The sons of Abraham in the Bible were Issac, Jacob, and Esau. Abraham had these three sons with his wife Sarah. They are all mentioned in the book of Genesis.
Issac is the son that Abraham loved more than his other two sons Jacob and Esau because he was born through Sarah’s womb when they were both very old, so they thought that he may die soon. So they decided to give him a great blessing, which was to be blessed by God himself as a reward for his faithfulness to God’s instructions given to him by an angel, as well as his obedience to God’s commands during his life on earth. Jacob was born first with Esau coming afterwards (Genesis 25:23).
Who Were Abraham’s Sons? Ishmael and Isaac in the Bible
Learn about the Sons of Abraham and the importance of their descendants as we look to the Bible for insight and context. Abraham’s sons often reaped the consequences of their father’s impatience.
Many know of the Bible story about Abraham and Isaac when God tested Abraham’s faith in God versus his love for his son, yet Abraham also had another son named Ishmael. Abraham was originally meant to have just Isaac. But because he grew impatient with God, he couldn’t wait any longer for a miracle. So he and his wife devised a plan to have a baby through other means. Let’s first introduce Abraham’s background and significance in the Bible before learning more about his sons.
Who Was Abraham in the Bible?
God had a plan for Abraham to place him and his descendants in the realm of Canaan (also known as the Promised Land and Holy Land). Located at the intersection of Asia, Africa, and Europe, this region was fitting for God’s chosen people, who were to be an exemplar for the nations of the world (Deuteronomy 4:5-8).
Upon arrival in the promised land, God assured Abraham that He would provide the region to his descendants (Genesis 12:7). “And the LORD said to Abram,… ‘Lift your eyes now and look from the place where you are—northward, southward, eastward, and westward; for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever’ ” (Genesis 13:14-15).
God continued: “And I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if a man could number the dust of the earth, then your descendants also could be numbered” (Genesis 13:16). Significantly, God later changed Abram’s name to Abraham (Genesis 17:5). His earlier name meant “high (exalted) father.” God renamed him “father of a multitude,” saying, “I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you” (Genesis 13:6).
The United Church of God mentions, “At the time these prophecies must have seemed ironic to Abraham, for his wife Sarah was barren. Her infertility was to be very significant in the development of the modern Middle East.
God promised Abraham in Genesis 15:4 that he would have an heir: “one who will come from your own body.” Impatient, Sarah told Abraham to take her Egyptian handmaid Hagar and to produce a child by her. This took place “after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan” (Genesis 16:1-3).”
Abraham’s Sons: Ishmael
“So he went into Hagar, and she conceived. And when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress became despised in her eyes” (Genesis 16:4). Fearing the wrath of Sarah, Hagar fled the land after conceiving the first son of Abraham.
However, a heavenly word was delivered to Hagar, instructing her to return. It comforted her that her son would have many children and descendants, although they will live in aversion with the other families and nations. Genesis 16:10-12 states: The angel added, “I will increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.” The angel of the LORD also said to her: “You are now pregnant and you will give birth to a son. You shall name him Ishmael, for the LORD has heard of your misery. He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers.”
In reference to the prophecy of Ishmael, The Middle East in Bible Prophecy states:
The divinely prophetic words spoken to Hagar are still of great significance today. The prophecy that Ishmael “will be a wild donkey of a man” is not meant as an insult. The wild donkey was the aristocrat of the wild beasts of the desert, the preferred prey of hunters. The prophecy is a reference to how Ishmael’s descendants would emulate the lifestyle of the wild donkey, leading a free and noble existence in the desert.
“His hand will be against everyone, and everyone’s hand against him” similarly refers to this independent lifestyle. Ishmael’s descendants have always resisted foreign domination.
Abraham’s Sons: Isaac
Fourteen years after the birth of Ishmael, God graced Abraham with a second son, a step-brother to Ishmael conceived with his wife Sarah. God instructed Abraham to name their son Isaac (meaning “laughter” for the skeptical response of Abraham when informed he and Sarah would have a son at their old age as well as the happiness that he would bring to his parents, Genesis 17:17-19; Genesis 18:10-15; Genesis 21:5-6). Isaac, in turn, fathered Jacob, also named Israel, the father of the Israelites. Ishmael’s and Isaac’s descendants are therefore cousins.
After the birth of Isaac, Sarah further resented the presence of Hagar and Ishmael and had them sent away. Genesis 21:8-13 states, The child grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, and she said to Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.” The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son. But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. I will make the son of the slave into a nation also because he is your offspring.”
Bible Verses about Abraham’s Sons
– So, after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her servant, and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife. Genesis 16:3 ESV
– Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram. Genesis 16:16 ESV
– Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him. Genesis 21:5 ESV
– So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son, for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.” Genesis 21:10 ESV
– But God said to Abraham, “Be not displeased because of the boy and because of your slave woman. Whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for through Isaac shall your offspring be named. Genesis 21:12 ESV
– He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” Genesis 22:2 ESV
– By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, Hebrews 11:17 ESV
– Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? James 2:21 ESV
God still had a plan for both Ishmael and Isaac. But because Abraham in the Bible chose to disobey God, Abraham’s sons reaped the consequences. Drama ensued in their family and tore them apart. Abraham’s sons show us that we must trust in God’s promises and not try to force them on our own.
How many sons did Abraham have?
In all, Abraham had eight sons.
After Sarah died, Abraham had six sons through Keturah, another concubine: Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah (Genesis 25:1, 6). Keturah’s sons became the fathers of Arabian tribes living east of Israel.
Some people claim that the Bible makes an error in regards to the number of Abraham’s sons. In Genesis 22:2, God speaks to Abraham after the birth of Ishmael, referring to Isaac as “your son, your only son, whom you love.” Then Hebrews 11:17 identifies Isaac as Abraham’s “one and only son.” And Galatians 4:22 mentions only Isaac and Ishmael: “It is written that Abraham had two sons.” How could Abraham be said to have an “only son” and “two sons,” when in reality he had eight sons?
There is no true contradiction in the above passages. Isaac was the only son who was promised to Abraham and through whom Abraham would become the father of many nations (Genesis 12:1–3; 17:1–8; 21:12). Also, Isaac was the only son of Sarah and Abraham—Sarah being specifically mentioned in the prophecies of Genesis 17:16–21 and 18:10. In addition, Isaac is the only son born in an official marriage: Hagar and Keturah were both concubines. While God blessed the concubines’ sons for Abraham’s sake, those sons had no part in the inheritance. Isaac was the one and only rightful heir to the promise (Genesis 15:4–5; 25:5).
Genesis 22:2 and Hebrews 11:17 both refer to Isaac as Abraham’s “only son” because those passages concern God’s promise and covenant. Since Abraham’s other seven sons are not part of the covenant, they are irrelevant to the issue and not mentioned as sons. Abraham had other sons, but only one son of promise.
The main theme in Galatians is justification by faith, apart from the Law. Galatians 4:22 mentions two sons, Isaac and Ishmael, in an allegory to highlight the contrast between the old covenant of law and the new covenant of grace. The former leads to bondage while the latter to freedom and life. Paul’s reasoning is as follows: Ishmael was the son of Hagar, a slave, and thus symbolizes bondage and slavery to the Law. Ishmael was the product of a human effort to bring about God’s blessing; Ishmael equals the works of the Law. Isaac was born to the free woman, Sarah, and thus symbolizes freedom and life. Isaac was born in God’s time, according to God’s promise, without the scheming or interference of man; Isaac equals the gift of grace. This passage in Galatians 4 is meant to teach a spiritual lesson (verse 24), not to give a detailed account of Abraham’s life and how many actual sons he had. Mentioning the other six sons would not have served any meaningful purpose in Paul’s allegory.
Spiritually speaking, Abraham has many, many sons. The Bible points to the faith of Abraham (Genesis 15:6) and states that “those who have faith are children of Abraham” (Galatians 3:7; cf. verse 9). Those who exercise the same faith that Abraham had are showing themselves to be like him, spiritually, and so can be rightly called his “children.” All who trust in Christ, as Zacchaeus did, become true sons of Abraham (Luke 19:9). “The promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring . . . to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all” (Romans 4:16).