Loving Isaac & Ishmael
Within some Christian churches, the subject of Israel is as touchy as national politics.
Some ignore our Judeo-Christian roots and limit talks about their church position towards Israel in order to avoid confrontation, arguments, and departure of members. Some downright teach what is commonly referred to as replacement theology, taking Israel out of the picture and replacing her with the Church – whatever that means to us.
To Catholics, it may mean the Catholic Church only, and to Protestants, it may mean the universal Body of Christ has replaced Israel. Within this belief, the new testament has replaced the old and suddenly the “enlightenment we have through Jesus” is allowing us to see that God has done away with blessing Israel. This view has led to evil attempts at genocide like the Crusades and the Holocaust.
In my opinion, if one does not agree with God about His love for Israel and the Jewish people, this individual should not claim to be led by God’s Spirit for the Holy Spirit will not oppose Himself or reveal to people opposing interpretations of His Word.
To love God is to love His immediate family, Israel.
To love God is to love His immediate family, Israel. Then, it’s like our heart is opened and freed to love all people as a result, starting with his extended family.
Let me explain. When we fell in love, we wanted to know and understand our partner and her/his family so that we better understand who we fell in love with. We also want to join in partnership with our new spouse for example, and regardless of her/his relationship with their family, we come alongside to support and help. In the same way, the more someone loves Jesus, the more that person loves His family and wants to know about them, visit them, prays for their peace and prosperity in all areas of life, and seeks to see harmony and joy within. When we love Jesus, we love his family like ours, even if we feel they are imperfect. After all, can any one of us claim we have a perfect family in our own lives?
In Jesus’ family, there was this rift some time ago, between His brothers, sisters, and His cousins: the sons, and daughters of Abraham’s eldest, Ishmael. You may have heard of some unrest in the Middle East today, between the descendants of Isaac, Jacob, Esau, and Ishmael. But again, if we love our Savior, we must accept his family and pray for their unity and wellbeing. His family becomes ours through this marriage we call salvation, and our Bridegroom desires his Bride to feel at home amongst His relatives. ALL of them. The main issue I have seen is that Gentile Christians tend to “pick sides” between Jesus’ family members, assuming a new identity in the process.
What I have witnessed in my walk through Jewish-related ministry is that in many instances, when Gentiles come to the point of revelation where Israel is as important to them as it is to God, they make a significant change in their ministry focus towards blessing Israel and the Jewish people. We begin to give financially towards Israel-related ministries, perhaps visit the Land as a missionary or even on a tour; we write sermons, blogs, teachings, or books that reveal our newfound insight. We sometimes even replace our family traditions to Jewish ones, begin celebrating the Sabbath in a Jewish fashion, and observe Jewish feasts while putting down our own ancestors. We fight hard to own the Jewish customs and family heritage, forgetting our own past. It somewhat resembles an identity crisis or even identity theft.
Instead of owning our past and culture and repenting, we find it easier to attack our heritage, because it takes the negative associations far from us (or so we think). Sometimes being “woke” about Israel may lead us to attack everyone else, including his half-brother Ishmael.
Sometimes being “woke” about Israel may lead us to attack everyone else, including his half-brother Ishmael.
If we are led to the revelation about God’s heart for Israel yet dismiss His heart for Ishmael, we again neglect the Gospel and fail to see His love for all people in His family.
God did not only call us to love the select but everyone alike. Being after God’s heart is loving God, and loving others: starting with His family AND everyone else, for God so loved the world (John 3:16). Paul commands us to share the Gospel to the Jew first, but not to the Jew only: the goal of the Gospel is God’s eternal plan for all people.
The Gospel came through the Jews so that all nations may be blessed. It is Israel’s calling to be a light to the world; it is Ishmael and Gentile’s calling to be a light to the Jews, even if it means provoking Israel to jealousy by an intimate personal relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In this way, we are all working together for a common goal, and towards unity. We all understand Israel’s position and role in His-story and honor it, while working together out of Jerusalem and Judea, to reach the ends of the earth.
Our problems arise when we teach division and segregation, or mistake uniformity to mean individuality. We are meant to live out of our own particular identity whether Jew, Arab, Greek, Latino, or any other people group, and not try to become another. It is when we each embrace our uniqueness that we are able to serve one another in freedom. The Jew needs a Gentile to be a Gentile and the Gentile needs the Jew to be a Jew. When we degrade our own self (denying God’s goodness in creating us) and exalt another, we step into comparison which leads to envy and contempt.
I have heard preachers teach that Isaac was the rightful son of the promise and Ishmael the son of the curse. They say that because Abraham and Sarah took matters into their own hands in making Hagar sleep with Abraham and producing Ishmael, they stepped outside of God’s blessing and acted out of their own initiative, setting up an opposition to God’s blessing: Ishmael. They teach that this scenario has set up today’s turmoil in the Middle East and the sons of the promise are still fighting the sons of the curse. They teach division and prompt others to pick sides. What a twisted and awful interpretation of God’s love for Abraham and his sons! Nothing can be further from the Truth!
What I believe this has done is created Christians who believe we need to pick sides. In some churches and seminaries, there is an extreme prejudice and anti-Semitism being taught. In those congregations who have gotten the “Israel piece of the puzzle” we have seen much hatred towards Ishmael and teachings of segregation, based on the previous notion that Ishmael is cursed and remains the enemy of Israel.
Actually, Ishmael NEVER fought with Isaac in the Bible, aside from a spat when they were kids.
Actually, Ishmael NEVER fought with Isaac in the Bible, aside from a spat when they were kids. Ishmael and Isaac actually came together to bury their father, Abraham. God never intended for the brothers to live in disunity. Many centuries later, despite the enemy’s ploy to divide, most of the Middle Eastern, Asian, and African Arab children of Ishmael live peaceably with Israel. Although Satan wants the world to focus on dividing them (even in the Church), God’s plan for the brothers to dwell in unity WILL prevail. If anyone would like to study the Biblical enemies of Israel, the first place to begin would be with his twin brother with whom Jacob fought since the womb, Esau. He is the one the LORD spoke of hating, as Esau is generationally bent on harming Israel.
Another place we have seen division regarding Ishmael and Israel has been our modern universities. I cannot help but think that some of these kids grew up hearing about Israel and his unfortunate brother, Ishmael. When we have been taught that these people are “less than” or unworthy, even cursed” – we cannot help but feel they are a type of an underdog in the scenario. In which case, in this day when the younger generations are desiring to stand up and fight for the underdog and underprivileged, it is only normal and expected that they will choose to fight against Israel for the sake of Ishmael. Today, most Gentiles (and some Jews) identify with Ishmael’s story rather than Israel’s. Some of us grew up as illegitimate children, without a father, with separated or divorced parents, exiled to fend for ourselves while we watched those around us receive blessings. They seemed to thrive in a family unit while we starved for physical needs and even attention. It didn’t feel good and it took some healing to get past the hurts and choose to forgive and not blame others for being blessed. We had to change our own family line as much as we can by blessing our own children and those we have the privilege of meeting and doing life with.
Did Abraham and Sarah lean on their own understanding and try and create a child as they imagined it? Yes. But how many people on earth have done this to date? I bet there are more unplanned pregnancies than planned, around the globe. Did God not open Hagar’s womb and create Ishmael for He loved the child? Or did Ishmael come by surprise to His Maker? God could have terminated Hagar’s pregnancy and taken the child early, if He did not want him to live.
In Genesis 17, God promised to bless Abraham as a father of a multitude of nations. This came true when He multiplied not only Isaac but Ishmael as well. God answered Abraham when he pleaded for his son Ishmael’s life by also promising to bless Ishmael in multiplying him greatly, making him fruitful and a father of twelve princes and into a great nation. As Jacob has twelve sons, so did Ishmael. In essence, it is as if Ishmael and Jacob (not Isaac for this blessing skipped him due to Abraham’s hurried actions) received the multiplication and blessing for the nations – each in God’s planned way. God’s plan for salvation came through the Jews, and His plan for Jacob/Israel is irrevocable. BUT – Ishmael awaits to receive this blessing from his brother Israel. In a way, Israel is the oldest son who remained with the Father and Ishmael is the Prodigal for whom God waits to return home.
In a way, Israel is the oldest son who remained with the Father and Ishmael is the Prodigal for whom God waits to return home.
If we teach Ishmael is cursed because Abraham and Sarah took matters into their own hands in making Hagar sleep with Abraham and producing Ishmael, then we must also teach that anyone of us who took matters into our own hands and did not fully obey God in our lives is also cursed. Even still, if the blood of Jesus should cover our sins and if He became a curse for us through His death (Galatians 3:13-14) then He died for all and covered the sins of Abraham and Sarah, as well as the curse supposedly over Ishmael. Jesus’ blood covers Ishmael as the first fruit of the Gentiles circumcised into God’s family and also the rest of us, imperfect people. In other words, Ishmael is the first fruit, the tithe of the Gentiles unto God’s family, Israel. As Ishmael is grafted in, so are all the Gentiles.
In conclusion, it is as we expected: God loves all of His kids. He chose Israel to bring His promise through, to create a people to be a light to the nations, a people and place through which the Messiah will come to end sin and death for good. Through Israel, God planned to bless the world but allowed Ishmael to precede the birth of Isaac and become the first child circumcised into the faith of Abraham.
We cannot dismiss the significance of Ishmael as we await our Savior’s return. After all, Jesus’ first physical appearance to a person was to Hagar. It seems He wanted her to live. Therefore He helped her and her son, Ishmael, because Jesus always had plans for the child. The Gospel came to the Jew first and then the nations, beginning with Ishmael who was grafted in through circumcision before the plan was unveiled. But Ishmael is still awaiting to be redeemed through the blood of the Messiah Yeshua. The eyes of the Jewish people around the world are awaiting to be opened so they may realize that Yeshua is indeed the Messiah of Israel. Whether Jew or Gentile, our mission is to love others back to God.