The Birth of Isaac and the Rejection of Ishmael
Abraham begins traveling once again. He moves into the region called the Negev, or the south, settling in the area between Kadesh and Shur. From there he moved on to city of Gerar. As happened twenty years before in Egypt, Abraham and Sarah once again tell everyone that they are brother and sister. As happened before, the king of Gerar took Sarah into his harem with plans to make her one of his wives.
The name of the king was Abimelech, which means "the king is my father." Many historians believe that this name was used as a title, similar to the title Pharaoh used by the Egyptians. A number of kings are called Abimelech throughout the Scriptures.
We don't know exactly what attracted Abimelech to Sarah. Perhaps it was Sarah's beauty, even though she was 90 years old. It is also likely Abimelech saw marrying Sarah as a way to get into the good graces of the rich and powerful Abraham. Notice that the wording of this passage shows that Abimelech did not forcibly take Sarah away, but that he had asked for and received Sarah.
God visits Abimelech in a dream to warn him that his actions were worthy of death. I'm sure that got Abimelech's attention. Abimelech, in his defense, pointed out that they had not yet had sex. He also stated that he did not know she was married and that both Abraham and Sarah did not mention they were married. In all his dealings, he believed he acted innocently and with integrity.
God acknowledges that Abimelech was innocent in his intentions, though it did not excuse his actions. To keep matters from getting worse, God had prevented Abimelech from having sex with Sarah by giving the whole household a disease. To have the disease removed, Abimelech had to return Sarah to Abraham and ask Abraham to pray for him.
Abimelech returns Sarah and rightly rebukes Abraham for his deception. In addition, Abimelech gives Abraham flocks of oxen and sheep and servants to cover any shame caused by his taking Sarah. Either the value of what he gave Abraham was equal to 1,000 pieces of silver, or he gave 1,000 pieces of silver to Abraham in addition to the other gifts.
Many wonder why Abraham lied once again about his relationship with Sarah. The last time, he was thrown out of Egypt, but that was twenty years ago. Abraham stated that they had continued the deception because they did not think there were believers in God in this land and a person cannot determine what a non-believer may do. He also pointed out that it was not a complete lie as Sarah was his half-sister as well as his wife. Sarah and he had come up with the scheme when they first began to wander and Sarah went along with him as a favor to Abraham.
Abraham, as God's prophet, prays on behalf of Abimelech. God then restores the health of Abimelech's household.
After living for 25 years in the land of Canaan, the child of promise is finally born. Throughout this entire time, Abraham did not give up hope (Romans 4:17-22). Notice the emphasis in this account that these things were done in God's way and on God's time schedule. As stated earlier, the child was named Isaac, which means laughter. Also, as commanded by God, Isaac was circumcised eight days after he was born (Genesis 17:12).
All was not wonderful in Abraham's household. As Isaac grew, contention grew between Hagar and Sarah. A feast was held for the day Isaac was weaned and during the feast, Sarah saw Ishmael mocking Isaac. The Hebrew wording indicates that this was not a one-time event, but a continual mocking by Ishmael. By this time, Isaac was probably between 2 and 5 years of age. Ishmael would be between 15 and 18 years old. For many years Ishmael was Abraham's only son, and as with many children, he probably resented the attention being paid to Isaac. Perhaps Sarah saw that this was not some temporary jealousy, but a revealing of Ishmael's true nature. Sarah demanded that Hagar and her son be driven out of the camp. At first Abraham refused, but God came to him and told him to go along with Sarah in this matter. God assured Abraham that He would not forget His promise to Ishmael. God's agreement with Sarah's request shows there was some merit to her concerns.
Trusting God, Abraham sent Hagar and Ishmael away with only some bread and water. Instead of going to one of the many small towns in the area, Hagar and Ishmael wander in the wilderness. Eventually they run out of water and Ishmael, probably giving up his portion of water for his mother, collapses from a lack of water. Hagar puts him under a bush for shade, but she couldn't stand the thought of seeing him die, so she moved a short distance away. Both she and Ishmael pray to God and He answered. An angel was sent to assure Hagar that God would make a great nation of Ishmael's descendants, which meant Ishmael would live. The angel then showed Hagar a nearby well that she overlooked.
They continued to live in the wilderness of Paran, which is located in the Sinai Peninsula near Mount Sinai. In fact, Mount Sinai is often associated with Hagar (Galatians 4:24-25). Ishmael becomes a noted archer and eventually marries a woman from Egypt, his mother's home country.
Meanwhile, Abimelech approaches Abraham to negotiate a peace treaty. Unlike Pharaoh, Abimelech did not throw Abraham out of his country. They continued to have good a relationship while Abraham lived in the area.
Abraham agrees to the covenant, but points out that he was having difficulty with some of Abimelech's people. A few of them had taken possession of one of Abraham's wells. In a region that had little water, ownership of a well is a major issue. Abimelech was unaware of the problem, but agrees to return the well to Abraham. Abraham then kills seven sheep to witness the return of the well. The number of animals selected indicates that this would be a permanent covenant. The area becomes known as Beersheba, which means "well of the seven" or "well of the oath." The words seven and oath are very similar in the Hebrew language.
Abraham continued to live in the Philistine land for a period of time.