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Abraham, Part 5: Can The 'Wild Man' Ishmael Be Tamed?


Abraham and Sarah, the progenitors of the Jewish people, were for a long time a childless couple. After they lived that way in Canaan for ten years, Sarah suggested in desperation that Abraham have a child with her Egyptian maid Hagar. As Sarah puts it, “that I may obtain children by her.”

The child born to Abraham and Hagar is Ishmael, of whom an angel of God says:

…he will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man’s hand against him….

Abraham, though, develops intense concern for the “wild man.” Sometime after Abraham and Sarah — by God’s intervention — finally have a son of their own, Isaac, Sarah sees Ishmael “mocking.” She reacts by demanding that Abraham expel Ishmael and Hagar for good.

Although Abraham is deeply pained to do so, God reassures him that — as in the case of Isaac — “also of the son of the bondwoman will I make a great nation, because he is thy seed.”

Indeed, God has already told Abraham earlier:

…as for Ishmael…: 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.

But my covenant will I establish with Isaac….

Ishmael, then, appears to be loved and valued both by Abraham and by God; but not to have equal status with Isaac.