"Hagar and Ishmael," Giuseppe Zola, 18th century. (Wikimedia)


Abraham's first son also became the ancestor of a great nation.

Ishmael was the son of Abraham and his Egyptian concubine Hagar, Sarah’s maid. After Hagar became pregnant, she behaved insolently toward Sarah, who in return treated her harshly. Hagar fled into the desert, where an angel appeared to her and announced that she would have a son who would be called Ishmael, because God had heard her affliction.

Ishmael would grow to be a wild man; his hand would be against every man, and the hand of every man would be against him. Hagar returned to her mistress and, in due course, gave birth to Ishmael. Abraham was 86 years old at that time.

Thirteen years later, God appeared to Abraham and announced that Sarah would have a son, with whom God would establish an everlasting covenant, and that Ishmael would also be blessed and would be the ancestor of a great nation. God commanded Abraham to circumcise himself, Ishmael, and all the males in his household.

A year later, Sarah gave birth to a son, who was named Isaac. One day, Sarah, seeing Ishmael mocking, demanded that Abraham send away the slave girl and her son and declare Isaac his sole heir. Abraham loved Ishmael and did not want to yield to Sarah’s demand, but God told him to do what she said, reassuring him that his descendants through Ishmael would also become a great nation.

Abraham rose early in the morning, gave Hagar some bread and water, and sent her away with the boy. Hagar and Ishmael wandered in the wilderness of Beer-sheba. Soon they had finished all the water in their bottle; Hagar, not wanting to see her son die of thirst, placed him under a shrub and moved some distance away crying and lamenting.

God heard her cries and sent an angel who told her not to fear. Her son, the angel said, would grow up to be the ancestor of a great nation. God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water nearby. She filled the water bottle and gave the lad a drink.

Ishmael grew in the wilderness, became a skilled archer, and married an Egyptian girl whom Hagar chose for him. Abraham died at the age of 175. Ishmael and his half-brother Isaac buried him in the cave of Machpelah, next to Sarah.

Ishmael had 12 sons: Nebaioth, Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, Mishma, Dumah, Massa, Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedmah, all of them ancestors of great nations. His daughter, Mahalath–also called Basemath–married Esau son of Isaac. Ishmael died when he was 137 years old.

Reprinted with permission from Who’s Who in the Hebrew Bible (The Jewish Publication Society).

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