Whats In Thier Name: Ishmeal and Isaac

To begin with the name Ishmael means “God Hears”, and the word Isaac means “laughter & to be happy”. Both are beautiful names, and both names seem to have a purpose and a story behind them. When angles came to give Abraham the news of a son even though his wife was barren, as she overheard what the angles were saying, she laughed out in disbelief. So Isaac was given this name, because before he was born his mother laughed in utter astonishment that she would give birth to a son even though she had gone into old age and was barren. “Then Abraham fell on his face (like the Muslims do today) and laughed and said in his heart, Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? And shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a son?” and Gen 18:12, so Abraham also laughed in wonder. “Therefore Sarah laughed to herself saying…” So, the second son of Abraham was Isaac.
In Gen 17:18, Abraham prays for the blessing on his son Ishamel, that he may live before thee, who was already born, while in this passage of the bible, God was giving the Good news of Isaac. The passage reads as follows
17 Then Abraham fell upon his face (like Muslims), and laughed, and said in his heart, Shall a child be born unto him that is an hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear?
18 And Abraham said unto God, O that Ishmael might live before thee!
and God answers his prayer by saying
20 And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee: Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation.

Meaning Abraham’s prayer for Ishmeal was answered. What was the prayer, that Ishmael may live before thee with special blessings. When did he do this prayer, while he was being given the good news of Isaac. So, imagine God’s giving the Good news of a son, and Abraham is praying for the son he already has (which is totally natural), So, God heard the prayer and this is how the name Ishmeal is derived. Also, Ishmeal is the older of the two. and Abraham had been praying for a son throughout his life. So one day Abraham’s wife says

And Sarai Abram’s wife took Hagar the Egyptian, her handmaid, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, and gave her to Abram her husband to be his wife. (Gen 16:3)

So, Hajar out of sadness goes away from her to the wilderness, and an angel comes to give her good news. Now, who does the angel come to in the bible? Good people or bad? The angel comes to tell her about the son, the name that will be given to him, and that he will have a great nation. So, passage reads as follows

And the angel of the LORD found her by a fountain of water in the wilderness, by the fountain in the way to Shur. And he said: ‘Hagar, Sarai’s handmaid, whence camest thou? and whither goest thou?’ And she said: ‘I flee from the face of my mistress Sarai.’ And the angel of the LORD said unto her: ‘Return to thy mistress, and submit thyself under her hands.’ And the angel of the LORD said unto her: ‘I will greatly multiply thy seed, that it shall not be numbered for multitude. And the angel of the LORD said unto her: ‘Behold, thou art with child, and shalt bear a son; and thou shalt call his name Ishmael, because the LORD hath heard thy affliction. (Gen 16:8-13)

and then ” And Hagar bore Abram a son; and Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael.” (Gen 16:15)

Just as the angel came and gave Isaac a name, in the same way, the angel came and gave Ishmael a name. Now, notice, Sarah gave Hajar as a wife and the angel calls Ishmael a son. Also notice “the lord heard her affliction”, means she was in pain, and God heard her, and an angel was sent to make her feel better, not to give her bad news. By the time we get to Genesis 21:17 we know that Ishmael’s name (meaning “God hears”) is most fitting. Three times God has heard, and responded regarding Ishmael: (1) From Hagar in 16:11, “because the Lord hath heard they affliction.” (2) From Abraham in 17:20, “And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee.” and, (3) From Ishmael himself in Genesis 21:17, “For God hath heard the voice of the lad where he is.”

There is no need to create favortism within the family of Abraham. If the family was in conflict, then how did two families living so far apart still join hands in marriage; as mentioned in Gen. 36:3 when we are told that Esau, the brother of Jacob, married “Bashemath Ishmael’s daughter, sister of Nebajoth.”

It is interesting to see that God took such an interest in a pregnant, runaway slave girl that He personally sent an angel to help andsupport her; telling her to return and submit, and then giving her information about her unborn child. Obviously, God had a purpose for both Hagar and Ishmael. One of the things God told Abraham about Ishmael was that “twelve princes shall he beget” (Gen. 17:20). There seems to an interesting correlation between these twelve princes and the twelve sons of Jacob that fathered the twelve tribes of Israel.

Hagar’s story in Genesis, and provides a beautiful, heartfelt interpretation of the way God intervened to establish this rejected single mother, first a slave and then a discarded exile, as the matriarch of a great nation. Hagar called God “the living one who sees me,” and God named her child Ishmael, “God hears.” If God sees Hagar and hears Ishmael, we should too. Opening our eyes and ears to the line of Ishmael.

Once you’re sensitized to their presence, the Ishmaelites start to show up all over the place in the bible. The Proverbs 31 woman? Arab. Caleb the good spy? Arab (Edomite). Job? Probably Arab. The Magi who brought gold and spices to Jesus? Arab. The Rechabites of Jeremiah, the scribes of I Chronicles 2, and so on and so on: Arabs all over the Bible.

You may think of Ishmael as “a wild ass of a man” whose “hand is against all” and who dwells “in the face of his brothers,” because of course that’s what the Bible says (Genesis 16). But none of that is necessarily a negative thing. Wild donkeys are nomadic and admirably free, a positive symbol in Bedouin and ancient near eastern culture especially at that time, sometime we can not appreciate today. Jesus rode on a donkey as part of the prophecy as the messiah who he entered Jerusalem. A wild donkey represents what today the idea of a cowboy represents, to be free in a no mans land.. And to live “in the face of” your brothers certainly means “in close proximity to,” but it takes some strong interpreting to make that a bad thing. Ishmael, the first person to be named before his birth by God, received the name “God hears” while Isaac got “Laughter & joy”.

Also throughout Jewish history many jews were named ishmeal, including the famous Rabbi Ishmeal. So, the name Ishmeal did not have the negative connotations it has today.

Whats also interesting is that according to Paul the conflict between the brothers is not real it is allegorical as he wrote in Galatians.

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  1. Thank you for clarifying this part of history of Abraham.