Genesis 21 – Skeptic's Annotated Bible answered

A response and reply to the notes on Genesis 21 in the Skeptic's Annotated Bible (SAB).

King James Version

SAB comment

My comment

1 And the LORD visited Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did unto Sarah as he had spoken.

(21:1) "The Lord visited Sarah" and he "did unto Sarah as he had spoken." And "Sarah conceived and bare Abraham a son." (God-assisted conceptions never result in daughters.) It is strange that the 100 year old Abraham required God's help in fathering Isaac (See Rom.4:19 and Heb.11:12), yet later (Gen.25:1-2) he marries again and has six more children without any help from God.
Abraham had always been able to father children, that's how he got his first son Ishmael, see chapter 16:4. It was Sarah who was barren. As this verse says: God visited Sarah.

2 For Sarah conceived, and bare Abraham a son in his old age, at the set time of which God had spoken to him.

3 And Abraham called the name of his son that was born unto him, whom Sarah bare to him, Isaac.

4 And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac being eight days old, as God had commanded him.

5 And Abraham was an hundred years old, when his son Isaac was born unto him.

6 And Sarah said, God hath made me to laugh, so that all that hear will laugh with me.

7 And she said, Who would have said unto Abraham, that Sarah should have given children suck? for I have born him a son in his old age.

8 And the child grew, and was weaned: and Abraham made a great feast the same day that Isaac was weaned.

9 And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, which she had born unto Abraham, mocking.

(21:9) "Sarah saw the son of Hagar mocking."
What did Sarah see?
The comment of the author of the SAB, and Jonathan Kirsch observation, is exactly why homosexuality isn't innocent. Any contact between man and man will be considered to be of a sexual nature in such a perverse society. In a more innocent age John Gill could comment:

either at the entertainment made at the weaning of Isaac; or rather at Isaac himself, laughing at his name, and treating him with contempt as his younger brother, and boasting that he was the firstborn, and that the inheritance belonged to him; and threatening what he would do to him, should he hereafter offer to dispute it with him, under pretence of the promise of God that he should be Abraham's heir, and at which promise also he may be supposed to mock: and that this contention was about the inheritance seems plain from the words of Sarah in verse 10; and in it Ishmael might not only rise to high words, but come to blows, and beat his brother; for it is observed the word used sometimes so signifies, 2 Sam. 2:14; wherefore the apostle might truly call it a persecution, Gal. 4:29; and as even cruel mockings are, Heb. 11:35.

So what Sarah did see is quite clearly explained in the next verse (verse 10).
The word mocking is used a number few times in the early books of the Bible and almost invariably without any hint of a sexual meaning, so we can dismiss that speculation as the product of a perverse age.

10 Wherefore she said unto Abraham, Cast out this bondwoman and her son: for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac.

(21:10-14) "And God said unto Abraham ... hearken unto her voice."
Sarah, after giving birth to Isaac, gets angry again at Hagar (see Genesis 16:5-6) and tells Abraham to "cast out this bondwoman and her son." God commands Abraham to "hearken unto her voice." So Abraham abandons Hagar and Ishmael, casting them out into the wilderness to die.
What the Bible says about fathers
Abraham did not abandon Hagar and Ishmael. On the command of God, he gave them over to the protection and care of the Almighty. No harm could happen to them.

11 And the thing was very grievous in Abraham’s sight because of his son.

12 And God said unto Abraham, Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called.

13 And also of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation, because he is thy seed.

14 And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and took bread, and a bottle of water, and gave it unto Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, and the child, and sent her away: and she departed, and wandered in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.

(21:14-18) "She cast the child under one of the shrubs."
These verses suggest that Ishmael was an infant when his father abandoned him, yet according to Gen.17:25 and Gen.21:5-8 he was about 16 years old. It must have been tough for poor Hagar to carry Ishmael on her shoulder and to then "cast him under one of the shrubs."
How old was Ishmael when he was abandoned?
Isaac was thirteen years old when he was circumcised. In this verse he is about sixteen or seventeen years old. The author of the SAB seems to take the word child here as meaning someone who's perhaps less then 10 years old. But from chapter 17:25 it is clear that the world child in the Bible has a far wider range than modern English.
The author of the SAB also lists the word lad (verse 18) as meaning infant. That's a very interesting definition, especially as we can say “young lad.” Would that be a baby in the definition of the author of the SAB? But according to the dictionary lad means boy or youth, and there is no reason it cannot be applied to someone who is 16 or 17.
But perhaps the author of the SAB refers to “putting it on her shoulder” as a sign Ishmael was very young. But who carries their baby on their shoulder? No one. As John Gill says:

the sense is, that Abraham, when he put the provision on her shoulder, gave Ishmael to her, delivered him into her hand, to be taken care of by her; and very probably she led him in her hand.

15 And the water was spent in the bottle, and she cast the child under one of the shrubs.

16 And she went, and sat her down over against him a good way off, as it were a bowshot: for she said, Let me not see the death of the child. And she sat over against him, and lift up her voice, and wept.

17 And God heard the voice of the lad; and the angel of God called Hagar out of heaven, and said unto her, What aileth thee, Hagar? fear not; for God hath heard the voice of the lad where he is.

18 Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him in thine hand; for I will make him a great nation.

19 And God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water; and she went, and filled the bottle with water, and gave the lad drink.

20 And God was with the lad; and he grew, and dwelt in the wilderness, and became an archer.

21 And he dwelt in the wilderness of Paran: and his mother took him a wife out of the land of Egypt.

22 And it came to pass at that time, that Abimelech and Phichol the chief captain of his host spake unto Abraham, saying, God is with thee in all that thou doest:

23 Now therefore swear unto me here by God that thou wilt not deal falsely with me, nor with my son, nor with my son’s son: but according to the kindness that I have done unto thee, thou shalt do unto me, and to the land wherein thou hast sojourned.

(21:23) "Swear unto me here by God."
Is it OK to swear?
Yes, it is OK to swear. See Matthew 5:34 where the author of the SAB reads something different.

24 And Abraham said, I will swear.

25 And Abraham reproved Abimelech because of a well of water, which Abimelech’s servants had violently taken away.

26 And Abimelech said, I wot not who hath done this thing: neither didst thou tell me, neither yet heard I of it, but to day.

27 And Abraham took sheep and oxen, and gave them unto Abimelech; and both of them made a covenant.

28 And Abraham set seven ewe lambs of the flock by themselves.

29 And Abimelech said unto Abraham, What mean these seven ewe lambs which thou hast set by themselves?

30 And he said, For these seven ewe lambs shalt thou take of my hand, that they may be a witness unto me, that I have digged this well.

31 Wherefore he called that place Beer-sheba; because there they sware both of them.

(21:31) "Wherefore he called that place Beersheba."
Who named Beersheba?
I can do no better than quoting Tektonics:

Read this one carefully: What Abraham names is a place where he digs a well. Isaac has a well also, but he names a city (Gen. 26:33). Isaac is naming the city in memory of the "well event" under Abe because it is similar circumstances.

32 Thus they made a covenant at Beer-sheba: then Abimelech rose up, and Phichol the chief captain of his host, and they returned into the land of the Philistines.

(21:32) "They returned to the land of the Philistines."
But the Philistines didn't arrive in the region of Canaan until around 1200 BCE -- 800 years after Abraham's supposed migration from Ur.
The author of the SAB refers here to the belief that the Philistines are the “sea people” and from Egyptian texts we know those immigrated into this region much later as they are mentioned as defeated opponents in year 8 of Ramesses III.
The argument is therefore that the Philistines had no presence in this area, only moved in during Ramesses III's reign and therefore this usage is anachronistic as every historian puts Ramesses III after Moses.
Note first that this verse does not say Phichol was a Philistine, just that he returned to the land of the Philistines. This might reflect an update during copying the source material. K.A. Kitchen (On the Reliability of the Old Testament, 2003, page 340) points out that this is similar to saying: “The Dutch founded New York.” while technically they founded New Amsterdam. Such updates, replacing older names, by current names, was an accepted and common process in the Middle East.
However, in chapter 26:1 Isaac encounters Gerar, the king of the Philistines. So it seems to me these people were called Philistines. And why could there not be a Philistine presence in this area long before they came with much larger numbers and much more aggressive intentions?
From Deut. 2:23 we know that the first people who lived here where the Avvim. They were destroyed by the later Caphtorims. Caphtor is ancient Kaptara, i.e. Crete. So what could have happened is that these Philistines, the Caphtorims, dispatched the earlier Avvim and established an outpost here. Only much later the ‘Sea Peoples’ came in much larger numbers to take on Egypt as well.
On when the term Philistine originated: it had to originate somewhere, and I see no reason why it was not much older then its first usage by Ramesses III.

33 And Abraham planted a grove in Beer-sheba, and called there on the name of the LORD, the everlasting God.

34 And Abraham sojourned in the Philistines’ land many days.