ISHMAEL THE ARAB 1866-1729 BC     by Robert Brow (

Chapter 3   1850 BC Isaac was weaned

Till I was fourteen I had taken it for granted that Sarai was my mother and Hagar was her slave. It never dawned on me that Hagar could have been my birth mother (16:2-4). As long as I could remember it was Sarai who had fed me and bathed me, and made sure I viewed myself as a Sumerian. Hagar never let on, and none of our servants would have dared suggest it was she who had brought me into the world.

When I was recovering from my circumcision (17:23), I went for a walk around the encampment, and overheard Hagar being teased by a group of her Egyptian friends. I understood their language, which was close enough to the local Canaanite dialect. "How did you enjoy sleeping with your mistress' husband?  How come you are the mother of Abraham's son, and Sarah treats you far worse than a slave?" (16:6)

It was true that Sarah treated her slave with unbelievable cruelty, and that was her right. But I never saw Hagar going to bed with my father. And Hagar had never given me any indication that she loved me as her own son. To put my mind at rest I decided to broach the subject in an indirect kind of way. Since our circumcision my father and I were very close to each other. So I waited for Sara to leave us alone.

"I was wondering how my mother, who has been barren since I was born, is now going to give me a baby brother?" Abraham knew immediately that I had an inkling things were not as I had imagined. He explained that according to our custom a woman who has been barren for a long time could temporarily give her servant girl to her husband, and any child who was born was counted as the child of her mistress (16:1-3).

"Does that mean Sarah is not my mother?" He took me in his arms and explained "Your blood is half Hamitic Egyptian (10:6, 16:1), but legally you are my son." I wondered how Sarah was going to bear a child at the age of ninety if she had always been barren. Abraham admitted that he too had laughed at the idea (17:17), but as he had often reminded me "All things are possible with God" (Nineteen centuries later Rabbi Paul explained that this was the very heart of Abrahamic faith, Romans 4:17-18, as in Luke 1:37).

It was now time to force the question that really bothered me. "Why didn't you tell me Hagar was my mother?" He said it was not good for a son to know he had been conceived by a slave. It put him into a wrong relationship with her.

"So now what happens to the promises you gave me as your firstborn son?" My father said he still loved me very much, and he had in fact pleaded with God to let me keep my place in the family genealogical line (17:18). God said that was not to be, but he had a much bigger inheritance in mind for me. Abraham then intoned the prophecy he had received the day we were circumcised. "As for Ishmael, I have heard you; I will bless him and make him fruitful; and he shall be exceedingly numerous. He shall be the father to twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation" (17:20).

Abraham could see my mind was whirling, and he said "I want you to memorize that prophecy. You will need it again and again when the going gets rough." So I repeated the words seven times in Sumerian, and seven times in Canaanite, and often in the next few months. Later the going did get very rough, but the promise was to sustain me as I built the Arab nation (as in 17:20).

The immediate result was that overnight Hagar moved from being our slave to being my mother. Sarah continued to fuss about my Sumerian manners and education, but already my mind was miles away. I knew my destiny would be with Hagar, not with Sarah.

Secretly I found occasions to be with my birth mother alone. For the first time I noticed she was very beautiful. I loved her as I had never loved Sarai. "Why did you let my father have sex with you?" Hagar said it was her mistress' idea (16:1-3). Perhaps she wanted to prove it was Abraham who was incapable of fathering a child?

Another day she told me, "As soon as I felt you moving in my womb, my mistress began to treat me very harshly (16:5-6). So I ran away and nearly got back home into Egypt. But a messenger from God found me resting by a spring of water (16:7). I was to go straight back to Sarai and submit to her (16:9). It was a very dangerous thing to do, but I obeyed. Then the angel gave me the prophecy which has kept me going through these fourteen years."

I asked what the angel had said. In the same kind of tone which Abraham used to announce communications from God she went on "I will so greatly multiply your offspring that they cannot be counted for multitude. Now you have conceived and shall bear a son; you shall call him Ishmael (God hears),  for the Lord has given heed to your affliction" (16:11). She added that the Lord had also said that her son, Ishmael, would be nobody else's donkey, but would live freely like the wild donkeys of the desert and go his own way" (16:12).

That suited me perfectly, and it was awesome to know that she had been told this fourteen years before the prophecy my father gave me the night before our circumcision. So I recited for her the prophecy Abraham had given to me. "He shall be the father of twelve princes, and will make of him a great nation" (17:20). The idea of being the grandmother of twelve royal sheiks left her speechless, and we hugged and cried for joy.

I asked her what she thought about the way Abraham's inheritance was to be divided. She pondered this for several minutes. "It seems to me that Sarah's son will be included in Abraham's genealogical line (17:19, 21, 21:12). And in four hundred years that line will get this miserable bit of Canaanite territory (15:16). But we become a huge nation founded by my twelve grandsons. Their line will be exclusive. Ours will include as many Arabs as we can include in our family. That is why the angel told me nobody would be able to count our eventual number for multitude (16:11). I agreed that we had got a very good deal.

When Sarah had received her new name, and heard she was about to conceive, she didn't want to have her son born among the hated Canaanites. So Abraham moved us south to an area occupied by Philistines between Canaan and Egypt (20:11). They had come from the great Minoan civilization of Crete, and Sarah appreciated that. They were not as cultured as the Sumerians of Ur, but they had class. They were also very fierce, and could have taken all we had and wiped us out without trace.

My father foolishly introduced Sarah as a Sumerian princess who was his half sister, which she was. Abimelech (means "my father is king) immediately had her taken to his royal harem to set up an marriage alliance between his Philistines and the highly respected ancient Sumerian civilization. In no time we had a very ugly situation on our hands. As usual Abraham said, "Nothing will be impossible with God." And the next morning Abimelech said God had told him to return her (20:3-16). The king was however still in a rage about Abraham's deceit. But my father said he would pray for Abimelech's wife and female slaves, who had all mysteriously been barren for years. When they all quickly became pregnant (20:17), all was well.

Seven months later Isaac was born, and Sarah was ecstatic, "God has brought laughter for me" (21:6-7). She immediately transferred her affection totally to her own child. I might as well not have existed. I loved my baby brother, and one day Sarah saw me playing with him. She flew into a rage and screamed at Abraham. "Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit with my son Isaac" (21:10). I will ever remember those words of betrayal.

Abraham was very upset, and went out alone to pray. When he came back he had made up his mind, and he relayed to me God's instructions. "Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you. As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring" (21:12-13).

My father was not a man to delay obeying what God had told him. Early the next morning Abraham gave Hagar a bag of spiced pita bread, and a pouch of money which she didn't open but hid around her waist. I filled a skin of water. My father was too overcome to say goodbye. Sarah did not even come out from feeding her baby. And as the sun rose Hagar and I walked away south without even looking back.

A note on Abraham's genealogical line

For the Jews genealogical lines were very important and kept with great care. There are detailed genealogies of the line from Shem to Abraham in Genesis 11:10-30. The immediate descendants of Jacob are given in Numbers 26:5- 51. The priestly line descended from Jacob's son, Levi, is set out in Exodus 6:14-25. The line of David comes at the end of the book of Ruth. Many of the ancient genealogies are collected in 1 Chronicles 1:1-9:44. Among Jewish people at the time of the birth of Jesus the Messiah was expected to come from the line of David. This was based on ancient prophecies such as in Psalm 89:29, 36, Isaiah 11:1, Jeremiah 23:5, 33:15-17, Ezekiel 34:23, 37:24. The messianic genealogy of Joseph is traced in Matthew 1:1-16, and the chapter goes on to explain how Joseph accepted Jesus as his legal heir, and recorded this in the census records in Bethlehem.

In our story Ishmael is excluded from this messianic genealogy, and we will see how other members of Abraham and Isaac's family also became part of the Arab nation. We will also note that the descendants of Abraham's son Isaac are only promised a very small area of Canaanite territory, whereas the territory of Abraham's firstborn son stretches over immense areas of Arab
land with their vast oil resources.

Chapter 4 .....