Abraham Questions God About Ishmael

Isn’t Ishmael The Promised Seed?



The first baby in the Bible who was named before birth was Ishmael (16:11), and the second was Isaac. As we shall see when we study Genesis 21, these two boys represent two different births:


  1. Ishmael, our first birth after the flesh, and
  2. Isaac, our second birth through the Spirit. (See John 3:1-8 and Gal. 4:21-31, especially vv. 28-29.)


Abraham had believed for thirteen years that Ishmael was the promised seed. But once he realized that Ishmael was not the one but that Sarah would conceive and have a child, Abraham was concerned about what would happen to Ishmael. This reveals the affection Abraham had for Ishmael.


Abraham (to God): There’s Ishmael of course. May my son Ishmael be blessed and live a long life beneath Your watchful eye.

Genesis 17:18 (VOICE)


From the human point of view, we can understand why Abraham interceded for Ishmael. Ishmael was his son, and the father loved him dearly. They had been together now for thirteen years, and Ishmael was entering adulthood.


Was God going to waste all that Abraham had invested in Ishmael? Was there to be no future for the lad?


After all, it wasn’t Ishmael’s fault that he was born! It was Abraham and Sarah who sinned, not the boy.


But from the spiritual point of view, Ishmael could not replace Isaac or even be equal to him in the covenant plan of God. God had already promised to bless Ishmael (Gen. 16:11), and He kept His promise (25:12-16); but the covenant blessings were not a part of Ishmael’s heritage. Isaac alone was to be the heir of all things (25:5-6; Rom. 9:6-13).


There is a practical lesson here for all who seek to live by faith:


When God is preparing a bright future for you, don’t cling to the things of the past.


Ishmael represented the past, Isaac the future. Ishmael symbolized man’s fleshly way of accomplishing something for God; but Isaac was a miracle baby, born by the power of God. Ishmael brought dissension into the home, but Isaac brought laughter. If you have an “Ishmael” in your life, yield it up to God. God has a perfect plan, and what He plans is the best. It may pain you to give up your cherished dreams, but God’s way is always the right way.


Ishmael did not get a new name, because he represents the flesh; and the flesh cannot be changed. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh” (John 3:6) and always will be flesh.


I know that in me, that is, in my fallen human nature, there is nothing good. I can will myself to do something good, but that does not help me carry it out.

Romans 7:18 (VOICE)



The Spirit brings life. The flesh has nothing to offer. The words I have been teaching you are spirit and life,

John 6:63 (VOICE)


The old nature can be disciplined, subdued, and even to some extent controlled; but it cannot be changed. Until we receive our glorified bodies in the presence of the Lord, the struggle between the flesh and the Spirit will continue (Gal. 5:16-26).


It was the beginning of a new day for Abraham and Sarah, for Sarah was going to have a baby boy!


But God said, “That’s not what I mean. Your wife, Sarah, will have a baby, a son. Name him Isaac (Laughter). I’ll establish my covenant with him and his descendants, a covenant that lasts forever.

Genesis 17:19 (MSG)


The name Isaac means “laughter.” It is assumed that this name came from the fact that Abraham laughed when the Lord told him he would have a child at the age of one hundred.


As for Ishmael, I have heard your prayers for him! Look, he is your son too. I will bless him as well and make his lineage fruitful. His descendants will also be of a huge number. In fact, he will be the father of 12 princes. I will make sure that a great nation arises from his descendants as well. But My special covenant—this I will establish with Isaac. Sarah is going to give birth to him at this very time next year.

Genesis 17:20-21 (VOICE)


Ishmael is the father of all the Arab nations. Like the Jews, the Arabs practice circumcision and trace it back to this covenant with Abraham.


The Lord had already promised Hagar that multitudes would come out of Ishmael (Genesis 16:7-14), and I suspect she had communicated this to Abraham. But the Lord was confirming what He had already promised and expanded on it by promising that Ishmael would beget twelve princes.
The Lord told Abraham that the birth of Isaac would be at that same time in the next year. Therefore, it can be surmised that the Lord’s appearance to Abraham and Sarah in Genesis 18:1-15 happened three months after this one.


And God stopped talking with him and went up from Abraham.


Genesis 17:22 (AMP)


The first verse of this chapter says that God appeared to Abraham. Therefore, it can be supposed that this going up was literal. Abraham saw the Lord ascend into heaven. What an assurance this must have given him that this was no earthly messenger or just an angel!



Andrew Wommack’s Living Commentary
Bible Exposition Commentary – Be Obedient



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