The Muslim Question Revisited (6)
Part 5 in this series about Arabs, Jews, Jesus Christ, Islam and Bible prophecy found Hagar and Ishmael apparently forsaken by God and man and left to die in the desert. Their meager provisions had run out, Ishmael was weeping, and Hagar assumed they would both perish shortly. But the Lord had other plans. Marvelously, the Bible reports:
Then God opened her [Hagar’s] eyes, and she saw a well of water. And she went and filled the skin with water, and gave the lad a drink (Genesis 21:19, emphasis added).
The text says, “God opened her eyes,” showing divine enlightenment. As I ponder the Lord’s merciful act toward Hagar the Egyptian, the Holy Spirit strongly impresses me that this is what God longs to do today for every descendent of Ishmael, every descendant of Isaac, and also for every lost sinner. He wants to open all of our eyes and to lead us away from works, to faith in Him. Even more significantly, the verse informs us that after God opened Hagar’s eyes, “she saw a well of water.” The Nelson Study Bible comments:
God showed a well of water. How fitting that the promise of God would again be beside a provision of water (see 16:7, 14). Often in the pages of the Old Testament, a spring or well of water is a symbol of spiritual salvation as well as physical deliverance (see Is. 12:3; Jer. 2:13).1
Jesus Christ plainly used water as a symbol of salvation through faith in Him. In His conversation with a non-Jewish outcast Samaritan woman of ill-repute, “Jesus answered and said to her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, Give Me a drink, you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water'” (John 4:10, emphasis added). Christ Himself was that “living water,” which He freely offered to this thirsty soul.
Therefore when the Bible states that “God opened” Hagar’s eyes, and that He “showed” her “a well of water,” this could easily be illustrative of His ongoing desire to lead her, and her seed, away from works, to full salvation through faith in “the Savior of the world” (John 4:14).
The narrative in Genesis 21 about Hagar and Ishmael ends this way:
So God was with the lad; and he grew and dwelt in the wilderness, and became an archer. He dwelt in the Wilderness of Paran; and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt (Genesis 21:8-21).
Thus Hagar and her son didn’t perish after all. Instead, they lived on, as the Lord had promised. Eventually Ishmael fathered “twelve princes” (see Genesis 17:20; 25:12-18) whose descendants became the Arab world. We must ask, why “twelve”? Interestingly enough, Jacob had twelve sons too, which became the twelve tribes of Israel! The Nelson Study Bible comments:
As the Hebrew people would have twelve tribes, so Ishmael’s people would also have twelve families (25:12-18).2
Thus there seems to be some sort of providential orchestration behind the fact that both Ishmael’s line and Isaac’s line branched out into precisely “twelve” directions. Such a phenomena suggests a distinctly separate, and yet somewhat parallel history. Here’s the entire quote from Genesis 25:12-18:
Now this is the genealogy of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s maidservant, bore to Abraham. And these were the names of the sons of Ishmael, by their names, according to their generations: The firstborn of Ishmael, Nebajoth; then Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, Mishma, Dumah, Massa, Hadar, Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah. These were the sons of Ishmael and these were their names, by their towns and their settlements, twelve princes according to their nations. These were the years of the life of Ishmael: one hundred and thirty-seven years; and he breathed his last and died, and was gathered to his people. (They dwelt from Havilah as far as Shur, which is east of Egypt as you go toward Assyria.) He died in the presence of all his brethren (Genesis 25:12-18).
Notice that last sentence, “He died in the presence of all his brethren.” Remember the Angel of the Lord’s original prediction that Ishmael would be “a wild man”? His last words to Hagar were, “And he [Ishmael] shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren” (Genesis 16:12). Who were Ishmael’s “brethren”? The word “brethren” doesn’t apply to Ishmael’s relationship with his own twelve sons, but rather to his relationship to Isaac and his twelve sons. They were all “brethren,” which literally means “brothers.” Notice how The Nelson Study Bible applies this “brethren” concept not only to Ishmael and Isaac directly, but also to their descendants:
Ishmael and his descendants … would dwell in the presence of all his brethren. This has indeed been the case, for Ishmael’s descendants are the Arab peoples who populate most of the Middle East today. Very few of the peoples of the Old Testament world have survived to our own day…But two peoples survive: Israel, the Jewish people, descended from Isaac; and the Arabs, descended from Ishmael (see 17:19-22).3
According to this statement, the “two peoples” who are “brethren” or “brothers” are “the Jewish people, descended from Isaac; and the Arabs, descended from Ishmael.” “But Ishmael was a wild man,” some Jews might say, “and so are his descendants! It’s the Arabs fault we can’t get along, not ours!” Well…I’ll let the Lord be the judge of that. No doubt both groups have their faults; but my point is that, based on God’s Word, Israelites and Arabs are genealogical “brothers” still. We should also remember that Ishmael’s wild temperament is not the sum total of either the man, or his descendants. Don’t forget that Ishmael was also raised by Abraham himself, was given a name by God Himself, has a name which means, “The Lord hears,” and was also “blessed” by the great Creator of heaven and earth. While the Bible clearly reveals that the Lord worked most markedly in behalf of Isaac’s line (in the Exodus, the giving of the Ten Commandments, the history of Israel, etc), Ishmael’s line was not forsaken.
The truth is that throughout history God has been working with both lines, and He is working with both lines today, if we are willing to see His hand.
To be continued…
- Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1997). The Nelson study Bible : New King James Version. Includes index. (Ge 21:19). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.
- Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1997). The Nelson Study Bible : New King James Version. Includes index. (Ge 17:20). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.
- Ibid. (Ge 16:12).