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Ishmael, from the Hebrew word meaning God hears, was the son of Abraham and Hagar, the Egyptian maid of his wife Sarah. When Sarah had found herself not having children, she arranged to have a child with Abraham by Hagar acting as a surrogate mother (Genesis 16:1-4), even though God had specifically stated that a child would be born to Sarah in due time (see Isaac). The result was bitter conflict between Ishmael and Isaac, and their descendants, that has gone on right to the present day.

Camel Caravan Ishmael was born at Mamre, when Abraham was 86, 11 years after Abraham's arrival in what would become the land of Israel (Genesis 16:3). He grew up to be a man of the desert wilderness, with a wild and hostile attitude toward people, exactly as God described him to his mother before he was born:

"Behold, you are with child, and shall bear a son; you shall call his name Ishmael; because The Lord has given heed to your affliction. He shall be a wild ass of a man, his hand against every man and every man's hand against him; and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen." (Genesis 16:11-12 RSV).

When a feast was held to celebrate the weaning of Isaac, who was born 13 years later, Ishmael caused trouble by insulting and mocking his little brother (Genesis 21:8-9). After Sarah, who by then had come to dislike both Hagar and Ishmael, saw what he was doing, she said to Abraham "Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac." (Genesis 21:10 RSV)

Abraham at first resisted Sarah's demand - despite Ishmael's difficult personality, Abraham loved him and did not want to see him go. God however settled the matter:

"But God said to Abraham, "Be not displeased because of the lad and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for through Isaac shall your descendants be named. And I will make a nation of the son of the slave woman also, because he is your offspring." (Genesis 21:12-13 RSV)

Hagar and Ishmael were sent away, but they were not abandoned. God appeared and spoke to Hagar, assuring her that He would watch over them and see them prosper (Genesis 21:17-19). "And God was with the lad, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow. He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt" (Genesis 21:20-21 RSV).

Isaac and Ishmael apparently did not meet again until Abraham died: "Isaac and Ishmael his sons buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, east of Mamre, the field which Abraham purchased from the Hittites. There Abraham was buried, with Sarah his wife" (Genesis 25:9-10 RSV). The place today is known as the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, where the conflict for control of it still rages between the descendants of Isaac and Ishmael.

Ishmael lived 137 years (Genesis 25:17). He had 12 sons, who became the founders of Ishmaelite tribes that spread from Egypt to what is today Iraq. Many of the modern-day Arab peoples correctly recognize that they are the descendants of Ishmael, while the Jews, and the rest of the Israelites, are descendants of Isaac - but all are descended from Abraham.

Fact Finder: Did the apostle Paul use the history of Isaac and Ishmael to illustrate the two covenants?
Galatians 4:21-31

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