Should Ishmael have inherited a birthright? 


By BibleAsk Team

The question of Ishmael’s inheritance from Abraham is a complex issue deeply rooted in biblical narratives, theological interpretations, and historical contexts. While some argue for Ishmael’s entitlement to a birthright due to his lineage, a closer examination of the biblical text reveals a different perspective. This essay aims to delve into the scriptures, particularly in the New King James Version (NKJV), to elucidate why the son of Hagar should not have inherited a birthright from Abraham according to the Bible.

The Promise to Abraham:

Genesis 12:1-3 outlines the covenant between God and Abraham, where God promises to bless Abraham and make him a great nation. However, the specific promise of inheritance is directed towards Abraham’s descendants through Sarah, not Hagar:

  • Genesis 17:19-21 reaffirms this covenant, stating that Sarah will bear a son, Isaac, through whom the covenant will be established.

God promised Abraham that his barren wife Sarah will bear a son – Isaac. He also promised that Isaac would be the son of the covenant. “And 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 descendants after him” (Genesis 17:19). To God, Hagar was the “bondwoman,” not the the wife of the promise (Galatians 4:30). Abraham had not sought God’s advice in marrying Hagar.

Ishmael’s Birth and Covenant:

Ishmael’s incessant “mocking” (Genesis 21:9) and jealousy made it clear that he would continue to disrupt the peace and happiness of the family during Abraham’s lifetime, and that upon Abraham’s death would be prone to do much worse. So, it was clear that he should not remain in the home without danger to God’s plan for Isaac. These actions made the expulsion of the son of Hagar necessary. At the same time, God comforted Abraham with the assurance that the son of Hagar and his offspring, would become a great nation.

God reassured Abraham that the special promises made to Isaac would not break those made to Hagar at the well in the wilderness (Genesis 16:10). The names of the 12 sons of Ishmael are given in Genesis 25:12–16. Like the 12 sons of Jacob, each of them became the father of a tribe.

  • Genesis 16 narrates the birth of the son of Hagar, Sarah’s maidservant. Though Ishmael is Abraham’s son, the covenant of inheritance is distinctively linked to Isaac, Sarah’s son.
  • Genesis 17:18-21 records Abraham’s plea for Ishmael to be the heir, but God reaffirms that the covenant will be established with Isaac, indicating Ishmael’s exclusion from the birthright.

The Significance of Isaac’s Lineage:

God assured Abraham that the covenant, with all its material and spiritual blessings, was to Sarah’s son, Isaac, and to his posterity, who were God’s followers.

  • Genesis 21:12 underscores God’s choice of Isaac as the rightful heir, stating, “In Isaac your seed shall be called.” This declaration reinforces the divine intention for Isaac’s descendants to inherit the covenant blessings.

Spiritual Symbolism:

  • Galatians 4:21-31 allegorically interprets the story of Ishmael and Isaac, portraying Ishmael as representing the Old Covenant based on human effort, while Isaac symbolizes the New Covenant of grace. This spiritual symbolism emphasizes Isaac’s significance in fulfilling God’s plan of redemption.

Divine Selection and Sovereignty:

  • Romans 9:6-13 elucidates God’s sovereign choice in fulfilling His promises, illustrating that the children of the flesh (Ishmael) are not necessarily heirs of the promise, but the children of the promise (Isaac) are counted as the seed.

Historical Consequences:

The later history of the two sons fully justifies God’s selection of Isaac and rejection of Ishmael. Even though Hagar had come to believe in the true God, the influence of her earlier Egyptian upbringing showed up in her raising up Ishmael and his sons, for his descendants became pagans and opposers of the truth.

  • Genesis 25:5-6 records Abraham’s inheritance to his sons through Keturah, indicating that Ishmael did receive blessings from Abraham but not the covenant birthright. This distinction highlights the biblical recognition of Ishmael’s lineage without compromising Isaac’s special role in God’s plan.


The biblical narrative concerning Ishmael’s inheritance underscores the divine sovereignty in choosing Isaac as the rightful heir of Abraham’s covenant blessings. Despite being Abraham’s son, Ishmael’s exclusion from the birthright is consistently reaffirmed throughout scripture. The spiritual symbolism and theological implications further emphasize Isaac’s role in fulfilling God’s redemptive plan. Therefore, according to the Scriptural references and biblical interpretations, Ishmael, Hagar’s son, should not have inherited a birthright from Abraham, as it was exclusively designated for Isaac and his descendants.

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In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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