The Story of Ishmael

Tonight, with the recent news about the death of Osama bin Laden, I thought that it would be appropriate to address the relationship between Islam, Christianity and Judaism. And I want to be sure that you understand that I am not trying to incite chaos or turmoil. Rather, I am interested in teaching the Scriptural account of these relationships. And while most of us know that there is animosity between Islam and the other major religions, most people don’t know how it came to be. So, here goes…

The story starts in Genesis 17, when God affirms his covenant with Abraham and promises him that he will be the father of many nations. Obviously, in order for this to happen, there had to be descendants to carry on the lineage. Abraham and Sarah were told by God that they would have a child, but Sarah thought she was too old to bear children. Consequently, Sarah sent her servant Hagar, a foreigner, to “lie” with Abraham, and Hagar became pregnant; ultimately, she gave birth to Abraham’s first child, Ishmael. Animosity developed between Sarah and Hagar; and finally, Abraham banished Hagar and her son, Ishmael, from the household. Hagar, banished from her home, ends up being told by God that her son Ishmael will be blessed with a nation, as Ishmael was a son of Abraham.

But God also clearly articulated that the blessing of the inheritance would come through the offspring of Abraham and Sarah; and as Sarah was already well beyond her childbearing years, God showed His miraculous ability to bless Abraham by providing them a son, Isaac. Isaac was the person who became the second Patriarch, and through his offspring, Jacob and Esau, we eventually are led to Joseph and his brothers; ultimately leading to Kind David and Christ. And since we all know that Christ reigns supreme, and is eternal, God fulfilled his promise to Abraham that he would become the father of many nations and that his descendants would, in reality through Christ, reign forever.

Of course, with the arrival of the earthly ministry of Christ, and the creation of His “church” as He told Peter in Matthew 16:18, many of the Jews eventually converted to Christianity. So, through Abraham, we have the Arab nations (through the line of Hagar), Jewish (through Abraham and Sarah themselves) and Christianity all tracing their roots to a common ancestor, Abraham. What an incredible story!

However, there are several sticking points depending on your viewpoint. While Christians and Jews trace their heritage through Isaac, technically Abraham’s second son, Islam stands firm that Ishmael was the oldest son, and was the true recipient of the blessing. In fact, Abraham and Ishmael were both circumcised on the same day, before Isaac, so this adds fuel to the argument that Ishmael is the true heir. But God, in a demonstration of His supreme power, many times passes over the eldest in favor of the second child to bestow His blessing. For example, Esau was older than Jacob, but Jacob received the blessing, and this has been demonstrated countless times throughout history and the Scripture. Also, many Muslims believe that Abraham wrongly banished Hagar and her son; but that God still blessed Ishmael, strengthening the argument of Ishmael’s legitimacy as the heir.

Clearly, Abraham and Sarah had been disobedient to God’s command when Abraham fathered Ishmael through Hagar. And God clearly indicated in Gen. 21:12 that the blessing would come through Isaac. The Bible states, “But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your maidservant. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” This does not sit too well with the opposition. Finally, in Gen. 25:18, we are told the final disposition of Ishmael’s family, “His descendants settled in the area from Havilah to Shur, near the border of Egypt, as you go toward Asshur. And they lived in hostility toward all their brothers.”

Did you read the last line? They lived in hostility – and that means toward all their bothers, including the twelve tribes and all their descendants, through today. So there you have it – a summary of the story of Ishmael and the tribes that descended from him. And, as an additional point of interest, there is no real reference to Ishmael’s life after this verse. However, the story continues with the lineage of Isaac and the generations of his family proceed toward the birth of Christ. It should be noted that the Arab nations believe that Ishmael was the ancestor of Mohammed, long considered a major prophet and founder of modern day Islam.

So my encouragement tonight is that God has a plan of succession. And we can’t control what God has in mind for the people of the earth. What we do know is that the family blessing bypassed Ishmael and his descendants. And this has obviously angered a segment of the world population for thousands of years. But this is not our call to change what God has decided. And my prayer is that we, as Christians, will remain faithful to the plans God has in place. And while we may not be able to embrace the tenets of Islam, perhaps this lesson will make it a little easier for you to understand why there is such hatred in the world for Christians and Jews alike from many members of the Islamic community. Not that Christians and Jews don’t have their own disagreements about the deity of Jesus Christ, but that’s another story….

Have a great day in the Lord.


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