Genesis 21

The Birth of Isaac

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.
3 Abraham gave the name Isaac[a] to the son Sarah bore him.
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.”

Hagar and Ishmael Sent Away

8 The child grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast.
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.”
11 The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son.
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[b] will be reckoned.
13 I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.”
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.
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 bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there, she[c] began to sob.
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.”
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.
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.

The Treaty at Beersheba

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 I have shown to you.”
24 Abraham said, “I swear it.”
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.”
27 So Abraham brought sheep and cattle and gave them to Abimelek, and the two men made a treaty.
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.”
31 So that place was called Beersheba,[d] because the two men swore an oath there.
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.

Genesis 21 Commentary

Chapter 21

Birth of Isaac, Sarah's joy. (1-8) Ishmael mocks Isaac. (9-13) Hagar and Ishmael are cast forth, They are relieved and comforted by an angel. (14-21) Abimelech's covenant with Abraham. (22-34)

Verses 1-8 Few under the Old Testament were brought into the world with such expectations as Isaac. He was in this a type of Christ, that Seed which the holy God so long promised, and holy men so long expected. He was born according to the promise, at the set time of which God had spoken. God's promised mercies will certainly come at the time which He sets, and that is the best time. Isaac means "laughter," and there was good reason for the name, ch. ( 17:17 , 18:13 ) . When the Sun of comfort is risen upon the soul, it is good to remember how welcome the dawning of the day was. When Sarah received the promise, she laughed with distrust and doubt. When God gives us the mercies we began to despair of, we ought to remember with sorrow and shame our sinful distrust of his power and promise, when we were in pursuit of them. This mercy filled Sarah with joy and wonder. God's favours to his covenant people are such as surpass their own and others' thoughts and expectations: who could imagine that he should do so much for those that deserve so little, nay, for those that deserve so ill? Who would have said that God should send his Son to die for us, his Spirit to make us holy, his angels to attend us? Who would have said that such great sins should be pardoned, such mean services accepted, and such worthless worms taken into covenant? A short account of Isaac's infancy is given. God's blessing upon the nursing of children, and the preservation of them through the perils of the infant age, are to be acknowledged as signal instances of the care and tenderness of the Divine providence. See Ps. 22:9, Ps. 22:10 ; Ho. 11:1, Ho. 11:2 .

Verses 9-13 Let us not overlook the manner in which this family matter instructs us not to rest in outward privileges, or in our own doings. And let us seek the blessings of the new covenant by faith in its Divine Surety. Ishmael's conduct was persecution, being done in profane contempt of the covenant and promise, and with malice against Isaac. God takes notice of what children say and do in their play; and will reckon with them, if they say or do amiss, though their parents do not. Mocking is a great sin, and very provoking to God. And the children of promise must expect to be mocked. Abraham was grieved that Ishmael should misbehave, and Sarah demand so severe a punishment. But God showed him that Isaac must be the father of the promised Seed; therefore, send Ishmael away, lest he corrupt the manners, or try to take the rights of Isaac. The covenant seed of Abraham must be a people by themselves, not mingled with those who were out of covenant: Sarah little thought of this; but God turned aright what she said.

Verses 14-21 If Hagar and Ishmael had behaved well in Abraham's family, they might have continued there; but they were justly punished. By abusing privileges, we forfeit them. Those who know not when they are well off, will be made to know the worth of mercies by the want of them. They were brought to distress in the wilderness. It is not said that the provisions were spent, or that Abraham sent them away without money. But the water was spent; and having lost their way, in that hot climate Ishmael was soon overcome with fatigue and thirst. God's readiness to help us when we are in trouble, must not slacken, but quicken our endeavours to help ourselves. The promise concerning her son is repeated, as a reason why Hagar should bestir herself to help him. It should engage our care and pains about children and young people, to consider that we know not what great use God has designed them for, and may make of them. The angel directs her to a present supply. Many who have reason to be comforted, go mourning from day to day, because they do not see the reason they have for comfort. There is a well of water near them in the covenant of grace, but they are not aware of it, till the same God that opened their eyes to see their wound, opens them to see their remedy. Paran was a wild place, fit for a wild man; such as Ishmael. Those who are born after the flesh, take up with the wilderness of this world, while the children of the promise aim at the heavenly Canaan, and cannot be at rest till they are there. Yet God was with the lad; his outward welfare was owing to this.

Verses 22-34 Abimelech felt sure that the promises of God would be fulfilled to Abraham. It is wise to connect ourselves with those who are blessed of God; and we ought to requite kindness to those who have been kind to us. Wells of water are scarce and valuable in eastern countries. Abraham took care to have his title to the well allowed, to prevent disputes in future. No more can be expected from an honest man than that he be ready to do right, as soon as he knows he has done wrong. Abraham, being now in a good neighbourhood, stayed a great while there. There he made, not only a constant practice, but an open profession of his religion. There he called on the name of the Lord, as the everlasting God; probably in the grove he planted, which was his place of prayer. Abraham kept up public worship, in which his neighbours might join. Good men should do all they can to make others so. Wherever we sojourn, we must neither neglect nor be ashamed of the worship of Jehovah.

Cross References 51

  • 1. 1 Samuel 2:21
  • 2. S Genesis 8:1; S Genesis 17:16,21; Genesis 18:14; Galatians 4:23; Hebrews 11:11
  • 3. S Genesis 17:19; S Genesis 30:6
  • 4. Galatians 4:22; Hebrews 11:11
  • 5. S Genesis 18:10
  • 6. S Genesis 16:11; S Genesis 17:19; Joshua 24:3
  • 7. Genesis 17:10,12; Acts 7:8
  • 8. S Genesis 12:4; Hebrews 6:15
  • 9. Genesis 17:17; Job 8:21; Psalms 126:2; Isaiah 12:6; Isaiah 35:2; Isaiah 44:23; Isaiah 52:9; Isaiah 54:1
  • 10. S Genesis 17:17
  • 11. 1 Samuel 1:23
  • 12. S Genesis 16:15
  • 13. Genesis 39:14; Galatians 4:29
  • 14. Genesis 39:17
  • 15. Genesis 25:6; Galatians 4:30*
  • 16. Genesis 17:18
  • 17. Matthew 1:2; Romans 9:7*; Hebrews 11:18*
  • 18. ver 18; S Genesis 13:16
  • 19. S Genesis 16:1
  • 20. ver 31,32; Genesis 22:19; Genesis 26:33; Genesis 28:10; Genesis 46:1,5; Joshua 15:28; Joshua 19:2; Judges 20:1; 1 Samuel 3:20; 1 Chronicles 4:28; Nehemiah 11:27
  • 21. Jeremiah 6:26; Amos 8:10; Zechariah 12:10
  • 22. Exodus 3:7; Numbers 20:16; Deuteronomy 26:7; Psalms 6:8
  • 23. S Genesis 16:7
  • 24. Genesis 22:11,15
  • 25. S Genesis 15:1
  • 26. ver 13; S Genesis 17:20
  • 27. Numbers 22:31
  • 28. S Genesis 16:7
  • 29. Genesis 26:3,24; Genesis 28:15; Genesis 39:2,21,23; Luke 1:66
  • 30. S Genesis 14:6
  • 31. Genesis 24:4,38; Genesis 28:2; Genesis 34:4,8; Judges 14:2
  • 32. S Genesis 20:2
  • 33. ver 32; Genesis 26:26
  • 34. ver 23; Genesis 26:28; Genesis 28:15; Genesis 31:3,5,42; Genesis 39:2,3; 1 Samuel 3:19; 1 Samuel 16:18; 2 Chronicles 1:1; Psalms 46:7; Isaiah 7:14; Isaiah 8:8,10; Isaiah 41:10; Isaiah 43:5
  • 35. ver 31; Genesis 25:33; Genesis 26:31; Genesis 31:53; Joshua 2:12; 1 Kings 2:8
  • 36. 1 Samuel 24:21
  • 37. S ver 22; Joshua 2:12
  • 38. Ge 26:15,18,20-22
  • 39. ver 31,32; Genesis 26:28,31; Genesis 31:44,53
  • 40. Ge 31:44,47,48,50,52; Jos 22:27,28,34; Joshua 24:27; Isaiah 19:20; Malachi 2:14
  • 41. ver 25; Genesis 26:25,32
  • 42. S ver 14; Genesis 26:33
  • 43. S ver 23,S 27
  • 44. S ver 27
  • 45. S ver 14
  • 46. S ver 22
  • 47. S Genesis 10:14
  • 48. 1 Samuel 22:6; 1 Samuel 31:13
  • 49. S Genesis 4:26
  • 50. Exodus 15:18; Deuteronomy 32:40; Deuteronomy 33:27; Job 36:26; Psalms 10:16; Psalms 45:6; Psalms 90:2; Psalms 93:2; Psalms 102:24; Psalms 103:19; Psalms 146:10; Isaiah 40:28; Jeremiah 10:10; Habakkuk 1:12; Habakkuk 3:6; Hebrews 13:8
  • 51. S Genesis 10:14

Footnotes 4

  • [a]. "Isaac" means "he laughs."
  • [b]. Or "seed"
  • [c]. Hebrew; Septuagint "the child"
  • [d]. "Beersheba" can mean "well of seven" and "well of the oath."

Chapter Summary


This chapter gives an account of the conception, birth, circumcision, and weaning of Isaac, Ge 21:1-8; of the mocking of Ishmael, and of the casting out of him and his mother from Abraham's house, at the request of Sarah, which, though grievous to Abraham, he complied with at the direction of God, Ge 21:9-13; of the provision Abraham made for their departure, and of the supply they met with in the wilderness from God, where Ishmael was brought up, and where he married, Ge 21:14-21; and of a covenant between Abraham and Abimelech, king of Gerar, Ge 21:22-32; and of Abraham's planting a grove, and calling on the name of the Lord, Ge 21:33; and the chapter is closed with this observation, that Abraham sojourned in the land of the Philistines many days, Ge 21:34.

Genesis 21 Commentaries

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