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The seventh account: Ishmael (Chapter 25, verses 12 through 18)
The book of Genesis traces the early history of God’s saving activity, which Moses describes in ten accounts. The first five of these describe God’s saving activity in the original world, from the time of creation to the flood. The second group of five accounts describes God’s saving activity among the patriarchs. The sixth account, that of Terah, records how God chose Abraham, Terah’s son, and trained him to be the bearer of the covenant promise.
The next two accounts are named after Abraham’s sons and continue the survey of how God carried out his saving activity. In instances like this, where a double development is to be traced, Moses customarily treats first that branch of the family that was less important for carrying out God’s covenant and then devotes more attention to the primary branch of the family.
The account of Ishmael is very brief. It consists primarily of names unfamiliar to us. Since Ishmael and his descendants stood outside of the messianic line, they played no major role in the history of God’s ancient people. Ishmael was, nonetheless, a son of Abraham to whom God had made a gracious promise.
Genesis Chapter 25, verses 12 through 18
This is the account of Abraham’s son Ishmael, whom Sarah’s maidservant, Hagar the Egyptian, bore to Abraham. These are the names of the sons of Ishmael, listed in the order of their birth: Nebaioth the firstborn of Ishmael, Kedar,
Adbeel, Mibsam, Mishma, Dumah, Massa, Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish and Kedemah. These were the sons of Ishmael, and these are the names of the twelve tribal rulers according to their settlements and camps. Altogether, Ishmael lived a hundred and thirty-seven years. He breathed his last and died, and he was gathered to his people. His descendants settled in the area from Havilah to Shur, near the border of Egypt, as you go toward Asshur. And they lived in hostility toward all their brothers.
God had made it very clear that the covenant blessing was promised to Isaac and his descendants. When Abraham expressed the hope that his older son, Ishmael, would not be cut off from God’s blessing and simply forgotten, God promised that Ishmael too would receive a blessing. For Abraham’s sake God promised to increase the family of Ishmael, so that it would grow to become a
nation. “[Ishmael] will be the father of twelve rulers,” God had promised (Chapter 17, verse 20).
The account of Ishmael is brief, but it’s long enough to record how God kept his promise. The names of 12 tribal rulers from Ishmael’s line are listed, ancestors of many of the Arab nations. God’s promises do not fail, even those
promises given to people outside the mainstream of messianic history.
Ishmael’s descendants settled in the general area of the Sinai Peninsula. God had given Hagar this warning about her son: “He will live in hostility toward all his brothers” (Chapter 16, verse 12). The history of Ishmael’s Arabic descendants has borne out the truth of this prophecy.