All Episodes | Previous Episode | Next Episode

Let thy words be few. Ecclesiastes 5:2

The Bible in fewer words

Episode 4: Ishmael, Abraham's firstborn son

(Genesis 15-18)

God's promise to Abraham

15 1The word of God came to Abraham in a vision, saying, "Don't be afraid, I'm your shield and your great reward."

2Abraham said, "What will you give me since I am childless?"

4The word of God said, "A son will come out of your bowels to be your heir. 5 Look at the stars, that's how much seed you're going to have."

6Abraham believed God. And God counted him righteous for believing him.

7God said, "I'm God. I brought you from Ur to inherit this land."

8Abraham said, "How can I know I will inherit it?"

9God said, "Get a heifer, she goat, and ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a pigeon."

10So Abraham gathered all the animals God asked for and cut them up into pieces. (Except for the birds, which he didn't chop up.) 11The dead animals attracted some birds of prey, which Abraham drove away. 12As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abraham.

13God said to the sleeping Abraham,

Your seed will be a stranger in a land that is not theirs and will serve them for 400 years. 14I'll judge the nation that they serve. Then they'll leave with lots of possessions. 15And you'll die at a good old age. 16In the fourth generation they will come back here again.

17Later that night, there appeared a burning lamp between the pieces of dead animals. 18God repeated the promise he made to Abraham and his descendants about giving to them the land of Canaan, saying,

19To your seed I give this land, from the great river in Egypt to the Euphrates River. 20-21This includes the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaims, Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites, and the Jebusites.

Gerard Hoet (1648-1733)

Abraham impregnates Sarah's slave, Hagar

16 1Sarah, Abraham's wife, couldn't have children. But she had a female Egyptian slave named Hagar. 2-3So Sarah said to Abraham, "God has prevented me from having children. Go have sex with Hagar, so I can have children through her."

4Abraham did as Sarah suggested and had sex with Hagar. She conceived. And when she realized that she was pregnant, she despised Sarah.

Sarah Presenting Hagar to Abraham by Louis Jean Francois Lagrenee

Sarah forces Hagar to leave

5Sarah said to Abraham,

It's your fault. I let you have sex with my slave. Then when she conceived, she despised me.

Let God decide which of us is right.

6Abraham replied, "She's your slave. Do whatever you want with her."

And when Sarah treated her harshly, Hagar ran away.

God sends an angel to retrieve Hagar

7After Hagar ran away from Sarah, an angel found her by a fountain, and said, 8"Where did you come from, Hagar? And where are you going?"

Hagar said, "I'm running away from my mistress, Sarah."

9The angel said,

Return to your mistress and submit to her. 10I'll multiply your seed exceedingly. No one will be able to count all the seed you're going to have.

11You are pregnant and will have a son. His name will be Ishmael. 12 He will be a wild man. He will fight against everyone, and everyone will fight against him.

Hagar gives birth to Ishmael

15 Hagar bare Abraham a son, Ishmael. 16 He was 86 years old when Ishmael was born.

God's everlasting covenant: circumcision

17 1 God appeared to Abraham when he was 99 years old, and said, 2 "I'll make a covenant with you, and I'll make sure you have lots of descendants." 3 Abraham fell on his face. God continued,

10 This is my covenant: Every male will be circumcised. 11 You will circumcise the flesh of your foreskin. It shall be a token of the covenant between us. 12 When a baby boy is eight days old, he shall be circumcised, whether he is born in your house, or is bought with money, or is a stranger. 13 My covenant will be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. 14 An uncircumcised boy must be cut off from his people.

God promises to get Sarah pregnant

15 God said to Abraham, 16 "I'll bless Sarah and give you a son from her. She will be a mother of nations and kings."

Abraham laughs at God

17 Abraham fell down laughing, and said in his heart,

Will Sarah and I have a child when I'm 100 and she's 90 years old?

19 God said to Abraham,

Sarah will have a son, and you will call him Isaac. I'll establish my everlasting covenant with him and his descendants.

20 I've blessed Ishmael and will make him have lots of children. Twelve of his sons will be princes and from him I'll make a great nation.

21 But my covenant will be with Isaac. Sarah will deliver him next year at this time.

22 Then God stopped talking and went up.

Abraham, Ishmael, and male slaves are circumcised

23-26 Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he circumcised himself, along with his thirteen-year-old son, Ishmael, and all of his slaves -- all in one day.

Circumcision of Abraham, Jean de Sy, Paris ca. 1355-1357

Abraham feeds God and three men

18 1-2 God and three men appear to Abraham. 3-4 Abraham said to his four guests,

Wash your feet and rest yourselves under the tree. I'll get some bread while you comfort your hearts. After that, you can go.

5 The four guests said to him, "Okay."

6 Abraham ran to Sarah and said to her, "Bake some cakes."

7 Then he fetched a calf, killed and prepared it.

8 Abraham fed his guests butter, milk, and the calf that he had prepared.

Fragment of the mosaic with Abraham and Sarah at the Oak of Mamre (basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy).

Sarah laughs at God

9-10 God said to Abraham, "I'll return sometime, and Sarah will have a son."

12 Sarah heard it and laughed to herself, saying, "Am I, an old woman, going to have pleasure with my old husband?"

13 God said to Abraham, "Why did Sarah laugh? 14 Is anything too hard for me? I'll return and she will have a son."

15 Sarah said, "I didn't laugh."

God said, "Yes you did."

God wonders if he should tell Abraham about Sodom

16 Abraham's visitors left towards Sodom, and Abraham went with them along the way.

17 God said to himself, "Should I hide from Abraham the thing that I plan to do?"

20 Then he said to Abraham,

The cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and their sin is very grievous, 21 I'll go down and see whether things down there are as bad as I've heard. If they are, I'll find out.

22And God, his three companions, and Abraham continued to walk toward Sodom.

Abraham tries to talk God out of it

23 Abraham came close to God and said,

Will you kill the righteous with the wicked?

24What if there are fifty righteous people in Sodom? Will you kill everyone including the fifty righteous? 25 Shouldn't the judge of all the earth do right?

26 God said, "If I find fifty righteous people in Sodom, I'll spare the city for their sakes."

27 Abraham said, "I'm just dust and ashes, but what if there are forty-five righteous people?"

28 God said, "If I find forty-five, I won't destroy it."

29-32 Abraham repeated the same question, with forty, thirty, twenty, and ten. Each time God said he wouldn't kill everyone if he could find that many righteous people.

33 Then God went his way, and Abraham went home.

A few more words about this episode

Sarah couldn't have children (16:1)
Sarah is the first of a long line of barren women who were desperate for children.

(In the Bible, it is the women who are barren, never the men.)

Abraham had sex with Hagar (16:4)
Neither Sarah nor Abraham asked Hagar for permission. Sarah just gave her to Abraham, who then had sex with her. Hagar probably didn't want to have sex with Abraham, or become pregnant with his child. No wonder she despised Sarah!
Return to your mistress and submit to her
God's angel commands Hagar to return to her mistress (owner).

Does God approve of slavery?

Abraham was 86 years old when Ishmael was born (16:16)
How old was Abraham when Ishmael was born?
Abraham fell on his face (17:3, 17)
People are always falling on their face in the Bible
Butter, milk, and the calf (18:8)
Not a very kosher meal for God and Abraham to eat!
Am I, an old woman, going to have pleasure with my old husband? (18:12)
Sarah, who is about 90 years old and has gone through menopause, laughs at God when he tells her that she will have a son. She asks God if she will "have pleasure" with her "lord" [Abraham], when both are so very old. God assures her that he will return and impregnate her at the appointed time.

Did Sarah have faith that she would conceive?