The Middle East continues to be a powder keg of violent unrest and political upheaval. What's the root cause of the seemingly never-ending conflict? And what is the solution to the world's oldest family feud?
God said of Ishmael, "He will be a wild donkey of a man;..." (Genesis 16:11-12)
Have you ever watched families fight? It isn't pretty. Accusations fly back and forth. Grievances big and small from years past are often dredged up. Past hurts are not forgotten and live on in the present. This is the fuel of anger, resentment and sometimes hate.
Since 1948 with the birth of the state of Israel, there have been wars, suicide bombings and terrorist attacks.
Why do we see such hatred in the Middle East? The bottom line is that it's all one big family feud.
A family in turmoil
The three main religions of the Middle East—Judaism, Christianity and Islam—all trace their spiritual roots back to the same person, Abraham. The towering historical figures behind these three religions— Moses, Jesus Christ and Muhammad—were all direct descendants of Abraham.
Imagine this scene. Five people, all living in the same home. Abraham and Sarah—husband and wife. Their female servant Hagar and her son Ishmael—who was fathered by Abraham. The fifth person is Isaac, the newborn son of Abraham and Sarah. Isaac is the legitimate son of Abraham and therefore will be heir to all that he owns as well as the promise from God of incredible blessings. It's a perfect recipe for conflict. The seeds of strife are already sown and ready to sprout.
Sarah demands that Hagar and Ishmael leave the home. Abraham objects but has to do it to maintain the peace within the house. Eventually Hagar leaves, but not without a promise of hope for her son.
God gave 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 [which means 'God hears'] for the Lord has heard of your misery.
"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 his brothers" (Genesis 16:10-12, New International Version).
Ishmael's descendants prophesied to become very great
This description of Hagar's descendants is very significant because many of today's Arabs are descendants of this same Ishmael, whose father was Abraham. Muhammad, the founder of Islam, is said to be a descendant of Ishmael.
When the Bible calls Ishmael and his descendants "a wild donkey of a man," it's really not meant as an insult. The wild donkey in the desert was an aristocrat of the wild beasts of that desert area. The prophecy is a reference to how Ishmael's descendants would emulate the lifestyle of the wild donkey, leading a free and noble existence in those desert lands.
It goes on to say that "his hand will be against everyone, and everyone's hand against him." On one hand, this could refer to Ishmael's descendants striving for independence, resisting foreign domination. But it also must refer to their setting out in conquest and meeting resistance.
The prophecy goes on to say that Ishmael will live in hostility towards all of his brothers. That's a reference to the conflict that's historically existed among the Arabs and between the Arabs and the other sons of Abraham like the Jews.
The ongoing turmoil in the Middle East is a very real human problem. It's no more difficult to understand than this story of five people we've been tracing. It was a family problem then, and it still is today. Abraham's descendants can't get along today any better than they did thousands of years ago.
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 had a son, Ishmael, by one of his female servants, Hagar. Ishmael, with his mother, lived under the same roof as Abraham and Sarah in this story.
But now comes a twist.
Isaac's birth meant hardship for Ishmael
After 14 years as an only child, Ishmael's world is turned upside down when Sarah gives birth! She has a son named Isaac. Now things become really complicated.
Ishmael is a teenager growing toward manhood, and Sarah grows unhappy with him as a rival to Isaac in the household. She wants Ishmael out! She can't stand the sight of him any longer. Abraham is conflicted. He doesn't want to send him away. But God tells him to heed Sarah in this and that Ishmael will become a great people and won't be neglected. God provides for Ishmael—he is not left destitute.
Thus, Isaac's arrival fundamentally changes Ishmael's relationship with his father and his position in the family. Afterward, Ishmael felt envy and rivalry toward his half-brother. These are feelings that tribally survived down through the centuries and affect the politics of the Middle East today.
The feud continues with Esau and Jacob
The family issues only get worse as we read on in the Bible. Isaac, Abraham's son by Sarah, had twin sons, Jacob and Esau. Even before these two were born, they struggled within the womb of their mother. God explained that these boys would become two nations, with one being stronger than the other.
Jacob and Esau struggled through deception and envy all of their lives in their own relationship. Because of Jacob's deception and trickery, Esau grew to hate his brother.
Again, the consequences of this are with us to this day. The descendants of Esau intermarried with Ishmael's descendants. Their bitterness and resentment against Jacob's descendants grew through the centuries.
Understand this: Nations are families grown large. They still have the problems that affect family units. When families grow into nations and carry on their problems, it can have global impact.
And so we come to today and the immediate problems in the Middle East.
Different peoples vying for the same land
Today we have Jew and Arab contending over an inheritance, a spot of land that in the end does not belong to either of them.
It belongs to God. Remember the scriptures from Genesis where God gave the land to Abraham and his descendants. It wasn't Abraham's land. It wasn't his sons' or their descendants. In fact we read in the book of Hebrews that Abraham "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 he was truly looking for. He considered himself a stranger and a pilgrim while he lived in the land his family was given! God owned the land then, and God owns the land now!
None of this critically important matter is understood and acknowledged in the world of international diplomacy. The present religious and political turmoil in the Middle East is at its heart a family feud between Abraham's descendants. It's a dispute prophesied to erupt into a larger conflict much sooner than we might think.
Because neither side is willing to change their hearts and the way they look at the other, peace treaties have been made and broken through the generations. There's still envy, jealousy and infighting—the kind we see in a family divided.
Jesus Christ will heal the broken family
Will the descendants of these brothers ever be reconciled? Humanly and physically speaking, it's simply not possible. For far too long there has been too much envy, too much hatred, too much bloodshed and too much distrust.
These are ancient wounds that will not be healed by peace treaties. Even in recent history, instead of repairing the breach, leaders of both the Arab and Israeli factions refuse to seriously attempt peace and reconciliation.
There is good news, however. While there is no physical solution, there is a spiritual solution. True peace will come when the greatest of Abraham's descendants—Jesus Christ—returns to settle this dispute and all others on earth.
Get to know Jesus Christ—the Prince of Peace—now, and you'll be prepared to work with Him to bring peace to these warring families. Do it today, and you might begin to bring some peace into your own life!