In October of 2008, White Horse Media produced a 13-part television series called Islam Revisited to challenge Christians to think more thoughtfully about sharing Jesus Christ was the world’s 1.4 billion Muslims. Shortly thereafter, I began writing this series posts for Wisconsin Christian News, a Christian magazine. The response to both projects has been interesting. On one hand, I’ve received hostile letters from readers and viewers deriding me for being so “Muslim friendly.” “You’re in bed with snakes,” snarled one WCN reader. On the other hand, we have received great encouragement from a different sort of folks. “I’ve been watching Revisiting Islam,” wrote one man. “I worked with Muslims,” he went on to explain, “and they were wonderful people. A glorious outreach. God’s Blessings! Rodger.”
Which group are you in?
Let’s continue our foundation focus from the book of Genesis. Winston Churchill once commented, “The farther backward we look, the farther forward we can see.” Surely this is true when it comes to the topic of Arabs, Muslims, and Jews.
In Genesis 17:7, God promised Abraham that He would make a special “covenant” with him and his descendants. In verses 9-13, the Lord specifically identifies “the sign” of this “covenant”:
And God said to Abraham…This is My covenant which you shall keep…Every male child among you shall be circumcised… and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised…and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant” (Genesis 17:9-13).
Thus the “sign” of God’s covenant (verse 11) was circumcision. In this light, it is vital to realize that right after Abraham received this counsel, and before Isaac was even conceived, guess who was among the very first to feel the knife on his foreskin? If you guessed “Ishmael,” you deserve an A+, for this is exactly what the Bible says.
So Abraham took Ishmael his son, all who were born in his house and all who were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house, and circumcised the flesh of their foreskins that very same day, as God had said to him. Abraham was ninety-nine years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. That very same day Abraham was circumcised, and his son Ishmael; and all the men of his house, born in the house or bought with money from a foreigner, were circumcised with him (Genesis 17:23-26).
These verses state three times that Abraham circumcised Ishmael. Apparently, the Holy Spirit wanted to make sure that we didn’t miss this point. And when you compare Genesis 17:7 (which contains God’s original offer to establish His “everlasting covenant” with both Abraham and his descendants) with verses 9-13 (which plainly identifies “circumcision” as the “sign” of that “covenant”), then it is irrefutably clear that 13-year-old Ishmael was brought under the umbrella of God’s covenant too; that is, if words mean anything at all. This is not stretching facts, but stating them, according to the Scriptures.
Now let’s focus on Isaac.
Immediately after God first spoke to Abraham about circumcision, He then gave the old man the shock of his life.
Then God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. And I will bless her and also give you a son by her; then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall be from her” (Genesis 17:15, 16).
What! Abraham thought to himself, Sarai… have a baby… in her old age? He couldn’t imagine it. Yet it was destined to occur, for God Almighty predicted it. In the same breath the Lord changed Sarai’s name, just like he previously changed her husband’s name. She was now to be called “Sarah,” which literally means, “princess,” in spite of her wrinkles, grey hair, and sagging figure. She would be “a mother of nations” too.
As the full force of this revelation hit him, Abraham’s eyes grew wide with amazement. The mother of God’s promised child will be Sarah, not Hagar! At that exact moment thirteen joyful years of raising Ishmael must have flashed before his aging vision. Reeling with confusion, his fatherly heart blurted out, “Oh, that Ishmael might live before you!” (Genesis 17:18) But God was firm and refused to change His mind.
Then the Lord responded unequivocally,
“No, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him” (Genesis 17:19).
It is because of this statement that many think that God has categorically excluded both Ishmael and his descendants from His covenant, and from His promises. But as we have already seen, this isn’t true, for the simple fact that Abraham circumcised Ishmael too, which brought him under the “sign of the covenant.” Yet we must clarify that there definitely is a major difference between the birth of Ishmael, and that of Isaac. Ishmael was born because Abram and Sarai set out to help God fulfill His own promises. But the Lord didn’t need any earthly assistance. What He promises, He can perform; that is, as long as men trust Him to do it.
There’s a deep spiritual lesson here. In a parabolic sense, Ishmael’s natural birth represents man impatiently performing his own works , whereas Isaac’s supernatural birth represents God fulfilling His own word in His own time when man trusts Him to do it (Read carefully Galatians 4:22-31 and Romans 4:19-22).
But let’s clarify something right here. Both Ishmael and Isaac had the option of learning that lesson, or rejecting it. So do both of their descendants – to this very day. In other words, no matter which original father a person stems from (Ishmael or Isaac) people on both sides (Arabs and Jews) have the option of choosing either works or faith.
Sadly, throughout history, millions on both sides have chosen works, instead of faith. But not all. Even today, God has His people who trust Him among Jews and Arabs, even if they don’t understand everything.
Remember, it took Abraham a long time to get things straight.
To be continued…