The Happy Father

Abraham was 86 years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abraham.[1]

Can you imagine the feelings of an 86-year old man who has been childless his whole life, who has been dreaming of a son not only for many years, but for many decades, and finally, a son is born to him?! How blessed and how fulfilled he must have felt holding in his hands this sweet baby that he saw as a living proof of God’s faithfulness to His promises! Remember: Even though we know that Ishmael was not a son of promise, Abraham did not know it. Not only did he love his son with all his heart and soul, but even this incredible name that Hagar had brought back from her Beer Lachai Roi experience  – Ishmael,  ישמע-אל   , “God will hear” – was a clear sign and an indisputable proof that  Ishmael was indeed God’s promised child, the Son of the Promise.  What else did he need to prove it?  The merciful and just God has distinguished the boy as somebody very special in His eyes!

So, when Ishmael was born, the old patriarch’s joy knew no bounds. He loved his son dearly, he enjoyed every single moment with him, and during those joyful years, somehow a “small” fact skipped past his attention: God wasn’t speaking to him anymore!

The Father of Many Nations 

Did Abraham realize that God had stopped speaking to him? I think that all those years his heart had been so full of Ishmael, he might have missed the fact that something–Somebody–was absent from his life. The Scriptures don’t tell us anything about those 13 years that Ishmael was Abraham’s only son. Yet,  when the Lord appears to Abraham with a breaking news and a long message in chapter 17, remarkably, the only thing that we (and God) hear from Abraham in this chapter is his plea for his son: Oh, that Ishmael might live before You.”[2]

Pay close attention: Abraham said this when God actually appeared to him, for the first time after many years! God promises him another son and explains His plan and His covenant with Abraham. However, Abraham’s response, and all that he can think of at that point, is about Ishmael: Oh, that Ishmael might live before You!” Not only would Abraham be perfectly happy to see Ishmael as his heir, as the one who would continue his life’s work and his special relationship with God, he actually did see Ishmael as his heir and successor – and we see it clearly from Chapter 17.

As we read Chapter 17 where God appears to Abraham after 13 years of silence, we see that the promise that shook Abraham’s world–that he would have another son–came only in verse 16. This was preceded by a long message, however: God explains to Abraham that he was making a covenant with him and with his descendants forever.

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless.  And I will make My covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.” Then Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying:  “As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations.  I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you.  And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you.  Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.” And God said to Abraham: “As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations.  This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised;  and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you.  He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every male child in your generations, he who is born in your house or bought with money from any foreigner who is not your descendant.  He who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money must be circumcised, and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.  And the uncircumcised male child, who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.”[3]

Within the 14 verses that I have taken the liberty of quoting here, the word “covenant” occurs 10 times; the word “descendant” five times. All these occurrences happen before verse 16 – before Abraham hears for the first time that he is to have another  son by Sarah. This means that all this time, while listening to the Lord speaking  about the covenant and the descendants, Abraham is obviously thinking of Ishmael: he has no other children and at this point, he has no idea that he will have another son.  And the only hint that from now on, something is about to change drastically,  we find in verse 5 where God is changing Abram’s  name to Abraham. The change seems to be very minor – in Hebrew, its only one letter,  ה(he)­ – however, the change in the  meaning is huge.  What does it mean, this change?

The original name “Abram,” אַבְרָם (avram), is composed of two words av and ram, together they mean something like “exalted father”. The irony of this name is lost on those who don’t know Hebrew: as we know, for a very long time, Abram could not become a father at all! But now, finally, he is the father, he loves his son and is absolutely confident that Ishmael, indeed, is the son of promise!  We know that God had a different plan though, and very soon – in verse 16 – Abraham will hear about When,  even before that, God is inserting letter ה into his name, He says: “your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations”[4] . This  new name, “Abraham” אַבְרָהָם  (avraham), reflects God’s plan and promise: “a father of many nations,”  אַב־הֲמוֹן גּוֹיִם,  (av hamon goyim). As much as Abraham loved Ishmael,  he was not supposed to be AvRam – just a happy Father of one son – he was supposed to be Abraham – “a father of many nations”. And in our next post, we will watch this transition happening.

[1] Genesis 16:16

[2] Genesis 17:18

[3] Genesis 17:1-14

[4] Gen.17:5

Excerpts from my  book “Abraham had two sons”  are included in this  series, you  can get  this book and my other books from  my page on this blog:   . Also,  my new book “Unlocking the Scriptures”   is available on Amazon:

If these articles whet your appetite for discovering the hidden treasures of the Hebrew BibleI would be happy to provide more information (and also a teacher’s discount for new students) regarding our amazing courses (

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