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All of Abraham's children were to become nations. Gen 12:2-3, 13:16, and 15:4-6 promised many descendants to Abraham even before Ishmael was born. When Hagar was with child the promise was made in Gen 16:8 "And the angel of the LORD said unto her (Hagar), I will multiply thy seed exceedingly, that it shall not be numbered for multitude." In Gen 17:2-4 "...I am the Almighty God; walk before me and be thou perfect. And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly. And Abram fell on his face: and God talked with him, saying, As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations. (Note many nations, not just one.) Later, in Gen 17:20 " And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee: Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly, twelve princes shall he beget, and I shall make him a great nation." The answer to the question is that God responded to Abraham's entreaty for Ismael. Abraham wanted Ishmael to be a great nation. It was Abraham's wish expressed in Gen 17:18 "And Abraham said unto God, O that Ishmael may live before thee!"
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