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Answering The Atheist
December 21, 2003 / Volume 3, Issue 51

How old was Ishmael when he was abandoned by Abraham? Was he an infant (Genesis 21:14-15, 18) or was he a young man (Genesis 17:25; 21:5, 8)? Is there a contradiction?

Well, I suppose since Genesis 17:25 specifically tells us that Ishmael was 13 years old at the time Abraham and all the males in his household were circumcised, it should be obvious that he was a young man, and not an infant when Abraham sent Hagar and Ishmael away.

I guess what needs to be addressed is the types of word used in Genesis 21 regarding Ishmael. The word "child" which appears in both verse 14 and verse 15 comes from the Hebrew yeled. In the KJV, the word is rendered, "child" (72), "young man" (7), "young ones" (3), "sons" (3), "boy" (2), "fruit" (1). The questioner assumes that since he is called a "child", that must mean infant. Not so.

In verse 15, Hagar is said to have "cast the child under one of the shrubs". Consider that the verse begins by saying that their water was spent. Having no more water, it may be that Hagar laid her son down under a shrub to smell the damp from the plant. Hopeless, she departed from the child, sitting off at a distance. Again, nothing in this text would necessitate that Ishmael was an infant.

Finally, in verse 18, the Lord told Hagar to "Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him in thine hand..." The word "lad" certainly doesn't necessitate an infant, nor does Hagar holding Ishmael mean he must be an infant. Holding him in her hand could be accomplished in something so simple as a hug. Perhaps she went to him and knelt beside him, and laid his head upon her lap. Regardless, he need not be an infant for Hagar to accomplish what the Lord said.

There is no contradiction.

This article is a response to Skeptic's Annotated Bible