(Author’s Note: This is an excerpt from an article written in 2002 and posted on the author’s former web site.)
Will there ever be peace in the Middle East? It is the perennial question that modern man has been asking for decades and the peace for which hope springs eternal. But is it realistic? Is it achievable? Is it within the realm of God’s plan?
Islam has its root in Arabic culture mixed among the belief and tradition of Abraham and his son Ishmael fathering the Arabic tribes of the Middle East. If both the people of Islam and those of Judeo-Christian heritage claim Abraham as their patriarch, why have they been forever at each others throats? The answer can be found in the Scriptures of both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.
We can gain some insight into this generations old conflict by picking up the story in Genesis 16 where Abraham and his wife Sarah were first known as Abram and Sarai. Abram was 86 years old and Sarai had never bore him any children, yet God had promised him that he would have a male descendent who would bring forth descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven (Genesis 15:4-5).
Frustrated and impatient with the lack of God’s immediate fulfillment of His promise, Abram decided (with Sarai’s encouragement) to take matters into his own hands.
He took unto himself Hagar, Sarai’s maidservant, and she bore him a son (Genesis 16:11-12).
Several things should be noted at this point. First, Abram chose to disbelieve God’s promised covenant with him and establish his own covenant by the flesh. Second, his partner in this fleshly covenant was Hagar the Egyptian. Third, it was God, not Abram, who chose the name of Ishmael for this son to be born outside of God’s chosen covenant with His people. Fourth, it was God who said at Ishmael’s conception, that he would be a wild man and that his hand shall be against every man, and every man’s hand against him. At the same time he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren. And who were Ishmael’s brethren? He had a Hebrew father, Abram and a pagan Arabic mother, Hagar. His brethren at the time of his birth were both Jews and Arabs.
When Abram was 99 years old, he was still without a true heir by Sarai’s womb. God then spoke to Abram and made this covenant with him:
As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you. Also I give to you and your descendants after you the land in which you are a stranger, all the land of Canaan, as an everlasting possession; and I will be their God (Genesis 17:4-8).
Fourteen years after the birth of Ishmael, God fulfilled His intended covenant with Abram (now Abraham) with the birth of Isaac to Sarah.
Abraham asked God if “Ishmael might live before You?”
But God told Abraham, “No, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him.
“And as for Ishmael, I have heard you. Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall beget twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation (Genesis 17:18-20).”
God never intended to establish His covenant with Ishmael, because Ishmael was not the child of the promise but of the flesh. God could not establish His covenant with him, He could only bless him. While God blessed Ishmael with fruitfulness, He never made a covenant with him. God’s covenant was with Abraham and him only. And, unlike Abraham and Isaac, God never promised Ishmael and his seed that He would be their God.
Although Arabic Muslims claim Abraham as their heir, biblically they are descendants of pre-covenant Abram, the one who disobeyed God and disbelieved His promise of an heir through Sarah. God could bless Ishmael, but He could never establish His covenant with a sinful seed of the flesh.
Ishmael became the father of 12 Arabian princes (nations) whom God said that He would “multiply . . . exceedingly.” Ishmael and Hagar were driven into the Wilderness of Paran to dwell (Genesis 21:20-21). This wilderness covers the eastern Sinai and the southern and southeastern borders of present-day Israel. Ishmael married an Egyptian woman (Genesis 21:21) and presumably all his sons were born of her.
The sons of Ismael populated an area from Egypt and the Sinai Desert, the Arabian peninsula to Assyria (which includes present day Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Syria and the lesser Arab kingdoms). Later, in Genesis 36:3, it is stated that Esau (a.k.a. Edom), Jacob’s brother, married Ishmael’s daughter, Basemath. Esau’s descendants were the Edomites who populated present-day Jordan. In Malachi 1:3-4, God said that He is against Edom “forever.”
Remember, God promised that Ishmael and his descendants would be wild men whose hand would be against every man.
The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, reasserted the striking difference between the seed of the pre-covenant Ishmael and the covenant-fulfilling seed of Isaac. He made both historical and spiritual comparisons (Galatians 4:22-26,29-30).
Paul makes it clear that Ishmael was the pre-covenant seed of a slave and therefore could not represent God’s covenant with His people. Isaac, on the other hand, was a freeman, born of a freewoman as the fulfillment of God’s promise to His people. Those who are heirs to the bondsman of the flesh (viz., Ishmael), will remain in bondage until set free by the salvation of Christ, who is heir to the covenant of the freeman, Isaac.
Paul also pointed out that the descendants of Ishmael will always be persecuting the descendants of Isaac, the freeman, and that the heirs of Ishmael and Isaac can never share in the inheritance of the freeman, Isaac. The only hope of sharing this inheritance that the descendants of Ishmael have is to be grafted in through the salvation of Christ.
Additional Note (August 4, 2014): In the Qur’an, the Muslim “holy” book, it states in Surah 5:20-21, that Allah gave the Holy Land to the Jewish people forever. “And when Moses said to his people: O my people! remember the favor of Allah upon you when He raised prophets among you and made you kings and gave you what He had not given to any other among the nations. O my people! enter the holy land which Allah has prescribed for you and turn not on your backs [retreat] for then you will turn back losers.” The Muslims believe that the Qur’an is the absolute, indisputable and finale word of Allah, unless, of course, it favors the Jews. But then elsewhere in the Qur’an Allah calls upon His follers to slay the Jews and other infidels wherever they may be found (Surah 9:5, et al).
For more on the subject, read Islam & Christianity: A Revealing Contrast, available online or through your local bookstore.
Source: James F. Gauss’ Blog at: