Genesis 25:18 ESV

18 They settled from Havilah to Shur, which is opposite Egypt in the direction of Assyria. He settled[a] over against all his kinsmen

Genesis 25:18 Darby Translation

18 And they dwelt from Havilah to Shur, which is opposite to Egypt, as one goes towards Assyria. He settled before the face of all his brethren

Genesis 25:18 KJV

18 And they dwelt from Havilah unto Shur, that is before Egypt, as thou goest toward Assyria: and he died in the presence of all his brethren

Genesis 25:18 NLT

8 Ishmael’s descendants occupied the region from Havilah to Shur, which is east of Egypt in the direction of Asshur. There they lived in open hostility toward all their relatives

What is the proper translation of the above text?

  • . . . and they tabernacle from Havilah unto Shur, which is before Egypt, in thy going towards Asshur; in the presence of all his brethren hath he fallen. [Young's Literal, Genesis 25:18]. (+1).
    – Nigel J
    Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 9:19
  • Against means facing, since opposing armies face each other on the battle field. This explains part of the ambiguity.
    – Lucian
    Commented Jul 27, 2020 at 13:47

3 Answers 3


The literal meaning of the verb נָפַל (nafal) is “fall.” However, in Gen. 25:18, it appears to possess a more idiomatic sense.

According to the 16th ed. of Gesenius’ lexicon,1

f) sich niederlassen, v. einem Heere, m. בְּ Ri 7 12, v. einem Volke, s. v. a. wohnen, m. עַל־פְּנֵי Gn 25 18 (vgl. 16 12, aber unsicher).

f) “to establish oneself/settle,” with בְּ, an army (Jdg. 7:12); equivalent to “to live/reside,” with עַל־פְּנֵי, a people (Gen. 25:18 cf. Gen. 16:12, although uncertain).

Buhl (the editor of the 16th ed.) directs the reader to compare Gen. 16:12 with Gen. 25:18, although he admits the connection is uncertain. In Gen. 16:12, regarding Ishmael and his descendants, we have the phrase וְעַל־פְּנֵי כָל־אֶחָיו יִשְׁכֹּֽן—“and he shall dwell עַל־פְּנֵי all his brothers.” Based on Jdg. 7:12 where נֹפְלִים (nofelim) seems to indicate a people’s dwelling or settling, and also in light of Gen. 16:12, it seems reasonable to understand Gen. 25:18 as,

And they dwelt from Havilah unto Shur, that is before Egypt, as you go toward Assyria, and he settled in the presence of all his brothers.


        1 ed. Buhl, p. 512


Gesenius, Heinrich Friedrich Wilhelm. Hebräisches und aramäisches Handwörterbuch über das Alte Testament. Ed. Bulh, Frants. 16th ed. Leipzig: Vogel, 1915.

  • So Gesenius says "with בְּ, an army". Does Genesis 25:18 feature a בְּ?
    – Ruminator
    Commented Jul 31, 2020 at 10:19
  • No point. I just don't read Hebrew so I wanted to know if it had one so I would know how to understand it. Thanks.
    – Ruminator
    Commented Jul 31, 2020 at 14:42

In Hebrew, this part of the verse is:

עַל-פְּנֵי כָל-אֶחָיו, נָפָל

"על פני" is "in front of", or "opposite of".

"כל אחיו" literally means "his brethren", but the meaning can also be "his kinsmen", "his people", or something similar.

"נפל" means "fell", but doesn't have to be to fall physically. For example it can be "to fall in battle" etc.

The closest I can translate it would be:

"He fell, in front of all of his brothers", while keeping in mind that translation always looses some nuances.


The commentary of the Net Bible on the last sentence of this verse is [1]:

Heb “he fell upon the face of all his brothers.” This last expression, obviously alluding to the earlier oracle about Ishmael (Gen 16:12), could mean that the descendants of Ishmael lived in hostility to others or that they lived in a territory that was opposite the lands of their relatives. While there is some ambiguity about the meaning, the line probably does give a hint of the Ishmaelite-Israelite conflicts to come.

In turn, the literal text of Gen 16:12 is, according to the Net Bible [2]:

He will be a wild donkey of a man. His hand will be against everyone and the hand of everyone will be against him. He will live opposite (*) his brothers.

(*) Or "across from".

for which the commentary is:

A wild donkey of a man. The prophecy is not an insult. The wild donkey lived a solitary existence in the desert away from society. Ishmael would be free-roaming, strong, and like a bedouin; he would enjoy the freedom his mother sought.

The “hand” by metonymy represents strength. His free-roaming life style would put him in conflict with those who follow social conventions. There would not be open warfare, only friction because of his antagonism to their way of life.

[1] https://netbible.org/bible/Genesis+25

[2] https://netbible.org/bible/Genesis+16

  • Mightn't the "hand" of a wild donkey be his kick? Donkey's are notorious for their kicking. I'm wondering if Jesus wasn't calling Paul a "jackass" here?: Act 9:5 KJV - And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: [it is] hard for thee to kick against the pricks. See also: merriam-webster.com/dictionary/jackass
    – Ruminator
    Commented Jul 31, 2020 at 10:52

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