From the incident of Abraham and Abimelech in Gerar, the narrative now focused on the birth of God’s promised son. Here, Abraham was troubled between listening to his wife’s request to cast out Ishmael—the son of the maidservant—and listening to his heart to keep Ishmael along with Isaac, the promised son. Today, the conflicting two sons and two mothers have become a symbol of teaching between children of the flesh and children of the promise.
Did You Know...?
- Will laugh (21:6): In Hebrew, the phrase “will laugh” has a similar Hebrew pronunciation with the name Isaac.
- Beersheba (21:14) literally in Hebrew means “well of seven.” The place is located in a basin between the Judean mountains to the north and the desert highlands of the Negeb to the south. It is considered as a modern Tell es-Seba. In ancient times, Beersheba was the junction of main caravan routes leading both west to Egypt and north to the coast. [ref]
- Paran (21:21) is the modern desert of El-Tih, on the south of Canaan (Gen 14:6).
Paran’s proximity, between the southern boundary of Canaan and north of Sinai, is close to Egypt. [ref]
- Deal falsely (21:23): This phrase in Hebrew can literally be translated as “lie.”
- A tamarisk tree (21:33) is a small tree of the genus Tamarix which has bluish-green scalelike leaves that cover the long, slender branches, therefore giving shade. The tree is beautiful when clusters of the pink blossoms open. [ref]
- The Everlasting God (21:33): This phrase in Hebrew can literally be translated as “The God of eternity.”
How and when did Sarah conceive?Hide Answer
Previously, in Gen 18:10, God promised Abraham that Sarah, his wife who was already old and had passed the age of childbearing (Gen 18:11), would have a son when He returned to him “according to the time of life.” A year later in Abraham’s one-hundredth years of age—after the Lord had first appeared to him in his ninety-ninth (Gen 17:1, 21:5)—the Lord did exactly what He had promised (Gen 21:1-3). Sarah conceived exactly at the set of time of which God had promised to Abraham (Gen 21:2).
What was the significance of the repeated phrase “as the LORD had spoken”? See also Heb 6:13-18.Hide Answer
The LORD visited and did for Sarah just as He had said the year before to Abraham in Genesis 18:10. God did exactly according to what He had promised to Abraham. From this event, we can learn that unlike the words of men, God is faithful and His words are trustworthy.
The writer of Hebrews even explains that by promising and confirming His promise by an oath to Abraham, it is impossible for God to lie (Heb 6:17-18). God’s words are true and dependable. Therefore, the writer of Hebrews continues to admonish us to have a strong consolation in His trustworthy sayings. In other words, our patience and steadfastness in relying on His sayings and promises will not be in vain.
What were the examples of Abraham’s obedience in the LORD in this passage?
In Genesis 18:11-12, Sarah’s laughter reflected her disbelief towards God’s promise of the birth of a son in her old age. Later, in Genesis 21:6, it was the LORD who made Sarah and everyone else around her to laugh. This time, it was a laughter of happiness due to the fulfillment of God’s promise. Not only Sarah, but the people who heard of Sarah’s childbearing would laugh along with her. Furthermore, it was a laughter made by God to end Sarah’s previous sadness and frustration. Throughout Abraham’s and Sarah’s life of marriage, both of them were not able to experience the joy of having a child. But only in Abraham’s and Sarah’s old age, were they able to have a son (Gen 21:6-7).
Share a moment in your life when God had made you laugh in happiness to end your previous sadness and sufferings.(The answer is empty)Hide Answer
In this passage, what did Sarah see and how did she react?
How was Ishmael’s treatment of Isaac similar to Hagar’s treatment of Sarah? See Genesis 16:4.Hide Answer
Previously, in Genesis 16:4, the maidservant Hagar despised her own mistress, Sarah, not only because of her pregnancy, but also in her ability to provide heir to Abraham and Sarah. Hagar’s act in despising her mistress was influenced by Sarah’s previous words that the Lord had restrained Sarah’s womb from bearing children and that they had hoped to obtain children through Hagar (Gen 16:2).
In Genesis 21:9, now Hagar’s son, Ishmael, was scoffing (ESV: laughing) at Isaac. The scoffing of Ishmael during the great feast was caused by several reasons: First, Ishmael was favored by Abraham. Even when God said that He would give him a son through Sarah, Abraham still pleaded with the Lord concerning Ishmael (Gen 17:16, 17). Second, Ishmael was circumcised by Abraham—a proof that he was included in God’s covenant (Gen 17:23, 10). Third, Ishmael was considered the first-born child in the family. Similar to his mother’s deeds, Ishmael scoffed at Isaac. The apostle Paul in his letter to the Galatians emphasized this event further when he wrote that Ishmael persecuted Isaac (Gal. 4:29).
Why must Hagar and Ishmael be sent away? From Sarah’s perspective;
From God’s perspective;Hide Answer
God told Abraham that his seed would be called in Isaac, not in Ishmael (Gen 21:12). In Genesis 17, God already explained to Abraham that He would establish His covenant with Isaac for an everlasting covenant and with his descendants after him. God would not establish the everlasting covenant with Ishmael (Gen 17:19-21).
Why was Abraham displeased?Hide Answer
Genesis 21:10-11 state that Abraham was displeased because Sarah wanted him to get rid of Sarah and Ishmael. This put Abraham in a dilemma–whether or not he should cast out his son, Ishmael and the mother of the lad, Hagar. Ishmael was Abraham’s own flesh and blood and he favored him (Gen 17:18). Furthermore, while waiting for the son promised by God, Hagar—the bondwoman—had given Abraham a son to live with for 14 years (Gen 17:25, 21:5). Clearly, casting out Ishmael and Hagar would be a hard decision for Abraham.
How did the Scriptures view the casting out of Ishmael and Hagar? See Gal 4:21-31.Hide Answer
According to the letter of Galatians, the son of the bondwoman, Hagar, was born according to the flesh while the son of the freewoman, Sarah, was born according through the promise of God (Gal 4:22-23). The apostle Paul explains that these things are symbolic and represent the two covenants. One gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar, and the other one gives birth to freedom, which is Sarah—the Jerusalem above (Gal 4:24-26). Similarly, today, we who are born according to the Spirit are considered as children of promise. We are no longer the children of the bondwoman, the children according to the flesh (Gal 4:28-31).
What is the symbolic teaching of the casting out of Ishmael and Hagar for us?Hide Answer
The casting out of Ishmael and Hagar as the son who was born according to the flesh and of the bondwoman, in contrast to Isaac and Sarah as the son who was born according to the promise and of the freewoman was a symbol of the flesh versus the Spirit (Gal 4:29). It is also a symbol of the law versus the grace of God (Gal 5:4).
The apostle Paul in his letter to the Galatians writes that the Scriptures even says, “Cast out the bondwoman and her son.” (Gal 4:30) These words serve as an admonishment for us who are born of the Spirit that we are not the children of the bondwoman. We are the children of God’s promise and of the freewoman. Thus, we who have been called to liberty, ought not to use such a liberty as an opportunity for the flesh. For if we follow the flesh, the flesh lusts against the Spirit and they are contrary to one another (Gal 5:17). As children of promise and of the freewoman, we ought to walk in the Spirit so that we no longer fulfill the lust of the flesh (Gal 5:16).
The casting out of Ishmael and Hagar also teaches us that the lust of the flesh is a bondage for us. In order to receive the inheritance of the kingdom of God, we cannot keep living under the lust of the flesh. Therefore, by walking in the Spirit, we will no longer fulfill the lust of the flesh and prove ourselves worthy to be children of promise who will inherit the kingdom of God.
What lesson can we learn from the circumcised Ishmael who was cast out at the end?Hide Answer
shmael, though he was born according to the flesh and not the promised son of God, the Lord still considered him as Abraham’s son (Gen 21:13). When Hagar ran away from Sarah, the Angel of the Lord told her to return and submit to her mistress (Gen 16:9). He also personally gave the name Ishmael to the son because the Lord had heard Hagar’s affliction (Gen 16:11). Later, by staying in the household of Abraham, Ishmael received the opportunity to be circumcised and thus, entered into God’s everlasting covenant (Gen 17:8, 23).
Genesis 17:7-8 record the content of the covenant as follows: The Lord will be God to the descendants of Abraham and He would give all the land of Canaan as an everlasting possession to the descendants. These were the promises that Ishmael was granted when he entered into God’s everlasting covenant through circumcision.
But at the end, Hagar and Ishmael were cast out. According to Genesis, Ishmael was scoffing at the banquet made by Abraham when Isaac was weaned (Gen 21:8). In addition, the apostle Paul wrote that Ishmael was persecuting Isaac (Gal 4:29). From Sarah’s rebuke, it was evident that Ishmael despised and refused to acknowledge God’s decision in choosing Isaac as the only heir of Abraham (Gen 21:10).
This event teaches us not to think highly of ourselves or to be boastful of our status. In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul warns the believers not to boast by being “a partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree” (Rom 11:17). Just as Ishmael, the son of a maidservant, was granted to be partaker of God’s everlasting covenant under Isaac; we as a wild olive tree and not the natural branch were grafted in to become partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree. The apostle Paul also adds that we—as the grafted wild olive tree—do not support the root but the root supports us (Rom 11:18). Therefore, we should not be haughty with our status as children of God, but rather revere it with fear (Rom 11:20). The apostle Paul continues to warn us that if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare us either (Rom 11:21). Similarly, if God did not spare and cast out Ishmael who was the son of Abraham and the circumcised one, God would also not spare us –the wild and grafted olive tree. In conclusion, if we remain boastful, haughty and do not consider the severity of God’s judgment on those who have fallen, we will be cut off and will be not be spared.
Why did God choose Isaac over Ishmael?Hide Answer
Regarding the choosing of Isaac over Ishmael, the apostle Paul explains clearly in his letter to the Romans. He writes, “For they are not all Israel who are of Israel, nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, ‘In Isaac your seed shall be called.’ That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as the seed” (Rom 9:6-8).
The apostle Paul further describes that the “purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls…so then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy” (Rom 9:11, 16). In other words, the choosing of God truly depends on His mercy alone. Although Ishmael was born of the flesh and was not the promised son, the Lord with His mercy still granted him to be grafted into the everlasting covenant of Isaac through circumcision. The Lord’s establishment of the everlasting covenant with Isaac and the inclusion of Ishmael into Isaac’s covenant shows not only His mercy but also His sovereignty.
What did the Lord do to Hagar during her sad and desperate moment? What did God tell her also about her son?Hide Answer
When Hagar had used up the water supply, she placed Ishmael under one of the shrubs. Then she went a short distance away, sat down, lifted her voice and wept, feeling desperate that her son would die (Gen 21:15-16). The angel of God told her not to be afraid and God opened her eyes and she saw the well of water that He had provided for her (Gen 21:17, 19). Regarding Ishmael, God commanded Hagar to lift up and hold Ishmael in her hand because God would make him a great nation (Gen 21:18). Though the Lord helped and provided for Hagar and Ishmael during their desperate moment, Hagar was given a responsibility to take care of Ishmael in the presence of the Lord.
What lesson can we learn from God’s providence in Hagar’s and Ishmael’s desperate moment?Hide Answer
Though Hagar and Ishmael were sent out from the house of Abraham and would not be an heir with Isaac, the Lord did not abandon them. In their distress, the angel of the Lord comforted and helped Hagar by providing both Hagar and her son, Ishmael with a well of water (Gen 21:19). God was even with the lad and he grew and dwelt in the wilderness (Gen 21:20).
The help and providence from the Lord proved that He was faithful in keeping the everlasting covenant with the circumcised. Though Hagar and Ishmael—the son born according to the flesh—were sent out, the Lord did not break His covenant. His actions showed them that He was their God, according to the promise of the covenant (Gen 17:8). But whether Ishmael and his generations would be God’s people, entirely depended on Ishmael and his generations’ end to keep the sign of the everlasting covenant and walk in the steps of the faith of Abraham (Rom 4:12).
Therefore, the providence of God for Hagar and Ishmael in their desperate moment teaches us that God is always faithful in keeping His promise. While the Lord will not break His own covenant, we also have the responsibility to keep the everlasting covenant through circumcision. Later in the New Testament, the apostle Paul explains further regarding the meaning of circumcision. According to the apostle Paul, true circumcision is circumcision of the heart in the Spirit (Rom 2:29). Today, by keeping the commandments of the Lord and following the footsteps of faith of our forefathers in our daily lives, we are doing the sign of the circumcision of the everlasting covenant of God.
What can we learn from the angel of God’s command to Hagar regarding Ishmael in Genesis 21:18?Hide Answer
The angel of God told Hagar to lift up Ishmael and hold him with her hand, for God would make him a great nation (Gen 21:18). From the words of the angel of the Lord, we can learn several things: First, as parents, we have the responsibility to bring up our children in front of God. In his letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul admonished the believers to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph 6:4). By having children, not only are we to nurture them physically but we also need to admonish them in the way of the Lord. Second, the Lord has a plan for our children. Hagar was to nurture Ishmael because the Lord would make him a great nation. Similarly, our responsibility to guide our children is because children are a heritage from the Lord, said the psalmist (Psa 127:3). David prayed that his sons “may be as plants grown up in their youth” and his daughters “as pillars, sculptured in palace style” (Psa 144:12). Our duty to nurture and guide our children is for the purpose of paving their way to become useful vessels according to God’s plan.
What is the content of the deal between Abimelech and Abraham? And why did Abimelech ask Abraham not do deal falsely with him?Hide Answer
Abimelech wanted Abraham to swear by God that he would not deal falsely with him, with his offspring, or with his posterity. But according to the kindness that Abimelech had done to Abraham, he would do to Abimelech and to the land in which he had dwelt (Gen 21:23).
Abimelech insisted that Abraham swore by God not to deal falsely with him on account that Abraham had previously dealt falsely with Abimelech concerning Sarah (Gen 20). Abraham had lied to Abimelech that Sarah was his sister, not a married woman, and thus, Abimelech took her as a wife (Gen 20:2). Because of such a lie and a great sin, it almost cost Abimelech his life and all his kingdom (Gen 20:7, 9). Therefore, this time, Abimelech wanted to make sure that Abraham did not do such a great sin toward him again.
Share a moment in your life which have caused other people to be cautious with you due to your past mistake.(The answer is empty)Hide Answer
Apart from Abraham, who else had a personal relationship with the Lord in Beersheba? What were the significance and the similarity of each event?Hide Answer
At Beersheba, Abraham planted a tamarisk tree and he called on the name of the LORD (Gen 21:33). In Genesis 26:25, when Isaac went to Beersheba, he built an altar there and also called on the name of the LORD, like his father did. Then in Genesis 46:1, after Israel came to Beersheba, he offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. All three of them built their personal relationship with the Lord in Beersheba.
They called on the name of the Lord because they experienced the peace and comfort from the Lord. For Abraham, he called on the name of the LORD after Abraham was peacefully given a well through a covenant with Abimelech in the land of the Philistines (Gen 21:25-34). Moreover, for Isaac, he called on the name of the LORD after God had appeared to him and comforted him (Gen 26:23-25). Finally, for Israel, he offered sacrifices to God and later God spoke to him through a vision, giving him comfort and a promise to guide his ways (Gen 46:1-4).
Why did Abraham make a treaty with Abimelech? What was its significance in relation to God’s promise in Genesis 17:8?Hide Answer
Abraham made a treaty with Abimelech using seven ewe lambs as a witness that Abraham had dug the well that was seized by Abimelech’s servants (Gen 21:25-31). In other words, the treaty was for the purpose of claiming back the well which had been dug. Although Abraham lived a nomadic lifestyle, his action in claiming the well through a treaty reflected his faith in the promise of God.
In Genesis 17:8, the Lord said to Abraham that He would give the land of Canaan as an everlasting possession, the land in which Abraham was a stranger. Previously, in Genesis 13:17, God already promised Abraham that He would give the land which Abraham had walked through its length and its width. Thus, when Abraham moved from place to place, stayed in the land of Philistines for many days (Gen 21:34), and claimed the well for himself; such deeds were to prove his belief in the promise of God—that the land of Canaan was his according to the length and width which he had walked.