he had to dwell among the fierce and untrained spirits of the desert. He became an ancestor of those who despised town life, and who were hardy and frugal enough to exist where others would have perished. Thus to Ishmael, the desert, with its widespread, sun-scorched sands, its scant herbage, its infrequent wells and scattered oases, became a fitting home. God chose for him his dwelling-place, and defined for him the bounds of his habitation. And is it not best for us to leave ourselves in God's hands? He knows best where to place any of us, and what work to give us to do, what sphere to fill. We might prefer the green pasture and hills flowing with milk and honey of the Canaan of prosperity, but the desert of trial and loneliness may be the best for training our spirits. We may have losses to endure outwardly, but if we can acquire a spirit of content and faith, that is great gain. That spirit will lead us to say, "He shall choose our inheritance for us."

V. GOD ALSO INSURED ISHMAEL'S HONOR AMONG HIS BRETHREN. He was to "dwell in the presence of his brethren" (Genesis 16:12). Though cast out by Abraham, he was not cast off by God or cut off from all interchange with others. We find (Genesis 25:6) that Abraham gave portions to the sons of his second wife, Keturah, and sent them away. Doubtless he gave a portion to Ishmael, for we find him uniting with Isaac in the funeral obsequies of his father (Genesis 25:9). The two sons were not at enmity now. Further, he seems to have kept up his union with his brother, for his daughter Bashemath (Genesis 36:3) married Esau, Isaac's son. Thus two families in the line of promise, but who had cast themselves out—Esau by his indifference, and Ishmael by his mocking—were united. Thus, although of fierce and fiery nature, Ishmael "dwelt in the presence of his brethren." God was with him. He had a shorter life than Isaac. Ishmael died at 130 years old, Isaac at 180. Evidently the active, restless, wandering, hazardous life was more wearing and consuming than the calm and meditative life of the pastoral Isaac. But when he died God cared for him as well as for Isaac, only his purposes with respect to Isaac were different. Isaac Was an ancestor after the flesh of the Messiah, but Ishmael had not that honor. Still we must not think that God had cast off Ishmael, and left him utterly and everlastingly to perish. Our God cares for those outside the pale of the Church, even as for those within. The former have not taken up their privileges, nor seen how Christ loves them. They are suffering great loss, and are in danger of further loss, but God cares for and pities them. He wills not the death of a sinner. He pitied the people of Nineveh, sent them a warning, and gave them space for repentance. He healed a Naaman; sent his prophet to dwell with a woman of Sarepta, and so conferred honor upon her; and he brought a Nebuchadnezzar to his right mind by a judicious infliction. All this was mercy shown outside the pale of Israel to those who would be accounted as Ishmaelites. Oh, how much more widely flows the channel of Divine mercy and love than we imagine I How little we conceive the depth of the Father's love to all his creatures I In every heart he is seeking to find a reflection of his image. By the side of every soul, however much of an Ishmaelite, he is seeking by his Holy Spirit to walk, that he may win back to the fold of love and mercy. Oh, ye who think yourselves too sinful to have a share in the Divine compassion, see God's treatment of an Ishmael. Remember that Christ came "not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." God is merciful even to thoughtless sinners, and gives streams in the desert. If this be the spirit of our God and Savior, should it not teach us to take an interest in all? As the sun when setting in the west throws his golden and purple rays not only over the broad ocean, but on the dank ditches of the meadows and the puddles of the street, so should we remember that there is no heart so depraved but the love of God in Christ may light it up. If only we looked at our fellows thus, with deeper sympathy, we should see them won to Christ.—H.

Verses 22-34


Genesis 21:22

And it came to pass at that time,—possibly in immediate sequence to the incident of the preceding chapter, but, "according to the common law of Hebrew narrative, probably not long after the birth of Isaac." (Murphy)—that Abimelech—the king of Gerar (Genesis 20:2; Genesis 26:1, Genesis 26:16)—and Phi-chol—if the name be Shemitic, "mouth of all," i.e. spokesman of all (Murphy), ruler of all (Gesenius); or "the distinguished" (Furst); believed to have been a titular designation of the Philistine monarch's grand vizier or prime minister (Lange, 'Speaker's Commentary'), who was also—the chief captain of his host (i.e. the commander-in-chief of his forces) spake unto Abraham (having come from Gerar for the purpose), saying, God is with thee in all that thou doest—a conviction derived from his former acquaintance with the patriarch (Genesis 20:1-18.), his knowledge of Isaac's birth, and his general observation of the patriarch's prosperity.

Genesis 21:23

Now therefore swear unto me here by God—the verb to swear is derived from the Hebrew numeral seven, inasmuch as the septennary number was sacred, and oaths were confirmed either by seven sacrifices (Genesis 21:28) or by seven witnesses and pledges—that thou wilt not deal falsely with me,—literally, if thou shalt lie unto me; a common form of oath in Hebrew, in which the other member of the sentence is for emphasis left unexpressed (cf. Ruth 1:17, and vide Genesis 14:23). As a prince, Abimelech was afraid of Abraham's growing power; as a good man, he insures the safety of himself and his dominions not by resorting to war, but by forming an amicable treaty with his neighbor—nor with my son, nor with my son's son:—σπέρμα καὶ ὅνομα (LXX.); posteri et stirps (Vulgate); offspring and progeny (Kalisch); kith and kin (Murphy)—but according to the kindness that I have done unto thee (vide Genesis 20:15), thou shalt do unto me, and to the land wherein thou hast sojourned—the land being put for the people (cf. Numbers 14:13).

Genesis 21:24

And Abraham said, I will swear. Only before concluding the agreement there was a matter of a more personal character that required settlement.

Genesis 21:25

And Abraham reproved (literally, reasoned with, and proved to the satisfaction of) Abimelech (who was, until informed, entirely unacquainted with the action of his servants) because of a well of water, which Abimelech's servants had violently taken away. The greatest possible injury of a material kind that could be done to a nomads chief was the all faction of his water supplies. Hence "the ownership of wells m Palestine was as jealously guarded as the possession of a mine in our own" (Inglis). Contests for wells "are now very common all over the country, but more especially in the southern deserts".

Genesis 21:26

And Abimelech said, I wet not who hath done this thing. There is no reason to question the sincerity of the Philistine monarch in disclaiming all knowledge of the act of robbery committed by his servants. Neither didst thou toll me, neither yet heard I of it, but today. The prince rather complains that Abraham had done him an injustice.

Genesis 21:27

And Abraham took sheep and oxen, and gave them unto Abimelech As the usual covenant presents (cf. 1 Kings 15:19; Isaiah 30:6; Isaiah 39:1). And both of them made a covenant. As already Mature, Aner, and Eshcol had formed a league with the patriarch (vide Genesis 14:13).

Genesis 21:28-30

And Abraham set seven ewe lambs of the flock by themselves (designing by another covenant to secure himself against future invasion of Isis rights). And Abimelech said unto Abraham, What mean these seven ewe lambs which thou hast set by themselves? And he said, For these seven ewe lambs shalt thou take of my hand, that they may be a witness unto me,—that this peculiar kind of oath never occurs again in Old Testament history is no proof of the mythical character of the narrative (Bohlen); on the contrary, "that the custom existed in primitive Hebrew times is shown by the word נִשְׁבַּע, which had early passed into the language, and which would be inexplicable without the existence of such a custom" (Havernick)—that I have digged this well.

Genesis 21:31

Wherefore he called that place Beersheba. I.e. "the well of the oath," φρέαρ ὁρκισμοῦ (LXX; Gesenius, Furst, Rosenmüller), or the well of the seven (Keil), rather than the seven wells (Lange); discovered by Robinson in Bir-es-seba, in the Wady-es-seba, twelve miles to the south of Hebron, with two deep wells of excellent water. "The great well has an internal diameter at the mouth of twelve feet six inches, or a circumference of nearly forty feet. The shaft is formed of excellent masonry to a great depth until it reaches the rock, and at this juncture a spring trickles perpetually. Around the mouth of the well is a circular course of masonry, topped by a circular parapet of about a foot high; and at a distance of ten or twelve feet are stone troughs placed in a concentric circle with the well, the sides of which have deep indentions made by the wear of ropes on the upper edges The second well, about 200 yards farther south, is not more than five feet in diameter, but is formed of equally good masonry, and furnishes equally good water". Because there they aware both of them.

Genesis 21:33

And Abraham planted—as a sign of his peaceful occupation of the soil (Calvin); as a memorial of the transaction about the well ('Speaker's Commentary'); or simply as a shade for his tent (Rosenmüller); scarcely as an oratory (Bush, Kalisch)—a grove—the אֵשֶׁל—wood, plantation (Targum, Vulgate, Samaritan, Kimchi); a field, ἄρουραν (LXX.)—was probably the Tamarix Africanae (Gesenius, Furst, Delitzsch, Rosenmüller, Kalisch), which, besides being common in Egypt and Petraea, is mid to have been found growing near the ancient Beersheba—in Beersheba, and called there (not beneath the tree or in the grove, but in the place) on the name of the Lord,—Jehovah (vide Genesis 12:8; Genesis 13:4)—the everlasting God—literally, the God of eternity (LXX; Vulgate, Onkelos); not in contrast to heathen deities, who are born and die (Clericus), but "as the everlasting Vindicator of the faith of treaties, and as the infallible Source of the believer's rest and peace" (Murphy).

Genesis 21:34

And Abraham sojourned in the Philistines' land many days. The apparent contradiction between the statement of this verse and that of Genesis 21:32 may be removed by supposing either,

(1) that as the land of the Philistines had no fixed boundary toward the desert, Beersheba may at this time have been claimed for the kingdom of Gerar (Keil); or,

(2) that as Beersheba was situated on the confines of the Philistines' territory, Abraham must frequently have sojourned in their country while pasturing his flocks (Rosenmüller).


Genesis 21:22-34

Abimelech and Abraham, or ancient covenanters.


1. The contemplated object. Peace. What modern monarchs mostly desire at the close of exhausting campaigns is here sought before campaigns begin.

2. The covenanting parties. Two powerful princes, in their conduct exemplifying the spirit of unity and peace which should bind together private persons in their daily intercourse, as well as kings and nations in their political alliance.

3. The impelling motives. Worldly policy may have urged Abimelech to cement a league with the powerful chieftain in his neighborhood, but religions affinity would also seem to have exercised an influence in drawing him to seek the friendship of one who appeared to enjoy celestial protection. Good men mostly desire to have the saints as friends, and even the wicked can perceive an advantage in being allied to the righteous. Abraham's acquiescence in the king's proposal was no doubt dictated by a peaceable disposition, a sense of equity, a spirit of contentment, and an unwavering confidence in God.

4. The public ceremonial. The alliance was contracted

(1) by means of amicable conference, and

(2) with the sanctions of religion.


1. The palpable injury. The herdsmen of the king had appropriated Abraham's well. God's people, though expected meekly to suffer wrong, cannot always help seeing that it is wrong they suffer. Nor are they called upon to bear what by lawful means they are able to redress. A godly man is entitled to be careful of his property, to preserve it from damage, protect it from theft, and recover it when stolen or lost.

2. The mistaken charge. Abraham, thinking the herdsmen had acted on their master's orders, reproved Abimelech. This, however, was an error, which shows

(1) that a person cannot always be held responsible for what his servants do,

(2) that it is wrong to judge on insufficient evidence with reference to the characters and conduct of others, and

(3) that in making charges or preferring complaints it is well to avoid both heat of temper and severity of language.

3. The satisfactory explanation. Abimelech declared himself perfectly unacquainted with the wrong which had been done to Abraham, and immediately returned the well, which discovers how easily misunderstandings might be removed if, instead of harboring enmity, men would resort to friendly conference. It is as much the duty of him who has a grievance to reveal it, as it is the duty of him who has caused the grievance to remove it.

4. The prudent measure Abraham gave Abimelech seven ewe lambs as a witness that he had digged the well, and consequently had a right to its possession. Seemingly betraying a secret suspicion of the prince's veracity, the act aimed at preventing any recurrence of the grievance, and in this light it appears to have been regarded by Abimelech. Good men should not only rectify the wrongs they do to one another, but adopt all wise precautions against their repetition.


1. Peace established, Abimelech and Phichol, having accomplished their mission, returned to Philistia. "Blessed are the peace-makers," and "beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that publisheth peace."

2. Peace commemorated. Abraham instituted two memorials of the important transactions, naming the well Beersheba, and planting a tamarisk beside his tent. It is good to remember God's mercies, of which national and civil quietude is one of the greatest, and it is becoming to erect memorials of both privileges and obligations.

3. Peace enjoyed. Abraham called on the name of the everlasting God. As a planter of tamarisks, the patriarch has been styled the father of civilization; it is more important to remark that he never neglected to worship God himself and publish his salvation to others. Happy they who can do both in peace!


Genesis 21:22-34

A covenant between the patriarch and the Philistine king.

Abraham a sojourner in that land, afterwards the troubler of Israel; for his sake as discipline, for their sakes as opportunity.

1. God's care for those beyond the covenant. A Beersheba in a heathen land.

2. The things of this world made a channel of higher blessings. The covenant arising out of bodily wants a civil agreement. The oath a testimony to God where reverently made.

3. He is not far from every one of us. The neighborhood of Beersheba, the revelation of Jehovah, the little company of believers.

4. The blessing made manifest. The days spent in Philistia left behind them some enlightenment.

5. Adaptation of Divine truth to those to whom it is sent. Abraham's name of God, Jehovah El Olam; the two revelations, the God of nature and the God of grace. The name of the Lord itself an invitation to believe and live. Paul at Athens adapted himself in preaching to the people's knowledge while leading them to faith.—R.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Genesis 21". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/genesis-21.html. 1897.
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