In this chapter we have, I. Isaac, the child of promise born
into Abraham's family (v. 1-8). II. Ishmael, the son of the bondwoman, cast
out of it (v. 9-21). III. Abraham's league with his neighbour Abimelech (v.
22-32). IV. His devotion to his God (v. 33).
Long-looked-for comes at last. The vision concerning the
promised seed is for an appointed time, and now, at the end, it speaks, and does
not lie; few under the Old Testament were brought into the world with such
expectation as Isaac was, not for the sake of any great person eminence at which
he was to arrive, but because he was to be, in this very thin, a type of Christ,
that seed which the holy God had so long promised and holy men so long expected.
In this account of the first days of Isaac we may observe,
I. The fulfilling of God's promise in the conception and birth
of Isaac, v. 1, 2. Note, God's providences look best and brightest when they
are compared with his word, and when we observe how God, in them all, acts as he
has said, as he has spoken. 1. Isaac was born according to the promise. The Lord
visited Sarah in mercy, as he had said. Note, No word of God shall fall to the
ground; for he is faithful that has promised, and God's faithfulness is the
stay and support of his people's faith. He was born at the set time of
which God had spoken, v. 2. Note, God is always punctual to his time; though
his promised mercies come not at the time we set, they will certainly come at
the time he sets, and that is the best time., 2. He was born by virtue of the
promise: Sarah by faith received strength to conceive Heb. 11:11. God
therefore by promise gave that strength. It was not by the power of common
providence, but by the power of a special promise, that Isaac was born. A
sentence of death was, as it were, passed upon the second causes: Abraham was
old, and Sarah old, and both as good as dead; and then the word of God took
place. Note, True believers, by virtue of God's promises, are enabled to do
that which is above the power of human nature, for by them they partake of a
divine nature, 2 Pt. 1:4.
II. Abraham's obedience to God's precept concerning Isaac.
1. He named him, as God commanded him, v. 3. God directed him to
a name for a memorial, Isaac, laughter; and Abraham, whose office it was,
gave him that name, though he might have designed him some other name of a more
pompous signification. Note, It is fit that the luxuriancy of human invention
should always yield to the sovereignty and plainness of divine institution; yet
there was good reason for the name, for, (1.) When Abraham received the promise
of him he laughed for joy, ch. 17:17. Note, When the sun of comfort has risen
upon the soul it is good to remember how welcome the dawning of the day was, and
with what exultation we embraced the promise. (2.) When Sarah received the
promise she laughed with distrust and diffidence. Note, When God gives us the
mercies we began to despair of we ought to remember with sorrow and shame our
sinful distrusts of God's power and promise, when we were in pursuit of them.
(3.) Isaac was himself, afterwards, laughed at by Ishmael (v. 9), and perhaps
his name bade him expect it. Note, God's favourites are often the world's
laughing-stocks. (4.) The promise which he was not only the son, but the heir
of, was to be the joy of all the saints in all ages, and that which would fill
their mouths with laughter.
2. He circumcised him, v. 4. The covenant being established with
him, the seal of the covenant was administered to him; and though a bloody
ordinance, and he a darling, yet it must not be omitted, no, nor deferred beyond
the eighth day. God had kept time in performing the promise, and therefore
Abraham must keep time in obeying the precept.
III. The impressions which this mercy made upon Sarah.
1. It filled her with joy (v. 6): "God has made me to
laugh; he has given me both cause to rejoice and a heart to rejoice."
Thus the mother of our Lord, Lu. 1:46, 47. Note, (1.) God bestows mercies upon
his people to encourage their joy in his work and service; and, whatever is the
matter of our joy, God must be acknowledged as the author of it, unless it be
the laughter of the fool. (2.) When mercies have been long deferred they
are the more welcome when they come. (3.) It adds to the comfort of any mercy to
have our friends rejoice with us in it: All that hear will laugh with me;
for laughing is catching. See Lu. 1:58. Others would rejoice in this instance of
God's power and goodness, and be encouraged to trust in him. See Ps. 119:74.
2. It filled her with wonder, v. 7. Observe here, (1.) What it
was she thought so wonderful: That Sarah should give children suck, that
she should, not only bear a child, but be so strong and hearty at the age as to
give it suck. Note, Mothers, if they be able, ought to be nurses to their own
children. Sarah was a person of quality, was aged; nursing might be thought
prejudicial of herself, or to the child, or to both; she had choice of nurses,
no doubt, in her own family: and yet she would do her duty in this matter; and
her daughters the good wives are while they thus do well, 1 Pt. 3:5, 6.
See Lam. 4:3. (2.) How she expressed her wonder: "Who would have said
it? The thing was so highly improbable, so near to impossible, that if any
one but God had said it we could not have believed it." Note, God's
favours to his covenant-people are such as surpass both their own and others'
thoughts and expectations. Who could imagine that God should do so much for
those that deserve so little, nay, for those that deserve so ill? See Eph. 3:20;
2 Sa. 7:18, 19. Who would have said that God should send his Son to die for us,
his Spirit to sanctify us, his angels to attend us? Who would have said that
such great sins should be pardoned, such mean services accepted, and such
worthless worms taken into covenant and communion with the great and holy God?
IV. A short account of Isaac's infancy: The child grew,
v. 8. Special notice is taken of this, though a thing of course, to intimate
that the children of the promise are growing children. See Lu. 1:80; 2:40. Those
that are born of God shall increase of God, Col. 2:19. He grew so as not always
to need milk, but was able to bear strong meat, and then he was weaned. See Heb.
5:13, 14. And then it was that Abraham made a great feast for his friends and
neighbours, in thankfulness to God for his mercy to him. He made this feast, not
on the day that Isaac was born, that would have been too great a disturbance to
Sarah; nor on the day that he was circumcised, that would have been too great a
diversion from the ordinance; but on the day that he was weaned, because God's
blessing upon the nursing of children, and the preservation of them throughout
the perils of the infant age, are signal instances of the care and tenderness of
the divine providence, which ought to be acknowledged, to its praise. See Ps.
22:9, 10; Hos. 11:1.
The casting out of Ishmael is here considered of, and resolved
I. Ishmael himself gave the occasion by some affronts he gave to
Isaac his little brother, some think on the day that Abraham made the feast for
joy that Isaac was safely weaned, which the Jews say was not till he was three
years old, others say five. Sarah herself was an eye-witness of the abuse: she saw
the son of the Egyptian mocking (v. 9), mocking Isaac, no doubt, for it is
said, with reference to this (Gal. 4:29), that he that was born after the
flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit. Ishmael is here called
the son of the Egyptian, because, as some think, the 400 years'
affliction of the seed of Abraham by the Egyptians began now, and was to be
dated hence, ch. 15:13. She saw him playing with Isaac, so the
Septuagint, and, in play, mocking him. Ishmael was fourteen years older
than Isaac; and, when children are together, the elder should be careful and
tender of the younger: but it argued a very base and sordid disposition in
Ishmael to be abusive to a child that was no way a match for him. Note, 1. God
takes notice of what children say and do in their play, and will reckon with
them if they say or do amiss, though their parents do not. 2. Mocking is a great
sin, and very provoking to God. 3. There is a rooted remaining enmity in the
seed of the serpent against the seed of the woman. The children of promise must
expect to be mocked. This is persecution, which those that will live godly must
count upon. 4. None are rejected and cast out from God but those who have first
deserved it. Ishmael is continued in Abraham's family till he becomes a
disturbance, grief, and scandal to it.
II. Sarah made the motion: Cast out this bond-woman, v.
10. This seems to be spoken in some heat, yet it is quoted (Gal. 4:30) as if it
had been spoken by a spirit of prophecy; and it is the sentence passed on all
hypocrites and carnal people, though they have a place and a name in the visible
church. All that are born after the flesh and not born again, that rest in the
law and reject the gospel promise, shall certainly be cast out. It is made to
point particularly at the rejection of the unbelieving Jews, who, though they
were the seed of Abraham, yet, because they submitted not to the gospel
covenant, were unchurched and disfranchised: and that which, above any thing,
provoked God to cast them off was their mocking and persecuting the gospel
church, God's Isaac, in its infancy, 1 Th. 2:16, Note, There are many who are
familiarly conversant with the children of God in this world, and yet shall not
partake with them in the inheritance of sons. Ishmael might be Isaac's
play-fellow and school-fellow, yet not his fellow-heir.
III. Abraham was averse to it: The thing was very grievous in
Abraham's sight, v. 11. 1. It grieved him that Ishmael had given such a
provocation. Note, Children ought to consider that the more their parents love
them the more they are grieved at their misconduct, and particularly at their
quarrels among themselves. 2. It grieved him that Sarah insisted upon such a
punishment. "Might it not suffice to correct him? would nothing less serve
than to expel him?" Note, Even the needful extremities which must be used
with wicked and incorrigible children are very grievous to tender parents, who
cannot thus afflict willingly.
IV. God determined it, v. 12, 13. We may well suppose Abraham to
be greatly agitated about this matter, loth to displease Sarah, and yet loth to
expel Ishmael; in this difficulty God tells him what his will is, and then he is
satisfied. Note, A good man desires no more in doubtful cases than to know his
duty, and what God would have him do; and, when he is clear in this, he is, or
should be, easy. To make Abraham so, God sets this matter before him in a true
light, and shows him, 1. That the casting out of Ishmael was necessary to the
establishment of Isaac in the rights and privileges of the covenant: In Isaac
shall thy seed be called. Both Christ and the church must descend from
Abraham through the loins of Isaac; this is the entail of the promise upon
Isaac, and is quoted by the apostle (Rom. 9:7) to show that not all who come
from Abraham's loins were the heirs of Abraham's covenant. Isaac, the
promised son, must be the father of the promised seed; therefore, "Away
with Ishmael, send him far enough, lest he corrupt the manners or attempt to
invade the rights of Isaac." It will be his security to have his rival
banished. The covenant seed of Abraham must be a peculiar people, a people by
themselves, from the very first, distinguished, not mingled with those that were
out of covenant; for this reason Ishmael must be separated. Abraham was called
alone, and so must Isaac be. See Isa. 51:2. It is probable that Sarah little
thought of this (Jn. 11:51), but God took what she said, and turned it into an
oracle, as afterwards, ch. 27:10. 2. That the casting out of Ishmael should not
be his ruin, v. 13. He shall be a nation, because he is thy seed. We are
not sure that it was his eternal ruin. It is presumption to say that all those
who are left out of the external dispensation from all his mercies: those may be
saved who are not thus honoured. However, we are sure it was not his temporal
ruin. Though he was chased out of the church, he was not chased out of the
world. I will make him a nation. Note, (1.) Nations are of God's making:
he founds them, he forms them, he fixes them. (2.) Many are full of the
blessings of God's providence that are strangers to the blessings of his
covenant. (3.) The children of this world often fare the better, as to outward
things, for their relation to the children of God.
Here is, I. The casting out of the bond-woman, and her son from
the family of Abraham, v. 14. Abraham's obedience to the divine command in
this matter was speedyearly in the morning, we may suppose immediately
after he had, in the night's visions, received orders to do this. It was also
submissive; it was contrary to his judgment, at least to his own inclination, to
do it; yet as soon as he perceives that it is the mind of God he makes no
objections, but silently does as he is bidden, as one trained up to an implicit
obedience. In sending them away without any attendants, on foot, and slenderly
provided for, it is probable that he observed the directions given him. If Hagar
and Ishmael had conducted themselves well in Abraham's family, they might have
continued there; but they threw themselves out by their own pride and insolence,
which were thus justly chastised. Note, By abusing our privileges we forfeit
them. Those that know not when they are well off, in such a desirable place as
Abraham's family, deserve to be cashiered, and to be made to know the worth of
mercies by the want of them.
II. Their wandering in the wilderness, missing their way to the
place Abraham designed them for a settlement.
1. They were reduced to great distress there. Their provisions
were spent, and Ishmael was sick. He that used to be full fed in Abraham's
house, where he waxed fat and kicked, now fainted and sunk, when he was brought
to short allowance. Hagar is in tears, and sufficiently mortified. Now she
wishes for the crumbs she had wasted and made light of at her master's table.
Like one under the power of the spirit of bondage, she despairs of relief,
counts upon nothing but the death of the child (v. 15, 16), though God
had told her, before he was born, that he should live to be a man, a great man.
We are apt to forget former promises, when present providences seem to
contradict them; for we live by sense.
2. In this distress, God graciously appeared for their relief:
he heard the voice of the lad, v. 17. We read not of a word he said; but
his sighs, and groans, and calamitous state, cried aloud in the ears of mercy.
An angel was sent to comfort Hagar, and it was not the first time that she had
met with God's comforts in a wilderness; she had thankfully acknowledged the
former kind visit which God made his in such a case (ch. 16:13), and therefore
God now visited her again with seasonable succours. (1.) The angel assures her
of the cognizance God took of her distress: God has heard the voice of the
lad where he is, though he is in a wilderness (for, wherever we are, there
is a way open heaven-ward); therefore lift up the lad, and hold him in thy
hand, v. 18. Note, God's readiness to help us when we are in trouble must
not slacken, but quicken, our endeavours to help ourselves. (2.) He repeats the
promise concerning her son, that he should be a great nation, as a reason
why she should bestir herself to help him. Note, It should engage our care and
pains about children and young people to consider that we know not what God has
designed them for, nor what great use Providence may make of them. (3.) He
directs her to a present supply (v. 19): He opened her eyes (which were
swollen and almost blinded with weeping), and then she saw a well of water.
Note, Many that have reason enough to be comforted go mourning from day to day,
because they do not see the reason they have for comfort. There is a well of
water by them in the covenant of grace, but they are not aware of it; they have
not the benefit of it, till the same God that opened their eyes to see their
wound opens them to see their remedy, Jn. 16:6, 7. Now the apostle tells us that
those things concerning Hagar and Ishmael are alleµgoroumena
(Gal. 4:24), they are to be allegorized; this then will serve to illustrate the
folly, [1.] Of those who, like the unbelieving Jews, seek for righteousness by
the law and the carnal ordinances of it, and not by the promise made in Christ,
thereby running themselves into a wilderness of want and despair. Their comforts
are soon exhausted, and if God save them not by his special prerogative, and by
a miracle of mercy open their eyes and undeceive them, they are undone. [2.] Of
those who seek for satisfaction and happiness in the world and the things of it.
Those that forsake the comforts of the covenant and communion with God, and
choose their portion in this earth, take up with a bottle of water, poor and
slender provision, and that soon spent; they wander endlessly in pursuit of
satisfaction, and, at length, sit down short of it.
III. The settlement of Ishmael, at last, in the wilderness of
Paran (v. 20, 21), a wild place, fittest for a wild man; and such a one he was,
ch. 16. 12. Those that are born after the flesh take up with the wilderness of
this world, while the children of the promise aim at the heavenly Canaan, and
cannot be at rest till they are there. Observe, 1. He had some tokens of God's
presence: God was with the lad; his outward prosperity was owing to this.
2. By trade he was an archer, which intimates that craft was his excellency and
sport his business: rejected Esau was a cunning hunter. 3. He matched among his
mother's relations; she took him a wife out of Egypt: as great an archer as he
was, he did not think he could take his aim well, in the business of marriage,
if he proceeded without his mother's advice and consent.
We have here an account of the treaty between Abimelech and
Abraham, in which appears the accomplishment of that promise (ch. 12:2) that God
would make his name great. His friendship is valued, is courted, though a
stranger, though a tenant at will to the Canaanites and Perizzites.
I. The league is proposed by Abimelech, and Phichol his
prime-minister of state and general of his army.
1. The inducement to it was God's favour to Abraham (v. 22): "God
is with thee in all that thou doest, and we cannot but take notice of it."
Note, (1.) God in his providence sometimes shows his people such tokens for good
that their neighbours cannot but take notice of it, Ps. 86:17. Their affairs do
so visibly prosper, and they have such remarkable success in their undertakings,
that a confession is extorted from all about them of God's presence with them.
(2.) It is good being in favour with those that are in favour with God, and
having an interest in those that have an interest in heaven, Zec. 8:23. We
will go with you, for we have heard that God is with you. We do well for
ourselves if we have fellowship with those that have fellowship with God, 1 Jn.
2. The tenour of it was, in general, that there should be a firm
and constant friendship between the two families, which should not upon any
account be violated. This bond of friendship must be strengthened by the bond of
an oath, in which the true God was appealed to, both as a witness of their
sincerity and an avenger in case either side were treacherous, v. 23. Observe,
(1.) He desires the entail of this league upon his posterity and the extension
of it to his people. He would have his son, and his son's son, and his land
likewise, to have the benefit of it. Good men should secure an alliance and
communion with the favourites of Heaven, not for themselves only, but for theirs
also. (2.) He reminds Abraham of the fair treatment he had found among them: According
to the kindness I have done unto thee. As those that have received kindness
must return it, so those that have shown kindness may expect it.
II. It is consented to by Abraham, with a particular clause
inserted about a well. In Abraham's part of this transaction observe,
1. He was ready to enter into this league with Abimelech,
finding him to be a man of honour and conscience, and that had the fear of God
before his eyes: I will swear, v. 24. Note, (1.) Religion does not make
men morose and unconversable; I am sure it ought not. We must not, under colour
of shunning bad company, be sour to all company, and jealous of every body. (2.)
An honest mind does not startle at giving assurances: if Abraham say that he
will be true to Abimelech, he is not afraid to swear it; an oath is for
2. He prudently settled the matter concerning a well, about
which Abimelech's servants had quarrelled with him. Wells of water, it seems,
were choice goods in that country: thanks be to God, that they are not so scarce
in ours. (1.) Abraham mildly told Abimelech of it, v. 25. Note, If our brother
trespass against us, we must, with the meekness of wisdom, tell him his fault,
that the matter may be fairly accommodated and an end made of it, Mt. 18:15.
(2.) He acquiesced in Abimelech's justification of himself in this matter: I
wot not who has done this thing, v. 26. Many are suspected of injustice and
unkindness that are perfectly innocent, and we ought to be glad when they clear
themselves. The faults of servants must not be imputed to their masters, unless
they know of them and justify them; and no more can be expected from an honest
man than that he be ready to do right as soon as he knows that he has done
wrong. (3.) He took care to have his title to the well cleared and confirmed, to
prevent any disputes or quarrels for the future, v. 30. It is justice, as well
as wisdom, to do thus, in perptuam rei memoriamthat the circumstance may
be perpetually remembered.
3. He made a very handsome present to Abimelech, v. 27. It was
not any thing curious or fine that he presented to him, but that which was
valuable and usefulsheep and oxen, in gratitude for Abimelech's
kindness to him, and in token of hearty friendship between them. The
interchanging of kind offices is the improving of love: that which is mine is my
4. He ratified the covenant by an oath, and registered it by
giving a new name to the place (v. 31), Beer-sheba, the well of the
oath, in remembrance of the covenant they swore to, that they might be ever
mindful of it; or the well of seven, in remembrance of the seven lambs
given to Abimelech, as a consideration for his confirming Abraham's title to
that well. Note, Bargains made must be remembered, that we may make them good,
and may not break our word through oversight.
Observe, 1. Abraham, having got into a good neighbourhood, knew
when he was well off, and continued a great while there. There he planted a
grove for a shade to his tent, or perhaps an orchard of fruit-trees; and there,
though we cannot say he settled, for God would have him, while he lived, to be a
stranger and a pilgrim, yet he sojourned many days, as many as would consist
with his character, as Abraham the Hebrew, or passenger. 2. There
he made, not only a constant practice, but an open profession, of his religion: There
he called on the name of the Lord, the everlasting God, probably in the
grove he planted, which was his oratory or house of prayer. Christ prayed in a
garden, on a mountain. (1.) Abraham kept up public worship, to which, probably,
his neighbours resorted, that they might join with him. Note, Good men should
not only retain their goodness wherever they go, but do all they can to
propagate it, and make others good. (2.) In calling on the Lord, we must eye him
as the everlasting God, the God of the world, so some. Though God had
made himself known to Abraham as his God in particular, and in covenant with
him, yet he forgets not to give glory to him as the Lord of all: The
everlasting God, who was, before all worlds, and will be, when time and days
shall be no more. See Isa. 40:28.