Eleven years after Abraham's arrival in Canaan, he had a child with Hagar, the Egyptian handmaiden of his wife Sarah. It was customary at the time among the people of Mesopotamia for a barren wife to have her handmaid bear children, which prompted Sarah to make Hagar a surrogate mother. The child was called Ishmael.
Ishmael grew up a true child of the desert, wild and wayward. During the festivities to celebrate the weaning of his brother Isaac, his spirit broke out in expressions of insult and mockery; and Sarah, discovering this, said to Abraham, "Expel this slave and her son." Influenced by a divine admonition, Abraham dismissed Hagar and her son with no more than a skin of water and some bread.
Out in the desert of Beersheba, their water ran out. Certain that they were both going to die, Hagar left the boy in the shade of some bushes and sat down a distance away, not wanting to the hear the pitiful wails of Ishmael. Someone else, however, both heard and took notice.
God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, "What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation." (Genesis 21:17-18)
Earlier, God had made a similar promise to Abraham when the patriach-in-the-making had requested God to let Ishmael live under his blessings.
Then God said, "Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year." (Genesis 17:19-21)
God's hand of protection lay on Ishmael as he grew up. He lived in the Desert of Paran and became an excellent archer. He became a great desert chief but little is recorded of his history. He was nearly ninety years old when his father Abraham died. With his brother Isaac, he buried him in the cave of Machpelah, alongside his wife Sarah.
He died at the age of one hundred and thirty-seven years, leaving behind twelve sons who became the founders of the Ishmaelites, who spread over the wide desert spaces of Northern Arabia from the Red Sea to the Euphrates. Many of the modern-day Arab peoples recognize that they are the descendants of Ishmael, while the Jews and the rest of the Israelites, are descendants of Isaac - but all are descended from Abraham.
These are the names of the sons of Ishmael, listed in the order of their birth: Nebaioth the firstborn of Ishmael, Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, Mishma, Dumah, Massa, Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish and Kedemah. These were the sons of Ishmael, and these are the names of the twelve tribal rulers according to their settlements and camps. Altogether, Ishmael lived a hundred and thirty-seven years. He breathed his last and died, and he was gathered to his people. His descendants settled in the area from Havilah to Shur, near the border of Egypt, as you go toward Asshur. And they lived in hostility toward all their brothers. (Genesis 25:13-18)