The Ishmaelites are the descendants of Ishmael, the son Hagar, Sarai's handmaiden, bore to Abram (Genesis 16:1–12). When she could not conceive, Sarai (later changed to Sarah) gave Hagar to Abram (later changed to Abraham) to bear a child on her behalf (see Genesis 16). Though a common occurrence in their culture, Sarai became jealous of Hagar when she became pregnant and so Hagar fled into the wilderness. The Angel of the Lord met her there and told her that she would bear a son, should name him Ishmael ("God hears," Genesis 16:10–11), and foretold that Ishmael would be stubborn, untamable, and warlike (Genesis 16:12). This applied also to his descendants.
Hagar returned to Sarai and gave birth to Ishmael. God promised Abraham that Ishmael would be blessed, be the father of a great nation, and have twelve sons (Genesis 17:20). Ishmael's sons are listed in Genesis 25:12–16. The Arab nations descended from Ishmael, while the Jewish nation descended from Sarah's son Isaac.
After Sarah gave birth to Isaac, she again forced Hagar to leave, this time with Ishmael (see Genesis 21). God protected Hagar and her son and again foretold that He would make Ishmael a great nation (Genesis 21:18). Later, Ishmael and Isaac together buried their father Abraham (Genesis 25:9).
The Old Testament tells us the Ishmaelites were also part of the group of people called Midianites. Midianites dealt in slaves, loved gold, and gold earrings (Genesis 37:28; 39:1; Judges 8:24).
Later, while David reigned, the Ishmaelites were part of a group who attacked Israel (Psalm 83:5–6). Their goal was to "wipe them (Israelites) out as a nation; let the name of Israel be remembered no more!" (Psalm 83:4).
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