Why did Abraham say what he did in Genesis 17:18?


by Shawn Brasseaux

“And Abraham said unto God, O that Ishmael might live before thee!” (Genesis 17:18). Why did Abraham pray these words?

JEHOVAH God, after giving the nations nearly 2,000 years to come to Him by faith, scattered them because of their idolatrous rebellion (Genesis chapters 10 and 11). He isolated one pagan, Abram the Syrian. Genesis chapter 12: “[1] Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: [2] And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: [3] And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.”

God promised Abram he would father a nation, Israel, for His earthly purposes. Yet, Abram and wife Sarai remain childless for many years. Impatient, Sarai suggests Abram use her slave girl, Hagar, as a surrogate mother. Abram, in unbelief, follows his wife’s advice. Genesis 16:15-16: “And Hagar bare Abram a son: and Abram called his son’s name, which Hagar bear, Ishmael. And Abram was fourscore and six [86] years old, when Hagar bare Ishmael to Abram.”

Some 13 years later, in chapter 17, God appears to 99-year-old Abram. “Abram” (“high/exalted father”) is renamed “Abraham” (“father of many/multitude”) (verse 5). Furthermore, God tells Abraham his promised son, Isaac, will be born next year to Sarah (verses 15-17). Since Isaac is coming and Ishmael was not God’s plan, Abraham fears God will kill Ishmael. In Genesis 17:18, Abraham pleads for Ishmael’s life.

The Bible continues, “[19] And God said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him. [20] 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.” Ishmael indeed lived, but, due to Abraham’s fleshly behavior, Ishmael fathered the Arabs—Israel’s most bitter enemies!

Also see:
» Is God finished with the nation Israel?
» Who is the “foolish nation” in Romans 10:19?
» Why is there so little human history in Genesis chapters 1-11?