Many people, including Arabs, would have us believe that before the establishment of the nation of Israel in 1948, there were no tensions or anything to harm the good relations between the Arabs and the Jews. Even many historians point to the 1948 establishment of Israel as that which led to the current escalation in the Middle East. The implication is that the only reason there is a crisis in the Middle East today is because of the establishment of the nation of Israel in Palestine; that is the origin of the conflict between these two peoples, who supposedly got along previously. Having been repeated so many times, it has become the accepted conventional wisdom. You have an entire generation of young people around the world, both Muslim and non-Muslim who have believed that “conventional wisdom.”
The study of prophecy will reveal that the enmity between Arabs and Jews goes back thousands of years and that the conflict would be ongoing between two of Abraham’s sons Ishmael and Isaac.
To understand where and how this crisis originated we need to go to the Old Testament Scriptures. The Bible clearly teaches us that the crisis in the Middle East originated in a feud between Abraham’s sons Isaac and Ishmael, an enmity that continues to this day between the nations that represent their descendants.
Grant Jeffrey explains that,
“The most dangerous threat facing the modern world has its origins in a 4000-year-old conflict between two half-brothers. The ancient blood feud between Ishmael and Isaac is now being played out on the world stage. God told his people thousands of years ago that there would be an implacable hatred between the sons of Abraham. Ishmael, the son of the Egyptian Hagar, Woodburn with enmity toward his brother, Isaac, the son of Sarah and the ancestor of the Jewish people.
Millenniums of hatred are now culminating in the violent dispute involving the Palestinians and their Arab brethren against their Jewish neighbors. As we look closely at the origins of this war, we will gain greater understanding of how God has set the stage for the final resolution of this struggle and the events of the last days.”1
As we have seen in some detail already, God made a promise to Abraham that he would give him an heir who would bless all nations and raise up a mighty people who would spread God’s love around the world. Abraham was a man of faith who never doubted that God would do what he had promised he would do. What he failed to understand was how and when God would fulfill that promise which led him and Sarah to commit an act of disobedience.
Abraham and his wife Sarah decided that they would “help” God fulfill the promise. Since Sarah was barren, she told Abraham to have relations with Hagar her maidservant, something that was the standard practice in those days. This was precisely the act of disobedience, Abraham and Sarah acted rather than patiently waiting for God to fulfill the promise in His time.
Abram’s wife, Sarai, had not borne any children for him, but she owned an Egyptian slave named Hagar. Sarai said to Abram, “Since the Lord has prevented me from bearing children, go to my slave; perhaps through her I can build a family.” And Abram agreed to what Sarai said. So Abram’s wife, Sarai, took Hagar, her Egyptian slave, and gave her to her husband, Abram, as a wife for him. This happened after Abram had lived in the land of Canaan ten years. He slept with Hagar, and she became pregnant. When she saw that she was pregnant, her mistress became contemptible to her (Genesis 16:1-4).
According to Genesis, Sarah began to despise Hagar causing her to realize that the “help” they had offered God to bring about the fulfillment of His promise was a mistake. Abraham gave his wife permission to deal with Hagar, the Bible tells us that Hagar fled to the wilderness because of the harsh treatment she had received from Sarah, this was the first of the two times that Hagar had been exiled.
Abram replied to Sarai, “Here, your slave is in your power; do whatever you want with her.” Then Sarai mistreated her so much that she ran away from her (Genesis 16:6).
During her first exile she had been instructed by God to return and submit herself to Sarah’s authority.
The angel of the Lord found her by a spring in the wilderness, the spring on the way to Shur. He said, “Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” She replied, “I’m running away from my mistress Sarai.” The angel of the Lord said to her, “Go back to your mistress and submit to her authority” (Genesis 16:7-9).
Ishmael was born and was brought up in Abraham’s household. It was 14 years later, when Abraham was 100 years old and Sarah 90 years old, that she gave birth to the natural heir that God had promised. His name was Isaac.
The Lord came to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the appointed time God had told him. Abraham named his son who was born to him—the one Sarah bore to him—Isaac. When his son Isaac was eight days old, Abraham circumcised him, as God had commanded him. Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him (Genesis 21:1-5).
The Conflict Begins
Genesis 21:9 tells us, But Sarah saw the son mocking—the one Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham, showing that the conflict between Ishmael and Isaac began soon after Isaac was weaned. The teenager Ishmael was mocking the infant Isaac. Gangel and Bramer write,
“What exactly did Ishmael do in his mocking?… Kidner suggests the word is “the intensive form of Isaac’s name-verb ‘to laugh,’ its malicious sense here demanded by the context and by Galatians 4:29” (Kidner, 140). Let’s look at that important Galatians text: “At that time the son born in the ordinary way persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now.”
Persecuting is a great deal stronger than jeering. In fact, the difference is so great that F. F. Bruce writes, “Biblical substantiation for the statement that Ishmael persecuted Isaac is not forthcoming, so far as the two individuals are concerned; there could be a reference to occasions when the descendants committed aggression against the Israelites, Isaac’s descendants” (Bruce, 223). Perhaps, but Paul’s wording seems quite clear, and Sarah’s reaction seems to account for more than just immature taunting.”2
In Galatians 4:23, Paul tells us that Ishmael had been born as a result of the flesh. while Isaac was born through promise. We need to pay close attention to what the Bible teaches us because if we do not, we will fail to understand the reason for the conflict that has spanned thousands of years. Even though Ishmael had been born first, he was not the child of promise and therefore Ishmael, though the firstborn, was replaced by his younger half-brother Isaac as the heir. Things in the home and the relations between the two children escalated to the point that Sarah demanded that both Hagar and Ishmael be expelled permanently from Abraham’s family.
So she said to Abraham, “Drive out this slave with her son, for the son of this slave will not be a coheir with my son Isaac!” (Genesis 21:10).
The Bible tells us that God loved both Hagar and Ishmael and showed them both compassion and mercy by promising her that her son would be the father of twelve princes who would in turn become a great nation.
Early in the morning Abraham got up, took bread and a waterskin, put them on Hagar’s shoulders, and sent her and the boy away. She left and wandered in the Wilderness of Beer-sheba. When the water in the skin was gone, she left the boy under one of the bushes and went and sat at a distance, about a bowshot away, for she said, “I can’t bear to watch the boy die!” While she sat at a distance, she wept loudly. God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What’s wrong, Hagar? Don’t be afraid, for God has heard the boy crying from the place where he is. Get up, help the boy up, and grasp his hand, for I will make him a great nation” (Genesis 21:14-18).
Ishmael lived in the region of Hejaz, the region known today as the Arabian Peninsula. His twelve patriarchal sons were associated with the peoples known as Midianites, Edomites, Egyptians and Assyrians.
As for Ishmael, I have heard you. I will certainly bless him; I will make him fruitful and will multiply him greatly. He will father twelve tribal leaders, and I will make him into a great nation… These are the family records of Abraham’s son Ishmael, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s slave, bore to Abraham. These are the names of Ishmael’s sons; their names according to the family records are Nebaioth, Ishmael’s firstborn, then Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, Mishma, Dumah, Massa, Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah. These are Ishmael’s sons, and these are their names by their settlements and encampments: twelve leaders of their clans (Genesis 17:20; 25:12-16).
Ishmael became the father of the Arabs and the leader of the peoples of the Middle East which today is made up entirely of Muslim countries and whose religion, Islam, has spread all over the world.
God’s Faithfulness to Ishmael
Abraham’s and Sarah’s act of disobedience led to the birth of Ishmael who was later exiled from the family. God dealt fairly with Ishmael by providing him a great kingdom of his own, though the great kingdom and the land that he settled in was never enough. Ishmael and his descendants have always resented and despised Isaac and his descendants because according to them, it was they who were entitled to and were able to claim the full inheritance of Abraham.
During Hagar’s first exile in Genesis 16, the Lord prophesied that Ishmael would be a violent person who would be in constant conflict with his brethren.
He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers (Genesis 16:12 NIV).
God’s prophetic words of Genesis 16:12 have been fulfilled in the millennia of hatred and enmity between the Arabs and the Jews. The animosity and resentment that the Arabs/Muslims have for the Jews has created a hatred that cannot be compared to any other in human history. It is that hatred that has led to wars and some of the worst atrocities in history. The land that God promised Abraham and his descendants has been the source of the friction between the Arabs and the Jews then and the Arabs/Muslims and Jews today.
For thousands of years Ishmael’s descendants have been in a blood feud with the descendants of Isaac, a feud that has led to horrific acts of violence and injustice against the children of Israel. Of all the racial problems and tensions that have existed throughout human history, none can be compared to the problem that exists between the Arabs/Muslims and Jews in terms of duration and intensity of animosity.
A Contributing Cause for the Ongoing Crisis
A contributing cause for the ongoing feud between the Muslims and the Jews is the fact that the Muslims continue to propagate the lie that the Jews are guilty of changing and distorting the Scriptures so that they could establish themselves as the heirs of Abraham’s covenant blessings. However they fail to explain why it is that the New Testament, which was written by Christians who would have no reason to follow any such changes or distortions, teaches that the promises were made specifically to Isaac and his descendants.
Islamic tradition teaches that Abraham had not two but eight sons who were reared not in Hebron but in Mecca. They teach that it was Ishmael whom Abraham was about to sacrifice on Mount Moriah when he was stopped by an angel. According to the Koran, all the promises in the Abrahamic covenant, including the Promised Land, have been passed down to the Muslims.
There are two problems that the Muslims are confronted with when they make those claims: (1) both the Old and New Testaments clearly teach that the promises in the Abrahamic covenant, including the title deed to the land of Israel, were made to Isaac and his descendants, and (2) the promises God made to Abraham in Genesis were made to him over two millennia before the establishment of Islam.
Just read to the words in Genesis 17:19-21,
But God said, “No. Your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will name him Isaac. I will confirm my covenant with him as a permanent covenant for his future offspring. As for Ishmael, I have heard you. I will certainly bless him; I will make him fruitful and will multiply him greatly. He will father twelve tribal leaders, and I will make him into a great nation. But I will confirm my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you at this time next year.”
God was faithful in keeping His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Ishmael. In fact, God gave Ishmael and his descendants much more land than he gave Isaac.
The sons of Ishmael were just as rebellious and contrary as he was. Being part of a great nation was not enough for the Arabs then, as it is not enough for the Muslims today. Their animosity and hatred of Isaac and his descendants, the Jews, has been so since the very beginning. At the core of the issue is the fact that the Arabs then, as the Muslims today, want what God gave the people of Israel. God has blessed them greatly, but they have been unwilling to accept those blessings nor live in peace with their half-brothers.
In great part this attitude of resentment and jealousy has caused them to lose their way spiritually and their knowledge and understanding of the God of Abraham has been distorted long before the Prophet Mohamed had come on the scene in the seventh century.
Missing the Fundamental Obstacle in the Palestinian/Muslim and Israeli Conflict
It appears that world leaders are willfully choosing to listen to and accept the lie Muslim leaders are saying the regarding the cause of the conflict. Both politicians and the media fail to understand the fundamental obstacle that prevents peace between the Palestinians and Muslims, and the Jews. Many seem to think that if the Jews would simply give up more land to the Palestinians and allow for a Palestinian state to be formed, there would be peace in the Middle East. The truth is it is not as simple as that. As many Muslims have made clear over the years, they are not only interested in getting all the land back; they also desire to see the extermination of every single Jew on the face of the earth. Many Muslim politicians in the present time have stated that their goal is to see the Jews pushed off the land into the Mediterranean Sea and drowned.
Satan hates the Jews because they are the seed of promise and heirs of the covenant promises. Satan has been from the very beginning stirring the hatred and resentment in the descendants of Ishmael.
In the final days, Scripture tells us that the seed of Ishmael will join with several nations, including Russia, to destroy the people of Israel before Christ returns; God will destroy the allied armies (see Ezekiel 38-39).
The genocidal hatred that seeks the extermination of the Jews stands alone in the history of national conflicts. Arab and Palestinian leaders have stated many times that if they ever defeat Israel in war, that they will annihilate every Jewish man, woman, and child. The fact that Israeli soldiers and civilians who have surrendered to Arabs have been massacred serves as evidence that their threats to destroy all Jews are not empty words, it is their policy and practice.3
The Arab-Islamic Goal
Ezekiel prophesied that in a future conflict the Arabs would join a formidable, multinational, Islamic invasion force led by Russia (or ancient Magog) and made up primarily of Arabs and military forces from the Islamic nations.
This is another message that came to me from the Lord: “Son of man, turn and face Gog of the land of Magog, the prince who rules over the nations of Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him. Give him this message from the Sovereign Lord: Gog, I am your enemy! I will turn you around and put hooks in your jaws to lead you out with your whole army—your horses and charioteers in full armor and a great horde armed with shields and swords. Persia, Ethiopia, and Libya will join you, too, with all their weapons. Gomer and all its armies will also join you, along with the armies of Beth-togarmah from the distant north, and many others (Ezek. 38:1-6 NLT).
In the Ezekiel prophecy we learn of God’s supernatural destruction of the invading forces.
I will summon the sword against you on all the hills of Israel, says the Sovereign Lord. Your men will turn their swords against each other. I will punish you and your armies with disease and bloodshed; I will send torrential rain, hailstones, fire, and burning sulfur (Ezek. 38:21-22 NLT).
Son of man, prophesy against Gog. Give him this message from the Sovereign Lord: I am your enemy, O Gog, ruler of the nations of Meshech and Tubal. I will turn you around and drive you toward the mountains of Israel, bringing you from the distant north. I will knock the bow from your left hand and the arrows from your right hand, and I will leave you helpless. You and your army and your allies will all die on the mountains. I will feed you to the vultures and wild animals. You will fall in the open fields, for I have spoken, says the Sovereign Lord. And I will rain down fire on Magog and on all your allies who live safely on the coasts. Then they will know that I am the Lord (Ezek. 39:1-6 NLT).
Genesis 38:23 describes the global response to God’s supernatural intervention:
In this way, I will show my greatness and holiness, and I will make myself known to all the nations of the world. Then they will know that I am the Lord.
God’s deliverance of Israel would cause all people in the world to recognize His greatness, holiness, supremacy, and sovereignty.
May they know that you alone—whose name is the Lord—are the Most High over the whole earth (Ps. 83:18).
God has promised to protect Israel.
Keep my Sabbaths and revere my sanctuary; I am the Lord.
“If you follow my statutes and faithfully observe my commands, I will give you rain at the right time, and the land will yield its produce, and the trees of the field will bear their fruit. Your threshing will continue until grape harvest, and the grape harvest will continue until sowing time; you will have plenty of food to eat and live securely in your land. I will give peace to the land, and you will lie down with nothing to frighten you. I will remove dangerous animals from the land, and no sword will pass through your land (Lev. 26:2-6).
The Jewish people have experienced severe discipline from God because of their spiritual rebellion and unbelief. But His covenant cannot and will not be set aside since His covenant with Israel is eternal, unconditional, and unbreakable.
This is what the Lord says: The one who gives the sun for light by day, the fixed order of moon and stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea and makes its waves roar—the Lord of Armies is his name: If this fixed order departs from before me—this is the Lord’s declaration—only then will Israel’s descendants cease to be a nation before me forever. “This is what the Lord says: Only if the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth below explored, will I reject all of Israel’s descendants because of all they have done—this is the Lord’s declaration (Jer. 31:35-37).
The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: “This is what the Lord says: If you can break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night so that day and night cease to come at their regular time, then also my covenant with my servant David may be broken. If that could happen, then he would not have a son reigning on his throne and the Levitical priests would not be my ministers (Jer. 33:19-21).
When Christ returns and establishes His kingdom, He will remove the hatred and enmity between the Muslims and the Jews. The Jews will be reconciled to God and live peacefully in the land He had given them.
Distribute the land as an allotment for yourselves and for the foreigners who have joined you and are raising their families among you. They will be like native-born Israelites to you and will receive an allotment among the tribes. These foreigners are to be given land within the territory of the tribe with whom they now live. I, the Sovereign Lord, have spoken (Ezek. 47:22-23 NLT).
Charles H. Dyer with Eva Rydelnik state that,
“The land will be divided among the tribes of Israel… by lot for an inheritance. There is also a stipulation for allotting land to resident aliens who want to associate with Israel. When these resident aliens have lived in the land, stayed in your midst, and had sons as part of the community, they shall be to you as the native-born among the sons of Israel and be given an inheritance within the tribe where they lived.
Though foreigners had always been allowed to live in Israel (cf. Lv 24:22; Nm 15:29), in the millennium they will be given other privileges previously limited to Israelites (cf. Isa 56:3-8). Though the millennial age will be a time of blessing for Jewish followers of Messiah, Gentile followers of Messiah will also enjoy God’s blessing (cf. Isa 9:2; Lk 2:32; Mt 25:31-46).”4
The Promised Land will be allotted to each of the twelve tribes of Israel. In the Millennium, the alien (including Arabs) will be given land within the territory of the tribe with whom they now live.
The hatred between them will be removed and the whole world (yes, including the Middle East) will experience genuine and lasting peace with King Jesus ruling on earth from the throne of David in Jerusalem.
The Current Hostility between Muslims and Jews
The hatred of Jews will continue to burn in the hearts of many Muslim until the prophecies of the future millennial kingdom are fulfilled. The ancient hatred of Jews reached a low point when Mohammed established his new religion in the seventh century. Because the Jews around Mecca refused to forsake Judaism and embrace Islam, Mohammad declared that the Jews were enemies of Allah and sought to force them to submit to Islam or die.
From that point on, Muslims have remained committed to achieving victory over the Jews whenever they encounter them. With the rebirth of Israel in 1948, the hatred has only been intensified. Today, the Arab nations surrounding the Jewish state and the Palestinians who live in Israel or in the West Bank and Gaza, know that they cannot defeat Israel militarily.
Those who hate Israel know that only an Islamic confederation with a strong and powerful ally, which the Bible identifies as Russia, and with the ability to leverage that ally’s advanced military technology and sizeable military force, will enable the Arab nations to achieve their goal, the conquest of Jerusalem and the elimination of the Jews from the Middle East.
1 Grant R. Jeffrey, The Next World War (Colorado Springs, CO: WaterBrook Press, 2006), p. 9.
2 Kenneth O. Gangel and Stephen Bramer, Holman Old Testament Commentary – Genesis (© 2002 B&H Publishing Group. Database © 2013 WORDsearch), p. 186.
3 In the “Islamic Terrorism” chapter of his book, What In The World Is Going On, David Jeremiah writes of the hatred that Islam has for the Jews (and Christians) and documents a sermon delivered by Sheikh Ibrahim Mdaires at a mosque in the Gaza Strip that was broadcast live to the Arab world and circulated around the world.
4 Charles H. Dyer with Eva Rydelnik, “Ezekiel,” in The Moody Bible Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 2014), p. 1277.
Copyright © 2006–2021 by Miguel J. Gonzalez Th.D.
Dr. Miguel J. Gonzalez is the Founder and President of Reasons for Faith International Ministries. He served as a pastor for ten years in Charlotte, NC and has taught in churches and conferences throughout the United States. He currently hosts the Time in the Word and Truth To Live By podcasts and writes at KnowingChristianity.blogspot.com.
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