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Genesis Chapter Twenty-One


I. Content of the Chapter


Abraham begot Isaac

A.  Sarah begot Isaac for Abraham (v.1-7);

B.  Hagar and Ishmael were cast out (v.8-16);

C.  God kept Ishmael (v.17-21);

D.  Abraham made a covenant with Abimelech (v.22-34);


II. Verse by Verse Commentary


Gen. 21:1 And the Lord visited Sarah as He had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as He had spoken.

YLT: “And Jehovah hath looked after Sarah as He hath said, and Jehovah doth to Sarah as He hath spoken;”

Spiritual Meaning: “Isaac” typifies the one who is born through the promise, namely, the one born according to the Spirit (Gal. 4:23, 29). Isaac relates to the spiritual life of believers. This verse indicates us that our spiritual life is promised according to the will of God, and He begot us by His living and abiding word (James 1:18; 1Pet. 1:23).

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) The word of God never fails (Jos. 21:45) and is settled in the heavens (Ps. 119:89). Things will be exactly as we have been told by God (Acts. 27:25).

  2) That we are favored is due to the attendance of God, not our words or works.


Gen. 21:2 For Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him.

YLT: “and Sarah conceiveth, and beareth a son to Abraham, to his old age, at the appointed time that God hath spoken of with him;”

Literal Meaning: Abraham a son in his old age”, it is against hope (Rom. 4:18-19).

  “Sarah conceived”, it shows that it is God’s work.

Spiritual Meaning: this verse tells us the elements of spiritual life:

1.    In his old age”, the life is not born of blood, nor of flesh’s will, nor of man’s will, but of God (John 1:13).

2.    Sarah conceived”, Sarah represents the promise of grace, which shows that we obtain the new life by God’s grace (Eph. 2:8).

3.    At the set time of which God had spoken to him”, it is not of man’s labor, but of the appointed will of God (Eph. 1:9-10).

4.    Bore Abraham a son”, Abraham represents faith, so the new life is also obtained by our faith (Rom. 4:16).

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) The grace of God is truly sufficient to us, for his strength is perfected in weakness (2Cor. 12:9).

  2) God works according to His time. When the time comes, things will be done. If we have known this principle, we will not be anxious.

  3) Whoever is unable to wait for God can only beget Ishmael instead of Isaac, which is of no spiritual value before God at all.

  4) God will not show His wonderful works in us until our natural life is utterly dealt with and the fleshly strength is totally exhausted.

  5) The real valuable spiritual service does not depend on how much we have done for God, but how much we have been done by Him.


Gen. 21:3 And Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him—whom Sarah bore to him—Isaac.

YLT: “and Abraham calleth the name of his son who is born to him, whom Sarah hath born to him -- Isaac;”

Meaning of Words: “Isaac”: laugh, he who laughs;

Literal Meaning: “Isaac”, this name was given from God (Gen. 17:19). The birth of Isaac was supposed to be impossible. However, it became true here so that those who experienced it firsthand could not help “laughing”.

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) Though believers may face some troubles, they are filled with joy in spirit (Rom. 5:3).

  2) When we are faced with troubles, we may not feel joyful, but sorrowful and even tearful. However, we will have a joyful end finally (Heb. 12:11; Ps. 126:5-6).

  3) Human works make us bitter in the end, but the divine work makes us joyful.


Gen. 21:4 Then Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him.

YLT: “and Abraham circumciseth Isaac his son, a son of eight days, as God hath commanded him.”

Literal Meaning: it is appointed by God that every man child of Israel shall be circumcised when he is eight days (Gen. 17:12).

Spiritual Meaning: “Isaac” also typifies the Lord Jesus Christ, who was circumcised on the eighth day after His birth (Luke 2:21).

  Eight days old”, since the Lord Jesus was risen on the first day of the seven days (Matt. 28:1), so the eighth day symbolizes the risen life.

  “Circumcision” symbolizes that believers put their flesh to death and live by the Lord’s risen life.

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) Believers can deal with and put off the body of the flesh only when we are in the risen life (Col. 2:11-12).

  2) If we have been raised with the Christ, we have to put to death the members on the earth (Col. 3:1, 5).


Gen. 21:5 Now Abraham was one hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.

YLT: “And Abraham a son of a hundred years in Isaac his son being born to him,”

Spiritual Meaning: it shows that the extremity of the human life (Rom. 4:19) is the opportunity of the spiritual life.

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) The true vessel of God is the one “who is one hundred years old” ---- he thinks he can do nothing.

  2) It is not that God does not use us, but that we have not attained to the step of being used by God.


Gen. 21:6 And Sarah said, “God has made me laugh, and all who hear will laugh with me.

YLT: “and Sarah saith, `God hath made laughter for me; every one who is hearing laugheth for me.'”

Literal Meaning: “laugh”, it is not “secret laugh” any more (Gen. 18:12), but joyful laugh.

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) The birth of Christ brought good tidings of great joy to all the people (Luke 2:10). Whoever has heard Him will rejoice. 

  2) Human beings are subject to changing moods. Only the divine joy is true joy.

  3) Rejoice with those that rejoice, weep with those that weep (Rom. 12:15).


Gen. 21:7 She also said, “Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? For I have borne him a son in his old age.”

YLT: “She saith also, `Who hath said to Abraham, Sarah hath suckled sons, that I have born a son for his old age?'”

Spiritual Meaning: this verse shows that the spiritual life of believers is not of themselves (“in his old age”), but of the grace of God (“Sarah”) and is grown by the grace of God (“Sarah would nurse children”).

Enlightenment in the Word: let us desire earnestly the pure milk of the word as newborn babes, that by it our new life will grow up (1Pet. 2:2).


Gen. 21:8 So the child grew and was weaned. And Abraham made a great feast on the same day that Isaac was weaned.

YLT: “And the lad groweth, and is weaned, and Abraham maketh a great banquet in the day of Isaac's being weaned;”

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) If a believer can always only need of milk instead of solid food (be unable to be weaned), it shows that he is still a baby (1Cor. 3:1-2; Heb. 5:13-14).

  2) If we always stay on the stage of drinking milk, we are unable to understand the word of God sufficiently and have little knowledge of the will of God. It is easiest to be deceived by heresies during this period. 

  3) When believers are mature enough to digest and absorb “the word of righteousness”, the whole Bible will open to us and each chapter and each verse will become “a full feast” for us to partake of.


Gen. 21:9 And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, scoffing.

YLT: “and Sarah seeth the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she hath borne to Abraham, mocking,”

Literal Meaning: the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham”, it was Ishmael, who was at least fifteen years old (see Gen. 17:25).

  Scoffing”: scorning;

Spiritual Meaning: Ishmael scoffed Isaac, which meant “he that was born according to flesh persecuted him according to Spirit” (Gal. 4:29).

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) Natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him (1Cor. 2:14). Therefore, it is no wonder that he may scoff us.

  2) Strife between the lusts of the flesh and the Spirit often happens in each believer (Gal. 5:17).

  3) When we believers are just born again, we may feel little trouble of the flesh. However, when we are weaned, we begin to be bothered by the difficulties of the flesh.  .


Gen. 21:10 Therefore she said to Abraham, “Cast out this bondwoman and her son; for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, namely with Isaac.

YLT: “and she saith to Abraham, `Cast out this handmaid and her son; for the son of this handmaid hath no possession with my son -- with Isaac.'”

Literal Meaning: “cast out”, it is disqualifying the right of inheritance of Ishmael.

Spiritual Meaning: “this bondwoman”, she represents the covenant of law (Gal. 4:24).

  “Her son”, he typifies the one begotten according to the flesh (Gal. 4:23).

  Since we believers are begotten according to the Spirit, we have to deal with the works done by the flesh to keep the rules of the law (“Cast out”), for we are enabled to inherit the heavenly inheritance by faith only.

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) Ishmael was not cast out when he just was born, but when Isaac was weaned. Believers whose spiritual life is not strong are unable to deal with the works of the flesh.

  2) When we are grown up in spirit, we have “cast” all the flesh, natural constitutions and old man out. Otherwise, they will hinder us from enjoying Christ.

3) All things outside of Christ, no matter good or evil, should be “cast out”.

4) Only those who are on the principle of faith are real children of Abraham (Gal. 3:7).


Gen. 21:11 And the matter was very displeasing in Abraham’s sight because of his son.

YLT: “And the thing is very wrong in the eyes of Abraham, for his son's sake;”

Meaning of Words: “displeasing”: annoyed, unsatisfied;

Spiritual Meaning: Abraham was grieved at Ishmael. Though he cherished his own works according to his natural mind, he had to give up the fruit of his own effort, which made him feel awkward.

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) The fruit we bore in the past in our failure makes us always troubled.

  2) Let us pray to the Lord to keep us so that we shall not harm ourselves and others.


Gen. 21:12 But God said to Abraham, “Do not let it be displeasing in your sight because of the lad or because of your bondwoman. Whatever Sarah has said to you, listen to her voice; for in Isaac your seed shall be called.

YLT: “and God saith unto Abraham, `Let it not be wrong in thine eyes because of the youth, and because of thy handmaid: all that Sarah saith unto thee -- hearken to her voice, for in Isaac is a seed called to thee.”

Spiritual Meaning: whatever Sarah has said to you” represents the teaching of grace.

  In Isaac your seed” represents that of the Spirit.

Enlightenment in the Word: believers shall obey the teachings of grace and keep the principle of grace rather than be bothered by natural feelings or concepts in conversations


Gen. 21:13 Yet I will also make a nation of the son of the bondwoman, because he is your seed.

YLT: “As to the son of the handmaid also, for a nation I set him, because he thy seed.'”

Spiritual Meaning: though believers have been born again and have got the spiritual life, the flesh in us does not disappear but remains in us.

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) The law of sin in the flesh of believers is a strong power (“a nation”).

  2) Believers shall keep the mind of the Spirit instead of the flesh if they want to overcome the law of sin (Rom. 8:6).


Gen. 21:14 So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water; and putting it on her shoulder, he gave it and the boy to Hagar, and sent her away. Then she departed and wandered in the Wilderness of Beersheba.

YLT: “And Abraham riseth early in the morning, and taketh bread, and a bottle of water, and giveth unto Hagar (placing on her shoulder), also the lad, and sendeth her out; and she goeth on, and goeth astray in the wilderness of Beer-Sheba;”

Literal Meaning: rose early in the morning”, it shows his immediate obedience to the word of God.

  “The boy”: a young child;

Spiritual Meaning: “wilderness” typifies the soul of man. The soul of man walks by law and will be “wandered” and lose his way. Man can merely obtain “a skin of water” by law, but such water satisfies man’s thirst for a while (John 4:13).

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) Once we believers have had the word of God, we have to obey immediately.

  2) Human help is as limited as “bread and a skin of water”.

  3) The world is like a wilderness. We do not know how to walk through it without the guidance of God.

  4) Believers have to know that we are not going to be made perfect in flesh since we have begun in Spirit (Gal. 3:3). And let us not be entangled again with the yoke of bondage (Gal. 5:1).


Gen. 21:15 And the water in the skin was used up, and she placed the boy under one of the shrubs.

YLT: “and the water is consumed from the bottle, and she placeth the lad under one of the shrubs.”

Spiritual Meaning: “shrub”: it was sprung out of the earth and was used to cover for a while, so it typifies “the worldly way” that cannot thoroughly resolve the problems of our life.

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) Provisions from the spiritual man will be “used up” one day, no matter how good they are. Therefore, we have to learn to obtain supply from God directly.

  2) Let us have rest in the shadow of the Lord when we are in distress.


Gen. 21:16 Then she went and sat down across from him at a distance of about a bowshot; for she said to herself, “Let me not see the death of the boy.” So she sat opposite him, and lifted her voice and wept.

YLT: “And she goeth and sitteth by herself over-against, afar off, about a bow-shot, for she said, `Let me not look on the death of the lad;' and she sitteth over-against, and lifteth up her voice, and weepeth.”

Literal Meaning: at a distance of about a bowshot”, when the Lord prayed in the garden of Gethsemane, he also was withdrawn from his disciples “about a stone’s throw” (Luke 22:41) for the purpose of pouring out His heart before God.

  “Lifted her voice and wept”, this was the most earnest cry and prayer.

Spiritual Meaning: since it was weak though the flesh, the law could do nothing (Rom. 8:3) and perfect nothing in man (Heb. 7:19). He that is on the principle of works of law is under curse (Gal. 3:10). Therefore, the law sits opposite the flesh and can do nothing but “lift its voice and weep”.


Gen. 21:17 And God heard the voice of the lad. Then the angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven, and said to her, “What ails you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the lad where he is.

YLT: “And God heareth the voice of the youth; and the messenger of God calleth unto Hagar from the heavens, and saith to her, `What to thee, Hagar? fear not; for God hath hearkened unto the voice of the youth where he ;”

Literal Meaning: “God heard”, it is a usage of pun upon the word “Ishmael” (which means “God hears”).

  “Lad”, the same word with “boy”, both of them refer to young boy;

  “Fear not”, it means that God will look upon them.

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) Only when we are really conscious of the infirmity of our flesh and no longer struggle and commit us to God, will God hear our prayer and guide us.  

  2) That God asked Abraham to cast Ishmael out did not mean God would not look upon him, for God still heart him. Let believers care for the souls “that have not been saved by grace”, and not be arrogant or despise unbelievers of the world.


Gen. 21:18 Arise, lift up the lad and hold him with your hand, for I will make him a great nation.

YLT: “rise, lift up the youth, and lay hold on him with thy hand, for for a great nation I set him.'”

Enlightenment in the Word: the word of God is the source of our strength. Once we have obtained the word of God, we are able to “arise” and run the way before us.


Gen. 21:19 Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. And she went and filled the skin with water, and gave the lad a drink.

YLT: “And God openeth her eyes, and she seeth a well of water, and she goeth and filleth the bottle water, and causeth the youth to drink;”

Spiritual Meaning: “a well of water”, well typifies the reliance and center of our life. What is worthy of our notice is that the two wells in this chapter are both in “Beersheba” (see v.14, 31). One supplies water to those who are of the flesh, and the other supplies water to those who are spiritual. This well by which Ishmael lived just existed there. But they could not see it if God did not show them by mercy, symbolizing that the heart of those who are on the principle of the law has grown fat (good things in natural sight), so they seeing see not (Matt. 13:13-15).

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) The world is blinded by the devil, so they are unable to see the light of the gospel of Christ (2Cor. 4:4). Therefore, the most important thing in the preaching of the gospel is prayer to the Lord to open their inner eyes. 

  2) Christ is the spring of the living water. He who knows Him will receive the provision of living water.


Gen. 21:20 So God was with the lad; and he grew and dwelt in the wilderness, and became an archer.

YLT: “and God is with the youth, and he groweth, and dwelleth in the wilderness, and is an archer;”

Spiritual Meaning: this verse typifies those who are on the principle of the law wander in the soul (“wilderness”) and do not know how to live in the Spirit at all. The end of walking in the law is killing (“archer”), which proves that “the letter kills and the Spirit quickens” (2Cor. 3:6).


Gen. 21:21 He dwelt in the Wilderness of Paran; and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt.

YLT: “and he dwelleth in the wilderness of Paran, and his mother taketh for him a wife from the land of Egypt.”

Literal Meaning: the Wilderness of Paran”: the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula now;

Spiritual Meaning: he who is on the principle of the law will be finally united with the world (took a wife from the land of Egypt).


Gen. 21:22 And it came to pass at that time that Abimelech and Phichol, the commander of his army, spoke to Abraham, saying, “God is with you in all that you do.

YLT: “And it cometh to pass at that time that Abimelech speaketh -- Phichol also, head of his host -- unto Abraham, saying, `God with thee in all that thou art doing;”

Spiritual Meaning: Abimelech and Phichol, the commander of his army” typify the sheep among the nations that do good to the people of God (Matt. 25:31-40). They have seen “the preservation of God” on Abraham, which symbolizes that if believers walk in Spirit, men of the world will see the gracious works of God.

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) What believers are supposed to desire is to live Christ (Phil. 1:20).

  2) When God is manifested in the flesh, He will be preached among the nations and be believed on in world (1Tim. 3:16).


Gen. 21:23 “”Now therefore, swear to me by God that you will not deal falsely with me, with my offspring, or with my posterity; but that according to the kindness that I have done to you, you will do to me and to the land in which you have dwelt.

YLT: “and now, swear to me by God here: thou dost not lie to me, or to my continuator, or to my successor; according to the kindness which I have done with thee thou dost with me, and with the land in which thou hast sojourned.'”

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) Live in peace that the God of peace will be with us (2Cor. 13:11).

  2) Since we are sojourners on the earth, if it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men (Rom. 12:18).


Gen. 21:24 And Abraham said, “I will swear.”

YLT: “And Abraham saith, `I -- I do swear.'”


Gen. 21:25 Then Abraham rebuked Abimelech because of a well of water which Abimelech’s servants had seized.

YLT: “And Abraham reasoned with Abimelech concerning the matter of a well of water which Abimelech's servants have taken violently away,”

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition (2Tim. 2:24-25).

  2) If someone sins against us, let us reprove him in proper occasion and time (Matt. 18:15).


Gen. 21:26 And Abimelech said, “I do not know who has done this thing; you did not tell me, nor had I heard of it until today.”

YLT: “and Abimelech saith, `I have not known who hath done this thing, and even thou didst not declare to me, and I also, I have not heard save to-day.'”

Enlightenment in the Word: no blame attaches to the unconscious doer of wrong. However, if we are conscious of it, we have to correct ourselves. Since we have heard him and are taught in him, as truth is in Jesus Christ, we shall put off the old man and put on the new man (Eph. 4:20-22).  


Gen. 21:27 So Abraham took sheep and oxen and gave them to Abimelech, and the two of them made a covenant.

YLT: “And Abraham taketh sheep and oxen, and giveth to Abimelech, and they make, both of them, a covenant;”


Gen. 21:28 And Abraham set seven ewe lambs of the flock by themselves.

YLT: “and Abraham setteth seven Lambs of the flock by themselves.”


Gen. 21:29 Then Abimelech asked Abraham, “What is the meaning of these seven ewe lambs which you have set by themselves?”

YLT: “And Abimelech saith unto Abraham, `What they -- these seven lambs which thou hast set by themselves?'”


Gen. 21:30 And he said, “You will take these seven ewe lambs from my hand, that they may be my witness that I have dug this well.”

YLT: “And he saith, `For -- the seven lambs thou dost accept from my hand, so that it becometh a witness for me that I have digged this well;'”

Spiritual Meaning: “well” typifies the reliance and center of our life. Abraham gave the “seven ewe lambs” to Abimelech to be his witness, which indicated that he who lived in the world by faith perfectly (“seven”) relied upon the redemption of Christ (John 1:29; 6:57).

Enlightenment in the Word: since we have obtained the salvation of Christ, let us walk worthily of the gospel of Christ (Phil. 1:27) so that the world will see through us that in Him we live and move and exist (Acts 17:28).


Gen. 21:31 Therefore he called that place Beersheba, because the two of them swore an oath there.

YLT: “therefore hath he called that place `Beer-Sheba,' for there have both of them sworn.”


Gen. 21:32 Thus they made a covenant at Beersheba. So Abimelech rose with Phichol, the commander of his army, and they returned to the land of the Philistines.

YLT: “And they make a covenant in Beer-Sheba, and Abimelech riseth -- Phichol also, head of his host -- and they turn back unto the land of the Philistines;”

Literal Meaning: to people of the ancient times, an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife (Heb. 6:16).

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) In order to deal with the troubles between God and men, God confirms His promise by an oath (Heb. 6:17) and sets the Lord Jesus as a surety of a better covenant (Heb. 7:20-22).

  2) Man will be reconciled with God and have peace with one another by faith in the Lord Jesus only (Eph. 2:12-18).


Gen. 21:33 Then Abraham planted a tamarisk tree in Beersheba, and there called on the name of the Lord, the Everlasting God.

YLT: “and planteth a tamarask in Beer-Sheba, and preacheth there in the name of Jehovah, God age-during;”

Spiritual Meaning: a tamarisk tree”, such kind of tree is of an exuberance of foliage with the abundant supply of water, which symbolizes that the conversation of believers is the revelation of the inner rich life.

  There called on the name of the Lord, the Everlasting God”, calling on the name of the LORD means relying upon God; “The Everlasting God” especially refers to the abundant life. Therefore, here it symbolizes that we believers trust in the God of rich life.

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) Let us approach the source of life and appropriate more and more living water of life (Ps. 36:8-9) so that the riches of God will be manifested in our life.

  2) The Lord is rich to the one who calls on Him (Rom. 10:12). Therefore, in our daily life, let us call on Him to partake of His exhaustless fullness.


Gen. 21:34 And Abraham stayed in the land of the Philistines many days.

YLT: “and Abraham sojourneth in the land of the Philistines many days.”

Enlightenment in the Word:

  1) Believers are sojourners on the earth (Heb. 11:13), so let us pass the time of our sojourning in fear (1Pet. 1:17).

  2) Since the world is not our home, let us not set our mind on things on the earth, but on things above (Col. 3:1-2).


III. Outlines of the Spiritual Lessons


Know the Spiritual Life

A.  Which is of the word of God (v.1);

B.  Which is by grace ---- “Sarah”; and through faith ---- “Abraham” (v.2);

C.  Which is not of the flesh ---- “in his old age” (v.2);

D.  Which is according to the appointed will of God ---- “at the set time of which God had spoken to him” (v.2);

E.  Which enables man to have full joy ---- “Isaac” (v.3);

F.   Which enables man to deal with the flesh ---- “circumcised” (v.4);

G.  Which enables man to grow up by the divine grace ---- “Sarah would nurse children” (v.7);

H.  Which enables man to enjoy the riches of the house of God ---- “made a great feast” (v.8);


Believers Shall Never Rely upon the Flesh

A.  For the flesh lusts against the Spirit (v.9);

B.  The flesh should be dealt with ---- “cast out” (v.10-12);

C.  He who lives by the flesh will lose his way (v.14);

D.  The flesh cannot satisfy man’s thirst (v.15-16);

E.  The flesh may blind man’s eyes of heart (v.19);

F.   The flesh makes man dead ---- “archer” (v.20);

G.  The flesh makes man unite with the world ---- took a wife from the land of Egypt (v.21);


The Spiritual Life Believers Are Supposed to Have

A.  Be blessed by God (v.22);

B.  Have peace with all (v.23-24);

C.  In humility correct those who are in opposition (v.25);

D.  Walk worthily of the gospel of Christ (v.28-30);

E.  The inner rich life is manifested in daily life ---- “a tamarisk tree” (v.33);

F.  Rely on the Everlasting God completely ---- “call on God” (v.33);

G.  Lead the days in the world with a “sojourning” attitude (v.34);


── Caleb HuangChristian Digest Bible Commentary Series

Translated by Mary Zhou