Posted by: mystic444 | March 8, 2010

Why was Sarah so angry with Hagar and Ishmael?

But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, laughing. So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son, for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.” (Genesis 21:9 and 10, English Standard Version)

A Christian friend explained to me recently that the reason Sarah was so upset with Ishmael was that he was doing perverted sexual things with her son Isaac! 😯 😆 It seems that the Hebrew word translated ‘laughing’ in the above quoted verse is the same Hebrew word that is translated ‘sporting’ in Genesis 26:8 (King James Version): And it came to pass, when he had been there a long time, that Abimelech king of the Philistines looked out at a window, and saw, and, behold, Isaac was sporting with Rebekah his wife. And since the next verse tells us that Abimelech was able to deduce from this ‘sporting’ that Rebekah was Isaac’s wife, rather than his sister, my friend figured this must indicate that the ‘sporting’ was sexual in nature. Voila! Ishmael must have been sexually ‘sporting’ with Isaac! 🙄 However, the English Standard Version of Genesis 26:8 translates the word as ‘laughing’ there also, although the Revised Standard Version renders it ‘fondling’ in that verse.

So what does that interesting word actually mean? Strong’s Concordance defines it in this way: “to laugh outright (in merriment or scorn); by implication to sport”. In the King James Version, it is translated by the following words: laugh, mock, play, make sport. Here are the verses where that word occurs, in the King James Version:

“Laugh”

Gen 18:13 And the LORD said unto Abraham, Wherefore did Sarah laugh, saying, Shall I of a surety bear a child, which am old?

Gen 18:15 Then Sarah denied, saying, I laughed not; for she was afraid. And he said, Nay; but thou didst laugh.

Gen 21:6 And Sarah said, God hath made me to laugh, so that all that hear will laugh with me.

“Laughed”

Gen 17:17 Then Abraham fell upon his face, and laughed, and said in his heart, Shall a child be born unto him that is an hundred years old? and shall Sarah, that is ninety years old, bear?

Gen 18:12 Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?

Gen 18:15 Then Sarah denied, saying, I laughed not; for she was afraid. And he said, Nay; but thou didst laugh.

“Mock”

Gen 39:14 … she called unto the men of her house, and spake unto them, saying, See, he hath brought in an Hebrew unto us to mock us; he came in unto me to lie with me, and I cried with a loud voice.

Gen 39:17 And she spake unto him according to these words, saying, The Hebrew servant, which thou hast brought unto us, came in unto me to mock me:

“Mocked”

Gen 19:14 And Lot went out, and spake unto his sons in law, which married his daughters, and said, Up, get you out of this place; for the LORD will destroy this city. But he seemed as one that mocked unto his sons in law.

“Mocking”

Gen 21:9 And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, which she had born unto Abraham, mocking.

“Play”

Exo 32:6 And they rose up early on the morrow, and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.

“Sport”

Jdg 16:25 And it came to pass, when their hearts were merry, that they said, Call for Samson, that he may make us sport. And they called for Samson out of the prison house; and he made them sport: and they set him between the pillars.

“Sporting”

Gen 26:8 And it came to pass, when he had been there a long time, that Abimelech king of the Philistines looked out at a window, and saw, and, behold, Isaac was sporting with Rebekah his wife.

It is very obvious that there is nothing in the word to indicate sexual activity.  Even in the case of Isaac and Rebekah, there was probably nothing sexual since they were outside in public (Abimelech saw them by looking out his window). It was just that Abimelech thought they were acting too relaxed and intimate (though in a non-sexual way) with each other to be brother and sister. They were just too friendly and enjoying each other’s company too much to be anything other than husband and wife.

The passage in Genesis 21 about Ishmael does not say that Ishmael was doing anything with Isaac. It just says that Ishmael was laughing or playing. It is only an inference that he was laughing or playing with Isaac (or mocking him). Was Isaac even present with Ishmael rather than Sarah? Who knows? The text doesn’t say. But there is absolutely nothing to indicate any sexual activity! The fact that someone could see that in this text speaks more to the mentality of the interpreter, than to anything in the text. Where would someone even come up with such a wild idea?

The problem seems to me to be that some Jews and Christians are so prejudiced in favor of the line of Abraham’s descendants through Isaac and Jacob, that they have come to automatically look for anything they can find to indicate that Ishmael and his descendants are evil. It’s more or less a ‘knee jerk’ reaction to the name Ishmael or Arab (or Muslim since the time of Muhammad – upon whom be peace). Instead of seeing the jealousy of Sarah, and her prejudice in favor of her own son over the son of the ‘slave woman’, they can only think the problem must lie with the ‘evil’ Ishmael.

Abraham loved both of his sons and was upset with Sarah’s angry determination to get rid of Hagar and Ishmael. There was a big family problem looming on the horizon! So here is my take on the situation.  God, who is All Wise and Ever Compassionate, decided to alleviate the family tension by telling Abraham to do as Sarah says. This was NOT God ‘taking sides’ with Sarah against Abraham! Rather he promised Abraham that he didn’t need to be concerned about the welfare of Hagar and Ishmael, because He Himself would watch over and bless Ishmael (and Hagar). God had already promised to bless Ishmael and make a great nation of him (Genesis 17:20).  In the aftermath of this scene in chapter 21, God confirmed this promise. When Hagar ran out of water, and it looked like she and her son would die of thirst, God had compassion on them and sent an angel to confirm the promise that God would bless Ishmael and make a great nation from his descendants. He then showed Hagar where to find water. Verse 20 (of chapter 21) then says that “God was with the lad [Ishmael]”. There was absolutely no anger and condemnation on the part of God toward Hagar or Ishmael! There was only blessing and spiritual presence. Let’s praise the Wisdom, Compassion, and Kindness of the One God, and take his side in this matter. Lose any knee jerk ‘evil’ reaction to Ishmael and his descendants, because God Himself bears them no ill will! The only problem was Sarah’s jealousy. She was so jealous she couldn’t even stand to look at them! And seeing Ishmael laughing and having fun really ticked her off!! But the Compassionate One, who knows human weakness thoroughly, had compassion on her and the whole family.

Interestingly, Ishmael was not the only child of Abraham who was sent away to keep him away from Isaac. Genesis 25:6 says that Abraham sent all of his concubines’ sons away, though he gave them gifts. (Does this mean that they were all sexual perverts?) And verse 9 informs us that Isaac and Ishmael together buried their father Abraham; so there certainly was no permanent enmity between them, according to the Biblical story.

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Responses

  1. Once again, a very sound case Mr. Parker!!

    Also, it seems to me that Ishmael sexually ‘sporting’ with Isaac is hardly an act worthy of a prophet of God and a righteous man (which he grew up to be), so it’s pretty surprising people would even understand the verse that way….am I right in believing that all Christians accept Ishmael to be a prophet of God?

    • Thank you again, iSherif, for those kind words.

      The only Prophet that Christians believe to have been perfectly righteous, throughout his entire life, was Jesus Christ (blessed of God). In all other cases, the Jewish and Christian Scriptures seem to ‘go out of their way’ at times to point out flaws in the characters of the Prophets. This would seem to be to show that the Mighty Mercy and Grace of God can take ordinary (sinful) men, redeem and transform them, and use them as His representatives. So in itself, such a sinful action on the part of the young Ishmael (if it were true) would not prove a hindrance to the All Merciful and Ever Compassionate One so far as making him a Prophet.

      But as to Christians considering Ishmael a Prophet, from my experience I would have to say that most Christians at least (I can’t speak for ALL Christians) do NOT consider him to be one. In the ‘Evangelical’ Christianity in which I was raised, the Prophethood of Ishmael would be emphatically denied, since the Hebrew/Christian Scriptures say that God’s Covenant was with Isaac as opposed to Ishmael; and Abraham’s “seed” was to be accounted through Isaac, not Ishmael. Also, there is no reference, to my knowledge, of any prophetic statements made by Ishmael in those Hebrew/Christian Scriptures. The Christian apostle Paul, in his allegorical interpretation of this event (in Galatians 4:21-31) did not have a very high regard for Hagar and Ishmael; and he seems to interpret Ishmael’s ‘laughter’ to be a mocking laughter (mocking Isaac). [In Galatians 4:29 Paul said that “he who was born according to the flesh (Ishmael) persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit” (Isaac, born according to God’s promise)].

      Note that I am not advocating that position; I’m just trying to explain how ‘Evangelical Christians’ look at the matter. I find myself gravitating to the position that Muhammad (blessed of God) was indeed a Prophet – though I’m not sure I’m ready to call him the greatest or last of the Prophets – and that Ishmael (peace to him) may also have been a Prophet.

  2. Thank you for that explanation Mr. Parker, the points you make are very clear and easy to understand 🙂 Looking forward to your next article!!

  3. you are 100% incorrect. for no where in the bible does it say sporting in genesis 21:9 it state mocking. which only mean making fun of.

      • Completely

      wrong? Really? 😀 While I have no problem with people disagreeing with me – even “100%” – I can’t help but wonder whether you read past the first paragraph! If you did, you would surely have seen that I was “mocking” the viewpoint that Ishmael was “sporting” with Isaac (particularly in a sexual sense). 😆

      For instance, you will see such statements as: “It is very obvious that there is nothing in the word to indicate sexual activity.” I said that after showing all of the verses using the word translated “mocking” or “laughing” in the King James Version of the Bible. Again, I made this statement: “But there is absolutely nothing to indicate any sexual activity! The fact that someone could see that in this text speaks more to the mentality of the interpreter, than to anything in the text. Where would someone even come up with such a wild idea?”

      Where the word is translated “sport” and “sporting” in the KJV, it just means “play” and “playing”; or in the case of Samson “making sport” for the Philistines, it would mean “entertain”.

      My own contention as regards the text in Genesis is that it simply means that Sarah saw Ishmael laughing or playing; and her jealousy of Hagar and her son was so intense that she couldn’t stand watching Ishmael have fun and laugh. I believe the Christian apostle Paul uncritically accepted the Jewish tradition (and the Septuagint rendering) that Ishmael was “mocking” Isaac, and interpreted it to mean that Ishmael was “persecuting” Isaac. At least Paul used it allegorically.

      Please read the entire article before drawing conclusions. Nevertheless, in order to make my article clearer (even in that first paragraph) – that I’m “mocking” my Christian friend’s idea – I’ll add a “smiley face” or two to try to get the point across. 🙂


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