Ishmael: Father of the Arabs

ishmael

Have you ever wondered if you were born into the wrong family? We don’t know much about how Ishmael viewed life. But that question must have haunted him at times. His life, his name, and his position were bound up in a conflict between two jealous women. Sarah (Sarai), impatient with God’s timetable, had taken matters into her own hands, deciding to have a child through another woman. Hagar, servant that she was, submitted to being used this way. But her pregnancy gave birth to strong feelings of superiority toward Sarah. Into this tense atmosphere, Ishmael was born.

For 13 years Abraham thought Ishmael’s birth had fulfilled God’s promise. He was surprised to hear God say that the promised child would be Abraham and Sarah’s very own. Sarah’s pregnancy and Isaac’s birth must have had a devastating impact on Ishmael. Until then he had been treated as a son and heir, but this late arrival made his future uncertain. During Isaac’s weaning celebration, Sarah caught Ishmael teasing his half brother. As a result, Hagar and Ishmael were permanently expelled from Abraham’s family.

Much of what happened throughout his life cannot be blamed on Ishmael. He was caught in a process much bigger than himself. However, his own actions showed that he had chosen to become part of the problem and not part of the solution. He chose to live under his circumstances rather than above them.

The choice he made is one we must all make. There are circumstances over which we have no control (heredity, for instance), but there are others that we can control (decisions we make). At the heart of the matter is the sin-orientated nature we have all inherited. It can be partly controlled, although not overcome, by human effort. In the context of history, Ishmael’s life represents the mess we make when we don’t try to change the things we could change. The God of the Bible has offered a solution. His answer is not to control, but a changed life. To have a changed life, turn to God, trust him to forgive your sinful past, and begin to change your attitude toward him and others.


The ESV Study Bible, Large Print edition features the content of the award-winning ESV Study Bible with a highly readable, large-print type. Extensive study notes, charts, maps, and articles make this study Bible a valuable resource for serious readers, students, and teachers of God’s Word.

Strengths and Accomplishments

  • One of the first to experience the physical sign of God’s covenant, circumcision
  • Known for his ability as an archer and hunter
  • Fathered 12 sons who became leaders of warrior tribes

Weakness and Mistake

  • Failed to recognize the place of his half brother, Isaac, and mocked him

Lesson From His Life

  • God’s plans incorporate people’s mistakes

Vital Statistics for Ishmael

  • Where: Canaan and Egypt
  • Occupation: Hunter, archer, warrior
  • Relatives: Parents: Hagar and Abraham, Half brother: Isaac

Key Verses for Ishmael

“God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, ‘What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation’” (Genesis 21: 17, 18)

Ishmael’s story is told in Genesis 16-17; 25:12-18; 28:8, 9; 36:1-3. He is also mentioned in 1 Chronicles 1:28-31; Romans 9:7-9; Galatians 4:21-31.


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