Thursday, June 23, 2011

Palestine, Puzzling Out the Promise

A woman in my Bible Study class asked if I could explain why there’s so much turmoil over a teeny tiny strip of land in the Middle East. First stop: the Bible. Genesis 15 tells of God’s covenant with Abraham (still Abram at this point). Verse 18 says “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates” and the verse continues to list the current inhabitants including the Canaanites. In chapter 17 the covenant is repeated in verse 8: “The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.”

So the question is: who are Abraham’s descendants? We know that Sarah got impatient and gave her servant Hagar to her husband to be his wife. Hagar gave birth to Ishmael. Finally fourteen years later Sarah gave birth to Isaac. Hence there are two lines of descendants. Jews trace their lineage back to Isaac and Arabs trace theirs back to Ishmael.

If both Jews and Muslims trace their heritage back to Abraham then it stands to reason that both groups should be entitled to the land promised. The rest of my research in Genesis revealed this: God promised Hagar to increase her descendants until they would be too numerous to count, He promised her a great nation through Ishmael, He promised that through Isaac Abraham’s offspring would be reckoned. Reckoned? Huh? I checked the original Hebrew and it says that through Isaac his (Abraham’s) seed would be “called”. The actual Hebrew word here has many English equivalent words with various nuances. The specific nuance in this verse led me back to the word reckoned and the definition “to include a person as being part of a particular group”.

Does that sound like Isaac’s descendants are “in” and Ishmael’s are “out”?

I found a map on the internet that shows the many Arab nations surrounding Israel. I think God has honored his promises (Gen. 16:10, 21:13, 21:18) to Hagar to make a great nation through Ishmael. But look at Genesis 22:17 where, after Abraham nearly sacrifices Isaac on an altar, God promises him that “your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies.” Interesting, think about that.

Should we Christians take sides? (Answers are yes, no, maybe, later, I don’t know, I don’t care, or I need to learn more.) Know your Bible, study the Word, let God speak to you through His Holy Spirit.