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Bridgeway Bible Dictionary
Of several men named Ishmael in the Bible, the best known is the son born to Abraham through his Egyptian slave-girl, Hagar. He was born as a result of Abraham and Sarah’s failure of faith, when, feeling that Sarah could not produce the son God had promised them, they arranged for Abraham to produce the son through Hagar (Genesis 16:1-3).
In New Testament times, Paul saw this as a picture of those who try to achieve salvation through law-keeping instead of through faith in Jesus Christ. As Ishmael was the child of a slave-girl, so they are the children of slavery. They are in bondage to the law instead of being free people in Christ (Galatians 4:21-26).
Concerning Ishmael, God promised that he would grow into a fiery independent desert-dweller, and would produce a notable line of descendants (Genesis 16:11-12; Genesis 17:20). But he was not the son that God had promised to Abraham as the one through whom he would build his covenant people. God’s promises would be fulfilled through Isaac, the son who was later born to Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 17:15-19).
When conflict arose between Sarah and Hagar, Hagar and Ishmael were forced to leave Abraham’s household and establish their own independent existence (Genesis 21:8-21). In New Testament times, Paul saw the expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael as an illustration that slaves of the law have no place in a family (the church) where people have the freedom of sons and through faith inherit God’s promises (Galatians 4:28-31).
Ishmael grew up to be a tough desert-dweller, as God had foretold (Genesis 21:20; cf. Genesis 16:12). He married an Egyptian (Genesis 21:21), and one of his daughters married Isaac’s son, Esau (Genesis 28:9). There was a temporary reunion between Isaac and Ishmael at the funeral of their father (Genesis 25:7-10).
Many of the tribal peoples who grew up in the region around Canaan were descended from Ishmael (Genesis 25:12-18). Even today many of the Arab peoples claim descent from him.
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Fleming, Don. Entry for 'Ishmael'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​bbd/​i/ishmael.html. 2004.