Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Genesis 25:12-18 Ishmael's Sons

Ishmael and his sons are the subject of this next section of Scripture.  Sarah's Egyptian maidservant Hagar had borne this son to Abraham. (v.12) A listing of Ishmael's sons follows, and, as God had promised Hagar way back before Ishmael had even been born (Genesis 16:10), this son would have numerous descendants.  Later, God reaffirmed (and expanded upon) this promise to Abraham in Genesis 17:20  "And as for Ishmael, I have heard you:  I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers.  He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation.

Now, in Genesis 25:13-16, these sons are listed in the order of their birth:  Nebaioth, Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, Mishma, Dumah, Massa, Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish and Kedemah.  They are also spoken of as twelve tribal rulers of their settlements and camps.

Ishmael lived for 137 years.  His descendants settled from Havilah to Shur, "near the border of Egypt as you go toward Asshur." (Genesis 25:17-18)  Unfortunately, the text also states, "And they lived in hostility toward all their brothers." (Genesis 25:18 NIV)  A text note in my Bible states that the words "lived in hostility" can also mean "lived to the east of" their brothers.  So, which is it?  Abraham did send his sons off to the land of the east (Genesis 25:6), so they did indeed live to the east of Isaac.  However, before that, when the angel of the Lord spoke to Hagar, he said, "He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone's hand will be against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers" (Genesis 16:12 NIV)  In that last verse also, "live in hostility" can mean "lived to the east of" as well.  I suspect that it is one of those cases where it is a word pun and can mean both things simultaneously.  The first part of Genesis 16:12 lets us know that conflict is going to be present between the brothers -- "His hand will be against everyone and everyone's hand will be against him,..." -- regardless of whether we translate the latter words as 'to the east' or 'in hostility towards'.  As I said above, the two meanings are probably simultaneous.  This could also be pointing out the fact that the brothers have a choice, to live to the east or to live in hostility.  Isn't that an interesting thought, especially in the light of current events?

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