Ishmael: Father of the Ishmaelites
Ishmaelites were recorded as the descendants of Ishmael in the Bible. Ishmael was the elder brother of Isaac. He was the son of the 86-year-old Abraham from Hagar, the personal handmaid of Sarah, Abraham’s wife. According to the Bible, Sarah and Abraham who were then called Sarai and Abram were aging and childless. So, for Abraham to have an heir, Sarah gave Hagar to him to become his second wife and be the mother of his heir. Ishmael is located on the Bible Timeline Poster at 1911 BC
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Ishmael, could mean “may God hear,” was circumcised at the age of thirteen. He was an archer and survived in the rough country of Shur before marrying an Egyptian lady. He was seen as an influential character in Islam being the eldest son of Abraham and the ancestor of the Prophet Muhammad.
He was blessed by the Lord and was promised twelve sons that would create him a “great nation”. True to his words, the Lord gave Ishmael twelve sons, namely; Nabajoth, Kedar, Abdeel, Mibsam, Mishma, Dumah, Massa, Hadar, Tema, Jetur, Naphish and Kademah all became the forefathers of many nations. Ishmael died at age 137.
The Ishmaelites were a nomadic nation who dwelt in the untamed country of Shur which is presently located in Saudi Arabia. The ancient capital of Shur was Midian now situated at Al-Bad.
The Ishmaelites were merchants who traded spices touring from Gilead to Egypt while riding on their camels.
They were associated with the Midianites, Amalekites, and with the other nations conquered by Gideon. They were also associated to the Edomites, Moabites, and Hagrites.
Biblical Accounts of the Ishmaelites
In Genesis, it is mentioned that the Ishmaelites were able to conquer the huge area of northern Havilah starting from Shur up to Assyria. The peak of their power was seen in the Midrashic evidence like the Sefer Ha-Yashar that described the Ishmaelites campaign and success against the people of Tarshish.
There were hardly any written records about the Ismaelites after the reign of King David aside from an account in the book of Jubilees that states the Ishmaelites mixed with the other nations. They lived with the Midianites according to the book of Judges while some were believed to have assimilated with the Israelites.
The book of Jubilees further mentioned Ishmaelites living with the people of Keturah, also a descendant of Abraham occupying the lands of Paran up to Babylon and were known as the Arabs and Ishmaelites. The Arab nation mentioned in this account pointed to the Nabateans and not the present day Arab people living in the south portion of Arabia.
Ishmaelite references in the Bible
- Genesis 37.25. The Ishmaelites as caravan traders who travelled with their camels from Gilead to Egypt bringing with them the goods like spices, balm, and myrrh.
- Genesis 37:28. Joseph was sold to the Ishmaelites for the amount of 20 shekels of silver.
- Judges 8:24. The Ishmaelites used to wear gold earrings.
- 2 Samuel 17:25, 1 Chronicles 2:17. The Ishmaelite Jether and Abigail who was the aunt of Joab were the parents of Amasa, who headed the armies replacing Joab by appointment of Absalom.
- 1 Chronicles 27:30. The Ishmaelite Obil was the one responsible for looking after the camels.
- Psalm 83:6. The Ishmaelites associated with the Edomites, Moabites, and Hagrites.
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