Enmity and Reconciliation
25 February 2010
At this point, I think it would be very beneficial to take a look at the root causes of the Israeli-Arab conflict. I believe that in looking at what the Bible has to say about this issue, we will have a clearer understanding of history, as well as the events unfolding today, and in the coming years.
The obvious place to start is with Abraham, the father of both the Jews (through Isaac) and the Arabs (through Ishmael). As recorded in Genesis chapter 17, God told him:
"As for Me, this is My covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish My covenant as an everlasting covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God." (verses 4,6-8)
Of course, the Arabs will say that this promise belongs to them too, as descendants of Abraham, so that they have just as much right to the land of Israel as the Jews do. But God goes on to say that Abraham's wife Sarah, who was childless up to that point, would have a son, and she would have the same distinction as Abraham in that "she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her." (verse 16)
When Abraham hears this, he realizes that the covenant will continue through Sarah's son, NOT through his existing son Ishmael, whom Abraham fathered through Sarah's Egyptian servant. And Abraham said to God, "If only Ishmael might live under Your blessing!" (verse 18)
So God has to address this sibling rivalry between Isaac and Ishmael, even before Isaac is born!
Then God said, "Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish My covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year." (verses 19-21)
So, as we see in Genesis 17, God establishes a covenant, which included the whole land of Canaan as an everlasting possession, with Abraham, and then immediately confirms that it will continue through Isaac (from whom came the Jews), and NOT through Ishmael (from whom came the Arabs). But once Isaac was actually born, things started to go downhill fast:
On the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. But Sarah saw that Ishmael, whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham, was mocking, and she said to Abraham, "Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac." The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son. 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. I will make Ishmael, the son of the maidservant, into a nation also, because he is your offspring." Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. God was with Ishmael as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer. (Genesis 21:8-14,20)
In Genesis chapter 25 we gain further insight. After Sarah dies, Abraham married another wife, Keturah, who bore him six more sons. Then it says:
Abraham left everything he owned to Isaac. But while he was still living, he gave gifts to the sons of his concubines and sent them away from his son Isaac to the land of the east. Ishmael's descendants lived in open hostility toward all their relatives. (verses 5,6,18)
This last sentence confirms the prophecy that the angel of Yahweh gave to Hagar, Ishmael's mother, while Ishmael was still in the womb:
"This son of yours will be a wild man, as untamed as a wild donkey! He will raise his fist against everyone, and everyone will be against him. Yes, he will live in open hostility against all his relatives." (Genesis 16:12)
Wow! When you look at how the Arabs are living today (and throughout history), you can see how completely appropriate and accurate this description is!
So, let's wrap up the story of Abraham, Isaac and Ishmael. It seems to me that Ishmael's wildness, anger, violence and hostility have their sources in these two issues:
  • Abraham's rejection of Ishmael; although Abraham loved him, he sent Ishmael away from him to live in another land.
  • God's rejection of Ishmael for His covenant plans, even though He still loved Ishmael as a person and blessed him and his descendants.
I believe that these two rejections which Ishmael experienced wounded him so deeply that they have had a major influence on shaping the ethnic and cultural identity of the Arabs up to this very day.
Of course, the Qur'an (which was demonically inspired, as we discussed in a previous article) puts a totally different spin on the Biblical account. In the Qur'an, it's Ishmael that Abraham is asked to sacrifice, not Isaac. And of course Abraham and Isaac (as well as all of the other characters from the Bible) are described as good Muslims and followers of Allah!
I don't want to go into all the falsehoods of the Qur'anic account here ... follow my advice in my previous article and get your own copy of the Qur'an. Then you can look up Surah 37:100-107 and 2:125-127 and read the text, and the vital commentary notes (which are not included in the online version), yourself.
Now we continue with the second part of the story, which is remarkably similar to the first part, seeing that it involved a father, a childless wife, and two sons. After Isaac pleaded with Yahweh on behalf of his wife, because she was unable to have children, Yahweh answered Isaac's prayer, and Rebekah became pregnant with twins. (Genesis 25:21) Then God told her:
"The sons in your womb will become two nations. From the very beginning, the two nations will be rivals. One nation will be stronger than the other; and your older son [Esau] will serve your younger son [Jacob/Israel]." (Genesis 25:23)
It's a long story, told in the following chapters. Eventually Isaac is very old and thinks he is about to die. So he wants to bless Esau his firstborn. But Jacob disguises himself as Esau, and receives this blessing from Isaac:
"May many nations become your servants, and may they bow down to you. May you be the master over your brothers, and may your mother's sons bow down to you. All who curse you will be cursed, and all who bless you will be blessed." (Genesis 27:29)
Esau comes to his father right after Jacob sneaks out. When Esau finds out that his brother stole his blessing from him, he exclaimed:
"Jacob has cheated me twice. First he took my rights as the firstborn, and now he has stolen my blessing. Oh, haven't you saved even one blessing for me?" (Genesis 27:36)
Isaac says to Esau:
"I blessed Jacob just before you came. And indeed, he will be blessed! Your brother was here, and he tricked me. He has taken away your blessing. I have made Jacob your master and have declared that all his brothers will be his servants. I have guaranteed him an abundance of grain and wine — what is left for me to give you, my son? You will live away from the richness of the earth, and away from the dew of the heaven above. You will live by your sword, and you will serve your brother. But when you decide to break free, you will shake his yoke from your neck." (Genesis 27:33,35,37,39,40)
And now, in Esau's response to this turn of events, we have the first recorded statement of anti-Semitism:
From that time on, Esau hated Jacob because their father had given Jacob the blessing. And Esau began to scheme: "I will soon be mourning my father's death. Then I will kill my brother Jacob." (Genesis 27:41)
And so it is today: the Arabs hate the Jews, and one of the reasons is because the Jews have the Father's blessing. For Esau, like his uncle Ishmael and his other uncles, the sons of Keturah, moved to the lands of the east, which are Arab countries today. Also Esau married one of his cousins, a daughter of Ishmael, which also places his descendants within the Arab fold. And because of the Arabic beginnings of Islam, this poisonous hate of the Jews, which started with Ishmael and continued with Esau, has become a common passion of Muslims, whether they are ethnic Arabs or not.
After the big scene with Jacob and Esau in Genesis 27, in chapter 28 we find Isaac confirming the blessing and the covenant with Jacob:
May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and increase your numbers until you become a community of peoples. May He give you and your descendants the blessing given to Abraham, so that you may take possession of the land where you now live as an alien, the land God gave to Abraham. (Genesis 28:3-4)
Right after this, as Jacob is traveling to his mother's side of the family to live with them for a while (and escape the wrath of his brother), God appears to him and reconfirms the covenant with him:
"I am Yahweh, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring." (Genesis 28:13-14)
Then many years later, in chapter 35, God came to Jacob again:
God appeared to him again and blessed him. God said to him, "Your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel." So He named him Israel. And God said to him, "I am God Almighty; be fruitful and increase in number. A nation and a community of nations will come from you, and kings will come from your body. The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you." (Genesis 35:9-12)
Here we can see very clearly that God gave the Land of Israel to Israel (Jacob) and the descendants of Israel, the Jews, and NOT to the Arabs. The allotted living places for the Arabs were the lands to the east of Israel, as recounted in the texts above.
Then again, many more years later, when Joseph, the son of Jacob, was about to die, he said to his brothers, all of them living in the land of Egypt:
"God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob." (Genesis 50:24)
Even in the Qur'an it says: "And We said thereafter to the Children of Israel, 'Dwell securely in the land of promise.'" (Surah 17:104) And the note/commentary for that verse says: "The Israelites were taken to the Promised Land in Palestine, and they established their own kingdom there." (note 2313)
Later on in the Bible, we see the fulfillment of the prophecy Isaac spoke when he gave Esau the secondary blessing ("You will serve your brother, but when you decide to break free, you will shake his yoke from your neck."): First, King David defeats the Edomites (descendants of Esau), and they became subject to Israel (2 Samuel 8:11-14). Then many, many years later they rebelled against Jewish rule and remained independent (2 Kings 8:20-22).
There are some interesting references to Esau/Edom in the prophetic books of the Bible. For example, the entire book of Obadiah (only one chapter long!) deals with the descendants of Esau. God says that He is going to completely destroy them...
Because of the violence you did to your close relatives in Israel ... you stood aloof, refusing to help them ... you acted like one of Israel's enemies ... gloating over their exile ... rejoicing in their misfortune ... plundering the land of Israel ... seizing their wealth ... killing those who tried to escape ... capturing them and handing them over.
Then God tells them:
"As you have done to Israel, so it will be done to you. All your evil deeds will fall back on your own heads. The people of Israel will be a raging fire, and Edom a field of dry stubble. The descendants of Joseph will be a flame roaring across the field, devouring everything. There will be no survivors in Edom. I, Yahweh, have spoken! (Obadiah 1:15,18)
Then there is this intriguing passage from the prophet Malachi:
"I have always loved you," says Yahweh.
But you [the Jews] retort, "Really? How have You loved us?"
And Yahweh replies, "This is how I showed My love for you: I loved your ancestor Jacob, but I rejected his brother, Esau, and devastated his hill country. I turned Esau's inheritance into a desert for jackals."
Esau's descendants in Edom may say, "We have been shattered, but we will rebuild the ruins."
But Yahweh of Heaven's Armies replies, "They may try to rebuild, but I will demolish them again. Their country will be known as 'The Land Of Wickedness,' and their people will be called 'The People With Whom Yahweh Is Forever Angry.' When you see the destruction for yourselves, you will say, 'Truly, Yahweh's greatness reaches far beyond Israel's borders!'" (Malachi 1:2-5)
In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul comments on the events we have recounted in this article:
Being descendants of Abraham doesn't make them truly Abraham's children. For the Scriptures say, "Isaac is the son through whom your descendants will be counted," though Abraham had other children, too. This means that Abraham's physical descendants are not necessarily children of God. Only the children of the promise are considered to be Abraham's children. For God had promised, "I will return about this time next year, and Sarah will have a son."
This son was the Jewish ancestor Isaac. When he married Rebekah, she gave birth to twins. But before they were born, before they had done anything good or bad, she received a message from God. (This message shows that God chooses people according to His own purposes; He calls people, but not according to their good or bad works.) She was told, "Your older son will serve your younger son." In the words of the Scriptures, "I loved Jacob, but I rejected Esau." Are we saying, then, that God was unfair [for choosing Isaac instead of Ishmael, and Jacob instead of Esau]? Of course not! (Romans 9:7-14)
Then Paul goes on in the rest of the chapter to show that God is God, and He can choose whom He wills. Then he goes on to say: We [Christians] are among those whom He selected, both from the Jews and from the Gentiles [non-Jews]. (verse 24)
In a previous article, I already talked about what Paul writes about Ishmael and Isaac, and what they represent (see the last three paragraphs of that article). And in the book of Hebrews, Esau is mentioned as an example NOT to follow:
Keep a sharp eye out for weeds of bitter discontent. A thistle or two gone to seed can ruin a whole garden in no time. Watch out for the Esau syndrome: trading away God's lifelong gift in order to satisfy a short-term appetite. You well know how Esau later regretted that impulsive act and wanted God's blessing — but by then it was too late, tears or no tears. (Hebrews 12:15-17, The Message)
OK ... we have finished exploring the natural and spiritual roots of the Israeli-Arab conflict. So now the natural question would be: "What can be done about it? What can be done to bring reconciliation between Jews and Arabs ... between Jews and Muslims?"
A quick look along the road of recent history will show it littered with the broken remains of this and that "peace initiative". From the United Nations plan to partition the Land of Israel into Jewish and Arab sections in 1947, to the ceasefire agreements between Israel and her hostile neighbors in 1949, 1956, 1967, and 1973, to the Oslo peace process in the 1990's and the "road map for peace" in the opening decade of 2000 that has led to a dead end. Peace between Jews and Arabs is as remote as ever, with storm clouds of a major Middle East conflict thickening on the horizon, and the Arabs tightening the noose all around Israel's borders.
Is there no hope at all? In the natural, there is no hope. In human efforts to find a human solution with human reasoning, there is absolutely NO hope! Apart from God, there is NO hope! So what hope is there in God?
Well, there is only ONE WAY in the entire universe that the Jews and the Arabs will be reconciled. So what is the secret formula? It's found in the writings of the Apostle Paul:
For Messiah Himself is our peace [shalom,salaam], Who has made the two sides one, and through His sacrificial death has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility and enmity. Instead of continuing with two groups of people separated by centuries of animosity and suspicion, He created a new kind of human being, a fresh start for everybody. Messiah reconciled both groups to God, and to each other, through His death on the cross, thereby killing the mutual enmity and bringing the feud to an end. (Ephesians 2:14-16, various translations)
There you have it — God's road map to peace! When Jews and Arabs surrender their lives to the Messiah, Yeshua (Jesus, Isa in Arabic), then, and only then, is peace between them possible. Jews and Arabs kneeling together at the foot of the cross, receiving forgiveness of sins from Yeshua, and extending forgiveness to each other. THIS is the new kind of human being mentioned in the text above: a follower, a disciple, of Yeshua, the Prince of Peace.

You might also like to read these follow-up article: