Many people are confused and misinformed about the on-going tensions in the Middle East. What is all the fighting about? When did it all begin? When will it stop? Our media doesn’t help us understand the situation much either. Their biased reporting often confuses the situation more. How does the Bible explain what we see in current events? This week we’ll scratch the surface of a case of sibling rivalry that has the spanned centuries.
The Bible explains that the conflict between the Arabs and the Jews can be traced back to the sons of Abraham, Ishmael and Isaac. When Abraham and Sarah grew impatient to see the fulfillment of God’s promise, Sarah encouraged Abraham to father a child through her servant. Hagar conceived but it caused strife between her and Sarah. After being mistreated by Sarah, Hagar ran away and called out to God for help. When God came to her aid, He gave her this message concerning the child she would bear. He would be called Ishmael (God hears) and, “He will be a wild donkey of a man. His hand will be against everyone, and everyone’s hand will be against him; and he will live to the east of all his brothers” (Gen. 16:12). In other words, he won’t get along with anyone! However, God made it clear that Ishmael was not the child of the promise (Gen. 17:18-19).
When Isaac appeared the Bible tells us the promise was fulfilled (Gen. 17:19, 21:1). But God did not forget Ishmael. In Genesis 17:20 we read that God promises to bless Ishmael also. He too will become the father of a great nation made up of twelve princes. In Genesis 13 God promised the land of Canaan (now Israel) to Abraham and his descendants. The land that was east of the Promised Land (Syria, Jordan, Iran, Iraq, etc.) belonged to Ishmael's descendants (Gen. 16:12). But the blessings associated with the covenant established with Abraham are clearly passed on to Isaac (Gen. 17:21). At some point during their childhood a rift occurred between Ishmael and Isaac. In Genesis 21:9 Sarah notices Ishmael’s attitude of mockery and sees trouble ahead. Abraham is forced to exile Ishmael and Hagar. But the trouble did not go away and it has remained in the region ever since.
The strife and rivalry in the Middle East has grown beyond the proportions of two children arguing over inheritance rights. And it would be trite to reduce an explanation for all the unrest to this point only but it certainly has its origins here. There is also a spiritual battle which underlies these current events. It began at the Fall (Gen. 3:15) and will find its completion at some point in the future (Rev. 20:1-10, especially v. 4). It is worthwhile to keep this in mind when we attempt to understand what we see happening in this region of the world. Recent events are very promising but in the long run lasting peace will not come to the Middle East until the Eternal Kingdom (Rev. 21). However in the meantime, we must continue to pray for peace, both national and personal, within the Jewish and Arab people; and particularly for the city at the center of the storm, Jerusalem (Ps. 122:6-9).
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
https://www.annhlefevre.com; Olivetreeann@mail.com; https://www.linkedin.com/in/annhlefevre; https://www.facebook.com/ann.h.lefevre