International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
ish'-ma-el-its (yishme`e'lim): The supposed descendants of Ishmael, the son of Abraham and Hagar, whom Abraham sent away from him after the birth of Isaac (Genesis 21:14-21). The sons of Ishmael are given in Genesis 25:13, 14; they were twelve in number and gave rise to as many tribes, but the term Ishmaelite has a broader signification, as appears from Genesis 37:28. 36, where it is identified with Midianite. From Genesis 16:12 it may be inferred that it was applied to the Bedouin of the desert region East of the Jordan generally, for the character there assigned to Ishmael, "His hand shall be against every man, and every man's hand against him," fits the habits of Bedouin in all ages. Such was the character of the Midianites as described in Judges 7, who are again identified with the Ishmaelites (8:24). These references show that the Ishmaelites were not confined to the descendants of the son of Abraham and Hagar, but refer to the desert tribes in general, like "the children of the east" (Judges 7:12).