11 And it came to pass after the death of Abraham, that God blessed his son Isaac; and Isaac dwelt by the well Lahai-roi.
12 Now these are the generations of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s handmaid, bare unto Abraham:
13 And these are the names of the sons of Ishmael, by their names, according to their generations: the firstborn of Ishmael, Nebajoth; and Kedar, and Adbeel, and Mibsam,
14 And Mishma, and Dumah, and Massa,
15 Hadar, and Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah:
16 These are the sons of Ishmael, and these are their names, by their towns, and by their castles; twelve princes according to their nations.
17 And these are the years of the life of Ishmael, an hundred and thirty and seven years: and he gave up the ghost and died; and was gathered unto his people.
Before we dive into the story of Isaac we have this summation of Ishmael, his life, and his family. Ishmael became a father to twelve sons, twelve princes who had towns and castles, powerful men in their own right. It is an interesting parallel that Ishmael’s legacy expands with twelve sons and Isaac’s legacy will be defined by twelve grandsons.
Of course, Ishmael’s line would eventually become the Islamic people, who have had a long and complicated relationship with the Israelites. But all of that drama would come later. For the duration of the Bible the Israelites competed more with the descendants of Lot (Moabites and Ammonites), Esau (Edomites), and Keturah (Midianites) than they did with the descendants of Ishmael.
So, this is where we take our leave of Ishmael and the nation that came from him. From here on out our focus is solely on Isaac and his posterity.
17 And God heard the voice of the lad; and the angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven, and said unto her, What aileth thee, Hagar? fear not; for God hath heard the voice of the lad where he is.
18 Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him in thine hand; for I will make him a great nation.
19 And God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water; and she went, and filled the bottle with water, and gave the lad drink.
20 And God was with the lad; and he grew, and dwelt in the wilderness, and became an archer.
21 And he dwelt in the wilderness of Paran: and his mother took him a wife out of the land of Egypt.
Sometimes we are able to begin our story while still in the context of someone else’s. Samuel was called by the Lord while still a youth in Eli’s household. David’s sunrise began before Saul had fully set. Elisha walked under the guidance of Elijah before he walked alone.
But other times we have to get out on our own before our great story can begin. This was Joseph being torn from his father’s side and sold into Egypt before becoming the prince God intended him to be. This was Daniel not being put to the test until he was captured by the Babylonians and brought into their foreign courts.
So, too, it was the case for Hagar and her son Ishmael. In Abraham’s home they were but side-characters to his all-encompassing story. His story was so big that all of his descendants for countless generations were going to live under the shadow of it. But that wasn’t to be Ishmael’s destiny. Ishmael was to sire a great nation of his own, and that meant he had to get out from Abraham’s umbrella, out into the wild where God could lay a foundation for a different story.
14 And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and took bread, and a bottle of water, and gave it unto Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, and the child, and sent her away: and she departed, and wandered in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.
15 And the water was spent in the bottle, and she cast the child under one of the shrubs.
16 And she went, and sat her down over against him a good way off, as it were a bowshot: for she said, Let me not see the death of the child. And she sat over against him, and lift up her voice, and wept.
What a dramatic turn of events for Hagar and her son. Presumably she began as a servant in Egypt, then was recruited to Abraham’s entourage, was elected by her mistress to conceive a child for Abraham, and finally gave birth to a son. This would have greatly opened up her life opportunities, for when her son received his inheritance she would finally be raised from a bondwoman to a freewoman.
However it was an option in this ancient culture to exchange the future inheritance of a servant son for their immediate freedom. This was the option that Abraham exercised, freeing Hagar and her son to be their own masters immediately.
But their freedom couldn’t bring them refuge from the hardships of the world, and very quickly they were out of resources and on the brink of death. From the promise of a great inheritance to alone in the wilderness, this is an incredibly humbling situation. And it is here, at their absolute low, that God shows up for Hagar and her child.
12 And God said unto Abraham, Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called.
13 And also of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation, because he is thy seed.
Abraham was at an impasse, but in the midst of his conundrum God assured him it was alright to let Ishmael go. God assured Abraham that Ishmael would be under His protection and that He would raise the lad into a mighty nation of his own.
And this is a rehearsal for Abraham’s future sacrifice of Isaac. Here, with Ishmael, God is asking Abraham to turn his son over to God’s care, to surrender him with the trust that God will provide. Later Abraham will take that level of trust and surrender to a whole other level.
8 And the child grew, and was weaned: and Abraham made a great feast the same day that Isaac was weaned.
9 And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, which she had born unto Abraham, mocking.
10 Wherefore she said unto Abraham, Cast out this bondwoman and her son: for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac.
11 And the thing was very grievous in Abraham’s sight because of his son.
We learn a new detail in verse 9, that Hagar was an Egyptian. Presumably she was recruited during their visit to Egypt at the time of the famine. There is an interesting foreshadowing in this moment that Ishmael, a son of Egypt, afflicts Isaac, a son of Abraham. This same pattern will play out on a much larger scale when the entire nation of Israel is made slaves to the Egyptians, awaiting deliverance at the hand of Moses.
Now comes a difficult situation for Abraham. His two sons are divided against each other, and Sarah is filled with indignation for the offense to her son. Naturally Abraham cleaves to both of his sons, they are each his own blood. But Sarah is only tied to Isaac and her concern is strictly for him.
Now we do not know exactly what she saw in Ishmael’s mockery. “Mockery” is a very wide term. It might mean anything from harmless teasing to hateful tormenting. It is possible that Sarah something that made her fear a terrible violence when she and Abraham, Isaac’s already-old parents, went to the grave and were no longer around to protect him.
4 And he went in unto Hagar, and she conceived: and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her eyes.
6 But Abram said unto Sarai, Behold, thy maid is in thy hand; do to her as it pleaseth thee. And when Sarai dealt hardly with her, she fled from her face.
7 And the angel of the Lord found her by a fountain of water in the wilderness, by the fountain in the way to Shur.
11 And the angel of the Lord said unto her, Behold, thou art with child, and shalt bear a son, and shalt call his name Ishmael; because the Lord hath heard thy affliction.
12 And he will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man’s hand against him; and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.
15 And Hagar bare Abram a son: and Abram called his son’s name, which Hagar bare, Ishmael.
Hagar’s success in conceiving a son became a point of competition between her and Sarai, not an unusual thing in these Biblical records. When Sarai dealt harshly with her, Hagar ran away, but while out in the wilderness she was met by an angel who told her to return and pronounced the future of her posterity.
Ultimately Hagar was not to bear the covenant line. This was the Lord’s domain, and He had chosen to reserve the promised blessings for Isaac. But Hagar and Ishmael were not forgotten by the Lord, He had reserved a destiny for them as well.
Hagar and her son were to become vagabonds, their path would be fraught with hardship and competition, just as Hagar had competed with Sarai, but in the end they would become one of the most prolific cultures in the entire world. Today the Islamic way of life, which perpetuates from Ishmael’s line, is second only to Christianity, comprising about a quarter of the entire world population! Hagar may have met the angel in a very humbling circumstance, but a storied and epic destiny awaited her posterity.