Printed from http://tektonics.org/gen21.php
It is noted that according to information in Genesis 15-16, Ishmael ought to be a teenager by the time Isaac was born. One commentaror goes on to argue:
Yet in Genesis 21:14-21 the text, read as it stands, seems to imply that here Ishmael was a baby. In v. 14 Abraham puts the boy on Hagar's shoulder; in v. 15 she throws the boy under a bush; in v. 16 she says "Let me not look upon the death of the child." In v. 17 God hears the boy crying; in v. 18 God's angel says "Arise, lift up the boy, and hold him by your hand." The NASB emends this to "by his hand," but we might take it to mean "in your hand" as a baby would be held.
Our subject here goes on to accuse translators of "mistranslating to fit the passages together" and avoid the JEDP-favoring implications. Let's look at this a piece at a time and see if Ishmael really was just a baby here:
In v. 14 Abraham puts the boy on Hagar's shoulder...
How does he get this? Let's look at the verse:
And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and took bread, and a bottle of water, and gave it unto Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, and the child, and sent her away: and she departed, and wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba.
Now it is supposed here that Abraham put the bread, the water, and the child on Hagar's shoulder; but what a load for a shoulder or neck that would be! The typical water "bottle" of this age was an animal skin that held three gallons and filled up would weigh about 30 pounds. This means it wouldn't make any difference whether Ishmael was a baby or an adult.
The fact is that the proper antecedent in the Hebrew for "child" in this verse is "gave" - Abraham gave Hagar the child Ishmael, last of all; an indication of profound regret at having to part with the lad. (The word child here, incidentally, is yeled, and can refer to anything from a baby to a teenager.)
...in v. 15 she throws the boy under a bush...
Which is not a bad idea, regardless of how old the boy was. By this time it seems that Ishmael was suffering badly from heat and exposure and would need whatever relief he would get. This verse by no means indicates a baby: Indeed, the word "throws" here would suggest something you would NOT do to a baby: It is the same word that might be used in the sense of "throwing" dice.
Nor does that he was under a bush mean he was a mere tyke: That was, after all, the only shade available in a desert situation. Ishmael and Hagar had both been out in the desert for the same amount of time; but Hagar was probably, as an adult, somewhat better able to withstand the elements. It seems quite reasonable to suggest that, by the time she "threw" him under the bush, he was hardly able to stumble on his own, and she wasn't doing much better, but continued to support him as best she could. She was simply in no condition to gently lay him in the shade, but rather heaved him off her shoulder in the general direction of the bush.
...in v. 16 she says "Let me not look upon the death of the child."
This offers no indications either way.
In v. 17 God hears the boy crying...
The word "crying" here does not equate with the crying of a baby: The word here, qowl, is used to refer to God's "voice" in Eden (Gen. 3), Abel's blood "crying" from the ground (4:10), what Sarai says to Abram (16:2)...obviously it holds no indication of age, and in fact, when used of what is done by humans, seems to refer regularly to the sort of audible and undertstandable speech performed by an adult.
In v. 18 God's angel says "Arise, lift up the boy, and hold him by your hand." The NASB emends this to "by his hand," but we might take it to mean "in your hand" as a baby would be held.
We might do no such thing. In the OT, the phrase "by the hand" is used idiomatically to refer to leadership and has nothing to do with the age of the person involved. In Is. 51:18 it is used to refer to Jerusalem as a weakened woman who needs guidance. In Jer. 31:32 it refers to God leading Israel out of Egypt "by their hand". Here, God was telling Hagar to lead and guide her son- which leads directly into the next point where it is added that Ishmael will be made into a great nation.
Thus, far from being accurate in his claim that "translators fudge the language to keep the passages consistent," it is our JEDPist here who is behind the times.
(For a bit more on this topic, see some words by one of our associates on this page.)