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God's promise to the Arabs

Despite the suggestion that I am a self-hating Arab, quite the opposite is true.

You will never see me shy away from identifying myself as an Arab-American. I’m as eager to let people know about my ethnicity as any Italian or Irishman or Greek. I am intrigued by the Arab culture. I’m a student of it. I love many aspects of it. It’s why I was so pleased to become a Middle East correspondent many years ago.

And, as a Christian, I have searched the Scriptures to find out the fate of my people in prophecy and what promises God makes to them. I think most people would be surprised at what the Bible actually says.

There’s good news for Arabs in the Bible.

For instance, Abraham’s son Ishmael is often regarded as one of the fathers of the Arab people. While there was tension in the tents of Abraham over the casting out of Ishmael and his mother, Hagar, there was also reconciliation between Ishmael and Isaac, his brother from another mother, at Abraham’s funeral. (Genesis 25:8-9) The Bible tells us he had 12 sons who populated the area from Egypt to Assyria. (Genesis 25:17-18)

Recall also that God made specific promises to both Abraham and Hagar regarding Ishmael:

In Genesis 17:18-20, Abraham asks for a blessing upon Ishmael and God responds:

“And God said, Sarah thy wife shall bear thee a son indeed; and thou shalt call his name Isaac: and I will establish my covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his seed after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee: Behold, 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.”

Ishmael is to give rise to a great nation. What nation was that? What was the great nation that would come out of Ishmael? I’ve always been a little confused or puzzled about that. No doubt there have been nations founded by the sons of Ishmael that were great in the sense of terrible great. But is that all God meant? Did he mean the empires of Babylon, Assyria and Egypt? Did he mean terrible great in the sense of those past empires? Or is there more meaning in that term great? Is there yet a promise to Abraham yet to be fulfilled?

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The promise is repeated to Hagar in Genesis 21:17: “And God heard the voice of the lad; and the angel of God called to Hagar out of heaven, and said unto her, What aileth thee, Hagar? fear not; for God hath heard the voice of the lad where he is. Arise, lift up the lad, and hold him in thine hand; for I will make him a great nation.”

So what was that nation promised to Ishmael?

Hagar and Ishmael were on their way back to Egypt, her native land. Ishmael later marries an Egyptian woman. There’s a definite Egypt connection here. And since we know Ishmael’s sons spread out in the lands from Egypt to Assyria, we have another clue.

So what is the fate of the great nations of Egypt and Assyria?

We find out in Isaiah 19:21-25:

Here’s the happy ending for Ishmael, Egypt and Assyria.

“And the Lord shall be known to Egypt, and the Egyptians shall know the Lord in that day, and shall do sacrifice and oblation; yea, they shall vow a vow unto the Lord, and perform it.

“And the Lord shall smite Egypt: he shall smite and heal it: and they shall return even to the Lord, and he shall be intreated of them, and shall heal them.

“In that day shall there be a highway out of Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrian shall come into Egypt, and the Egyptian into Assyria, and the Egyptians shall serve with the Assyrians.

“In that day shall Israel be the third with Egypt and with Assyria, even a blessing in the midst of the land:

“Whom the Lord of hosts shall bless, saying, Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel mine inheritance.”

Egypt, Assyria and Israel all one big happy family – imagine that! Egypt is called God’s people. Assyria is called the work of God’s hands. And Israel is His inheritance. One-third, one-third and one-third.

Wouldn’t father Abraham be happy about that?

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