Help for Today — Hope for Tomorrow
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[Darris McNeely] The Middle East is the most volatile region in the world. In recent years revolutions have toppled governments in Libya and in Egypt. Civil war tears at Syria. Iran expands its influence through the region and threatens to destroy the State of Israel. Palestinians push to regain lands that they lost in past wars.
Arab against Arab, Muslim against Jew. Middle East feuding has been an ongoing crisis for most of our lives. We are always it seems one day away from full scale war in the region.
What lies at the root of this continual fighting and feuding? Why is the enmity between these peoples so deep and so bitter? It’s almost at times like a family feud. Could it be that that is what it really is, a family fight?
Join us on Beyond Today as we explore a new angle on “Mideast Family Feud.”
Do you ever watch families fight? It isn’t pretty. I have been called in on a few family disputes in my role as a pastor through the years. I’ve seen accusations fly back and forth. Grievances big and small and from years past often are dredged up. Past hurts are not forgotten and they live on in the present fueling anger, resentment and sometimes hate. I have sat around the table of these conflicts trying to broker peace, sometimes successfully and sometimes not so successfully. Family conflicts too often can end in separation and divorce.
Could the heart of the Middle East conflicts be like a family feud? Hurts and grievances that have endured for generations, conflict whose roots go back thousands of years.
Visitors today in Jerusalem can walk the streets and visit the famous sites such as the Dome of the Rock, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Western Wall. There you see Muslims, Christians and Jews all praying and all worshipping, each in a different fashion and in vastly different beliefs. So close physically and yet so far away philosophically.
The three faiths Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all trace their spiritual roots back to the same individual Abraham. The towering historical figures behind these three religions like Moses, Jesus and Muhammad were all direct descendants of Abraham.
Why then with such a common connection is there so much conflict and animosity between these three religions and the nations they represent?
What is the answer to the ongoing family feud that threatens the stability of our modern world?
But more importantly what does it matter to you? For this is something that will make a difference in your life.
Let’s understand a few things about this family feud. Let’s go back to a scene from this most ancishent story. A scene that defines so much of the problem, both historically and in modern times in today’s world.
Imagine this scene. Five people all living in the same home. We have Abraham and Sarah who were husband and wife. Their female servant, a lady named Hagar and her son, Ishmael, and this son Ishmael he was fathered by Abraham. The fifth person is Isaac the newborn son of Abraham and Sarah. Now Isaac is the legitimate son of Abraham and therefore Isaac will be heir to all that Abraham owns as well as an heir to the promise that God had made to Abraham of incredible wealth. It’s a perfect recipe for conflict. The seeds of strife were already sown and they were ready to sprout.
In this scene Sarah demands that Hagar and Ishmael leave the home. Abraham objects but he has to maintain the peace within the house. Eventually the servant Hagar she will leave but not without a promise of hope for her son Ishmael.
Now does this sound like many modern blended and sometimes dysfunctional families? How did one man and his family get to this point? In looking at how this problem developed we might find a key to the solution of the modern problems in the Middle East today.
Let’s first look at who this was, this man called Abraham. Abraham was born nearly 4,000 years ago in the area that is now known as Iraq.
The story begins in Genesis 12 where God says to Abraham and tells him to get out of your country, from your home, from your relatives and come into a land that I will show you (Genesis 12:1).
Now most of us don’t realize that this journey was a significant turning point not only in the life of Abraham but in the history of the world. Abraham was a real person who made a life changing decision with implications for the modern age.
The Bible tells us that Abram “departed as the LORD had spoken to him …” (Genesis 12:1-4). He obeyed and did what God said with unquestioned faith. Now for a man of his time to react to this summons of God was something preposterous. It really went against the conventional wisdom of how things were done in that age but he did it.
On arriving in the new land, what is today the land of Israel, God promised to Abraham that He would give the land and all that he could see, to his descendants forever (Genesis 13:14-15).
Later as this promise expanded God promised Abraham that he would have an heir “…who will come from your own body” (Genesis 15:4). Now when Abraham’s wife Sarah heard that part of the promise she laughed at it. Why did she laugh? Well because at that time she was an old woman and she was barren. She had no children at that point.
Notice that in the promises that we read that it is God who is making a gift then of this entire land to Abraham as well. It was not Abraham’s land by any right other than God giving it to him and to his descendants. The question is which descendant will He give it to?
This is where the conflict in the story begins. Abraham has already proven his faith in God by moving to this new land. To provide a son for them would be nothing for God. He could do that. But Abraham and Sarah decided to take matters into their own hands and they produced another son, Ishmael, and here begins the age-long conflict that is still with us to this day.
You see one day Sarah said to Abraham take my servant girl Hagar. Go and have a child with her. I am old, she’s young. Let her have a child and this will insure the inheritance stays within our family. So Abraham did what Sarah suggested.
Now right here is a major complication. Any man who gets involved with a woman other than his wife is creating a big problem. Abraham let himself get talked into an action with long term implications. The son produced from this union was the start of another line of people who also laid a claim to the promise and to the land given to Abraham. You see God intended to work out the promise that He had made to Abraham and He was going to do it in a specific manner on His timing. Abraham and Sarah did not have to add this further complication through a lack of faith and acting on their own will.
The seeds for a family feud are now in place. As soon as Hagar begins to show with a child in the story, Sarah’s jealousy becomes inflamed. Hagar has to pick up and leave the home. It’s inevitable that two women in this situation are not going to get along.
But God sent a message to Hagar assuring her that her son would have a history and a story. He said to her, “I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count …You are now with child and you will have a son. You shall name him Ishmael [a name which means ‘God hears’] for the LORD has heard of your misery. [Speaking of Ishmael God says] He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all [of] his brothers” (Genesis 16:10-12, New International Version).
Now in this description of Hagar’s descendants is a very significant matter because many of today’s Arabs are descendants of this same Ishmael whose father remember was Abraham. Muhammad the founder and the prophet of Islam is said to be a descendant of this same Ishmael the son of Abraham by Hagar.
That Ishmael as it says “will be a wild donkey of a man” is really not meant to be an insult. You see the wild donkey in the desert was an aristocrat of the wild beasts of that desert area. The prophecy is of a reference to how Ishmael’s descendants would emulate the lifestyle of a wild donkey. That is leading a free and a noble existence in those desert lands.
It goes on to say that “His hand will be against everyone, and everyone’s hand against him.” This too as a part of the prophecy refers to an independent lifestyle. Ishmael’s descendants have always resisted foreign domination.
It goes on and it says that Ishmael will live in hostility towards all of his brothers. That’s a reference to the enmity that has historically existed among the Arabs and between the Arabs and the other sons of Abraham.
Now this story of Abraham’s descendants in the Middle East is very large. The ongoing turmoil in the Middle East creates real human problems even today. It is no more difficult to understand than this story of five people that we’ve been tracing. It was a family problem then and it is a family problem today. Abraham’s descendants cannot get along today any better than they did thousands of years ago.
When you see this firsthand you understand it’s a very human problem. It is easy to read about it in the news, to see it on television and for us to make judgments today about those problems and do this from the comfort of our home far away from the daily struggle many people put in there in the land today.
I once knew a Palestinian who lived in Jordan who had an aged mother who still lived in the old city of Jerusalem. Not a very far distance but far enough to be a problem because of the political separation. This man was a tour guide and when he made visits to Israel he was able to drop in and to see his mother. But you could tell the separation between the man and his mother weighed heavily on his heart.
I have also seen the look on the faces of elderly Palestinian women making the border crossing between Israel and Jordan to visit family in Jordan. They had to endure the humiliation of body searches and suspicious treatment by the border guards. And I have listened to the fear of Israelis who wonder when the next rocket attack will come. It’s all part of the complications that began millennia ago in the family of Abraham.
And this conflict, this family feud, continues to shape events in the Middle East today. And one power, Iran, has injected itself into this feud threatening to control the region and create instability in other parts of the world. The Islamic Republic of Iran has been able to project its disruptive influence into an arc that stretches from western Afghanistan westward to the Mediterranean Sea and then southward into Lebanon and the very tip of the Arabian peninsula. The Shia government in Iraq needs Iran’s support to hold power against the Sunnis. The failed Syrian state today is propped up with Iranian backing. In Lebanon the terrorist group Hezbollah acts also as Iran’s proxy to wage a war of attrition against the State of Israel. In Yemen Houthi rebels supported by Iran they put pressure to the south of Saudi Arabia, the powerful Sunni Gulf state that counters all the Iranian ambitions.
Historical analysts today with a sense of the sweep of history recognize that this move to be a page out of ancient history. Not since the days of the Persian Empire of the sixth century B.C. has such a power move ever been made. Iran has dreams of a reborn Persian glory. When Iran develops the nuclear bomb a new dimension of tension will come to the region. A nuclear armed Islamic state is unknown territory for America and other world leaders.
Once again the map of the Middle East today is being redrawn. Events in the Middle East have been changing since the days of the Babylonian empire. Babylon fell to the Persians and Persia was overcome by Alexander the Great and the partitioned Greek empire that lasted three hundred years after Alexander’s death was eventually put under the iron fist of the Roman Empire, which was a European based power prophesied to play a role in the region all the way into our present day and beyond.
The last two thousand years have been a push and a shoving match between powers that arose out of the family created with Abraham and his descendants. History can be reduced to conflicts between tribes created by people motivated by basic aspects of human nature. It’s that simple and you can understand this.
So let’s review. God promised Abraham a child to carry on the promises and the inheritance. Lacking faith that God would do it Abraham conceived a son by one of his female servants Hagar. He named that son Ishmael. Ishmael with his mother lived under the same roof as Abraham and Sarah in this story.
But now comes a twist.
Fourteen years after the birth of Ishmael Sarah gets pregnant. She has a son named Isaac. Now things become really complicated. Sarah grew jealous of Ishmael by now a teenager growing toward manhood. Sarah wants Ishmael out of the house. She can’t stand the sight of him any longer.
Abraham’s conflicted. He does not want to do this. But God tells him that Ishmael would become a great people and is not to be neglected. God then provides for Ishmael. He is not left destitute.
After 14 years as an only child Isaac’s arrival fundamentally changes Ishmael’s relationship with his father Abraham. Afterward Ishmael felt envy and rivalry toward his half-brother. Feelings that tribally have survived down through the centuries and affect the politics of the Middle East today.
At this point we have told the story of just five people. But further family complications were ahead. Isaac, Abraham’s son by Sarah, Isaac went on to have twin sons named Jacob and Esau. Even before these two were born they struggled within the womb of their mother and God explained that these boys would become two nations with one being stronger than the other (Genesis 25:23).
Jacob and Esau struggled through deception and through envy all of their lives in their own personal relationship. Because of deception and trickery Esau literally grew to hate his brother.
In this family story we are witnessing envy and conflict generated within a family. In the case of Abraham’s descendants the implications are far more critical than what occurs in nominal families. But it is one critical way and a very important way to understand the current problems in the Middle East. Understand this. Nations are families grown large with the problems that affect families grown larger with as in this case today, a global impact.
Again, the consequences of this are with us to this day. The descendants of Esau intermarried with Ishmael’s descendants and their bitterness and their resentment against Jacob’s descendants have grown through the centuries.
And so we come to today and the immediate problems in the Middle East.
You know since 1948 and the creation of the State of Israel in this promised land of ancient Canaan, now called the state of Israel, there has been an unresolved issue with the Palestinians. Those peoples uprooted during the first Arab-Israeli War. These millions of people have sought a permanent homeland to which no party either Arab, Israeli or any other nation has been able to provide any solution. Today Palestinians reside within and without the borders of the State of Israel. Many live in Arab lands such as in Syria or in Jordan. They live in isolated swatches of land like Gaza. This physical divide results in a political division within their own ranks and it’s a deep problem that has become multi-generational. No one, no leader, has demonstrated the qualities of leadership needed to cut through the political and religious dogma of this discussion. There have been summits, there have been treaties, and there have been discussions for decades all trying to solve and to resolve the Palestinian issue.
Perhaps the single biggest issue facing the Middle East right now is the threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon and the threat made to annihilate the state of Israel.
Iranians are not Arab and therefore they do not share descent from Abraham but they are Muslim, professing belief in Muhammad’s teachings. And as we have seen Mohammed’s descent is from Abraham and Islam holds Abraham in deep reverence as a patriarch and a prophet of Allah.
Part of Iran’s hostility is the existence of a Jewish state within the Middle East land that the Muslim faith believes to be a part of the sacred Muslim entitlement. It’s all a part of the long and complicated hostility between descendants of one man, again a man named Abraham.
So here we see Jew and Arab contending over an inheritance, a spot of land that in the end does not belong to either. The land belongs to God. Remember the scriptures from Genesis where we saw that it was God who gave to Abraham and his descendants the land? It was not Abraham’s land nor was it his sons or their descendants. In fact we read in the book of Hebrews where it says of Abraham that “he dwelt in the land by faith as in a foreign country” and that “he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:9-10).
Abraham never really inherited the land and he considered himself a stranger and a pilgrim while he lived there. God owned the land then and God owns the land now.
This is a critically important matter that no one understands and no one acknowledges. The present religious and political turmoil in the Middle East is at its heart a family feud between Abraham’s descendants. It will take the return of another descendant of Abraham, Jesus Christ, to settle this dispute. A dispute prophesied to erupt into a much larger conflict much sooner than we might think.
Because no one has been willing to change the heart and the way each looks at the other, peace treaties have been made and peace treaties have been broken through the generations because of the disdain for one another. There is still envy, jealousy and infighting, the kind one sees in a family divided and fighting over things.
You know the information that we provide you here on Beyond Today about Bible prophecy and the Middle East is critical understanding for you to be able to understand the news of today and the headlines and what they mean for your future.
Make a change in your life to obey God and to get in tune with His way. Do this now as a preparation for the time when the God of Abraham will establish a peace in the Middle East through His Son Jesus Christ. Christ is going to return as the Messiah no one in these three faiths will recognize. They won’t know Him then because they really do not know Him today.
But you can get to know Jesus Christ yourself. The Prince of Peace you can know him now and you’ll be prepared to work with Him to bring peace to these warring families in that age. Do it today and you might begin to bring some peace into your own life and into your own family.
Let’s recap what we have discussed today.
1. Three major religions of the world trace their roots back to one man. Abraham.
2. Abraham and Sarah took matters into their own hands rather than waiting on God and this led to a blended family that created the seeds of this conflict.
3. The descendants of Ishmael and the descendants of Isaac are still fighting to this day over the promises and the blessings that God gave to Abraham.
4. It will take the return of another descendant of Abraham, Jesus Christ, to settle this family feud dispute and to bring peace among all nations.
As I discussed on today’s program the three faiths Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all trace their spiritual roots back to the same individual Abraham. But why is there so much conflict and animosity among these three religions and the nations they represent? Indeed why does this ongoing family feud continue and just why should it matter to you?
To help you understand we have prepared a valuable study aid: The Middle East in Bible Prophecy . This free booklet will give you the biblical and historical background to this critical region of the world and help you understand why it experiences so many unsettling events. In addition it will help you grasp how these problems will be completely resolved in the future.
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If Abraham, the faithful father of these warring feuding peoples, were to sit at a table of peace with all of them today what might he say to bring about an end to the hostilities?
Perhaps he would point them to another one of his descendants, Jesus Christ of Nazareth the Prince of Peace who said “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall see God” and who encouraged followers to “turn the other cheek” in a dispute (Matthew 5:9; Matthew 5:39).
These are two steps that must be taken to settle matters that have lasted many thousands of years.
Peace between these feuding sons of Abraham will come not by the hand of man but by the hand of God. May God speed that day.
Remember to join us in praying “Thy Kingdom come.” For Beyond Today , I’m Darris McNeely.
[Narrator] For the free literature offered on today’s program go online to beyondtoday.tv