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Isaac and Ishmael

I received an email a few days ago from some Muslims in Egypt, which included Understanding Islam and the Muslims, a transcript of a detailed brochure which had been produced by the government of Saudi Arabia. Its writers sent it to me to "correct my errors," such as, they say, it was his son Ishmael that Abraham nearly sacrificed (The Bible says it was his son Isaac), and that they regard Jesus Christ as just one of a series of highly-respected prophets, beginning with Adam, and including others such as Noah, Moses, Elijah, John the Baptist, and ending in the seventh century AD with the founder of Islam, Muhammad (whereas the Bible says that Jesus Christ was and is the only Messiah that this world will ever have, and that He was the Son of God, not a mere prophet on the level of ordinary humans). And, of course, there was the matter of who are the rightful heirs to the land of Israel (my writing of "Israel" there, not "Palestine," reflects what the Bible says about the land of Israel).

Isaac Although it may very often seem so, Daily Bible Study does not "take sides" between Jews and Arabs (or between all of the many conflicting versions of Christianity) - it merely teaches what the Holy Bible says. Even though I was born and raised, and am, a Christian, I respect the Muslim people and their religion of Islam (even though I do not agree with their beliefs that are outlined in the first paragraph), just as I respect the Jewish people and their religion - even though Judaism (presently) rejects Jesus Christ as the Messiah. Daily Bible Study is not pro-Israel, it's pro-Bible.

The Holy Bible is the only book that I accept as the Word of God, nothing else that was written, before or after, is "holy" to me. What I believe is based on the Holy Bible, on that written Word of God, and what I believe about the descendants of Isaac and Ishmael is based on that written Word of God.

Abraham loved Ishmael just as much as he loved Isaac (Genesis 21:9-13), and Ishmael (the ancestor of the Arab people) and his descendants were loved and blessed by God (Genesis 21:13,18) just as were the descendants of Isaac (the ancestor of the Jews, and other Israelites of the other 11 tribes), but in a different way, for a different purpose.


Abram was born in Ur of the Chaldees, located in the Tigris-Euphrates Valley region, in what is today Iraq. From Ur, Abram and his family moved to Haran, about 600 miles / 975 kilometers to the northwest. There, at the age of 75, he received his calling from God:

"Now The Lord said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse; and by you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves." (Genesis 12:1-3 RSV)

An important point about Abraham is that although all bloodline Jews of today are descended from him, Abraham himself was not a Jew. Abraham's son Isaac, had a son Jacob (who was renamed Israel), who had 12 sons (from whom came The Tribes Of Israel), one of which was Judah, from whom came the Jews. The first "Jew" was Judah, Abraham's great-grandson (see Hebrews). Both Jews and Arabs are equally descended from Abraham, but Abraham himself was neither "Jew" nor "Arab".


Isaac was the only son of Abraham and Sarah, and the father of Esau and Jacob, who God renamed Israel. The patriarchs are often named together in both the Old Testament and New Testament e.g. when speaking to Moses, God said, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." (Exodus 3:6 RSV).

Isaac's birth came about from a miracle - Abraham was 100 years old when Isaac was born (Genesis 21:5), and Sarah, at age 90, had been unable to have children (Genesis 16:1, 17:17). As explained by God:

"Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish My covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I will bless him and make him fruitful and multiply him exceedingly; he shall be the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation." (Genesis 17:19-20 RSV).

Isaac was not Abraham's firstborn, or only, son. Fourteen years before, when Abraham was 86 (Genesis 16:16), Sarah (then called Sarai) had arranged for a child to be born to Abraham through her own Egyptian maidservant, Hagar. Ishmael was born from the arrangement (Genesis 16:1-4).

The promise did not however go through Ishmael because the covenant had already been made with Abraham, with a yet-unborn Isaac the designated heir, before Ishmael was conceived or born (Genesis 15:2-6). While God does not play favorites, He was also not bound to any other arrangements for children that Abraham and Sarah had taken upon themselves to bring about after the matter had been firmly decided by God.

Abraham's greatest test of obedience to God involved Isaac:

"Take your son, your only son [i.e. only son with his wife Sarah] Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering upon one of the mountains of which I shall tell you." (Genesis 22:2 RSV)

Abraham passed the test, while God stopped it before any actual harm to could come to Isaac:

"Do not lay your hand on the lad or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son [i.e. only son with his wife Sarah], from Me." (Genesis 22:12 RSV).

Abraham had been willing to give up his son to God, just as God Himself would later give up His Own Son to a sacrifice that was allowed to happen. An interesting point is that the place where Abraham was sent to sacrifice Isaac, Mount Moriah, is today known as the Temple Mount in Jerusalem - Isaac (Isaac, not Ishmael, was a direct ancestor of the Messiah, Jesus Christ) would have been sacrificed very near the place that Jesus Christ was Crucified.


Ishmael, meaning God hears, was the son of Abraham and Hagar, the Egyptian maid of his wife Sarah. When Sarah had found herself not having children, she arranged to have a child with Abraham by Hagar acting as a surrogate mother (Genesis 16:1-4), even though God had specifically stated that a child (i.e. Isaac) would be born to Sarah in due time.

Ishmael was born at Mamre, when Abraham was 86, 11 years after Abraham's arrival in what would become the land of Israel (Genesis 16:3). He grew up to be a man of the desert wilderness, with a wild and hostile attitude toward people, exactly as God described him to his mother before he was born:

"Behold, you are with child, and shall bear a son; you shall call his name Ishmael; because The Lord has given heed to your affliction. He shall be a wild ass of a man, his hand against every man and every man's hand against him; and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen." (Genesis 16:11-12 RSV).

When a feast was held to celebrate the weaning of Isaac, who was born 13 years later, Ishmael caused trouble by insulting and mocking his little brother (Genesis 21:8-9). After Sarah, who by then had come to dislike both Hagar and Ishmael, saw what he was doing, she said to Abraham "Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac." (Genesis 21:10 RSV)

Abraham opposed Sarah's demand - despite Ishmael's difficult personality, Abraham loved him and did not want to see him go. God however settled the matter:

"But God said to Abraham, "Be not displeased because of the lad and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for through Isaac shall your descendants be named. And I will make a nation of the son of the slave woman also, because he is your offspring." (Genesis 21:12-13 RSV)

Hagar and Ishmael were sent away, but they were not abandoned. God appeared and spoke to Hagar, assuring her that He would watch over them and see them prosper (Genesis 21:17-19). "And God was with the lad, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow. He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt" (Genesis 21:20-21 RSV).

Fact Finder: Do the descendants of Ishmael occupy a vast territory (i.e. all of the Arab nations) in the Middle East, about 150 times larger (and including rich oil reserves) than the descendants of Isaac have in Israel?
See Arabs

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