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The Muslim Question Revisited (3)

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In Part 2 of this series we focused on a dynamic conversation in the wilderness between “the Angel of the Lord” and Hagar the Egyptian after she fled from her mistress Sarah because strife had developed between the two women. The Angel told Hagar that her child would be named “Ishmael,” which means, “the Lord hears,” and that He would “multiply” her “descendants exceedingly” (Genesis 16:9-11). Thus we concluded that God would somehow be involved in Ishmael’s life, and in the lives of his descendants (the Arabs), in spite of their flaws.

Significantly, “the Angel of the Lord” also predicted about Ishmael,

He shall be a wild man;
His hand shall be against every man,
And every man’s hand against him.
And he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren (Genesis 16:12)

“There’s a Muslim for you!” people often say, “They’re all wild and violent.”

Let’s discuss this. First, what the angel said about Ishmael was undoubtedly true, for God said it. Ishmael indeed had a “wild” side, and so do many of his descendants. But did the word “wild” apply to every aspect of Ishmael’s life? And is it fair to apply such a turbulent disposition to all Arabs? How about to all Muslims?

Personally, I no longer think so.

Based on Genesis 16:9-12, it seems that Ishmael himself would have two sides to his character. First, he would have a spiritual, or “God side,” which his name would bear witness to. But he would have a darker, “anti-God side” too, one that would literally drive him to be “against every man.” Based on verses 11 and 12, it seems that these two sides would clash within Ishmael himself, in the same way that a similar conflict now rages between God and the Devil over every man’s soul. And because verse 10 concerns not only Ishmael himself, but his “descendants” too, it makes sense that both the “God side” and the “wild side” would clash within Ishmael’s offspring throughout history.

I will develop these points more extensively when we later examine the book of Revelation, the 5th and 6th trumpets, the “third woe,” the September 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, and Earth’s final days.

But we have more to do first.

Obeying the angel, Hagar journeyed back to Abram’s desert camp, and a few months later, her baby was born. The record simply states: “Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram” (see Genesis 16:16).

Thirteen years passed, during which time Ishmael advanced from babyhood, to boyhood, to youthful manhood. It’s vital to realize that during this entire 13-year period, everyone within Abram’s camp, including the old man himself, fully believed that young Ishmael was the child of promise. And Abram was a good father too, for the Lord later said of him,

For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him (Genesis 18:19, KJV, emphasis added).

Yes, Abram was a good dad, and because Ishmael was his only child for thirteen long years, he must have given him a strong moral foundation. Not only that, but in the above verse God Himself testifies that Abram’s children would “keep the way of the Lord.” According to the text, Ishmael also must have kept “the way of the Lord,” at least sometimes.

Now let’s zero in on Genesis 17. Whether you realize it or not, that chapter is pivotal to the entire biblical story, and even to world history. It also has far reaching implications that affect all Arabs, all Jews, all Christians, and everyone else. It’s also highly controversial, and must be studied carefully. If we fail to discern its message correctly, or misinterpret its statements, the result could be disastrous.

So let’s tackle some of it, with God’s help.

When Abram was 99 years old, and when Ishmael was thirteen, the Lord appeared again to the elderly patriarch. “Then Abram fell on his face: and God talked to him” (Genesis 17:3). Significantly, one of the first things God did during this encounter was to change Abram’s name. “No longer shall your name be called Abram,” the Almighty informed His servant, “but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you a father of many nations” (verse 5).

Let’s stop right here. Abram’s new name, “Abraham,” literally means, “father of a multitude.” God also explained the meaning of that name when He further elaborated, “for I have made you a father of many nations.” When we look at history – from a strictly genealogical perspective (we’ll discuss the “faith perspective” later) – Abraham became exactly what the Lord predicted, a father of many nations. The descendants of his firstborn son, Ishmael, are the Arabs, and the descendants of his second son, Isaac, are the Jews. Now don’t miss this key point: Abraham is the father of both groups, and the fact that God expanded Abram’s name to “Abraham” and then said that he would be “a father of many nations” strongly implies that He recognized this.

Then in the very next verse, the Lord told Abraham,

And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you (Genesis 17:7).

One of the hottest questions of all is: Is this “covenant,” which God said would make with Abraham and his “descendants,” available to both groups (that is, to both Arabs and Jews), or to only one group? Personally, it seems to me now that it is at least available to both groups, especially considering the fact that Abraham had just been given a new name that meant “father of many nations,” and because at the time when God first announced this, Abraham’s only son was Ishmael. If this is the case, then the Lord’s offer to “be God” to Abraham and his “descendants” means that He longs to “be God” to both Jews and Arabs.

The apostle Paul (a staunch Jew) later inquired, “is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also the God of the Gentiles?” (Romans 3:29) Notice his answer: “Yes, of the Gentiles also” (verse 29). Thus, although the Bible often identifies God as “the God of Israel” (see Joshua 24:2), to state that He is “the God of the Jews only” is not correct. Paul, the Jew, said He is the God of non-Jews too.

Whatever you think of the term “Allah,” the fact is that Paul himself stated that the God of the Bible is the God of both Jews and Gentiles, which would include the Arab world also.

Truly, the Lord is bigger than our small minds can grasp.

To be continued…

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