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Genesis 21:33

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

Abraham planted a grove - The original word אשל eshel has been variously translated a grove, a plantation, an orchard, a cultivated field, and an oak. From this word, says Mr. Parkhurst, may be derived the name of the famous asylum, opened by Romulus between two groves of oaks at Rome; (μεθοριον δυοιν δρυμως, Dionys. Hal., lib. ii. c. 16): and as Abraham, Genesis 21:33, agreeably, no doubt, to the institutes of the patriarchal religion, planted an oak in Beer-sheba, and called on the name of Jehovah, the everlasting God, (compare Genesis 12:8; Genesis 18:1;), so we find that oaks were sacred among the idolaters also. Ye shall be ashamed of the oaks ye have chosen, says Isaiah, Isaiah 1:29, to the idolatrous Israelites. And in Greece we meet in very early times with the oracle of Jupiter at the oaks of Dodona. Among the Greeks and Romans we have sacra Jovi quercus, the oak sacred to Jupiter, even to a proverb. And in Gaul and Britain we find the highest religious regard paid to the same tree and to its mistletoe, under the direction of the Druids, that is, the oak prophets or priests, from the Celtic deru, and Greek δρυς, an oak. Few are ignorant that the mistletoe is indeed a very extraordinary plant, not to be cultivated in the earth, but always growing on some other tree. "The druids," says Pliny, Nat. Hist., lib. xvii., c. 44, "hold nothing more sacred than the mistletoe, and the tree on which it is produced, provided it be the oak. They make choice of groves of oak on this account, nor do they perform any of their sacred rites without the leaves of those trees; so that one may suppose that they are for this reason called, by a Greek etymology, Druids. And whatever mistletoe grows on the oak they think is sent from heaven, and is a sign that God himself has chosen that tree. This however is very rarely found, but when discovered is treated with great ceremony. They call it by a name which signifies in their language the curer of all ills; and having duly prepared their feasts and sacrifices under the tree, they bring to it two white bulls, whose horns are then for the first time tied; the priest, dressed in a white robe, ascends the tree, and with a golden pruning hook cuts off the mistletoe, which is received into a white sagum or sheet. Then they sacrifice the victims, praying that God would bless his own gift to those on whom he has bestowed it." It is impossible for a Christian to read this account without thinking of Him who was the desire of all nations, of the man whose name was the Branch, who had indeed no father upon earth, but came down from heaven, was given to heal all our ills, and, after being cut off through the Divine counsel, was wrapped in fine linen and laid in the sepulcher for our sakes. I cannot forbear adding that the mistletoe was a sacred emblem to other Celtic nations, as, for instance, to the ancient inhabitants of Italy. The golden branch, of which Virgil speaks so largely in the sixth book of the Aeneid, and without which, he says, none could return from the infernal regions, (see line 126), seems an allusion to the mistletoe, as he himself plainly intimates by comparing it to that plant, line 205, etc. See Parkhurst, under the word אשל eshel .

In the first ages of the world the worship of God was exceedingly simple; there were no temples nor covered edifices of any kind; an altar, sometimes a single stone, sometimes consisting of several, and at other times merely of turf, was all that was necessary; on this the fire was lighted and the sacrifice offered. Any place was equally proper, as they knew that the object of their worship filled the heavens and the earth. In process of time when families increased, and many sacrifices were to be offered, groves or shady places were chosen, where the worshippers might enjoy the protection of the shade, as a considerable time must be employed in offering many sacrifices. These groves became afterwards abused to impure and idolatrous purposes, and were therefore strictly forbidden. See Exodus 34:13; Deuteronomy 12:3; Deuteronomy 16:21.

And called there on the name of the Lord - On this important passage Dr. Shuckford speaks thus: "Our English translation very erroneously renders this place, he called upon the name of Jehovah; but the expression בשם קרא kara beshem never signifies to call upon the name; שם קרא kara shem would signify to invoke or call upon the name, or שם אל קרא kara el shem would signify to cry unto the name; but בשם קרא kara beshem signifies to invoke In the name, and seems to be used where the true worshippers of God offered their prayers in the name of the true Mediator, or where the idolaters offered their prayers in the name of false ones, 1 Kings 18:26; for as the true worshippers had but one God and one Lord, so the false worshippers had gods many and lords many, 1 Corinthians 8:5. We have several instances of קרא kara, and a noun after it, sometimes with and sometimes without the particle אל el, and then it signifies to call upon the person there mentioned; thus, יהוה קרא kara Yehovah is to call upon the Lord, Psalm 14:4; Psalm 17:6; Psalm 31:17; Psalm 53:4; Psalm 118:5, etc.; and יהוה אל קרא kara el Yehovah imports the same, 1 Samuel 12:17; Jonah 1:6, etc.; but בשם קרא kara beshem is either to name By the name, Genesis 4:17; Numbers 32:42; Psalm 49:11; Isaiah 43:7; or to invoke In the name, when it is used as an expression of religious worship." - Connex. vol. i., p. 293. I believe this to be a just view of the subject, and therefore I admit it without scruple.

The everlasting God - עולם אל יהוה Yehovah el olam, Jehovah, the Strong God, the Eternal One. This is the first place in Scripture in which עולם olam occurs as an attribute of God, and here it is evidently designed to point out his eternal duration; that it can mean no limited time is self-evident, because nothing of this kind can be attributed to God. The Septuagint render the words Θεος αιωνιος, the ever-existing God; and the Vulgate has Invocavit ibi nomen Do mini, Dei aeterni, There he invoked the name of the Lord, the eternal God. The Arabic is nearly the same. From this application of both the Hebrew and Greek words we learn that עולם olam and αιων aion originally signified Eternal, or duration without end. עלם alam signifies he was hidden, concealed, or kept secret; and αιων, according to Aristotle, (De Caelo, lib. i., chap. 9, and a higher authority need not be sought), is compounded of αει, always, and ων, being, αιων εστιν, απο του αει ειναι· The same author informs us that God was termed Aisa, because he was always existing, λεγεσθαι - Αισαν δε, αει ουσαν . De Mundo, chap. xi., in fine. Hence we see that no words can more forcibly express the grand characteristics of eternity than these. It is that duration which is concealed, hidden, or kept secret from all created beings; which is always existing, still running On but never running Out; an interminable, incessant, and immeasurable duration; it is That, in the whole of which God alone can be said to exist, and that which the eternal mind can alone comprehend.

In all languages words have, in process of time, deviated from their original acceptations, and have become accommodated to particular purposes, and limited to particular meanings. This has happened both to the Hebrew עלם alam, and the Greek αιων ; they have been both used to express a limited time, but in general a time the limits of which are unknown; and thus a pointed reference to the original ideal meaning is still kept up. Those who bring any of these terms in an accommodated sense to favor a particular doctrine, etc., must depend on the good graces of their opponents for permission to use them in this way. For as the real grammatical meaning of both words is eternal, and all other meanings are only accommodated ones, sound criticism, in all matters of dispute concerning the import of a word or term, must have recourse to the grammatical meaning, and its use among the earliest and most correct writers in the language, and will determine all accommodated meanings by this alone. Now the first and best writers in both these languages apply olam and αιων to express eternal, in the proper meaning of that word; and this is their proper meaning in the Old and New Testaments when applied to God, his attributes, his operations taken in connection with the ends for which he performs them, for whatsoever he doth, it shall be for ever - לעולם יהיה yihyeh leolam, it shall be for eternity, Ecclesiastes 3:14; forms and appearances of created things may change, but the counsels and purposes of God relative to them are permanent and eternal, and none of them can be frustrated; hence the words, when applied to things which from their nature must have a limited duration, are properly to be understood in this sense, because those things, though temporal in themselves, shadow forth things that are eternal. Thus the Jewish dispensation, which in the whole and in its parts is frequently said to be לעולם leolam, for ever, and which has terminated in the Christian dispensation, has the word properly applied to it, because it typified and introduced that dispensation which is to continue not only while time shall last, but is to have its incessant accumulating consummation throughout eternity. The word is, with the same strict propriety, applied to the duration of the rewards and punishments in a future state. And the argument that pretends to prove (and it is only pretension) that in the future punishment of the wicked "the worm shall die," and "the fire "shall be quenched," will apply as forcibly to the state of happy spirits, and as fully prove that a point in eternity shall arrive when the repose of the righteous shall be interrupted, and the glorification of the children of God have an eternal end! See note on Genesis 17:7. See note on Genesis 17:8.

1. Faithfulness is one of the attributes of God, and none of his promises can fall. According to the promise to Abraham, Isaac is born; but according to the course of nature it fully appears that both Abraham and Sarah had passed that term of life in which it was possible for them to have children. Isaac is the child of the promise, and the promise is supernatural. Ishmael is born according to the ordinary course of nature, and cannot inherit, because the inheritance is spiritual, and cannot come by natural birth; hence we see that no man can expect to enter into the kingdom of God by birth, education, profession of the true faith, etc., etc. Those alone who are born from above, and are made partakers of the Divine nature, can be admitted into the family of God in heaven, and everlastingly enjoy that glorious inheritance. Reader, art thou born again? Hath God changed thy heart and thy life? If not, canst thou suppose that in thy present state thou canst possibly enter into the paradise of God? I leave thy conscience to answer.

2. The actions of good men may be misrepresented, and their motives suspected, because those motives are not known; and those who are prone to think evil are the last to take any trouble to inform their minds, so that they may judge righteous judgment. Abraham, in the dismissal of Hagar and Ishmael, has been accused of cruelty. Though objections of this kind have been answered already, yet it may not be amiss farther to observe that what he did he did in conformity to a Divine command, and a command so unequivocally given that he could not doubt its Divine origin; and this very command was accompanied with a promise that both the child and his mother should be taken under the Divine protection. And it was so; nor does it appear that they lacked any thing but water, and that only for a short time, after which it was miraculously supplied. God will work a miracle when necessary, and never till then; and at such a time the Divine interposition can be easily ascertained, and man is under no temptation to attribute to second causes what has so evidently flowed from the first. Thus, while he is promoting his creatures' good, he is securing his own glory; and he brings men into straits and difficulties, that he may have the fuller opportunity to convince his followers of his providential care, and to prove how much he loves them.

3. Did we acknowledge God in all our ways, he would direct our steps. Abimelech, king of Gerar, and Phichol, captain of his host, seeing Abraham a worshipper of the true God, made him swear by the object of his worship that there should be a lasting peace between them and him; for as they saw that God was with Abraham, they well knew that he could not expect the Divine blessing any longer than he walked in integrity before God; they therefore require him to swear by God that he would not deal falsely with them or their posterity. From this very circumstance we may see the original purpose, design, and spirit of an oath, viz., Let God prosper or curse me in all that I do, as I prove true or false to my engagements! This is still the spirit of all oaths where God is called to witness, whether the form be by the water of the Ganges, the sign of the cross, kissing the Bible, or lifting up the hand to heaven. Hence we may learn that he who falsifies an oath or promise, made in the presence and name of God, thereby forfeits all right and title to the approbation and blessing of his Maker.

But it is highly criminal to make such appeals to God upon trivial occasions. Only the most solemn matters should be thus determined. Legislators who regard the morals of the people should take heed not to multiply oaths in matters of commerce and revenue, if they even use them at all. Who can take the oaths presented by the custom house or excise, and be guiltless? I have seen a person kiss his pen or thumb nail instead of the book, thinking that he avoided the condemnation thereby of the false oath he was then taking!

Albert Barnes
Notes on the Whole Bible
Verses 1-34

- The Birth of Isaac

7. מלל mı̂lēl “speak,” an ancient and therefore solemn and poetical word.

14. חמת chêmet “bottle,” akin to חמה chāmâh “surround, enclose,” and הוּם chûm “black. באר שׁבע beêr -sheba‛ Beer-sheba‹, “well of seven.”

22. פיכל pı̂ykol Pikhol, “mouth or spokesman of all.”

23. נין nı̂yn “offspring, kin;” related: “sprout, flourish.” נכד neked “progeny,” perhaps “acquaintance,” cognate with נגד ngd “be before” (the eyes) and נקד nqd “mark.”

33. אשׁל 'êshel “grove;” ἄρουρα aroura Septuagint.; אילבה 'ı̂ylābâh “a tree,” Onkelos.

This chapter records the birth of Isaac with other concomitant circumstances. This is the beginning of the fulfillment of the second part of the covenant with Abraham - that concerning the seed. This precedes, we observe, his possession of even a foot-breadth of the soil, and is long antecedent to the entrance of his descendants as conquerors into the land of promise.

Genesis 21:1-8

Isaac is born according to promise, and grows to be weaned. “The Lord had visited Sarah.” It is possible that this event may have occurred before the patriarchal pair arrived in Gerar. To visit, is to draw near to a person for the purpose of either chastising or conferring a favor. The Lord had been faithful to his gracious promise to Sarah. “He did as he had spoken.” The object of the visit was accomplished. In due time she bears a son, whom Abraham, in accordance with the divine command, calls Isaac, and circumcises on the eighth day. Abraham was now a hundred years old, and therefore Isaac was born thirty years after the call. Sarah expressed her grateful wonder in two somewhat poetic strains. The first, consisting of two sentences, turns on the word laugh. This is no longer the laugh of delight mingled with doubt, but that of wonder and joy at the power of the Lord overcoming the impotence of the aged mother. The second strain of three sentences turns upon the object of this admiring joy. The event that nobody ever expected to hear announced to Abraham, has nevertheless taken place; “for I have borne him a son in his old age.” The time of weaning, the second step of the child to individual existence, at length arrives, and the household of Abraham make merry, as was wont, on the festive occasion. The infant was usually weaned in the second or third year 1 Samuel 1:22-24; 2 Chronicles 31:16. The child seems to have remained for the first five years under the special care of the mother Leviticus 27:6. The son then came under the management of the father.

Genesis 21:9-21

The dismissal of Hagar and Ishmael. “The son of Hagar … laughing.” The birth of Isaac has made a great change in the position of Ishmael, now at the age of at least fifteen years. He was not now, as formerly, the chief object of attention, and some bitterness of feeling may have arisen on this account. His laugh was therefore the laugh of derision. Rightly was the child of promise named Isaac, the one at whom all laugh with various feelings of incredulity, wonder, gladness, and scorn. Sarah cannot brook the insolence of Ishmael, and demands his dismissal. This was painful to Abraham. Nevertheless, God enjoins it as reasonable, on the ground that in Isaac was his seed to be called. This means not only that Isaac was to be called his seed, but in Isaac as the progenitor was included the seed of Abraham in the highest and utmost sense of the phrase. From him the holy seed was to spring that was to be the agent in eventually bringing the whole race again under the covenant of Noah, in that higher form which it assumes in the New Testament. Abraham is comforted in this separation with a renewal of the promise concerning Ishmael Genesis 17:20.

He proceeds with all singleness of heart and denial of self to dismiss the mother and the son. This separation from the family of Abraham was, no doubt, distressing to the feelings of the parties concerned. But it involved no material hardship to those who departed, and conferred certain real advantages. Hagar obtained her freedom. Ishmael, though called a lad, was at an age when it is not unusual in the East to marry and provide for oneself. And their departure did not imply their exclusion from the privileges of communion with God, as they might still be under the covenant with Abraham, since Ishmael had been circumcised, and, at all events, were under the broader covenant of Noah. It was only their own voluntary rejection of God and his mercy, whether before or after their departure, that could cut them off from the promise of eternal life. It seems likely that Hagar and Ishmael had so behaved as to deserve their dismissal from the sacred home. “A bottle of water.”

This was probably a kid-skin bottle, as Hagar could not have carried a goat-skin. Its contents were precious in the wilderness, but soon exhausted. “And the lad.” He took the lad and gave him to Hagar. The bread and water-skin were on her shoulder; the lad she held by the hand. “In the wilderness of Beer-sheba.” It is possible that the departure of Hagar occurred after the league with Abimelek and the naming of Beer-sheba, though coming in here naturally as the sequel of the birth and weaning of Isaac. The wilderness in Scripture is simply the land not profitable for cultivation, though fit for pasture to a greater or less extent. The wilderness of Beer-sheba is that part of the wilderness which was adjacent to Beer-sheba, where probably at this time Abraham was residing. “Laid the lad.” Ishmael was now, no doubt, thoroughly humbled as well as wearied, and therefore passive under his mother‘s guidance. She led him to a sheltering bush, and caused him to lie down in its shade, resigning herself to despair. The artless description here is deeply affecting.

Genesis 21:17-21

The fortunes of Ishmael. God cares for the wanderers. He hears the voice of the lad, whose sufferings from thirst are greater than those of the mother. An angel is sent, who addresses Hagar in the simple words of encouragement and direction. “Hold thy hand upon him.” Lay thy hand firmly upon him. The former promise Genesis 16:10 is renewed to her. God also opened her eyes that she saw a well of water, from which the bottle is replenished, and she and the lad are recruited for their further journey. It is unnecessary to determine how far this opening of the eyes was miraculous. It may refer to the cheering of her mind and the sharpening of her attention. In Scripture the natural and supernatural are not always set over against each other as with us. All events are alike ascribed to an ever-watchful Providence, whether they flow from the ordinary laws of nature or some higher law of the divine will. “God was with the lad.” Ishmael may have been cured of his childish spleen. It is possible also his father did not forget him, but sent him a stock of cattle with which to begin the pastoral life on his account. “He became an archer.” He grew an archer, or multiplied into a tribe of archers. Paran Genesis 14:6 lay south of Palestine, and therefore on the way to Egypt, out of which his mother took him a wife. The Ishmaelites, therefore, both root and branch, were descended on the mother‘s side from the Egyptians.

Genesis 21:22-34

According to the common law of Hebrew narrative, this event took place before some of the circumstances recorded in the previous passage; probably not long after the birth of Isaac. Abimelek, accompanied by Phikol, his commander-in-chief, proposes to form a league with Abraham. The reason assigned for this is that God was with him in all that he did. Various circumstances concurred to produce this conviction in Abimelek. The never-to-be-forgotten appearance of God to himself in a dream interposing on behalf of Abraham, the birth of Isaac, and the consequent certainty of his having an heir, and the growing retinue and affluence of one who, some ten years before, could lead out a trained band of three hundred and eighteen men-at-arms, were amply sufficient to prove that God was the source of his strength. Such a man is formidable as a foe, but serviceable as an ally. It is the part of sound policy, therefore, to approach him and endeavor to prevail upon him to swear by God not to deal falsely with him or his. “Kin and kith.” We have adopted these words to represent the conversational alliterative phrase of the original. They correspond tolerably well with the σπέρμα sperma and ὄνομα onoma “seed” and “name,” of the Septuagint. Abraham frankly consents to this oath. This is evidently a personal covenant, referring to existing circumstances. A similar confederacy had been already formed with Aner, Eshkol, and Mamre. Abraham was disposed to such alliances, as they contributed to peaceful neighborhood. He was not in a condition to make a national covenant, though it is a fact that the Philistines were scarcely ever wholly subjugated by his descendants.

Genesis 21:25-26

Abraham takes occasion to remonstrate with Abimelek about a well which his people had seized. Wells were extremely valuable in Palestine, on account of the long absence of rain between the latter or vernal rain ending in March, and the early or autumnal rain beginning in November. The digging of a well was therefore a matter of the greatest moment, and often gave a certain title to the adjacent fields. Hence, the many disputes about wells, as the neighboring Emirs or chieftains were jealous of rights so acquired, and often sought to enter by the strong hand on the labors of patient industry. Hence, Abraham lays more stress on a public attestation that he has dug, and is therefore the owner of this well, than on all the rest of the treaty. Seven is the number of sanctity, and therefore of obligation. This number is accordingly figured in some part of the form of confederation; in the present case, in the seven ewe-lambs which Abraham tenders, and Abimelek, in token of consent, accepts at his hand. The name of the well is remarkable as an instance of the various meanings attached to nearly the same sound. Even in Hebrew it means the well of seven, or the well of the oath, as the roots of seven, and of the verb meaning to swear, have the same radical letters. Bir es-Seba means “the well of seven or of the lion.”

Genesis 21:32-34

Returned unto the land of the Philistines. - Beer-sheba was on the borders of the land of the Philistines. Going therefore to Gerar, they returned into that land. In the transactions with Hagar and with Abimelek, the name God is employed, because the relation of the Supreme Being with these parties is more general or less intimate than with the heir of promise. The same name, however, is used in reference to Abraham and Sarah, who stand in a twofold relation to him as the Eternal Potentate, and the Author of being and blessing. Hence, the chapter begins and ends with Yahweh, the proper name of God in communion with man. “Eshel is a field under tillage” in the Septuagint, and a tree in Onkelos. It is therefore well translated a grove in the King James Version, though it is rendered “the tamarisk” by many. The planting of a grove implies that Abraham now felt he had a resting-place in the land, in consequence of his treaty with Abimelek. He calls upon the name of the Lord with the significant surname of the God of perpetuity, the eternal, unchangeable God. This marks him as the “sure and able” performer of his promise, as the everlasting vindicator of the faith of treaties, and as the infallible source of the believer‘s rest and peace. Accordingly, Abraham sojourned in the land of the Philistines many days.

Matthew Henry
Concise Bible Commentary
Abimelech felt sure that the promises of God would be fulfilled to Abraham. It is wise to connect ourselves with those who are blessed of God; and we ought to requite kindness to those who have been kind to us. Wells of water are scarce and valuable in eastern countries. Abraham took care to have his title to the well allowed, to prevent disputes in future. No more can be expected from an honest man than that he be ready to do right, as soon as he knows he has done wrong. Abraham, being now in a good neighbourhood, stayed a great while there. There he made, not only a constant practice, but an open profession of his religion. There he called on the name of the Lord, as the everlasting God; probably in the grove he planted, which was his place of prayer. Abraham kept up public worship, in which his neighbours might join. Good men should do all they can to make others so. Wherever we sojourn, we must neither neglect nor be ashamed of the worship of Jehovah.
Ellen G. White
Testimonies for the Church, vol. 8, 270

In the word, God is spoken of as “the everlasting God.” This name embraces past, present, and future. God is from everlasting to everlasting. He is the Eternal One. 8T 270.1

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Ellen G. White
Testimonies for the Church, vol. 3, 368

My mind goes back to faithful Abraham, who, in obedience to the divine command given him in a night vision at Beersheba, pursues his journey with Isaac by his side. He sees before him the mountain which God had told him He would signalize as the one upon which he was to sacrifice. He removes the wood from the shoulder of his servant and lays it upon Isaac, the one to be offered. He girds up his soul with firmness and agonizing sternness, ready for the work which God requires him to do. With a breaking heart and unnerved hand, he takes the fire, while Isaac inquires: Father, here is the fire and the wood; but where is the offering? But, oh, Abraham cannot tell him now! Father and son build the altar, and the terrible moment comes for Abraham to make known to Isaac that which has agonized his soul all that long journey, that Isaac himself is the victim. Isaac is not a lad; he is a full-grown young man. He could have refused to submit to his father's design had he chosen to do so. He does not accuse his father of insanity, nor does he even seek to change his purpose. He submits. He believes in the love of his father and that he would not make this terrible sacrifice of his only son if God had not bidden him do so. Isaac is bound by the trembling, loving hands of his pitying father because God has said it. The son submits to the sacrifice because he believes in the integrity of his father. But when everything is ready, when the faith of the father and the submission of the son are fully tested, the angel of God stays the uplifted hand of Abraham that is about to slay his son and tells him that it is enough. “Now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from Me.” 3T 368.1

This act of faith in Abraham is recorded for our benefit. It teaches us the great lesson of confidence in the requirements of God, however close and cutting they may be; and it teaches children perfect submission to their parents and to God. By Abraham's obedience we are taught that nothing is too precious for us to give to God. 3T 368.2

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