Father Abraham had many sons,
Many sons had Father Abraham;
I am one of them, so are you;
So let’s all praise the Lord…
Sunday school kids enjoy singing the lively action song about “Father Abraham.” When we come to think of it, just about everybody wants, or claims, to be a child of Abraham! Jews certainly claim to be the biological children of Abraham. Many Arabs and Muslims certainly claim likewise, to have descended from Abraham. And Christians — whatever their race may be — also believe they are spiritual children of Abraham, as do Muslim converts from non-Arab nations.
Yet, wonder of wonders, why do all the people who claim to be children of Abraham disagree with each other, even — in parts — fighting each other, like mortal enemies? And very much it looks like the extremists in all the different camps of “Abraham’s children,” as never before, are now bringing this world closer on the brink of another world war!
How did it all start?
It all started when the LORD God of the Old Testament of the Hebrew Bible made a special deal with the “patriarch” Abram (meaning “exalted father”), before his name was changed to Abraham, as we will explain. [“Patriarch” simply means lead, chief or principal father.]
The story might well begin in Genesis 11, with the genealogy of one of Noah’s three sons who, with their wives, survived the Great Flood described in Genesis 6 through 8. Including Noah and his wife, altogether there were just “eight [human] souls” (1 Peter 3:20) that came out alive from that Flood. All human and animal life that took breath, except those that were on board the ark, had perished in the worldwide deluge.
From those “eight souls” came all the people who have lived on earth after the Flood until today — including you and me — and those who will be born and will live after our time.
Abram was born after nine generations from, and including, Shem — who apparently was the second of Noah’s three sons (Genesis 10:1, 21; 9:22, 24). Genesis 11:27-32 is a pithy summary of Abram’s life where he and his wife, Sarai, settled — in the Middle East area which historians have called “the fertile crescent.” That is the ancient area called the Mesopotamia, where the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers flow. Today the area is occupied, mainly, by the modern nations of Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq.
Abram and Sarai lived with Abram’s father Terah in “Ur of the Chaldeans.” Little is told in the Bible about what kind of life Abram lived while there. Pieces of archeological and other historical evidence are all that we have to give us a glimpse of life in Chaldea.
Then, for whatever reason, Terah decided to take Abram and his wife Sarai and his orphaned grandson Lot with him from Ur, with the intent to go to the land of Canaan. Could it be that, while in Ur, Terah believed the “God of glory” when He appeared to his son Abram, who was told, “Get out of your country and from your relatives, and come to a land that I will show you” (Genesis 11:31; Acts 7:2-3)? However, while in Haran, about midway to their target, Terah died.
Why God did it
Nothing is said in the next passages of Scripture as to why God made a mind-boggling deal with Abram, and not with another person. But projecting ourselves from that time to several centuries forward, we have this testimony from Scripture to go by: “…the LORD searches all hearts and understands all the intent of the thoughts” (1 Chronicles 28:9).
The apostle Peter acknowledged “God, who knows the heart” (Acts 15:5). The apostle John testified this of Jesus Christ: “He knew all men…He knew what was in man” (John 2:24-25). And, before His human birth, Jesus Christ was the LORD God of the Old Testament as many Scripture verses prove (for example, Hebrews 2:9; John 1:29). He was the LORD God who dealt with Abram. [See: The True Christ and “I Never Knew You!“]
Israel’s King David, a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22; 1 Samuel 16:1, 13), was in reverent awe of God’s thorough knowledge of his heart and thoughts. Psalm 139 is David’s paean to this “too wonderful” knowledge of God.
God had a “too wonderful” knowledge of Abram’s heart. God knew more than enough about what was in Abram’s heart to have had a good reason to choose to deal with Abram in a special way. [See: The Divine Prerogatives.]
Testing the heart
God not only knows the hearts of men. He also tests or tries the hearts of men. Psalm 8:9 says, “…the righteous God tests the hearts and minds” (see also Proverbs 17:3; Jeremiah 11:20; 1 Thessalonians 2:4). God knew what was in Abram’s heart from the start, but God wanted to test Abram to confirm what He already knew about Abram’s heart. David even asked God to try his heart and his thoughts so that he could be led from the wicked way to the righteous way that leads to everlasting life (Psalm 139:23-24).
Why does God need to confirm what is in man’s heart? Because God has given man “free moral agency” — freedom to choose for himself the way that he would or should go, whether to obey God or to disobey God by not doing what He commands or by doing the opposite of what He wants. If God had given us no choice, how can we say that we are “free?” God wants children who will obey Him willingly and cheerfully, delightedly — not “playthings” He can just twirl with His hand any which way He likes.
For example, God presented the children of Israel with the choice between, on the one hand, obeying the voice of the LORD their God, keeping His commandments and statutes, so that they — the Israelites — may live and be blessed; and, on the other hand, rejecting those commandments, with the sure prospect of them thereby perishing (Deuteronomy 30:10-20). God used “bread from heaven” — manna — to test the children of Israel, to see whether they would walk in His law or not (Deuteronomy 16:4-31).
Time and time again, the children of Israel forsook God’s law and word. In Jeremiah 6:10 God summarizes their attitude: “Behold, the word of the LORD is a reproach to them, they have no delight in it.” God seeks a genuine, deep-down “delight” in His law — much like the delight which the unnamed writer of Psalm 119 oozes with. One can feign “delight” in God and His Word while rejecting the plain — and often bitter, distasteful — truth God really means. (See, for example, Ezekiel 33:30-33.)
But God’s purpose for Israel will stand — God will eventually offer them salvation. In His own time, God will begin saving the children of Israel by giving them a “heart of flesh” in place of their “heart of stone,” a “new spirit” — that goes with God’s Spirit — to help them walk in His statutes and judgments (Ezekiel 36:26-27), and that willingly and delightedly, from the heart. [See: God’s Kingdom and Israel.]
Even after God will have given Israel the “heart” they do not have now — the heart that would fear God and keep all His commandments always (Deuteronomy 5:29) — they would still need to exercise their freewill — their freedom to choose — to accept God’s offer or not. God will not force His will on a person in such a way that the person loses control of his spirit and mind. [See: What Is This Thing Called “Will?”]
As the apostle Paul put it: “And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets” (1 Corinthians 14:32). That means that the prophets of God, like the rest of God’s people, exercise their own will. They have control over their will! God will not “will” things for them! God did not do that when He gave Adam and Eve the choice whether to eat or not eat the forbidden fruit. They freely ate that forbidden fruit by their own choice. [See: “Your Eyes Will Be Opened!”]
In contrast, the people whom Satan (like a “fowler,” Psalm 91:3) ensnares lose full control of their spirit, even their will, unless they are able to escape. As 2 Timothy 2:26 says, these people have “been taken captive by him [Satan] to do his will.” A “trapped” person has no freedom, no choice! Unless he escapes, somehow. [See: Are We All God’s Children?]
That’s how pernicious addictions to all manner of vices and evils, as egged on by Satan, are very difficult to overcome! Satan’s way is that of cruel bondage. The apostle Paul described Satan’s ways and thoughts as “strongholds” that will need to be “pulled down” before one can have the true knowledge of God (2 Corinthians 10:4-5). Paul also described this strong hold of sin in human beings as “the law of sin” or “the law of sin and death” in our bodily members, from which there is no escape except through Jesus Christ (Romans 7:21-8:2). [See: The Higher Law of the Spirit.]
God deals with His servants and people on the same basis or terms as with Gentiles or non-Israelites, at the time He has appointed for everyone (Romans 2:5-11). God indeed tests the hearts of all men. [See: Predestination.]
Abram’s first test
“Now the LORD had said to Abram” (Genesis 12:1). Here, we have to ask: How did Abram know that it was “the LORD” indeed who was talking to him? Did Abram have previous acquaintance with or knowledge of the LORD God of Noah? Some Bible students believe that the “righteous” line passed from Noah to Shem. Possibly, through Shem, the true knowledge of God was passed on to later generations, including Abram.
Abram could have known the LORD God through his immediate ancestors. Genesis 31:53 testifies, through Laban, that “The God of Abraham, the God of Nahor [either Abram’s grandfather or brother by the same name (Genesis 11:22, 26; 24:15, 29)], and the God of their father judge between us.” If the “father” mentioned in “God of their father” refers to the father of Abram and his brother Nahor, then the God of Abraham was also the God of their father Terah (Genesis 11:26), from whom Abram may have learned about the LORD.
Joshua 24:2, however, says that Terah and Nahor “served other gods.” It’s quite possible that their situation was like that of the people whom the Assyrian conquerors transplanted in Samaria in place of the people of the house of Israel, whom the Assyrians had carried away captive to other lands. As 2 Kings 17:33, 40 describes it: “They [the “transplants” in Samaria] feared the LORD [the God of Israel, the God of Abraham and of Isaac], yet served their own gods — according to the rituals of the nations from among whom they were carried away…these nations feared the LORD, yet served their carved images…”
However the real situation was, we have this testimony from the apostle Paul about God: “He did not leave Himself without witness” (Acts 14:17). Whatever witness there was from God to him, Abram would have had confidence that he was talking with a Supreme Being — much like Adam and Eve talked with their Creator in the Garden of Eden.
And now came the test upon Abram, much like how God tested Adam and Eve — whether they were going to obey or disobey His command about not eating the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil [see: “Your Eyes Will Be Opened!”]. We all know the story — and we’ve all lived, at one time or another, the kind of life our first parents ushered us into (Romans 5:12)!
In Abram’s case, this was the test: “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3).
And, unlike the Hollywood depiction of Abram’s attitude, Abram simply “…departed as the LORD had spoken to him…he departed from Haran” (Verse 4). Abram did not put up a violent protest, nor did he suspiciously, doubtingly or anxiously ask where God wanted him to go. Abram simply went. And he, with Sarai and Lot, reached the land of Canaan (Verse 5). Hebrews 11:8-9 declares that it was by faith that Abram went out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance, and he lived there. As he believed in God’s promise so Abram did what God told him to do. He passed God’s test!
Abram’s second test
Genesis 12:10-20 relates the story of a famine that occurred in Canaan, the land where Abram lived. This forced Abram and his companions to seek relief by going to Egypt where, obviously, there was food. While in Egypt, Abram lived a half-truth by making Egypt’s king Pharoah believe that Sarai was his sister. So Pharoah took her into his harem. But God did not allow Pharoah to touch Sarai. God plagued Pharoah’s household “with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife” (Verse 17).
And so the truth came out that Abram had lied to Pharoah about his true relationship with Sarai. This was one particular situation where Abram relied on his own reasoning instead of trusting in God to see him through. In what we might call God’s second test of Abram’s heart, Abram failed. But considering the fix Abram was in, God had mercy on him and let him get away and return to Canaan. God knew something in Abram’s heart that we mere humans could not have seen or known. God quickly forgave Abram.
The kind of people God calls
The apostle Paul declares what kind of people God calls to His divine purpose: “For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29).
Abram was all too human. He, like all of us, had feet of clay. He stumbled morally, not just once but several times! Yet God looked on Abram’s heart, and He kept dealing with him anyway, until He could finally confirm what was really in his heart. David put a finger on it: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite [humble, genuinely repentant] heart — these, O God, You will not despise” (Psalm 51:17). After all the tests God allowed him to go through, Abram proved his faith and trust in God — and his repentance — to be true. God forgave Abram and finally gave him His unconditional, irrevocable promise.
God has dealt the same way with frail human beings whom He called to His purpose down through the ages.
- Noah built the ark as God told him to, but later he got drunk (Genesis 6-9). God knew what was in Noah’s heart, and Noah is among those in the “faith hall of fame” (Hebrews 11:7).
- Moses hesitated when God told him to go back to Egypt and get His people out of there, but Moses went anyway, and God did great wonders by Moses’ hands to deliver His people (Exodus 1-15). God’s many tests on the complaining and hard-headed children of Israel caused Moses to “burn out” so that he committed the one sin that kept him from setting foot on the Land of Promise (Exodus 15-22; Numbers 20:1-13). But God knew what was in the heart of Moses. Moses is also among those men and women of faith who will be in God’s kingdom (Hebrews 11:23-29). In fact, as shown in a vision of Jesus coming into His kingdom, the resurrected Moses will sit on either the left or the right hand of Jesus’ throne (Matthew 16:28-17:9). What a great honor!
- David was famously “a man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22, etc.). He had deep and abiding faith in God, yet how David morally fell big time (2 Samuel 11-12, 24)! God knew what kind of heart David had — “a broken and contrite heart” that God was pleased with (Psalm 51:17). Not only will David be in God’s kingdom; after the resurrection at Christ’s return to set up God’s kingdom on earth, David will be king, forever, over all the tribes of Israel under Jesus Christ as King of Kings (Hebrews 11:32; Ezekiel 34:23; 37:21-25).
- A spiritual giant that he was, the apostle Paul continually struggled with “the law of sin and death” in his bodily members which battled against, and won over, the “law of [his] mind.” He felt miserable and wretched but was thankful that he had sure recourse to Christ to deliver him from his dilemma (Romans 7:14-25)! Paul was confident that “a crown of righteousness” [which equates with everlasting life (James 1:12; Revelation 2:10)] awaits him at Christ’s return (2 Timothy 4:8).
- The apostle Peter was a diamond in the rough when Jesus drafted him into His inner circle of disciples. Peter was a bumbling man who often had his foot in his mouth. But Jesus saw the diamond in Peter’s heart. Peter had the rare privilege, together with James and John, to see [in a vision] Jesus “transfigured” — to look as He would when He comes into His kingdom (Matthew 16:28; 17:1-9). After Jesus ascended to heaven, God used Peter mightily to open the door for the gospel of Christ to the Gentiles and to bring that gospel to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” [see: God’s Kingdom and Israel]. Peter will be in God’s kingdom; he will sit on a throne and rule one of the twelve tribes of Israel (Matthew 19:28; Revelation 21:14).
So also it goes with Sarah, Rahab, Samuel, Jephthah, Samson, Elijah, and many other men and women of faith (Hebrews 11:30-39). The same has gone with all the men and women of faith down through the centuries thence, up to today.
Jesus summed it up this way: “Those who are well [or think they are well] have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous [or those who think they are righteous], but sinners, to repentance” (Luke 5:31).
Abram’s third test
Genesis 13 continues Abram’s story about the strife between the workers of Abram and the workers of his nephew Lot, as their masters’ cattle and other property increased far beyond the capacity of the land to accommodate them.
Abram proposed to end the strife by him and Lot going to separate places for more elbow room. As the elder of the two, Abram had the right to be the first to choose which way to go. But he magnanimously deferred to the younger Lot and asked him to be the first to choose. Lot chose the well-watered plain of Jordan, near the bright lights of Sodom and Gomorrah, while Abram remained in Canaan.
With this gesture of Abram, God saw the humble heart in him. The LORD then offered Abram much more than the land of Canaan: “Lift up your eyes now and look from the place where you are — northward, southward, eastward, and westward; for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever. And I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth, so that if a man could number the dust of the earth, then your descendants could be numbered” (Verses 14-16). That multiple number of descendants could not but spill over beyond the boundaries of Canaan and environs! [See: God’s Kingdom and Israel.]
The place Lot chose turned out to be fraught with a lot of trouble (Genesis 14). A league of marauders from neighboring regions subdued the small kingdoms among which Lot lived, and made them vassals for twelve years. The local kings mounted an unsuccessful rebellion against the invaders in their thirteenth year. The invaders carted away with many of the people and their goods. Lot and his property were seized also.
Learning about the lot that had befallen his nephew, Abram organized an army of his servants to attack the invaders. Here again, God must have seen Abram’s heart of outgoing concern for Lot and his companions. God gave Abram the victory (Verses 19-20). “So he brought back all the goods, and also brought back his brother [in an extended sense of family] Lot and his goods, as well as the women and the people” (Verse 16).
Out of gratitude, the king of Sodom offered to Abram the people’s goods which he had retrieved. But Abram refused the king’s good gesture. Abram had vowed to God that he would “…take nothing, from a thread to a sandal strap, and that I will not take anything that is yours [the king’s]” (Verse 23).
Seeing this good heart of Abram, God reiterated His promise to Abram: “Look now toward heaven and count the stars if you are able to number them….So shall your descendants be” (Genesis 15:5). And Abram “believed the LORD, and He accounted it to him for righteousness” (Verse 6).
Abram’s fourth test
By this time it had been a decade since God promised to Abram, “I will make you a great nation” (Genesis 12:2) and “To your descendants I will give this land [Canaan]” (Verse 7). Still, Abram was yet to see even one descendant of his, “one who will come from [his] own body” to be his heir to God’s promises (Genesis 15:4).
Now a crucial test of Abram’s belief and faith in God would be given.
Being childless for so long, Abram’s wife Sarai must have been under a lot of pressure, for being barren was a reproach in those days and even in later times (Genesis 30:22-23; 1 Samuel 1:5-6; Luke 1:5-7, 24-25). Sarai had become impatient at the seeming slowness of God in fulfilling His promise. She thought of a way to speed things up! After all, “she had an Egyptian maidservant whose name was Hagar” (Genesis 16:1).
Sarai told Abram, “See now, the LORD has restrained me from bearing children. Please, go in to my maid; perhaps I shall obtain children by her” (Verse 2). Not thinking about the far-reaching consequence of such a suggestion by his wife, Abram did just as Adam had done with his wife Eve, in heeding her voice (Genesis 3:17): “Then Abram heeded the voice of Sarai…Then Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar her maid, the Egyptian, and gave her to her husband Abram to be his wife” (same verse).
So Abram had sexual relations with Hagar, and she conceived (Verse 4). Now let’s notice this vital turn of events that was to leave an indelible mark among the generations in the next many hundred years: “And when she [Hagar] saw that she had conceived, her mistress [Sarai] became despised in her eyes” (same verse).
Soon Sarai regretted having made the suggestion to Abram: “My wrong be upon you! I gave my maid into your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, I became despised in her eyes. The LORD judge between you and me” (Verse 5). [As head of the family, ultimately Abram was to blame for heeding his wife’s suggestion. In the same manner, although he knew better as the head (1 Timothy 2:14), Adam heeded his wife Eve’s suggestion to also eat the forbidden fruit; thus, “…in Adam (not in Eve!) all die” (1 Corinthians 15:22; see also Romans 5:12, 18).]
In this fourth test, Abram clearly made a wrong decision. Instead of a happy consequence, enmity between the two women arose — enmity that has survived to this very day! Because her maid had despised her, Sarai “dealt harshly with her, [and] she fled from [Sarai’s] presence” (Genesis 16:6).
Driven into a wilderness, Hagar was confronted there by an angel of the LORD, who told her to return to her mistress and submit herself to her rule (Verse 9). He said: “Behold, you are with child, and you shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, because the LORD has heard your affliction” (Verse 11). “Ishmael” means “God heard.”
Ishmael was born and Hagar continued to live with and serve her mistress Sarai.
Abram’s fifth test
Thirteen years after Ishmael’s birth, Sarai still had not given Abram a son from her own body. When God repeated His promise to make Abram a father of many nations, He changed Abram’s name to Abraham, which means “father of many nations” (Genesis 17:4), Abraham was a bit incredulous. He couldn’t believe that a man like himself, now going a hundred years old, and his 90-year old menopausal wife, could still have their own child (Verse 17). Abraham said to God: “Oh, that Ishmael might live before You” (Verse 18). Abraham had about given up on God giving him a son through Sarai. He was feeling content that God would fulfill His promise to him through Ishmael.
At this God reassured Abraham: “No, Sarah your wife [God had changed Sarai’s name (meaning “my princess”) to Sarah (Verse 15), meaning “princess” — that not just for Abraham but for all of mankind] shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac [meaning “laughter” — from the fact that Abraham and Sarah laughed in unbelief that she could still bear a son (Genesis 17:17; 18:10-13)]; I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him” (Verse 19).
After this reassurance — which the LORD repeated to him in a visit to his tent (Genesis 18:10) — Abraham finally firmed up his faith that, at a time set by God, he would have his own son by Sarah, through God’s miracle. With Sarah [who was at first incredulous that such a miracle could happen (Verse 13)], Abraham believed that the LORD was “faithful” to His promise (Hebrews 11:11).
Abraham’s sixth test
Skipping God’s test of Abraham regarding God’s intended destruction of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, where his nephew Lot and family lived (Genesis 18:16-19:38), let us proceed to the next test of Abraham. Abraham had moved from Mamre southward to Gerar (Genesis 20:1).
Confronted with a fear similar to what he had felt earlier when he came to Egypt, Abraham gave in to the same mistake by telling Abimelech king of Gerar the half-truth that Sarah was merely his sister. Thus the king took Sarah into his harem. Before the king could touch Sarah, however, God appeared in a dream to Abimelech telling him the truth about Abraham and Sarah being husband and wife, not merely brother and sister.
Shortly after this, God fulfilled His promise to Abraham and Sarah: she gave birth to her very own son by Abraham — Isaac (Genesis 21:1-3, etc.).
Abraham’s seventh test
This happened when Abraham’s son by Sarah — Isaac — “grew and was weaned. And Abraham made a great feast on the same day that Isaac was weaned” (Genesis 21:8). Now comes the challenge: “And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian [Ishmael, now a strapping young man of 15 or so], whom she had borne to Abraham, scoffing. Therefore she said to Abraham, ‘Cast out this bondwoman and her son; for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, namely with Isaac’ (Verses 9-10).
“And the matter was very displeasing in Abraham’s sight because of his son [Ishmael]. But God said to Abraham, ‘Do not let it be displeasing in your sight because of the lad or because of your bondwoman. Whatever Sarah has said to you, listen to her voice; for in Isaac your seed shall be called. Yet I will also make a nation of the son of the bondwoman, because he is your seed” (Verses 11-13).
Abraham passed this test. Next would come the ultimate test of his heart and faith.
Abraham’s eighth test
Here is what many have called the “supreme test” of Abraham’s faith. This was when God asked Abraham to sacrifice his one and only son by Sarah, Isaac (Genesis 22:1-19). Unlike the Hollywood depiction of the story, Abraham did not quibble with nor complain to God about what seemed like a very unreasonable demand of God. Men of lesser faith would have questioned why God would give in to a request long awaited — only to take it back soon. But not so, Abraham.
Hebrews 11:19 testifies to how Abraham was able to humbly accept and obey God’s seemingly unfair command: Abraham had concluded — and was convinced — “that God was able to raise him [Isaac] up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.”
Because by pure faith Abraham did not withhold his son Isaac from God, God stopped Abraham short while he was about to slay his son. And God concluded this about Abraham’s heart: “I know that you fear God” (Genesis 22:12). God provided a ram to sacrifice instead (Verse 13).
In going all the way to offer his “only son” (by Sarah), Isaac, short of actually killing him, Abraham pictured the very heart of God the Father, who has not withheld His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to sacrifice Him for the atonement for mankind’s sin. [See: Two Goats Together.]
After this last test, God confirmed His unconditional promise to Abraham: “By Myself I have sworn…because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son — blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed because you have obeyed My voice” (Verses 15-18). [See: God’s Kingdom and Israel.]
God gave Abraham other tests after this — Sarah’s death (Genesis 23) and finding a bride for Isaac (Genesis 24). But God had already confirmed what was in Abraham’s heart. God was ready to fulfill His promise to Abraham unconditionally, “because Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws” (Genesis 26:5) — in whatever form these came to him.
God may not test us who are alive today in the same way He tested Abraham. In whatever form our tests come, they are “tailor-fitted” by God for each of us according to our hearts and our needs in having a good relationship with Him. [See: The Flaming Sword East of Eden.]
As what God did to Abraham, God also tested the faith of Abraham’s son Isaac and his grandson Jacob. Genesis 24:1-28:5 relates about the major life experiences and tests of Isaac.
What we might consider the first test of Isaac was his marrying a woman whom he had not previously seen, much less known. The story is told in Genesis 24. It was as much a test for the wife-to-be, Rebekah, as it was for Isaac. But it was all by God’s design. Many Bible students have seen in this marriage of Isaac and Rebekah a picture of Jesus Christ as the “Bridegroom,” and the Church of God as His “bride.”
The apostle Peter describes the Christian’s accepting and loving Jesus Christ: “…whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith — the salvation of your souls” (1 Peter 1:8-9). [Compare this with John 20:29.]
Among Isaac’s other tests was a famine in the land, as in the days of his father Abraham. God told Isaac not to go down to Egypt as He had told Abraham. Instead, God told Isaac to remain where he was, and so he did — “So Isaac dwelt in Gerar” (Genesis 26:6).
Here Isaac experienced a “déjà vu” with the Philistine king Abimelech, where Isaac repeated his father Abraham’s lying about his wife being his “sister” (Genesis 26:6-11). God also knew what was in Isaac’s heart — as He did Abraham’s heart — and forgave Isaac for this sin. God even blessed him abundantly in his agricultural pursuits (Verses 12-16).
The other major test of Isaac, whose eyes were now failing, was his unwittingly blessing his son Jacob instead of his favorite and firstborn son Esau. The story is related in Genesis 27. Again, this was as much a test for Isaac as it was for Jacob, Rebekah, and Esau. Because of this incident, there has been a great divide between the descendants of Jacob and the descendants of Esau, as we will explain later. The consequence of the happenings in the life of these two brothers has had greater import than most people realize!
Despite the human frailties of Isaac, God considered the humility and faith which He saw in Isaac’s heart. God then confirmed to Isaac His unconditional blessing which He had pronounced on Abraham (Genesis 26:24).
Also as a product of God’s miracle, like Isaac was in the case of Sarah, the barren Rebekah gave birth to twin boys (Genesis 25:21). But, as Rebekah carried them in her womb, “…the children struggled together within her; and she said, ‘If all is well, why am I like this'” (Verse 22)? To this question God replied: “Two nations are in your womb, two people shall be separated from your body; one people shall be stronger than the other, and the older shall serve the younger” (Verse 23).
A colorful character, the younger of the twins (Jacob) had a streak that God had seen even from the womb and at birth: “…his hand took hold of Esau’s heel; so his name was called Jacob” (Verse 25). “Jacob” means a “supplanter.”
True to his name, Jacob took away the birthright which was rightly that of his elder brother Esau being the firstborn, in exchange for a measly pot of red vegetable soup [hence Esau was also named Edom, meaning “red”]. Jacob took advantage of Esau’s weakness (Verses 27-34). [See: The Value of the “Firstborn.”]
Then, in cahoots with his scheming mother Rebekah, Jacob stole from Esau Abraham’s blessing that God had passed on to Isaac (Genesis 27:28-29; 28:3-4). Genesis 27:1-28:9 forever records the plot and execution of the deceit — and its complications, which have continued to this day! Before their birth, God had spoken His supreme will regarding the twins — that Jacob would be the stronger than Esau, and Esau would end up serving him. Jacob could have gotten this blessing more honorably, but God allowed human frailty to run its course — and to serve as a source of object lessons for all humanity to learn from, as we will see later.
Fleeing from Esau, who had serious thoughts of revenge, Jacob ended up in the household of his uncle Laban, Rebekah’s brother (Genesis 27:41-28:5; 29:1-17). Here Jacob’s deceitful past came home to roost! Laban also deceived Jacob by surreptitiously exchanging his elder daughter Leah for Jacob’s beloved Rachel on the night of Jacob’s wedding. Laban also, ten times, cheated Jacob of his just wages as caretaker of Laban’s flock of sheep (Genesis 29:18-31:16, etc.).
Jacob had other tests: his two wives Leah and Rachel, with their maids, were embroiled in a “breeding competition” of some sort, resulting in 12 sons and a daughter with different mothers (Genesis 29:23-30:24); fleeing with his family and goods from Laban (Genesis 31); confronting Esau on the way back to Canaan (Genesis 32-33); and a stinking incident with locals in Shechem on account of the rape, by a local prince, of Dinah, the twelve brothers’ lone sister (Genesis 34).
From these tests, Jacob must have learned the hard lesson that “You reap what you sow” (Galatians 6:7-8; Proverbs 22:8). It certainly helped him to trust in God’s ways and interventions instead of his own schemes — or those of his mother (Genesis 31:3-13; 32:3-12; 33:1-17). Jacob also learned that by being patient and faithful while in trials, God did not leave him without help (Genesis 31:38-42).
Genesis 32:22-32 records a crucial test of Jacob’s faith in God’s blessing and his persistence in pursuing it (unlike his brother Esau who, for a pot of soup, threw away his birthright). This was right on the heels of Jacob’s amicable encounter with his once-vengeful brother Esau. In this wrestling match with a “man” who turned out to be angel of God, if not the LORD Himself, Jacob prevailed. Thus God changed Jacob’s name to Israel, which means “prevailer [or “prince”] with God” (Verse 28). God confirmed what was in Jacob’s heart — the same heart He had found in Abraham and then in Isaac.
Later God confirmed to Jacob/Israel the unconditional promise He had made to Abraham and Isaac: “Be fruitful and multiply: a nation and a company of nations shall proceed from you, and kings shall come from your body. The land which I gave Abraham and Isaac I give to you; and to your descendants after you I give this land” (Genesis 35:11-12).
That is why, together Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are called “the fathers” of the children of Israel [see: God’s Kingdom and Israel]. To these “fathers” the LORD God gave His unconditional and irrevocable promise to their descendants: that they would multiply to innumerable numbers, that they ultimately would be a blessing to all the nations.
Abraham’s children: the children of Israel
As the above-mentioned article explains, only a fraction of the children of Israel really and truly followed in the footsteps of their faithful ancestor Abraham. Since the time they came out of Egypt they had been continually a stiff-necked, stubborn, rebellious house [see the books of Exodus, Numbers and Joshua].
When finally they settled in the land God had promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the children of Israel continually broke the covenant they had forged with their God. Starting out as a confederacy of the descendants of the 12 sons of Jacob, the children of Israel were ruled by judges. Because of their sins, God allowed the children of Israel to be troubled and tested by their enemies. But in His mercy and His faithfulness to His promise to “the fathers” (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob), God used these judges to deliver them from the surrounding enemy nations whenever they cried out to Him [see the Book of Judges]. Judges 21:25 summarizes what happened to the people of Israel: “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”
Next, the children of Israel demanded that they have a king over them, just as the nations around them had. Actually, Israel had had a King — the LORD God Himself! But the children of Israel rejected Him and His rule over them (1 Samuel 8:1-9, etc.). Just the same, God allowed them to have a king, and they became the Kingdom of Israel. At first Israel was one kingdom, an undivided monarchy (1 Samuel 9 through 2 Kings 11).
Then, after King Solomon died and his son Rehoboam took over the throne, the kingdom became split into two — the southern Kingdom of Judah (comprised of Judah, Levi and parts of Benjamin) and the northern Kingdom of Israel (comprised of the remaining 10 tribes).
Led by their rebel and apostate King Jeroboam, the northern Kingdom of Israel soon departed from God’s laws and commandments. After the successive reign of kings, the people’s disobedience got so bad that God allowed the citizens of that kingdom to be conquered by the Assyrians and carried away to Assyria and other places.
These descendants of the northern ten tribes in time forgot that they were or are the children of Abraham. Most of them eventually thought themselves as being not the children of Israel and therefore not the children of Abraham. That they are “Gentiles” [non-Israelites]. And that is how the world has since thought about the people — that they are not of the House or Kingdom of Israel.
One day, in God’s own time, these people will eventually realize that they indeed are the physical or biological descendants of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Israel. God will save Israel in their appointed time (Romans 11). [See: God’s Kingdom and Israel.]
On the other hand, the people of the Kingdom of Judah in the south — the Jews [from Judah] — maintained their identity as the ancient people of God. Although only a small part of the entire descendants of Abraham, the Jews have had a distinct and clear understanding that they are the physical and biological children of Abraham.
Jesus confronts the Jews
One of the issues raised by Jesus with the Jews in His day concerned their relationship to Abraham. This broke out when Jesus told the “Jews who believed Him”: “If you abide in My word, you are my disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32). [Interestingly, this shows that one can “believe” in Jesus and yet not know the truth!]
At this the Jews retorted: “We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can you say, ‘You will be made free'” (Verse 33)? Actually, the Jews soon forgot that, a few centuries earlier, they had been in bondage to the Babylonian empire, the Persian empire, and the Greek empire! And then they were currently in some kind of bondage to the Roman occupants of their land.
Jesus then explained: “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave to sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son [Jesus] makes you free, you will be free indeed” (Verses 34-36). Here Jesus focused not on slavery to some person, group, nation, or empire, but on slavery to sin. He was offering the Jews this “freedom” from sin that He alone could give them.
Jesus continued: “I know that you are Abraham’s [physical or biological] descendants, but you seek to kill Me [a grave sin!], because My word has no place in you. I speak what I have seen with My Father, and you do what you have seen with your father” (Verses 37-38).
The Jews answered Him, saying: “Abraham is our father” (Verse 39).
Jesus said to them: “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham. But you seek to kill Me, a Man who has told you the truth which I heard from God. Abraham did not do this. You do the deeds of your father” (Verses 39-41). Jesus then went on to explain that they, in reality, had Satan as their father — a murderer and a liar (Verses 42-47).
What were the “works of Abraham” that his true children would also be doing?
As I have shown in the examples of his tests, despite his failings, Abraham proved his perfect faith in God. He believed and trusted in God enough to obey Him. In the end, God judged that “Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws” (Genesis 26:5) — in whatever form these were given to him.
In contrast, the Jews did not obey God as Abraham did. Jesus told them: “Did not Moses give you the law, yet none of you keeps the law” (John 7:19)? That should burst the myth so many believe in, that the Jews have faithfully kept the law or the “Torah!” [See also Acts 7:51-53; Galatians 6:13 and Barking up the Wrong Tree.]
Not until the Jews accept Jesus as the “I AM” (John 8:58; Exodus 3:14), believe in and obey Him as Abraham did, will they become the true children of Abraham! In His own time, God will move to “save the tents of Judah” (Zechariah 12:7). [See: The True Christ, Peter Knew “The Holy One,” Moses and Jesus — Are They Contraries? God’s Feasts and the Jews — Part 1, God’s Feasts and the Jews — Part 2, and God’s Feasts and the Jews — Part 3.]
In the meantime, God has left a faithful remnant among the Jews (and the rest of the children of Israel) that constitutes both the true biological and spiritual children of Abraham (Romans 11).
Abraham’s children: the children of Ishmael
For Abraham’s sake God promised: “And as for Ishmael, I have heard you. Behold I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly… and I will make him a great nation” (Genesis 17:20). But God clearly declared to Abraham that “…in Isaac [not in Ishmael] your seed shall be called” (Verse 12) — called to inherit Abraham’s spiritual blessings, as I will explain further. Abraham’s wife Sarah had told Abraham, concerning Ishmael: “Cast out this bondwoman [Hagar] and her son [Ishmael]; for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, namely with Isaac” (Verse 10).
With a heavy heart, Abraham let Hagar and his son by her, Ishmael, go away from Sarah and Isaac. Genesis 25:12-18 shows the early descendants of Ishmael and where they settled: “They dwelt from Havilah as far as Shur, which is east of Egypt as you go toward Assyria” (Verse 18). [For more historical background of the children of Ishmael, click on this link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ishmael.]
Who are the children of Ishmael today?
By their own admission, most Arabs claim to be descendants of Ishmael. Added into the genetic bank of Ishmael are the descendants of Esau or Edom, who — besides the wives he already had — also married Mahalath [otherwise called Basemath] the daughter of Ishmael (Genesis 28:9; 36:3).
Despite sectarian differences, most Arabs are united by their religion — Islam — which the prophet Muhammad [or Mohammed] began in Arabia and propagated to other countries in the Middle East. Over the centuries Islam has spread to all corners of the world. Converts to Islam who are not ethnically descended from Ishmael consider themselves spiritually as belonging also to the family of Abraham through Ishmael.
Both the physical and spiritual children of Ishmael have had the sentiment that the blessings of Abraham as his “firstborn” should be Ishmael’s and not Isaac’s. Blending into this sentiment has been the hatred of Esau for his brother Jacob (who was renamed Israel). As the firstborn of Isaac’s and Rebekah’s twins, Esau for a time also harbored the sentiment that Abraham’s blessing through Isaac should be his and not his brother Jacob’s (or Israel’s), as I will explain further. By marrying a daughter of Ishmael, Esau has made a good number of his descendants forever entwined with the descendants of Ishmael.
Muslims also have a sense of “mission” to convert the “infidels” — all who worship idols — or else eliminate them if they don’t convert to Islam. They have fought “Christians” who have used images and pictures in their worship. They realize that the Jews went into captivity in Babylon because they deserted God and His precepts. Thus Muslims consider Jews unworthy to occupy the “Holy Land.”
That is why Muslims consider the Promised Land — the “Holy Land” — as rightly belonging to them and not to Israel.
Islamic tradition has it that their prophet Muhammad was transported from Mecca to Jerusalem. Over the centuries, there has stood on the temple mount in Jerusalem the “Dome of the Rock” and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the site from where Muhammad supposedly ascended to heaven. [See: What Happens to Man After Death?] This site is considered the third most holy Islamic site, after Mecca and Medina. Because Muhammad claimed to be descended from Ishmael, the Al-aqsa and the Dome of the Rock may be taken as symbolic of Ishmael’s hold on the birthright blessing of Abraham’s firstborn. [For more on this subject, see this link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Al-aqsa_Mosque, click “search for ‘Al-aqsa Mosque’ in this article.”]
The conflict between the Jews and the Muslims over the possession of the “temple mount” in Jerusalem will intensify in the months and years ahead! This could very well suck the nations into a global war. For instance, the U.S.A. being on the side of Israel, Muslims condemn Americans. As well, Muslims have condemned Americans — and much of the West — for their immoral lifestyle.
Interestingly, Muslims also claim that it was Ishmael — not Isaac — whom Abraham took to the mountain to sacrifice as God commanded him. They hold an annual “sacrifice festival” (Qurbani Id or Id Al-Adha) to commemorate this supposed sacrifice. [See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ishmael-in_Islam, click “search for ‘Ishmael-in_Islam‘ in existing articles.”]
Muslims also believe that their founder Muhammad was a greater prophet than Jesus, who descended from the Jews. They believe that the writings of Muhammad (compiled as the Quran) are superior to the Jewish and Christian Bible. Muslims believe in, and eagerly await, the emergence of their “Mahdi” — a Messiah-like hero — who will establish a kingdom (called a “caliphate”). In that caliphate, they believe, Jesus (whom they call Isa) will reign next or subordinate to that Mahdi and will promote Islam as supposedly the true religion. Muslim extremists (like the ISIS) desire eagerly to bring about that caliphate by eliminating, through jihad or “holy war,” those who oppose that caliphate. At the top of their agenda is to destroy Israel (both the Jewish state and the other descendants of the 12 tribes of ancient Israel or Jacob), whose Holy Bible preaches a different Messiah. [See: God’s Kingdom and Israel.]
Why such a competitive spirit in the children of Ishmael against the children of Israel — and vice-versa?
An ancient enmity
As we mentioned earlier, the animosity between the children of Ishmael and the children of Israel has stemmed, in all likelihood, from the attitudes of both Hagar and her son Ishmael toward Sarah and her “miracle” son Isaac. In turn, Sarah reacted defensively for herself and her son Isaac.
Genesis 16:4-5 relates that, when Hagar conceived [the son who was later to be called Ishmael], she despised her barren mistress Sarai (who was later renamed Sarah). And so Sarah also felt despised in Hagar’s eyes, and thus she dealt harshly with her maid, who fled from the household.
Genesis 21:8-10 relates how later, after Isaac was born to Sarah and he had been weaned, Ishmael scoffed [a show of displeasure] at Isaac and the great feast that Abraham made for Isaac at his weaning. Galatians 4:29 describes Ishmael’s scoffing at Isaac as an act of persecution. Sarah did not take this sitting down but asked Abraham to cast out Hagar and Ishmael from her presence and from Isaac.
The next instance of Isaac and Ishmael coming together is when they came to bury their father Abraham (Genesis 25:7-10).
After this, very little is mentioned in Scripture about the life of Ishmael and his children after he was cast out from the household of Abraham and Sarah. The Bible, after all, was to be about Abraham’s legitimate heir (“son of promise”) — Isaac — and his descendants — not about Ishmael and his descendants.
Genesis 25:12-16 and 1 Chronicles 1:29-31 list the 12 sons of Ishmael. Of these twelve sons, Kedar is referred to the most in other Scripture passages (Psalm 120:5; Isaiah 21:13-17; 42:11-12; 60:7; and Ezekiel 27:21). [Islam’s founder, Muhammad, claims to have been descended from Kedar.]
Ezekiel 27, which is a lamentation for what was to befall the commercial hub that was Tyre in that part of the Middle East by the Mediterranean Sea, mentions Kedar among that great city’s merchants (Verse 21). It’s quite possible that some merchants from Kedar with another tribe or more of Ishmael’s sons could have been the “company of Ishmaelites” to whom his brothers sold Joseph and thence to a slave buyer in Egypt (Genesis 37:23-28; 39:1).
Although the time-setting of Psalm 120:5 is unclear, the author [Judah’s King Hezekiah is suggested by some] bewails his bad lot to have to dwell for long “in the tents [or in the vicinity] of Kedar” and describes it as living “with one who hates peace,” living with them “who are for war” (Verses 6 and 7).
While the Bible does not document wars between the children of Israel and the children of Ishmael, the psalmist’s testimony — which is true, as is every word of God (John 17:17) — shows that, somewhere in the early or later history of these two peoples, some bad blood had existed between them. In the future, as the occasion presents itself, I might explore some historical documents or traditions that would corroborate this.
Isaiah 21:16-17 prophesies about “the glory of Kedar” [after all, God promised Abraham that He would make Ishmael a great nation also (Genesis 17:20; 21:13)] — about that glory failing at some time in the past and, again, in the future. Isaiah prophesies about the “archers, the mighty men of the people of Kedar” becoming “diminished.” This shows the war-like nature of these people.
However, Isaiah 42:11-12 prophesies that the habitations of Kedar will “give glory to the LORD.” This is in the future setting of Jesus Christ (the Messiah) reigning on earth to “bring forth justice to the Gentiles” (Verse 1), “till He has established justice in the earth” (Verse 4). At that time, “All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered” to Christ in God’s Kingdom, to be accepted as offerings on His altar (Isaiah 60:7).
Some of the rest of Ishmael’s sons are briefly mentioned also in these Scripture passages:
- Tema — Job 6:19; Isaiah 21:13-14; Jeremiah 25:23. While his descendants may have started out as merchants (in “caravans” of goods), they are described with “swords,” “drawn swords” and “the bent bow” as they engage in war. Jeremiah prophesies about them being included among those who will receive the “wine cup of fury” from God (Verse 15).
- Dumah — Isaiah 21:11. His descendants (Dedanites) are among those prophesied to also fall along with Tema and Kedar because of their warfares.
- Nebajoth — Isaiah 60:7. His descendants, along with those of Kedar, are prophesied to have their rams “minister” to or serve God as acceptable offerings on Christ’s altar when Jesus returns to rule the earth.
- Jetur — Luke 3:1. In the only other reference to Jetur, he is here associated with the area called “Iturea” ruled by Philip the tetrarch, Herod’s brother.
From simmer to boil
However history may actually have worked out the animosity between the children of Israel and the children of Ishmael (some reckon the odium to have dated back to the last 4,000 years), we have this sure word of prophecy (2 Peter 1:19, KJV).
Psalm 83 talks about a “confederacy” against Israel, with the aim to erase the name of Israel from the map. Looking at the volatile situation enveloping the State of Israel in the Middle East today, we find that this prophecy couldn’t be more timely! If we understand that the children of Israel today do not include merely the tiny State of Israel but some major nations as well, we will begin to see the magnitude of the horrendous effect that this “powder keg” will reach once it explodes! [See: God’s Kingdom and Israel.]
The psalmist lists some nations that, at some time in Israel’s history, ganged up on the land of Israel: Edom, Ishmaelites, Moab, Hagrites, Gebal, Ammon, Amalek, Philistia, Tyre, Assyrians (Verses 4-8). Their intent toward the children of Israel: “Come, and let us cut them off from being a nation, that the name of Israel may be remembered no more” (Verse 4).
First on the list is Edom (or Esau), twin brother of Jacob (later renamed Israel). For taking away the blessing that Esau as firstborn of the two was to receive, Esau hated Jacob (Genesis 27:41-42). Although, through the passing of time, Esau and Jacob eventually reached a kind of reconciliation (Genesis 32-33), Esau’s descendants, many of whom are also from the combined lineage of Ishmael (Genesis 28:9, etc.), carried on with their past hatred toward the descendants of Jacob or Israel.
Exodus 17:8-16 relates about how the Amalekites (descendants of Esau through his eldest son Eliphaz, Exodus 36:12) fought with Israel at Rephidim. For this unbrotherly violence toward the children of Israel, God promised, “I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven” and that He would “have war with Amalek from generation to generation” (Exodus 17:14, 16).
Numbers 20:14-21 relates about how the descendants of Esau refused to let the multitude of the children of Israel, on their way to the Promised Land, pass through their land. The descendants of Esau, in fact, “came out against them [the Israelites] with many men and with a strong hand” (Verse 20).
Some believe that the Ottoman Empire that held sway for a time in the Middle East had roots in “Teman” — one of the grandsons of Esau (Genesis 36:9-11) who apparently rose to some prominence in time. Eliphaz, Teman’s father, was called a “Temanite” (Job 2:11; 4:1, etc.).
Have we not heard about how today’s Arab nations surrounding the tiny State of Israel vow to, as it were, erase the name Israel from the Middle East map? So deep has been the enmity between both the physical and spiritual descendants of Ishmael and Esau, on the one hand, and the physical [and spiritual, as I will explain later] descendants of Israel, on the other hand, over the centuries that it will eventually come to a final head in these end times! More about this later.
Abraham’s children: the children of spiritual Israel
Chiefly the apostle Paul expounded on how Christians — regardless of their biological race — are truly the “children of Abraham.” Addressing both Israelite and Gentile Christians, Paul declared that “those who are of faith are sons of Abraham” (Galatians 3:7). “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s then you are Abraham’s seed [children], and heirs according to the promise (Verses 26-29).
Paul likewise declared, in Romans 4:16, that “the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law [Jews and Israelites by race], but also to those [Gentiles saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus] who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.”
Gentiles [non-Israelite by race] who come to faith in Jesus Christ become a part of the “commonwealth” of Israel, the “household of faith” — the true “Israel of God” (Ephesians 2:11-22; Romans 11:1-36; Galatians 6:16). [See: No Walls, No Ceiling? and God’s Kingdom and Israel.]
False children of Abraham
Because there has been a slew of “false prophets” preaching “false christs,” as Jesus prophesied about our end-times (Matthew 24:4-5, 11, 23-25), many who claim to be spiritual “children of Abraham” actually are not! [See: Beware of False Prophets, “I Never Knew You!” and “Your Eyes Will Be Opened!”] One of the hazards in his ministry that Paul talked about was confronting false apostles and false brethren (2 Corinthians 11:13, 27). Just like the Jews who claimed to be physical children of Abraham, those who falsely claim to be spiritual children of Abraham need to hear Jesus’ words: “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham” (John 8:39).
Despite the human flaws of Abraham, God summed up the “works of Abraham” thus: “…Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws” (Genesis 26:5) — in whatever form these were passed on to him.
How can the many who profess faith in Christ but who reject God’s laws and commandments — who hold a hostile attitude toward them — be truly the children of Abraham? Their lawless works belie their claim to be Abraham’s children. [See: Freed From Bondage, Transgressions Under the First Covenant, The Law of Christ, Moses and Jesus — Are They Contraries?]
As the Jews in His day persecuted Jesus Christ, those many who falsely claim to be spiritual children of Abraham in these end-times will persecute the true disciples and servants of Christ.
Prophesying about a time shortly before the return of the Messiah — our times today! — Daniel wrote about a combined political-religious power that will arise and “…shall persecute the saints [the holy ones] of the Most High, and shall intend to change times and law. Then the saints shall be given into his hand for a time and times and half a time [symbolic language for 3-1/2 years]. But the court [God’s], and they [those who judge there] shall take away his [that human power’s] dominion, to consume and destroy it forever. Then the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people, the saints of the most High. His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominion shall serve and obey Him [the Messiah]” (Daniel 7:25-27). [See: “The Next Chapter of History.”]
Jesus and His apostles long ago spoke about a coming religious persecution of the true people of God and of Christ in the hands of wicked men. “If the world hates you [true disciples of Jesus], you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world [following the ways and lifestyles of this present world], the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me” (John 15:28-21).
The apostle Paul wrote: “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12).
Revelation 12:1-17 speaks about “a woman” [symbolic of the “heavenly Jerusalem” or “the Jerusalem above” (Galatians 4:26) or the spiritual Church of God (Hebrews 12:21-22)] whose Son [Jesus] was persecuted by “the great dragon…that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan” as were her children and Jesus’ brethren.
Revelation 17:1-18 speaks about another “woman” — a great false religion whose outward spirituality masks an abominable religion of harlotry taken right out of Babylon. She is Satan’s instrument to so persecute the true disciples of Jesus — the “saints” — that she will be “drunk with the blood of the saints and the with blood of the martyrs [or witnesses] of Jesus” (Verse 6). [See: “Your Eyes Will Be Opened!”]
At His return, Jesus will pour out terrible plagues upon this “Babylon the great.” Revelation 18:1-19:5 describes the final fall of that “Babylon.” After this “great harlot” is put away with her spiritual leader Satan and his angels, the saints of Christ will rule with Him for an initial 1,000 years (Revelation 19:6-20:6) — and beyond. [See: Drunk With Strange Wine.]
The other children of Abraham
After Sarah’s death, Abraham took their maid Keturah as wife (Genesis 25:1). Abraham sent the children he had with Keturah to “the country of the east,” away from Isaac (Verse 6). We find, however, that later the children of Israel had dealings with some of the sons of Keturah.
For example, one of Job’s “friends” was Bildad the Shuhite — a likely descendant of Shuah, one of the sons of Abraham by Keturah (Genesis 25:1-2). Shuah would be a half-brother to Isaac, an uncle to Jacob, a grand-uncle to Issachar, and a great-grand-uncle to Job (Genesis 46:13).
Also notable among the sons of Keturah was Midian (Genesis 25:2). The land of Midian was where Moses went after he had escaped from Pharoah and Egypt (Exodus 2:11-4:20). There he married a woman of Midian, whose family was a great help in Moses’ ministry (Exodus 18; Numbers 10:29-31). However, Numbers 25:6-18; 31:1-18 and Judges 6:1-8:28 relate about how the descendants of Midian — the Midianites — later became enemies to the children of Israel. When the children of Israel cried out to Him, in His mercy God sent a deliverer to save Israel from these and other enemies.
Here in the east, the children of Abraham by Keturah likely mingled with the other children of Abraham — those of Ishmael and Isaac (Israel and Esau). Today the descendants of Abraham through Keturah apparently are to be found among the Arab nations.
For more on where the descendants of the children of Keturah are today, check out this link: http://www.herbert-armstrong.org, click “ENTER HERE,” select “Plain Truth 1950-1989,” click “PT 1957” and select the July (Vol. XXII No. 7) issue, for Dr. Herman Hoeh’s article entitled, “The Truth About the Races,” particularly on pages 6-7.
Confederacy against Israel
As mentioned earlier, Psalm 83 proclaims a prophecy about Israel that may have been fulfilled sometime in the past. However, some prophecies often have dual fulfillment — or even more — to take place at later times, and with greater intensity. For example, Jesus prophesied about “the end of the age” when there would be false prophets and false “christs,” wars and rumors of wars, famines, pestilences, earthquakes in diverse places, religious persecution — escalating in the end to where the whole of creation would be on the brink of total annihilation, but for Jesus returning in time to stop the global devastation (Matthew 24:3-24).
When can we reckon the start of “the end of the age?”
Back in the first century of the Church of God, the apostle Peter had already declared, under inspiration by God’s Spirit, “But the end of all things is at hand…” (1 Peter 4:7).
The apostle Paul wrote to the Christians at Thessalonica as though he was expecting Jesus Christ to return to resurrect “the dead in Christ” and to change living Christians to immortal — in their lifetime: “For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep [have died, “in Jesus,” KJV adds]…. (1 Thessalonians 4:15-19; see also 1 Corinthians 15:50-55).
Thus, we can see how the prophecy in Psalm 83 has played out throughout much of the past two millennia!
Although we would rather forget the nightmare of the Dark Ages — when, for decades and centuries, the world was enmeshed in bloody battles between “the cross” and “the crescent” — we see clear evidence of that nightmare rearing its fearsome head again!
Among the nations mentioned in Psalm 83 that seek the demise of Israel [God’s “sheltered ones” (Verses 3-4)], are Edom [or Esau] and the Ishmaelites [descendants of Ishmael] as the strongest in the confederacy against Israel. The rest of the nations mentioned are Moab [related to Ammon as the children of Lot — Jordanians today], the Hagrites [probably descendants of Hagar other than those through Ishmael], Gebal, Amalek [descendants of Esau], Philistia [today’s Palestine], Tyre and remnants of Assyria in the Middle East — basically “Arabs” mostly adhering to one form or another of Islam. On another front is Assyria, that will fight alongside them against Israel. [For more on who the Assyrians are today, see: God’s Kingdom and Israel.]
Today the whole world is being wracked by the increasing violence shown by extremists among these “children of Ishmael.” Notable and much in the news today is the ISIS, or “Islamic State.” Members of this extremist group recently killed some journalists in France who had published material taunting the Muslim religion. Perhaps unnoticed by many, these extremist Muslims, as it were, threw down the gauntlet when they told sympathizers of the slain journalists to come out with their “crusaders.” That sounded to me like a call to go back to the Dark Ages — when Muslims and “Christians” murdered each other.
When push comes to shove
So far cooler heads have prevailed. But who is to tell that extremist Muslims will not be met by extremist “Christians” [who claim to be spiritual “children of Abraham”] and other groups reacting to the violence? It has been said that “Blood is thicker than water.” But it has also been said that “Spirit is thicker than blood.” When it comes to religion and spiritual matters, differences can polarize opposing groups to extreme violence that forgets our common bond as flesh-and-blood human beings.
Prettify or minimize it though we might, the prophecy about Ishmael is something profoundly sobering and disturbing. “He shall be a wild man; his hand shall be against every man, and every man’s hand against him” (Genesis 16:12).
When the physical and spiritual children of Ishmael push against the rest of the world that don’t share their religious persuasion, a backlash from the latter could shove the whole world into a global conflict that could bring all humanity on the brink of extinction!
Daniel 11:5-28 describes a vision of a “king of the South” pushing against a “king of the North.” Students of Bible prophecy understand this to have been fulfilled in 252 B.C., when the southern kingdom of the Seleucids warred against the northern kingdom of Syria. Daniel 11:29-31 continues with the “king of the north” offering an “abomination of desolation” (or an abomination that makes desolate) — something that did take place in 163-167 B.C., when Antiochus IV offered swine in the temple at Jerusalem, thereby causing the daily sacrifice there to cease.
A future replay!
The disciples of Jesus asked Him about the “sign” of His “coming” — His return to earth — and about the end of the age (Matthew 24:2-3). In Verses 4-14 Jesus then mentioned a number of those signs. [See: “The Next Chapter of History.”]
Now, notice Verse 15. Here Jesus talks about an apparent “replay” of “the abomination of desolation,” spoken of in Daniel 11:29-31, that will take place before His return (or “second coming”). Jesus said that this heathen offering will be made “in the holy place” — somewhere in the temple mount in Jerusalem.
This end-time scenario — which could take place in our lifetime! — is complicated by the fact that Jerusalem today is a sadly divided city. The capital city of Jerusalem — especially with its “holy sites” — is claimed by three major religions: Jews, Arabs (or Muslims), and “Christians” (Catholics and various shades of Protestants).
The Jews have been thinking and talking about building a “third temple” — and preparing provisions and people for it. Why a “third temple?”
The first and original temple was that built by King Solomon (1 Kings 5-6). This temple was destroyed by the forces of Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 25; 2 Chronicles 36:15-20). After 70 years in their Babylonian captivity, a group of Jews [led by Zerubbabel, a descendant of King David (Matthew 1:6-12)] came back to Jerusalem to repair the ruined temple there. The book of Ezra records the painful but finally successful process they went through. The “second temple” was later expanded and embellished by King Herod, and this was the temple in Christ’s day.
As Jesus had prophesied, this second temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. and has not been rebuilt since. But this could not have been the total fulfillment of Christ’s prophecy in Matthew 24:1-3. There are still some stones that are “left upon another” and have not been “thrown down.” Nor has Jesus returned bodily to earth! The rest of Jesus’ prophecy in this chapter has yet to be fulfilled completely and in multiplied intensity until Christ finally appears in glory.
Ezekiel 40-48 describes, in quite some detail, a temple that will be built in Jerusalem. This prophecy is in the context of God’s kingdom having been already established here on earth. Apparently this temple — which would then be the “third temple” — will not be built before Jesus returns! [See: The Temple in Ezekiel 40-48.]
Will the Jews succeed in building a “third temple” in Jerusalem? Right now, their big problem is that an important portion of the temple area has been in the hands of Muslims, who built the “Dome of the Rock” and the Al-Aqsa mosque on the temple mount. The Jews cannot rebuild a full temple in Jerusalem without first dealing with the entrenched Muslim structures. Islamic groups will not give up the area to the Jews without a serious fight!
What might the Jews, who are bent on restoring Old Testament worship in Jerusalem, do?
Ezra 3:1-6 shows that the Jews who returned with Zerubbabel “arose and built the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings on it…” (Verse 2). That was before the foundation of the temple was laid (Verse 6) and the temple completed (Ezra 6:13-15).
It is important that there be at least an altar built in Jerusalem — even without a full temple — for Christ’s prophecy about an end-time “abomination that makes desolate” (Matthew 24:15) to be fulfilled. This seems to be the only recourse that the Jews have under the present circumstances.
With the Jews and the Arabs (Muslims) at loggerheads or in a stalemate, will a “third party” perhaps try to broker peace between the two conflicting groups?
It seems very likely that this “third party” would come from the other religious camp — the camp of the Catholics/Protestants. When this happens, we will indeed be edging very close to the end of this age! In 1 Thessalonians 5:1, the apostle Paul refers to “the day of the Lord” coming “as a thief in the night.” It will be a time when people will say, “Peace and safety!” — and then sudden destruction will come upon them (Verse 3).
A religious figure will present himself as a “man of peace” and will indeed be received with favor by the majority of mankind. Revelation 17 speaks of that religious figure (or a combination of political and religious power) who will have the world hoodwinked into believing that “peace and safety” will come at last. But to God, however, this religious leader is not a true “man of peace” but a “man of sin” — “the lawless one” — whose rhetoric and magic will be “according to the working of Satan” to deceive many (2 Thessalonians 2:3, 9-12; Revelation 12:9). [See: “Your Eyes Will Be Opened!” and World Peace — At Last!]
“Sudden destruction” will come when the “abomination that makes desolate” will again be offered in a “holy place” in Jerusalem in the future (Matthew 24:15). The “abomination” that Antiochus IV offered at the temple many centuries ago and which brought about its desolation was swine or a pig, along with an idol of Zeus. This future — end-time — “abomination that makes desolate” cannot but come only from, and will be offered by, the camp of the “Crusaders” — not from and by the Jews or the Muslims, who both consider swine an abomination. [See: Did Christ Cleanse All Meats?]
The whole world tested
Jesus prophesied — and His testimony is true! (Revelation 19:11; 2 Peter 1:19, KJV) — that “…there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time [that time of “the end of the age” that His disciples inquired about (Matthew 24:3)], no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved alive, but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened” (Matthew 24:21-22). [See: “The Next Chapter of History.”]
In Revelation 3:10, Jesus (as the “Spirit” that speaks here — see: The Trinity Doctrine Reconsidered) — says, “Because you have kept My command to persevere, I will also keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth.”
The Middle East will be such crucial “ground zero” in the fulfillment of end-time Bible prophecies that will test the whole world. Everyone needs to be aware of what’s prophesied next. For more information on this subject, click on this link: http://www.ucg.org/bible-study-tools/booklets/the-middle-east-in-bible-prophecy.
The “elect” of God — the true children of Abraham — will pass that test, just as their father Abraham passed the tests God threw at him, and as Isaac and Jacob (Israel) passed their tests also. The fiery trials that test every true child of God — and a true child of Abraham — are allowed by God in order to purify His children, His people whom He is now cleansing so that they can become part of the “chaste bride” of Christ at His return (2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:25-27; Revelation 19:7). [See: The Flaming Sword East of Eden and Are We All God’s Children?]
The apostle Peter exhorts all true children of Abraham: “Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things [listed in Verses 5-9] you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:10-11).
In “Abraham’s bosom”
It is mighty significant that Jesus compares getting into God’s kingdom to being “carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom” (Luke 16:22). Jesus was speaking about the “end of the ages” — after every single human being will have had their chance to receive the true gospel of Christ. There will, however, be some (like the “rich man” in this parable of Jesus) who — after having been given that chance — will, sad to say, willfully reject God’s offer and way of salvation. [See: Predestination, This Is Not the Only Day of Salvation and Why Is the “Unpardonable Sin” Unpardonable?]
It behooves everyone who wants to be truly a “child of Abraham” to follow in Abraham’s footsteps and example of genuine, living faith in God. [For more on that kind of faith, click on this link: http://www.herbert-armstrong.org, click ENTER HERE, select “Books and Booklets” and scroll down to the booklet entitled, “What Kind of Faith Is Required for Salvation?”]
As many become the children of Abraham, God’s promise to him will be fulfilled — the promise that his descendants (both physical and spiritual) will be as numerous for multitude as “the dust of the earth,” as “the stars of heaven,” and as “the sand on the sea shore.” And the whole world will be blessed for it — far beyond what we can imagine now!
“So let’s all praise the Lord…”
Pedro R. Meléndez, Jr.