Genesis Chapter 21  PDF  MSWord

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Go to Bible: Genesis 21
Gen 21:1

“Now Yahweh visited Sarah.” This same verb is in 1 Samuel 2:21 when Hannah, Samuel’s mother conceived.

Gen 21:2(top)
Gen 21:3

“whom Sarah bore to him.” This is in the text as emphasis that Sarah did indeed give birth to Abraham’s son.

“Isaac.” The Hebrew means, “he laughs.”

Gen 21:4

“eight days old.” The Hebrew text is idiomatic: “a son of eight days.” The commandment to circumcise on the eighth day is Genesis 17:12.

Gen 21:5(top)
Gen 21:6

“laugh.” Laugh with joy. Sarah had been considered cursed and a cloud hung over her head. Now she was vindicated and had the joy of a baby boy.

Gen 21:7(top)
Gen 21:8

“feast.” The Hebrew word indicates that this would be a wonderful feast with food and wine.

“on the day Isaac was weaned.” Children were weaned late in the biblical world, sometimes at two, but sometimes as late as five. Infant mortality was high in biblical times, but if a baby lived long enough to be weaned, it had survived a very dangerous period of life, which was a cause for great celebration. For a wealthy man like Abraham, especially given that Isaac was a God-given miracle baby, this feast was a feast indeed. It may have even gone on for days.

Gen 21:9

“laughing.” The Hebrew is the participle form of the word “Isaac.” The context would indicate that Ishmael was laughing in mockery.

Gen 21:10

“Send away.” Abraham is not being harsh to Hagar, as “Cast out” indicates. He is simply sending her away from the family.

“this slave woman and her son!” Note that the reason for this is so that Ishmael will “not be heir with my son.” It seems that the inheritance law at the time was if the slave and her son were thrown out of the family, they lost their right to an inheritance. Sarah seems to be concerned that Ishmael would take some of Isaac’s inheritance.

Gen 21:11

“the matter.” Sarah’s demand caused Abraham great distress. He loved Ishmael, who was 14 when Isaac was born (Gen. 16:16; 21:5), and now, at Isaac’s weaning, may have been as old as 19. The Hebrew text translated as “matter” is dabar (#01697 דָּבָר), which is the common word for “word,” but also, like the Greek word logos, it had a wide range of meanings, including “thing,” “matter.”

“distressing.” The Hebrew word, raa (#07489), is more commonly “bad,” but has a wide range of meanings, thus the English translation varies quite a bit. To Abraham, Sarah’s demand was “bad,” “wrong,” “hurtful,” “distressing,” “difficult,” “displeasing,” etc. All these accurately express what Abraham felt and was going through in facing sending away his son, whom he would never see again. In the next verse, we see that our gracious God spoke to Abraham and helped him deal with his emotions and the situation.

Gen 21:12

“it is through Isaac that your seed will be called.” This is God’s promise that the Messiah will come through Isaac. God’s promise in Genesis 12:3 was much more broad, that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through Abraham—a promise of the Messiah coming through him. Here God narrows the situation and says the Messiah will come through Isaac. Genesis 12:21 is quoted in Romans 9:7 and Hebrews 11:18.

Gen 21:13(top)
Gen 21:14

“took bread and a skin-bottle of water.” These seem to be very skimpy provisions for Hagar to try to make it to Egypt (but she never got that far, Ishmael grows up in the wilderness of Paran). The skimpy provisions may be to emphasize that Ishmael was to get no inheritance from Abraham.

“skin-bottle.” A “bottle” or container made from animal skin. The Hebrew word only occurs three times and only in this chapter, so although “skin bottle” is a good guess, the actual container might be something different.

[For more on skin-bottles, which were usually made from the skins of goats, see commentary on 1 Samuel 10:3.]

“gave her the child.” According to the custom of the biblical world, the child of a slave born in a master’s house belonged to the master (Exod. 21:4), so Abraham had to give Hagar her son in order for it to be hers in the eyes of the culture.

“wandered in the wilderness.” This could mean “wander” like Abraham did, or it can refer to getting lost. Although there was a road to Egypt, Hagar may still have gotten lost or disoriented somehow.

Gen 21:15

“placed.” For contextual reasons, the verb should be understood as “placed” or “left,” not “threw,” or “cast.”a Ishmael was now at least 16 and may have been as old as 19 (Ishmael was born when Abraham was 86; Gen. 16:16), but it expresses Hagar’s desperate action to keep her son in the shade and alive a little longer. It is likely that Ishmael was weak and dehydrated and had grown faint, and Hagar was distressed and did not know what else to do, thus her action is somewhat hopeless desperation. She put him in the shade under a bush and walked a distance away to separate herself from her son. Indeed, it is likely that they both would have died without divine help at that time.

There is likely an intentional parallel between Abraham with Ishmael and then Abraham with Isaac (Gen. 22). In both cases, the child is on a journey to an unknown place; then the child is on the edge of death; then an angel of God intervenes, calling out from heaven; then the parent sees a way out (for Hagar, the water; for Abraham, the ram in the thicket); and then there is a promise of future blessing.b

“she placed the child under one of the shrubs.” It seems Ishmael was too weak to go on. The rabbis suggest that he was sick.

Victor Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 18-50 [NICOT], 76, 83.
Everett Fox, The Five Books of Moses, 88.
Gen 21:16

“about a bow shot.” About 100 yards (100 meters), more or less. Far enough to be near her son, but not see him from where she was.

“lifted up her voice and wept.” An idiomatic way of saying she cried loudly and uncontrollably. She had lost her home, the father of her child, and now was on the verge of watching her son die and likely herself as well. Hagar began to cry uncontrollably.

Gen 21:17

“What troubles you.” The Hebrew is an idiom, literally, “What to you?” It means, what troubles you, what is the matter, what is wrong.

“Hagar.” The angel more or less introduces himself by calling Hagar by her name and having knowledge of her trouble; things a stranger would not have known.

“voice of the boy.” Hagar was the one who was crying loudly and uncontrollably, but Ishmael also must have called out for help to God. He had been raised by Abraham for at least 16 years, and more likely 19, and he surely would have come to know, and to some extent rely on, Abraham’s God, Yahweh. The angel said to Hagar that God heard the voice of the boy, not her voice, not because God did not love Hagar, but in part to get Hagar’s focus off herself and also because God had promised that Ishmael would become a great nation (Gen. 17:20), and He would do what it takes to fulfill His promises.

“in the place where he is.” This phrase can have a broad meaning, and likely includes both his physical location and his situation. Thus, the HCSB has, “from the place where he is,” and the NAB has, “in this plight of his.” Both meanings likely apply. God knows both where we are and our situation.

Gen 21:18

“hold him tightly with your hand.” The reference is to holding him up or supporting him because he was so weak at this point.

Gen 21:19(top)
Gen 21:20

“God was with the boy.” This points out that Ishmael would do well and prosper.

“an archer.” More literally, “a shooter of a bow.” So Ishmael lived off the land as a hunter, not a shepherd.

Gen 21:21

“wife...Egypt.” It was the custom that the parents of the man (or teenager; most boys married in their mid to late teens) negotiated the marriage and its details with the parents of an available woman (who was usually a young teen). Thus it was according to custom that Hagar got a wife for Ishmael. She was an Egyptian, and she got an Egyptian wife, so she may have gotten a relative of hers or a contact from a relative. Samson had his parents get a wife for him, even though he knew the girl he wanted to marry (Judg. 14:2-3).

Gen 21:22

“Abimelech.” The king of Gerar, where Abraham had set up his tent camp (cp. Gen. 20:1-2).

“Phicol.” The commander of Abimelech’s army.

Gen 21:23

“swear to me.” Although both Abimelech the king and Phicol his general (and likely others are there with Abraham too), it is King Abimelech who speaks. The reason that Abimelech wants Abraham to swear to be honest with him is because Abraham lied to him about Sarah.

“and the land.” Abraham and his extended family group was growing in size and power, and Abimelech was concerned that his own land rights would be protected. It seems there was a kind of a land grab going on between Abraham’s group and Abimelech’s group (Gen. 21:25).

Gen 21:24(top)
Gen 21:25

“complained.” The Hebrew word more often means “reprove,” or “rebuke,” but that seems a little strong here. Abimelech and Abraham were friendly enough to enter into a covenant, so “complained” seems the better choice.

Gen 21:26

“I don’t know.” Given Abimelech’s honest and upright behavior throughout his dealings with Abraham, this is an honest answer.

Gen 21:27

“sheep and cattle.” It was customary in the making of a covenant that gifts would be exchanged.

“cut a covenant.” Although the term “cut a covenant” is sometimes used as a general term for making a covenant even when it is not a blood covenant, it is likely that Abraham and Abimelech made a blood covenant at this time. However, the form of the covenant is not known. For example, instead of cutting themselves, they may have killed animals and walked between the pieces (cp. Gen. 15:10, 17; Jer. 34:18).

Gen 21:28

“seven.” This is the same Hebrew root as “oath,” so Abraham likely took the seven lambs as a visual statement about the oath he took with Abimelech.

Gen 21:29(top)
Gen 21:30

“so that it will be a witness.” The whole process of taking the lambs is a witness, not just the lambs themselves. There were often customs such as this taking of lambs that made it clear that a deal had been made and finalized and both parties agreed to it. When it comes to covenants and agreements, it is easy to forget who agreed to what, and written contracts were rare, so customs developed such that everyone knew the deal had been made. In some cases, a sandal was given by one party to the other party (e.g., Ruth 4:7).

Gen 21:31(top)
Gen 21:32

“into the land of the Philistines.” It is worth noting that Beer-sheba is not technically in the land of the Philistines, but Abraham has a well there.

Gen 21:33

“planted a tamarisk tree.” The tamarisk could grow in very arid regions, such as the Negev, and provide shade. There is no indication that Abraham planted the tree as some kind of religious act or dedication to God, but it is likely that there was some thinking about it. It is more likely that he intended to stay there in Beer-sheba, or have a place where, as he tented from place to place, he could return and have shade. Preparing for the future and providing for others are hallmarks of a wise and godly person.

It is also likely that Abraham planted the tree in the area of the well he had dug and thus had water rights to as a kind of gesture to himself, and perhaps his family as well, that God had promised him the land. That he would have a tree and a well could point to him having a stake in the land that would later belong to him and his descendants.

Gen 21:34(top)

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