Bible Commentaries
Genesis 21

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary

Verse 1

1. The Lord visited Sarah The same Lord (Jehovah) who interposed to rescue her from Abimelech . Comp . Genesis 20:18.

Visited Any favour of divine Providence is a gracious visitation; but this was special in being the fulfilling of a promise often repeated .

As he had spoken See Genesis 17:16; Genesis 17:19; Genesis 18:10; Genesis 18:14.

Verses 1-8


“At last the time of fulfilment has arrived. During five and twenty years cheering assurances had brightened the gloom of Abraham’s pilgrimage; he had risen to God by altars and prayers, and God had descended to him by visions and revelations; he had obeyed, with spontaneous faith, and had received signs and pledges; a covenant had sanctified, and miraculous aid had protected his life; land and posterity were promised, blessings guaranteed to his seed and to mankind; the child of faith had been announced both to him and to Sarah; and the realization corresponded strictly with the promises.” Kalisch.

Verse 2

2. At the set time See Genesis 17:21.

Verse 3

3. Isaac The name means, he shall laugh, or laughter . It was given to commemorate the laughter and excessive joy referred to in Genesis 21:6, and in Genesis 17:19; Genesis 18:12. Well might there be laughing joy over this heir of promise, through whom all the families of the earth were to be blessed .

Verse 4

4. Circumcised… as God had commanded Observe how obedience to every commandment wrought with Abraham’s faith . Thus was that faith made perfect . James 2:22.

Verse 5

5. Hundred years old Hebrews, son of a hundred years . Notable and memorable the fact that the father of the faithful was the son of a hundred years a century old when the son was born through whom he was to become “heir of the world . ” Romans 4:13.

Verse 6

6. Sarah said This is the magnificat of Sarah, and may be compared with Luke 1:46-55. Never before had Sarah felt such thrills of joy, or uttered language of such prophetic fervour. The passage may be put in poetic form as follows:

And Sarah said,

God has made me to laugh;

All who hear will laugh with me .

And she said,

Who would have told to Abraham,

Sons shall be nursed by Sarah .

For I have begotten a son to his old age .

Verse 8

8. The child… was weaned At what age we are not told; perhaps not until he was three years old . Comp . 2Ma 7:27 ; Josephus, Ant . , 2; 9, 6; 1 Samuel 1:22, note .

A great feast Such an event would naturally be made an occasion of festive joy .

Verse 9


9. Sarah saw With a mother’s careful eye .

Mocking Some suppose he mocked at the feast held at Isaac’s weaning, and made derision of the contrast between the weak child and the great hopes entertained concerning him . But the Piel form of this word appears everywhere to carry with it the associations of some carnal and lascivious indulgence . Sarah saw Ishmael ( מצחק ) committing some lewd act, perhaps of self-pollution, and the sight filled her with an indignation and contempt towards him, which led her to insist on banishing from her household both him and his mother. She would not have her Isaac contaminated by such an associate. So, too, the word, as used in Genesis 19:14, denotes that Lot’s son-in-law, to whom all things were impure, could not comprehend Lot’s words of warning, but regarded him as one of the lewd fellows who were out at night indulging in the common practices of Sodom . In Genesis 26:8, it evidently means some carnal intercourse between Isaac and Rebekah, such as was proper only between husband and wife, and the same thought is equally noticeable in the language of Potiphar’s wife in Genesis 39:14-17, and the lewd play of the Israelites at the feast of the golden calf . Exodus 32:6. And we may well believe that the sport which Samson was brought out to make before the merry and perhaps half-drunken Philistines (Judges 16:25) was some naked exposure and obscene abuse . These are all the places in which the Piel form of צחק occurs, and there is, therefore, no need of giving it a different sense in any one of these passages .

Verse 10

10. Cast out Her old spirit of persecution, now embittered by what she saw in Ishmael, came back with imperious force . Comp . Genesis 16:4-6. “Seeing in Ishmael nothing but the contemptible son of an Egyptian bond-maid forgetting that he was that offspring of her husband whom she had herself desired and heedless of the blessings which God had pronounced upon him she demanded his expulsion, together with that of his detested mother.” Kalisch.

Verse 11

11. Very grievous Abraham’s affection for Ishmael was very strong, as may be seen from Genesis 17:18, and the promise of Genesis 17:20; and he was, therefore, not disposed at this time to yield to Sarah’s word.

Verse 12

12. In Isaac shall thy seed be called Literally, In Isaac shall there be called to thee a seed . The meaning evidently is, that the promised seed should spring, not from Ishmael but from Isaac . First, the promise came to Adam; then to Noah; then, in select succession, to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, and David .

Verse 14

14. A bottle of water A bottle made of skin . “The Arabs, and all that lead a wandering life, keep their water, milk, and other liquors in leathern bottles . These are made of goat-skins . When the animal is killed, they cut off its feet and its head, and they draw it in this manner out of the skin, without opening its belly . In Arabia they are tanned with acacia-bark and the hairy part left outside . If not tanned, a disagreeable taste is imparted to the water . They afterwards sew up the places where the legs were cut off, and the tail, and when it is filled they tie it about the neck . ” SMITH’S Dict . of Bible .

Wilderness of Beer-sheba The name Beer-sheba is, perhaps, used here proleptically . See on Genesis 21:31.

Verse 15

15. Cast the child From this it has been inferred that Ishmael could not have been a youth of over fifteen years . But neither the word lad ( נער ) (Genesis 21:12) nor child ( ילד ) implies that Ishmael was an infant, nor does the word cast ( שׁלךְ ) necessarily imply that she hurled him from her arms . “The boy was young, but he was old enough to give offence to Sarah by mocking . At a time when human life was much longer than it now is, (Ishmael himself died at 137, Genesis 25:17,) fifteen or sixteen would be little removed from childhood . The growing lad would be easily exhausted with the heat and wandering; whilst the hardy habits of the Egyptian handmaid would enable her to endure much greater fatigue . She had hitherto led the boy by the hand; now she left him, fainting and prostrate, under the shelter of a tree . ” Speaker’s Commentary .

Verse 16

16. As it were a bowshot This is, doubtless, the sense of the peculiar Hebrew expression used here: far off as shooters of the bow; that is, as far off as they can usually shoot an arrow . This whole passage presents us with one of the most graphic and touching of word-pictures .

Verse 17

17. Heard the voice of the lad From which it appears he wept as well as his mother .

Angel of God Not the angel of Jehovah, who found her before . Genesis 16:7. This was not an appearance, but a voice out of heaven, answering her voice (Genesis 21:16) and the voice of the lad . Jehovah’s Angel has many a ministering angel to send at will .

Verse 18

18. Hold him in thine hand Hebrews, make fast thy hand in him . She must not cast him off, but go and take hold of his hand again, and take firm hold, confident that the old promise (Genesis 16:10-12) will be kept .

Verse 19

19. Opened her eyes Enabling her now to discover what, in weariness and despair, she had failed to notice .

Verse 20

20. God was with the lad A divine providence watched over and cared for him, although he passed outside the chosen household of Jehovah’s covenant .

He grew There was room for this, for as yet he was but an undeveloped lad .

Became an archer Hebrews, he was growing an archer . He became increasingly a skilful bow-man . His descendants were long after noted for their use of the bow . Isaiah 21:17.

Verse 21

21. The wilderness of Paran The great central region of the Sinaitic peninsula, now known as the desert et-Tih .

Wife out of… Egypt His mother’s care followed him up to this point, and chose for him a wife out of her own native land . After this we hear of her no more .

This narrative of Ishmael’s expulsion is made the basis of an allegory in Galatians 4:21-26, where see notes . We may also note the following lessons: 1) The mischief of polygamy . 2) The power of jealousy . 3) Bitter passions and wrong conduct springing from a sense of injury or neglect . 4) A doting father’s tenderness in conflict with the plans of God . 5) The wants and woes of the homeless, and of the outcasts. 6) No one is beyond the sight and hearing of God. 7) The beauty and fidelity of a mother’s love. 8) The origin of a nation.

Verse 22


22. At that time The time of Ishmael’s expulsion . Phichol, which means mouth of all, is supposed to be, like the name Abimelech, an official title . Here, and at Genesis 26:26, the name is given to the chief captain of his host, a sort of prime officer and minister to the king.

God is with thee This fact had been strikingly manifest to Abimelech in the matters related in chap. 20, and probably other incidents of God’s care for Abraham had been made known to him. He, therefore, desired a closer alliance with him.

Verse 23

23. Not deal falsely Perhaps Abraham’s duplicity in the matter of Sarah had somewhat to do with inciting Abimelech to seek this oath . He feared his overreaching cunning and sagacity .

Verse 25

25. Reproved The same word used in Genesis 20:16, where it is said that Sarah was reproved by Abimelech . There was an outstanding difficulty which must be settled before Abraham will swear .

Verse 26

26. I wot not Or, I knew not . By this protest Abimelech really reproves Abraham, as if he had been lacking in frankness towards him.

Verse 27

27. Abraham took sheep If there has been any lack of frankness on his part he will now make the first gift towards alliance .

Verse 30

30. Seven ewe lambs shalt thou take of my hand These seem to have been an additional present to bind the treaty at the well . The receiving of this gift would bind Abimelech by a most solemn stipulation. The Hebrew word for swear, in Genesis 21:23-24, is the verbal form of the word for seven, and in its usual Niphal form ( נשׁבע ) means literally, to seven one’s self . This, perhaps, arose from the custom of confirming or sealing an oath by seven offerings or seven witnesses .

Verse 31

31. Beer-sheba Which means well of the oath, or, well of the seven, in allusion to the seven lambs by which Abraham here confirmed his covenant with Abimelech . In a broad valley, some twelve hours’ travel south of Hebron, Dr . Robinson discovered two deep wells, still called Bir es-Seba, probably the very same as those dug by the servants of Abraham and Isaac . Compare Genesis 26:32. “These wells are some distance apart; they are circular, and stoned up with solid masonry . The larger one is twelve and a half feet in diameter and forty-four and a half feet deep to the surface of the water, sixteen feet of which, at the bottom, is excavated in the solid rock . The other well lies fifty-five rods W . S . W . , and is five feet in diameter and forty-two feet deep . The water in both is pure and sweet, and in great abundance; the finest, indeed, we had found since leaving Sinai . ” ROBINSON, Biblical Researches, vol . i, p . 204 . Such wells would be of the first importance to a great shepherd chief .

Verse 32

32. Returned into the land of the Philistines That is, into its more central part . The limits of the territory claimed by them was probably in that age ill-defined and variable, and their chief cities much farther to the south than the later pentapolis of the Mediterranean plain . Beer-sheba appears, from Genesis 21:34, to have been on the border of the Philistine territory, in which the patriarchs long sojourned .

Verse 33

33. Planted a grove So the Vulgate . The Sept . has, a field; Chaldee, a garden; Syriac, a tree . But nearly all recent critics understand by אשׁל the tamarisk . The planting of this tree is to be regarded as a religious act, and though the patriarch is still a sojourner, he seems to have felt that Beer-sheba was a sort of permanent resting place. “The planting of this long-lived tree, with its hard wood, and its long, narrow, thickly clustered evergreen leaves, was to be a type of the ever-enduring grace of the faithful covenant God.” Keil.

Called there on the name of the Lord Compare Genesis 12:8; Genesis 13:4; and Genesis 4:26; notes .

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Genesis 21". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.