Isaac, son of the seniors
It’s a boy1The LORD remembered what he said to Sarah, and he did what he said he would do. 2Sarah got pregnant. Her husband Abraham was an old man, but she gave him a son anyhow. Sarah gave birth exactly when God said she would. 3Abraham named the son Sarah gave him. He called the boy Isaac. 4When Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him—just as God had told him to do.
5Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born. 6Sarah said, “God has brought laughter into my life. Everyone who hears about the birth of my son will laugh with me. 7Who would have had the nerve to tell my husband that his 90-year-old wife would breastfeed a baby? Yet I have given my 100-year-old husband a son.”
Goodbye Hagar and Ishmael8When Isaac was old enough to eat solid food, Abraham celebrated with a big meal. 9Sarah noticed Ishmael playing. The boy was Abraham’s oldest son, born to Hagar, Sarah’s Egyptian slave. 10Sarah pulled Abraham aside and said, “Let’s get rid of this slave and her son. I don’t want her son taking any of the family inheritance from my son Isaac.”
11Sarah’s request rattled Abraham. It troubled him deeply. 12God offered advice to Abraham—and a promise: “Don’t worry about the boy with the slave woman. Do whatever Sarah wants. The nation that will one day call you their father will come from Isaac. 13But the son of the slave woman is your child, too. Because of that, his descendants will become a nation, as well.”
14Abraham got up early the next morning. He put together some supplies: bread and a goatskin bag of water. He loaded it all on Hagar’s shoulder. Then he brought Ishmael to her and he sent both of them on their way. Hagar wandered aimlessly into the desolate badlands near Beersheba.
15When Hagar and her son finished the last of their water, Hagar sat her boy in the shade of a bush. 16She walked away—about as far as a bowman could shoot an arrow. Hagar sat down and cried, “Don’t make me watch my son die.” Then she sobbed. 17Ishmael was crying, too. God heard him. God’s angel spoke from heaven, “What’s wrong, Hagar? Don’t be afraid. God has heard the voice of your son. 18Get up. Go and get the boy up, too. Hold his hand and comfort him with this promise: I am going to make his descendants into a great nation.”
19God helped Hagar find a well. She filled her goatskin bag with water and gave her son a drink. 20God was always there for the boy. Ishmael grew up to become an expert archer. 21He lived in the badlands and fields of an area called Paran, south of Canaan. His mom got him a wife from Egypt.
Abraham’s peace treaty with Abimelech22Abimelech came to visit Abraham. He brought Phicol, his top general. Abimelech told Abraham, “It’s obvious God is helping you with everything you do. 23I want you to make a promise to me. Now remember, God is a witness to what you are about to say. I want you to promise that you will never treat me or my descendants in an underhanded or treacherous way. Instead, I want you to promise that you will treat us with the same kind of loyalty and kindness I have shown you while you have lived here as an immigrant.”
24Abraham said, “I promise to do just that.” 25But Abraham had a complaint to lodge. Abimelech’s servants had taken one of Abraham’s wells.
26Abimelech said, “I have no idea who did this to you. This is the first time I’m hearing about it.” 27Abraham gave Abimelech some sheep and cattle to seal their peace treaty. 28Abraham brought Abimelech seven additional female lambs. 29Abimelech asked Abraham, “What’s going on? Why the seven lambs?” 30Abraham said, “Please accept these in recognition that the disputed well belongs to me—that I dug it.”
31Abraham named the area Beersheba because that’s where they agreed on a peace treaty. 32After making this agreement, Abimelech and Phicol the commander of his army returned home to where the Philistines lived.  33Abraham planted a tree in Beersheba—a tamarisk tree. Then he worshiped the LORD, the eternal God. 34Abraham lived for a long time as an immigrant in Philistine territory.
Hebrew: “he laughs.”
Or teasing, presumably Isaac. Ancient versions vary a little on this detail.
It was custom for the oldest son to get a double cut of the estate—twice as much of the inheritance as any other son.
Hebrew: “Well of the Treaty.”
Along what is now Israel’s Mediterranean coast and the Gaza Strip.
Ninety-year-old Sarah gets pregnant and delivers a baby boy, just as God or perhaps an angel had predicted a year earlier: “I’m coming back this time next year. By then Sarah will have a son” (18:10). Abraham named the boy “Isaac” (21:3), which in the original Hebrew language of Genesis means “he laughs.” What makes you think the name might be especially appropriate?
An ancient custom in the Middle East was to give the oldest son a double share of the inheritance. This would mean Ishmael, Abraham’s first son, would inherit twice as much as Isaac. What would you guess might be some of the reasons behind a tradition like that, which seems unfair to us today—especially for those of us who have older brothers?
When Abraham and Sarah throw a party to celebrate that Isaac has been weaned from breast milk, it looks as though Ishmael may have started teasing his little brother. Sarah asks Abraham to send Ishmael and his mother away, for good. Let’s say you had to argue the case that Ishmael’s teasing of Isaac wasn’t the problem for Sarah, but that it was merely an opportunity Sarah took advantage of to get what she wanted. What do you think she may have wanted, which may include things not even mentioned in the story?
Abraham is stunned when Sarah asks him to abandon Hagar and Ishmael. What is stunning to many readers today is that God tells Abraham to go ahead and do what Sarah asks. What do you think of a God like that?
Many Arabs consider themselves descendants of Ishmael, while Jews consider themselves descendants of Isaac. Some Christians don’t seem to consider the descendants of Ishmael as blessed of God. But the Genesis writer says God did promise “I am going to make his descendants into a great nation” (21:18). Do you think Christians need an attitude adjustment about that—why or why not?
LIFE APPLICATION. The southern part of what is now Israel, which is where Abraham settled, is a pretty dry area. Herders would dig wells to water their livestock, but sometimes other herders took the wells away from them. Abraham had a complaint like that for King Abimelech: “Some of your servants have taken over one of my wells” (21:25 Contemporary English Version). Can you think of examples of people today doing similar things—not stealing wells, but taking something that belongs to someone else and getting away with it? In those examples, if we followed the technique Abraham used to settle his dispute, how could we settle those similar disputes today?
LIFE APPLICATION. When Hagar thought she was about to die, God showed up with exactly what she needed: water in the desert. When have you seen God do something like that for someone you know?