Israel, God's glory: What hope Ishmael?: Part 2, God hears
By Debra Rae
Notably, God's covenant with Abraham came with no expiration date, nor were any conditions imposed. Whatever Abraham did, or failed to do, God swore to multiply his seed as the stars of heaven. And so He did: Abraham became father of "many nations." Through Abraham's son Isaac, God's plan involves and even features Israel, recognized as seed of the Messiah while privileged with special covenants, revelations, promises and law. Abraham is honored by Bible-believing Christians as the father of all who believe—Jews first; then, Gentiles.
Meaning "to prevail with God" or "prince with God,"Israel designates the son of Isaac (Jacob) or his descendants, the twelve tribes of the Hebrews. It references the nation's ten northern tribes, as opposed to Judah. Eventually, the term "Jew" came to represent the entire Hebrew race worldwide. One need only consider the debt of gratitude Christian Gentiles owe the Jews, who pretty much had God to themselves thousands of years before Gentiles were grafted in. These owe their faith and very salvation to the Jewish lineage of Jesus Christ, a Torah-believing, feast-observing Jewish rabbi.
Moreover, against all odds, and through brutal sufferings, Jews accurately recorded the Scriptures. Attested to by discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, they exceled as faithful custodians of the oracles of God. Over some ten generations, God faithfully increased the nation of Israel both in numbers and substance. That's the good news. Now, the bad: From ancient times, through the dark ages, then the Renaissance in France and Russia, the enlightenment, and continuing into the age of nationalism, World War I, and beyond, anti-Jewish vitriol has given form to a sort of pseudo-history that blames Jews for virtually everything—including Europe's Black Death (Plague).
Through Ishmael as well as Isaac, Abraham became father of "many nations."Although Ishmael was not heir with Isaac to the promise, he was heir to a promise. God made Ishmael fruitful with "numerous descendants." Because he was Abraham's seed (and for Abraham's sake), Ishmael bore twelve sons and a daughter who, in turn, became princes and progenitors of many tribes.
Notwithstanding, depicted as a "wild ass of a man" born of a bondwoman, or slave, Ishmael speaks to the self-life and carnality. Importantly, Ishmael is progenitor of Arabs who perpetually struggle in following the tradition of Islam. To this day, a so-called "Green Line" marks the boundary between Israel and its Arab neighbors. On a sliver of mostly desert land (without oil), Jews created abundance (hence, the metaphorical "Green" Line). Arabs were allotted nine times the acreage of Israelis, but chose instead to sit on its aridity and nurture poverty and resentments.
Legacy of Violence Through Isaac
Some thirty years past the crucifixion of Christ, a leader arose from the NE corner of the Mediterranean Sea in the bustling Graeco-Roman city of Tarsus. His birthfather a Pharisee, this icon of Orthodox Judaism was an authentic son of Abraham born of purist Jewish blood. Having completed his studies in Jerusalem under tutelage of the famous Gamaliel, this self-righteous zealot engaged in escalating acts of terrorism against those he deemed to be heretical.
Scripture portrays him as one who breathed murderous threats and slaughter against his prey—before identifying, tracking, gathering and then binding them, men and women alike. His was a fanatical devotion to God whose honor, he believed, deserved their extermination. Ironically, in terrorizing Christians, he unleashed jihadist-like fury only to persecute the very God he claimed to serve.
From the Hebrew word Shaul, his name means "asked for." Marked as the natural leader of persecution that arose following Stephen's stoning, Saul asked for blood—and got it. Likewise called Paul, he famously faced the error of his ways through a transfo rming crisis. In brief, while approaching Damascus, Paul was arrested, as it were, by the risen Lord. Having surrendered instantaneously and unreservedly, Paul dramatically changed course and, in time, came out of Arabia with the essentials of his revelation in tact.
Understandably, Christian contemporaries regarded Paul with cold suspicion at first but eventually he established extraordinary credentials as a fruitful missionary for Christ. Moreover, his apostolic legacy and spiritual acumen were unparalleled. Before pagan philosophers on Mars Hill, Paul delivered a memorable speech that to this day stands as a masterpiece of diplomacy, brevity, and insight.
Legacy of Violence Through Ishmael
Isaac's legacy of violence turned on hope. But what hope Ishmael? Today, an Ishmaelite global movement "controls thirty-five thousand square miles of prime Middle Eastern real estate, rakes in up to $3 million per day in revenue (much of it in the illicit oil trade), draws thousands of Westerners to its ranks, beheads American citizens, and pulls the United States back into the world's most tumultuous region."
Alarmingly, some seventy percent of the Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza approve the suicide bombing of women and children—if the targets are Jews, that is. The Qur'an characterizes Jews as "estranged," "despised and rejected apes," insolent, "open enemies" not to be taken as "friends," "helpers," or "protectors." Followers of the Qur'an are to lie in wait for these infidels, as men "made for hell" —then, "beleaguer," "terrorize," "fight," "seize," "smite," and "slay" them. Specifically, slit their necks and "smite all their finger tips off them."
Ishmael's vendetta exhibits seven things God explicitly hates—namely, haughty eyes, lying tongues, hands that shed innocent blood, hearts that devise wicked plans, feet that run rapidly to evil, liars and agitators among brothers. Nonetheless, hope is soundly embedded in Ishmael's name meaning "God hears." To borrow a phrase from Lamentations 3:29, "Let them lie face down in the dust, for there may be hope at last." "Arab" means "to lie in wait." In a very real sense, Ishmael lies in wait for God's love that bears, believes, hopes, and endures all things.
Just ask Tass Abu Saada. Born a Muslim in the Gaza Strip, then reared and radicalized as a refugee in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, Tass was well acquainted with the bin Laden family. Himself no stranger to terrorism, Tass served as a ruthless sniper for the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Driven by hate, this cold-blooded assassin proudly chauffeured his then mentor and hero, the late Yasser Arafat.
Tass' story, Once an Arafat Man: The True Story of How a PLO Sniper Found a New Life, provides a fascinating window into the book of Genesis, Islamic culture, and the Arab-Israeli conflict. In no small way, his is a message of hope in the God of all hope. Having placed his faith in Christ, this son of Ishmael has since co-founded an evangelical ministry (Hope for Ishmael) and a humanitarian organization operating in the Middle East (Seeds of Hope).
One of three eternal virtues, hope is a strange commodity indeed. No one hopes for what he already possesses, for hope that is manifest is no hope at all. Accordingly, Abraham hoped against hope in God's promise that was realized beyond the span of his earthly life. God credited Abraham's faith as righteousness. Whether shown by the progeny of Isaac (sons of the promise) or Ishmael (sons of a promise), righteousness "exalts a nation."
The late Yogi Berra famously quipped, "It ain't over ‘til it's over"; to that I add, "It ain't over yet!" Those exercising the faith of Abraham see "afar off" to a time when even the sword of Islam will be beat into plow blades. For "whosoever will" among them Abraham's fervent prayer, "O that Ishmael might live before Thee!" at long last will come to pass. In the Messiah, Ishmael, too, has strong consolation to lay hold on the hope set before us all.
Debra Rae is a regular contributor to The Intellectual Conservative and this publication. © 2015