Bible Commentator

Articles

Rabbi Moshe Reiss

moshereiss@moshereiss.org

ISHMAEL, SON OF ABRAHAM


In Abram’s first blessing he is told by God that he will be ‘a great nation’ and he will ‘be a blessing’ for the entire world (Gen. 12:2-3). But Abram had no children and was  frustrated by the families infertility. When he heard God in a vision he told God of his concern that he no children. Abram  says to God that he is childless. God says to Abram that he will have a child because of his righteousness (15:4). It is then that Abram receives his second  blessing. ‘To your (La’Zareche) descendants I give this country’ (15:18).  All off Abram’s descendants are so ‘blessed’.


There are only two sections in the Torah text about Abraham’s older son, Ishmael and his mother Hagar, Abram’s second wife. One is about his birth (chapter 16) and the second is one about Isaac’s birth and the resultant exile of Ishmael and Hagar (chapter 17).


SARAH AND HAGAR

Sarai, realizing she was not likely to have children, given her age says to her husband ‘go take my servant [Hagar – meaning ‘the Other’ in Hebrew ] marry her and her child shall be mine’ (16:2). A servant’s child belonged to the Mistress and thus the child would have been Sarai’s. Abram took his wife’s advice and Hagar became pregnant.  God had promised him a child  from his own seed and thus he assumed that Hagar was God’s instrument. Hagar conceived through Abram and the child appeared like the one promised.   Sarai, the rich mistress of Abram took her poor servant to have as a surrogate mother. But the servant became a wife to the wealthy Abram and shortly will become the mother of his child. Hagar no longer felt the same as when she was the servant of Sarai. As a result of this changed relationship Sarai may have realized that the infertility was hers, and became angry and perhaps felt frustrated towards Hagar. She then blamed both Abram and Hagar and said to Abram, ‘this outrage done to me is your fault’ (16:5). Of course, the relationship between Hagar and Abram was initiated by Sarai.  Hagar probably felt more than a servant of Sarai; after all she was a fertile wife. Sarai, though the senior wife, was not fertile.  Abram then states that despite Hagar being his wife she is primarily Sarai’s servant and can be treated as Sarai chooses (16:6).


So Sarai treated her servant so badly that, despite being pregnant she ran away. God encountered her and told her to go back and that He would protect her and her child. God provides consolation to Hagar, telling her that her descendants will be 'too numerous to be counted' (16:10), a blessing very similar to that given previously to Abram (13:16).  She gave birth and the child was named Ishmael, the first child named by God in the Torah.


Thirteen years later when God reveals to Abram that his aged wife Sarai will give birth to a son, despite her being post-menopausal, his first superbly humane reaction is to ask God to take care of his son Ishmael (17:18). Does Abram recognize that his wife Sarai will react poorly to sharing their home with Hagar’s son? God promises that Ishmael will have twelve princes as becomes true with Esau and Jacob. From his own experience Abram expects that the future will give him complications with Sarai.


God then tells Abram of the covenant of the circumcision. The first persons to be circumcised under this covenant are Abram and his thirteen year old son Ishmael (Gen. 17:23). (Is that why Jewish tradition has it that a boy becomes a man at thirteen and has a ritual Bar Mitzvah? The word for circumcision in Arabic is `Chatuna' which also means a relationship with God. In Hebrew the same word means wedding. In Islamic culture one cannot get married until one is circumcised.)  God renames Abram as Abraham and Sarai as Sarah.


After the birth of Isaac and his being weaned, Sarah sees Ishmael and Isaac ‘m’tzahak’, playing/laughing with each other(21:19). The Hebrew word ‘m’tzahak’ has the same root as the name of Isaac in Hebrew Yitzchak, meaning laughing or playing.  Both Abraham and Sarah - she 90 years old and he 100 years old - laughed at the thought of having a child (Gen. 17:17 & 18:13). Thus the word ‘m’tzahak’ is a pun on Isaac’s name.  


Did Sarah see Ishmael (a 15 or so year old) connecting as an older brother to his younger brother (perhaps 2-3 years old)? Did she see that they were growing up enjoying each others company? Some older brother’s enjoy mentoring a younger sibling. Was Sarah also concerned about the inheritance of Ishmael? ‘The son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son’ (21:10). Yes, he is the son of bondwoman, but also her husband’s son.  She demands of Abraham the expulsion of his son Ishmael and his mother, Hagar. She knew her husband loved Ishmael. 'This greatly distressed Abraham because it was his son' (21:11). It was his son for thirteen or more years whom he circumcised for God’s sake.  He turns to God for advice, God replies 'Listen to her voice’ (21:12)  I will take care of Ishmael. But despite this Abraham must have incredibly sad at having to send away the son who for thirteen years was his only heir, the son named by God with His own name, the son circumcised on the day of the announcement of Isaac’s birth.  What did he think of Sarah’s inability to tolerate his love for his son who came at her request?

 

What did Ishmael think of his father’s allowing him to be exiled by his step-mother? When Ishmael is about to die of thirst, God saves him (as He will save Isaac- the other son of Abraham who becomes scheduled to die) and blesses Ishmael to become a 'great nation', the same blessing He gave to Abraham. God had told Abraham 'for he too is your child' (Gen. 21:13). The only other mention of Ishmael in the text of the Torah is he and Isaac bury their father.


JEWISH COMMENTATORS (MIDRASHIM)

The Jewish midrashim (written, of course, centuries later) suggest that the relationship between Abraham and his elder son continued. In the first of these Ishmael is involved in the akeda (the sacrifice) of Isaac.


Probably the most dramatic and difficult event in Abraham's life is God's commanding him to sacrifice the son of his old age, Isaac, the son blessed by God through Abraham. ’Take, I beg you, your son, your only son, whom you love, Isaac, and go to yourself [Lech la'cha], to the land of Moriah and offer him up there as an offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you’ (22:1-2). Midrashim tell us that Abraham responded to 'your son' that he has two sons, 'your only son' that he has two only sons from different mothers, 'whom who love' that he loved both his sons, and then God said ‘Isaac’. This confirms that Abraham loved both his sons.  It is the second time he is asks to exile a son.


When Abraham takes Isaac to the akeda whom does he bring with him - two young men; in Jewish tradition they are the servant Eliezer and the brother Ishmael. 1  It would seem that Abraham told Eliezer to go to Ishmael’s home and ask him to meet them on the road. It is unclear how old Isaac and Ishmael, were at the time of the akeda. According to Jewish lore Isaac was an adult. It is unlikely that Abraham would request Ishmael to meet him if they had no relationship for many years. Abraham probably kept that relationship a secret from Sarah. He also did not tell Sarah of the pending akeda.  His father did not suddenly remember Ishmael, but must have had a secret relationship with him.


 Why did Abraham ask Ishmael to go with him? Did he feel that if Isaac were going to die he wanted his other son, his only remaining son with him? Did he consider that Ishmael could become the son of the promise? After the akeda Abraham sends Ishmael back home since he can not have him appear at Sarah’s.


What did Isaac think of Ishmael coming at his father’s request to his slaughtering? What did Isaac think of his brother Ishmael, who his mother considered illegitimate, unwanted and dangerous? Did he think his father thought that Ishmael would replace him?


After burying Sarah Abraham, according to Jewish midrashim  goes to visit Ishmael, but he is out hunting. His Egyptian wife seeing an old man she did not know  sends him away. Abraham seems utterly alone. Sarah is dead, Isaac is traumatized from the akeda, Ishmael is not home and Ishmael’s wife sends him away. But when Ishmael comes home his wife tells him of the old man, he realizes it is Abraham his father and sends the Egyptian wife away. He remarries a Canaanite woman and sends a message to his father apologizing, telling him he has sent the wife away and begs him to come visit again.  2


Abraham realizes that he has to take care of his traumatized son Isaac. He understands that Isaac will not be capable of taking care of himself - he is damaged - as a result of Abraham and God. Abraham calls in his loyal servant Eliezer and tells him to go to back to his family and find a wife who can take care of Isaac.


After the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah Abraham, we are told then marries  Keturah. Why does Abraham, an old man marry again? Does he find it difficult to live with his powerful daughter-in-law Rebekah and his weak son? In Jewish midrashim Keturah is Hagar!  3 He then goes to live with Ishmael. Ishmael, despite the great difficulty he and his mother had with his father’s senior wife Sarah and his father’s allowing this to take place, divorced a wife who was inhospitable to his father and took his old father in the last years of his life. Rashi (a medieval Jewish commentator) suggests that Isaac went to Hagar to have her marry his father, an attempt to compensate for what his mother had done to Hagar and his brother (Rashi on 24:62). In the Book of Jubilees (2nd century BCE) Ishmael and Isaac celebrate the festival of Pentecost together with their father.  4

Rebekah is barren for twenty years and then gives birth to Esau and Jacob. Where was Abraham during these twenty years? With his new/old wife Keturah/Hagar. Abraham lives another fifteen years after the birth of his grandsons Esau and Jacob. Why do we hear nothing of his relationship with his grandsons? Where was Abraham when they were growing up? He was living with his son Ishmael! Thus Abraham chose to live with Ishmael for the last thirty five years.


‘And Isaac and Ishmael his sons buried him’. (25:9) Did Isaac visit with his father after he had married Keturah/Hagar and lived with Ishmael?  One midrash explains the precedence of Isaac in the burial, that Ishmael’s respected Sarah’s honor over his mother Hagar.  5


Despite the midrashim we have quoted above Jewish tradition does make Ishmael an evil person.  But this tradition was written after the seventh century. Islam has always been considered by Jews and by Arabs as descendants of Ishmael.  Islam conquered Jerusalem in the seventh century and most of the known world in the next century. They therefore controlled Jewish destiny. For several centuries they were more powerful than Rome and Christianity and thus Ishmael became the Jewish enemy. The way Ishmael became evil is very similar ways to Esau transposed as Rome/Christianity and thus a Jewish enemy became evil.  6  This tradition was created after the Muslim conquest had nothing to do with the original Ishmael son of Abraham.

Addition to published article; From the Koran:


PROPHET ISHMAEL(ISMAIL)

One day, Abraham woke up and asked his wife Hajar to get her son and prepare for a long journey. In a few days Abraham started out with his wife Hajar and their son Ishmael. The child was still nursing and not yet weaned.

Abraham walked through cultivated land, desert, and mountains until he reached the desert of the Arabian Peninsula and came to an uncultivated valley having no fruit, no trees, no food, no water. The valley had no sign of life. After Abraham had helped his wife and child to dismount, he left them with a small amount of food and water which was hardly enough for 2 days. He turned around and walked away. He wife hurried after him asking: "Where are you going Abraham, leaving us in this barren valley?"

Abraham did not answer her, but continued walking. She repeated what she had said, but he remained silent. Finally she understood that he was not acting on his own initiative. she realized that Allah had commanded him to do this. She asked him : "Did Allah command you to do so?" He replied: "Yes." Then his great wife said: "We are not going to be lost, since Allah Who has commanded you is with us."

Abraham invoked Almighty Allah thus: "O Our Lord! I have made some of my offspring to dwell in a valley with no cultivation, by Your Sacred House (the Ka'ba at Mecca); in order, O our Lord, that they may offer prayers perfectly (Iqamat as salat) so fill some hearts among men with love towards them, and O Allah provide them with fruits so that they may give thanks. O our Lord! Certainly, You know what we conceal and what we reveal. Nothing on the earth or in the heavens is hidden from Allah." (Ch 14:37-38)

Ibn Abbas narrated: "The first lady to use a girdle was the mother of Ishmael. she used a girdle so that she might hide her tracks from Sarah (by dragging it). Abraham brought her and her son Ishmael while she was suckling him to a place near the Kaba under a tree on the spot of ZamZam at the highest place in the mosque. During those days there was nobody in Mecca, nor was there any water so he made them sit over there and placed near them a leather bag containing some dates and a small water skin containing some water and set out homeward. Ishmael's mother followed him saying: "O Abraham! Where are you going, leaving us in this valley where there is no person whose company we may enjoy, nor is there anything to enjoy?" she repeated that to him many times, but he did not look back at her. Then she asked him : "Has Allah ordered you to do so?" He said: "Yes." She then said: "Then HE will not neglect us," and returned while Abraham proceeded onwards. On reaching the Thaniya where they could not see him, he faced the Kaba and raising both hands, invoked Allah saying the following prayers: "O our Lord! I have made some of my offspring dwell in a valley without cultivation, by Your Sacred House (Kaba at Mecca) in order, O our Lord that they may offer prayer perfectly. So fill some hearts among men with love towards them, and O Allah provide them with fruits so that they may give thanks." (Ch 14:37)

Ibn Abbas's narration continued; "Ishmael's mother went on suckling Ishmael and drinking from the water (she had) When the water in the water skin had been used up, she became thirsty and her child also became thirsty, She started looking at him (Ishmael) tossing in agony. She left him, for she could not endure looking at him, and found that the mountain of As-Safa was the nearest mountain to her on that land. she too on it and started looking at the valley keenly so that she might see somebody, but she could not see anybody. Then she descended for As Safa and when she reached the valley, she tucked up her robe and ran in the valley like a person in distress and trouble till she crossed the valley and reached the mountain of Al Marwa. There she stood and started looking expecting to see somebody, but she could not see anybody. she repeated that running between Safa And Marwa seven times."

The prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said: "This is the source of the tradition of the Sa'y (rituals of the hajj, pilgrimage) the going of people between them (As-Safa and Al-Marwa). When she reached Al Marwa (for the last time) she heard a voice and she asked herself to be quiet and listened attentively. She heard the voice again and said: "O whoever you maybe! You have made me hear your voice; have you got something to help me?" And behold! She saw an angel at the place of Zam zam, digging the earth with his heel (or his wing) till water flowed from that place. She started to make something like a basin around it, using her hand in this way, and started filling her water skin with water with her hands and the water was flowing out water she had scooped some of it."

The Prophet (pbuh) added: "May Allah bestow mercy on Ishmael's mother! Had she let the zam-zam flow without trying to control it, or had she not scooped from that water to fill her water skin, Zam zam would have been a stream flowing on the surface of the earth."

The Prophet (pbuh) continued: "Then she drank water and suckled her child. The angel said to her: "Don't be afraid of being neglected, for this is the House of Allah which will be built by this boy and his father, and Allah never neglects His people." The House (Kaba) at that time was on a high place resembling a hillock, and when torrents came, they flowed to its right and left.

"She lived in that way till some people from the tribe of Jurhum or a family from Jurhum passed by her and her child as they (the Jurhum people) were coming through the way of Kada. they landed in the lower part of Mecca where they saw a bird that had the habit of flying around water and not leaving it. they said: "this bird must be flying around water, though we know that there is no water in this valley." They sent one or two messengers who discovered the source of water and returned to inform them of the water. SO they all came towards the water. Ishmael's mother was sitting near the water. They asked her: "Do you allow us to stay with you?" She replied: "Yes, but you will have no right to possess the water." They agreed to that. Ishmael's mother was pleased with the whole situation, as she used to love to enjoy the company of the people, so they settled there, and later on they sent for their families who came and settled with them so that some families became permanent residents there. The child (Ishmael) grew up and learned Arabic from them and (his virtues) caused them to love and admire him as he grew up and when he reached the age of puberty they made him marry a woman from amongst them."

The Prophet (pbuh) continued: "After Ishmael's mother had died, Abraham came after Ishmael's marriage in order to see his family that he had left before but he did not find Ishmael there. When he asked Ishmael's wife about him, she replied: "He has gone in search of livelihood." Then he asked her about their way of living and their condition, and she replied, "We are living in misery; we are living in hardship and destitution,' complaining to him. He said: "When your husband returns, convey my salutations to him and tell him to change the threshold of the gate (of his house).'

"When Ishmael came, he seemed to have felt something unusual, so he asked his wife: 'Has anyone visited you?' she replied, 'Yes, an old man of such and such description came and asked me about you and I informed him and he asked about our state of living and I told him that we were living in a hardship and poverty.' On that Ishmael said: 'Did he advise you anything?' She said: 'Yes he told me to convey his salutation to you and to tell you to change the threshold of your gate.' Ishmael said: 'It was my father and he has ordered me to divorce you. Go back to your family.' so, Ishmael divorced her and married another woman from among them (Jurhum).

"Then Abraham stayed away from them for a period as long as Allah wished and called on them again but did not find Ishmael. So he came to Ishmael's wife and asked her about Ishmael. She said: 'he has gone in sof our livelihood.' Abraham asked her; 'how are you getting on?' asking her about their sustenance and living. she replied: 'we are prosperous and well off (we have everything in abundance).' then she thanked Allah. Abraham said: 'What kind of food do you eat?' she said: 'meat.' he said: 'what do you drink?' she said: 'water.' he said: 'O Allah! bless their meat and water.""

The Prophet (pbuh) added: "At that time they did not have grain, and if they had grain he would have also invoked Allah to bless it. If somebody has only these two things as his sustenance, his health and disposition will be badly affected unless he lives in Mecca."

The Prophet (pbuh) continued: "Then Abraham said to Ishmael's wife: 'When your husband comes give my regards to him and tell him that he should keep firm the threshold of his gate.' When Ishmael came back he asked his wife, 'did anyone call no you?' she replied: 'yes, a good looking old man came to me,' so she praised him and added: 'He asked about you and I informed him that we were in a good condition.' Ishmael asked her:' did he give you any piece of advice?' she said; 'yes, he told me to give his regards to you and ordered that you should keep firm the threshold of your gate.' on that Ishmael said: 'It was my father, and you are the threshold of the gate. He has ordered me to keep you with me.'

Then Abraham stayed away from them for a period as long as Allah wished and called on them afterwards. He saw Ishmael under a tree near Zam Zam, sharpening his arrows. When he saw Abraham, he rose up to welcome him (and they greeted each other as a father does with his son or a son does with his father). Abraham said: 'O Ishmael! Allah has give me an order.' Ishmael said: 'Do what your Lord has ordered you to do.' Abraham asked:'Will you help me?' Ishmael said: 'I will help you.' Abraham said: 'Allah has ordered me to build a house here,' pointing to a hillock higher than the land surrounding it.

"Then they raised the foundations of the House (the Kaba). Ishmael brought the stones while Abraham built and when the walls became high Ishmael brought this stone and put it for Abraham who stood over it and carried on building. While Ishmael was handing him the stones, and both of them were saying: "Our Lord! Accept this service from us, verily, You are the All Hearer, the All Knower." (Ch 2:127 Quran)

the Prophet (pbuh) added: "Then both of them went on building and going round the Kaba saying O our Lord! Accept this service from us, verily, You are the All Hearer, the All Knower."; (Sahih Bukhari).

Ibn Abbas narrated a slightly different version: "When Abraham had differences with his wife (because of her jealousy of Hajar, Ishmael's mother), he took Ishmael and his mother and went away. They had a water skin with them containing some water. Ishmael's mother used to drink water from the water skin so that her milk would increase for her child. When Abraham reached Mecca, he made her sit under a tree and afterwards returned home. Ishmael's mother followed him and when they reached Kada, she called him from behind: 'O Abraham! To whom are you leaving us?' He replied: '(I am leaving you) to Allah's care.' she said: 'I am satisfied to be with Allah.' She returned to her place and started drinking water from the water skin and her milk increased for her child.

"When the water had all been used up, she said to herself: 'I had better go and look so that I may see somebody.' she ascended As-Safa mountain and looked hoping to see somebody but in vain. When she came down to the valley, she ran till she reached Al Marwa Mountain. She ran to and for (between the two mountains) many times. Then she said to herself; 'I had better go and see the state of the child.' she went and found it in a state of one on the point of dying. She could not endure to watch it dying and said to herself: 'If I go and look I may find somebody.' she went and ascended al-Safa mountain and looked for a long while but could not find anybody. thus she completed seven rounds of running between As-Safa and Al-Marwa. Again she said to herself: 'I had better go back and see the state of the child.' but suddenly she heard a voice, and she said to that strange voice. 'help us if you can offer any help.' lo! it was Gabriel (who had made the voice) Gabriel hit the earth with his heel like this (Ibn Abbas hit the earth with his heel to illustrate it), and so the water gushed out. Ishmael's mother was astonished and started digging."

Abu Al Qasim, the Prophet (pbuh) said: "If she had left the water, (flow naturally, without her intervention, ) it would have been flowing on the surface of the earth."

Ibn Abbas continued narrating: "Ishmael's mother started drinking from the water, and her milk increased for her child. Afterwards some people of the tribe of Hurhum saw some birds while passing through the bottom of the valley and that astonished them. They said: "birds can only be found at a place where there is water." They sent a messenger who searched the place and found the water and returned to inform them about it. Then they all went to her and said: "O Ishmael's mother! Will you allow us to be with you (or dwell with you)?" Then they stayed there.

"Later on her boy reached the age of puberty and married a lady from them. Then an idea occurred to Abraham, which he disclosed to his wife (sarah). 'I want to call on my dependants I left at Mecca.' When he went there he greeted Ishmael's wife and said: 'where is Ishmael?' She replied: 'He has gone out hunting.' Abraham said to her: 'When he comes, tell him to change the threshold of his gate.' When Ishmael came she told him the same and whereupon Ishmael said to her: 'you are the threshold so go to your family (you are divorced).'

"Again Abraham thought of visiting his dependents whom he had left at Mecca, and told his wife (Sarah) of his intentions. Abraham came to Ishmael's house and asked: 'Where is Ishmael?' Ishmael's wife replied: 'He has gone out hunting,' and added: 'will you stay for some time and have something to eat and drink?' Abraham said: 'what is your food and what is your drink?' she replied: 'our food is meat and our drink is water.' he replied: 'O Allah! Bless their meals and their drink.'

Abu Al Qasim (the Prophet)(pbuh) said: "Because of Abraham's invocation there are blessings in Mecca."

Ibn Abbas continued: "Once more Abraham thought of visiting his family he had left at Mecca and he told his wife (Sarah) of his decision. HE went and found Ishmael behind the Zam-zam well, mending his arrows. He said: 'O Ishmael, your Lord has ordered me to build a house for Him.' Ishmael said: 'Obey the order of your Lord.' Abraham said: 'Allah has also ordered me that you should help me therein.' Ishmael said: 'Then I will do so.' So both of them were saying: "O our Lord! Accept this service of us, verily, You are the All Hearer, the All Knower." (Ch 2:127)

When the building became high and the old man (Abraham) could no longer lift the stones to such a high position, he stood over the stone of Al Maqam and Ishmael carried on handing him the stones and both of them were saying: "O our Lord! Accept this service of us, verily You are the All Hearer, the All Knower.""

Allah the Almighty told us of Abraham's affliction with his beloved son: And he said after his rescue from the fire: "Verily! I am going to my Lord. He will guide me! My Lord! Grant me (offspring) from the righteous." SO We gave him the glad tidings of a forbearing boy. And when he (his son) was old enough to walk with him, he said: "O my son! I have seen in a dream that I am slaughtering you (offer you in sacrifice to Allah), so look what do you think!?" "O my father! Do that which you are commanded InshAllah (if Allah wills), you shall find me of the patient."

Then when they had both submitted themselves to the Will of Allah and he had laid him prostrate on his forehead (or on the side of his forehead for slaughtering); and We called out to him: "O Abraham! You have fulfilled the dream (vision!" Verily! Thus do Wereward those who perform good deeds, totally for Allah's sake only. Verily, that indeed was a manifest trial and We ransomed him with a great sacrifice (a ram;) and We left for him ( a goodly remembrance) among generations (to come) in later times. "Salamun (peace) be upon Abraham!" Thus indeed do We reward the Muhsineen (good doers). Verily, he was one of Our believing slaves. (Ch 37:99-111 Quran)

Time passed. One day Abraham was sitting outside his tent thinking of his son Ishmael and Allah's sacrifice. His heart was filled with awe and love for Allah for His countless blessings. A big tear dropped from his eyes and reminded him of Ishmael.

In the meantime, three angels descended to the earth; Gabriel, Israphael, and Michael. they came in human shapes and saluted Abraham. Abraham arose and welcomed them. He took them inside his tent thinking they were strangers and guests. He seated them and made sure that they were comfortable, then excused himself to go to his people.

His wife Sarah arose when he entered. She had become old and white haired. Abraham said to her: "We have three strangers in the house." "Who are they?" she asked. "I do not know any of them," he answered. "What food have we got?" He asked. Half a sheep." she replied, "Half a sheep! Slaughter a fat calf for them; they are strangers and guests." he ordered while leaving.

The servants roasted and served a calf. Abraham invited the angels to eat and he started eating so as to encourage them. He continued, but when he glanced at his guests to assure they were eating, he noticed that none of them had touched the food. He said to the them: "Are you not going to eat?" He resumed eating, but when he glanced at them again he found that they were still not eating. Their hands did not reach out for the food. HE began to fear them.

Abraham's fears increased. The angels, however were reading his inner thoughts and one of them said: "Do not fear." Abraham raised his head and replied: "Indeed I am in fear. I have asked you to eat food but you do not stretch out your hands to eat. DO you intend me evil?"

One of the angels smiled and said: "We do not eat. We are Allah's angels." One of them then turned towards his wife and conveyed the glad tidings about Isaac (Ishaaq).

Almighty Allah revealed: Verily! There came Our Messengers to Abraham with glad tidings. They said: "Salaam (greetings or peace)!" he answered: "Salaam (greetings or peace)!" and he hastened to entertain them with a roasted calf. But, when he saw their hands went not towards it (the meal), he felt some mistrust of them, and conceived a fear of them. They said: "Fear not, we have been sent against the people of Lot." And his wife was standing there and she laughed (either, because the Messengers did not eat their food or for being glad for the destruction of the people of Lot). But We gave her glad tidings of Isaac, and after him of Jacob.

She said (in astonishment): "Woe unto me! Shall I bear a child while I am an old woman, and here is my husband an old man? Verily! This is a strange thing!" They said: "Do you wonder at the Decree of Allah? The Mercy of Allah and His Blessings be on you, O the family (of Abraham). Surely, He (Allah) is All praiseworthy, All-Glorious." (CH 11:69-73).


1 Ginsberg, L., Legends of the Jews, (JPS, Philadelphia, 1975)   pg. 129.

2 Ginsberg, Pg. 123-125

3 Genesis Rabbah 61:4, pg.542-543

4 The Book of Jubilees, chapter 22.

5 Genesis Rabbah, 62:3, pg. 552.

6 Ishmael is not described in such evil terms in Jewish tradition as is Esau.  The name of Ishmael (as opposed to Esau) was an acceptable name for Jews until the conquest of Jerusalem by Islam. One of the most important colleagues of Rabbi Akiva and equally important as a sage and mystic was Rabbi Ishmael.