Abraham was 75 years old when God called him, about 80 when
God promised him a son, 86 when Ishmael was born (Gen. 16:16) and 100 at the time of Isaac’s birth. (Gen.
21:5) This made Ishmael 14 years older than Isaac, and about 16 or 17 when
Isaac was weaned. When he made fun of Isaac, Sarah demanded that Abraham get rid
That snapshot seems to set the tone for our understanding of
Ishmael. God had told Hagar that her son would be a “wild ass” of a man with his
hand against every man and every man’s hand against him. (Gen.
16:12) He was bigger, stronger, and older than his helpless baby brother,
and yet he thought it sport to mock him.
We can imagine that the jealousy between Sarah and Hagar had
its effect on Ishmael and served to frame his view of Isaac from the beginning.
And it doesn’t take too much of a stretch to believe that Ishmael was told
repeatedly that Isaac was God’s choice to become Abraham’s heir although Ishmael
was the first born and, at least in his opinion, the rightful heir. When Ishmael
and Hagar were sent away to fend for themselves the sense of abandonment likely
made it difficult for Ishmael to trust anyone for a long time. I can almost hear
him thinking that his life was a mistake, and wishing he had never been born. No
wonder he didn’t get along with anyone.
This feeling of being an unworthy outcast matured into a
resentment so strong that it permeated Ishmael’s very soul and from that day to
this the descendants of Ishmael have stood against the descendants of Isaac. His
anger had given the devil a foothold that grew into a stronghold so powerful
that it has lasted through all the generations since. All this happened because
Abraham and Sarah grew impatient with God and tried to fulfill His promise on
Once More, With Feeling
A generation later, Esau felt similarly disenfranchised by
Jacob’s manipulation of Isaac. This was the case even though Jacob only received
that which he had earlier purchased from Esau, who in a moment of extreme hunger
traded his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of stew as though it was a mere
trinket. Esau was so angry with his father, who refused to reverse the
transaction, that he did the one thing that he knew would hurt Isaac the most.
He married Malhalath, a daughter of Ishmael. (Gen. 28:8-9) How he and Ishmael must have railed against Abraham,
Isaac, and Jacob, who in two consecutive generations had humiliated them in the
matter of their presumed inheritance. Each recounting of the events added bricks
and mortar to the stronghold the devil was building in their minds.
It had been God’s plan all along for His promise to Abraham
to be fulfilled through Isaac in Jacob. When Sarah took matters into her own
hand after waiting impatiently for six years to give her husband an heir, God
promised to make Ishmael’s descendants into a great nation with 12 rulers just
as he had in mind for Jacob. “But,” He said, “My covenant I will establish with
Isaac.” (Gen. 17:20-21)
And Esau’s descendants were given land east of the Jordan River that the Israelites were not allowed to take
as their own. (Deut. 2:4-6) But
Ishmael didn’t inherit the covenant position and Esau didn’t get the Promised
Land, and to them what they received, though generous, probably seemed like 2nd
best. Far from encouraging them to forgive and forget, their anger was further
The land given to Esau became known as Edom because of
its spectacular red rock mountains and, until their rebellion against God,
Esau’s descendants thrived there. The final straw came when the Edomites took
advantage of God’s punishment of Israel during the Babylonian wars.
Thinking to finally get the coveted Promised Land, they sided with
Nebuchadnezzar and cut off the Jews’ escape from the Babylonian armies,
ambushing the fleeing Israelites and looting their homes. (Obadiah 1:10-14) As a result, Edom was destroyed to the last
person, and the Nabateans, another of Ishmael’s descendants, took their land.
We’ll Return After This
Israel’s 1900 year absence from the world
scene, the sons of Ishmael grew into the family of nations that God had
promised, but the hostility remained even though the Promised Land was seemingly
theirs for the taking. When Mohammed, a descendant of Ishmael’s, failed to
convert the Jews in the region to his new religion, he declared war against them
and the ancient hostility was born anew. All the old feelings of resentment were
re-kindled, and even though the armies of Islam embarked upon an era of conquest
that eventually took them all the way to eastern
France, they maintained a special hostility
toward the Jews.
And then the unimaginable happened. For the third time they
were required to step aside in favor of the sons of Israel. God was bringing His
people back to the land He had promised to Abraham so long ago. Never mind that
the land had been pretty much abandoned for much of the preceding 1900 years, it
had been Moslem land and now it was being given back to their sworn enemies, the
Jews. It violated their sense of ownership, tainted though it was, and it
violated the promise of their religion. Mohammed himself had told them that any
land conquered in the name of Allah would never be lost again to the infidels.
Of course by now the majority of Mohammed’s followers
weren’t sons of Ishmael, but Persians, Egyptians, Babylonians, and Assyrians, to
use their Biblical names. But their historical hatred of the Jews had been kept
alive through the religion they all shared in common. And most of the returning
Jews weren’t of the original 12 tribes but the descendants of Europeans who had
converted to Judaism over the centuries. Only a remnant of today’s Jews can
trace their ancestry to Jacob’s 12 sons. But it’s that remnant that validates
Israel’s claim under the Abrahamic covenant in God’s eyes.
Therefore, the wars of today aren’t between Ishmaelites and
Israelites, but between Moslems and Jews. The family feud has become a battle of
religions. Will the God of the Jews prevail, or will it be the god of Islam, for
they are not one and the same. The God who inhabits eternity created the land
and gave it to Abraham in an everlasting covenant. The god of this world had
taken it as his own and refuses to give it up. It’s the most hotly contested
piece of real estate in the entire universe, and the contest has both its origin
and its resolution in the spiritual realm, not in the assembly halls of human
So now we’ve come full circle. Ishmael, represented by the
Moslems, is older, bigger, and stronger, but Isaac, represented by the Jews, is
still the child of the promise. And as we’ll soon see, what God has promised, He
performs. Against all odds, Ishmael will once again be driven away, and God will
use the occasion to re-instate His ancient covenant with the children of Israel,
biological or not. It’s another giant signpost that the End of the Age is upon
us. You can almost hear the footsteps of the Messiah. 01-21-12