10 April, 2016

Genesis 17:20—“And as for Ishmael … I have blessed him”

And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee: Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation. But my covenant will I establish with Isaac (Gen. 17:20 KJV).

Ishmael, usually, by the majority, but not by all, of the commentators is regarded as a reprobate. Since God says in this text that He has “blessed” Ishmael, this is then thought to be proof for a “common grace” of God upon the reprobate wicked.


Rev. Robert C. Harbach

[Source: Studies in the Book of Genesis, pp. 352–354]

[Ishmael] must be, not reprobate, but elect. We set out to prove this by doing as we had done in these expositions, by examining the passages in their connection, seeing the texts in the light of their contexts, and the local statements of Scripture in the light of the current teaching of Scripture. At this point, we shall not take time nor space going over the character of Ishmael, as that has already been done in chapter 16. It does not matter how offensive his character may have been. Manasseh lived a most offensive, egregious life; so did Zacchaeus, yet they were elect, and so were eventually converted. So the Lord’s answer to Abraham’s prayer was, “Behold, I have blessed him.” How did Abraham understand these words? Not as having reference to some of the descendants of Ishmael, but in keeping with what he had asked and hoped for from God for this son, namely, the blessing of eternal life [17:18]. Was Abraham in error in entertaining such an expectation? Not in view of the fact that the answer, “I have blessed him” is as personal as “I will bless her” (v. 16), and “I will make him fruitful and will multiply him … twelve princes shall he beget.” The context is as personal as possible. Abraham would correctly understand the word bless in both these instances to be used in the same sense of gracious favour. It cannot be maintained that the word refers to the divine favor in the instance of Sarah, but not in that of Ishmael. Nor can it be maintained that the meaning is: “As for Ishmael, I have heard thee, heard thy prayer, ‘O that Ishmael might live,’ and behold, I have cursed him!”

The blessing here referred to is principally the same as that given to Isaac (25:11; 26:3, 12, 24), and to Samson (Judges 13:24), the blessing according to election, for the word is not, “I will bless his seed (namely, Nebaioth and Kedar), but “I have blessed him,” referring to the past of the decree of eternal election, as in Ephesians 1:3-4, “who hath blessed us.” The pronoun him, in “I have blessed him” is, therefore, quite personal. The name Ishmael is not a personification or representation of his descendants. The name Jacob does, indeed, often stand as a general designation for the people, whereas Isaac is only rarely so employed (Amos 7:9, 16), and Abraham never occurs as a mere tribal name. If Ishmael’s posterity (25:12-16) alone were intended, the Scripture would simply say, “As for Ishmael, I have blessed his posterity,” (dor), and so render unnecessary the marking of his individuality in the history of his race.

But that one thought out of Scripture, I have blessed him, is sufficient. A similar case we have in the rich young ruler. In a conversation with the Lord he revealed himself as proud, self-righteous, and Christ-rejecting. Yet we read that Jesus loved him (Mark 10:21). What matters is that we read not that Ishmael ever returned from his banishment in the wilderness to Abraham, the church center! When Lot separated himself from Abraham, he, so far from returning, went farther away to end in a cave with his sodomitical daughters. What matters is that Scripture never informs us of the conversion of the rich young ruler in just so many words! Does not the fact that “Jesus … loved him” inescapably imply that he was then an unconverted elect, but must have been at a subsequent period converted? For Jesus does not love reprobates. We may therefore expect to see both Ishmael and this rich young ruler in heaven. For God blessed the one and loved the other. Both these men, then, must have been in the covenant, although, as for Ishmael, the covenant line did not proceed from him in his generations, but in Isaac and his generations (v. 21).

“But My covenant will I establish with Isaac …” That is, the main line of the covenant would continue in Isaac. Ishmael and some of his descendants (Nebaioth and Kedar) are, nevertheless, small branches or off-shoots from the covenant line. Japheth was in the covenant, but the covenant line continued in the family of Shem. Lot was in the covenant, but the covenant line continued in Abraham and his posterity. All the sons of Jacob were in the covenant, but the covenant line continued in but one of them, Judah. Ishmael is not, therefore, excluded from the covenant and its blessings; but he is not the transmitter of the seed though whom Christ would come.



Rev. Angus Stewart

Check out the following sermon on Genesis 17 by Rev. Stewart. This is part ‘8’ of a 16-part series going through Genesis chapters 12 to 25.

Sermon Title: “God’s Covenant with Abraham and His Seed”
Scripture Text: Genesis 17
Sermon Series: “Abraham, the Father of the Faithful.”

To listen to the entire sermon series and others like it, click the following:



More to Come! (DV)

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