Genesis 21

The Word Made Fresh

1The LORD said that Sarah would have a child and she did. 2Sarah became pregnant and gave birth to a son for Abraham in his old age at just the time of year God had told them. 3Abraham named the boy Isaac 4and circumcised his son on the eighth day as God had commanded. 5Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born. 6Sarah said, “God has brought me joy, and everyone who hears about this will have a good laugh with me. 7After all, who could ever have told Abraham that Sarah would nurse a child, but here he is; I have given him a son in his old age.”

8Isaac grew and in due time was weaned and Abraham threw a big party on that day. 9But Sarah saw the son that Abraham had with Hagar the Egyptian toying with her son Isaac, 10and she told Abraham, “Throw that slave woman out with her boy. The son of a slave woman can never share the inheritance with my son Isaac.”

11Abraham was not happy, 12but God said to him, “Don’t be upset over your slave woman’s boy. Do what Sarah wants you to do. Your lineage will be traced through Isaac. 13As for Hagar’s son, I will make him the ancestor of his own clan because he is your son, too.”

14So, early the next morning Abraham gave Hagar bread and a goatskin of water and balanced it on her shoulder and sent her away along with her son. So she left and wandered around the wilderness near Beer-sheba. 15When the water in the goatskin was all gone she put her son under the shade of a bush, 16but she went about a bowshot further and sat down facing away because she did not want to see her son dying. She began to weep.

17God heard the boy cry out, and God’s angel called to Hagar from above. “Why do you weep, Hagar? Don’t be afraid. God has heard the boy’s cry. 18Go comfort the boy and hold him close. I am going to make him the father of a large family.” 19Then God showed her where there was a source of water and she filled the goatskin and gave some to the boy.

20God was with Hagar’s son. He grew up in the wilderness and became an expert hunter with the bow. 21He settled in the Paran wilderness, and his mother got an Egyptian wife for him.

22About that time Abimelech and his army general Phicol came to Abraham and said, “God is in everything you do. 23Swear to me by God that you will not engage in any false dealings with me or my children or my descendants. Deal fairly with me as I have dealt fairly with you. And deal fairly with the people of the land where you are living as a foreigner.” 24Abraham agreed.

25Then Abraham complained about a well that Abimelech’s servants had seized. 26Abimelech said, “I don’t know who did this. You haven’t mentioned it, and this is the first time I’ve heard about it.” 27So Abraham gave him sheep and oxen and they made a treaty together. 28Then Abraham separated seven female lambs from the flock. 29Abimelech said, “What are these for?” 30Abraham said, “Accept these seven ewes and certify that I dug this well.” 31That is why the place is called Beer-sheba, “Well of Seven,” and they swore to the agreement they had made.

32After that Abimelech and his general, Phicol, left and returned to Philistine territory. 33Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beer-sheba and called on the name of the LORD Everlasting. 34He lived as a foreigner in the land of the Philistines for many days.


1-7: Finally! Sarah has her baby, 100-year-old Abraham names him Isaac, and everybody has a big laugh.

8-14: Sarah, however, has never forgotten Hagar’s indignant behavior when she was pregnant with Ishmael. They throw a big party when Isaac was weaned and she sees Ishmael playing with Isaac and is suddenly afraid that Abraham’s great wealth might actually be divided between them. Perish the thought! Nothing would do but that Hagar and Ishmael be banished. Abraham does not like the idea, but God lets him know that Isaac will be the chosen heir and he should do as Sarah asks. Remember that Hagar became pregnant at Sarah’s bidding soon after God had promised Abram he would have many descendants (15:5). Ishmael’s birth was never God’s idea in the first place — it was Sarai’s and Abram’s way of claiming God’s promise of offspring for Abram.

15-19: Hagar runs out of water and decides to give up. She puts Ishmael under a bush and leaves him to die. Ishmael is at least 14 years old, for Abraham was 86 when he was born (16:16) and 100 when Isaac was born (21:5). Hagar begins to weep, and the boy begins to cry, and then we are told that God hears Ishmael’s voice. God’s angel calls out to Hagar, informs her that her son’s cry has been heard and promises her that they will survive and that her son will be the ancestor of many. She is made aware of a spring nearby where she replenishes her supply of water. This is of course Hagar’s second experience with a messenger of God in the desert, the first being when she was pregnant with Ishmael (see 16:7-15).

20-21: Ishmael matures and thrives. Hagar finds an Egyptian wife. After all, Hagar herself is Egyptian (see 16:1).

22-24: Abimelech of Gerar, who had almost bedded Sarah in the last chapter, comes and makes a military pact with Abraham. Abraham, you will recall, has a rather formidable bodyguard of 318 men (see 14:14).

25-34: Now we get to see that the pact was successful. A dispute arises over the ownership of a well of water — Beersheba, the very well that saved Hagar (verse 14) — and Abraham complains to Abimelech. Abimelech claims ignorance about the dispute, but then accepts the payment Abraham offers as title to the property.

This is the first place in the Bible that mentions “the land of the Philistines.” The Philistines themselves were mentioned in 10:14 as being descended from Ham, Egypt, and Caphtor, but their territory was not identified. Now we learn that their territory is in the coastal plain of Canaan, and there will be interactions with Abraham and Isaac, and of course with Israel much later. In Genesis, at least, the relationships with the Philistines are profitable for the most part. Abraham lived there “many days.”


We have learned now that God is also gracious to those outside the covenant. Ishmael and Hagar and later Esau will live under God’s protection and help.