Ishmael is the son of Abraham and Hagar, the Egyptian slave-girl belonging to Sarah, Abraham’s wife. Abraham gave him the name Ishmael, which means “God hears,” because he and Sarah thought he was the son of God’s promise. Ishmael became the father of the Arab nations.
God had promised Abraham that he would have a son (Genesis 15:4) and that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky. But as time passed, and God had not fulfilled that promise, Sarah devised a plan, and Abraham agreed. She gave her Egyptian maidservant, Hagar, to Abraham. Hagar conceived a child and gave birth to Ishmael when Abraham was 86 years old (Genesis 16:16). Before Ishmael was born, the angel of the Lord told Hagar, “And he will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man's hand against him; and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.”Genesis 16:12
Ishmael was raised in his father’s house, but when he was 13 years old, God returned to Abraham to re-affirm His covenant and assure Abraham that the child of promise would come through Sarah (Genesis 17:16–19; 18:10), not Hagar. God told Abraham..
“And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee: 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, which Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year.” Genesis 17:20–21
As a symbol of His covenant pledge, the Lord instituted the rite of circumcision. Both Abraham and Ishmael were circumcised that day.
A year later, when Abraham was 100 years old, Isaac was born to Sarah. When the boy was two or three years old, around the time he was to be weaned, Abraham held a huge feast to celebrate the occasion. Ishmael was 16 years old by then. At the banquet, Ishmael mocked Isaac, angering Sarah. She demanded that Abraham get rid of Hagar and Ishmael. (Genesis 21:8–10). Sarah was determined that Ishmael have no part in Isaac’s inheritance.
Abraham was deeply troubled by the idea of sending Ishmael away, but God reassured him:
“And God said unto Abraham, Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called. And also of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation, because he is thy seed.” Genesis 21:12–13
“And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and took bread, and a bottle of water, and gave it unto Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, and the child, and sent her away: and she departed, and wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba. And the water was spent in the bottle, and she cast the child under one of the shrubs. And she went, and sat her down over against him a good way off, as it were a bow shot: for she said, Let me not see the death of the child. And she sat over against him, and lift up her voice, and wept. And God heard the voice of the lad; and the angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven, and said unto her, What aileth thee, Hagar? fear not; for God hath heard the voice of the lad where he is. Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him in thine hand; for I will make him a great nation.” Genesis 21:14–18
The Bible says God was with Ishmael as he grew up in the eastern Sinai Peninsula: “And God was with the lad; and he grew, and dwelt in the wilderness, and became an archer. And he dwelt in the wilderness of Paran: and his mother took him a wife out of the land of Egypt.” Genesis 21:20–21
When Abraham died, Ishmael attended his funeral (Genesis 25:9), proving that an occasional and civil communications were maintained between him and his father’s household.
Ishmael fathered 12 sons and a daughter who married Esau (Genesis 28:9; 36:2–3). He lived to the age of 137 (Genesis 25:17). Scripture says Ishmael’s numerous descendants settled near the eastern border of Egypt and lived in hostility toward all of their relatives (Genesis 25:18).