What does Genesis 21:11 mean?
ESV: And the thing was very displeasing to Abraham on account of his son.
NIV: The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son.
NASB: The matter distressed Abraham greatly because of his son Ishmael.
CSB: This was very distressing to Abraham because of his son.
NLT: This upset Abraham very much because Ishmael was his son.
KJV: And the thing was very grievous in Abraham's sight because of his son.
The language of this short verse indicates that Abraham expressed great emotion. He was very displeased with Sarah's sudden demand to cast out his firstborn son, Ishmael. The word "displeased" is not often used in the Old Testament and only to express great anger. Abraham was very displeased.
Clearly, Abraham loved Ishmael. When God revealed that Isaac would be born within a year's time, Abraham had immediately mentioned his wish that Ishmael could live before God (Genesis 17:18). God had assured Abraham that Ishmael would be greatly blessed, but that the covenant would pass through Isaac.
Sarah, on the other hand, is expressing a similar level of anger and bitterness as she did earlier in Ishmael's life (Genesis 16:4–6). She claims to be concerned that Ishmael will interfere with Isaac's inheritance. That's not completely unreasonable, since Abraham is obviously attached to his teenaged son.
Despite Sarah's insistence, Abraham would not likely have let Ishmael go if the Lord had not instructed him to do so in the following verse. This instruction comes along with an assurance, from God, that Ishmael will be blessed.
Genesis 21:8–21 describes the painful departure of Hagar and Ishmael from Abraham's life. Now that Isaac is born, Sarah furiously demands that Abraham cast them out. He is greatly displeased, but is told by God that Ishmael will be protected and blessed. So Abraham obeys the Lord and sends them into the wilderness. God steps in and saves the mother and child. He renews his promise to make Ishmael a great nation in his own right. Ishmael grows up in the wilderness, eventually marrying an Egyptian woman.
The Lord did as He had promised. Sarah, now 90 years old, gives birth to Isaac, the long-awaited child. Her joy sours, though, over a fear that Isaac might have to share an inheritance with Ishmael. In obedience to the Lord, who promises to safeguard Ishmael, Abraham sends him and his mother, Hagar, into the wilderness. God rescues them and renews His promise to make Ishmael a great nation in his own right. Meanwhile, Abimelech, king of Gerar, approaches Abraham to make a permanent treaty between them and their descendants. The agreement includes Abraham's possession of a well, at a place which will become known as Beersheba.
In the prior chapter, Abraham managed to get Sarah back from Abimelech, following his own deception and God's intervention. Here, Abraham and Sarah finally conceive a natural child. Isaac, the long-awaited child of the promise, is born. In obedience to God, Abraham sends Hagar and Ishmael away. Abimelech approaches Abraham to make a treaty, giving Abraham a permanent home in a place that becomes known as Beersheba. In the following chapter, God will test Abraham's faith and obedience, in one of Scripture's ultimate examples of trust.
The book of Genesis establishes fundamental truths about God. Among these are His role as the Creator, His holiness, His hatred of sin, His love for mankind, and His willingness to provide for our redemption. We learn not only where mankind has come from, but why the world is in its present form. The book also presents the establishment of Israel, God's chosen people. Many of the principles given in other parts of Scripture depend on the basic ideas presented here in the book of Genesis. Within the framework of the Bible, Genesis explains the bare-bones history of the universe leading up to the captivity of Israel in Egypt, setting the stage for the book of Exodus.
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