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Biblical Commentary on Genesis 16:12

King James Bible
And he will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man’s hand against him; and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.

New International Version
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.”

English Revised Version
And he shall be as a wild-ass among men; his hand shall be against every man, and every man’s hand against him; and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.

Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers

(12) He will be a wild man.—Heb., he will be a wild-ass man. The wild ass of the Arabian deserts is a very noble creature, and is one of the animals selected in the Book of Job as especially exemplifying the greatness of God (Job 39:5-8). Its characteristics are great speed, love of solitude, and an untamable fondness of liberty. It is thus the very type of the Bedaween Arabs, whose delight is to rove at will over the desert, and who despise the ease and luxury of a settled life.


George Haydock’s Catholic Bible Commentary

Wild. Hebrew: like a wild ass, not to be tamed or subdued. The Saracens or Arabs, have almost all along maintained their independence. — Over against, ready to fight, without any dread of any one. (Calmet)


Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament

 “He will be a wild ass of a man.” The figure of a פּרא, onager, that wild and untameable animal, roaming at its will in the desert, of which so highly poetic a description is given in Job 39:5-8, depicts most aptly “the Bedouin’s boundless love of freedom as he rides about in the desert, spear in hand, upon his camel or his horse, hardy, frugal, revelling in the varied beauty of nature, and despising town life in every form

Lange’s Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical

The image of the wild ass is not chosen in a contemptuous sense. “The figure of the פֶּרֶא, onager, in the desert, free, wild-roving and untamable animal, poetically described in Job 39:5-8, designates, in a striking manner, the Bedouin Arabs with their unrestrained love of freedom, as upon camel (Delûl) or horse, with spear in hand, they ride over the desert, noisy, hardy, frugal, delighting in the varied beauties of nature, and despising life in towns and cities:”

Arthur Peake’s Commentary on the Bible

Genesis 16:12. The author sketches the character of the Bedouin. Ishmael is “a wild ass of a man,” unbroken by servitude, disdaining the yoke of civilisation. What it is among animals Ishmael will be among men.

The Biblical Illustrator and Expositor’s Bible Commentary

“He will be a wild man,” literally, “a wild ass among men,” reminding us of the description of this animal in Job: “Whose house I have made the wilderness, and the barren land his dwelling. He scorneth the multitude of the city, neither regardeth he the crying of the driver. The range of the mountains is his pasture, and he searcheth after every green thing.” Like the zebra that cannot be domesticated, the Arab scorns the comforts of civilised life, and adheres to the primitive dress, food, and mode of life, delighting in the sensation of freedom, scouring the deserts, sufficient with his horse and spear for every emergency.

The Pulpit Commentaries

And he will be a wild man. Literally, a wild ass (of a) man; the פֶּרֶא, snarler, being so called from its swiftness of foot (cf. Job 39:5-8 ), and aptly depicting “the Bedouin’s boundless love of freedom as he rides about in the desert, spear in hand, upon his camel or his horse, hardy, frugal, reveling in the varied beauty of nature, and despising town life in every form” (Keil).

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible

Genesis 16:12. He will be a wild man— In the original it is, a wild ass man; and the learned Bochart translates it, tam ferus quam onager, as wild as a wild ass. But what is the nature of the animal to which Ishmael is so particularly compared? It cannot be described better than it is in the book of Job 39:5; Job 39:30. Who hath sent out the wild ass free? or who hath loosed the bands of the wild ass? whose house I have made the wilderness, and the barren land his dwelling. He scorneth the multitude of the city, neither regardeth he the crying of the driver. The range of the mountains is his pasture, and he searcheth after every green thing. Ishmael, therefore, and his posterity, would be wild, savage, ranging in the desarts, and not easily softened and tamed to society: and whoever hath ever read or known any thing of this people, knows this to be their true and genuine character. It is said of Ishmael, ch. Genesis 21:20. that he dwelt in the wilderness, and became an archer: and the same is no less true of his descendants than of himself: he dwelt in the wilderness; and his sons still inhabit the same wilderness, and many of them neither sow nor plant, according to the best accounts, ancient and modern. He became an archer: and such were the Ituraeans, whose bows and arrows are famous in all authors: such were the mighty men of Kedar in Isaiah’s time, Isaiah 21:17 and such the Arabs have been from the beginning, and are at this time; and it was late before they admitted the use of fire-arms among them.


…As the history of Ishmael and his descendants, is one of the standing public evidences of the truth of the sacred Scriptures, the reader will excuse me if I enlarge upon it. Diodorus, one of the great heathen Historians, says of them, that neither the Assyrians, nor the kings of the Medes and Persians, nor yet of the Macedonians, were able to subdue them; nay, though they led many and great forces against them, yet they could not accomplish their attempts. And undoubted history informs us of such remarkable interpositions of Providence to preserve them, when they have been upon the brink of ruin; that when we consider them, we cannot help being struck with admiration at the holy Scriptures, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done.

When Alexander the Great overturned the Persian Empire, and conquered a great part of Asia, the neighbouring princes sent their ambassadors to make their submissions. The Arabs (the descendants of Ishmael) alone disdained to acknowledge the Conqueror, and scorned to send any embassy, or take any notice of him. This contempt so provoked him, that he meditated an expedition against them; and, humanly speaking, considering his vast army, the great assistance he would have received from all the neighbouring princes, and his being in want of nothing which could contribute to his success, we can scarcely suppose but he would have entirely destroyed them: but while he was meditating on these things, God took him away by death, and put an end to all his resentment and designs against them; and again shewed the world, that there was one greater than the greatest. When the Romans subdued the rest of the East, Arabia alone stood out; and when Lucullus, one of their generals, had subdued some of the Arabs, he was recalled, and Pompey sent in his room: this latter most successful general gained some victories, and penetrated into the country; but the word of God was against him, so that when success seemed ready to crown him with an entire subjection of the country, other affairs obliged him to leave it, and by retiring he lost all the advantages he had gained. AElius Gallus, a Roman general in the reign of Augustus, penetrated far into the country; but of a sudden a strange distemper made terrible havoc in his army; and after two years spent in the enterprize, he was glad to escape with the small remainder of his forces. But, at the times they were attacked by the Emperors Trajan and Severus, the interpositions of Providence to save them were still more remarkable.

Dio, who must have been impartial in the present instance, informs us, that when Trajan besieged the city of the Hagarenes (who were descended and denominated from Hagar,) as often as his soldiers attacked the city, the whole heavens shook with thunder, rainbows were seen in the sky, (both considered as terrifying omens by the Romans,) violent storms, hail, and thunderbolts, fell upon them; and all these were repeated, as often as they returned to the assault of the city; and as often as they sat down to refresh themselves with a repast, a multitude of flies alighting both on their eatables and liquors, made all they ate or drank nauseous; so that the emperor was at last compelled by these circumstances to raise the siege. It may be observed here, that when they were attacked by Trajan, the power of the whole world was united in one empire, and the whole power of that empire was in his hands; that he was himself a man of great abilities, remarkably beloved by his soldiers, indefatigable in the toils of war, and greatly experienced in all that belongs to it; so that if it were possible that God’s promise to Ishmael of subsistence in freedom, though at enmity with the rest of the world, could be defeated by human wisdom or mortal might, it must have been at this time. About eight years after, the emperor Severus besieged the same city with a numerous army; and Dio, the historian, who gives an account of this expedition, as well as of that under Trajan, again remarks, that God preserved the city; who, by the Emperor, called back the soldiers, when they could have entered it; and again, by the soldiers, restrained the emperor from taking it, when he was desirous. The whole anecdote is very wonderful: the emperor being at first repulsed with loss, made great preparations for the second assault, in which (after a great loss of his soldiers) he overthrew part of the city-wall, so that an entrance lay open into the city. Just at that time the emperor caused a retreat to be sounded, imagining that the besieged would intreat for peace; and that, to obtain it, they would discover where the vast treasures lay, which were supposed to be concealed in their temple of the sun, and which he thought might be lost, if the city were sacked and the inhabitants destroyed. But the Hagarenes continued resolute the whole day, giving no intimation of their desire of entering into terms of capitulation. On the morrow following, when the emperor would have renewed the attack, the European soldiers, at all other times most resolute, would make no attempt to enter at the breach; and the Syrians, enforced to take the service, met with a grievous repulse. No persuasions, no promises, no threats could engage the Europeans to renew their attacks; so that, though the conquest in martial esteem appeared so easy after the breach in the walls, that one of Severus’s captains confidently undertook to effect it, if he could but have five hundred and fifty European soldiers assigned to the attack, yet the emperor could do no more than reply in a rage, “Where shall I find so many soldiers?” and so departed into Palestine. And yet this very emperor was beloved and revered by his soldiers almost to adoration, but could not now influence them to assault the enemy, when they were almost at their mercy: a fact so extraordinary, that it appears to be manifestly the interposition of that Mighty Being, who at his pleasure poureth contempt upon princes, and bringeth the counsel of the heathen to nought. It may be added, that the Hagarenes stood single in this extremity, against the whole Roman power; for Dio expressly says, that not one of their neighbours would assist them. And we may likewise observe, that the spirit of freedom, which was the declared characteristic of Ishmael before he was born, was remarkable at this time in these his descendants; as they seem to have been fully determined, either to live absolutely free, or to die so; disdaining to capitulate, or make any terms, even with the emperor of the world.



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