Biblical People

Biblical People: Ishmael (1)

Ishmael a slave as well, Abraham treats him as a son. When God promises Abraham that he’ll be the father of many nations, he gives Abraham the rite of circumcision. Abraham circumcises Ishmael according to God’s command.

When Ishmael is fourteen, Sarah—who is effectively his stepmother—gets pregnant. She gives Abraham his second son, Isaac. This makes Ishmael and Isaac half-brothers.

Ishmael mocks his much younger brother.

This distresses Sarah, who insists Abraham get rid of Hagar and her impudent son. This will ensure that Isaac will not have to share his inheritance with his older half-brother.

This deeply troubles Abraham, who loves Ishmael, his firstborn. But God tells Abraham to not let Sarah’s request upset him, to do what she asked. The Lord’s promised blessings for Abraham will come through Isaac. Even so, a nation will also come from Ishmael.

The next day Abraham sends Hagar and Ishmael away. 

They wander into the desert. With their provisions gone, Hagar sits down and cries. But God comes to her, provides comfort, and shows her water. Like he did with Abraham, God promises Hagar that he will make her son, Ishmael, into a great nation.

The pair survive. Hagar, an Egyptian, gets an Egyptian wife for her son.

Many years later, when Abraham dies, Ishmael and Isaac bury him. This shows his two sons have reconciled. But we don’t know if it’s just for this moment or a more lasting connection.

Ishmael has twelve sons, who become twelve tribal leaders. This implies the birth of a nation, just as God promised to both Abraham and Hagar. Ishmael dies at the age of 137.

What can we do to reconnect with estranged relatives or former friends? Do we believe God’s promises to us will come true?

[Read Ishmael’s story in Genesis 16:917 and 21:821. Discover more in Genesis 25:810.]

Learn about more biblical characters in Old Testament Sinners and Saints, available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover. Get your copy today.

A lifelong student of the Bible, Peter DeHaan, PhD, wrote the 1,000-page website to encourage people to explore the Bible. His main blog and many books urge Christians to push past the status quo and reconsider how they practice their faith in every area of their lives.

By Peter DeHaan

Peter writes about biblical Christianity to confront status quo religion and make a faith that matters. Learn more at