Genesis (Part 105)

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

Genesis: 25:12-18

12 These are the generations of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s servant, bore to Abraham. 13 These are the names of the sons of Ishmael, named in the order of their birth: Nebaioth, the firstborn of Ishmael; and Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, 14 Mishma, Dumah, Massa, 15 Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah. 16 These are the sons of Ishmael and these are their names, by their villages and by their encampments, twelve princes according to their tribes. 17 (These are the years of the life of Ishmael: 137 years. He breathed his last and died, and was gathered to his people.) 18 They settled from Havilah to Shur, which is opposite Egypt in the direction of Assyria. He settled[ over against all his kinsmen.

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In this section, we get the brief summary of Ishmael’s life after both he and his mother left Abraham. The occasion of this summary is the preceding death of Abraham which caused Ishmael to return briefly and meet with Isaac.

When we see a summary like this, it is often referred to as a TÔLDÔTH, which means “generations.”

From Ellicott’s Bible Commentary on verse 12:

(12) These are the generations of Ishmael.—Following the usual rule of this book, Ishmael is not dismissed from the Divine presence without a short record of his history, after which he falls into the background, and the historian proceeds with his main subject, which is the preparation for the forming of that race and nation of whom, according to the flesh, Christ came. These brief notices, moreover, of personages not in the direct line of Christ’s ancestry have their value in God’s great purpose that the Jewish Messiah should be the Redeemer of the Gentiles also (Romans 10:12); and consequently from the first their history was not alien from God’s counsels. (Romans 10:13-15) The sons of Ishmael.—Of the Arabian tribes sprung from Ishmael we read of Nebajoth and Kedar in Isaiah 60:7 as pastoral tribes, rich in flocks. Dumah is deemed worthy of a special prophecy (Isaiah 21:11); while the people of Tema are described there in Genesis 25:14 as generous and hospitable, and in Job 6:19 they appear as active traders. (See also Jeremiah 25:23.) Jetur, Naphish, and other Hagarite tribes, were conquered by Reuben and his allies (1 Chronicles 5:19), and Jetur became the Iturea of Luke 3:1. For the occasional references made to these and other sons of Ishmael in classical writers, the reader may consult Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible, or similar works. The abode of the twelve tribes sprung from Ishmael was the northern part of Arabia, whence gradually they extended their influence, and apparently soon absorbed the Joktanites (Genesis 10:26-30), themselves a kindred Semitic race. These genealogies would be inexplicable if we did not remember that successive waves of people occupied these lands, and that while the old names remained, the dominant race was new. So the rapid growth of individuals into tribes (as of Midian, Genesis 25:2) was the result of races of higher civilisation and greater energy subduing feeble and less highly-developed tribes. Hence in Genesis 25:16 the sons of Ishmael are called “princes.” We gather from this that Ishmael had gathered round him a body of men of the Semitic race, of whom large numbers were constantly on the move towards Egypt (Genesis 12:15), and by their aid had established his rule in Paran, and handed it on to his sons.

Nebioth = נְבָיוֹת Nᵉbâyôwth, neb-aw-yoth’; or נְבָיֹת Nᵉbâyôth; feminine plural from H5107; fruitfulnesses; Nebajoth, a son of Ismael, and the country settled by him:—Nebaioth, Nebajoth.

Kedar = קֵדָר Qêdâr, kay-dawr’; from H6937; dusky (of the skin or the tent); Kedar, a son of Ishmael; also (collectively) Bedouin (as his descendants or representatives):—Kedar

Adbeel = אַדְבְּאֵל ʼAdbᵉʼêl, ad-beh-ale’; probably from H109 (in the sense of chastisement) and H410; disciplined of God; Adbeel, a son of Ishmael:—Adbeel.

Mibsam = מִבְשָׂם Mibsâm, mib-sawm’; from the same as H1314; fragrant; Mibsam, the name of an Ishmaelite and of an Israelite:—Mibsam.; בֶּשֶׂם besem, beh’-sem; or בֹּשֶׂם bôsem; from the same as H1313; fragrance; by implication, spicery; also the balsam plant:—smell, spice, sweet (odour).

Mishma = מִשְׁמָע Mishmâʻ, mish-maw’; the same as H4926; Mishma, the name of a son of Ishmael, and of an Israelite:—Mishma.; מִשְׁמָע mishmâʻ, mish-maw’; from H8085; a report:—hearing.

Dumah = דּוּמָה Dûwmâh, doo-maw’; the same as H1745; Dumah, a tribe and region of Arabia:—Dumah.; דּוּמָה dûwmâh, doo-maw’; from an unused root meaning to be dumb (compare H1820); silence; figuratively, death:—silence.

Massa = מַשָּׂא Massâʼ, mas-saw’; the same as H4853; burden; Massa, a son of Ishmael:—Massa.

Hadar = חֲדַר Chădar, khad-ar’; another form for H2315; chamber; Chadar, an Ishmaelite:—Hadar.

Tema = תֵּימָא Têymâʼ, tay-maw’; or תֵּמָא Têmâʼ; probably of foreign derivation; Tema, a son of Ishmael, and the region settled by him:—Tema.

Jetur = יְטוּר Yᵉṭûwr, yet-oor’; probably from the same as H2905; encircled (i.e. inclosed); Jetur, a son of Ishmael:—Jetur.

Naphish = נָפִישׁ Nâphîysh, naw-feesh’; from H5314; refreshed; Naphish, a son of Ishmael, and his posterity:—Naphish.

Kedemah = קֵדְמָה Qêdᵉmâh, kayd’-maw; from H6923; precedence; Kedemah, a son of Ishmael:—Kedemah.

The Pulpit Commentaries provides some additional background on the sons, the meanings of their names, and their tribes:

Genesis 25:13

And these are the names of the sons of Ishmael, by their names, according to their generations: the firstborn of Ishmael, Nebajoth;—“Heights;” the Nabathaeans, a people of Northern Arabia, possessed of abundant flocks (Isaiah 9:7), and, according to Diodorus, living by merchandise and rapine (Gesenius). From Petraea they subsequently extended as far as Babylon (Keil)—and Kedar,—”Black Skin;” the Cedrei of Pliny (Gesenius, Keil, Rosen-mailer); characterized as good bowmen (Isaiah 21:17), and dwelling between Arabia Petraea and Babylon—and Adbeel,—”Miracle of God” (Gesenius); of whom nothing is known—and Mibsam,—”Sweet Odor” (Gesenius); equally uncertain.

Genesis 25:14

And Mishma,—”Hearing” (Gesenius); Masma (LXX; Vulgate); connected with the Maisaimeneis, north-east of Medina (Knobel)—and Dumah,—”Silence;” same as Stony Dumah, or Syrian Dumah, in Arabia, on the edge of the Syrian desert (Gesenius); mentioned in Isaiah 21:11and Massa,“Burden;” north-east of Dumah are the Massanoi.

Genesis 25:15

Hadar,—”Chamber” (Gesenius); Ha’dad (1 Chronicles 1:30LXX; Samaritan, and most MSS.); though Gesenius regards Hadar as probably the true reading in both places; identified with a tribe in Yemen (Gesenius); between Oman and Bahrein, a district renowned for its lancers (Keil)—and Tema,—”Desert” (Gesenius); Θαιμὰν (LXX.); the Θεμοί, on the Persian Gulf, or the tribe Bann Teim, in Hamasa (Knobel); a trading people (Job 6:19Isaiah 21:14Jeremiah 25:23)—Jetur,—”Enclosure” (Gesenius); the Itureans (Gesenius, Kalisch, Keil )—Naphish, “Breathing” (Murphy); “Refreshment” (Gesenius); not yet identified—and Kedemah—”Eastward” (Gesenius); unknown.

Is there significance in the fact that Ishmael has twelve sons? Perhaps. God promises Hagar that Ishmael will become a great nation (Gen. 17:20.) That promise seems to be fulfilled through his twelve sons and the tribes that result from them.

God also promises Abraham that he will make a great nation through his son, Isaac. That occurs through Isaac’s son Jacob – who has twelve sons. We’ll get to that in a few verses.

Returning to the verses then, with Ellicott, at verse 16:

(16) By their towns, and by their castles.—Towns and castles in the wilderness of Paran there were none, but we know for certain that the first of these words signified an unwalled village. (See Leviticus 25:31, where it is exactly described; also Psalms 10:8·, Isaiah 42:11.) It was, however, a settled and permanent place of dwelling. The other word rendered here castle, but used as the equivalent of tent in Psalms 69:25, is really a cluster of tents, the encampment of a tribe, and movable. It occurs in Numbers 31:101 Chronicles 6:54Ezekiel 25:4. As is well known, the Arabs are divided into two classes—the dwellers in tents, who are ever moving from station to station, within certain limits, nevertheless, which they seldom pass over; and the agricultural class, who have fixed habitations, are looked upon as inferiors, and probably are the remains of a conquered race. To this day they pay a sort of rent, or black-mail, to the nobler Arabs. We find, then, this distinction already existing when this Tôldôth was drawn up; the agricultural Arabs dwelling in unwalled villages, while the nomad tribes pitched now here, and now there, their clusters of black camels’-hair tents. And thus we have in these words proof that Ishmael and his subjects were not all upon the same level; for while he, his sons, and his noblest retainers would dwell in tents, the inhabitants of the villages would be men of inferior origin, compelled to submit themselves to him.

*Note: Charles Ellicott lived from 1819-1905. Some of his notes here, relating to the relationship between Arab nomads and city dwellers, may in fact be dated.

The Pulpit Commentaries provides a note for the rest of the section:

Genesis 25:17Genesis 25:18

And these are the years of the life of Ishmael, an hundred and thirty and seven years:—a life shorter by nearly half a century than that of Isaac (Genesis 35:21); does this prove the life-prolonging influence of piety?—and he gave up the ghost and died; and wee gathered unto his people (vide on Genesis 25:8). And they dwelt from Havilah unto Shur, that is before Egypt, as thou goest toward; Assyria (vide Genesis 10:29Genesis 16:7): and He died—literally, fell down; not expired (Vulgate, A Lapide, Aben Ezra, et alii), but settled down, had his lot cast (Calvin, Keil, Kalisch); κατῴκησε (LXX.) in the presence of all his brethren (a fulfillment of Genesis 16:12).

There is much to say about Ishmael, his history, and his legacy. Much of it lies outside of the text of Genesis which does not provide a lot of information overall.

Wikipedia provides a few interesting bits of information concerning Ishmael. From pre-Islamic Arabia:

Some Pre-Islamic poetry mentions Ishmael, his father Abraham, and the sacrifice story, such as the Pre-Islamic poet “Umayyah Ibn Abi As-Salt”, who said in one of his poems: بكره لم يكن ليصبر عنه أو يراه في معشر أقتال ([The sacrifice] of his first-born of whose separation he [Abraham] could not bear neither could he see him surrounded in foes).

Zayd ibn Amr was another Pre-Islamic figure who refused idolatry and preached monotheism, claiming it was the original belief of their [Arabs] father Ishmael.

Also, some of the tribes of Central West Arabia called themselves the “people of Abraham and the offspring of Ishmael”, as evidenced by a common opening of speeches and harangues of reconciliation between rival tribes in that area.

Ishmael has a more prominent place in Islam. For example:

Muslims believe that Abraham was told to sacrifice his son, Ishmael, though the Qur’an does not mention the name of the son. The multiple versions suggest that the dhabih was originally an oral story that had been circulating before being written as it is in the Qur’an and in additional commentaries.[8]:92–95 Norman Calder explains, “oral narrative is marked by instability of form and detail from version to version, and by an appropriate creative flexibility which makes of every rendering a unique work of art.”[8]:92–93 Each version is indeed a “unique work of art,” differing from another in various ways to present certain ideas, such as the importance of Ishmael over Isaac because he was the first child.

The general narrative pertaining to Ishmael in Islamic literature describes the sacrifice either as a test or as part of a vow. Some versions tell of the devil trying to stop God’s command from being obeyed by visiting Hagar, Ishmael, and Abraham. Every time the devil says Abraham is going to sacrifice Ishmael, each person answers that if God commanded it, they should obey. Eventually, Abraham tells Ishmael about the order and Ishmael is willing to be sacrificed and encourages Abraham to listen to God. Often, Ishmael is portrayed as telling Abraham some combination of instructions to bring his shirt back to Hagar, bind him tightly, sharpen the knife, and place him face down, all so that there will be no wavering in the resolve to obey God.

As Abraham attempts to slay Ishmael, either the knife is turned over in his hand or copper appears on Ishmael to prevent the death and God tells Abraham that he has fulfilled the command. Unlike in the Bible, there is no mention in the Qur’an of an animal (ram) replacing the boy; rather he is replaced with a ‘great sacrifice’ (dhibḥin ʿaẓīm).[9] Since the sacrifice of a ram cannot be greater than that of Abraham’s son (and a prophet in Islam at that), this replacement seems to point to either the religious institutionalisation of sacrifice itself, or to the future self-sacrifices of the Islamic prophet Muhammad and his companions (who were destined to emerge from the progeny of Ishmael) in the cause of their faith. Every Eid al-Adha once a year Muslims around the world slaughter an animal to commemorate Abraham’s sacrifice and to remind themselves of self-abnegation in the way of Allah.[10] Later historiographic literature incorporates the Biblical narrative in which a ram is provided which is slaughtered instead of Ishmael.[2][7]

The actions of Ishmael in this narrative have led him to become a prominent model of hospitality and obedience. This story in the Quran is unique when compared to that in the Bible because Abraham talks with his son, whichever it is believed to be, and the son is thus aware of the plan to become a sacrifice and approves of it. As noted above, in some versions, Ishmael makes sure in different ways that neither he nor his father hesitate in their obedience to God. In this way, Ishmael is a model of surrendering one’s will to God, an essential characteristic in Islam.[11]

Though it is generally believed by modern Muslims that Ishmael was the son who was almost sacrificed, among scholars and historiographers of early Islam, there is much debate. There are such persuasive arguments for both, in fact, it is estimated that 131 traditions say Isaac was the son, while 133 say Ishmael.[2]:135 Such dispute over which son suggests that the story, and where and to whom it happens, is extremely important.[2]:144 It is argued that the story originated from rabbinic texts and was adapted to Islam over time in order to give Mecca religious importance and connect the story with the pilgrimage.[8]:87Arguments by early Muslim scholars for Ishmael as the intended sacrifice include that Jews claim it is Isaac only because they are jealous that it was actually the ancestor of Arabs, Ishmael, and that the horns of the ram that was sacrificed instead hung in the Kaaba at one time.[7]:88–90 In looking solely at the text of the Quran to determine which son was to be sacrificed, there still are various views. The strongest case for Ishmael in the Quran is that directly after the sacrifice narrative, Abraham is told of the coming of Isaac’s birth, therefore, it must be Ishmael who was about to be sacrificed.[7]:88 However Tabari argues that because it is only Isaac who is indicated by birth announcements that the announcement at the start of the sacrifice narrative, “So We gave him good tidings of a forbearing boy” refers to Isaac.[2]:135–136[7]:89 Authentic hadiths are said to not contradict each other because that negates the definition of the hadith.

Verse 18 discusses where Ishmael’s descendants settle. An article from TheTorah.com, Ishmael, King of the Arabs, by Prof. Yairah Amit goes into that subject in more detail (excerpt below.)


Hagar and Ishmael were sent to the southwest deserts, located between Israel and Egypt:

Ishmael, King of the Arabs

Who Will Go Eastward and Who Westward?

Hagar and Ishmael were sent to the southwest deserts, located between Israel and Egypt:

בראשית כא:יד …וַתֵּלֶךְ וַתֵּתַע בְּמִדְבַּר בְּאֵר שָׁבַע.… כא:כא וַיֵּשֶׁב בְּמִדְבַּר פָּארָן וַתִּקַּח לוֹ אִמּוֹ אִשָּׁה מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם.

Gen 21:14 … And she wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.… 21:21 He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.

Ishmael’s affinity to the southwest can be seen in the references to the toponyms Beer-sheba (21:14) and Paran (21:21), the latter of which is a general name for the area of the Sinai Peninsula extending to the Egyptian border. He is further tied to the southwest by the recurrent references to Egypt, not only as his wife’s place of origin, but as his mother’s too; Hagar’s Egyptian origin is repeated four times (Gen.16:1, 3; 21:9; 25:12), and it is she who chooses the Egyptian wife.

Keturah’s sons, in contrast, were sent eastward (25:6b).

Keturah’s sons are depicted as the eastern nomads, while Ishmael and his sons are southwestern nomads.[3] While the east and the southeast works for the sons of Keturah, the genealogical list that depicts the line of Ishmael (25:12-17) mentions groups of nomads that wandered mainly in the Syrian Desert, meaning in the east too. (In fact, the twelfth son is actually called קֵדְמָה, “easterner.”). Thus, Ishmael, the father of the western nomads is connected to eastern nomads. And yet, this genealogical unit ends with another assertion that Ishmael and Hagar lived southwest of Israel:

Why do we have two conflicting pictures of Ishmael’s territory?

One solution, supported by many critical scholars, is that the inconsistency is the result of late Priestly editing, artificially interweaving an independent list of twelve tribes in the Syrian desert into the Ishmael account to show how God’s blessing of Ishmael in Genesis 17:20 came true. On the other hand, this suggestion ignores an important piece of evidence about the difference between the use of the name Ishmael in the Abraham cycle and the use of the term “Ishmaelites.”

After this sidebar, the text of Genesis returns its focus to the line of Abraham and the progeny of Isaac.

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