ChristianAnswers.Net WebBible Encyclopedia

Ishmael

Meaning: God hears; God will hear (similar to the name “Ishmaiah”). Hebrew: Yishma'e'l.

This was the name of six biblical men. The name appears 47 times in the Bible (Old Testament).

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    Abraham’s eldest son, by Hagar the concubine (Gen. 16:15; 17:23)—He was born at Mamre, when Abraham was 86 years of age, eleven years after his arrival in Canaan (16:3; 21:5). At the age of thirteen he was circumcised (17:25). He grew up a true child of the desert, wild and wayward. On the occasion of the weaning of Isaac his rude and wayward spirit broke out in expressions of insult and mockery (21:9-10); and Sarah, discovering this, said to Abraham, “Expel this slave and her son.”

    Influenced by a divine admonition, Abraham dismissed Hagar and her son with no more than a skin of water and some bread. The narrative describing this act is one of the most beautiful and touching incidents of patriarchal life (Gen. 21:14-16). (See HAGAR.)

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    The modern day wilderness of Paran where Ishmael settled after leaving Abraham (click for enlarged image).
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    This building sits over the cave of Machpelah where Abraham and Sarah were buried (click for enlarged image). Son Ishmael attended the burial, along with Isaac. Photos supplied by ChristianAnswers Associate, BiblePlaces.

    Ishmael settled in the land of Paran, a region lying between Canaan and the mountains of Sinai; and “God was with him, and he became a great archer” (Gen. 21:9-21).

    He became a great desert chief, but of his history little is recorded. He was about 90 years of age when his father Abraham died, in connection with whose burial he once more for a moment reappears. On this occasion the two brothers met after being long separated.

    Isaac with his hundreds of household slaves, Ishmael with his troops of wild retainers and half-savage allies, in all the state of a Bedouin prince, gathered before the cave of Machpelah, in the midst of the men of Heth, to pay the last duties to the ‘father of the faithful,’ would make a notable subject for an artist (Gen. 25:9).

    Of the after events of his life, little is known. He died at the age of 137 years, but where and when are unknown (25:17). He had twelve sons, who became the founders of so many Arab tribes or colonies, the Ishmaelites, who spread over the wide desert spaces of Northern Arabia from the Red Sea to the Euphrates (Gen. 37:25, 27-28; 39:1), “their hand against every man, and every man's hand against them.”

    In the New Testament, Isaac, as the child of promise, is contrasted with Ishmael (Gal. 4:28; Rom. 9:7,10; Hebrews 11:18).

    Muslims are taught that Abraham attempted to sacrifice Ishmael on an altar, not Isaac.

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    Author: Matthew G. Easton, with minor editing by Paul S. Taylor.
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    Ruins of Mizpah where Ishmael, son of Nethaniah, killed Gedaliah (click for enlarged image). Photo supplied by ChristianAnswers Associate, BiblePlaces.

    a treacherous royal son of Nethaniah, and grandson of Elishama (Jer. 40:8, 15)—He was an ally of the Ammonite King Baalis, his co-conspirator (Jeremiah 40:14). With a hit team of ten men, he assassinated the foreign-installed governor of Judah, Gedaliah (son of Ahikam) at a dinner party. This occured at the time of King Nebuchadnezzar (see account: 2 Kings 25:22-26; Jeremiah 40:7-41:16). He also killed “the Jews and the Chaldees that were with him [Gedaliah] at Mizpah” (2 Kings 25:25). He carried off many captives, “and departed to go over to the Ammonites” (Jeremiah 41:10). When Johanan and the army officers with him heard about Ishmael’s crimes, they went to stop him and caught up with him at the pool in Gibeon. Ismael escaped among the Ammonites (Jeremiah 41:11-12), and the captives were rescued.

  3. a son of Azel, a descendant of Prince Jonathan, son of King Saul (1 Chronicles 8:38)

  4. a judge and father of Zebadiah. He was appointed by King Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 19:11).

  5. a son of Jehohanan (2 Chronicles 23:1)—He was a captain in the army who assisted the High Priest Jehoiada in defeating the evil Queen Athaliah (daughter of Ahab and Jezebel), so that Joash (the rightful heir to the throne) could be made Judah's king.

  6. a son of Pashur—He was a priest and father. In defiance of God's will, he married a pagan wife after the Babylonian Exile (Ezra 10:22).

Author: Paul S. Taylor.