Jews and Arabs: one big happy Abrahamic family?

The past twenty years have seen a rise in Israel-related spiritual focus among enthusiastic believers. Concepts like the “One New Man,” the “Restoration of David’s Tabernacle,” and the “Isaiah 19 Highway” have all come into their own, and are currently in vogue. New concepts are exciting, yet sometimes need gentle tweaking to come into godly balance.

In Ephesians 2:14-3:6 Paul teaches on the One New Man, the unique fellowship of Jews and Gentiles in one Messianic body. For many this is a wonderfully rich revelation. At the same time some have not sufficiently grappled with other biblical teachings regarding Israel specifically, that the Jewish people have an irrevocable calling and gifts (Romans 11:28-29), some of which require the Jewish people (including Messianic Jews) to remain “a people who dwells alone, and is not numbered among the nations” (Numbers 23:9). A balanced view on the One New Man requires serious grappling with God’s strategy behind the Jewish distinctive.

The “Restoration of David’s Tabernacle” movement focuses on the heart of David in worship, often with a 24/7 emphasis. The burning renewal of passionate worship and Bible based intercession is a real work of God. Yet the passage often used to bolster this awakening (Amos 9:11) does not refer to worship and intercession at all, but to a physical regathering of Israel to her ancient land, and the restoration of Davidic political government out of Jerusalem extending over the entire globe (see http://davidstent.com/words/, “A Messianic Perspective on the Restoration of David’s Tabernacle”). A balanced view on David’s tabernacle here needs to focus on speeding God’s last-days restoration of His Jewish people.

A third example concerns the “Isaiah 19 Highway” – a prophecy which describes ultimate (but not present) peace between Egypt, Israel and Assyria. A clear reading of that text describes upcoming agony and chaos in Egypt, with Israel somehow involved in that event (Isaiah 19:16-17). Peace is not quite ready to break out in the Middle East, in spite of what seems to be a birth of democracy in Egypt. The opposite is actually true (see “The Bad News from Egypt,” Barry Rubin, www.jpost.com/Features/FrontLines/Article.aspx?id=208741). A balanced view on the Isaiah 19 highway needs to discern that much turmoil is still yet to come in the Middle East, and that the prophesied peace will only happen after all nations mentioned in that chapter turn to the God of Israel and His anointed Messiah Yeshua.

The Middle East: one big happy Abrahamic family?

The focus in this newsletter is a fourth subject that needs tweaking, Suggestions are rising in various circles that:

  • Arabs and the Arab world are actually Abraham’s descendants
  • As Abraham’s descendants they are somehow sharing in the gifts and calling of the Jewish people

For many believers the Middle East is a faraway, romantic and dangerous region. Camels and date palms morph into Armageddon-tinged colors and Shi’ite cruise missiles. Political intrigues, shifting alliances, Arab street riots and the rising price of oil confuse even the most earnest observers.

Many see Arabs and Jews as the original dysfunctional family, one which has perversely devolved into internecine warfare. “Arabs and Jews deserve each other,” is the PC wisdom, “and we really don’t want to get involved.”

For Bible believers neither rose-colored spectacles nor spiritual apathy are the safest response at this time! In order to touch biblical bedrock on this Arab/Abraham/Isaiah 19 issue, we need to remind ourselves of some basic Middle Eastern realities. Three questions need to be asked, and the answers will help us to find our way through the Abrahamic minefield:

  • What is a Muslim? 
  • What is an Arab? 
  • Are all Arabs sons of Abraham and, if so, what does that mean biblically?

“Muslim” is a religious and not an ethnic definition

A Muslim is someone who believes in the principles of Islam, either by virtue of having been raised in a Muslim religious culture or a Muslim country, or who has converted to Islam by having spoken aloud the shahada declaration (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shahada) confessing Allah as deity and Muhammad as Allah’s anointed messenger. A Muslim can be of any ethnic background; his primary identity involves a confession of Islamic faith.

Most Muslims are not Arabs

The Muslim world (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Divisions_of_the_world_in_Islam#Dar_al-Islam_.28House_of_Islam.29) includes a belt of predominantly Islamic countries stretching from Western Sahara to Bangladesh and from Sudan to Kazakhstan. Many followers of Islam are also found in Western Europe, in England and in the former Soviet Union. The biggest Muslim countries in the world are not populated by Arabs.

The top ten Islamic countries in size are Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Turkey, Iran, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Morocco (http://pewforum.org/Muslim/Mapping-the-Global-Muslim-Population(18).aspx). Only one of these countries – Egypt – can be considered only partly Arab. Other ethnic streams in Egypt include Copts (Egyptian Christians who lived in Egypt prior to the Islamic conquest in 640 AD) and Black Sudanese.

The conservative estimation is that between 12%-15% of all Muslims are Arabs (http://islam.about.com/od/muslimcountries/a/population.htm). This means that 85-88% of all Muslims are not Arabs.

  • Over 85% of all Muslims are not Arabs, though the centers of Islamic thought and control are located in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. 
  • Over 85% of the Islamic world (for starters) has no Abrahamic or Semitic connection.

Only some Arabs are descended from Abraham

The modern term ‘Arab’ is rarely used and not defined in the Scriptures. Instead, tribes associated with specific regions are described. For example, one tribe could be called “the Arameans of Damascus” (2 Samuel 8:5), while another as “the Amorites who reigned in Heshbon” (Numbers 21:34).

The linguistic origin of the term Arab may be related to the word Arava or Arabah – an uncultivated desert wasteland (Deuteronomy 1:1). If that is the case, then the term ‘Arab’ would mean someone who dwells in a desert wasteland (see Genesis 16:12; 25:18; 27:39-40; Isaiah 42:11; Jeremiah 9:26; 25:24; 2 Chronicles 21:16).

The term ‘Arab’ appears in the Bible for the first time in 1 Kings 10:15 to describe Arabian kings who paid tribute to Solomon. In Isaiah 21:13 a prophetic word is spoken against Arabia.

The first extra-biblical use of the word ‘Arab’ is found in an Assyrian inscription from 853 BCE, where Shalmaneser III mentions King Gindibu of mtu arbi (Arab land) as among the people he defeated at the Battle of Karkar (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_North_Arabian). This king was a contemporary of Ahab King of Israel.

Ezekiel 27:21 mentions Arabs living in Kedar (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qedarite), an area in Saudi Arabia.  Ezekiel 30:5 distinguishes between Arabs and the people of Egypt, referring to them as two different ethnic groups.

Some Arab tribes pre-date Abraham

The original Syrians (the Arameans of Paddan Aram) were a pre-Abrahamic group that many would call Arabs (Genesis 25:20; Deuteronomy 26:5). These Arameans lived in Syria a long time before Abraham was born. The Arameans were pre-Abrahamic Arabs (www.english.globalarabnetwork.com/201102048893/Related-news-from-Syria/syrian-archaeologists-3000-year-old-aramean-gods-go-on-show-in-germany.html).

  • The original Syrian Arabs of Isaiah’s day were not descended from Abraham.

Biblical Egypt was not an Arab country

A dear Egyptian pastor friend told me something that most Egyptian Christians only discuss freely in the privacy of their homes – that the original Coptic Egyptians were actually not Arabs at all. The Bible backs up my friend’s assertion, calling that area ‘the land of Ham.’ “Then Israel entered Egypt; Jacob resided as a foreigner in the land of Ham” (Psalm 105:23, 27; Psalm 78:51).

Ham was one of Noah’s three sons, the others being Shem (father of the Semitic peoples) and Japheth. The land of Ham/Egypt is where some descendants of Noah’s second son Ham dwelt (“The sons of Ham: Cush, Egypt, Put and Canaan” – Genesis 10:1, 6-20). Modern Ethiopia is Cush. Modern Libya is Put. Canaan refers to the Canaanites who settled temporarily in Israel until YHVH sent Joshua in to drive them out (Genesis 15:21; 17:8; Exodus 23:23; Joshua 3:10).

According to the Scriptures Egypt was not an Arab land, but a land given to the sons of Ham. The word ‘Copt’ (used to described these original Egyptians) is most probably an Egyptian mispronunciation of the Greek word for ‘Egyptian’ (the GPT morphing into KPT or Kupti). Egyptian Copts believe that they are the descendants of the original native Egyptians (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copts).

When jihadi forces conquered Egypt in 640 A.D. they forcibly converted many Copts to Islam, and Copts had to adopt the Arabic language. The Coptic Church continued to use the ancient Coptic language in their liturgies. Centuries of Islamic oppression involved rape of Coptic women as well as forced intermarriage (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Decline_of_Eastern_Christianity:_From_Jihad_to_Dhimmitude). As a result modern Egyptians are a mixed blend – part-Copt, part-Arab and part-Sudanese.

  • The original Egyptians of Isaiah’s day were not descended from Abraham. 
  • Today’s Egyptians are a hybrid of different peoples, including a significant Arab stream.

Biblical Assyria was not an Arab country

According to the biblical Table of Nations in Genesis 10:11, Assyria was founded by Nimrod, a descendent of Ham (though see 1 Chronicles 1:17, which suggests a Semitic but pre-Abrahamic origin for Assyria). Nimrod was the son of Cush and the grandson of Ham.

  • According to the Bible, both Egypt and Assyria are not originally descended from Abraham, but from Ham. 
  • These facts should slow down the momentum on any theory trying to make Isaiah 19:24-25 refer to Egypt and Assyria as primarily Abrahamic countries, or trying to see that passage as having primarily an “Abrahamic family” fulfillment in mind.

Only part of the Arab nation is descended from Ishmael

The Scriptures tell us that Ishmael’s descendants would become twelve Ishmaelite tribes (Genesis 17:20; 25:13-18). Their dwelling place would be east of Egypt toward Assyria (the area between the Sinai desert, the Great Syrian Desert, the Hejaz and modern Mosul in northern Iraq). They are part of what is today called the Arab nation.

In Genesis 25:1-4 other Arab tribes are mentioned who are not descended from Ishmael but claim Keturah as their matriarch.

  • Some Arabs are descended from Hagar through Ishmael. They are not part of the covenant through Isaac.  
  • Other Arabs are descended from Keturah. They are not part of the covenant through Isaac. 
  • Other Arab streams existed before Abraham. They are not part of the covenant through Isaac.

Only part of the Arab nation is descended from Esau

The descendants of Esau are listed in great detail in Genesis 36. These tribes are of course descendants of Isaac and not descendants of Ishmael. But since they are not descended through Jacob, they have no claim on the promises to Jacob.

Genesis 36:6 says that Esau moved some distance away from his brother Jacob, to another land called Se’ir (which is southern Jordan today, known as Edom or Idumea is the past).

  • Some Arabs are descended from Esau. They are not part of the covenant through Isaac and Jacob.

Many Arabs are descended from Shem and not Abraham

First Chronicles 1:17-27 says that one of Shem’s sons was Aram (perhaps the father of the Arameans) while another was Arphaxad (whose grandson was Eber). Eber had two children – Peleg and Joktan. Joktan is described as the patriarch of many Arab tribes, many of whom can be traced to the Saudi Arabian Hejaz (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hejaz) and Hadramaut (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hadhramaut) peninsula today.

  • According to the Bible some of the Arab nation are descendants of Shem, Aram, Eber, Joktan and his progeny  all of them Arab peoples who lived before Abraham. They are not part of the covenant through Abraham. 
  • Some Arabs are descended from Ishmael, Keturah and Esau (all who have an Abrahamic origin)  but they are not part of the covenant through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 
  • Though this may be surprising to some, many Arabs simply have no ethnic connection to Abraham.

The Arabic language as a form of linguistic colonialism

When the jihadi forces of Muhammad conquered the Middle East, North Africa, parts of Asia and Central Europe, they enforced a slave status on all those who would not convert to Islam – the dhimmi class (www.dhimmitude.org/). The Arabic language was forced on millions in conquered nations. That is how the whole Middle East came to be predominantly Arabic speaking. Today many confuse Arabic speakers with Arab ethnicity.

Though PC wisdom accepts that Morocco, Algeria, Tunis, Libya, Lebanon, Syria and Iran are all Arab countries, historical realities are quite different.

The original peoples west of Egypt were mostly Berbers, a non-Semitic ethnic group which had been conquered by the Romans and had embraced Christianity. Saint Augustine of Hippo was their most famous son (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berber_people).

Lebanese Christians proudly affirm their origin as a non-Arab and non-Semitic people – as descendants of the great Phoenician culture  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoenicia). Genetic chromosomal markers tie these people in to ethnic groups in Malta and Spain.

The original Syrians, as mentioned above, are Arabs who existed before Abraham, probably descended from Shem through Aram.

The Iranians (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iranian_peoples) are a non-Semitic Indo-European people group which settled in Persia (modern Iran). They are predominantly Shi’ite Muslim, but have no Semitic or Abrahamic connection.

  • The Arabic speaking world is predominantly not of Arab origin. 
  • The Islamic world is predominantly not of Abrahamic origin. 
  • The Arab world is predominantly not of Abrahamic origin.

A plea for greater biblical care

This short study has a purpose: it is a plea for believers to move up into greater accuracy and discernment when handling the prophetic Scriptures, especially concerning Israel and the Arab world.

  • It is not biblically accurate to apply the term “sons of Abraham” to the whole Muslim world. 
  • It is not biblically accurate to apply the term “sons of Abraham” to the whole Arab world. 
  • It is not biblically accurate to describe Isaiah 19’s Egypt, Assyria and Israel as three ‘Abrahamic’ groups.

Preserving God’s heart for Jews and Arabs

  • It is not biblically accurate to take the specific gifts and calling given to the sons of Isaac and Jacob (Romans 11:29), and to apply them to the Arab world. 
  • These attempts weaken and detract from the priority calling on the Jewish people (Romans 9:1-5; 11:28-29; 1:16; 2:5-11).  
  • These attempts confuse many believers and fog the prophetic windshield of the body of Messiah, which desperately need to have a crystal clear understanding of YHVH’s calling, gifts and purposes for His chosen Jewish people. 
  • These attempts establish a false foundation for understanding and relating to the great Arab nation and the Islamic world. 

God’s heart for healing in the Middle East

Isaiah 19:23-25 is one snapshot of many that the Scriptures present regarding future international relationships in the Middle East. In this passage land routes between the two countries of Egypt and Assyria (present-day northern Iraq) will buzz with activity. Of course, these roads will go straight through Israel, as did the ancient Via Maris (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Via_Maris).

Egypt and Assyria were once the two main Middle Eastern superpowers, especially at the beginning of the first millennium BC. Isaiah prophesies that there will not only be travel between these two countries who were once at loggerheads, but they will also worship YHVH together. This indicates a latter-day revival in both countries.

At the same time Isaiah 19 refers to Egypt going through a future period of oppression and suffering under cruel dictators. The text refers to an Egyptian city which will suffer unusual destruction (verse 18), as well as a very real terror that Egypt will have concerning the Jewish people (who will be used by YHVH to severely discipline the country of Egypt – verses 16-17).

After these severe mercies, there will be peace in the western Middle East. The whole world will acknowledge a worldwide blessing that will flow from these three countries (verse 24). God blesses the three countries of Egypt, Assyria and Israel jointly (verse 25), declaring that Egypt is His people, Assyria is the work of His hands, and Israel His special inheritance and His first-born nation (see Exodus 4:22)!

Isaiah’s vision and God’s heart for the Middle East are huge. They encompass strategic nations in this region. But they also fiercely maintain the distinctive gifts, calling and land borders of Israel, and insist that the entire Jewish people will be regathered home, to be the exclusive and sovereign possessors of their own Promised homeland.

  • As we open our hearts to receive God’s heart, let us remember to keep His priority purposes for the Jewish people in the same priority status as He has sworn to maintain for Israel, His first-born son!

Your prayers and support hold up our arms and are the enablement of God to us in the work He has called us to do!

In Messiah Yeshua,

Avner Boskey

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