Understanding Conflict in the Middle East–Part One (Resources & Notes)

[Note:  Sarah was in charge of Abraham’s household servants and so she had the authority to cast out the bondservants Hagar and Ishmael, and this event became the solution to the issue of the birth-right inheritance, and this solution became the basis for the Apostle Paul’s allegory that explained the nature of the two covenants relative to the lives of Sarah and Hagar.]

[Note:  The Mount of Mercy (Mount of Arafat) is beside the Plain of Arafat near the city of Mecca.  The Mount of Mercy (Jabal ar-Rahmah) is according to Islamic tradition the hill where the prophet Muhammad delivered his farewell address to the Muslims who had accompanied him for the Hajj.]

[Note:  Jeddah or Jiddah in Arabic means “grandmother,” and tradition claims that Eve was buried near the sea in the town of Jeddah.]

[Note:  Persian rulers recognized the city of Jerusalem as the capital city of the displaced Israelites, and this is understood from the decrees of Cyrus II, Darius I and Artaxerxes I.  For we read in Ezra that:  “During the first year of Cyrus, king of Persia, in fulfillment of the message from the Lord spoken through Jeremiah, the Lord prompted Cyrus, king of Persia, to make this proclamation throughout his entire kingdom, which was also released in written form:  AN OFFICIAL STATEMENT FROM CYRUS, KING OF PERSIA All of the kingdoms of the earth have been given to me by the LORD God of Heaven, and he specifically charged me to build a temple for him in Jerusalem, which is in Judah” (Ezra 1:1-2, ISV).  (See also, Ezra 4:1-16).]

[Note:  Some equate the area of Hejaz that includes Mecca in Saudi Arabia with the biblical wilderness or desert of Paran.]

[Note:  His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan is the 43rd generation direct descendant of the prophet Muhammad.]

[Note: Saracen was a term used by the ancient Romans to refer to those peoples who inhabited the deserts within the Roman province of Arabia-Patraea and these Saracens were considered by some to be distinct from the southern Arabs.  The term “Saracen” eventually became synonymous with “Muslims” during the time of the Crusades.  In some Christian writings the name Saracen was interpreted to mean “not from Sarah,” while in Jewish tradition the Saracens were believed to be descended from Hagar’s son Ishmael.  Some Christians also called them the Hagarenes or Ishmaelites.]

[Note:  The priestly nation of Israel was immersed in continual sacrificial duties, rituals and observances, and according to the biblical record the people of Israel were responsible for carrying out the will of God in overthrowing the inhabitants of Canaan.  The people of Israel were only able to take it by struggle and conflict as they were not an exemplary nation that lived by faith in God.]

[Note:  Some consider the prophet Muhammad to be a descendant of Ishmael, but this claim is generally disputed by Muhammad’s own statements regarding his family genealogy.  Likewise, the Palestinian Arabs and others within the Arab world also claim to be descendants of Ishmael, and thus descendants of Abraham.  This conclusion is, however, problematic and difficult to authenticate from biblical, genealogical and historical records regarding the peoples of the Middle East.]

[Note:  “Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee:  And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:  And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.  So Abram departed, as the Lord had spoken unto him; and Lot went with him: and Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran.  And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten in Haran; and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came.  And Abram passed through the land unto the place of Sichem, unto the plain of Moreh. And the Canaanite was then in the land.  And the Lord appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the Lord, who appeared unto him” (Gen.12:1-7).]

[Note:  “And he said unto him [Abraham], I am the LORD that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it” (Gen. 15:7).]

[Note:  “And he said unto Abram [Abraham], Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; And also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance.  And thou shalt go to thy fathers in peace; thou shalt be buried in a good old age.  But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full.  And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces.  In the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates:  The Kenites, and the Kenizzites, and the Kadmonites, And the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Rephaims, And the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Girgashites, and the Jebusites” (Gen. 15:13-21).]

[Note:  “Now after the death of Moses the servant of the Lord it came to pass, that the Lord spake unto Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ minister, saying, Moses my servant is dead; now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, thou, and all this people, unto the land which I do give to them, even to the children of Israel.  Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon, that have I given unto you, as I said unto Moses.  From the wilderness and this Lebanon even unto the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites, and unto the great sea toward the going down of the sun, shall be your coast” (Jos. 1:1-4).]

[Note:  The second covenant (new covenant) is yet to be ratified and established with Isaac’s heirs in their promised lands (Rom. 9:4).]

[Note:  The new national covenant required the death of a testator so that a better promise—the gift of the holy spirit—could be a part of the agreement that will be mediated by Jesus (Ezk. 37:1-28).]

[Note:  Sarah was also a recipient of the promise and therefore she would be known as “a mother of nations” because God had said that:  “my covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year” (Gen. 17:6, 21).  Paul affirmed this understanding when he wrote:  “this is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sara shall have a son” (Rom. 9:9).]

[Note:  With the birth of Isaac, Ishmael was no longer a recipient of Abraham’s estate, and it was certain that he would never receive the birth-right promise that was bestowed upon Isaac.  Nonetheless, Ishmael was given a different promise from God, and he was told that he would have 12 sons who would be princes, and through these sons Ishmael would become the forefather of a great nation (Gen. 17:20).  (We should not assume that this “nation” is particularly located in the Middle East.)]

[Note:  The Pharisees had come to believe the old covenant was sufficient to eternal life because they assumed they had overcome the shortcomings revealed by the law by devising “works” or “deeds of the law” to make up for their lack of perfection in keeping the first covenant established at Mt. Sinai.  The apostle Paul condemned them for this by explaining that this was proof of their lack of faith in God, and that these “works” would not fulfill the promise of eternal life as a substitute for faith in the sacrifice of Christ.]

[Note:  Biblically the children of God are regarded—by analogy—as a type of “firstfruits” who are within the church of God.  Noting that the church is composed of those called and those chosen from all over the world and from different generations (Rom. 8:14-17; Gal. 3:26-27, 4:26).  Therefore, because of the firstfruits, those who will be under the administration of the coming new covenant will have a ruling priesthood under the high priest Jesus (Jn. 6:44; Gal. 3:7).  (The church is not a “new covenant” or a “new testament” church because the new national covenant is yet to be ratified with national Israel.)]

[Note:  The promise of eternal life and the establishment of the kingdom of God by Jesus at Jerusalem are mutually inclusive to the promises given to Abraham, and in this context we see that the promises given to Abraham pose a significant challenge to the traditional teachings respective to the conventional doctrine regarding heaven as the reward of the saints of God.]

[Note:  In regard to the inheritance that is the kingdom of God those under the old covenant were like bondservants whose children would only continue to engender bondservants and never heirs to the kingdom of God.  And for those who wanted to remain under the first covenant it was made known to them that even though they had formulated “works of the law” to qualify their observance of the covenant, they were nonetheless proven to be unworthy inheritors by the stipulations that were at the center of the covenant made at Mt. Sinai (Rom. 3:20).]

[Note:  “In most circumstances, such a nuclear family was not self-sufficient either economically or socially.  It could be incorporated in two kinds of larger unit.  One of them was the kinship group, or those linked, or claiming to be linked by descent from a common ancestor four or five generations ago.  This was the group to which its members could look for help in case of need, and which would assume responsibility for vengeance if a member of it were harmed or killed

The other kind of unit was that created by a permanent economic interest.  For those who cultivated the land and did not move, the village—or the ‘quarter’ if the village was larger, as those in plains and river valleys might be—was such a unit….  Between these two types of unit, the one based on kinship and the other on common interest, there was a complex relationship….  Beyond these more or less permanent minimal units there might be larger ones.  All the villages of a district, or all the herding unites of a grazing area, or even groups widely separated from each other, might think of themselves as belonging to a larger whole, a ‘fraction’ or ‘tribe,’ which they would regard as differing from and standing in opposition to other similar groups.  The existence and unity of the tribe were usually expressed in terms of descent from a common ancestor, but the precise way in which any fraction or family might be descended from the eponymous ancestor was not usually known, and the genealogies which were transmitted tended to be fictitious, and to be altered and manipulated from time to time in order to express changing relationships between the different units.  Even if they were fictitious, however, they could acquire a force and strength by intermarriage within the group” (A History of the Arab Peoples, by Albert Hourani, Belknap Press, 1991, pp. 106-107).]

[Note:  Hebron was also called kirjatharba, (kirjath, city of “arba,” who was a descendant of the tribe of Anakim), and in the book of Numbers 13:22 we find that Hebron was a city of great antiquity that was “built seven years before Zoan [Tanis] in Egypt.”

[Note:  “And Sarah was an hundred and seven and twenty years old: these were the years of the life of Sarah.  And Sarah died in Kirjatharba; the same is Hebron in the land of Canaan:  and Abraham came to mourn for Sarah, and to weep for her” (Gen. 23:1-2).]

[Note:  The Cave of Machpelah is known by Muslims as the Ibrahimi Mosque (Sanctuary of Abraham) and is thought to be the location of the burial caves of the biblical patriarchs–Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.]

[Note:  Understandably the city of Hebron is closely linked to the heritage of the people of Israel, and so we should expect the Israelis to focus strongly in this area as construction of the security barrier continues in Palestinian territory.  Israel’s attention to Hebron is not unlike the view that Russians have toward the Ukrainian city of Kyiv (Kiev) as this city is considered to be the “mother of all Russian cities,” which means that Russia is not likely to remain politically detached from the region of Ukraine.]

[Note:  Jerusalem was a city built by an Amorite and the Amorites were descendants of Amor a son of Canaan (Ezk. 16:3).]

[Note:  Muslims see the Qur’ an as a revealed work and a created copy of an uncreated book that exists in heaven, and the book that is in heaven is said in the Qur’an to be “the Mother of the Book in Our presence…” (43:3).]

[Note:  In the period following the creation of Adam and Eve we see that the man made a distinction between himself and the woman (both were called “Adam”), and this distinction described Eve as the “mother of all living,” and similarly God said of Sarah:  “And I will bless her, and give thee a son also of her: yea I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of people shall be of her” (Gen. 17:16).]

[Note:  In the Midrashim, Hagar is thought to have been an Egyptian princess and daughter of Pharaoh.]

[Note:  Hagar and Ishmael, being bondservants, were sent away by Sarah to ensure that Isaac would receive his birth-right inheritance, which was founded on a promise from God, and therefore Ishmael’s right as a firstborn son was overturned at the birth of Isaac because of the shared promise with Sarah (Gen. 17:19).]

[Note:  Muslims profess the authenticity of certain “Old Testament” events and stories as recorded in Scripture.  In particular the story of Hagar and Ishmael is told with an important contrast to the biblical account, whereas in the Qur’an we find that Hagar and Ishmael were driven out because of Sarah’s jealousy, and the spring that saved them is said to be in Mecca near the sacred Black Stone.  (The name of the spring is called Zamzam or Zemzem.)

Also, Muslims are aware of the story of Abraham and the test that God gave him when he was instructed to sacrifice his son, Isaac.  But there is a difference in how they relate the story, as some Muslims believe that it was not Isaac who was led to Mount Moriah, but rather Ishmael the father of those Arabs of his posterity and the firstborn of Abraham and Hagar.  Muslims arrive at this conclusion based in part on their view of Hebrew Scripture, because Scripture does state:  “I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me” (Gen. 22:12).  (The name “Ishmael” is not directly stated in the Qur’an in association with this story.)

From this verse Muslim scholars would reasonably argue from the perspective of Scripture that Ishmael was the intended sacrifice instead of Isaac because being the firstborn made Ishmael to be Abraham’s “only son” respective to Isaac.  In other words, it could not have been said of Isaac because when Isaac was born he was not the only son of Abraham.  Revealing of course some confusion as to which son would receive the birth-right promise—Isaac or Ishmael—which for some people would appear to cast doubt on the validity of the promise stated in Scripture.

However, as the promise was also to Sarah, and not to Hagar, it was affirmed by God that “in Isaac shall thy seed be called,” and this established Isaac as the legitimate heir to the promises given to Abraham.  Noting also that there are Muslim scholars who would agree that it was Isaac and not Ishmael.]

[Note:  The phrase “in Isaac shall thy seed be called” implies the potential for others to be regarded as an heir like Isaac in the context of a “calling” from God.]

[Note:  Isaac was born of a “freewoman” and in this context Paul introduces us to the concept of how everyone can become an heir with Christ to the kingdom of God by stating that the Jerusalem that is above “is free,” being analogous to a “freewoman,” and so this heavenly Jerusalem is regarded as the “mother of us all” respective to our eternal inheritance in the kingdom of God.  This heavenly Jerusalem represents by analogy a “freewoman” and “mother” and therefore this “Jerusalem” is not a reference to the earthly church of God.  (The church of God cannot be a “mother” to itself.)]

[Note:  “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.  But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster” (Gal. 3:24-25).

This verse is sometimes used to show that the Ten Commandments became obsolete with the first covenant, but it is evident that the first covenant has not been replaced nationally, and it is equally evident that the commandments are still binding as it is the Ten Commandments that define our reconciliation with God.

Notably then the term “schoolmaster” is better understood as a slave-guide who was considered a personal guide or tutor, and so the verse is not telling us the Ten Commandments are gone, but rather it explains that the Ten Commandments become a part of our knowledge and character and once we know them we no longer use the commandments in a rudimentary manner to show us the way.  Thus Paul told us that the law is established by faith, and not removed because it remains as the documented standard for God’s way of life and also these stipulations remain to define our reconciliation with God.]

[Note:  It was evident in the time of Jesus’ ministry that the first covenant had largely been abandoned by the former Commonwealth of Israel, and it was certain that many of the former tribes had long since migrated further north into the region of Central Asia and Asia Minor (modern Turkey).  And so we find that the representative remnant of the commonwealth that had returned from the Assyro-Babylonian Exile were attempting to preserve what little remained of the commonwealth by becoming marginally assimilated with the Roman Empire (Rom. 9:31-33).]

[Note:  There were those among the Jewish religious authorities during Jesus’ ministry who could not bring themselves to accept the “gospel” as they saw Jesus as a usurper who preached not only a new covenant, but who also proclaimed a coming world government that would be established through him as a recipient of the throne of David.  This, of course, was more than the Jewish authorities were willing to accept, and by any political stretch of thinking, this idea of a coming world government would no doubt be unacceptable to many nation-states today.

Nonetheless, this concept of a coming kingdom of God is at the heart of the “gospel,” or good news, that was proclaimed by Jesus and the apostles, which is also foundational—in one manner or another—to the generally adopted political position of professing Christianity today.  Being historically apparent when we observe how some Christian teachings have been misappropriated to influence the misguided political aspirations of some nations who have participated in the conflicts that have continued to exist in the Middle East.  (Those who have experienced the crusades and the conflicts that predated the crusades, and those who have experienced the results of western colonialism and the divisiveness of two great wars in the 20th century would have reason to vouch for this conclusion.)]

[Note:  Adonizedek, “lord of righteousness,” is considered to be a king of Salem as was Melchisedec, and this “Salem”—although sometimes disputed—is considered to be the same city as Jerusalem.]

[Note:  “A complete lack of trust, the absence of true statesmanship and the building of settlements have rendered a viable Palestinian state impossible” (Website: Chatham House The Royal Institute of International Affairs, “The Quiet Death of the Two-State Solution,” by Professor Yossi Mekelberg, Associate Fellow, Middle East and North Africa Programme).]

[Note:  “For the last 14 centuries, the overwhelming majority of Jews lived in either the Christian or Islamic world, and were in many respects a component in both civilizations.  Inevitably, the Jews who created Israel brought with them many of the political and societal standards and values, the habit and attitudes of the countries from which they came:  on the one hand what we have become accustomed to call the Judaeo-Christian tradition, on the other, what we may with equal justification call the Judaeo-Islamic tradition”  (What Went Wrong? Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response, by Bernard Lewis, Oxford University Press, 2002, p, 155).]    (Understanding Conflict in the Middle East–Part One