Bible Commentaries
Genesis 21

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary


Genesis 21:0


Isaac Is BornIsaac Is BornIsaac and IshmaelThe Birth of IsaacThe Birth of Isaac
Genesis 21:1-7Genesis 21:1-7Genesis 21:1-7Genesis 21:1-7Genesis 21:1-7
(vv. Genesis 21:6-7)
Hagar and Ishmael Depart The Dismissal of Hagar and Ishmael
Genesis 21:8Genesis 21:8-14Genesis 21:8-14Genesis 21:8Genesis 21:8-14a
Sarah Turns Against Hagar Hagar and Ishmael are Sent Away
Genesis 21:9-14 Genesis 21:9-13
Genesis 21:14-16Genesis 21:14-16
Genesis 21:15-19Genesis 21:15-21Genesis 21:15-19
Genesis 21:17-21Genesis 21:17-19
Genesis 21:20-21 Genesis 21:20-21 Genesis 21:20-21
Covenant With AbimelechA Covenant With AbimelechAbraham's Dispute with AbimelechThe Agreement Between Abraham and AbimelechAbraham and Abimelech at Beersheba
Genesis 21:22-26Genesis 21:22-34Genesis 21:22-24Genesis 21:22-23Genesis 21:22-24
Genesis 21:24
Genesis 21:25-34Genesis 21:25-29Genesis 21:25-31
Genesis 21:27-34
Genesis 21:30-31
Genesis 21:32-34Genesis 21:32-34

READING CYCLE THREE (see Guide to Good Bible Reading)


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

Verses 1-7

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 21:1-7 1Then the LORD took note of Sarah as He had said, and the LORD did for Sarah as He had promised. 2So Sarah conceived and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the appointed time of which God had spoken to him. 3Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore to him, Isaac. 4Then Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. 5Now Abraham was one hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. 6Sarah said, "God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me." 7And she said, "Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age."

Genesis 21:1

NASB“Then the LORD took note of Sarah" NKJV“and the LORD visited Sarah" NRSV“the LORD dealt with Sarah" TEV“the LORD blessed Sarah" NJB“Yahweh treated Sarah as he had said"

YHWH is repeated twice for emphasis. This child was by His enabling! The VERB is literally "visited" (BDB 823, KB 955, Qal PERFECT). This is often used of God drawing near to someone either for blessing or judgment. In the positive sense one may note Gen. 15:24-25 and Exodus 13:19. However, it must be noted that this word is usually used in the sense of judgment.

"as He had promised" This seems to specifically refer to Genesis 18:10-15. Sarah delivering (Genesis 21:2; Hebrews 11:11) the special child of promise is implied in God's promises to Abraham in Genesis 12:15, and 17.

Genesis 21:2 "at the appointed time" This refers specifically to Genesis 21:1 and 18:10, 14. I believe that it refers to the nine month gestation period.

Genesis 21:3 "Isaac" His name was given in Genesis 17:19, Genesis 17:21. It comes from the word for "laughter" (BDB 850) and is connected to Abraham's laughter in Genesis 17:17 and Sarah's laughter in Genesis 18:15.

Genesis 21:4 "Abraham circumcised his son Isaac" This was the sign of the covenant mandated by YHWH. It was done when the child was eight days old as God had commanded (cf. Genesis 17:9-14). From Genesis 17:25, the Arabs developed the practice of circumcising their children at age thirteen, in line with the circumcision of Ishmael. All of the people of the Ancient Near East circumcised their children, but at different ages and for different purposes. Only the Philistines and Hivites were uncircumcized (i.e., Genesis 34:0).

Genesis 21:5 Again, Abraham's age (cf. Genesis 17:17) is given to show the grace of God in His promise, not human strength or effort.

Genesis 21:6 There is a word play on

1. Abraham and Sarah's expressed doubt about the Lord's revelation in Genesis 17:17 and Genesis 18:12 by laughing

2. the child is named "laughter"

3. laughter was the outward sign of the joy of Sarah finally having a child of her own and people congratulating her by laughing with her

4. laughter is used in a negative sense in Genesis 21:9 of Hagar's attitude toward Isaac

Genesis 21:7 "Sarah will nurse children" The term "children" is PLURAL. Hebrew has so many unexpected PLURALS. It must have been a way to show (1) things that come in pairs (eyes, ears, hands) and (2) intensity (i.e., PLURAL OF MAJESTY).

Verses 8-14

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 21:8-14 8The child grew and was weaned, and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. 9Now Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, mocking. 10Therefore she said to Abraham, "Drive out this maid and her son, for the son of this maid shall not be an heir with my son Isaac." 11The matter distressed Abraham greatly because of his Song of Solomon 1:0; Song of Solomon 1:02But God said to Abraham, "Do not be distressed because of the lad and your maid; whatever Sarah tells you, listen to her, for through Isaac your descendants shall be named. 13And of the son of the maid I will make a nation also, because he is your descendant." 14So Abraham rose early in the morning and took bread and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar, putting them on her shoulder, and gave her the boy, and sent her away. And she departed and wandered about in the wilderness of Beersheba.

Genesis 21:8 "The child grew and was weaned, and Abraham made a great feast" We understand from the literature of the day that there was a feast commonly held at the weaning of a child (i.e., old enough to assure it would survive). This weaning could have been at the age of two or three (cf. II Macc. 7:27).

Genesis 21:9 "Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, mocking" The NKJV has "scoffing," while NRSV and TEV have "playing." The LXX adds "playing with her son." This Hebrew term means "laughter" (BDB 850), but in the Piel stem (KB 1019) can mean "to jest or make sport of" (cf. Genesis 19:14; Exodus 32:6; Judges 16:23), but because of Galatians 4:29, and because of Hagar's mocking in Genesis 16:4, Genesis 16:5, it probably means "mocking" or "bringing reproach." The rabbis quote 2 Samuel 2:14 and Proverbs 26:19 as examples of the negative use of this term.

Genesis 21:10 "drive out this maid and her son" This VERB is another Piel (BDB 176, KB 204) and an IMPERATIVE (cf. Galatians 4:30). According to the Nuzi Tablets, this was an illegal act. However, from earlier legal documents called "Lipit-ishtar" either sharing the inheritance or giving them their freedom was a legal way to deal with the children of concubines.

Genesis 21:11 Abraham loved Ishmael (cf. Genesis 17:18), as does YHWH (cf. Genesis 17:20; Genesis 21:3, Genesis 21:18, Genesis 21:20). Abraham felt this demand by Sarah was inappropriate and perhaps even wrong (cf. Numbers 11:10; 1 Samuel 1:8).

Genesis 21:12 God gives Abraham two commands.

1. "Do not be distressed," BDB 949, KB 1269, Qal IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense. This VERB is used in Genesis 21:11 to describe Abraham's reaction to Sarah's request (command).

2. "Listen to her," BDB 1033, KB 1570, Qal IMPERATIVE, "hear").

"whatever Sarah tells you" Implied in this is that God accepted Sarah's assessment of the situation. This does not mean that Sarah's attitude was appropriate. However, on the other hand, we do not fully know the situation. Maybe she, like Rebekah (later in Genesis 27:0), was trying to protect the covenant promise.

Genesis 21:13 "because he is your descendant" God will bless Ishmael because of his father, Abraham. His life is described in prophecy in Genesis 16:11-12. Ishmael's relationship to Abraham was the source of his blessing as Lot's was in Genesis 19:29.

Genesis 21:14 "skin of water" This term (CONSTRUCT BDB 332 CONSTRUCT BDB 565) occurs only in this chapter in the OT (cf. Genesis 21:14, Genesis 21:15, Genesis 21:19). It refers to a sheepskin or sheep stomach, sewed in such a way as to become a water container.

"putting them on her shoulder" Both the Septuagint and the Syriac translate this in such a way that it implies that they also put Ishmael on her back. It seems from the context that Ishmael must have been between 15 and 17 years old, much too heavy to be carried by his mother, therefore, this is probably an idiom for preparing for a journey.

"wandered about in the wilderness of Beersheba" See verse Genesis 21:31.

Verses 15-19

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 21:15-19 15When the water in the skin was used up, she left the boy under one of the bushes. 16Then she went and sat down opposite him, about a bowshot away, for she said, "Do not let me see the boy die." And she sat opposite him, and lifted up her voice and wept. 17God heard the lad crying; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, "What is the matter with you, Hagar? Do not fear, for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is. 18Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him by the hand, for I will make a great nation of him." 19Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water; and she went and filled the skin with water and gave the lad a drink.

Genesis 21:15

NASB, TEV“left" NKJV“placed" NRSV“cast" NJB“abandoned"

The term (BDB 1020) denotes an abandoning (Exodus 1:22; Isa. 71:9; Jeremiah 38:6, Jeremiah 38:9; Ezekiel 16:5), which expects death.

Genesis 21:16 "a bowshot away" This rare VERB (BDB 377, KB 373, Polel PARTICIPLE) is found only here in the OT.

"and lifted up her voice and wept" There is some confusion in the text here because the Angel of the Lord said He heard the lad crying and only the mother's voice is mentioned. However, we must remember that this is only a brief summary of the situation and all of the action is not included. The Angel of the Lord spoke to Hagar again as He had in lGenesis 6:6ff which shows the love of God even for those peripherally connected with Abraham.

Genesis 21:17-18 God addresses Hagar.

1. "What is the matter with you?" (no VERB)

2. "Do not fear," BDB 431, KB 432, Qal IMPERFECT used as a JUSSIVE, cf. same root in Genesis 15:1; Genesis 26:24; Genesis 46:3

3. "Arise," BDB 877, KB 1086, Qal IMPERATIVE

4. "Lift up the lad," BDB 669, KB 724, Qal IMPERATIVE

5. "Hold him by the hand," BDB 304, KB 302, Hiphil IMPERATIVE, this implies care for him, sustaining him.

Genesis 21:17 Also notice how Elohim and the Angel of the LORD are identified (i.e., they speak from heaven), yet are separate (cf. Exodus 3:2; Exodus 4:0). See Special Topic: The Angel of the Lord at Genesis 12:7.

"for God has heard" This is a play on Ishmael's name (cf. Genesis 16:11). The VERB "hear" (BDB 1033), "Ishmael" (BDB 1035), and "God hears" are obviously from the same root.

Genesis 21:18 "for I will make a great nation of him" The VERB (BDB 962, KB 1321, Qal IMPERFECT) means "to set" or "to place," cf. Genesis 21:13; Genesis 46:3. This is not the same VERB (BDB 793, KB 889, Qal IMPERFECT used in a COHORTATIVE sense) used in YHWH's promise to Abram in Genesis 21:2 nor 18:18 (BDB 224, KB 243, Qal INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE).

Genesis 21:19 One wonders if Genesis 21:19 is a miracle of sight or the provision of a previously non-existent water source. This same term is used in Genesis 3:5 and 2 Kings 6:15-19.

Verses 20-21

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 21:20-21 20God was with the lad, and he grew; and he lived in the wilderness and became an archer. 21He lived in the wilderness of Paran, and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt.

Genesis 21:20 The metaphor "God was with the lad" is also used of Jacob (Genesis 28:15) and Joseph (Genesis 39:2, Genesis 39:3, Genesis 39:21). It expresses YHWH's personal care and presence (note Genesis 21:22). Ishmael shared in the blessing of Abraham!

Genesis 21:21 "and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt" This was obviously meant to be done by the father, but in this case Hagar chose a wife for Ishmael from her own people.

Verses 22-26

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 21:22-26 22Now it came about at that time that Abimelech and Phicol, the commander of his army, spoke to Abraham, saying, "God is with you in all that you do; 23now therefore, swear to me here by God that you will not deal falsely with me or with my offspring or with my posterity, but according to the kindness that I have shown to you, you shall show to me and to the land in which you have sojourned." 24Abraham said, "I swear it." 25But Abraham complained to Abimelech because of the well of water which the servants of Abimelech had seized. 26And Abimelech said, "I do not know who has done this thing; you did not tell me, nor did I hear of it until today."

Genesis 21:22 "Abimelech and Phicol" These same two names are mentioned in Genesis 26:26 in connection with Isaac and problems over this very same well at Beersheba. The names are general names for the king and the commander, these men lived quite a long time, or there has been confusion in the Hebrew text of Genesis (i.e., editors).

"God is with you in all that you do" This is said not only of Abraham, but also of Isaac (cf. Genesis 26:28).

Genesis 21:25 "but Abraham complained to Abimelech" The word here seems to be "chided" (BDB 406, KB 410, Hiphil PERFECT). The controversy over wells was common in this semi-arid desert region. Abimelech's answer shows that he was not aware of the problem and still wanted a covenant with Abraham ("swear," BDB 989, KB 1396, Niphal IMPERATIVE, Genesis 21:23).

Verses 27-34

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Genesis 21:27-34 27Abraham took sheep and oxen and gave them to Abimelech, and the two of them made a covenant. 28Then Abraham set seven ewe lambs of the flock by themselves. 29Abimelech said to Abraham, "What do these seven ewe lambs mean, which you have set by themselves?" 30He said, "You shall take these seven ewe lambs from my hand so that it may be a witness to me, that I dug this well." 31Therefore he called that place Beersheba, because there the two of them took an oath. 32So they made a covenant at Beersheba; and Abimelech and Phicol, the commander of his army, arose and returned to the land of the Philistines. 33Abraham planted a tamarisk tree at Beersheba, and there he called on the name of the LORD, the Everlasting God. 34And Abraham sojourned in the land of the Philistines for many days.

Genesis 21:27 "the two of them made a covenant" Apparently the animals of Genesis 21:27 were cut in half in order to make this covenant (see Special Topic: COVENANT).

Genesis 21:28 "seven ewe lambs" It is obvious that this is a separate group from Genesis 21:27, apparently in connection with the well at Beersheba. The name "Beersheba" comes from two possible origins: (l) "the well of seven," Genesis 21:28 or (2) "the well of an oath" in Genesis 26:33 ("seven" [BDB 987] and "swear" [BDB 989] are similar in Hebrew).

Genesis 21:32 "the Philistines" Many commentators note that the Philistines had not yet entered the land in great numbers. Although this is quite true, the mercenary nature of these Aegean people shows that they could have been in this region in small numbers before the 12th century B.C., for that is when they settled here after a thwarted invasion of Egypt. It is also possible that this is an anachronism.

Genesis 21:33 "planted a tamarisk tree" This symbolized two things.

1. The presence of underground water often associated with sacred sites (God provides water for Hagar, Ishmael, and also for Abraham).

2. Abraham, the nomad, planned to stay here for an extended period.

"he called on the name of the LORD" The name is the covenant name of Deity, YHWH (BDB 42). This implies a worship setting (cf. Genesis 4:26; Genesis 12:8). It is similar to what Noah did in Genesis 8:20. See Special Topic: "The Name" of YHWH.

"the everlasting God" This name for God is found only here. It is made up of the Hebrew words El (BDB 42) and 'olam (BDB 761). The term El is combined with several other titles in the early parts of Genesis to show the nature of God: (1) El Shaddai (BDB 42 and 994), Genesis 17:1; Genesis 43:14 and Exodus 3:0; (2) El Elyon (BDB 42 and 751 II), Genesis 14:18-24; (3) El Roi (BDB 42 and 909), Genesis 16:13; (4) El Bethel (BDB 42 and 110), Genesis 31:13; Genesis 35:7. El was the general name for God in the Ancient Near East (see Special Topic: Names for Deity).

The name 'olam (BDB 761) means "that which is hidden" and refers either to the past or the future. It is used in the sense of "everlasting," but the meaning must be specifically ascertained from the context (see Special Topic: Forever ('olam).


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. Is chapter 20 a negative comment about Abraham?

2. Did Abimelech also know Adonai?

3. Why did Abimelech take Sarah as his wife when she was so old and who even describes herself as "worn out" (cf Genesis 18:12)?

4. What does the term "prophet" mean and how does Abraham qualify for this title?

5. List the three reasons that Abraham gives in Genesis 21:11-13 for his trying to trick Abimelech.

6. Why did Sarah demand that Hagar and Ishmael leave?

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Genesis 21". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". 2021.