Reflections from the Holy Land — No Peace in the Middle East

“Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise.”

[Galatians 4:28]

The ancient city of Jerusalem was built on a mountain called Moriah, which remains to this day. Mt. Moriah is significant on many different levels because it holds the key to understanding the age-old conflict in the Middle East between two people groups — Jews and Arabs.

We are first introduced to Mt. Moriah in Genesis 22, when the LORD tests Abraham’s allegiance and faith by asking him to do the very last thing he could have possibly imagined — sacrifice his beloved son, Isaac.

Abraham, unwavering in his faith in the LORD, took his son Isaac and journeyed to the foot of this sacred mountain. It was there on that rock that God would demonstrate one of the greatest foreshadowings of the eternal gospel of Jesus Christ.

Later King David and his son Solomon would choose that very same rock to build the Temple for the LORD. This is where sacrifices were made for atonement and where the high priest of Israel would mediate for his people. This was the place where sinful man could meet with Holy God and seek restoration. The Temple is where God manifested His glory before the people and where they would worship Him in reverence.

“Then Solomon began to build the house of the LORD in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the LORD had appeared to David his father, at the place that David had appointed, on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.”

[2 Chronicles 3:1]

It is evident that the LORD has chosen that mountain as His own resting place for His name to be remembered forever. Consider what the LORD told Solomon at the dedication of the Temple on Mount Moriah.

And the LORD said to him, “I have heard your prayer and your plea, which you have made before me. I have consecrated this house that you have built, by putting my name there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time.”

[1 Kings 9:3]

Abraham and Isaac

After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”

[Genesis 22:1-2]

Picture Abraham, an old man by this time, deliberately climbing the rough terrain of Moriah with his beloved son Isaac by his side. Picture him marching the son of promise to the place of his imminent death. Isaac bearing the wood for his own sacrifice on his back, submitting to his father’s will. Abraham had waited years to finally see the LORD provide this son of promise against all odds, and now the LORD was asking Abraham to lay his beloved son down on that rock and offer him as a sacrifice. Would Abraham be willing to give the one thing he loved the most back to God?

Abraham’s faith proved remarkable. Consider what the Scriptures say about his trust in God.

Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and come again to you.”

[Genesis 22:5]

And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here I am, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together

[Genesis 22:7-8]

“By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, ‘Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.’ He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.”

[Hebrews 11:17-19]

The obedience displayed by Abraham and his son Isaac and the provision of God on that sacred mountain should deeply resonate within every believer because it effectively foreshadows the Person and redemptive work of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The chart below shows how this one event is perhaps the greatest picture of the gospel in the Old Testament.

Abraham and Ishmael

The Arab people living in the Middle East are direct descendants from Abraham’s son, Ishmael, and to a lesser extent Isaac’s son, Esau. While waiting for the LORD to deliver on His promise for a son, Sarai became anxious and took matters into her own hands, suggesting that Abram sleep with the maidservant, Hagar. Abraham foolishly succumbed to his wife’s persuasion and a son was born to Hagar named Ishmael.

Although Abraham loved his son, Ishmael, this one act of disobedience caused perpetual turmoil and dysfunction in the home, and the LORD rebuked Abraham by reminding him that His covenant would not be established though Ishmael, who was illegitimate, but through Isaac, the son of promise. God still had compassion for Hagar and Ishmael and promised to make Ishmael into the father of a great nation (i.e. Arabs), but He unequivocally established his covenant with Isaac, not Ishmael. This is very significant in understanding the ongoing conflict between the Arabs and the Jews in Israel.

“And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!” 19God said, “No, but 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 offspring after him. 20As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation.21But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this time next year.”

[Genesis 17:18-21]

The reason this land is so fiercely disputed is because the Arabs, and more specifically the Muslim Arabs, claim Abraham as their father and therefore claim the land for themselves as his rightful heirs. It is true that Arabs are physical descendants of Abraham, but it is also true that the LORD did not establish his covenant with Ishmael, but rather Isaac. That is why He repeatedly calls Himself the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob — not Ishmael.

Although many Muslims today will claim that it was Ishmael who was carried up to Moriah to be sacrificed by Abraham, there is little historical support for such a claim in the Quran and the Muslim Hadith. As a matter of fact, there is actually more support in the Muslim writings that Isaac was the son Abraham took up on the mountain. You can read more here.

We must remember, that Islam emerged on the scene in the 7th Century A.D., which is over 2,600 years after the life of Abraham and over 2,000 years after Moses wrote the Torah. Anything the Muslim traditions add to the Scriptures of outright change must be categorically rejected.

This disagreement about the offspring of Abraham is at the heart of ongoing conflict in the Middle East, and unfortunately as long as Islam and Judaism exist and both live in that land, there is little hope for a resolution.

Which is why we must proclaim the truth to both unbelieving Jews and Muslims alike that they both are missing the True Son who made the ultimate sacrifice on that mountain — God’s beloved Son, the One and Only Savior of the world, Jesus Christ! And only in Christ will there ever be peace — peace with God, peace with mankind, and ultimately peace eternal in God’s kingdom!

Jesus Christ — the Prince of Peace

Perhaps no one has said it best than Christian Apologist Ravi Zacharias. Ravi at one point had the unique opportunity to speak with Sheikh Talal Sider, one of the founders of Hamas, and inspired by the Holy Spirit Ravi said the following.

But the last day, I saw one of the leaders of Hamas, one of the four founders. I went there for one reason; I had one question for him. He gave us a great meal, told us of eighteen years he’d served in prison, some of his children had been lost in suicide bombings, and this and that. And I had a question. I said, “Sheik, I may never see you again and forgive me if I’m asking you the wrong question. Please tell me, what do you think of suicide bombing and sending your children out like that?” I didn’t like his answer. I couldn’t say much. The room was full of smoke.

After he finished his answer, I said, “Sheik, you and I may never see each other again, so I want you to hear me. A little distance from here is a mountain upon which Abraham went 5,000 years ago to offer his son. You may say the son was one; I may say it’s another. Let’s not argue about that. He took his son up there. And as the axe was about to fall, God said, ‘Stop.’” I said, “Do you know what God said after that?” He shook his head. I said, “God said, ‘I myself will provide.’” He nodded his head. I said, “Very close to where you and I are sitting, Sheik, is a hill. Two thousand years ago, God kept that promise and brought his own Son and the axe did not stop this time. He sacrificed his own Son.” 

I said, “Sheik, I just want you to hear this. Until you and I receive the Son God has provided, we’ll be offering our own sons and daughters on the battlefields of this world for many of the wrong reasons.”

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