History of the Covenant between
God and man
Note: The following is largely excerpted from the book "Whoever You Thought You Were ... You're A Jew!"
We have seen that the Jewish people were a disappointment to God, and that He scattered them throughout the earth in the 6th century BC, even as far as China (see "History of Israel..." and "What were the final destinations of the Jews..." for details). But, in accordance with His promise, he surely did not abandon them. Rather, He made them bearers of His Spirit, to carry the Word of Himself to the far-flung corners of the world.
When those to whom this Word has come recognize again the origin of that which was sent to them, and turn again toward Jerusalem, then the End Times are close at hand.
We also saw the Jewish people, in the days of the Maccabbees, deny that pure faith in God could save their nation from being engulfed by Rome, turning instead to worldly militaristic ambition. When a messenger, Jesus Christ, was sent to them bidding that they return to faith in God, they slew him. However the Word, through Jesus' disciples, spread like wildfire; not among the Jews, but among the gentiles.
We have seen further that the Jewish rejection of Jesus was prophesied a half-millennium before it happened, and that the rejection of Christ was necessary for the fulfillment of scripture.
If the story had ended there, then the Jewish people would stand condemned, and there would be no obvious reason for God to ever raise them up again. Nor would there be any obvious way for prophecies of the resurrection of the House of David to be fulfilled. Therefore, the story could not end there.
No, there had to be a further chapter. There was, and there is. The Lord God created a whirlwind of dissent about the "nature of Christ" -- a slew of opinions as numerous as the languages God imposed upon man at the Tower of Babel. This made it impossible for the new religion which grew up around Jesus to ever be put into a "final form".
The first serious attempts to quell this dissent were the Christian councils of Niceaea, Chalcedon and Ephesus, which we shall discuss presently. At these councils, the Roman Church came to triumph over the East, forcing upon them a dogmatic doctrine of Christ as God-on-earth. For those who continued to dissent, the penalty was excommunication.
For large numbers of Eastern Christians, a burning resentment was all that came out of the councils. To prevail over Rome, however, they needed more than heightened emotions. They needed Divine Guidance. This Guidance was sent to them as a revelation -- a revelation through the mouth of an illiterate Arab merchant named Muhammad.
His religion, Islam, completes what we shall presently see to be a circle, a continuous geometric shape which has no beginning and no end. We will return to this concept shortly.
The story of Islam, in its capacity as a separate faith distinct from both Judaism and Christianity, cannot be understood without an understanding of its roots. The seeds from which these roots sprang were planted in the days of the revered patriarch of Judaism-Christianity-Islam, father Abraham.
At the end of Chapter 11 of the Book of Genesis, we were introduced to Abram, whose name God later changed to "Abraham", which means "father of many nations" (Genesis 17:5).
A father of many nations indeed! As the great patriarch of Jews, Christians, and Muslims, his portion among nations amounts to no less than half the souls alive on earth today. And the mathematical arguments we have seen earlier in this book convey the powerful implication that much of the other half of the world's population may fall under his domain as well.
Abraham was originally from Ur, a city in southern Iraq. This is the region called Mesopotamia ("between the rivers") -- the fertile crescent between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.
I have never read or heard anything which suggested that authoritative information exists regarding Abraham's ethnicity. Pending such information, it seems reasonable to assume that he was, to use the present language of ethnicity, an "Arab". On the day that believable evidence arises to the effect that he was either "whiter" or "blacker" than that, I will be the first to give such evidence my fullest consideration. In the meantime, he will remain, in my mind, an Arab until proven otherwise.
The first verses of Genesis, Chapter 12, are well-worth reproducing here:
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: an in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed."
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: an in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed."
The first part of the above quote (Genesis 12:1) deserves special mention. It became necessary for Abraham to leave his home and his people in order to obtain the Lord's blessing. The same was true for all who followed him, as was later true for all who followed Christ (many of whom perished at the hands of the Romans), and as was still later true for the followers of Muhammad (all of whom eventually had to flee for their lives, from Mecca to Medina). It is therefore the duty of every believer in God to be prepared, if and when the call comes, to again uproot himself; if not physically, then at least spiritually.
In Abraham's case, the physical and spiritual move were one and the same: he relocated to the land we know today as "Israel".
A "Revolutionary War" in the Middle East
Now the Middle East, in those days, consisted of two great empires: Babylon and Egypt. In between these lay a seemingly indomitable frontierland, corresponding to today's Israel. Has anything really changed!?
In the days of Abraham, Israel was a collection of petty kingdoms which paid tribute to Babylon. A "king" back then was probably no more than what we would today call a "mayor" of a city today. Chapter 14 of the Book of Genesis describes a rebellion of a coalition of such Israeli mayor-kings from the region south of Jerusalem. The members of this coalition refused to pay their annual tribute to Babylon, undoubtedly knowing full well that a military reprisal was certain.
According to the commentary in the Hertz Edition of the Torah, the consensus of scholarly opinion is that "Amraphel", the power behind the Babylonian force sent to quell the uprising, was none other than Hammurabi, the great Babylonian king and law-giver. If so, then we are dealing, in Genesis Chapter 14, with a major political upheaval. To me, as an American, it is reminiscent of the rebellion of the Thirteen Colonies against England during our own War of Independence in the 18th century.
Abraham used his own private army to bring about a reversal of a serious defeat inflicted by the forces of Babylon upon the rebellious Israeli kings. These kings were subsequently indebted to Abraham, but he refused to accept any spoil from the battle. What he did get, however, was peace.
The description of Abraham's sojourn in Israel prior to this war was suggestive of a state of unrest, such as might have been experienced in the American Wild West by the arrival of a new stranger in town. Subsequent to the war, however, he was clearly established as a man to be feared and respected. After purchasing a piece of land in Hebron containing the famous cave of Machpelah, in which to bury his deceased wife Sarah (Genesis Chapter 23), Abraham was legally established in the land. The troubled history of Israel, the Nation, had begun.
The children of Abraham
In the Book of Genesis, the origins of the best known of the families of Abraham are described. There are many of them. In Genesis 13:16, God tells Abraham "I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth, so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered". This, of course, required that he be married and have children.
Abraham married Sarah, but she was, for some years, childless. So she gave Abraham her Egyptian maid, Hagar, to be his second wife, in accordance with the customs of the day. You see, it appears that the children of a woman's maid were counted as her own. The issue, of course, was inheritance: without a male child, a wife inherited little of her husband's property; less, even, than his sister did.
Unfortunately it was true then, as it remains true today, that people cursed themselves with a heavy burden of jealousy. When Hagar the maid became pregnant, she grew proud and refused to submit to the rule of her mistress, Sarah. The latter flew into a jealous rage, and demanded permission from Abraham to throw Hagar out of the house. As Hagar's pregnancy had not yet come to term, and as there was yet no offspring for Abraham to be attached to, he gave his consent. Hagar was ejected forthwith (Genesis, Chapter 17).
But the angel of the Lord visited Hagar and counseled her to return, and to submit to her mistress. She did so, and shortly thereafter gave birth to a son, Ishmael. In the birth of Ishmael, Sarah's wish for a full inheritance was granted.
But then God caused Sarah to conceive, and her own son, Isaac, was born (Genesis, Chapter 21). Now she could have her full inheritance through her own "flesh and blood". Without delay, she again demanded that Hagar, and Ishmael with her, be cast out from the house. This time, it was to be permanent. She had no further use for either of them.
Now Abraham loved Ishmael, and this request grieved him greatly. But the voice of God told him to consent to Sarah's wishes, and he did so. He "took bread and a bottle of water, and gave it unto Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, and the child, and sent her away" (Genesis 21:14).
On that very day, the religion known today as "Islam" was born.
Since God Himself suffered the expulsion of Ishmael to take place, it may be clearly seen that it is His will that Islam exist.
Hagar nearly perishes in the desert
Hagar's bottle of water was soon spent, and she got lost in the wilderness. She sat down to die, placing Ishmael a "bowshot" away. "Let me not look upon the death of the child", she said (Genesis 21: 16). But they did not die. God brought forth water from the earth, and saved the two of them. This spring of water is identified by Muslims as the well of Zamzam, located today within the al-Haram Mosque in Mecca. At the center of this Mosque is the holiest site in Islam, the Ka'bah, a temple said to have been built by Abraham himself, with his son Ishmael.
God advised Hagar not to despair. As was recounted in Genesis 16:10, Hagar had been visited by the angel of the Lord, who said to her "I will multiply thy seed exceedingly, that it shall not be numbered for multitude". And, as for Ishmael, Genesis 17:20 stated "I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation".
God did not forget these prophecies, a fact which is attested to by the one billion Muslims of the planet earth, many of whom trace their ancestry to Abraham through Hagar and Ishmael.
As for Sarah, promises were made regarding her as well. In Genesis 17:16, God said to Abraham "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". This prophecy was fulfilled in the birth of Isaac, whose son, Jacob, was the father of the twelve tribes of Israel.
So the prophecy of Genesis 13:16, that Abraham's progeny would be as numerous as the dust of the earth was fulfilled through many tribes: the twelve tribes of Ishmael and the twelve tribes of Israel, at the very least.
But modern day Muslims have managed very nicely to put God's word out of their minds. Thus, they recall the prophecies made regarding Hagar and Ishmael ceaselessly, but manage somehow to forget the prophecies made regarding Isaac.
Similarly, modern day Jews and Christians have, equally remarkably, forgotten about Ishmael. On those few occasions where the memories of Hagar and Ishmael are evoked, this is done so with an air of contempt. If this contempt is due to the fact that Hagar was a maid, it should be borne in mind that Christ was born of lowly parents, in a manger.
Or perhaps the word "but" in Genesis 17:21 is at the root of Jewish and Christian contempt for Islam.
This verse, Genesis 17:21, is one whose historical significance would be difficult to overestimate, for to the extent to which Jews can claim a Biblical "right" to possess the land of Israel, such a right is established by this verse. This is the voice of God Himself, speaking to Abraham about Isaac and Ishmael:
"But My covenant will I establish with Isaac...".
This word, "but", is an exclusionary word, and seems to imply that Isaac is "in" and Ishmael "out". In other words, God will give Kingdoms to both Isaac and Ishmael, BUT a covenant He will make only with Isaac.
Unfortunately, a closer look at the text shows that there is a serious ambiguity here. There is no free-standing word for "but" in this verse, only a single-letter prefix. The letter is the Hebrew letter "vav", which is notoriously ambiguous in meaning. It sometimes means "but", and it may, on occasion, have as many as a half-dozen meanings in various contexts. However, most of the time it means "and", a word conveying a very different meaning, since a covenant with Ishmael and Isaac might be construed to give Arabs a right to possess the land of Israel also.
I have commented previously that God does not show his face directly, and in every instance, forces us to make our own decisions from limited data. We have seen that critically important questions about the birth and death of Jesus cannot be answered in a logically incontrovertible way from the existing data, which is too limited to permit that. The answers to these questions become matters of faith and personal belief.
In this instance, the question of whether God made a covenant with Isaac and Ishmael, or with Isaac but not Ishmael, cannot be answered with certainty if the answer rides on the interpretation of the meaning of the ambiguous Hebrew prefix "vav". Since this ambiguity is characteristic of the way God has dealt with us since the beginning -- to force us to make decisions based on pure faith -- I consider the ambiguity itself to be evidence of the Hand of God.
If you are a Hebrew reader, and would like to read a detailed discussion of the interpretation of Genesis 17:21 from the point of view of Hebrew grammar, click here.
There is one additional fact which bears on the answer to the question, however. In Genesis 17:7-13 God says to Abraham:
"And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God... ... This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you... ...and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant."
"And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.
And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God...
... This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised.
And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you...
...and my covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant."
So the sign of the Covenant was circumcision. Abraham and Ishmael were both circumcised on the same day (Genesis 17:23-27). According to the Hebrew scripture, Abraham was 99 years old, and Ishmael 13, when they were circumcised. A year later, Isaac was born. He was circumcised at the age of eight days (Genesis 21:1-5). So to whom was the Covenant given?
Both Ishmael and Isaac were circumcised. So who is it who "owns" the land of Israel? Is it Jews, is it Muslims, or is it someone else? Besides, what is a "Jew"? And what is a "Muslim"?
Considering all the ambiguities involved, and considering the fact that the waters of truth have been muddied by serious transgressions of the Law of Moses by all parties involved, isn't it true to state that, at this point, the definition of a "Jew" or "Muslim" or "Christian" is none other than the definition given by Jesus when he was told that his "brethren" wished to see him?
...whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother. (Matthew 12:50)
...whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.
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Pentateuch and Haftorahs. Edited by J.H. Hertz. Soncino Press, London, 1987.
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This tomb, which has been a holy shrine since ancient times, is located in the city of Hebron. A few years ago it became the site of an infamous terrorist attack, in which an Israeli zealot machine-gunned some 50 Muslim men, women and children to death as they knelt at prayer.
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