Ishmael was a child of favor, then, like many of us, his life took an unexpected turn.
When Sarah, the wife of Abraham, found herself barren, she encouraged her husband to sleep with her maid servant, Hagar, to produce an heir. This was a pagan custom of the tribes around them, but it was not God's way.
Abraham was 86 years old when Ishmael was born of that union. Ishmael means "God hears," because God heard Hagar's prayers. But 13 years later, Sarah did give birth, through a miracle of God, to Isaac. Suddenly, through no fault of his own, Ishmael was no longer the heir. During the time Sarah had been barren, Hagar flaunted her child. When Isaac was weaned, Ishmael mocked his half-brother. Angered, Sarah told Abraham to cast the two out.
God, however, did not abandon Hagar and her child. They were stranded in the desert of Beersheba, dying from thirst. An angel of the Lord came to Hagar, showed her a well, and they were saved.
Hagar later found an Egyptian wife for Ishmael and he fathered 12 sons, just as Isaac's son Jacob would. Two generations later, God used the descendants of Ishmael to save the Jewish nation. Isaac's grandsons sold their brother Joseph into slavery to Ishmaelite traders. They took Joseph to Egypt and sold him again. Joseph eventually rose to become second in command of the entire country and saved his father and brothers during a great famine.