Bible Commentaries
Genesis 21

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

Verses 1-34

Genesis 21:3-6 . Isaac; that is, laughter or holy joy. Luke 6:21. Sarah had once laughed through unbelief; now being ashamed of that, she could sing with Mary, My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

Genesis 21:7. Who would have thought that Sarah should have given suck! The Hebrew women with their last child have often given suck three years. Samuel was not weaned till he could attend the tabernacle. In the isles of the Pacific ocean, princes have been suckled by fourteen women, as our missionaries report. The object of those parents is to make the child grow to enormous strength and stature. How much then does Sarah reprove those effeminate courtiers who refuse their milk to their children. A nurse is not a mother.

Genesis 21:9. Mocking, playing, which sometimes means fighting, 2 Samuel 2:14; or persecuting, with sneers of contempt, as Galatians 4:29. Here the bitter fruits of concubinage were tasted in the patriarch’s house. It was Sarah, when distrusting the promise, that had brought Hagar to Abraham’s bed, as her maid; and some families gave a dotal maid with their daughters to prevent divorce. Now Sarah, feeling as a mother and a wife, requires her to be cast out, and sent home to her own people. One decisive stroke of this kind would prevent a thousand future pains.

Genesis 21:12. Hearken unto her voice. Here God has plainly decided against polygamy. Hagar was not Abraham’s wife, for in these very words the Lord calls Ishmael the son of a bond-woman: and there is no passage in which God allowed of it. Hence concubinage was a licentious liberty, but too generally assumed by the patriarchs of the earth, and from which the good patriarchs were not wholly free.

Genesis 21:14. Bread is here put for the whole of provisions. No doubt Abraham, who grieved for Ishmael, sent the mother and the lad (now near twenty years of age) away, properly equipped with presents, that they might go to their own people in Egypt. But poor Hagar through grief delayed till all the water was spent.

Genesis 21:17. God heard and the Angel of God. Primitive christians urged this passage, and very justly too, against the Arians in favour of the Godhead of Christ, and of the Holy Trinity. The preservation of the patriarchs by the angelic presence of the Lord, fairly marks a sociality or a plurality of persons in the Godhead. See Genesis 18:2.

Genesis 21:20. God was with the lad. Ishmael was indeed cut off from being Abraham’s heir; but he was not cut off from the blessing of Abraham’s seed, promised to all the families of the earth.

Genesis 21:21. His mother took him a wife out of the land of Egypt. It is a great addition to the calamity of children born like Ishmael, that they cannot be educated in their father’s house. This is a reproach to religion, and a dangerous stroke at public morals.

Genesis 21:33. A grove. אשׁל Eshel, or esholt, as the Saxons would pronounce it. Holt is the name of very many villages in Germany and in England, once the inviting abodes of knights and chiefs, surrounded with woods. The country people around York still aspirate a short e in the enunciation of the name of that city, and say Eyork. After the covenant with Abimelech, Abraham considered Beer-sheba, the well of the oath, as his favourite residence for the remaining years of his pilgrimage. It was the nearest point of the promised land to Egypt, where he knew his family must sojourn. Groves and fountains in the torrid zones were therefore the pleasing retreats of true devotion, as well as the haunts of idolatry before the erection of temples; while, on the contrary, the druids preferred raising their Cromlech, or broad tabled altar, on three blocks of stones, on the summit of a craggy mountain, as at Cairne-brae near Redruth, and innumerable other places. But where no such places offered, they chose the best situations which the country afforded.


The long expected and happy day of Isaac’s birth arrived at last. Abraham, after having discovered in twenty five years many fears, and sometimes great weakness in his faith, at length embraces the promised son. He could indeed say, Now Lord, mine eyes have seen thy salvation; for in the supernatural gift of Isaac he saw the Saviour, and the glory of his day. Hence we learn, that the birth of a son, when he proves the hope of his family, is to be regarded as one of the greatest of God’s temporal gifts. But let us rejoice with trembling: our children are certain cares, and doubtful comforts. This day of joy to Abraham and Sarah, proved a day of grief and tears to Hagar. Sarah seeing her son mocked, required the expulsion of the bond- woman and her son; and though Abraham would not hearken to her, yet as soon as he knew it to be the will of God he immediately complied. These things, says St. Paul, are an allegory. Hagar represents mount Sinai where the law was given, or Jerusalem where it reigned, which is in bondage with its children. Sarah represents mount Zion which is above, whose children are free, having received the spirit of adoption.

But did Abraham cast out this bond-woman for whom he was grieved; did he alienate this once favourite son, for whom he had entreated the Lord in this fervent prayer, Oh that Ishmael might live before thee? Let us learn of him to comply with God’s severest commands in the mortification of sin; let us cast off the works of darkness, and put on the armour of light. Then our hearts being renewed by faith in the promises, we shall be prepared to serve God in all the duties and difficulties of future life.

Did Hagar and Ishmael weep and cry to the Lord in their grief and trouble; and did the Lord graciously hear and provide for them, and comfort them with future hopes? Let us all learn of them to seek God’s counsel and aid in the day of trouble. He is the orphan’s father, and the widow’s friend. Nor let us be discouraged at adversity, for a young man’s day of greatest trouble has often proved the day for laying the foundation of his future peace.

Did Abimelech, prompted by selfish motives, on seeing the prosperity of Abraham, court alliance and friendship with him? Just so it is still with worldly men, who on observing the prosperity of the righteous solicit their friendship and connection; and if good men are, in this age of trade and riches, called to stand this trial of their faith and virtue, let them imitate the caution of our patriarch. He reproved Abimelech because of the well; and God having promised the land to Abraham and his seed, he contracted a covenant for three generations only. Good men must contract no covenants with the world at the expense of God’s covenant.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Genesis 21". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. 1835.