A Tale of Two Sons

Genesis 21:1-32

The Torah now relates the birth of Isaac, long-awaited son to Abraham and Sarah. Named for the laughter of joy his birth elicited in his father, Isaac is circumcised at eight days old, just as God commanded Abraham. As he grows, however, his mother becomes concerned about the influence his half-brother, Ishmael, might have on him. She asks Abraham to send Ishmael and Hagar away.


God assures a distressed Abraham that listening to Sarah is the right move, and that He will make Ishmael great, as well. Abraham reluctantly banishes Ishmael and Hagar, sending them on their way with bread and water.


Hagar wanders into the desert around Beer-sheba, and soon runs out of water. Not wanting to see her son die of thirst, she casts the youth off under a shrub and sits at a distance, crying. God sends an angel to reassure her that everything will be alright, and shows her where to find water. The Torah tells us Ishmael grows up in the desert, and flourishes. His mother ultimately finds him a wife from among her own people.


Meanwhile, back at home, Abraham makes a treaty with Abimelech, at the latter’s request. Abimelech asks Abraham to swear that peace will reign between him and Abimelech’s children and grandchildren. Abraham agrees, and uses the opportunity to air a grievance regarding his well, which Abimelech’s servants have seized. Abimelech denies any prior knowledge of the seizure.


Abraham presents Abimelech with cattle to commemorate the oath, and separates seven ewes to mark that he dug the well. As the Israel Bible points out, the place, Beer-sheba, which means “Well of Seven” or “Well of the Oath”, is named for this play on words.


Abraham plants a tree, and calls out to God, Master of the Universe. The Hebrew name by which he refers to God is El Olam. Olam means world, but also comes from the same root as ne’elam, meaning ‘hidden’. Thus, the Israel Bible points out, the name King of the Universe (world) also hints that He is King over that which remains hidden.


Abraham remains in Gerar a long time.


Virtual Classroom Discussion

Isaac is named for Abraham’s laughter. Why do you think it was commendable that Abraham laughed at Isaac’s birth, but Sarah was chastised for laughing at the news (see Genesis 18:12-15)?

Comments ( 13 )

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  • Teresa Henriques

    I beleive that ages at those times were completely different compared to our times. YHVH reduced the living years of humans to 120 the most; and the salms mention from 70 to 80 years of age.I
    Lately, there were news that a couple – 77 and 78- had had a baby in India.
    There is nothing impossible for our dear Father in Heaven.

  • Damian Sco

    Abraham was overjoyed through his faith-given-belief while Sarah was skeptical given her lack of faith.

  • Herman Arentsen

    I think that Avraham’s laughter is from a painful background because he , up to that time , had not been capable to force a son out of his own capacity. It also was a laugh of relief: G-d had thought about the promise and here it was said. Sarah laughed out of unbelief. Not going the way of women, and old. And staying behind the curtain to hide her unbelief, just like Adam & Chawa hid after sinning in Gan Eden.

  • c77

    I wonder…El Olam as pointed out which could hint to meaning The God of that which is hidden…maybe Abraham knew of Hagar's testimony of how God revealed to her a well for water after He heard the lad? God revealed a well that was hidden. Just wondering since she went to the wilderness of Beersheba and he lived in Beersheba.

  • Jayne

    It could be that Abraham laughed for joy whereas Sarah laughed cynically.
    As Jesse says Abraham laughed out loud but Sarah laughed in her mind and then denied it.
    With God it’s not just the action it’s the mental intent behind it.

  • Sheila

    Gen:18:12-15 —- Sarah out of the fear of the lord lied about her laughter when she overheard the conversation between Abraham and the Lord as she looked only at the natural situation and seemed blinded to the word of the Lord —- is anything impossible for the Lord?Gen 17:17 indicates that Abraham laughed as all this seemed incredible —- however his faith was growing through the encounters with the Lord. The miracle birth came and-Abraham named his promised son Isaac — laughter— v6 indicates that Sarah’s laughter is now turned to joy — God has made me laugh — indicating her heart has changed as the long awaited and promised son was now a reality.

    • Ahuva Balofsky (Moderator)

      Great suggestion! Yitzchak is actually the future tense in Hebrew — He WILL laugh. Perhaps his name is also a type of prediction of suffering turning to joy, just as Sarah’s did?

  • Jesse

    Abraham laughed out loud and curiously wanted to know how such a thing could happen, yet believing that it would be possible. It was said of Sarah that she “laughed in herself” (Gen 18:12) and quite possibly thought that such a thing couldn’t come to pass.

    • SueJean Heinz

      I have to agree with Jesse's point here again as I have the sense that Sarah's laughter came from a point of unbelief and she is embarrassed when Elohim calls her out on it.
      Baruch Hashem.

    • David Boehm

      I think it strange that we read about Abraham not being able to father a child and then after Sarah died Abraham remarried and had six children.??

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