Genesis chapter 21.

The Birth of Isaac and the Casting Forth of Ishmael.

Isaac born, circumcised, and weaned. — V.1. And the Lord visited Sarah as He had said, and the Lord did unto Sarah as He had spoken. The Lord visited Sarah by doing to her as He had promised, by granting her what she had desired for so many years, a child of her own. Children are a gift of the goodness of God. V.2. For Sarah conceived, and bare Abraham a son in his old age at the set time of which God had spoken to him. God’s promise was literally fulfilled, for at just the time that He had named at His last visit the son of promise was born, a stranger in truth, for Abraham was still sojourning in the land of the Philistines. The birth of Isaac was an act of faith on the part of Sarah, who with all her human infirmities was a true child of the Lord, Heb. 11, 11. V.3. And Abraham called the name of his son that was born unto him, whom Sarah bare to him, Isaac. The emphasis is again upon the fact that this was the son of promise, that he was the son of Abraham, not by a servant, but by Sarah, his wife. He complied with God’s command in giving his son the name Isaac (he that laughs), chap. 17, 19. 17. As the joyous laughter of Abraham had been caused by the great contrast between the idea and the reality, so the birth was a miracle of God’s mercy, whence the son should always be an object of joyful and grateful contemplation. V.4. And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac, being eight days old, as God had commanded him. Chap. 17, 11. 12. V.5. And Abraham was an hundred years old when his son Isaac was born unto him. V.6. And Sarah said, God hath made me to laugh, so that all that hear will laugh with me. V.7. And she said, Who would have said unto Abraham that Sarah should have given children suck? For I have born him a son in his old age. It was an occasion of great rejoicing; for Sarah, with reference to the name which the Lord had selected for the child, cried out: “Laughter God has prepared for me; all that hear it will rejoice with me,” full of astonishment at the miraculously given child. Who would ever have thought or dared to express the idea that she should yet have a child of her own to cuddle and to nurse? V.8. And the child grew and was weaned. And Abraham made a great feast the same day that Isaac was weaned. So Abraham shared the grateful joy of his wife, making the occasion of his son’s weaning a great festival, with the customary feast. This happened when Isaac was about three years old. This story reminds us of the greater miracle of the birth of Jesus, who also, but in a far more wonderful manner, was born contrary to the course of nature. Isaac, too, is a type of the believers of all time. For just as he was born by virtue of the divine promise, so we are spiritual children of the promise, Rom. 9, 8; Gal. 4, 28; 1 Pet. 1, 23.

Hagar and ishmael cast forth. — V.9. And Sarah saw the son of Hagar, the Egyptian, which she had born unto Abraham, mocking. It was a jeering laughter, a sneer, which Ishmael affected, perhaps as early as the festival of weaning. Unbelief, jealousy, and pride were aroused in Ishmael by the fact that Isaac was plainly the heir of the household. The mimicking, mocking, ridiculing on the part of Ishmael against Isaac could not long remain hidden from Sarah. V.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. This was not a matter of petty jealousy, but was spoken in agreement with the promise of the Lord. Till now Hagar had been suffered in the house of Abraham, but Sarah’s demand was that the slave be driven forth, that Abraham renounce all connection with her and her son. V.11. And the thing was very grievous in Abraham’s sight because of his son. His personal affection for his own flesh and blood, and the fact that God had given him special promises concerning Ishmael, chap. 17, 18. 20, caused him to hesitate about taking such a step. V.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. It was God who decided the matter, and in Sarah’s favor. Abraham was to set aside personal feelings and considerations, both as to Ishmael and as to Hagar, and heed the voice of his wife. For Isaac was to be the bearer of the Messianic promise; through his lineage the blessing of the Lord was to come upon the nations, in the person of the Messiah. Cp. Rom. 9, 7. 8; Heb. 11, 18. The words of Sarah have a special spiritual meaning, as St. Paul shows, Gal. 4, 29: “As then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now.” Those that are spiritual-minded, the children of God, are derided and persecuted by the carnal-minded, by the children of the world. The will of the Lord is that His children should separate themselves in all spiritual matters from the children of the world, and avoid all the pitfalls which are placed for the unwary feet of such as seek the friendship of His enemies. V.13. And also of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation because he is thy seed. For Abraham’s sake even the slave’s son should receive a large share of this world’s blessings. V.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 Beersheba. Abraham, as usual, lost no time in performing his duty, unpleasant as it was. Early the next morning he gave Hagar a supply of bread and a skin filled with water, and thereupon called Ishmael, then a lad of almost seventeen years. When these two had been dismissed, they wandered forth toward the southwest, probably with the intention of reaching the main caravan route toward Egypt. Thus the separation, which had to come sooner or later, had been effected.

Ishmael’s life saved. — V.15. And the water was spent in the bottle, and she cast the child under one of the shrubs. Apparently Hagar lost her way, or some miscalculation interfered, for the water in the skin was exhausted before she reached a spring. The ensuing suffering soon became so great that the boy was unable to support himself. For a while his mother supported him, drawing him along and half carrying him, in the hope of finding water. But at last she was obliged to let him sink down, her mother-love, however, selecting a shady place under a bush. V.16. And she went and sat her down over against him a good way off, as it were a bow-shot; 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. Here are further traits of a mother’s undying love. She would not abandon the lad entirely, even if she might have gotten help; she could not bear to see him suffer and probably die before her eyes of thirst. So she sat down at a distance equal to that usually taken by bowmen shooting at a target, and wept out loud in full abandonment to her grief. V.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. V.18. Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him in thine hand; for I will make him a great nation. In this great extremity Ishmael forgot all his mocking and turned to the prayers which he had learned in his father’s house. In answer to this prayer the Angel of God in the specific sense, the Son of God, who had appeared to her once before, chap. 16, 9. 13, bade her not to fear, but to arise, to lift up her son, and to support him, since he was not to die, but to live, and to become the ancestor of a great people. V.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. Help had been so near at hand, but Hagar, in her own exhausted condition, had not noticed the spring which welled forth at a small distance. Now she filled the skin which she carried and refreshed her son, thus saving his life. V.20. And God was with the lad; and he grew, and dwelt in the wilderness, and became an archer. V.21. And he dwelt in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother took him a wife out of the land of Egypt. Ishmael grew up as a true son of the desert, living in the great wilderness which extends on the southern boundary of Canaan from Egypt to Arabia. The blessing of God rested upon him. He became very skilful with the bow and married an Egyptian woman whom his mother selected for him. This fact, unfortunately, strengthened the heathen element in the Ishmaelites and probably caused their abandoning of the true God in a very short time.

The covenant between abraham and abimelech. — V.22. And it came to pass at that time that Abimelech and Phichol, the chief captain of his host, spake unto Abraham, saying, God is with thee in all that thou doest; v.23. now, therefore, swear unto me here by God that thou wilt not deal falsely with me, nor with my son, nor with my son’s son, but according to the kindness that I have done unto thee thou shalt do unto me and to the land wherein thou hast sojourned. Abraham was still living in the land of the Philistines, and the latter were unable to deny that a special blessing of God rested upon Abraham. This fact finally prompted Abimelech to propose a covenant between himself and Abraham, in order to secure the friendship of this man for himself and his children. The chief condition was that there was to be no false or double dealing, and Abimelech reminds Abraham of the fact that he had shown merciful kindness to him at the time when he lived in Gerar, chap. 20, 15. His appeal was to Abraham’s generosity, gratitude, and faithfulness. V.24. And Abraham said, I will swear. He was ready to make such a covenant; he had no hopes for the personal possession of Canaan. But before he subscribes to any further promises, he distinguishes between political and private rights. V.25. And Abraham reproved Abimelech because of a well of water which Abimelech’s servants had violently taken away. That was a grievance which required adjustment before any pact could be made. V.26. And Abimelech said, I wot not who hath done this thing, neither didst thou tell me, neither yet heard I of it but today. This explanation, accompanied, as it was, with the order to return the well to its rightful owner; was satisfactory; it showed the fairness of Abimelech in all his doing. V.27. And Abraham took sheep and oxen and gave them unto Abimelech; and both of them made a covenant. The presents were the token of the covenant on the part of Abraham which was now formally entered upon by both. V.28. And Abraham set seven ewe lambs of the flock by themselves. V.29. And Abimelech said unto Abraham, What mean these seven ewe lambs which thou hast set by themselves? V.30. And he said, For these seven ewe lambs shalt thou take of my hand, that they may be a witness unto me that I have digged this well. This was a special transaction with reference to the well which the servants of Abimelech had taken from Abraham. Abimelech’s surprised question as to the meaning of this action received the answer that the king was to take them from the hand of Abraham for a witness to the latter that he had caused this well to be dug. Not to redeem the well, therefore, but to secure his property against any possible claims in the future Abraham set the seven ewe lambs aside. V.31. Wherefore she called that place Beersheba, because there they sware both of them. With an oath they confirmed their covenant, and therefore the place of their meeting was ever afterward known as Beersheba, “the well of the oath.” It is about twenty-five miles from Hebron, on the road to Egypt, where there are two wells to this day. V.32. Thus they made a covenant at Beersheba. Then Abimelech rose up and Phichol, the chief captain of his host, and they returned in to the land of the Philistines, that is, to Philistia proper, which was along the Mediterranean Sea. V.33. And Abraham planted a grove in Beersheba, and called there on the name of the Lord, the everlasting God. V.34. And Abraham sojourned in the Philistines’ land many days. As he had done in other places, chap. 12, 8; 13, 18, so Abraham did here. Having planted a tamarisk, a tree which grew to a remarkable height and furnished a wide shade, he proclaimed there the name of the eternal God, chiefly to his own household, but also to others that might come along this way. This he continued as long as he lived this nomadic life in the territory of the Philistines, for they considered this section a part of the country under their control. That is the chief work of the believers on earth, to praise the name, the mercy, the faithfulness of God and to proclaim His Word. Thus they do what they can to bring all men to the knowledge of the truth.