In the Holy Bible, in the very Word of God, there are only four men whose names God Himself, either directly or through His angels, pre-named before their births. They are, in order of their births:
Ishmael: Genesis 16:11 “And the angel of the LORD said to her, ‘Behold, you are pregnant and shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, because the LORD has listened to your affliction.’” Ishmael ישׁמעאל (yishmâ‛ê’l) and means “God will hear.”
Isaac: Genesis 17:19 “God said, ‘No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him.’” Isaac יצחק (yitschâq) is derived from the word for “laughter” (that is, mockery).
John the Baptist: Luke 1:13 “But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John.” John Ἰωάννης (Iōannēs) is in Hebrew origin Joannes, which is, Jochanan, and signifies “gracious“: a fit name for one that was filled with the gifts and graces of the Spirit; and was the harbinger of the Messiah, who is full of grace and truth; and the ushered in the Messiah’s kingdom, which is a dispensation of grace.
Jesus: Luke 1:31 “And behold! You shall conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call His name JESUS.” Jesus Ἰησοῦς (Iēsous) of Hebrew origin which is, Jehoshua. Jesus, a Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua, was a common name meaning “the LORD saves.” Just as Joshua had led Israel into the Promised Land, so Jesus would lead his people into eternal life. The symbolism of his name was not lost on the people of his day, who took names seriously and saw them as a source of power.
These are the four men. Christians will typically recognised and know all about Isaac, John the Baptist and Jesus, but know little about Ishmael. This needs to be corrected, for Ishmael is no less important than the others, just because we are in ignorance of him. When something occurs in the Bible it is important. This is especially true the first time it appears, when it sets a precedent. Bible scholars call this the law of first things. Let us look at what the Bible tells us about this first naming, this “Ishmael”.
Ishmael’s mother was Hagar, the Egyptian slave of Sari, the wife of Abram. Sari was unable to conceive so she offered Hagar that she may bear an heir for Abram, which she duly did (Genesis 16:1-4). When Ishmael was about 13 years old, God came and changed his father’s name saying v17:5 “Neither shall your name any more be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham. For I have made you a father of many nations” and v17:15 “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but her name shall be Sarah.” Note here that God is already recognising Abraham as “a father of many nations,” thought is only son is Ishmael.
At the time of the name changes, God also discussed His covenant with Abraham saying to him v2 “And I will make My covenant between Me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.”v4 “My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations.” v6-10 “And I will make you exceedingly fruitful, greatly so, and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come out of you. And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your seed after you in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God to you and to your seed after you. And I will give the land to you in which you are a stranger, and to your seed after you, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession. And I will be their God. And God said to Abraham, And you shall keep My covenant, you and your seed after you in their generations. This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your seed after you.” God then went on to also promise a child for Sarah v16 “And I will bless her, and give you a son also of her. Yes, I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations, kings of people shall be from her.” Again, God also promises Abraham will be the father of nations, this time through Sarah’s child, Isaac. At this point, Abraham interceded for his first son Ishmael as he beseeched God “Oh that Ishmael might live before You!”
God immediately answered Abraham’s prayer and now we come to the crux of the matter as God spoke, just before He left Abraham v19-21 “God said, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son indeed. And you shall call his name Isaac. And I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard you. Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall father twelve chiefs, and I will make him a great nation. But I will establish My covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this set time in the next year.”
Thus God blessed both Ishmael and Isaac, but He made an everlasting covenant only with Isaac, Abraham’s promised seed. As far as most Christians know, this is the end of the story of Ishmael. He simply now falls out of the Bible picture. However, this relationship between Ishmael and God and us is important, indeed critical for Christians to know and understand. It is especially so, in the End Times in which we live. We will develop this theme further in later posts are we uncover more of Ishmael and his descendants and their relationship with us, both now and in the future.
Amen and Amen.