Ishmael means “God hears,”after an episode during which God heard the prayers of Hagar. Looking back to the time during which Sarah was married to Abraham, she was deemed to be infertile. As was custom in pagan times and in situations like these, Abraham was allowed to sleep with Sarah’s maid, Hagar, in hopes of giving Abraham an heir. While this was an acceptable custom among the culture of those living in the area at that time, this was not the way in which God wanted these situations to be handled.
By the time Ishmael was born, Abraham had reached the age of 86. However, only 13 years later, Sarah was able to give birth, via the miracle of God, to a son named Isaac. Through one swift action, Ishmael had been passed over as the heir, which was quite unsettling. This created a rather unsettling and awkward position within the house, since throughout Sarah’s period of infertility, Hagar had showcased and boasted incessantly of her son, Ishmael. The discord only increased after the birth of Isaac, when Ishmael took advantage of any and every opportunity available to chide and belittle half-brother Isaac.Saddened and frustrated by the behavior of everyone involved, Sarah demanded that Abraham remove Hagar and Ishmael from the living quarters.
Although Hagar and Ishmael were banished, God did not leave them in the desert to perish. While marooned in the desert located near Beersheba, close to death due to dehydration from lack of water, Hagar was visited by an agent of the Lord; more commonly known as an angel. This angel guided Hagar to a well, where they were able to slake their thirsts in order to survive.
As time went on, Hagar was able to find a wife of Egyptian descent for Ishmael. She would go on to bear twelve sons for Ishmael. Isaac’s son Jacob would follow in the same steps, with twelve sons. After skipping a generation, God decided to use Ishmael’s descendants as those charged with saving an entire nation of Jews. The grandsons of Isaac reluctantly sold their brother, Joseph, to traders working for Ishmael for the purposes of slavery. In another odd twist, Joseph was taken to Egypt, where he was sold yet again. However, Joseph persevered, and in time, became second in command of Egypt and was ultimately responsible for saving the lives of not only his brothers, but also the life of his father while suffering through a famine of epic proportions.