Biblical Portraits: The Father

The Happy Father

Abraham was 86 years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abraham.[1]

Can you imagine the feelings of an 86-year old man who has been childless his whole life, who has been dreaming of a son not only for many years, but for many decades, and finally, a son is born to him?! How blessed and how fulfilled he must have felt holding in his hands this sweet baby that he saw as a living proof of God’s faithfulness to His promises! Remember: Even though we know that Ishmael was not a son of promise, Abraham did not know it. Not only did he love his son with all his heart and soul, but even this incredible name that Hagar had brought back from her Beer Lachai Roi experience  – Ishmael,  ישמע-אל   , “God will hear” – was a clear sign and an indisputable proof that  Ishmael was indeed God’s promised child, the Son of the Promise.  What else did he need to prove it?  The merciful and just God has distinguished the boy as somebody very special in His eyes!

So, when Ishmael was born, the old patriarch’s joy knew no bounds. He loved his son dearly, he enjoyed every single moment with him, and during those joyful years, somehow a “small” fact skipped past his attention: God wasn’t speaking to him anymore!

The Father of Many Nations 

Did Abraham realize that God had stopped speaking to him? I think that all those years his heart had been so full of Ishmael, he might have missed the fact that something–Somebody–was absent from his life. The Scriptures don’t tell us anything about those 13 years that Ishmael was Abraham’s only son. Yet,  when the Lord appears to Abraham with a breaking news and a long message in chapter 17, remarkably, the only thing that we (and God) hear from Abraham in this chapter is his plea for his son: Oh, that Ishmael might live before You.”[2]

Pay close attention: Abraham said this when God actually appeared to him, for the first time after many years! God promises him another son and explains His plan and His covenant with Abraham. However, Abraham’s response, and all that he can think of at that point, is about Ishmael: Oh, that Ishmael might live before You!” Not only would Abraham be perfectly happy to see Ishmael as his heir, as the one who would continue his life’s work and his special relationship with God, he actually did see Ishmael as his heir and successor – and we see it clearly from Chapter 17.

As we read Chapter 17 where God appears to Abraham after 13 years of silence, we see that the promise that shook Abraham’s world–that he would have another son–came only in verse 16. This was preceded by a long message, however: God explains to Abraham that he was making a covenant with him and with his descendants forever.

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless.  And I will make My covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.” Then Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying:  “As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations.  I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you.  And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you.  Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.” And God said to Abraham: “As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations.  This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised;  and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you.  He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every male child in your generations, he who is born in your house or bought with money from any foreigner who is not your descendant.  He who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money must be circumcised, and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.  And the uncircumcised male child, who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.”[3]

Within the 14 verses that I have taken the liberty of quoting here, the word “covenant” occurs 10 times; the word “descendant” five times. All these occurrences happen before verse 16 – before Abraham hears for the first time that he is to have another  son by Sarah. This means that all this time, while listening to the Lord speaking  about the covenant and the descendants, Abraham is obviously thinking of Ishmael: he has no other children and at this point, he has no idea that he will have another son.  And the only hint that from now on, something is about to change drastically,  we find in verse 5 where God is changing Abram’s  name to Abraham. The change seems to be very minor – in Hebrew, its only one letter,  ה(he)­ – however, the change in the  meaning is huge.  What does it mean, this change?

The original name “Abram,” אַבְרָם (avram), is composed of two words av and ram, together they mean something like “exalted father”. The irony of this name is lost on those who don’t know Hebrew: as we know, for a very long time, Abram could not become a father at all! But now, finally, he is the father, he loves his son and is absolutely confident that Ishmael, indeed, is the son of promise!  We know that God had a different plan though, and very soon – in verse 16 – Abraham will hear about When,  even before that, God is inserting letter ה into his name, He says: “your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations”[4] . This  new name, “Abraham” אַבְרָהָם  (avraham), reflects God’s plan and promise: “a father of many nations,”  אַב־הֲמוֹן גּוֹיִם,  (av hamon goyim). As much as Abraham loved Ishmael,  he was not supposed to be AvRam – just a happy Father of one son – he was supposed to be Abraham – “a father of many nations”. And in our next post, we will watch this transition happening.

[1] Genesis 16:16

[2] Genesis 17:18

[3] Genesis 17:1-14

[4] Gen.17:5

Excerpts from my  book “Abraham had two sons”  are included in this  series, you  can get  this book and my other books from  my page on this blog:   https://blog.israelbiblicalstudies.com/julia-blum/   . Also,  my new book “Unlocking the Scriptures”   is available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=unlocking+the+scriptures+by+julia+blum&crid=2IHYED6W7ZVYI&sprefix=julia+blum+%2Caps%2C689&ref=nb_sb_ss_i_4_11

If these articles whet your appetite for discovering the hidden treasures of the Hebrew BibleI would be happy to provide more information (and also a teacher’s discount for new students) regarding our amazing courses (juliab@eteachergroup.com).

About the author

Julia BlumJulia is a teacher and an author of several books on biblical topics. She teaches two biblical courses at the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies, “Discovering the Hebrew Bible” and “Jewish Background of the New Testament”, and writes Hebrew insights for these courses.

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  1. nobody

    Greetings 🙂
    i have been thinking: who would sacrifice his child, his very own flesh and blood for anything?
    What’s more, why would the Lord ask anyone to do such a thing, just to test us?
    Didn’t the Lord know what he created and didn’t we fail from the very first days in the good garden after we enjoyed of the forbidden fruit, wasn’t that enough?
    Wasn’t the flood another beginning, did the Lord expect that we change after a swim and a swirl in the waters?
    And then what kind of guidance was it to lead the Israelites in the deserts for 40-50 years before they finally arrive home from Egypt?
    How cool are the Israelites, any way, to quickly get to work and worship a golden cow as soon as Moses turns his back to speak with the Lord.
    Oh, and aren’t we all children of Noah? then what is so special about Israelites and why they call others gentiles? Isn’t that racist?

  2. […] When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless.  And I will make My covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.” Then Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying:  “As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations.  I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you.  And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you.  Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.” And God said to Abraham: “As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations.  This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised;  and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you.  He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every male child in your generations, he who is born in your house or bought with money from any foreigner who is not your descendant.  He who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money must be circumcised, and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.  And the uncircumcised male child, who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.”[3] […]

    1. Kelechi Uchukwu Nwaeze

      At this point was Ishmael Uncircumcised or he was circumcised, because the never tell us that.

      1. Julia Blum

        The Torah is very clear: Ishmael was circumcised in Genesis 17 when he was 13 years old (Gen.17:25), right after Abraham received the commandment of circumcision.

  3. Ashley

    It was pointed out to us at bible college years ago that when God changed Abram’s name to Abraham, he inserted part of His own name – that being part of Yahweh. (This is, of course, in the English language). This was to be part of the covenant.
    Ever after that covenant was made, God referred to Himself as “The God of Abraham” (and later, when the covenant was continued with Isaac & Jacob, their names were also added to His title).

    Even though this view could be disputed in the Hebrew, I have noticed that God often works things out like this.
    For example, in Eastern cultures, the greatest thing you can do for another person is to give your son for their cause.
    Yet in Western cultures, the greatest thing we can do is to give our own life for another.
    Compare that with Jesus’ death on the cross – in the west we say Jesus gave up His life for us, yet the bible also says that God the Father gave His Son for us.

    1. Julia Blum

      Thank you so much Ashley! I’ve never thought of this difference in this way. Very profound comment indeed, I am very grateful.

  4. Donald Ashton

    julia,
    A very thought provoking article, but I have one additional thought about this story:
    Is there a deeper significance in that Ishmael was born to Avram whereas Isaac was born to Avraham?
    Avram was his earthly name, given as a hope of what was to follow.
    Avraham was his heavenly name given by the great creator as a promise of what was to be.

    1. Julia Blum

      Absolutely, Donald! Of course I agree: Avram is his earthly, natural name, while the new name, “Abraham” אַבְרָהָם (avraham), reflects God’s plan and promise: “a father of many nations,” אַב־הֲמוֹן גּוֹיִם. He was not supposed to be AvRam – just a happy Father of one son – he was supposed to be Abraham – “a father of many nations”. In my next post – on Thursday- we will follow this transition. Stay tuned!

  5. JOSUÉ DA SILVA ROSA

    PROFESSORA JÚLIA, SOU BRASILEIRO E DITO CRISTÃO E VEJO QUE ISTO É, UM TANTO DIFERENTE DE VOSSO CONHECIMENTO E TENHO OUVIDO PREGAÇÕES, EM NOSSO MEIO, QUE DIZEM QUE JESUS QUANDO CAMINHOU EM MEIO AO POVO JUDEU COMO O FILHO DO HOMEM, QUE ELE FOI 100% HOMEM E 100% DEUS, SERIA ISTO UMA REALIDADE TENDO EM VISTA QUE UM TODO IMPLICA EM APENAS 100%, E NÃO 200% POIS SENDO DEUS E HOMEM EM 100% CADA PERSONALIDADE SOMARIA 200% GOSTARIA DE UMA EXPLICAÇÃO NESTE SENTIDO, JÁ QUE ISTO IMPLICA EM UM CONHECIMENTO HEBRAICO.

    1. Julia Blum

      Hi Josue, unfortunately I don’t read Spanish or Portuguese, you can leave the comments and ask the questions on our Portuguese site, and the moderator there will respond. Sorry!
      Blessings, Julia