Recap: (For Genesis chapters 1-18 see Genesis 18 recap).

So far in the second section of Genesis, we have looked at the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and Abraham’s move to Gerar ( and his subsequent lie to Abimelek).

First read Genesis 21 1-32

1 Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised. 2 Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God had promised him.

What a very bald statement of facts to describe such a miraculous time! Let’s have a closer look:

What can we learn about God from them?

- The Lord is gracious: What does that mean? (When Sarah had been given the promise she laughed with mistrust and doubt. In his grace the Lord was prepared to overlook that and give her faith: And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise Hebrews 11:11 )

- The Lord’s word is to be trusted ‘as he had said’.

- The Lord keeps his promises.

- The Lord is still God of Creation.

- The Lord can do ‘the impossible’.

- The Lord’s timing is perfect.

3 Abraham gave the name Isaac to the son Sarah bore him.

Why Isaac? (God had already named him in Genesis 17:19. The name means ‘he laughs’ or ‘he will laugh’)

(The instructions concerning circumcision were also given then in 17:9-14)

4 When his son Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him, as God commanded him. 5 Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.

6 Sarah said, ‘God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.’ 7 And she added, ‘Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.’

Sarah remembered that she had laughed, and then denied that she had. Now she can say ‘God has brought me laughter’ – she realised how meaningful his name was!  

8 The child grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast.

This was celebrated as the next stage towards manhood. He no longer relied solely on his mother for food – now the responsibility for him shifted to his father.

9 But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, 10 and she said to Abraham, ‘Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.’

Up to a couple of years ago Ishmael had been accepted as Abraham’s son and heir. Now it had all changed, and as Ishmael flaunted his rights as firstborn that was too much for Sarah. He may have been Abraham’s child but he wasn’t hers. Now she had her own child she naturally wanted the inheritance to be his.

11 The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son.

Why did this distress Abraham greatly?

Abraham had regarded Ishmael as his son and heir for the last 14 years.

To turn him out now would be a terrible act of disloyalty. How could he do that to the son he loved?

It seems that he also felt for Hagar, Ishmael’s mother. As the woman who had given him a son and heir (as he thought) he would surely have treated her differently to his other servants – after all, he had taken her as his ‘wife’.

12 But God said to him, ‘Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. 13 I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.’

God says ‘you do what Sarah wants; I’ll do what I want!’ He had already promised to Hagar that her son would be the head of a nation (Genesis 16:10-12), and again he would keep his promises.

It is worth mentioning here that Ishmael was son and heir physically, born naturally; Isaac was son and heir but born supernaturally, and in addition to the natural inheritance there was also a spiritual inheritance for those who would accept it by faith.

14 Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the Desert of Beersheba.

Note again it is ‘early the next morning’. Why should he choose that time?

(Maybe he wanted to say his goodbyes to Ishmael (and Hagar) before Sarah was up. Maybe if he had to do it, he wanted to get it over with quickly. Also if you were going on a journey, you would travel better before the sun got up)

Abraham was living at that time ‘in the land of the Philistines’ (v34) and most likely in the Negev Basin between Gerar and Beersheba. The Desert of Beersheba was the land further to the south of Beersheba (although it was not called that until later (v31)).  

15 When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. 16 Then she went off and sat down about a bow-shot away, for she thought, ‘I cannot watch the boy die.’ And as she sat there, she began to sob.

Hagar and Ishmael set off – but to where? It seems that they had no specific place to go to and so they ‘wandered in the Desert of Beersheba’ v14.


Abraham was a wealthy man and could afford to treat his entourage well. Hagar, although a slave, or maidservant to Sarah, would have had a comfortable life up till now and Ishmael had been treated as a favourite son. Neither of them would have the skills needed to find food and water in a desert. Once the water was gone it seemed to them that there no option but to wait for death.

17 God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, ‘What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. 18 Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.’

As so often happens, when we have reached the point when we can do no more, God steps in. (Maybe someone would like to share a testimony of how God stepped in when all seemed hopeless?)

19 Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.

Here is another occasion where God opens the eyes of those who cannot see. It would appear that the provision of God was there all the time, just waiting to be recognised for what it was. In what way do we need to have our eyes opened to see what God has already supplied?

20 God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer. 21 While he was living in the Desert of Paran, his mother got a wife for him from Egypt.

It seems that water was only the start of God’s provision. He may have led them to a group of travelling shepherds, or perhaps he himself showed them how to find food for themselves. However it was done, they survived and set up their home fifty miles further south in the Desert of Paran. By now Ishmael had learnt to hunt wild animals for food, and more importantly, Hagar found him a wife from her own people, the Egyptians.

It is there that the Ishmaelites developed into a nation – apparently with good trading links to Egypt. Are they important in the history of the Jewish people, or of Christ himself? (Genesis 27:25-28: it was Ishmaelites who bought Joseph and took him to Egypt.)

Back to Abraham!

22 At that time Abimelek and Phicol the commander of his forces said to Abraham, ‘God is with you in everything you do. 23 Now swear to me here before God that you will not deal falsely with me or my children or my descendants. Show to me and the country where you now reside as a foreigner the same kindness that I have shown to you.’

24 Abraham said, ‘I swear it.’

It was increasingly obvious that Abraham was becoming a very successful – and powerful – tribe in his own right. Abimelek the King and his army commander obviously discussed the possibility of attack, and decided now was the time for a formal treaty to be agreed, because with Abraham’s power and connections (not to forget his powerful God) he may well turn against them.

Abraham would be happy to swear an oath of allegiance, but he also takes the opportunity to settle an outstanding problem:

25 Then Abraham complained to Abimelek about a well of water that Abimelek’s servants had seized. 26 But Abimelek said, ‘I don’t know who has done this. You did not tell me, and I heard about it only today.’

Abraham and Abimelek are both high ranking leaders with men under them to settle disputes. Obviously the problem with the well had become serious enough for it to be brought to Abraham, and just as obviously Abimelek would have known nothing.

27 So Abraham brought sheep and cattle and gave them to Abimelek, and the two men made a treaty.

Or ‘a covenant’. We have already seen (Genesis 15) that often animals were slaughtered symbolically when a covenant was agreed and it is quite likely that this was the reason for the gift of sheep and goats.

28 Abraham set apart seven ewe lambs from the flock, 29 and Abimelek asked Abraham, ‘What is the meaning of these seven ewe lambs you have set apart by themselves?’

30 He replied, ‘Accept these seven lambs from my hand as a witness that I dug this well.’

Again, for wealthy rulers, the gift could only have been symbolic, but probably a reasonable price to pay to have a well dug!

31 So that place was called Beersheba, because the two men swore an oath there.

Up to now it may not have had a name. There were probably just a few tents around belonging to nomadic herdsmen who had come for water before moving on. Be’er is Hebrew for well, Sheva (from shvu’a) can mean oath or seven so the name is given – as much to identify this well as to show it particularly belonged to Abraham. This was apparently where he set up his permanent home. (Genesis 22:19 Then Abraham returned to his servants, and they set off together for Beersheba. And Abraham stayed in Beersheba.)

32 After the treaty had been made at Beersheba, Abimelek and Phicol the commander of his forces returned to the land of the Philistines. 33 Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba, and there he called on the name of the Lord, the Eternal God. 34 And Abraham stayed in the land of the Philistines for a long time.

Tamarisks are long-lived hardwood trees. Such trees were used as landmarks, for shelter, and as places to offer worship. Abraham recognised that even the agreement which allowed him to settle in the land had come from God, and that needed to be remembered.

Genesis 22Genesis 20

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Genesis 21: 1-34 Birth of Isaac. Abraham’s well