When Sarah sent Hagar and Ishmael away in Genesis 21, Ishmael is referred to several times as a child:

15When the water in the skin was gone, she put the child under one of the bushes. 16Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot, for she said, “Let me not look on the death of the child.” And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. 17And God heard the voice of the boy, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. 18Up! Lift up the boy, and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make him into a great nation.” 19Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. And she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink. 20And God was with the boy, and he grew up...ESV

However in Genesis 17:25 when Ishmael was circumcised (3 chapters before), it says he was 13 years old:

And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin.ESV

Was Ishmael a teenager when he and Hagar were sent away by Sarah? Or was Ishmael a child?


6 Answers 6


The word translated "child" in the verses 15 and 16 is yeled which means "boy, child, youth, offspring." It can even be used of adults to indicate they are descendants of someone else, e.g. the common phrase "the children of Israel." English can do the same thing. The word translated "boy" in the following verses is nyr which means "boy, lad, or youth." If I were translating this passage, I would use "youth" for yeled and "lad" for nyr to show they were different words.

Genesis 21:15 and following aren't trying to be specific that he is very young, just that he is not a grown man.

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    Thank you for clarifying, Frank. I was commissioned to paint a picture of Hagar pulling water out of the well with Ishmael. Originally, I painted Ishmael as a small child. Then, I realized my mistake. Thanks again for clarifying the scripture.
    – B6431
    Commented Oct 24, 2012 at 19:12

I originally looked this up because in Genesis 21 a fair reading seems to suggest that Ishmael was a small child, but based on the chronology he should have been in his late teens. Specifically, the references of him being a "lad" which of course in modern times is roughly somewhere between a toddler and a preteen. However, later on in Genesis during the story of Joseph, Israel's youngest son Benjamin is also refereed to as a lad, and we can approximate his age via his father.

Israel or Jacob was in his late 70s when he traveled to his uncle's house and stayed there for about 20 years. So Jacob would have been roughly about 90 when Benjamin was born. Now fast forwarding, in the story of Joseph, a short while after Benjamin is refereed to as a lad, Israel states he is 130. So 130-90 puts Benjamin at about 40 give or take. So, it seems that the concept of what a child or lad was at that time applied to people much older than in modern times. Hope this helps someone, it sure confused me.

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    – Nigel J
    Commented Jul 9, 2020 at 8:51

This passage suggests that Ishmael was a little child when he was sent away with his mother it says:

Genesis 21:14-16, 18

14 So Abraham rose early in the morning and took bread and a skin of water and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. ... 15 When the water in the skin was gone, she put the child under one of the bushes said, “Let me not look on the death of the child." ... 18 Up! Lift up the boy, and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make him into a great nation. [bold mine]

This all shows that the boy, Ishmael, was a little child.

Ishmael was 14 years older than Isaac and Genesis tells it happened when Isaac was weaned. If Isaac was three years old it makes Ishmael 14+3=17 years old. How can you imagine Abraham putting a 17-year-old guy on the shoulder of Hagar and how can you imagine Hagar putting that 17-year-old child under bushes and saying she couldn't see the "child dying" will the 17-year-old die without water that soon but his mother will stay alive? like 17 year old is mature enough to take care of himself and 17-year-olds that time was so strong that he should have took care of his mother rather than the other way around.

How can you imagine Hagar lifting a 17-year-old boy up when the angel appeared to her? This is clear that something has altered the text and fabricated the story of Isaac's weaning since if Ishmael was a baby as the text clearly depicted him as one then it happened long before Isaac was even born let alone his weaning ceremony.

Now the real question is why God told Abraham to send baby Ishmael away. Doesn't it show it was God's plan for him and his future offspring as after the final Israelite Prophet Jesus, God switched Prophethood in descendants of Ishmael in the form of Prophet Muhammad?

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    Commented Jan 4 at 15:12
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    – RHPclass79
    Commented Jan 5 at 18:20

Was Ishmael a teenager or a child when he and Hagar were sent away by Sarah?

It is reasonable to say that Ishmael was 18-19 years old when Abraham send him and his mother Hagar away.


Ishmael was circumcised at the age of thirteen, Abraham was 99 years old, Vs 24,25 below

Genesis 17:23-27 (NASB)

23 Then Abraham took Ishmael his son, and all the servants who were born in his house and all who were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s household, and circumcised the flesh of their foreskin in the very same day, as God had said to him. 24 Now Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. 25 And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. 26 In the very same day Abraham was circumcised, and Ishmael his son. 27 All the men of his household, who were born in the house or bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him.

When Abraham was 86 years old Hagar gives birth to Ishmael and when at the age of 100 years old Abraham, his son Isaac is born. Hence Ismael is 14 years old when Isaac is born.

Genesis 16:16 NET

16 (Now[a] Abram was 86 years old[b] when Hagar gave birth to Ishmael.)[c]

Genesis 21:5 (NET Bible)

5 (Now Abraham was 100 years old when his son Isaac was born to him.)[a]

The scriptures do not state the age at which Isaac was weaned, on the day that Isaac was weaned Abraham prepared a great feast.

Genesis 21:8-9 New English Translation (NET Bible)

8 The child grew and was weaned. Abraham prepared[a] a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned.[b] 9 But Sarah noticed[c] the son of Hagar the Egyptian—the son whom Hagar had borne to Abraham—mocking.[d]

From Google

Is it OK to breastfeed a 5-year-old?

For the rest of the world, it's very common that toddlers 4 to 5 years old still are nursed by moms for bonding and health reasons. The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding babies up to two years, precisely because of the breast-cancer-prevention benefits. June 22, 2008


In many parts of the world, today toddlers are breastfed to 4-5 year, so about four thousand years ago at the times of Abraham and taking into consideration the different lifestyle of that period, without the hustle and pressures of today, Sarah most probably weaned Isaac from 4-5 years Hence it is reasonable to say that Ishmael was 18-19 years old when Abraham send him and his mother Hagar away.


He was 14 years old. The chronology is clear. Just add and subtract the numbers revealed in Genedis. The only question is the inference of Genesis 21:15-16 as to why a teenage boy would be more helpless than his aged mother??

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    – Community Bot
    Commented Nov 3, 2021 at 15:01
  • Welcome to the site. Yes, Gen.17:24 shows he was 13 before Sarah conceived. But that last sentence in your answer has no bearing on the question. Do check this link for what hermeneutics is all about: hermeneutics.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/3790/…
    – Anne
    Commented Nov 3, 2021 at 16:29

Please think about this: we should be careful in correlating the chronological age of people living in times of the patriarch with our modern understanding of physical growth. Back then, people lived a very long life and got married much later (Isaac was 40 years old when he married Rebekah, Gen. 25:20. Then age 40 could be the equivalent of age 14 in later times). This could very well mean that Ishmael, though a teenager in chronological age when cast out, had the physique of a little child! This could explain why Genesis 21:12-20 gave the picture of Hagar travelling with a small child instead of a teenaged Ishmael.

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