Now Who Is Laughing – Genesis 21:9-21

So the story continues… When we last left off with Abraham’s crew, he was praying for people like Lot in the valley. And we had talked about Genesis 21:1-8 when the angels had predicted Sarah’s conception. Now, we find out what is happening with Ishmael, Abraham’s other son.


Remember that Isaac means laughter, and we had several candidates for who was laughing. Now, we have another candidate, Ishmael. The range of “mesaheq” could be simple laughter or mockery. Most translations will either say “scoffed” or “mocked” or note this possibility in a footnote. The Good News Translation carries another meaning, that is “to play.” This is also within the range of meaning, yet they have to add that Ishmael was playing with Isaac. Traditionally, even in rabbinic circles, Ishmael was not playing with Isaac, but mocking him. Yet, Sarah’s reaction could have been sparked by innocent play or his mischievous character. Her reaction is to get rid of a rival heir.

Sibling Rivalry

Abraham had no heirs when this story started. It was possibly Lot, but he has been disqualified on several occasions now. It could have been Eliezer, Abraham’s servant, but God said it would be a biological child. So now, the question is, who? Who gets the blessing of promise? Ishmael is the first born, yet is a slave’s child. Isaac is the first-born of Sarah, the wife. If Ishmael remains within the family unit, there is a chance that he could elbow in on some of the inheritance, if only from Isaac’s compassion later in life. Sarah wants it to be clear, that Ishmael should have no share in the inheritance. So whether she is simply angry at Ishmael for this reason or Ishmael did mock Isaac, a line has been drawn.

God’s Continued Blessing

Abraham loves Ishmael, his son. So the family drama is thick. God promises to bless Ishmael, yet only Abraham knows this. As Hagar and Ishmael wander in the desert, their provisions run low and she places him under some brush continuing away because she can’t watch him die. Do not forget that Ishmael is not a young boy, born when Abraham was 86, Isaac was born when Abraham was 100, so Ishmael is in his teens. And the God that sees (Genesis 16:13), visits Hagar again and reveals to her the water that she needs. God blesses Ishmael with skill, and he receives a wife.

The Point?

Recall that all this drama began when Sarah tried to take things into her own hands instead of trusting God. God is still in the messed-up results, God is not going to cut off Ishmael. Ishmael may not be a part of God’s chosen plan, but he will still be blessed through it (Genesis 12:1-4). The consequences have yet to end and continue to play out to this day, brother is still fighting brother. However, if we were to see how Ishmael allowed his story to play out, we would see someone who despite difficult circumstances continued to receive blessings from God. We’ll see at the end of Abraham’s life that Isaac and Ishmael come together for his burial, and that Isaac will settle in the place that Hagar first met God. Despite all that tried to separate them as brothers, and the differences in what they received, they were able to live together as brothers under God’s blessings.

So instead of Ishmael grasping for what couldn’t be his, Abraham’s inheritance, he was content with what God provided. What if we stopped chasing after what we think and what looks to be rightfully ours, and instead lived thankfully with what God provides?

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