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Bible: What Does Genesis 20-21 Teach Us About Abraham, Abimelech, and Ishmael?

Updated on September 8, 2016

Abimelech Rebukes Abraham

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A Warning to the King


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Abraham and Abimelech

The story of Abraham now resumes, as he journeys from “there”—where he stood before the LORD—south to Gerar where he entangles himself in the same lie he told in Egypt (vv. 1-2; cf. Gen. 18:22; 19:27;12:13).

God again steps into a situation threatening one of His children.

He appears in a dream to King Abimelech, the man who had taken Sarah, and promises to put this king to death if he did not return her to her husband (v. 3).

Claiming rightly that both Abraham and Sarah deceived him, Abimelech pleads innocence of any wrongdoing (vv. 4-5).

In the same dream God acknowledges Abimelech’s integrity in the matter, but also points out that He prevented the king from sinning against Him (v. 6).

The LORD gives Abimelech a choice: restore the woman, and He will heal him through the “prophet” Abraham’s intercession, or decide to keep her and meet certain, immediate death (v. 7).

After informing his servants of Abraham’s deception and God’s ultimatum, Abimelech confronts the patriarch with his unrighteous deeds, and asks him why he had done this wrong (vv. 8-10).

Abraham’s explanation seems plausible: he fibs about Sarah every place he goes to protect himself from the daggers of unbelievers (v. 11, 13).

On the other hand, Abraham also contends that Sarah really is his sister, being the daughter of his father Terah (v. 12).

[Would that make her his half-sister?]

In addition to restoring Sarah to him, Abimelech graciously gives Abraham much property, grants him permission to settle anywhere he desires in his land, and pays Sarah’s “brother” one thousand pieces of silver "vindicates" her before everybody (vv. 14-16).

[The narrative indicates that this payment "rebuked" Sarah; somehow, it showed that Abimelech was not the guilty party in this matter by figuratively providing "a covering of the eyes."]

As for Abraham’s part in the reconciliation, he prays that God would heal Abimelech and his house; because of the king’s involvement with Sarah, the LORD had prevented the king’s wife from conceiving children (vv. 17-18).

Ishmael and Hagar Survive

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Ishmael's Age at His Expulsion


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Family Squabbles

Genesis 21

In fulfillment of His promise, Yahweh “visits” Sarah who conceives and bears a son for her one hundred year-old husband.

Abraham calls the boy Isaac, and circumcises the lad on the eighth day (vv. 1-5).

Sarah rejoices with great laughter—another take-off on Isaac’s name—and wonders at the unusual birth (vv. 6-7).

On the day Sarah fully weans Isaac, Abraham throws him a party.

She sees Ishmael “laughing” (scoffing, NKJV), and demands that Abraham throw both the boy and his mother out on their ears.

This prospect causes Father Abraham much grief (vv. 8-11; cf. Gal. 4:21-31 for the allegory Paul employs to distinguish the children of the bondwoman from those of the free woman), but God comforts the old man, telling him to listen to Sarah.

The LORD assures him that He will bless both boys, but He also asserts that Isaac is the son of the promise (vv. 12-13).

On the next day, Abraham sends Hagar and Ishmael into the Wilderness of Beersheba with only bread and water (v. 14).

[Why did Abraham not supply them with more food to sustain them?]

Over the course of a few days, the lonely wanderers finish the water.

Ishmael (now about fifteen years old) must have been very ill, for Hagar places him under a tree shrub not wishing to see him die (vv. 15-16).

Both cry out to the LORD, but only the boy receives a response from Him (v. 17).

Displeased with Hagar because she did not believe that He would make Ishmael a great nation, God still instructs her to return to the boy (v. 18; cf. 16:10ff).

[The textual language intimates that Ishmael is younger than he actually is; he is perhaps fifteen (cf. 17:25; 21:8)].

Seeing a well, Hagar gives Ishmael a drink from it and the boy survives.

Ishmael grows up as an archer in the wilderness of Paran, and later marries an Egyptian woman (vv. 19-21).

Beersheba

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Abraham Covenants with Abimelech

The narrator now resumes the story of Abraham, reporting about his covenant with Abimelech who asks the patriarch to live by the “Golden Rule” (vv. 22-24).

It is strange that immediately after agreeing to treat Abimelech “according to the kindness that I [Abimelech] have done to you,” Abraham rebukes him because his servants had seized a well (v. 25).

Abimelech, however, has no knowledge of this transgression (v. 26).

After giving Abimelech some livestock to seal the covenant, Abraham sets seven ewe lambs by themselves as a witness to his friend that the well belongs to the patriarch (vv. 27-30).

They make the treaty at Beersheba, and Abimelech returns to the land of the Philistines with Phichol, the commander of his army (vv. 31-32).

Abraham plants a tamarisk tree in Beersheba, calls on “the LORD, the everlasting God,” and resides a long time in the land of the Philistines (vv. 33-34; cf. 12:8; 13:4; 26:25).

© 2013 glynch1

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