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The son of Abraham and Hagar, a slave girl. At the time Ismael was born, it seemed unlikely that Sarah, Abraham's wife, would have a child because of her advanced age (Genesis 16:1-16). But Yahweh "dealt kindly with her" and Isaac was born (Genesis 21:1-3). Ill-feeling understandably developed between Sarah and Hagar, and the distressed Abraham was compelled to send Hagar and Ismael away. But "God was with the boy" and protected him. Following his marriage, he had twelve sons (Genesis 21:9-21). As time went on and Ismael and his sons extended their possessions in the land east of Egypt, they formed twelve tribes, each son becoming a tribal chief. Frequent references to these tribes appear in Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah. Ismael was, at least in name, the ancestor of this widespread network (Genesis 25:12-18). Also spelled Ishmael.
All items in this dictionary are from Fr. John Hardon's Modern Catholic Dictionary, © Eternal Life. Used with permission.