The Cry of Ishmael – Part 2

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Youngsters in Java

In part one of this series we saw that Abraham (i.e. the ‘exalted father’) is an iconic lynch-pin of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.

Genesis (the book of origins) shows how Jesus’ human ancestry was as a descendant of Abraham through Isaac. From the same account, Islamic tradition identifies Muhammad’s ancestry as a descendent of Abraham through Ishmael.

The third way between (i.e. between institutional Christianity and political Islam) is ‘the way of Christ’, which affirms that believers in Jesus are sons and daughters of Abraham, and as such they are children of God, through faith in Christ (see Gals.3-4).

The ancient problem was that Ishmael was ejected twice from Abraham’s household (see Gen.21:8-10 and Gen.28:6-9). The bitter ‘cry of Ishmael’ was one of rejection, anger and isolation.

The gospel is a call to those of ‘the faith of Ishmael’ to return to the ‘household of faith’ of which Christ is the head.

Muslim in the desertFaith in Jesus provokes our compassion for the sons of Ishmael (Arabs) and the followers of the religion identified with Ishmael. These are Muslim people who find themselves born into a tradition which, like Ishmael, is identified with ‘dry places’.

Like Ishmael, Islam was born in a desert community. Historically it has thrived in desert lands and among peoples of a Bedouin lifestyle – and now among migrants.

The sons of Ishmael & Isaac in conflict

Throughout history, the sons of Ishmael and Isaac have lived in hostility – this is expressed in Christian/Muslim tensions today.

Isaac’s son Esau rebelled against his father and to spite him, he married Mahalath the sister of Nabaioth who was a relative of Ishmael (Gen.28:6-9).

In the days of Saul, Israel went to war with the Hagarites (sons of Ishmael) who lived in tents as Bedouins (see 1 Chron.5:10,19-22). It was Ishmaelite traders who took Joseph to Egypt (Gen.37:25). This was possibly the same route Muhammad later used as a merchant.

Something unprecedented is happening to the sons of Ishmael today

In Genesis 17:19 God affirms that Sarah would have a son (Isaac) with whom he would confirm his ‘everlasting covenant’ with him and his descendants. This refers, not to the old covenant at Sinai but the new one at Calvary, where the dam of grace was breached forever.

Sons of Ishmaelite (Arabs) observed the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:11); and today God is supplying ‘living water’ for them.

After the incident where God saved Ishmael’s life (Gen.21), he never saw his father Abraham again until he, and his younger brother Isaac, buried Abraham together (Gen.25:7-9).

This symbolism is more than “poetic” – it is prophetic. It speaks of the interlaced destinies of Jews, Muslims and Christians in the sovereign purposes of God. More Jews and Muslims are changing allegiance to Jesus Christ today than at any other time in history.

Photo Credits: Top photo. Lower photo. Both Flickr Creative Commons.

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