THE BIRTH OF ISHMAEL
The Bible assigns special significance to the birth of Ishmael. Although Ishmael and his progeny will not remain within the covenant-bound inheritance of Abraham through Isaac, he nevertheless receives God's blessing:
And the angel of the Lord said to her, 'I will greatly increase your offspring, and they shall be too many to count.' And the angel of the Lord said to her further, 'Behold, you are with child and shall bear a son; you shall call him Ishmael (i.e. 'God heeds'), for the Lord has paid heed to your suffering. He shall be a wild ass of a man; his hand against everyone, and everyone's hand against him. He shall dwell alongside of all his kinsmen.' ( Genesis 16:10-12).
As for Ishmael, I have heeded you. I hereby bless him. I will make him fertile and exceedingly numerous. He shall be the father of twelve chieftains, and I will make of him a great nation. ( Genesis 17:20)
Later Jewish tradition follows the biblical lead in assigning significance to his birth, but by the time the earliest extant anthologies of this material were committed to writing, the rabbis had associated Ishmael with enemies of the Jews. It is apparent from the general cosmological thrust of Genesis that Ishmael, like Esau in the following generation, represented neighboring peoples having occasional but ongoing relationships with the Israelites. The biblical prophecy is less a statement of reproach (as it is understood by the rabbis) than it is a description of a particular people's way of life understood by the biblical world view to have derived from Ishmael. Nevertheless, even early rabbinic legendary texts such as BR 45:9 understand Genesis 16:10f to be words of rebuke. 1
In contrast to the Bible and the collections of Jewish narrative exegesis, the Islamic sources rarely assign special significance to the birth of Ishmael. 2