The Battle Over Ishmael’s Promises and the Coming Revival in the Middle East

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Right now it is difficult not to be despondent when looking at the Middle East. The situation is dire and unprecedented. We are now in the middle of the biggest refugee crisis since the end of World War II. The indigenous historically Christian population in the region has been decimated through both slaughter and forced migration. Some Christian leaders are beginning to talk about the virtual extinction of Christianity in the region as experts estimate that the Middle East has gone from being approximately 20% Christian at the beginning of the 1900’s to between 2-4% Christian today.

As we look at the region it is difficult not to despair as we see the carnage created by radical Islam, the suffering of the Christians, and the lack of substantial help from the outside world. There is significant reason for despair when we look at the situation in the Middle East, but we must understand what the Scripture says about the region so that we can participate with God’s plan.

We cannot completely understand God’s plan for world missions without understanding Israel and God’s redemptive plan to save Israel. However, we also cannot truly understand Israel without understanding how God has woven together Israel and the nations. In this session we want to examine two components that are necessary to forming a biblical perspective of the Middle East in the days ahead.

The first component is understanding the promises God made to Ishmael and the battle over those promises.

The second component is understanding what Paul says about the role of the gentile church related to Israel. Right now about half of the Jews in the world live in Israel, but if current trends continue the majority of Jews in the world will be living in Israel in the coming decades. This means that what the Bible predicts about the relationship between gentile believers and Israel is important for how we understand what will happen in the Middle East in the coming years. The gentile witness that will provoke Israel will be primarily given in the Middle East.

The Battle over Ishmael’s Promises

It is impossible to understand what is happening in the Middle East right now without understanding both the promises given to Israel and the promises given to Ishmael. While we need to speak boldly about Israel’s promises, we also need understanding about the promises God made for Ishmael.Though we need far more, there are a few believers speaking about Israel’s promises. Right now there are very few speaking about Ishmael’s promises.

Loving Israel will God’s love will cause us to respect Israel’s election but also love the world because God’s love for Israel is an expression of His love for the world (Genesis 12:3). When we understand what the Bible says about Ishmael’s future it helps us to make sense of what is currently happening in the Middle East and about what will happen in the days ahead.

The Bible tells us that the battle over God’s promises to Israel is going to result in a global crisis. Now is the time to give the church understanding of those promises and the controversy over them because those promises are deeply intertwined with God’s purposes for the gentiles. We have to recognize, honor, and even celebrate God’s election and specifically God’s election as it relates to Israel. At the same time, God’s election of Israel is not ultimately for Israel’s sake but for the sake of the world (Genesis 12:3). Therefore, a biblical honoring of Israel’s election also calls us to celebrate and contend for the promises of every people group.

We have to stand with the controversy of election while also not creating unnecessary division with the idea that honoring Israel’s election makes us enemies of other people groups. Honoring Israel’s election will be costly and we will face opposition, but in the gospel honoring Israel’s election also includes celebrating Gods calling on each people group. There is currently a great battle over the promises made to Ishmael and that battle is directly connected to Israel’s future and Israel’s salvation. We are called to recognize that battle and contend for the destiny of Ishmael.

Ishmael’s Promises

In the Bible Jacob’s life becomes a template for Israel. In Jacob’s struggles, wrestles with God, deliverance through his son Joseph, and eventual transformation to “Israel” we see a prophetic picture of the story of the nation of Israel. The prophets even use the term “Jacob” to frequently refer to Israel to identify the nation with Jacob’s story. This also happens in the life of Jesus. Throughout His life we see parallels between Jesus’ story and Israel’s story. That same thing happens with Ishmael. Key events in Ishmael’s life prefigure what will happen to his descendants. By looking at Ishmael in the Bible we have a prophetic picture of his descendants in the same way that Jacob is a prophetic picture of Israel’s future.

It is very important to understand what the Bible does and does not say about Ishmael. While the Bible does tell us that Isaac was chosen by God as the miracle son of Abraham, this does not mean that Ishmael was rejected. We need to be very careful in referring to Ishmael, and his descendants as “Abraham’s mistake.” We would never declare over a child, regardless of the situation of their birth, that they were a mistake and we should never declare that over a people group.

It is true that Abraham’s relationship with Hagar came out of unbelief, but the offspring of that relationship can still be blessed. When a child is conceived in a negative circumstance we still look at the child and we see hope, destiny, and purpose regardless of the circumstances of his birth. In the same way though Abraham’s relationship with Hagar was not based on faith, we should look at the child conceived and see hope, destiny, and purpose for that child. This is why the Lord spoke to Hagar twice giving her hope for her son (Genesis 16:10; 21:17-18). Throughout the Bible, God redeems human mistakes to produce something more glorious. This is His pattern and His way.

When Hagar and Ishmael were sent away, it was not because God was rejecting Ishmael. Ishmael was sent away because he was laughing at Isaac. Paul calls this laughing “persecution” in Galatians 4:29 which tells us it was not celebration but mocking the calling of his younger brother.

9But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, laughing. (Genesis 21:9 ESV)

29But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. (Galatians 4:29 ESV)

Hagar and Ishmael were subsequently sent away because of Sarah’s jealousy to preserve Isaac’s calling. Sarah’s concern was clear: Ishmael as the older brother may try to seize Isaac’s inheritance and threaten his destiny. It is incredibly important to recognize that it was not God’s rejection of Ishmael that caused him to be sent away. Ishmael’s rejection of Isaac is what created a context for Hagar and her son to be sent way.

Ishmael’s rejection of Isaac’s election is also not something that is unique to Ishmael. This has been a divine test up to this day. Many in the church resist Israel’s ongoing election. Many nations have failed this test and the Bible warns many will rage against Israel’s election before the age ends.

In the wilderness, Hagar was filled with such despair over the future of her son that she could no longer look at him. She left him alone to die. For a mother to respond this way to her son indicates the incredible grief Hagar was experiencing because it was causing her to do things that simply do not make sense.

15When the water in the skin was gone, she put the child under one of the bushes. 16Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot, for she said, “Let me not look on the death of the child.” And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. (Genesis 21:15–16 ESV)

To understand Hagar, we must remember that she was a slave. Her life was at the mercy of her master. For example, she did not have a choice in whether she had a child or not. She was essentially property with little or no rights. In her situation, having a son would be her one chance at having dignity. Being the mother of a free son who would inherit his father’s wealth would have given Hagar a sense of meaning and purpose.

This is why Hagar responded the way she did to Sarah when she became pregnant with Ishmael. Hagar’s pregnancy suddenly gave her a sense of pride. She was hoping this son would rescue her identity and sense of purpose. Because of this she looked down on Sarah and strife filled the home. Sarah responded harshly to Hagar’s pride and to Ishmael’s pride. Ishmael’s rejection of Isaac ultimately shattered Hagar’s chance at dignity. Because of her sin and Ishmael’s, she was now an outcast having lost her last chance at dignity and any kind of social redemption.

As Hagar wept, the Angel of the Lord suddenly appeared to her with a powerful promise:

17And God heard the voice of the boy, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. 18Up! Lift up the boy, and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make him into a great nation.” (Genesis 21:17–18 ESV)

The angel of the Lord also appeared to Hagar in Genesis 16 when she was in despair over Ishmael before he was born (Genesis 16:11-12). The fact that the Angel of the Lord appeared to Hagar to give her a promise and courage indicates how serious Ishmael’s destiny is before the Lord.

The Angel of the Lord promised Hagar that Ishmael would become a great nation. That word “great” has both quantitative and qualitative dimensions. For example, the word is also used in the Old Testament to say “God is great.” The promise is not just that Ishmael will become a numerous people but that He will become a truly great nation. The promise was given to give Hagar courage that the boy’s future was not hopeless. It would not have been a comfort to Hagar to say that Ishmael would have many descendants but that they would be wicked. Her heart received comfort because God promised He would bring the boy’s descendants to greatness.

This promise was not only given to Hagar it was also given to Abraham in Genesis 17. Interestingly Abraham was also given a promise that Ishmael would father twelve sons, which he did (Genesis 25:16).

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. (Genesis 17:20 ESV)

This promise has not yet been fulfilled, but it must be fulfilled before the end of the age because God cannot lie. Just as He remembers the promises He made concerning Isaac, He also remembers the promise He made to Hagar thousands of years ago in the desert.

Genesis tells us that the Angel of the Lord responded to the boy’s cry.

17And God heard the voice of the boy… (Genesis 21:17 ESV)

This is incredibly significant for Ishmael’s destiny because Ishmael’s name means “The Lord hears.” The incident in Genesis 21 highlights the fact that the Lord responds to Ishmael’s cry. He responds to his intercession. It is not an accident that Islam, the largest prayer movement in history, emerged among the descendants of Ishmael. There is a gift for intercession on Ishmael and his descendants. Islam has attempted to pervert this gift, but the Lord is going to redeem it – Ishmael’s descendants are destined to become a mighty prayer movement in the earth.

The Lord is clear in Genesis 21 that Ishmael’s descendants are destined for greatness and will be known for intercession. Just as the enemy has sought for thousands of years to contend against the destiny of Isaac, so he has also sought to destroy Ishmael’s destiny. Islam emerged among the descendants of Ishmael, not because Ishmael was a mistake, but rather as the enemy’s attempt to destroy Ishmael’s destiny. When there is great destiny and a redemptive purpose, the enemy seeks to destroy that destiny. This is precisely what has happened with Ishmael.

God’s Plan for Family Redemption

Part of understanding the battle over Ishmael’s promises is recognizing the grand story God has designed for family redemption. The family controversy that began in Abraham’s tents is headed towards an incredible resolution and that resolution depends on Ishmael coming into his promises. The enemy knows this and that’s why there is such a battle over Ishmael coming into his promises.

Ishmael’s trouble began when Ishmael rejected God’s election of Isaac as the son through whom Abrahams covenant would be fulfilled. As the older brother, Ishmael rejected his brother Isaac’s calling and, because of that, had to be pushed out of Abraham’s tent. This has created a sense of fatherlessness for the descendants of Ishmael. There is a deep wound from having been pushed out of the family and it has caused tremendous suffering for the descendants of Ishmael. The enemy has attempted to destroy both Ishmael and Isaac’s destinies by exploiting this family crisis through envy, strife, and Islam. Islam in particular seeks to take advantage of this family wound.

However, the Lord is going to do something glorious. Genesis 21 is a glorious picture of what is coming. In Genesis 21, Ishmael let out a cry – a cry for destiny – because he had been forced out of Abraham’s tents. As we grow closer to the end of the age, corporate Ishmael, burdened down by Islam and the pain of the centuries, is going to let out a cry and the Lord is going to hear that cry and release deliverance. Just as the Angel of the Lord – Jesus Himself – responded to Ishmael in Genesis 21, so also He is going to respond to Ishmael and make him into a great nation.

The Lord Himself is going to heal Ishmael’s wound and bring him back into His family. Through Jesus, Ishmael is going to be brought back into the family. God’s promise of greatness for Ishmael will be fulfilled. Ishmael will also be a powerful part of God’s end-time witness to Israel. This is part of God’s poetry in His end time plan.

Ishmael was sent away from the family because he rejected the one God chose. In the same way Israel is currently, in a sense, cut off from the family of God over offense at the one God choose (Jesus). This why Paul tells us that not all those who descended from Israel are participating in God’s new Israel (Romans 9:6). Descendants of Ishmael are going to be brought back into the family because of the blood of Jesus. These believers will be a significant part of God’s end-time witness and will provoke Israel to return to her God.

The son who was forced out of the family is going to end up calling the covenant son Isaac, who has also been forced out of the family in a sense, to return back to the family of God. It’s an incredible story of redemption and restoration. The descendants of Ishmael are going to look at the descendants of Isaac and say, “God brought me back into the family and He can do the same for you.”

To understand how the Lord is going to redeem Ishmael and how that story is deeply intertwined with Israel’s story, we need to understand what the Bible says about God’s plan to provoke Israel. That plan centers on a witness given to Israel from gentile believers and the descendants of Ishmael are the key to that witness. In Romans 9-11 Paul summarizes that gentile witness.

Paul’s Prediction for the Gospel Mission

In Romans 10-11 Paul explains his understanding of the end of the gospel mission. While most people think of this section of Scripture as Paul’s primary teaching on the future of the Jewish people, the passage actually has significant implications for how we understand the future of the gentiles as well. This passage is not only a prediction of the final salvation of the Jewish people, but also as a prediction of great gentile salvation.

Paul sets the context for these chapters by expressing his indescribable grief over the condition of his fellow Jews who have not embraced the gospel:

1I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— 2that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh. (Romans 9:1–3 ESV)

1Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. (Romans 10:1 ESV)

Paul is in deep anguish over the condition of his people. God began His plan with the Jewish people, but only a remnant received Jesus as their Messiah. Paul was in deep anguish that the entire Jewish people would come into the knowledge of Messiah. As Paul continues, he begins to explain from the Scripture how the predicament of the Jewish people will be resolved. In the midst of his grief, he sees a divine strategy in Scripture that will result in their salvation. Paul quotes both Moses and Isaiah to give an Old Testament explanation for his view of God’s plan in the nations. He wants to show that what is happening was actually prophesied in the Scripture.

First Paul quotes God’s prediction in Deuteronomy that a day will come when He provokes the Jewish people to return to Him. It is important that we see this verse in context in order to fully understand it.

21They have made me jealous with what is no god; they have provoked me to anger with their idols. So I will make them jealous with those who are no people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation. (Deuteronomy 32:21 ESV)

19But I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says, “I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation; with a foolish nation I will make you angry.” (Romans 10:19 ESV)

When we look at Deuteronomy 32:21, the entire context of the verse becomes clear. God was expressing His jealous and anger over Israel’s pursuit of idols. Their pursuit of false gods, under the terms of the covenant, positioned Israel for judgment, but God makes an amazing prediction of what He will do. He will do something more than respond in judgment.

God predicts that He will respond to Israel’s sin and rebellion by provoking them to jealousy and anger. Israel provoked God in sin and positioned herself for judgment, but God will provoke Israel not unto judgment, but actually unto salvation.

God declares that His response to Israel will be to make them jealous by people who are not a people. Israel is going to go after other gods, so God is going to pursue other people. However, it is part of a redemptive plan and God is going to use the gentiles to provoke Israel. The gentiles are going to bring Israel to anger when the Jewish people recognize the gentiles enjoying the salvation that should be theirs.

God predicts the familiar family struggle. You give something to an older child, but the older child casts it aside and moves on. However, something happens when a younger child takes up the toy and begins playing with it. Though the older child had long forgotten his possession, he immediately reclaims it when he sees someone else playing with it. This is exactly what God predicts that He will do to Israel.

Paul interprets this verse as a prediction that God will use people outside of the “chosen people” to provoke Israel to return to the faith. Israel will see the gentiles possessing something that was originally offered to them and it will cause a God inspired jealousy to reclaim their inheritance.

Second Paul quotes Isaiah 65:1-2 as a second prediction of God’s work among the gentiles.

1I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me; I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, “Here I am, here I am,” to a nation that was not called by my name. 2I spread out my hands all the day to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices; (Isaiah 65:1–2 ESV)

20Then Isaiah is so bold as to say, “I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.” 21But of Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.” (Romans 10:20–21 ESV)

It is this context that makes sense of how Paul interprets this verse. Isaiah 65 is God’s answer to Isaiah’s plea in Isaiah 64. In Isaiah 64 the prophet expresses his pain over Israel’s condition. The chapter begins and ends with the prophet’s passionate plea that God would deliver Israel again just as He did at the Exodus.

1Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence…12Will you restrain yourself at these things, O LORD? Will you keep silent, and afflict us so terribly? (Isaiah 64:1, 12 ESV)

The prophet is in despair and pleading with God to save the Jewish people. Isaiah 65 opens with God’s answer to the anguished prophet and He reveals how He will save the Jewish people. In verse 1, God predicts, just as He does in Deuteronomy, that He is going to reach out to the gentiles.

1I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me; I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, “Here I am, here I am,” to a nation that was not called by my name. (Isaiah 65:1 ESV)

God again declares that His answer to Israel when they fall into unbelief will be to reveal Himself to the gentiles. This answer must have been shocking to the prophet. He was in agony over the salvation of the Jewish people and yet God answered that He was going to release salvation to the gentiles. This response must have left the prophet in despair. Had God completely forgotten the Jewish people?

In the next verse however, God reveals His strategy to Isaiah. Paul explains to us that it is exactly the same as the strategy that Moses prophesied in Deuteronomy.

1I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me; I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, “Here I am, here I am,” to a nation that was not called by my name. 2I spread out my hands all the day to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices; (Isaiah 65:1–2 ESV)

20Then Isaiah is so bold as to say, “I have been found by those who did not seek me; I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.” 21But of Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.” (Romans 10:20–21 ESV)

God was going to use the salvation that He brought to the gentiles to reach out to Israel. Though God was going to a people who did not know Him, the result of going to these people would be that He would hold out His hands to Israel in disbelief and disobedience. Again, God tells us that His ultimate plan to bring salvation to the Jewish people will be accomplished through gentiles who have received salvation and entered into the blessings of covenant with God.

Paul’s great prediction – Provocation

In Romans 11, Paul continues to develop his conviction that the salvation of the Jewish people is directly connected to a gospel witness that they receive from the gentiles. In Romans 11, Paul reminds us that, though the majority of the Jewish people rejected the gospel this condition is temporary and not final. Paul predicts that the Jews will return to God and will embrace salvation through Jesus.

2God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew… (Romans 11:2a ESV)

11So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means!… (Romans 11:11a ESV)

12Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean! (Romans 11:12 ESV)

15For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead? (Romans 11:15 ESV)

26And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”; (Romans 11:26 ESV)

Paul affirms the promise of the Old Testament prophets that the Jewish people will be saved (Jeremiah 31:33-34; Zechariah 12:10), and he emphasizes the manner of their salvation. They will be provoked to their salvation by a gentile witness.

11So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. (Romans 11:11 ESV)

13Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry 14in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. (Romans 11:13–14 ESV)

The power of the gospel will flow through gentiles who will express the love of Jesus back to the Jewish people which will ultimately provoke them to jealousy. They will recognize something working among the gentiles that only God can do. It will be something that breaks down pride and resistance to the message of Jesus as Israel’s Messiah. It will be a great demonstration of supernatural love that overcomes the natural and historical animosity between Jew and gentile.

The Jews will experience something so powerful and supernatural from gentile witnesses that it will overcome their deep resistance to Jesus as Messiah. Jesus will have so transformed these gentiles that the Jews who encounter them will be able to find no other answer for the transformation other than the God of Israel.

Given the history between Jews and gentiles and the fact that Paul predicts that the gentiles will intentionally reach out to the Jewish people, this means gentiles will come into agreement with God regarding the calling of the Jewish people. Instead of fighting against God’s unique purposes for the Jewish people, they will agree with these promises so thoroughly that they will make it a priority to express God’s love to the Jewish people and contend for their covenant destiny. This will happen in such a way that it stuns the Jewish people. It will be so staggering it will cause them to reconsider their resistance to Jesus as Messiah.

Paul predicts that Israel as a nation will not be saved until the gentile believers come into “fullness” and are capable of delivering this witness to the Jewish people.

25Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”; (Romans 11:25–26 ESV)

Paul warns the believers in Romans to not be wise in their own opinion. He is concerned they will misinterpret Israel’s condition and become arrogant towards the Jewish people. He wants them to recognize God’s continuing calling and election on the Jewish people.God’s plan is a mystery. The way He has chosen to bring salvation to the gentiles and the Jews is a plan that no man would have chosen. It does not make sense to the human intellect. Israel’s blindness to the gospel is only partial. When Paul speaks of the salvation of Israel he is talking about a national event when the entire nation comes to salvation. He wants us to recognize that there is a saved remnant among the Jewish people.

Paul reminds us that the future salvation of the Jewish people is certain – God will banish ungodliness from Jacob. However, the salvation of the Jewish people has a profound prerequisite – the gentiles must come to fullness. This is a sobering statement. Paul tells us that “this is the way all Israel will be saved.” First, the gentiles will come to fullness, next these gentiles will provoke the Jewish people to jealousy to receive the same salvation the gentiles have received, and then finally God will save Israel.

What is the “fullness” that is required for the gentiles to deliver the God ordained witness to the Jewish people? This fullness has two significant dimensions. It is both quantitative and nd qualitative.

First the word indicates a full quantity. A large number of gentiles must come to salvation to be able to give the witness that God desires. Second the fullness must be qualitative. The gentile church in “fullness” must demonstrate the gospel in such a substantial way that their love and their witness overcomes Jewish hostility to the gospel.

The Implications of Paul’s prediction

We can see plainly from Romans 10-11 that Paul predicts the following:

  1. God will save the Jewish people. Though the majority rejected Jesus as Messiah, God will at some future point bring them back to Himself and they will embrace Jesus.
  2. God’s means of saving the Jewish people will be to deliver a witness to them through gentiles. Gentile believers will have such an authentic witness that the Jews are provoked and made jealous to return to God.
  3. The success of the gospel among the gentiles will bring the gentiles to “fullness” both quantitatively and qualitatively so that they can give the witness to the Jewish people that Paul predicts.

While these chapters are often studied in order to understand how Paul understood the future of the Jewish people, these chapters also have profound implications for how we understand the future of the gentiles. Paul predicts a profound work among the gentile people that will bring large numbers of gentiles to deep salvation and, when we look at the current landscape of the Middle East in light of Paul’s predictions, it has a significant effect on how we understand the future of the region.

Presently almost 50% of the Jewish people living in the earth live in the state of Israel. Virtually every model expects this number to rise significantly over the next few decades due to the drastic rise in global anti-Semitism. Jews who are harassed in the nations are increasingly seeking peace by relocating to a Jewish state. This means it is quite possible that over the next 20-30 years we could see the majority of Jews in the earth dwelling in the state of Israel.

The Jewish people can only be made jealous by a gospel witness that is given to them personally. What Paul describes in Romans 10-11 requires a depth of relationship and proximity. It is more than delivering the message of the gospel to the Jewish people, it implies that they encounter the transformation power of the gospel in the gentiles they relate to and interact with.

If the majority of Jews will be in Israel in the coming decades, this means that they will be provoked to the gospel by the gentiles living among them both in the state of Israel and in the Middle East. If Paul’s prediction is ever going to come to pass, this means there must be a substantial community of believers in the region who have come to “fullness” both in numbers and in the quality of their faith. In other words, Paul is predicting a powerful witness that will be given to Israel through the descendants of Ishmael.

When we look across the Middle East presently we see the near extinction of a Christianity in the region. Gentile believers are being slaughtered and forced out of the region due to the rise of radical Islam. The Arab world is usually referred to as the “Muslim world.” At present the situation in the region does not look good for Christianity.

However, Paul predicts that there will be a vibrant witness in the region capable of not only evangelizing the gentiles in the region but also capable of a gospel witness to the Jewish people. This means there must be a significant transition in the region in the coming decades. While we should expect great short term trouble in the region as the enemy resists God’s plan, we also expect great long term success in the region from what we can see in the Scripture. We have to understand that part of what the enemy is attempting to do through radical Islam is prevent the spread of the gospel among the gentiles both for their own salvation and so that they can give a witness of the gospel to the Jewish people.

The Bible predicts that the Jewish people must receive salvation before Jesus will return (Matthew 23:39), so the enemy will resist with great strength the method God has ordained to bring the Jewish people to their salvation.


The story of Hagar and Ishmael is a powerful story of redemption. Hagar is a woman caught up in a situation that she did not choose. As a slave, she did not have any options but to obey her master and that obedience put her in a losing situation. The fact that the Lord visited Hagar twice and promised to bring something good out of her situation is a profound demonstration of the Lord’s kindness.

The Lord recognized Hagar’s situation and, as a slave, Hagar did not have any hope for redemption in this age. However, the Lord gave Hagar a promise that He would redeem the situation. Hagar did not see that redemption during her life, but the Lord gave her a promise to give her courage that even though her life seemed hopeless and painful He would redeem it.

In the same way, the fact that the Lord responded to Ishmael’s cry and gave him a promise is also a profound demonstration of the mercy of the Lord because Ishmael had two things against him. First his birth was a result of a compromise by Abraham. He was not the miracle son Abraham had been promised. Second he had rejected choice of Isaac and sinned. Hagar’s chance at dignity was having a son and it was shattered by her pride and Ishmael’s sin but God declared he would bring greatness out of the situation

The Lord recognized that both Hagar and Ishmael were both caught up in a situation that neither of them choose and the Lord promised them to redeem that situation. Hagar and Ishmael’s story is a powerful story for all those who have been caught in a hopeless situation not of their choosing. It is a story that also gives hope to those who have rejected God’s plan because of their circumstance. God is the God of redemption and this is seen powerfully in Hagar and Ishmael’s story. Ishmael’s promise is powerful for anyone who has ever felt hopeless about their destiny or felt caught up in a situation beyond their control.

The predictions of the Scripture are profound for how we understand the future of the Arab world and the Middle East. Genesis 21 tells us that God will make Ishmael a great nation and Romans 10-11 tells us that process is ultimately the key to Israel’s salvation, the return of Jesus, and the subsequent restoration of the nations. To understand what is coming in the days ahead, we must understand how the Lord brings together Genesis 21 and Romans 11. Both passages will be fulfilled at the same time.

Romans 10-11 tells us that Ishmael’s destiny is incredibly connected to Isaac’s destiny. God is going to use the older brother who was forced out of the family to call the younger brother back into the family. Ishmael will be restored to Abraham’s family through Jesus and will then lead the way in Isaac’s restoration into the family.

This is a great example of why you need to understand Israel to understand missions. The subject of Israel is nearly completely ignored in the realm of missions but understanding Israel helps us understand God’s work in the earth. For example, understanding Israel’s story along with Ishmael’s promises helps us understand why God is committed to bringing revival to the Arab world before the return of the Lord. We must also understand that our destiny is connected to both Isaac and Ishmael’s destiny. The Lord is forming a divine family in the nations of the earth and we are all connected in His redemptive purposes.

It is easy to be given to despair when we see the trauma in the Middle East and the intensity of the persecution that is being directed at Christians in the region right now. Some are asking whether Christianity can survive in the very region where it was born. While there are many factors in the region that could cause us to lose hope, we have to anchor our understanding of the future in the Scripture. When we look closely at the Bible we can see that Paul predicts a strong and mature church in the region – a church so mature that it can even provoke the Jewish people to receive salvation through Jesus, which is something the church has been unable to do up to this point.

The present condition of the Middle East seems hopeless. The Arab world seems to be firmly in the grasp of Islam. However, we must anchor ourselves in the Scripture and recognize that the Bible predicts great success for the gospel in the Middle East. An age ending revival is coming to the region. There is a lot of work to do before we see the fulfillment of what Paul predicted in Romans 11, but the Bible gives us tremendous hope. We want to agree with what God has said He will do and labor for it even if it requires tremendous patience to come to pass. The present condition of the Middle East is not its final situation.

God is going to bring forth a powerful church in the middle of the Arab world that is able to give an unprecedented end-time witness to Israel that will culminate in the return of Jesus. In light of the Scripture now is the time to engage in the Middle East and the Arab world with great confidence about what God is going to do. The conflict in the region is intensifying, but we have the promise of Scripture that the gospel will take root and produce incredible fruit – the redemption of the nations depends on it.

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