« Prev Chapter 21 Next »


11. Birth of Isaac and Expulsion of Ishmael (v. 1-21)

The long-deferred hope of the son of promise is finally fulfilled, but it is shortly followed by a grievous disappointment in another direction. This double experience demonstrates that, as God’s dealings nurtured faith, so, on the other hand, less pleasant experiences kept the sojourner from feeling too much at home in a world that is not to be the final goal of our hopes.

1, 2. And Yahweh visited Sarah as He had said, and Yahweh dealt with her as He had spoken. So Sarah conceived and bore unto Abraham a son in his old age at the set time which Yahweh had designated.

With a solemn reiteration, indicative of the solemn joy occasioned by God’s keeping of the longdeferred promise, the author records this event. It would hardly have been seemly merely to make a simple unemphatic statement of the fulfilment. Criticism fails to discern this and speaks of doublets within v. 1 and v. 6. The characteristic Hebrew idiom here employs the paqadh, "to attend to" or "to visit." God’s drawing near to one, whether in mercy or in severity, is described by the term; and it always involves that some token of His attitude is distinctly in evidence after His visitation. A similar use in a good sense appears in 50:24, 25 and in Exod. 13:19. Here the verb practically implies that God comes and leaves the son. More appropriately, however, this act is attributed to "Yahweh," for the merciful God 2.595here kept His covenant promise. For emphasis, to recall forcibly that His Yahweh-character was involved, the subject "Yahweh" is repeated before "dealt." Meek’s "dealt with" for "visited" is very flat and colourless.

2. What v. 1 reports in a general statement v. 2 reports in specific form: the aged woman actually "conceived"; she actually "bore a son" to her husband, Abraham had actually arrived at the time of "old age." "To old age" is here a temporal phrase (K. S. 286c). The plural noun for "old age," zeqûnîm, a plural of condition, reflects the various conditions involved in that particular time of life. To convey the thought that everything was being done in strict conformity with the very specific promise, the statement is also added that this all transpired "at the set time which Yahweh had designated." The promise involved is found 17:16, 21.

3-5. And Abraham called the name of his son that was born unto him, whom Sarah bore to him, Isaac. And Abraham circumcised Isaac, his son, as a lad of eight days, just as the Lord commanded him. And Abraham himself was a man of a hundred years when his son Isaac was born unto him.

The Lord had appointed the name for this child, 17:17-19. There the joyous laughter of faith on Abraham’s part was the direct cause for the choice of the name. At the same time, as far as Sarah was concerned, her laughter of unbelief (Gen. 18:12) would be recalled to her by this name. For Isaac = yitschaq=he laughs, Kal imperfect of tsachaq. At the same time the rejoicing in gratitude on Sarah’s part (v. 6) brings in a new fulfilment of the possibilities latent in the name. The name even reflects, as Sarah there indicates, the holy joy of all who sympathize with Sarah’s unexpected good fortune. The possibilities 2.596thus reflected by the name are manifold and even in the remarkable propriety of the name an additional indication of the control of divine providence over all that was connected with this young life. Note as parallel the case of Esau, whose name Edom = red, because of 1) his appearance at birth (25:25); 2) because of the ominous red pottage (25:30); 3) because, as travellers have remarked, the soil and the mountains of Edom also have a peculiar reddish tinge in certain parts, as the paronomasia of Isa. 63:1 also indicates, from another point of view (cf. Rand and McNally’s, Bible Atlas, p. 45). Criticism refuses to see such providential control of even the details of man’s life and seeks devious rationalistic explanations for this simple fact. The unusual arrangement of v. 3 which holds the name Isaac in suspense till the close of the sentence yields a peculiar emphasis on this name. Apparently, the form hannôl’ádh (with short a) is intended to be read as a participle and not as nifal perfect with the article (K. S. 52).

4. The commandment of circumcision laid down very precisely in Gen. 17:12 as a divine ordinance is fulfilled by Abraham to the letter. Benô is an accusative of condition (K. S. 332 k) "as a lad of," etc.

5. Though we are by no means ignorant of Abraham’s age at the time of Isaac’s birth (17:1), yet to avoid all misunderstanding and to recall how entirely God’s mercy was operative in the birth of this son, specific mention is again made of Abraham’s age. The word "Abraham," by standing first in the sentence, gains an emphasis by contrast, which we aimed to reproduce by "Abraham himself." The sign of the accusative stands with "Isaac" as a retained object after a passive verb.

6, 7. And Sarah said: God hath prepared laughter for me; all that hear of it will laugh with 2.597me. She also said: Who ever said in reference to Abraham, Sarah hath given suck to children; for I have born a son unto him in his old age.

The word tsechoq may, of course, mean "laughing stock," as it undoubtedly does Eze. 23:32. But an experience such as Sarah’s would not render her ridiculous, least of all in the Orient. She herself would have the reproach of a lifetime removed and would consider this a piece of rare good fortune. Therefore the word really stands first for emphasis: "laughter hath God prepared for me." Likewise, all who hear what befalls her will laugh, rejoicing with her. The expression laugh "to me" () is caught by the German zulachen; the English "laugh with me" is nearly correct. In faith Sarah attributes her good fortune to a merciful act of "God." "Yahweh" might properly have been used here from one point of view; but that viewpoint was covered by v. 1. Here the Creator’s power in rejuvenating an aged mother is best indicated by "Elohim."

7. The second watto’mer, opening this verse like v. 6, is, of course, meant in the sense of "she also said." The modal use of the perfect millel:" Who would have said" (A. V.) is grammatically quite possible (cf. G. K. 106 p). However, the ordinary perfect yields equally good sense: "who (ever) said," and is just as apt an expression of surprise at the unexpected good fortune of Sarah. Likewise, the next perfect hênîqah need not be taken as modal. There would be a certain unnaturalness about reporting such an event to the father, who would naturally know of it before others could report it. Consequently, the le before "Abraham" is not "to" but "in reference to" (Strack). The ordinary joy of any mother here gains added importance and a kind of sanctity because of the unusually momentous issues connected with this child. For that reason these relatively less 2.598important utterances are recorded one by one. When God fulfils promises, his saints experience a rare joy. The le before zequnaw is again temporal, as in v. 2. Banîm is a generic plural like that used in 1 Sam. 17:43: "comest with staves," as Luther also already pointed out (K. S. 264 c).

8. And the child grew and was weaned, and Abraham prepared a great feast on the day when Isaac was weaned.

At least something of the growth and development of this child of old age would be recorded. In this case there is nothing phenomenal for the present. The weaning becomes the occasion for a "great feast." We are made to feel that to Abraham everything connected with Isaac is important. It may well be that such a custom prevailed more or less universally in days of old. In Abraham’s case, of course, such a feast was an occasion for being joyful in the Lord. Besides, a custom of the Orient needs to be remembered here: children were weaned as late as in their third year (2 Macc. 7:27, 28). Higgamel is an infinitive used as an equivalent of a relative clause modifying "day." "Isaac" has the sign of the direct object—a case of the retained object with a passive verb.

Perhaps v. 9 does not directly attach to v. 8, even though most commentators do connect the two. Yet nothing actually indicates that what Ishmael does is directly to be associated with the festivities of this day. If the connection were as close as is usually assumed, then Hengstenberg’s remarks would be particularly apropos. For he claims: "Isaac, the object of holy laughter, was made the butt of unholy wit or profane sport. He (Ishmael) did not laugh (tsachaq) but he made fun (metsachcheq). The little helpless Isaac a father of nations! Unbelief, envy, pride of carnal superiority, were the causes 2.599of his conduct. Because he did not understand the sentiment, ‘Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?’ it seemed to him absurd to link so great a thing to one so small," (quoted by Keil). In any case, this explanation still covers the case. But v. 8 could as well close a paragraph covering v. 1-8 as begin a new paragraph v. 8-21 (A. R. V.).

In this connection Luther raises the question: "Why is it not reported that Abraham made a feast on the occasion of the more important event, the circumcision of Isaac?" In answer we suggest that silence does not argue for the absence of such a feast; for not everything could be reported in the Scriptures. The greater likelihood is that Abraham followed the custom prevalent in his time: at the time of weaning a feast would be prepared; for the event of circumcision no custom was as yet established.

9. Now Sarah observed that the son of the Egyptian woman Hagar, whom she had born to Abraham, was (always) mocking.

Everything in this verse hinges on the translation of metsach(ch)eq, which we have rendered, "was (always) mocking"— the "always" to cover the frequentative participle. They have only a show of reason who translate the word "playing," in that they claim that for the bad sense "mock," the piel of the verb, should be construed with a be, as in 39:14, 17. However, the following arguments support our contention: 1) the absolute use of the verb without be is here conditioned by the circumstances. The writer did not want to say that he mocked Isaac, because, apparently, Ishmael mocked the prospects of Isaac and his spiritual destiny, in fact, just adopted a mocking attitude over against everything involved in Isaac’s future. 2) The piel stem is never used in a good and harmless sense, except when construed with ’eth ("with"), 26:8. 3) To translate, as many 2.600do, "he was playing" (Meek), certainly imputes to Sarah the cheapest kind of jealousy, quite unworthy of this woman of faith. 4) The παίζοντα of the Septuagint may also mean "give way to hilarity" (Thayer), and when men give way to hilarity, they seldom stay within the boundaries of the purely harmless. 5) But lastly, the interpretation of the New Testament is overwhelmingly in favour of at least the sense "mocked," for Gal. 4:29 says: "As he that was born after the flesh persecuted (ἐδίωκεν) him that was born after the spirit." This word of St. Paul’s can be based on no other passage than this. It interprets what Ishmael did to have been even more than a mild mocking. It stamps this attitude, besides, as descriptive of the constant attitude of the carnal-minded over against the spiritually minded. One may brush the New Testament inspired interpretation of the event aside, as criticism does; but all who let the chief norm of exegesis be, "Scripture must be interpreted by Scripture," find the case covered by Gal. 4:29.

Consequently, we are quite right in interpreting Sarah’s act ("Sarah observed," as we have rendered wattére’, literally, "and she saw") as one based on sober observation and reflection. Sarah had actually discerned the true nature of Ishmael sooner and more correctly than Abraham. In harmony with this interpretation is also the designation of Ishmael, not by his proper name but as "the son of the Egyptian woman Hagar." The unsympathetic trait or racial antipathy comes to the surface. Criticism here, too, fails to penetrate so deeply into the choice of terms and errs in concocting theories about the smelting together of different source material, one of which sources had lost the proper name of Hagar’s son. In this connection, fitting in very well with our interpretation, the frequentative participle indicates a thing 2.601that Sarah had observed quite regularly in Ishmael’s attitude toward Isaac—"always mocking." Besides, such a course of conduct indicated not only spiritual incapacity and inability to appreciate spiritual values but also a spirit entirely out of sympathy with the best treasures known to the household of Abraham, the hope of the coming Saviour.

10. And she said to Abraham: Drive out this maid and her son, for the son of this maid shall not be heir with my son, with Isaac.

Because of the antipathy to spiritual treasures displayed by Ishmael, as indicated above, Sarah concludes that a radical cure of the evil should be taken in hand. The evil threatening is so grievous, and the damage it ultimately might do so alarming, that nothing short of expulsion of the Egyptian maid and her son can be deemed an adequate solution. True, Sarah refers only to the matter of sharing in the inheritance; but she evidently means this in the sense of sharing in the entire inheritance, which consists in spiritual as well as in physical assets. Else Gal. 4:30 would hardly have deemed her words worthy of quoting with approval. In conformity with this thought she designates Hagar as "this maid" and Ishmael merely as "her son," terms which indicate the lack of sympathetic understanding on the part of these two.

Of course, a superficial examination of the situation may lead to an interpretation which sees merely human rivalry involved and ascribes to Sarah a kind of vindictive cruelty. Such an approach makes it impossible to account satisfactorily for God’s concurring in Sarah’s verdict. A mediating position is not tenable, as when Delitzsch says that in this demand of Sarah’s "justifiable disapproval is mingled with proud disdain."

11. And this demand was very displeasing to Abraham because of his son.

2.602It must be observed that Abraham’s disapproval is according to this statement based on his affection for his son, not on the higher considerations. The lad, whom Abraham had loved in a very special way as the child of his old age till Isaac came, was still very dear to him. Our interpretation, then, drives us to assume that Abraham’s insight into the deeper issues of the case was in this instance blurred by the very strong affection he felt for Ishmael. The Hebrew idiom here says: "the thing was very bad in the eyes of Abraham." The masculine yera’ is naturally to be taken as a neuter, "it was evil." On the form, Kal imperfect of ra’a’, cf. G. K. 67 p.

12, 13. And God said to Abraham: Let it not be displeasing to thee as far as the son and maid are concerned. In all that Sarah hath said to thee, give heed to her voice, for after Isaac shall thy descendants be called. But also, as far as the son of the maid is concerned, I will make of him a nation, for he is thy seed.

This divine communication is said to come from "God" not from Yahweh, for covenant issues in reference to Isaac are not touched upon so much as providential issues in reference to one who stood outside of Yahweh’s covenant. Neither are we told in what manner the divine revelation came to Abraham. But as is always the case when God speaks to men they are definitely aware that it is He, and they know what He says. God reveals to Abraham that Sarah’s demand is to be followed. Abraham’s disapproval is to be dropped—"let it not be displeasing to thee." The entire demand of Sarah is to be carried out. Strack may claim that Sarah’s motive is not sanctioned by God’s word, but this claim merely grows out of the unwillingness to believe that Sarah was capable of having right motives in the matter. God’s reason for sanctioning Sarah’s demand is: "after Isaac shall 2.603thy descendants (or seed) be called." The true descendants of Abraham —true as being of the same mind and faith as Abraham—shall be found in the line of Isaac. The truth of this statement is patent. Ishmael’s line quickly lost all spiritual kinship, with Abraham. All that Abraham regarded as of highest moment, they cast off. Since, then, Ishmael potentially is a foreign element among the offspring of Abraham, he must be removed. That being God’s reason for Ishmael’s and Hagar’s dismissal, why could it not also have been Sarah’s?

13. Reassurance in reference to the human aspect of the case is offered to Abraham by a promise which offers much more than that Ishmael should not perish. For the promise looks into the distant future and assures Abraham that for Abraham’s sake ("for he is thy seed") God will make him to expand into a nation. Consequently, Abraham need have no misgivings as to whether the son will survive or not. This gracious reassurance makes obedience easier for Abraham.

Criticism, following its usual unsatisfactory methods, here, at least in some explanations, tangles up the situation badly in claiming that this portion seems an insert from E in an attempt to secure a motive for Ishmael’s dismissal, but calls the attempt "abortive" (Procksch), was nicht allzu gut geglueckt ist. Such sallies at the reliability of the Word, though poorly substantiated, are yet extremely harmful. The initial we is adversative (K. S. 360 b).

14. And Abraham arose early in the morning and took bread and a water-skin, and gave them to Hagar, put them on her shoulder, and (gave her) the lad, and sent her away. And she went forth and strayed about in the wilderness of Beersheba.2.604

Prompt obedience of faith on Abraham’s part! Yet how hard it must have been for the natural feelings of the human heart! Luther, of all commentators, seems to display this aspect of the case best. The exiles are provided with provisions and water in the customary skin-bottle (chémeth) of the Orient. Men have asked, why did Abraham not provide better for Hagar and Ishmael and give money to them also? That may not have been recorded, being regarded as quite self-evident. The bread and the water are mentioned as the elements that must be noted to prepare for what follows. Surely, the concern that leads Abraham to supply these immediate necessities and even to lay them on Hagar’s shoulder, will hardly have suffered him to omit further provisions for their welfare.

At this point, anxious to prove that the account, being a patchwork of unreconciled discrepancies, or else to set the author (E) at variance with the author assumed for Gen. 16:16 (J), modernists are wont to claim that the text plainly assumes that Ishmael is a mere toddling infant, who was also laid upon Hagar’s shoulder to be borne by her. Some rearrange the text in the interest of their view, like Meek, who renders: "taking some bread and a skin of water, he gave them to Hagar, along with her son, and putting them on her shoulder," etc. The Hebrew order is as we have translated above. These words may be so construed as to make the words "and the lad" to be the object of "put." But they may with equal grammatical propriety be construed so that "and the lad" is the object of the preceding verb "gave"; so A.R.V.; A.V. ambiguous. An added consideration is the fact that women did not usually carry lads several years old on their "shoulder" but let them straddle the hip. Besides, the critics, who are practically unanimous on this point, would hardly believe2.605 that some author, perhaps the so-called E, would have himself believed that Ishmael and Isaac were both of the same age, or Ishmael perhaps even, as this view of the case might suggest, a bit younger than Isaac. Distorted tradition could hardly have grown blurred on so important a fact as the priority of the birth of Ishmael.

The mother goes forth; and whereas in the previous instance of her flight she had not lost her way, now, where both she and her son are involved, the tumult of emotion seems to have risen higher and caused her to miss the way, so that "she strayed about in the wilderness." This wilderness is here proleptically designated as that of Beersheba, although according to v. 31, apparently, this name was first bestowed upon the well and the region later.

Sam is an instance of asyndeton (for "and put") used epexegetically: "he gave"—(namely) "he put" (K. S. 370 m).

15, 16. And the water of the skin-bottle was spent, and she cast the lad under one of the bushes, and she went and seated herself opposite him making the distance about that of a bowshot, for she said: I cannot look upon the death of the lad. So she sat over against him and lifted up her voice and wept.

Having lost her way, she was inadequately supplied with water. One can imagine how carefully they portioned out the last swallows from the skin-bottle. Finally the lad, though (according to Gen. 16:16 combined with Gen. 21:8) easily seventeen years old, yet finds his unseasoned strength wavering before that of his mother —a situation not at all uncommon, for the lusty strength of youth often lacks seasoning and so falls short in point of endurance. For a time the mother supports the son, but her fast-failing strength cannot long bear to be doubly taxed. She finds one 2.606of the bushes of the desert. Scant shade such as may be offered is often sought out by those wandering in the desert when they need protection against the sun’s rays (cf. 1 Kings 19:4). The mother desires to ease what appear to be the dying hours of the lad’s life. She drops him hastily in exhaustion, an act for which the Hebrew uses the expressive tashlekh, "she cast," or "threw" him. A parallel New Testament usage is found Matt. 15:30 ("they cast down them i. e., the sick, at His feet"). Another parallel is Gen. 24:64: "cast down" for "alighted quickly." In view of all this it appears quite readily how poorly the argument is grounded which insists that Ishmael is regarded as a little child whom the mother has actually been carrying. Here is another instance where with almost complete unanimity the critics dismiss a substantial argument with a shrug, without actually attempting to meet it squarely.

16. With fine skill the author delineates how painfully the mother’s love is torn by her son’s distress. She must stay within sight. Yet she cannot witness his slow death. At the distance of a bowshot (literally, "according to the shooters of the bow") she hovers near. Her agonized cry rings out: "I cannot look upon the death of the lad." ’Al-’er’eh, literally, "let me not look," practically equals a potential, "I cannot look." There she sits and lifts up her voice in lamentation.

The dative lah is a dative of interest, yet difficult to translate (K. S. 35). Harcheq is an absolute infinitive used adverbially, something like "at a distance" (cf. G. K. 113 h; K. S. 221 and 402 c).

17, 18. And God heard the voice of the lad and the Angel of God called unto Hagar from heaven, saying to her: What aileth thee, Hagar? Fear not, for God has hearkened unto the voice of the lad where he is. Arise, raise up the lad and 2.607support him well, for I will make him a great nation.

All this gracious interest in the lost wayfarers is ascribed to God or to the Angel of God, because it still lies entirely in the field not covered by Yah, weh’s covenant. Nothing indicates that Hagar saw any manifestation of God. Yet there is likelihood that she saw the Angel of God, because He is the one through whom God specifically manifests Himself, the same one who in Gen. 16:7 under the name of Angel of Yahweh had previously appeared to Hagar. The difference in name does not bespeak a difference in person. Yet it should not be overlooked that the Angel of God in this case spoke unto her "from heaven." Since now such speaking may be regarded as a manifestation, we must at least admit that this may have been merely an audible manifestation and not a visible one. The thing that moved God to take pity was "the voice of the lad." Though it had not been said heretofore that the lad had cried out in distress, does that not go without saying? The Septuagint secures a mechanical harmony at this point by making v. 16 Gen. 21:16 close with this idea—quite an unnecessary emendation.

By the question, "What aileth thee?" (literally: "What to thee?") the Angel recalls to Hagar that she had no cause for alarm, for she was forgetting what had been promised to her in Gen. 16:10 ff. She is bidden to drop her fears, for God, merciful and kind, had also heard the cry of the lad as he lay in his great distress. "Where he is" refers to the lad’s pitiful condition and not to God in heaven (K. C.). For if the clause were to refer to God, it would hardly be immediately after the noun "lad" (na’ar).

18. In this case qû’mî must mean "arise" and not merely "come,"‘ for Hagar had actually seated herself (v. 16), and the remaining imperatives 2.608prescribe the successive steps to be taken. The asyndeton "arise, raise" lends urgency to the command. The divine directions are so specific ("raise up the lad and support him well") because the distraught mother in the utter bewilderment of her agony needed clear directions how to proceed. The final statement ("I will make him a great nation") recalls the previous promise (Gen. 16:10 ff.) and encourages the mother to build her faith on it. "Hold him in thy hand" (A.V.) is not in place, for the Hebrew says (literally): "Make strong thy hand on him."

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

How much is actually implied in the statement, "God opened her eyes," is well covered by Whitelaw’s comment: "Not necessarily by miraculous operation, perhaps simply by providentially guiding her search for water." Add to this the necessary observation that such wells in the wilderness were usually covered over to prevent excessive evaporation but were then usually marked by some sign to help travellers locate them, and the whole situation is quite readily understood. The mother fills the skin-bottle and from it administers reviving draughts to her son. With this colourful touch the incident as such closes. A brief statement follows (Gen. 21:20, 21) furnishing proof for the fulfilment of the promises God had made in reference to Ishmael.

20, 21. And God was with the lad and he grew up, and lived in the wilderness and became an archer, a bowman. And he dwelt in the wilderness of Paran, and his mother, got him a wife from the land of Egypt.

"God was with the lad" implies that the promises made to Ishmael by God were being fulfilled: God’s 2.609providence watched over him as he grew up. Luther extracts too much from the expression when he makes of Ishmael "a clever and learned preacher, who establishes a church among the heathen." There is likelihood that Ishmael, who (Gen. 21:17) had called upon God in prayer, and Hagar, who also had learned to believe in the true God while in Abraham’s household, were both persons who stood in the faith all their days and, no doubt, sought to communicate this saving knowledge to their descendants. The disposition described in Gen. 16:10 displays itself in Ishmael’s choice of a habitation—"in the wilderness." The distinguishing mark in the line of the young man’s accomplishments was his skill in the use of the bow. Two terms cover this: the more general robheh, "shooter," the more specific qashshath, "a bowman." The second definitely limits the shooting or casting by describing the weapon involved. The German covers it well, ein Schuetze, ein Bogenschuetze (K. C.).

21. Whatever else we need to know is covered by the statement concerning the particular wilderness in which he moved about, viz., "the wilderness of Paran," the eastern part of the great wilderness et-tih on the Sinai peninsula, and by the statement concerning his marriage. His Egyptian mother procures for him an Egyptian wife. In this respect she does not display the wisdom used by Abraham in choosing, as he did, a god-fearing wife for his son.

Speculations about Hagar’s ultimate return with Ishmael to Abraham’s household shortly after this dismissal are poorly substantiated. The account as worded points to a permanent separation. In fact, there was need of having this group separated from Abraham’s family—they were a group with a different spirit. Jewish attempts to identify Hagar with Ketura (Gen. 25:1) are utterly without grounds.2.610

12. Abraham’s Covenant with Abimelech at Beersheba (v. 22-34)

This little incident shows forth clearly how influential and prominent a personage Abraham had become under Yahweh’s blessing: neighbouring kings were concerned about retaining his goodwill; he ranked on a par with the mighty men of his day. Besides, this groundwork of the story is essential to a proper understanding of Isaac’s experiences with the Philistines, As usual, Abraham stands out as a man acting in harmony with his faith.

22, 23. It came to pass at that time that Abimelech and Phicol, the captain of his army, said to Abraham: God is with thee in all that thou doest. Now, therefore, swear unto me here by God that thou wilt not deal falsely with me or with my kith and kin; but according to the kindness that I have shown to thee, do thou deal with me and with the land in which thou sojournest.

The writer takes for granted that his readers know that Abimelech is, as v. 32 shows, king of the Philistines. Phicol accompanies him to show the importance of the occasion. "Phicol" may, if it be a Hebrew word, mean "mouth of all," and so the captain of the army may have occupied a post as representative of the people. God’s favour to Abraham is so manifest that heathen men can recognize it. In a spirit that has much to commend it but may yet be largely the outgrowth of good governmental policy, Abimelech seeks to secure permanently the amicable relations now existing between his own people and Abraham’s. The oath still has binding power and is highly respected. An oath-bound covenant with Abraham is what Abimelech desires: "swear thou wilt not deal falsely with me." The oath is to include future generations, nînî and nekhdî, an alliterative pair 2.611of terms meaning literally, "my offspring and my descendant," and found always as a pair (Job 18:19; Isa. 14:22). We reproduced this combination less literally by a kindred phrase "kith and kin." Abimelech claims always to have shown "kindness"— chés’edh (hardly "loyalty," K. W.) to Abraham and expects like treatment for himself and his land.

24-26. And Abraham said: I will swear. And Abraham reproved Abimelech because of the well of water which the servants of Abimelech had taken away by force. But Abimelech said: I knew not who had done this thing; and, furthermore, thou didst not tell me; and besides I had not heard of it before today.

Since, on the face of it the account seems to be inconsistent, men critically minded speak of unreconciled sources and pronounce verdicts such as, "This unreserved consent (cf. v. 24) is inconsistent with the expostulation of v. 26" (Skinner). However, the explanation of the difficulty lies so near the surface. When asked whether he is ready to make a covenant in the interest of an amicable relationship, he promptly assents. But if such a covenant is not to be deflected from its purpose and soon to become ineffective, obstacles that might arise later had better be removed at once. Such an obstacle is the taking away by force from Abraham of one of the wells which he had dug. However, had Abraham raised his objection first, before he expressed his assent, he would have created the impression he sought to avoid, namely that he seemed somewhat reluctant about taking steps to guarantee peace. Besides, there is no grammatical difficulty in the way of construing v. 25 thus. For the conjunction is not a waw conversive, necessitating the translation, "And as often as Abraham took Abimelech to task about the wells . . . Abimelech would answer"—a translation which throws the2.612 whole account into confusion. Here is an instance where the waw with a perfect merely expresses "a digression or an epexegesis," as K. S. (370 l) rightly contends and proves by many parallels; cf. Gen. 38:5, Num. 10:17 ff., etc. Meek and others, as a result of this unnecessary translation, see themselves compelled to reconstructions such as rearranging the sequence of verses as follows to secure consecutive thought: Gen. 21:24, 27, 31, 25, 26, 28, 29—an unnecessary juggling with a good text.

26. But Abimelech has a strong defense whereby he proves that he is being accused unjustly: "I knew not who had done this thing." By this he means: he neither knew who did it, nor that it had been done. Neither had Abraham complained, nor had any other person carried the knowledge of the irregularity to him. This seemingly puts Abraham partly in the wrong; he should have had confidence enough in Abimelech to complain before this day. In any case, it becomes clear that the two men are both of such a character that a covenant entered into by both will be conscientiously kept.

Though no statement to this effect is inserted, nevertheless it goes without saying that Abimelech at once returned the well in question to Abraham.

27-30. And Abraham took sheep and oxen and gave them unto Abimelech; and they two made a covenant, Abraham (namely) set seven ewe lambs apart by themselves. And Abimelech said unto Abraham: What mean these seven ewe lambs that thou hast set by themselves? And he said: The seven ewe lambs thou shalt take of my hand in order that this may be a witness for me that I have digged this well.

The key to the understanding of what is narrated in these verses lies in the right understanding of v. 27b and its relation to v. 28. For v. 27b2.613reports in advance the whole transaction, as does Isa. 7:1b. The details follow. We secure proper coherence by introducing v. 28 by a "namely," as we have done. The relation of the creatures mentioned in v. 27 ("sheep and oxen") to those mentioned in v. 28 ("seven ewe lambs") then appears to be this: the "sheep" of v. 27 include the "ewe lambs" of v. 28. This difference in the use of these creatures, apparently, must be established: those mentioned in v. 27, apart from the ewe lambs, are to be used to be slaughtered to establish the covenant; cf. Gen. 15:9-11 and our remarks on this passage. Then the ewe lambs constitute a special friendly gift, not usually made in connection with covenants; for Abimelech asks ( v. 29): "What mean these?" Abraham’s explanation is that this gift shall serve as "witness" (feminine, ’edhah, German: Zeugin), that he has digged the well. The ki (1) of v. 30 merely introduced the direct discourse, the ki explicative (K. S. 374 b).

31. Hence the place was called Beersheba (well of the seven), for there these two men took an oath (beseventhed themselves).

The play on words involved is not caught in English without some explanation like that of the parentheses employed above. For it so happens that the root for "swearing" and the root for "seven" are identical in Hebrew, shabha’, a fact nicely explained by Luther, who says in this connection, sie habenbeide geschworen, und, dass ich also rede, besiebent ("beseventh"). What the deeper Unity of these two ideas is we are at present unable to discern. But Be’er-shebha’ does not mean "well of the oath," for shebha’ is never found in the sense of shebhu’ah ("oath"). Still the paronomasia appears in the original. The verb qara’ is impersonal, which is conveniently rendered by a passive. So the famous well 2.214got its name. K. W. translates Sieben-brunnen; more acceptable than K. C., "Well of the oath." K. W. also indicates that men have discovered five wells at this point and indications of two others. This agrees but poorly with the findings of other travellers who were able to locate but one, or at most, two. Robinson found but two, one twelve and a half feet in diameter, a second five feet in diameter (Thomson, The Land and the Book, p. 297).

32, 33. So they made a covenant in Beersheba, and Abimelech and Phicol, the captain of his army, arose and returned to the land of the Philistines. And Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba, and called there upon Yahweh, the Everlasting God.

The visitors return to their country, but Abraham gives further acknowledgment of his indebtedness to Yahweh for all the favours he enjoys. A memorial tree, not a "grove" (A. V.), but rather a "tamarisk," as the Arabic parallel root suggests, a tree resembling the cypress. Besides, Abraham acknowledged the Lord in public worship; on qara’ beshem Yahweh see our remarks on Gen. 4:26. The new name by which Yahweh is here designated, ’El ‘ôlam, "the Everlasting God," shows the new aspect of God’s being that had become apparent to Abraham as a result of his recent experiences with God. It may be well to compare that in Gen. 14:22’El ‘Elyon and in Gen. 17:1’El Shadday had already appeared. The tamarisk with its firm and durable wood was a fitting emblem of the Everlasting God. Why some make a fetish of this tree, or others say that the tree was only "believed to have been planted by Abraham," is beyond our power to explain.

34. And Abraham sojourned in the land of the Philistines many days.2.615

More and more Abraham sees, as Isaac also later did, that the southern extremity of the land is best suited to his sojournings. This verse does not clash with v. 32 where Abimelech, leaving Abraham, returns to "the land of the Philistines." For as Keil remarks, "the discrepancy is easily reconciled on the supposition that at that time the land of the Philistines had no fixed boundary, at all events, toward the desert."


Three sections make up this chapter. The first comprises the verses 1-7. It would seem proper to treat these verses under the subject "A Gracious Divine Visitation," building on the Biblical fact that the occurrences of our everyday life are more frequently than we admit instances of God’s drawing near, that is of divine visitations. The next section v. 8-21 may well be approached from the angle suggested by Rom. 9:7. This would furnish a theme like "The Election of Grace," only, of course, with this caution, that the election involved is not an election to salvation but an election to prominence in the kingdom of God. The last portion v. 22-34 turns mostly about the idea of friendliness with the ungodly and may even be treated under that head. For Abraham is not unduly reluctant about being on terms of sincere friendship with those who know not the Lord, though, of course, such are not his intimate associates.2.616

« Prev Chapter 21 Next »
VIEWNAME is workSection