Genesis (Part 86)

Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.

Genesis: 21:15-21

15 When the water in the skin was gone, she put the child under one of the bushes. 16 Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot, for she said, “Let me not look on the death of the child.” And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. 17 And God heard the voice of the boy, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. 18 Up! Lift up the boy, and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make him into a great nation.” 19 Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. And she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink. 20 And God was with the boy, and he grew up. He lived in the wilderness and became an expert with the bow. 21 He lived in the wilderness of Paran, and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt.


Not long after leaving Abraham, Hagar and Ishmael are out of water. There are some oddities in the verses that follow. We are told that she puts her almost adult teenage son under one of the bushes. She weeps. God hears not her weeping but Ishmael and sends an angel to Hagar. Her command is to life up and hold fast her nearly adult son. At that point, she sees a well of water and Ishmael drinks. We do not know what happened next but we are told that they both survive and that Ishmael thrives and his descendants become a great nation.

Ellicott’s Bible Commentary provides an explanation for the very young way that Ishmael is depicted here:

(15) She cast the child under one of the shrubs.—The act was one of despair. Ishmael, though seventeen years of age, had not yet come to his strength, and at a time when human life was so prolonged that forty was the usual age for marriage, was probably not as capable of bearing fatigue as a young man nearly grown up would be in our days. He thus became exhausted, and apparently fainted; and his mother, after trying in vain to support him, cast him down in anguish, and abandoned herself to her grief.

I am not certain that this is a terribly satisfactory explanation. Does The Pulpit Commentary provide a better one?

Verse 15. – And the water was spent in (literally, fromthe 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, Ver. 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.

I am inclined to prefer this interpretation. Both are near death. Ishmael collapses under a bush. Hagar clambers far enough away that she does not have to watch her son die.

Keeping on with The Pulpit Commentary, let’s look at verse 17:

Verse 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 supra – and the angel of God – Maleach 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).

We are reminded here that this is the second time Hagar has wandered in the wilderness after being cast out by Abraham and Sarah. Just as with the first time, Hagar is visited by an angel.

It is unclear why we read that Hagar lifted up her voice and wept, in verse 16, and in verse 17 we read that God heard the voice of Ishmael. The text does not tell us that Ishmael said anything – however we are told by God through the angel that he did.

  • Was God waiting for a prayer from Ishmael before rescuing them? Or does God tell Hagar that He heard the boy (specifically the boy and not her) for some other reason?

The name of God used in this set of verses is Elohim. As a result, we also see an encounter with an Angel of God instead of the more widely known Angel of the Lord. Hagar’s previous angel encounter in chapter 16 was with the Angel of the Lord. Ellicott’s Commentary has an explanation for the change in the name:

(17) The angel of God.—In Genesis 16:7 it was “the angel of Jehovah” which appeared unto Hagar; here it is the angel of Elohim. It is impossible not to be struck with this exact use of the names of Deity. Hagar was then still a member of Abraham’s family; here she is so no longer; and it is Elohim, and not Jehovah, the covenant God of the chosen race, who saves her.

We will need to look at this contrast more closely when we do a larger Genesis overview. Elohim, which translates more directly as “the gods” speaks to Hagar when the familiar relationship with Abraham is less personal. Yahweh/Jehovah speaks to her when she is in Abraham’s family. As we have mentioned previously, there are several instances in the Old Testament where Elohim seems to mean a more general “celestial being” than God on His throne. Jacob wrestles with God (Elohim) and a later prophet, Hosea, describes Jacob as wrestling with an angel (malak).

Looking at David Guzik’s Commentary next:

b. God heard the voice of the lad: As Hagar lifted her voice and wept, God answered. Curiously, God answered in response to the voice of the lad instead of specifically to Hagar’s weeping. In some way, Ishmael cried out for mercy and help.

c. Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is: Despite the desperate problem in the wilderness, God’s promise gave Hagar and Ishmael reason to fear not. God showed special favor to Ishmael because he was a descendant of Abraham.

d. I will make him a great nation: Though Ishmael was not the son to receive the covenant promise, God was not against him. The descendants of Ishmael became a great nation, the Arabic people.

What happens next? The angel issues a command to Hagar. The angel tells her to arise.

arise / up = קוּם qûwm, koom; a primitive root; to rise (in various applications, literal, figurative, intensive and causative):—abide, accomplish, × be clearer, confirm, continue, decree, × be dim, endure, × enemy, enjoin, get up, make good, help, hold, (help to) lift up (again), make, × but newly, ordain, perform, pitch, raise (up), rear (up), remain, (a-) rise (up) (again, against), rouse up, set (up), (e-) stablish, (make to) stand (up), stir up, strengthen, succeed, (as-, make) sure(-ly), (be) up(-hold, -rising).

The angel also tells Hagar to lift up her son.

lift up = נָשָׂא nâsâʼ, naw-saw’; or נָסָה nâçâh; (Psalm 4:6 [7]), a primitive root; to lift, in a great variety of applications, literal and figurative, absolute and relative:—accept, advance, arise, (able to, (armor), suffer to) bear(-er, up), bring (forth), burn, carry (away), cast, contain, desire, ease, exact, exalt (self), extol, fetch, forgive, furnish, further, give, go on, help, high, hold up, honorable ( man), lade, lay, lift (self) up, lofty, marry, magnify, × needs, obtain, pardon, raise (up), receive, regard, respect, set (up), spare, stir up, swear, take (away, up), × utterly, wear, yield.

From the Pulpit Commentary:

Verse 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 בּור, a pit or cistern, meant a fountain or spring of living water (cf. Genesis 24:11, 20Genesis 26:19, 20, 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.

More from Guzik:

a. Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water: Whether the miracle was in the creation of a water source or the revealing of an existing water source, God provided for Hagar and Ishmael.

i. Spurgeon explained the likeness between Hagar and the one who needs God. “As in Hagar’s case, the supply of their necessities is close at hand: the well is near. Secondly, it often happens that that supply is as much there as if it had been provided for them and for them only, as this well seemed to have been. And, thirdly, no great exertion is needed to procure from the supply already made by God all that we want. She filled her bottle with water — a joyful task to her; and she gave the lad drink.”

b. So God was with the lad: The idea is emphasized that God was not against Ishmael and his descendants. God was with Ishmael, and had a promise for his future.

The section of verses ends well for Ishmael. God is with him. From The Pulpit Commentaries:

Verses 20, 21. – And God was with the lad. Not simply in the ordinary sense in which he is with all men (Psalm 139:3-9Acts 17:27, 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 26:24Isaiah 41:10Matthew 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 ׃ך׃ך רֹבֶה קַשָּׁת 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 רָבַכ, 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 (Ewald, vide ‘ Hebrews Synt.,’ § 287). 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, 55Exodus 21:10).

Ishmael becomes an expert archer, he gets married, and his line continues on after him until God’s promise is fulfilled and he becomes a great nation in his own right. This is not the end of Ishmael in our story. We will meet him again in a few chapters and see how things are going.

TheTorah.com has a great article on Ishmael’s place in the line of Abraham:

Ishmael, King of the Arabs

The gentilic “Ishmaelite” appears 8 times in the Bible. Four of these references are in the Joseph story, describing how they bought him as a slave and sold him to Egypt (Gen 37:25, 27, 28; 39:1). The depiction of Ishmaelites in this story is telling:

From this we learn that Ishmaelites are camel-riding caravan tradesmen, who travel from the northeast through Israel, heading southwest to Egypt.[5] The impression one gets from the text is that their homebase is further northeast than the Gilead, in the Syrian desert, but that they travel long distances for trade with Egypt, since it was an important financial center.

That Ishmaelites are easterners is also clear from their mention in the story of Gideon in Judges, which begins with Midianite domination of Israel

After Gideon finally defeats the Midianites, and the booty is shared among the Israelites, Gideon says to the people: Judg 8:24 “I have a request to make of you: Each of you give me the earring he received as booty.” They had golden earrings, for they were Ishmaelites.

According to this, Midianites and other easterners are “Ishmaelites” implying that this is a catchall term for different Arabian tribes. The reference to Ishmaelites in Psalm 83:7, together with Edomites, Moabites and Hagarites, also implies an eastern provenance:

There is a lot more in the article and it helps to explain why Arabs generally are associated today with Ishmael.

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