Genesis 21:9-21

And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, scoffing.

10 Therefore she said to Abraham, “Cast out this bondwoman and her son; for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, namely with Isaac.”

11 And the matter was very displeasing in Abraham’s sight because of his son.

12 But God said to Abraham, “Do not let it be displeasing in your sight because of the lad or because of your bondwoman. Whatever Sarah has said to you, listen to her voice; for in Isaac your seed shall be called.

13 Yet I will also make a nation of the son of the bondwoman, because he is your seed.”

14 So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water; and putting it on her shoulder, he gave it and the boy to Hagar, and sent her away. Then she departed and wandered in the Wilderness of Beersheba.

15 And the water in the skin was used up, and she placed the boy under one of the shrubs.

16 Then she went and sat down across from him at a distance of about a bowshot; for she said to herself, “Let me not see the death of the boy.” So she sat opposite him, and lifted her voice and wept.

17 And God heard the voice of the lad. Then the angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven, and said to her, “What ails you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is.

18 Arise, lift up the lad and hold him with your hand, for I will make him a great nation.”

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

20 So God was with the lad; and he grew and dwelt in the wilderness, and became an archer.

21 He dwelt in the Wilderness of Paran; and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt.

The Hebrew word for “child” [v. 14] (yeled), meaning one begotten or one born, was used for anyone up to young manhood (cp. same word translated “young man” in Genesis 4:23). Ishmael was now about fifteen years old (cp. Genesis 16:16; 21:5). —Scofield, page 31.

The effect of the birth of Isaac was to make manifest the character of Ishmael. Ishmael hated him, and so did his mother. Prompted by her he sought to murder Isaac (Galatians 4:29), and with his mother was justly expelled. Both merited the severer sentence of death. Thus the birth of Isaac which filled Sarah’s heart with mirth, filled Hagar’s with murder.

Isaac and Ishmael symbolize the new and the old natures in the believer. Sarah and Hagar typify the two covenants of works and grace, of bondage and liberty (Galatians 4). The birth of the new nature demands the expulsion of the old. It is impossible to improve the old nature. The Holy Spirit says in Romans 8:7, that “it is enmity against God, that it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be.” If therefore it cannot be subject to the law of God, how can it be improved? How foolish therefore appears the doctrine of moral evolution! The Divine way of holiness is to “put off the old man” just as Abraham “put off” Ishmael. Man’s way of holiness is to improve the “old man,” that is, to improve Ishmael. The effort is both foolish and hopeless. Of course the casting out of Ishmael was “very grievous in Abraham’s sight,” because it always costs a struggle to cast out this element of bondage, that is, salvation by works. For legalism is dear to the heart. Ishmael was the fruit, and to Abraham the fair fruit of his own energy and planning. But Hagar, the bondwoman, represents the covenant of the law, and that her son represents all who are of “works of law,” that is, of all who seek righteousness on the principle of works of righteousness. But the bondwoman cannot bring forth a free man! The Son alone makes free, and He makes free indeed. Sarah, the free-woman, symbolizes the covenant of grace and liberty. “So then, we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free” (Galatians 4:31).

The weaning of the son and heir of an Eastern chieftain is a great event. It oftentimes does not take place till the boy is upwards of 5 years of age. This is especially the case if the mother believes that he will be her only child. Eastern women are of the opinion that the longer they nourish a child the stronger he will be when a man. It is reasonable therefore to conclude that Isaac was sufficiently grown so as to make it possible for Ishmael to seek his life. The word “persecuted” in Galatians 4:29, is understood by some Greek scholars to imply murder, and Scripture confirms it (See Genesis 3:15, Romans 8:7).

At this feast the young chieftain is presented to the tribe in the special dress appropriate to him as heir and priest. It must therefore have become evident to Hagar, that her son was definitely displaced, and this fact no doubt engendered the anger which incited Ishmael’s action. Both mother and son merited death; the milder punishment of banishment was commanded by God; and it was in keeping with the custom of the time, directly a son reached 17 years of age, to send him forth to seek his own fortune. Because he was Abraham’s son God guarded his footsteps, heard his prayer (v. 17), and caused his mother to see a well.

The mighty words “in Isaac shall thy seed be called” are explained in Galatians 3:16, as referring to Christ.— Williams, pages 25-26.

Archaeology has revealed that there were numerous settlements at this time in the vicinity of what later was known as Beersheba, and it seems that Hagar and Ishmael set out in this direction. However, they lost their way. … God heard them, and the “angel of God” (the same divine personage, undoubtedly, the preincarnate Christ, who had come to Hagar’s help once before in the desert, before Ishmael was born) called to her out of heaven. He assured Hagar that He had heard their prayers and that, as He had promised long ago, He would take care of them and make Ishmael a great nation. 

It is more than coincidental that, in Genesis 16:7, this divine being is called “the angel of Jehovah.” Here He is called “the angel of Elohim.” The reason for the change is that Jehovah is God’s covenant name, and Hagar was in the first instance still under the roof and protection of Abraham. Now, however, she has become a “stranger to the covenant of promise” [Ephesians 2:12], and therefore the name of God which is used is the name associated with creation and power, rather than redemption. …

Apparently rather than going on to an uncertain reception in an unknown town, they decided to remain where God had met with them and promised to care for them, there in the “wilderness of Paran,” a desert region in what is now the Sinai peninsula. Hagar, in fact, became so identified with Mount Sinai that Paul could say “this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia” (Galatians 4:25). — Morris, pages 370-371.

Isaac proved, in principle, to be to the household of Abraham what the implantation of the new nature is in the soul of a sinner. It was not Ishmael changed, but it was Isaac born. The son of the bondwoman could never be anything else but that. He might become a great nation, he might dwell in the wilderness and become an archer, he might become the father of twelve princes, but he was the son of the bondwoman all the while. On the contrary, no matter how weak and despised Isaac might be, he was the son of the free-woman. His position and character, his standing and prospects, were all from the Lord. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:6). 

Regeneration is not a change of the old nature, but the introduction of a new;—it is the implantation of the nature or life of the Second Adam, by the operation of the Holy Ghost, founded upon the accomplish redemption of Christ, and in full keeping with the sovereign will or counsel of God. …

Nor does the introduction of this new nature alter, in the slightest degree, the true, essential character of the old. This latter continues what it was, and the full display of its evil character is in opposition to the new element. “The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary the one to the other” (Galatians 5:17).—Mackintosh, page 218-219.

The birth of Isaac did not improve Ishmael, but only brought out his real opposition to the child of promise. He might have gone on very quietly and orderly till Isaac made his appearance; but then he showed what he was by persecuting and mocking at the child of resurrection. What then was the remedy? To make Ishmael better? By no means; but, “Cast out this bondwoman and her son; for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac.” — Mackintosh, pages 220-221.

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