CONTEXT: Abraham's story began with his call, when his name was Abram. God told Abram, "Now Yahweh said to Abram, "Get out of your country, and from your relatives, and from your father's house, to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation. I will bless you and make your name great. You will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you. All of the families of the earth will be blessed in you" (12:1-3). God's promise to make of Abram a great nation implies that Abram will have a legitimate heir.
Abram was 75 years old at the time of his departure from Haran (12:4). He was married to Sarai (later Sarah), but they had no children-and at their age they had no reason (except God's promise that he would make of Abram a great nation) to believe that they would ever have a child.
Later, God said, "Don't be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward." But Abram said, "Lord Yahweh, what will you give me, since I go childless, and he who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?" (15:1-2). God responded, "This man will not be your heir, but he who will come out of your own body will be your heir. Look now toward the sky, and count the stars, if you are able to count them. So shall your seed be" (15:4-5). This promise is very specific. Abram will have a child-a legitimate heir. Abram "believed in Yahweh; and he reckoned it to him for righteousness" (15:6).
But Sarai, in anguish because she had been unable to bear children for Abram, told him to go in to her slave-girl, Hagar, so that Hagar might bear a child for him (16:2). She had grown weary of waiting for God to keep his promise to Abram, and felt a need to take matters in her own hands. Abram did as she asked, and Hagar conceived a child. Hagar then began to look with contempt on Sarai, who complained bitterly to Abram (16:5). Abram gave Sarai permission to do as she would with Hagar, and Sarai acted so harshly that Hagar ran away into the wilderness (16:6). An angel found her there and told her that she would bear a son who would have so many descendants that they could not be counted. The angel told her to name her son Ishmael (Hebrew: yismael-"God hears").
Hagar bore a son for Abram. Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael" (16:15).
We should take special note of two things in chapter 16, because they will have bearing on our understanding of chapter 21.
In chapter 17, God makes a covenant with Abram, reaffirming the promises that God made earlier. Abraham responded to this promise by falling down laughing (17:17). The motif of laughter repeats throughout this account.
In chapter, 18, God promises Abraham and Sarah (the names conferred by God on Abram and Sarai in 17:5, 15) that they will have a son, and Sarah laughed (Hebrew: sahaq-a word related to yishaq or Isaac, which means "He laughs").
Chapter 19 tells the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, and chapter 20 tells of Abraham's shameful behavior at Gerar (20:2).
GENESIS 21:1-7. SARAH CONCEIVED, AND BORE ABRAHAM A SON
Then the Lord took note of Sarah as He had said, and the Lord did for Sarah as He had promised. 2 So Sarah conceived and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the appointed time of which God had spoken to him. 3 Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore to him, Isaac. 4 Then Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. 5 Now Abraham was one hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. 6 Sarah said, "God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me." 7 And she said, "Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age."
"Yahweh visited (Hebrew: paqad-visited) Sarah as he had said, and Yahweh did to Sarah as he had spoken" (v. 1). This verse uses two similar phrases to express the same thought. Some scholars conclude that there are two different authors involved here, but it seems more likely that this is simply a poetic way of expressing the exciting truth that Sarah has conceived a child, as God promised that she would.
"Sarah conceived, and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him" (v. 2). This verse spans a significant measure of time-from the time God promised a son to Abram (17:16: 18:10-14)-to the time of the child's conception-to the time of the child's birth nine months later.
"Abraham called his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore to him, Isaac" (v. 3). It is the father's duty to name the child. Abraham obeys God by naming his son Isaac (17:19).
"whom Sarah bore to him" (v. 3b). We must keep in mind that this is not Abraham's only son. He also has a son by Hagar, the slave woman whom he has taken as a concubine. This new baby, however, is by his wife, Sarah. This makes for confusion with regard to status and succession. Isaac enjoys special standing as the son of Abraham's legitimate wife, but Ishmael enjoys special standing as Abraham's firstborn. This will create a serious problem in the near future.
"Abraham circumcised his son, Isaac, when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him" (v. 4). God commanded circumcision at eight days as a sign of the covenant between God and Abraham (17:10-14). Abraham responded by being circumcised personally and having the males of his household circumcised (17:23-27). Now he continues his obedience by having Isaac circumcised.
"Abraham was one hundred years old when his son, Isaac, was born to him" (v. 5). As noted above, Abram was 86 years old when Ishmael was born (16:15), so Ishmael is now 14 years old.
Again, no mention is made of Sarah's advanced age.
"Sarah said,'God has made me laugh. Everyone who hears will laugh with me'" (v. 6). Keep in mind that Isaac's name in Hebrew is yishaq, which means "He laughs." Also keep in mind the laughter of Abraham (17:7) and Sarah (18:12) when God promised them a child. There is wordplay here.
In any event, the birth of this child whose name is "He laughs" is clearly an occasion of great joy for Sarah, and it provokes laughter (whether joyful or mocking) on the part of other people as well.
"Who would have said to Abraham, that Sarah would nurse children? For I have borne him a son in his old age" (v. 7). Sarah has not borne Abraham children (plural), but she has borne him a son.
GENESIS 21:8. THE CHILD GREW
8 The child grew and was weaned, and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned.
"The child grew, and was weaned. Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned"(v. 8). We aren't certain how early children were weaned in those days. Probably two to three years old. In that primitive culture, many children would die of various illnesses prior to being weaned, so having the child survive through infancy is occasion for celebration.
Gen. 21:1-8 - Bible Ref Commentary
v. 1: The Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised. - The Lord keeps His promises, no matter how unlikely they may seem from a human perspective. Not only had God promised to make Abraham a great nation, He had promised specifically that this nation would come through Sarah, a vow made twice within the last year (Genesis 17:16-21; 18:10-15). Now the Lord visits Sarah "as he had said" and the Lord does to her "as he had promised." Somehow, in this visiting, the Lord made Sarah, finally, able to conceive a child with Abraham.
It's interesting that, though most of God's promises about the great nation that would flow from Abraham have been made directly to Abraham, the focus of the promise's fulfillment rests on Sarah. God maintains a relationship with her and His promise is made to and through her.
The repetition and phrasing in this verse is meant to slow us down and cause us to notice that God is faithful. He does as He says.
v 2: And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him. - God's timing is perfect. He had said within the hearing of both Abraham and Sarah that they would have a child within a year from a specific moment (Genesis 18:14). Though Abraham and Sarah had attempted to scheme a way to gain a son through another woman (Genesis 16:1-2), God specifically meant to provide them with their own natural child (Genesis 17:15-16). Despite their disbelieving laughter (Genesis 17:17; Genesis 18:12), that's exactly what happened. Not only does God keep His promises, He keeps them specifically.
Sarah bears a son to Abraham in his old age. Saying these two are in their "old age," in this situation, is quite an understatement. The following verses will reveal that Abraham is 100 years old, meaning that Sarah is right around 90. It's never too late for God to keep His word. This makes Isaac's birth miraculous, not only because Sarah had been barren her entire life, but also because of her advanced age when she conceived.
v. 3: Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore him, Isaac. - Just as God had instructed them (Genesis 17:9), Abraham named his son Isaac, which means "he laughs." The repetition of the phrases here-"the son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore him"-is meant to continue to slow the reader down and force us to ponder what has happened. Two primary points stand out.
First, of course, God kept His promise. He is faithful. He said this would happen, and it did.
Second, Abraham and Sarah were old and well beyond conceiving and bearing children. Further, Sarah had been barren for her entire life up to this point. Genesis intends for us to fully appreciate the idea that Isaac is a miracle baby. A normal married couple might reasonably have ten children, or even more, during their childbearing years, leading to numerous offspring for generations to come. This particular couple, though, through whom would come the nation of Israel, had just one son under miraculous circumstances. There should be no mistake that this birth was anything but the very work of God in the lives of His people.
v. 4: And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him. - On the very same day when God had changed Abram's name to Abraham, and Sarai's name to Sarah, He told Abraham that Sarah would have a son within a year and they would call him Isaac. Abraham had laughed (Genesis 17:15-17). On that day, God had also commanded Abraham to be circumcised, along with every male in his household, and to circumcise all future male children born to his household at eight days old (Genesis 17:10-13).
The act of circumcision involves removing the foreskin from the penis, cutting in a circle around the organ. This ritual is deeply symbolic, echoing God's sovereignty over fertility and children, the uniqueness of His people, and the permanence of His influence. God would continue the requirement for circumcision in the laws given to Israel through Moses (Leviticus 12:3).
Now Abraham obeys that command with this promised son Isaac, circumcising him on the eighth day of his life.
v. 5: Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. - Abraham's age at the time of Isaac's birth is given to emphasize that this was a supernatural work of God. This also reminds us that it has been less than a year since God had told Abraham and Sarah they would have a son. Both had laughed at the very idea of it (Genesis 17:17; Genesis 18:12), but even though Abraham was 100 years old, the day finally arrived. God had kept His impossible, laughable, beautiful word. Even though Abraham and Sarah were well beyond the normal age of conception, and Sarah had been barren for her entire life, God provided them with a natural-born son.
v. 6: And Sarah said, "God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me." - Previous verses listed the facts of Isaac's birth. God has done as He said. He has kept His promise. The long-awaited child, the one who makes all future promises possible, has at last been born to a 100-year-old man and his childless, 90-year-old wife. This child is a blessing Abraham and Sarah have both desperately wanted for many years.
Here, we are witness to Sarah's joyful emotional response. In a play on words, she gives all the credit for the birth of Isaac to the Lord. He has "made laughter" for her-Isaac's name means "laughter." Everyone who hears her story will laugh over her or with her, or perhaps she means people will laugh "at" her. Most scholars interpret this statement to mean Sarah believes her story will bring the joy of laughter to others. Some suggest that perhaps she believes others will laugh, as she did, at the idea that a 90-year-old woman could bear a child. In any case, it has happened. She has laughter, at last.
v. 7: And she said, "Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age." - Sarah, 90 years old, continues to express her joyful response to the birth of Isaac. In the previous verse, she says that everyone who hears will laugh with her, or perhaps "at" her, since her situation is so unusual.
Now she asks, who would ever have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? The implied answer is that nobody would have said such a thing. The truth, though, is that the Lord said exactly that thing to Abraham. He is the only one who could have predicted this moment, because He is the one who made it come to pass. Despite Abraham and Sarah's own doubts (Genesis 17:17; Genesis 18:12), and their schemes (Genesis 16:1-2), God has faithfully provided exactly what He said He would, in the time He said He would provide it (Genesis 18:14).
Sarah concludes her expression of joy by saying that though nobody could ever have predicted it, she has indeed borne Abraham a son in his old age.
v. 8: And the child grew and was weaned. And Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned -
Not only was the miracle child Isaac born, he survived being weaned. Compared to modern times, this era would have had extremely high infant mortality rates. A substantial number of infants did not survive to become independent adults. A child who survived the helplessness of their early years, until they were no longer directly dependent on their mother for food, took a step towards surviving to adulthood. Women of this time may have breastfed their children as late as two or three years old, so Isaac was likely a toddler on the day of this great feast thrown to celebrate his life.
As earlier verses indicated, there is no doubt that Isaac's birth was entirely miraculous. His parents are decades beyond the normal age to bear children. His mother had previously been unable to conceive. Despite the doubts of Abraham and Sarah themselves (Genesis 17:17; Genesis 18:12), God's promises came true in the form of this long-awaited child.
Gen. 21:1-8 - EXTRA COMMENTARY
Genesis 21:1 "And the LORD visited Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did unto Sarah as he had spoken."
The Lord visited Sarah" To the aged couple (verses 2, 5, 7), exactly as promised, a son was born and the 25 year suspense was finally over with the laughter of derision turning to rejoicing (verse 6). The barrenness of Sarah (11:26), had ended.
Genesis 21:2 "For Sarah conceived, and bare Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him."
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.
God's word is true. He never fails to do what He has promised to do. He had promised Sarah and Abraham a son.
Genesis 21:3 "And Abraham called the name of his son that was born unto him, whom Sarah bare to him, Isaac."
"Isaac" was the miraculously born son of Abraham and Sarah and was the forefather of the Jews. Both Abraham (17:17), and Sarah (18:12), laughed at the promise of a son in their old age, but later laughed for joy at his birth (verses 1-8). He represented the ancestral line of the promised Messiah. God tested Abraham's faith by His command to sacrifice Isaac on Mount Moriah.
Isaac's obedience also anticipates Christ as the only begotten Son willing to be bound on the altar of sacrifice by His Father. In Isaac's marriage to Rebekah the faith of Abraham was again tested for 20 years as he awaited a son. Isaac lived 180 years and fathered both Esau and Jacob. (Gen 17:19; 26:1-5)
This son, Isaac, was the son of promise, the son of the spirit, not the son of flesh, like his half-brother, Ishmael. "Isaac" means laughter. This was the son through whom the promises to Abraham would be fulfilled.
Genesis 21:4 "And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac being eight days old, as God had commanded him."
"God had commanded him" (Genesis 17:12), and was the first that we read of that was circumcised on that day, according to the divine precept, which Abraham strictly observed. For though this was the son of the promise, and of his old age for whom he had the most affectionate regard; yet he administered this bloody ordinance on him (see note on 17:11).
Nor did he defer it beyond the time, and was himself the operator, as it seems. All which shows his strict regard, and ready and cheerful obedience to the command of God.
The blood covenant that Abraham made with God, he fulfilled in his son, Isaac, as God had commanded, when the child was eight days old. "Eight" means new beginnings.
Genesis 21:5 "And Abraham was a hundred years old, when his son Isaac was born unto him."
"Isaac ... born unto him" (2065 B.C.). God fulfilled His promise to Abraham (12:2; 15:4-5; 17:7).
In the flesh, a hundred year old man could not father a child; but in the spirit, anything is possible.
Genesis 21:6 "And Sarah said, God hath made me to laugh, [so that] all that hear will laugh with me."
When Sarah received the promise, she laughed with distrust and doubt.
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.
As I said, Isaac means laughter. His mother was rejoicing, because she had been blessed by God, and had this baby in her old age. This had taken her reproach away. Hebrew women were looked down upon, if they didn't have children. Her friends were rejoicing with her.
Genesis 21:7 "And she said, Who would have said unto Abraham, that Sarah should have given children suck? for I have born [him] a son in his old age."
The event that nobody ever expected to hear announced to Abraham, has nevertheless taken place; "for I have born 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 the custom on the festive occasion.
Abraham had undoubtedly been embarrassed in front of his friends that he and Sarah had no children. No one believed he would ever have a child by Sarah. In fact, they did not believe themselves, until God sent them hope and a promise. She could hardly believe it herself, that she had given Abraham a son.
Genesis 21:8 "And the child grew, and was weaned: and Abraham made a great feast the [same] day that Isaac was weaned."
"And the child grew, and was weaned": He thrived under the nursing of his mother, and through the blessing of God upon him; and being healthy and robust, and capable of digesting stronger food, and living upon it, he was weaned from the breast.
What age Isaac was when weaned is not certain, there being no fixed time for such an affair, but it was at the discretion of parents, and as they liked it.
"Abraham made a great feast the same day that Isaac was weaned": Because he had now escaped the dangers of infancy, and had gone through or got over those disorders infants are exposed to, and had his health confirmed, there was great likelihood of his living and becoming a man.
Since now he could eat and digest solid and substantial food, this was great joy to Abraham.
A little boy cannot get too far away from mother, until he is weaned. Now, Abraham would be able to be with his son. This was a very special time in this very special little boy's life. This was reason for celebration with Abraham. For a man of this age to have a child would make the child everything in the father's eyes.
Gen. 21:1-8 - PULPIT COMMENTARY
Genesis 21:1: And the LORD visited Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did unto Sarah as he had spoken.
Verse 1. - And the Lord - Jehovah; not because the verse is Jehovistic (Knobel, Bleek, et alii), but because the promise naturally falls to be implemented by him who gave it (vide Genesis 18:10) - visited - remembered with love (Onkelos), ἐπισκέψατο (LXX.; cf. Genesis 50:24; Exodus 4:31; 1 Samuel 2:21; Isaiah 23:17); though it sometimes means to approach in judgment (vide Exodus 20:5; Exodus 32:34). Alleged to be peculiar to the Jehovist (the term used by the Elohist being זָכַר: Genesis 8:1; Genesis 19:29; Genesis 30:20), the word occurs in Genesis 1:24, which Tuch and Bleek ascribe to the Elohist - Sarah as he had said (Genesis 17:21; Genesis 18:10, 14), - God's word of promise being ever the rule of his performance (cf. Exodus 12:25; Luke 1:72) - and the Lord did unto Sarah as he had spoken - i.e. implemented his promise; the proof of which is next given (cf. Numbers 23:19; Hebrews 6:18).
Genesis 21:2: For Sarah conceived, and bare Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him.
Verse 2. - For Sarah conceived, - through faith receiving strength from God for that purpose (Hebrews 11:11); the fruit of the womb, in every instance God's handiwork (Isaiah 44:2), being in her case a special gift of grace and product of Divine power - and bare - the usual construction (Genesis 29:32; Genesis 30:5) is here somewhat modified by the Jehovist (Kalisch); but the clause may be compared with Genesis 30:22, 23, commonly assigned to the Elohlst - Abraham (literally, to Abraham) a son in his old age, - literally, to his old age; εἰς τὸ γῆρας (LXX.) - at the set time (vide Genesis 17:21; Genesis 18:10, 14) of which God had spoken to him. God's word gave Abraham strength to beget, Sarah to conceive, and Isaac to come forth. Three times repeated in two verses, the clause points to the supernatural character of Isaac's birth.
Genesis 21:3: And Abraham called the name of his son that was born unto him, whom Sarah bare to him, Isaac.
Verse 3. - And Abraham called the name of his son - the naming of a child by its father is, according to partitionists, a peculiarity of the Elohist as distinguished from the Jehovist, who assigns that function to the mother; but vide Genesis 16:15 - that was born unto him, whom Sarah bare to him (the latter clause being added to distinguish him from Hagar's child), Isaac - laughter; the name appointed for him by God before his birth (Genesis 17:19).
Genesis 21:4: And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac being eight days old, as God had commanded him.
Verse 4. - And Abraham circumcised (vide on Genesis 17:11, and note at the end of that chapter) his son Isaac being eight days old (literally, a son of eight days), as (not only because, but in the manner in which) God had commanded him.
Genesis 21:5: And Abraham was an hundred years old, when his son Isaac was born unto him.
Verse 5. - And Abraham was an hundred years old (cf. Genesis 17:1, 17), when his son Isaac was born unto him. Literally, at the time of bearing to him (ἐν τῷ τεκεῖν) Isaac (vide Gesenius, 'Gram.,' § 143). Thus Abraham had waited twenty-five years for the fulfillment of the promise - a remarkable instance of faith and patience (Romans 4:20), as Isaac's birth was a signal display of Divine power (Romans 4:17; Hebrews 11:12). Whether Isaac was born at Gerar or at Beersheba cannot with certitude be inferred.
Genesis 21:6 And Sarah said, God hath made me to laugh, so that all that hear will laugh with me.
Verse 6. - And Sarah said, - the spiritual elevation of her soul being indicated by the poetical form of her speech. Differing from Mary s magnificat in having been uttered after, and not before, the birth of the promised seed, the anthem of Sarah was obviously designed as a prelude to that loftier song of the Virgin (cf. Luke 1:46). It consists of two sentences, the first containing two, and the second three lines - God hath made me to laugh. Or, retaining the order of the Hebrew, To laugh hath made me Elohim; the emphatic position of צְחֹק, containing an allusion to the name Isaac, probably indicating that Sarah's laughter was of a different character now from what it had previously been (Genesis 18:12); and her ascription of it to Elohim intimating that him whom she formerly mistook for a traveler she now recognized to be Divine ('Speaker's Commentary'). So that all that hear me will laugh with me. Not, will laugh at me, deridebit me (Peele), a sense the words will bear (Rosenmüller, 'Speaker's Commentary'), though in the instances adduced (Job 5:22; Job 39:7, 18, 22) צָחַק לְ rather conveys the idea of despising difficulties (Kalisch); but, will laugh with me, συγχαρεῖταί μου, congaudebit mihi (LXX., Vulgate, Targums, Calvin, Dathe, Keil).
Genesis 21:7 And she said, Who would have said unto Abraham, that Sarah should have given children suck? for I have born him a son in his old age.
Verse 7. - And she said, Who would have said unto Abraham, - מִלֶּל, the poetic word for דּבֵּר, is introduced by מִי in order to express astonishment; the meaning being that what had happened was altogether out of the ordinary course of nature, was, in fact, God's work alone (Vatablus, Calvin, Rosenmüller, Keil, Kalisch, 'Speaker's Commentary'). Less happy are τίς ἀναγγελεῖ τῳ Ἀβραὰμ (LXX.); quis auditurum crederet Abraham quod (Vulgate); quam fidelis est ille qui dixit Abrahamo (Onkelos) - that Sarah should have given children suck? Literally, Sarah suckleth sons. "Many of the greatest saints in Holy Scripture, and even our Lord himself, were nursed by their own mothers" (Wordsworth). For I have born him a son in his old age. Literally, I have born a son to his old age. The LXX. incorrectly render ἐν τῶ γήρᾳ μου.
Genesis 21:8 And the child grew, and was weaned: and Abraham made a great feast the same day that Isaac was weaned.
Verse 8. - And the child grew, - καὶ ἠυξήθη τὸ παιδίον (LXX.): imitated by Luke concerning Christ: τὸ παιδίον ηὔξανε (Luke 2:40) - and was weaned. The verb gamal originally signifies to do good to any one, to do completely; hence to finish, or make completely ready, as an infant; hence to wean, since either at that time the period of infancy is regarded as complete, or the child s independent existence is then fully reached. The time of weaning is commonly believed to have been at the end of the second or third year (cf. 1 Samuel 1:22-24; 2 Chronicles 31:16; 2 Macc. 7:27; Josephus, 'Ant.,' 2:09, 6). And Abraham made a great feast the same day that Isaac was weaned. Literally, in the day of the weaning of Isaac; probably, therefore, when Isaac was three years old and Ishmael seventeen. "It is still customary in the East to have a festive gathering at the time a child is weaned. Among the Hindoos, when the time for weaning has come, the event is accompanied with feasting and religious ceremonies, during which rice is formally presented to the child" ('Bible Manners and Customs,' by Rev. J. A. Freeman, M.A., ' Homiletical Quarterly,' vol. 1. p. 78; cf. Roberts' 'Oriental Illustrations,' p. 24).