Genesis 21


Isaac is born according to the promise, 1-3;

and is circumcised when eight days old, 4.

Abraham's age, and Sarah's exultation at the birth of their son, 5-7.

Isaac is weaned, 8.

Ishmael mocking on the occasion, Sarah requires that both he and his

mother Hagar shall be dismissed, 9, 10.

Abraham, distressed on the account, is ordered by the Lord to

comply, 11, 12.

The promise renewed to Ishmael, 13.

Abraham dismisses Hagar and her son, who go to the wilderness of

Beer-sheba, 14.

They are greatly distressed for want of water, 15, 16.

An angel of God appears to and relieves them, 17-19.

Ishmael prospers and is married, 20, 21.

Abimelech, and Phichol his chief captain, make a covenant with

Abraham, and surrender the well of Beersheba for seven ewe

lambs, 22-32.

Abraham plants a grove, and invokes the name of the everlasting

God, 33.


Verse 1. The Lord visited Sarah] That is, God fulfilled his

promise to Sarah by giving her, at the advanced age of ninety,

power to conceive and bring forth a son.

Verse 3. Isaac.] See the reason and interpretation of this name

in Clarke's note on "Ge 17:7".

Verse 4. And Abraham circumcised his son]

See Clarke on Ge 17:10, &c.

Verse 6. God hath made me to laugh] Sarah alludes here to the

circumstance mentioned Ge 18:12; and as she seems to use the word

to laugh in this place, not in the sense of being incredulous but

to express such pleasure or happiness as almost suspends the

reasoning faculty for a time, it justifies the observation on the

above-named verse. See a similar case in Lu 24:41, where the

disciples were so overcome with the good news of our Lord's

resurrection, that it is said, They believed not for joy.

Verse 8. The child grew and was weaned] [-----Anglo-Saxon-----].

Anglo-Saxon VERSION. Now the child waxed and became weaned. We

have the verb to wean from the Anglo-Saxon [A.S.] awendan, to

convert, transfer, turn from one thing to another, which is the

exact import of the Hebrew word gamal in the text. Hence

[A.S.] wenan, to wean, to turn the child from the breast to

receive another kind of ailment. And hence, probably, the word

WEAN, a young child, which is still in use in the northern parts

of Great Britain and Ireland, and which from its etymology seems

to signify a child taken from the breast; surely not from the

Scotch wee-ane, a little one, much less from the German wenig,

little, as Dr. Johnson and others would derive it. At what time

children were weaned among the ancients, is a disputed point. St.

Jerome says there were two opinions on this subject. Some hold

that children were always weaned at five years of age; others,

that they were not weaned till they were twelve. From the speech

of the mother to her son, 2Mac 7:27, it seems likely that among

the Jews they were weaned when three years old: O my son, have

pity upon me that bare thee nine months in my womb, and gave thee

SUCK THREE YEARS, and nourished thee and brought thee up. And

this is farther strengthened by 2Ch 31:16, where Hezekiah, in

making provision for the Levites and priests, includes the

children from three years old and upwards; which is a

presumptive proof that previously to this age they were wholly

dependent on the mother for their nourishment. Samuel appears to

have been brought to the sanctuary when he was just weaned, and

then he was capable of ministering before the Lord, 1Sa 1:22-28;

and this certainly could not be before he was three years of age.

The term among the Mohammedans is fixed by the Koran, chap. xxxi.

14, at two years of age.

Verse 9. Mocking.] What was implied in this mocking is not

known. St. Paul, Ga 4:29, calls it

persecuting; but it is likely he meant no more than some species

of ridicule used by Ishmael on the occasion, and probably with

respect to the age of Sarah at Isaac's birth, and her previous

barrenness. Jonathan ben Uzziel and the Jerusalem Targum

represent Ishmael as performing some idolatrous rite on the

occasion, and that this had given the offence to Sarah.

Conjectures are as useless as they are endless. Whatever it was,

it became the occasion of the expulsion of himself and mother.

Several authors are of opinion that the Egyptian bondage of four

hundred years, mentioned Ge 15:13, commenced with this

persecution of the righteous seed by the son of an Egyptian woman.

Verse 10. Cast out this bondwoman and her son] Both Sarah and

Abraham have been accused of cruelty in this transaction, because

every word reads harsh to us. Cast out; garash signifies not

only to thrust out, drive away, and expel, but also to divorce;

(see Le 21:7;) and it is in this latter sense the word should

be understood here. The child of Abraham by Hagar might be

considered as having a right at least to a part of the

inheritance; and as it was sufficiently known to Sarah that God

had designed that the succession should be established in the line

of Isaac, she wished Abraham to divorce Hagar, or to perform some

sort of legal act by which Ishmael might be excluded from all

claim on the inheritance.

Verse 12. In Isaac shall thy seed be called.] Here God shows the

propriety of attending to the counsel of Sarah; and lest Abraham,

in whose eyes the thing was grievous, should feel distressed on

the occasion, God renews his promises to Ishmael and his


Verse 14. Took bread, and a bottle] By the word bread we are to

understand the food or provisions which were necessary for her and

Ishmael, till they should come to the place of their destination;

which, no doubt, Abraham particularly pointed out. The bottle,

which was made of skin, ordinarily a goat's skin, contained water

sufficient to last them till they should come to the next well;

which, it is likely, Abraham particularly specified also. This

well, it appears, Hagar missed, and therefore wandered about in

the wilderness seeking more water, till all she had brought with

her was expended. We may therefore safely presume that she and

her son were sufficiently provided for their journey, had they not

missed their way. Travellers in those countries take only, to the

present day, provisions sufficient to carry them to the next

village or encampment; and water to supply them till they shall

meet with the next well. What adds to the appearance of cruelty

in this case is, that our translation seems to represent Ishmael

as being a young child; and that Hagar was obliged to carry him,

the bread, and the bottle of water on her back or shoulder at the

same time. But that Ishmael could not be carried on his mother's

shoulder will be sufficiently evident when his age is considered;

Ishmael was born when Abraham was eighty-six years of age,

Ge 16:16; Isaac was born when he was one hundred years of age,

Ge 21:5; hence Ishmael was fourteen years old at the birth of

Isaac. Add to this the age of Isaac when he was weaned, which,

from Ge 21:8,

(See Clarke on Ge 21:8)

was probably three, and we shall find that Ishmael was at the time

of his leaving Abraham not less than seventeen years old; an age

which, in those primitive times, a young man was able to gain his

livelihood, either by his bow in the wilderness, or by keeping

flocks as Jacob did.

Verse 15. And she cast the child] vattashlech eth

haiyeled, and she sent the lad under one of the shrubs, viz., to

screen him from the intensity of the heat. Here Ishmael appears

to be utterly helpless, and this circumstance seems farther to

confirm the opinion that he was now in a state of infancy; but the

preceding observations do this supposition entirely away, and his

present helplessness will be easily accounted for on this ground:

1. Young persons can bear much less fatigue than those who are

arrived at mature age. 2. They require much more fluid from the

greater quantum of heat in their bodies, strongly marked by the

impetuosity of the blood; because from them a much larger quantity

of the fluids is thrown off by sweat and insensible perspiration,

than from grown up or aged persons. 3. Their digestion is much

more rapid, and hence they cannot bear hunger and thirst as well

as the others. On these grounds Ishmael must be much more

exhausted with fatigue than his mother.

Verse 19. God opened her eyes] These words appear to me to mean

no more than that God directed her to a well, which probably was

at no great distance from the place in which she then was; and

therefore she is commanded, Ge 21:18, to

support the lad, literally, to make her hand strong in his

behalf-namely, that he might reach the well and quench his thirst.

Verse 20. Became an archer.] And by his skill in this art,

under the continual superintendence of the Divine Providence, (for

God was with the lad,) he was undoubtedly enabled to procure a

sufficient supply for his own wants and those of his parent.

Verse 21. He dwelt in the wilderness of Paran] This is

generally allowed to have been a part of the desert belonging to

Arabia Petraea, in the vicinity of Mount Sinai; and this seems to

be its uniform meaning in the sacred writings.

Verse 22. At that time] This may either refer to the

transactions recorded in the preceding chapter, or to the time of

Ishmael's marriage, but most probably to the former.

God is with thee] melmera daiya, the WORD of

Jehovah; see before, Ge 15:1. That the Chaldee paraphrasts use

this term, not for a word spoken, but in the same sense in which

St. John uses the λογοςτουθεου, the WORD of God, Joh 1:1,

must be evident to every unprejudiced reader. See Clarke on Ge 15:1.

Verse 23. Now therefore swear unto me] The oath on such

occasions probably meant no more than the mutual promise of both

the parties, when they slew an animal, poured out the blood as a

sacrifice to God, and then passed between the pieces. See this

ceremony, Ge 15:18, and on Ge 15:9, 10.

According to the kindness that I have done] The simple claims

of justice were alone set up among virtuous people in those

ancient times, which constitute the basis of the famous lex

talionis, or law of like for like, kind office for kind office,

and breach for breach.

Verse 25. Abraham reproved Abimelech] Wells were of great

consequence in those hot countries, and especially where the

flocks were numerous, because the water was scarce, and digging to

find it was accompanied with much expense of time and labour.

Verse 26. I wot not who hath done this thing] The servants of

Abimelech had committed these depredations on Abraham without any

authority from their master, who appears to have been a very

amiable man, possessing the fear of God, and ever regulating the

whole of his conduct by the principles of righteousness and strict


Verse 27. Took sheep and oxen] Some think that these were the

sacrifices which were offered on the occasion, and which Abraham

furnished at his own cost, and, in order to do Abimelech the

greater honour, gave them to him to offer before the Lord.

Verse 28. Seven ewe lambs] These were either given as a

present, or they were intended as the price of the well; and

being accepted by Abimelech, they served as a witness that he had

acknowledged Abraham's right to the well in question.

Verse 31. He called that place Beer-sheba] Beer-shaba,

literally, the well of swearing or of the oath, because they both

sware there-mutually confirmed the covenant.

Verse 33. Abraham planted a grove] The original word eshel

has been variously translated a grove, a plantation, an orchard,

a cultivated field, and an oak. From this word, says Mr.

Parkhurst, may be derived the name of the famous asylum, opened by

Romulus between two groves of oaks at Rome; (μεθοριονδυοιν

δρυμως, Dionys. Hal., lib. ii. c. 16:) and as Abraham,

Ge 21:33, agreeably, no doubt, to the institutes of the

patriarchal religion, planted an oak in Beer-sheba, and called on

the name of Jehovah, the everlasting God, (compare Ge 12:8; 18:1,)

so we find that oaks were sacred among the idolaters also. Ye

shall be ashamed of the OAKS ye have chosen, says Isaiah,

Isa 1:29, to the idolatrous Israelites. And in

Greece we meet in very early times with the oracle of Jupiter at

the oaks of Dodona. Among the Greeks and Romans we have sacra

Jovi quercus, the oak sacred to Jupiter, even to a proverb. And in

Gaul and Britain we find the highest religious regard paid to the

same tree and to its misletoe, under the direction of the Druids,

that is, the oak prophets or priests, from the Celtic deru, and

Greek δρυς, an oak. Few are ignorant that the misletoe is indeed

a very extraordinary plant, not to be cultivated in the earth, but

always growing on some other tree. "The druids," says Pliny, Nat.

Hist., lib. xvii., c. 44, "hold nothing more sacred than the

misletoe, and the tree on which it is produced, provided it be

the oak. They make choice of groves of oak on this account, nor

do they perform any of their sacred rites without the leaves of

those trees; so that one may suppose that they are for this reason

called, by a Greek etymology, Druids. And whatever misletoe grows

on the oak they think is sent from heaven, and is a sign that God

himself has chosen that tree. This however is very rarely found,

but when discovered is treated with great ceremony. They call it

by a name which signifies in their language the curer of all ills;

and having duly prepared their feasts and sacrifices under the

tree, they bring to it two white bulls, whose horns are then for

the first time tied; the priest, dressed in a white robe, ascends

the tree, and with a golden pruning hook cuts off the misletoe,

which is received into a white sagum or sheet. Then they

sacrifice the victims, praying that God would bless his own gift

to those on whom he has bestowed it." It is impossible for a

Christian to read this account without thinking of HIM who was

the desire of all nations, of the man whose name was the BRANCH,

who had indeed no father upon earth, but came down from heaven,

was given to heal all our ills, and, after being cut off through

the Divine counsel, was wrapped in fine linen and laid in the

sepulchre for our sakes. I cannot forbear adding that the

misletoe was a sacred emblem to other Celtic nations, as, for

instance, to the ancient inhabitants of Italy. The golden branch,

of which Virgil speaks so largely in the sixth book of the AEneis,

and without which, he says, none could return from the infernal

regions, (see line 126,) seems an allusion to the misletoe, as he

himself plainly intimates by comparing it to that plant, line 205,

&c. See Parkhurst, under the word eshel.

In the first ages of the world the worship of God was

exceedingly simple; there were no temples nor covered edifices of

any kind; an altar, sometimes a single stone, sometimes consisting

of several, and at other times merely of turf, was all that was

necessary; on this the fire was lighted and the sacrifice offered.

Any place was equally proper, as they knew that the object of

their worship filled the heavens and the earth. In process of

time when families increased, and many sacrifices were to be

offered, groves or shady places were chosen, where the worshippers

might enjoy the protection of the shade, as a considerable time

must be employed in offering many sacrifices. These groves became

afterwards abused to impure and idolatrous purposes, and were

therefore strictly forbidden. See Ex 34:13; De 12:3; 16:21.

And called there on the name of the Lord] On this important

passage Dr. Shuckford speaks thus: "Our English translation very

erroneously renders this place, he called upon the name of

Jehovah; but the expression kara beshem never

signifies to call upon the name; kara shem would

signify to invoke or call upon the name, or kara

el shem would signify to cry unto the name; but kara

beshem signifies to invoke IN the name, and seems to be used

where the true worshippers of God offered their prayers in the

name of the true Mediator, or where the idolaters offered their

prayers in the name of false ones, 1Ki 18:26; for as the true

worshippers had but one God and one Lord, so the false worshippers

had gods many and lords many, 1Co 8:5. We have several instances

of kara, and a noun after it, sometimes with and sometimes

without the particle el, and then it signifies to call

upon the person there mentioned; thus, kara Yehovah is to

call upon the Lord, Ps 14:4; 17:6; 31:17; 53:4; 118:5, &c.; and

kara el Yehovah imports the same, 1Sa 12:17;

Jon 1:6, &c.;

but kara beshem is either to name BY the name,

Ge 4:17; Nu 32:42; Ps 49:11; Isa 43:7; or to

invoke IN the name, when it is used as an expression of

religious worship." CONNEX. vol. i., p. 293. I believe this to be

a just view of the subject, and therefore I admit it without


The everlasting God.] Yehovah el olam, JEHOVAH,

the STRONG GOD, the ETERNAL ONE. This is the first place in

Scripture in which olam occurs as an attribute of God, and

here it is evidently designed to point out his eternal duration;

that it can mean no limited time is self-evident, because nothing

of this kind can be attributed to God. The Septuagint render the

words θεοσαιωνιος, the ever-existing God; and the Vulgate has

Invocavit ibi nomen Do mini, Dei aeterni, There he invoked the

name of the Lord, the eternal God. The Arabic is nearly the same.

From this application of both the Hebrew and Greek words we learn

that olam and αιων aion originally signified ETERNAL,

or duration without end. alam signifies he was hidden,

concealed, or kept secret; and αιων, according to Aristotle,

(De Caelo, lib. i., chap. 9, and a higher authority need not be

sought,) is compounded of αει, always, and ων, being, αιων

εστιςαποτουαειειναι. The same author informs us that God was

termed Aisa, because he was always existing, λεγεσθαιαισαςδε

αειουσαν. De Mundo, chap. xi., in fine. Hence we see that no

words can more forcibly express the grand characteristics of

eternity than these. It is that duration which is concealed,

hidden, or kept secret from all created beings; which is always

existing, still running ON but never running OUT; an

interminable, incessant, and immeasurable duration; it is THAT, in

the whole of which God alone can be said to exist, and that which

the eternal mind can alone comprehend.

In all languages words have, in process of time, deviated from

their original acceptations, and have become accommodated to

particular purposes, and limited to particular meanings. This has

happened both to the Hebrew alam, and the Greek αιων; they

have been both used to express a limited time, but in general a

time the limits of which are unknown; and thus a pointed reference

to the original ideal meaning is still kept up. Those who bring

any of these terms in an accommodated sense to favour a particular

doctrine, &c., must depend on the good graces of their opponents

for permission to use them in this way. For as the real

grammatical meaning of both words is eternal, and all other

meanings are only accommodated ones, sound criticism, in all

matters of dispute concerning the import of a word or term, must

have recourse to the grammatical meaning, and its use among the

earliest and most correct writers in the language, and will

determine all accommodated meanings by this alone. Now the first

and best writers in both these languages apply olam and αιων to

express eternal, in the proper meaning of that word; and this is

their proper meaning in the Old and New Testaments when applied to

God, his attributes, his operations taken in connection with the

ends for which he performs them, for whatsoever he doth, it

shall be for ever- yihyeh leolam, it shall be for

eternity, Ec 3:14;

forms and appearances of created things may change, but the

counsels and purposes of God relative to them are permanent and

eternal, and none of them can be frustrated; hence the words, when

applied to things which from their nature must have a limited

duration, are properly to be understood in this sense, because

those things, though temporal in themselves, shadow forth things

that are eternal. Thus the Jewish dispensation, which in the

whole and in its parts is frequently said to be leolam, for

ever, and which has terminated in the Christian dispensation, has

the word properly applied to it, because it typified and

introduced that dispensation which is to continue not only while

time shall last, but is to have its incessant accumulating

consummation throughout eternity. The word is, with the same

strict propriety, applied to the duration of the rewards and

punishments in a future state. And the argument that pretends to

prove (and it is only pretension) that in the future punishment of

the wicked "the worm shall die," and "the fire "shall be

quenched," will apply as forcibly to the state of happy spirits,

and as fully prove that a point in eternity shall arrive when the

repose of the righteous shall be interrupted, and the

glorification of the children of God have an eternal end!

See Clarke on Ge 17:7; "Ge 17:8".

1. FAITHFULNESS is one of the attributes of God, and none of

his promises can fall. According to the promise to Abraham, Isaac

is born; but according to the course of nature it fully appears

that both Abraham and Sarah had passed that term of life in which

it was possible for them to have children. Isaac is the child of

the promise, and the promise is supernatural. Ishmael is born

according to the ordinary course of nature, and cannot inherit,

because the inheritance is spiritual, and cannot come by natural

birth; hence we see that no man can expect to enter into the

kingdom of God by birth, education, profession of the true faith,

&c., &c. Those alone who are born from above, and are made

partakers of the Divine nature, can be admitted into the family

of God in heaven, and everlastingly enjoy that glorious

inheritance. Reader, art thou born again? Hath God changed thy

heart and thy life? If not, canst thou suppose that in thy

present state thou canst possibly enter into the paradise of God?

I leave thy conscience to answer.

2. The actions of good men may be misrepresented, and their

motives suspected, because those motives are not known; and those

who are prone to think evil are the last to take any trouble to

inform their minds, so that they may judge righteous judgment.

Abraham, in the dismissal of Hagar and Ishmael, has been accused

of cruelty. Though objections of this kind have been answered

already, yet it may not be amiss farther to observe that what he

did he did in conformity to a Divine command, and a command so

unequivocally given that he could not doubt its Divine origin; and

this very command was accompanied with a promise that both the

child and his mother should be taken under the Divine protection.

And it was so; nor does it appear that they lacked any thing but

water, and that only for a short time, after which it was

miraculously supplied. God will work a miracle when necessary,

and never till then; and at such a time the Divine interposition

can be easily ascertained, and man is under no temptation to

attribute to second causes what has so evidently flowed from the

first. Thus, while he is promoting his creatures' good, he is

securing his own glory; and he brings men into straits and

difficulties, that he may have the fuller opportunity to convince

his followers of his providential care, and to prove how much he

loves them.

3. Did we acknowledge God in all our ways, he would direct our

steps. Abimelech, king of Gerar, and Phichol, captain of his

host, seeing Abraham a worshipper of the true God, made him swear

by the object of his worship that there should be a lasting peace

between them and him; for as they saw that God was with Abraham,

they well knew that he could not expect the Divine blessing any

longer than he walked in integrity before God; they therefore

require him to swear by God that he would not deal falsely with

them or their posterity. From this very circumstance we may see

the original purpose, design, and spirit of an oath, viz., Let God

prosper or curse ME in all that I do, as I prove true or false to

my engagements! This is still the spirit of all oaths where God is

called to witness, whether the form be by the water of the Ganges,

the sign of the cross, kissing the Bible, or lifting up the hand

to heaven. Hence we may learn that he who falsifies an oath or

promise, made in the presence and name of God, thereby forfeits

all right and title to the approbation and blessing of his Maker.

But it is highly criminal to make such appeals to God upon

trivial occasions. Only the most solemn matters should be thus

determined. Legislators who regard the morals of the people should

take heed not to multiply oaths in matters of commerce and

revenue, if they even use them at all. Who can take the oaths

presented by the custom house or excise, and be guiltless? I have

seen a person kiss his pen or thumb nail instead of the book,

thinking that he avoided the condemnation thereby of the false

oath he was then taking!

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