I Am Not Abraham’s Mistake

September 11 was a weird day for me. I was a sophomore in high school and distinctly remember thinking to myself, Oh God, I hope it wasn’t Arabs, as soon as I heard a plane had crashed into the first tower. I’m three-fourths Palestinian and at times have a distinctly Arab cast to me. My last name is Rishmawy. Admittedly it was a selfish thought, but I just didn’t see that going well for me in high school. And I was right.

That afternoon in football practice, upon discovering I was of Arab descent—a “Palestilian” according to one educated linguist on the team—a teammate of mine took it upon himself to spear me in the back. Twice. For those of you who’ve never played, that sort of thing hurts. Thankfully, my coach caught on quickly and put an end to it. Still, for the next few years I was lovingly called “dune-coon,” “sand-nigger,” “Taliban,” “Osama,” and the like by a good chunk of my teammates and friends. And yes, I do mean lovingly. It was wrong, and I don’t really get it, but for some reason racial slurs were a way of bonding in the locker room. Still, it grated on me at times.

As frustrating and awkward as being an Arab high-schooler in post-9/11 America could be at times—given garden-variety prejudices, fears, and ignorance—none of those slurs frustrated me so much as what some of my well-meaning, evangelical brothers and sisters ignorantly implied: that my entire ethnic heritage was an unfortunate mistake—Abraham’s mistake to be exact.

Anatomy of a Mistake

The first time I was struck by that thought, I was working the front counter at a gym in college. At the time, plenty of the regulars knew I was a Christian, and a number were Christians themselves, so we’d chat sometimes about faith, life, and the Bible. In one such counter chat, the subject of the end times and the Middle East conflict came up. My lovely, kindhearted brother said something to the effect of, “Yeah, if it weren’t for Abraham’s mistake with Ishmael, this whole business could have been avoided.” I’d like to say that was the only time I’d heard something in that vein, but it wasn’t. In fact, you can hear the same thing implied at churches on Sundays, in Bible studies, and on second-rate Bible and prophecy blogs.

For those of you who don’t get the “Ishmael” reference, he’s referring to Abraham’s firstborn child by his concubine Hagar. Abraham and Sarah were getting impatient about God’s promised child, the one through whom God would make Abraham a great nation, so they thought they’d help him out by having Abraham father a child through Hagar, Sarah’s Egyptian handmaid (Gen. 16). This caused some family problems that led Abraham, under pressure from Sarah, to send Hagar and Ishmael away (Gen. 16, 17, 21).

What does all of this have to do with the Middle East? In his faithfulness, God promised Abraham that, although Ishmael wouldn’t be the child of the promise, he would still bless him. Indeed he did bless him and make him the father of many nations—”12 princes” to be exact (Gen. 17:19-21; 21:18; 25:12-18). In the broader Jewish, Christian, and Muslim traditions Ishmael becomes the father of modern-day Arabs, with varying significance attached to the claim. For example, it’s common for Muslim Arabs to claim Ishmael as their ancestor and the original heir of the covenant instead of Isaac, making them the rightful heirs to the Holy Land. Indeed, in much of the popular Christian imagination, this is at the root of the conflict in the Middle East—the conflict between the Muslims’ misguided claim on the Holy Land and God’s irrevocable promise of that land to Israel.

According to my well-meaning brother at the gym and those he represents, this whole conflict in the Middle East could’ve been avoided if Abraham had just been patient and not fathered Ishmael—and the Arabs never existed.

Sweet. Thanks guys.

Bigger Picture

Of course, this remark needs to be set against the broader picture of general post-9/11 fears about Muslim Arabs and a prevalent popular-level dispensationalism that contributes, not hate of course, but a sort of theologically laced ambivalence toward Palestinians and Arabs as a people group. This ambivalence has a range, starting with total ignorance that Palestinian Christians like myself even exist. Or American evangelicals tending to identify more with Israelis than the dwindling Christian population still living in squalor on the West Bank. Or worse, seeing them as that group of people cursing God’s chosen Israel. I know of one Orange County, California, pastor who hosts well-attended “prophecy” conferences that, in the course of raising support for Israel, regularly engages in what amounts to fear-mongering about Palestinian/Muslim terrorists and end-times scenarios (that’s where the pop-dispensationalism comes in). None of this should be taken as some bitter anti-Zionism or stealth criticism of conservative support for Israel. I’ve grown up decently conservative and know some of the complex logic at work—that’s a legitimate policy debate. I’m simply pointing to some of the broader context in which this kind of remark is made—most of which doesn’t contribute toward warm fuzzies for Palestinians and Arabs.

So what’s wrong with this overall picture and the Ishmael comment in general? Leaving aside various technical reasons for doubting the simple identification of the Arabs with Ishmael (biblical, genealogical, geographical, and historical), and the roots of conflict in the Middle East, the main problem is this sort of comment betrays a seriously shoddy theology in at least a couple ways.

1. God’s Providence

First, it reflects a deficient view of God’s providential ordering of history. As remarkable as it seems, God’s hand is never far from any event in human history. Jesus declares that the number of hairs on your head are numbered (Luke 12:7) and that a sparrow doesn’t fall to the ground without God’s consent. Old Testament wisdom reminds us that while you might be rolling the dice in Vegas, they land where God determines (Prov. 16:33). Your parents might have decided to move into the neighborhood you grew up in as a kid, but you got there because God appointed it as the time and dwelling place for you to live and reach out to find him as the source of your life (Acts 17:26-27).

I don’t intend to deny human responsibility or the contingency of history but to remind us that, in biblical thought, contingency and freedom are ultimately realities upheld, sustained, and governed by God’s fatherly hand. God was no more caught off-guard by Ishmael’s birth than by Isaac’s. Isaac is the child of the promise, but Ishmael was no accident. Most pro-life evangelicals would object to thinking of any child as an accident, an unplanned mistake. In God’s ordering of history, no child should be considered an accident—how much less an entire people group?

2. God’s Purposes

This sort of sentiment also betrays a weak view of God’s intention to bless all peoples through Abraham. God’s original call of Abraham culminates in the promise to bless him in such a way that through him all families on the earth might be blessed (Gen. 12:3). God reiterates this promise in various places, especially in his covenant with Abraham and his seed, or offspring (Gen. 15:18). Paul takes up that promise and shows its ultimate fulfillment came through Christ, the true seed of Abraham, the faithful Israel through whom the blessings of the covenant would come to the whole world (Gal. 3:15-29). God’s intention in the election of Israel had always been the blessing of the nations and the salvation of the world.

The Arabs, descended from Ishmael or not, compose part of that broader crowd of “all the families of the earth” that God intended to bless through Christ. “All” really means “all” here. If, by faith, Arabs or Palestinians are united to Christ, then in the body of Christ they “are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal. 3:29) in the truest sense, because “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). At the wedding supper of the Lamb, when members of every “tribe, tongue, and nation” (Rev. 5:9; 7:9) gather to sing the praise of the King, those redeemed from the Arab peoples, descendants of Ishmael or not, will join in the same song, giving glory to Jesus in ways that draw on their particular ethnic and racial particularity—as Arabs and Palestinians. Viewing an entire group of people—one of the “families of the earth”—primarily as an obstacle to peace instead of as an object of God’s reconciling love in Christ is a sub-Christian view of God’s purposes for the nations in the drama of redemption.

The tangle of ethnicity, Middle East politics, and eschatology in American evangelicalism won’t be easily solved. But what concerns me—and ought to concern you—is whether we in the church have the proper zeal to carry the gospel, in word and deed, to all nations and peoples. Do we see all people as Abraham’s potential heirs? Even Ishmael’s alleged descendants? In generations past and in different parts of the globe, the church has forgotten, excluded, or considered differing ethnic or cultural groups to be beyond the gospel’s reach. This must not be the case with our Arab and Palestinian neighbors today.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, as a Palestinian Christian, I am not Abraham’s mistake. I am God’s choice in Christ.

Editors’ Note: This article originally appeared at Christ and Pop Culture

  • Greg Smith

    Wow. I repent of my silly talk of Ishmael. Thanks for the corrective, brother!

    Greg Smith
    Chaplain to The Citadel

    • Charla

      I too am guilty of that kind of conversation. I ask forgiveness of anyone that I have ever excluded from the Grace of Jesus Christ based on their ethnicity or culture. I applaud you for having the grace to speak the truth in love, and help us all to be more like Jesus.

  • http://tedthethird.com ted

    I confess to being guilty of saying things like this. Please accept my apology. In my life, this ends today.

    Thank you for posting this.

    • David Daus

      I echo Greg and Ted here. I repent of saying things like this. Thank you Derek.

  • David Lovi

    Thanks for this article Derek. As a Jewish believer in Jesus I accept you as my brother in the Lord. Jesus tears down the dividing wall of separation. And just because we may differ in eschatology or some other side issue, we are still one in the Body of Messiah. God be with you as you live for Him.

  • http://thesidos.blogspot.com/ Arthur Sido

    Excellent essay. I am concerned that we hamper our witness to this people group because of the pop culture eschatology that pervades our culture and the nationalistic picking of sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Your words help confirm my fears and remind me that as the church we are called to take Christ without exception to all people.

  • http://www.gospelgrace.net Luma Simms

    This was fantastic! I am full–blooded Iraqi, all my ancestors (Assyrian & Chaldean), including my parents were born in Mosul. Having come from a Christian heritage, I know full well the antagonism with which Christians in the Arab world have toward Islamic Arabs, considered the decedents of Ishmael. However, there is usually a camaraderie between all the Christians in the Middle East, no matter the heritage. At least that’s how it’s been in my experience. Thank you for giving me so much to think about, especially since I confess I have imbibed to a degree some of the sentiments you mention–Ishmael was a mistake. I’m a Calvinist, of course he wasn’t! What was I thinking?!

    Thanks again, really, what a refreshing piece.

    • http://derekzrishmawy.com Derek Rishmawy

      “I’m a Calvinist, of course he wasn’t! What was I thinking?!”


  • Abhi

    What a joyous read! Indeed, the gospel is for the nations!

  • http://faithcoloredglasses.com LauraLee Shaw

    Magnificent. Sharing…

  • Scott Hinkley

    Wow. What an eye opener. As a child I was always told that Ishamael was Abraham’s mistake, the father of the Palestinians and the reason for all the fighting in the Middle East. I never really questioned it.

    As an Christian adult, I should have known better.

    Going forward, I will be sure to instruct my own children correctly. I’ll be sure to not repeat the same mistake with them.

    Thanks for posting this.

  • Brian McCracken

    Man, that was a great article. I agree that we should stand with our brothers and sisters from the Arab world and reach out to those who don’t yet know Christ in that region. That said, I struggle to reconcile that a clear sin was not a mistake on some level. I mean, obviously God’s plan in a marriage isn’t for the husband to go sleep with a young chick that’s not his wife because he is getting impatient with God. That’s an affair, and wrong any way you slice it. That doesn’t mean God can’t take our sinful actions and turn them into something beautiful because He does it all the time. But I can’t accept that willful sin was not a mistake on Abraham’s part that God was not pleased with. He, in His magnificence, took something He did not intend(but knew would happen) and turned it into something good. Otherwise we make God the author of our sins, which is a slippery slope I don’t think any of us would be wise to go down. That said, I totally agree with my brother here that many evangelicals have a completely unbiblical view about Arabs that we need to repent from!

    • Bethany

      The action taken by Abraham and Sarah was sinful but the baby is never a mistake. The circumstances of his conception can be wrong but every child is given from God. I think the problem is that in this case we aren’t separating the child from the circumstances of his conception. God cared for Ishmael and Hagar as well as Isaac and Sarah.

      If Ishmael was a “mistake” then why did God even allow him to be conceived and beyond that, why did God save his life later when Abraham and sent Ishmael and his mother into the desert? God cared just as much for the child of impatience as he did for the child of promise and so too we should have just as much compassion for the Arab/Palestinian who is either saved or lost as we do for the Jew/Israeli.

      Abraham sinned or “made a mistake” but Ishmael was not that mistake; the mistake was taking on a concubine/having sex outside of marriage. As I said above, a child is not a mistake.

      Brian McCracken:I know you aren’t disagreeing with the article and I’m not really disagreeing with you, I just thought I’d add my two cents worth.

      • Kenton

        There are many things in history that have been mistakes, sinful mistakes. Let’s just take two: Christ’s death, and the whole Atlantic slave trade.

        Christ’s death was the most blasphemous thing that human beings have ever done, for they crucified the Son of God, the heir of the world. Yet, “the definite plan and foreknowledge of God”, His hand and His plan had determined that such should happen. WHAT??!!!! This is not an exceptional case.

        More relatable, as an African-American Christian, my presence in this country can be considered a mistake, the result of centuries of forced relocation and subjugation and conversion of innocent African peoples. Am I a mistake? Is my salvation a mistake? Far from it. Rather, it is a supreme display of God’s sovereignty to use even the most horrific of human evils to condemn human evil and achieve His purposes for His glory. And Ishmael’s birth bears no comparison to these evils. Abraham made a mistake, but Ishmael’s birth wasn’t unplanned.

        • Ruth Li

          I agree. God already takes our weakness and sinful nature in to account.

    • MichaelA

      Hi Brian,

      To add to Bethany’s and Kenton’s points, I don’t think the article is suggesting that Abraham sleeping with his wife’s maid wasn’t a mistake. Rather, its point is that such mistakes have nothing to do with the status of any person in Christ.

      To put this in context, note that the Bible goes out of its way to emphasise the same type of mistakes in the line of Abraham’s other son Isaac. Have a look at the genealogy of Christ in Matthew 1: It is essentially a list of names, but where it supplies commentary, that commentary highlights the “mistakes” in Jesus’ ancestry:

      * We are reminded in verse 3 that Judah the patriarch fathered Perez on his own daughter-in-law Tamar, and that this was only possible because of his habit of using prostitutes.

      * In verse 5 we are told that Boaz’s mother was Rahab, and the only possible reason for that name appears to be that this was Rahab the prostitute who betrayed Jericho to the Israelites.

      * In verse 6 we are told that Solomon’s mother “had been Uriah’s wife”, thus emphasising Bathsheba’s infedility with David, as well as David’s conspiracy to murder Uriah in order to cover it up.

      Yes, Abraham’s coupling with Ishmael was a mistake, but there were plenty of similar mistakes in the ancestry of every biblical figure, including Christ our Lord. The message of the Gospel is that the Lord overcomes those mistakes and gives us a fresh start in Christ.

      • Melody

        Judah was not a regular patron of prostitutes. He was a man that had been in mourning after losing his wife. When he sent the payment and those that he sent couldn’t find the woman, they informed him that there had not been a temple there. So no temple prostitutes could be found. If he frequented prostitutes then he would have known that. Tamar didn’t continue in the behavior either. She was living as a widow and went back to living as a widow. Her intent was to receive the promise and she was working from a gentile background. In some ways you can say that she didn’t know better but she did not chose to leave the family of promise.

        • MichaelA

          Hi Melody,

          On reflection, I partly agree with you – we are not told that Judah was “a regular patron of prostitutes”, but equally we are never told that he was not. We certainly cannot assume it from his character as revealed in this account, which is generally disreputable and hypocritical. But that is the reason that St Matthew draws our attention to it: The nation of Israel and the line of David were not chosen to bear the Messiah because of any inherent righteousness. Rather, they were chosen by God precisely because they were not righteous, in order to show forth His glory by using the base things of this world to bring forth the righteous One (see e.g. 1 Corinthians 1:27-29).

          “If he frequented prostitutes then he would have known that.”

          I don’t think that is correct. What it tells us is that Judah was not familiar with the wider geography of that area (he didn’t know there was no shrine in the vicinity). The fact that he sent his servants to look for a shrine may indicate that he understood the process of Canaanite prostitution only too well.

          “Tamar didn’t continue in the behavior either. … In some ways you can say that she didn’t know better but she did not chose to leave the family of promise”

          No, and I never suggested she did any of these things. But let’s look at her behaviour realistically: She was probably herself a Canaanite and there is no hint that she had any interest in the Abrahamic promises. At no point are we told that she called on the Lord for deliverance or waited on him. Rather, she set out to fix her legal problem in her own way – by deceiving her father-in-law into committing incestuous fornication with her. The best we can say is that her behaviour looks good compared to Judah’s!

          • MichaelA

            Melody, my apologies, there are a couple of errors in my last post:
            * Judah didn’t send his servants, he sent his friend;
            * The friend wasn’t looking for a shrine, but for the prostitute.
            * The friend wasn’t told there was no shrine, but that no prostitute had been in the area.
            This doesn’t change my overall point, but I do regret the inaccuracy.

            • Melody

              No they were not righteous but they did have a growing relationship with God. Judah was not an exception in that or the line would not have gone through him. Do you see the Old Testament as just examples of sinful people that God loved despite them or do you see the discipline and growth in their response to their faith?

              Judah was one of the ones that spoke up for not killing Joseph. But then he left the family, took an unnamed wife from the Canaanites of his own choosing and lived in the area. But when it came time for his son to marry he chose his daughter-in-law. And she lived according to his wishes. When he sent her away to live with her father, she went as a widow and lived as a widow. It wasn’t until she found out that he wasn’t going to keep his promise that she came up with her plan. What she knew of God would have come from Judah so that had to be very limited, especially in the culture she grew up in. So I don’t see how we can hold against her what she did since apparently God recognized her desire to know Him and be included in His promise. He didn’t hold it against her.
              I agree with you that we don’t know what Judah was in the habit of doing and Tamar may have had reason to think her plan would work. The fact that there wasn’t usually a prostitute in that area and he should have known that could mean something but I don’t want to read into it either.
              As to fixing her legal problem, I’m not sure what you mean but that. I have been led to understand that the Canaanites had different rules for behavior and that was part of the problem with mixing with them. We are told that she lived as a widow in her father’s house even though Judah should have been the one taking care of her, right?
              Wasn’t she supposed to be part of his household after marrying his son? But she did what he said.
              How did sleeping with her father-in-law fix her legal problem?
              Are there other names included in the genealogy that would be of an unbeliever? Isn’t she one of five of women included in the lineage list?
              Wouldn’t that be a position of honor?

              We can call it incesteous relations but they did not have the law yet. Abraham married his half sister but that isn’t held against him because they didn’t know any better. Jacob married competing sisters something God covered in the law later too.
              As for calling or waiting on the LORD, not being told means that they didn’t? Did Ruth call on the LORD or are we just given a picture of someone that is faithful and obedient? I’m not sure what you mean by this.

              I do enjoy getting to discuss this by the way. Thank you

            • MichaelA

              Hi Melody,

              Likewise re enjoying the oportunity to discuss some Old Testament! It has such practical and realistic lessons in theology for us.

              1. “Do you see the Old Testament as just examples of sinful people that God loved despite them or do you see the discipline and growth in their response to their faith?”

              Both, of course. But I wasn’t purporting to summarise the whole Old Testament. Rather, Derek’s article raised the issue of Abraham’s “mistake” in begetting Ishmael. In support of his point, I noted that Israel’s history is also littered with such “mistakes”, and that St Matthew in his genealogy of Christ chooses to emphasise these, rather than the good aspects. As a devout Jew himself, Matthew was the ideal person to emphasise this.

              2. “It wasn’t until she found out that he wasn’t going to keep his promise that she came up with her plan”.

              Precisely – Tamar had a reason for what she did, but that didn’t make it right. For that matter, Judah also had a reason for approaching a prostitute when he thought he wouldn’t be found out, but that didn’t make him right either.

              3. “So I don’t see how we can hold against her what she did…”

              Who is holding it against her? I have no right to hold anything against anyone. What I am pointing out is that their actions were in fact sinful – there was no excuse for their behaviour. God used Judah and Tamar to bring forth the Messiah because in his mercy he chose to do so, not because they were any more deserving than other people.

              4. ” Are there other names included in the genealogy that would be of an unbeliever?”

              I didn’t say she was an unbeliever – I said she sinned. David was definitely a believer, but like Tamar it is his sin that St Matthew highlights.

              All the people to whom Matthew gives special mention in the genealogy have some sordid association which challenges any idea that the chosen people were chosen because of their respectability or righteousness. For example:

              • Rahab, who was a cursed foreigner, and a prostitute by trade;
              • Tamar, who was a deceiver and a fornicator, with her father-in-law no less;
              • Judah, who was a fornicator and a user of at least one prostitute (and as you point out, Tamar’s stratagem does raise the issue of whether she had good reason to believe he would take the bait offered). Moreover, his sentence of burning on Tamar was unspeakable, given his own failings.
              • David, who slept with another man’s wife, then killed him in order to cover up the deed, and Bathsheba, who was complicit in David’s crimes.
              • Ruth, who was also a cursed foreigner. Her race was not under sentence of death like Rahab’s, but they were forbidden to enter the assembly of Israel (Deut 23:3). Even her high standard of personal morality was itself a witness against the low personal standards of God’s chosen people at that time (see e.g. Ruth 2:9, 2:22, 3:11).

              Of all the events and people St Matthew could have emphasised, these are the ones he picks, in order to show that God’s chosen people were not chosen because of their righteousness, but in order to show forth God’s glory.

              5. “As to fixing her legal problem, I’m not sure what you mean but that.”

              By law or custom she had a right to be married to Shelah, the brother of her deceased husband Er. That would secure her entitlement as matriarch of Er’s estate – lands, camels, etc, not to mention the entitlement of any children she might have with Shelah. This law or custom was found in most Semitic societies, but we know that even in societies where this right to “levirate” marriage was codified, it was too easy for men to ignore it when inconvenient (see Ruth 4:6). That in turn left open the real possibility that Judah would marry Shelah off to another woman (perhaps the daughter of some important person with whom Judah wanted to make a family alliance) and then Tamar would loses her dower over Er’s estate – it would all go to Shelah and the new wife. Tamar would be left destitute, depending on the charity of her father’s house.

              6. “How did sleeping with her father-in-law fix her legal problem?”

              Probably her aim from the start was blackmail. By the time Judah had satisfied himself and walked away, she had the best blackmail material possible: his personal seal. As to whether she intended to use it in the precise way that she did, or was biding her time until the best opportunity to confront him and then was overtaken by events, who knows?

              7. “We can call it incesteous relations but they did not have the law yet.”

              True, but I wasn’t referring to Mosaic law. It is my understanding that sex between parent-in-law and child-in-law was a major taboo in most Semitic societies. The reason would be obvious enough – nothing is more likely to create bitter family division than sexual rivalry between sons and fathers, and the extended family was the basic unit of all Semitic cultures.

  • Melody

    People grow to comprehend just how large and in control God really is. It’s funny I always blamed Sarah, as a woman I saw our sex to blame for our rush to “fix” things. Including the way she blamed Hagar instead of herself for how things turned out. But through study I understand that God loved and provided for these people, people I find annoying. That makes me realize that I can’t annoy Him out of loving me. His grace for them helps me to understand His grace for me.

    I applaud you in your grace for weaker brothers even though some may be leaders they obviously are weaker in their faith in some key areas. God will use you to illuminate them.

  • Daniel Krall

    Thank you so much for this post! I am so excited to see you on the gospel coalition!

  • Tim

    Derek, this is a great article. Thank you for writing this!

    I detect a hint of smug superiority when people talk about Ishmael as it relates to Arab people. It is as if a people coming into the world through sinners in their sin is limited to Ishmael and his story. I think we need people to look carefully at Jesus’ genealogy. The Sinless One himself came from a line of sinners acting sinfully.

  • Rob

    Thank you for writing this! It’s quite important and urgent for us to understand as Christians. Keep it real, bro.

  • Kathy

    Amen and amen.

  • http://Michele-Carpenter.com Michele

    One definite mistake was when Sarah rudely booted Hagar out and left her to suffer the dessert with her child–and that Abraham allowed it her to be cast out. That kind of thing is ungodly and leads to hard feelings that can grow into warlike hostility.

    • Melody


      You are letting your gender get in the way just like I did. God told Abraham to do as Sarah said. God had already told Abraham that he had a plan for Ishmael but Isaac was the child of promise. Take note that both sons came together to bury Abraham.

  • http://www.takeacopy.com/ John Dunn

    Here’s the redemptive-historical “SUPRISE” of what Ishmael actually typified and represented. It was God’s purpose to showcase two Covenantal groups in Ishamael and Isaac. (Gal 4:21-31)

    Ishmael actually served to represent unbelieving/law-keeping Israel under the Law. Present day Israel, and all those who still sit under Sinai’s shadow (including some Christians), are illegitimate children of the bond-woman and are cast out of the inheritance of Grace.

    Isaac served to represent all those who are *in Christ* and born after the Spirit.

  • Christine

    Thank you for this article. My husband and I watched Zero Dark Thirty a while back and some of the scenes were of the “market” and all of the Middle Eastern people mixing about, talking with one another, scenes of the crowded streets and small worn down homes one next to another, and I was stunned by what I saw. A few days later while dinning in a Mediterranean Restaurant, my husband and I began lamenting about the state of the Middle East. My heart became so sad for those people who are oppressed by a false religion and the wicked leaders of that religion. Tears filled my eyes as I asked my husband “will God save them? They are beautiful people and if our missionaries can’t get in, Christians are tortured and killed and Bibles are burned how will God save them?” Jesus, please save them.

  • Rana

    THANK YOU Derek for writing this and THANK YOU Gospel Coalition for recognizing this is an issue in the church. I’m a Christian Palestinian as well and I’ve often felt the same rejection in church and by other Christians. Painful, painful experiences that made me almost leave the church. Our stories really need to be told and listened to by the church -so thankful you are telling your story and that our brothers and sisters in Christ are listening.

    “Viewing an entire group of people—one of the “families of the earth”—primarily as an obstacle to peace instead of as an object of God’s reconciling love in Christ is a sub-Christian view of God’s purposes for the nations in the drama of redemption.”


    “… as a Palestinian Christian, I am not Abraham’s mistake. I am God’s choice in Christ.”


  • http://www.GraceExposed.org Missio-Centered

    Great post! Thanks for sharing. We are ONE in Jesus Christ. All praise to His glorious grace. :-)

  • Ruth Li

    I quite agree with your understanding.Everyone,no matter where or when he is bor, he is within the foresee,the plan and promise of God. People, and most Christian tend to view history and thing with incomplete and short view-point, and make partial judgement of event and people. To make it clear, though appointed as the choosen people,the Jew is also subject to God’s punishment due to all their arrogance and refusal to accept Jesus. People need to know God’s real thought, that is: there is no one totally positively right or good people who deserve enjoying higher priority or more advantages in this world; all human regardless of their origine and history are the children of God. Finally, God make everyone for special purpose and task, only those believe him can obtain the tiket to carry his glory and own a refreshed life.

  • Eric

    Thanks Derek for critiquing the delibitating effect Dispensational rallying calls are having in hindering the Church’s mission to Arabs and Palestinians. I applaud your bold stand in affirming a clear application of Biblical truth (I am not Abraham’s mistake. I am God’s choice in Christ) which at the same time calls into question “Pro-Israel” rhetoric to the exclusion of God’s elect in the Arabian Peninsula and Palestine.

  • David Volsky

    Great article, brother. As an evangelical, I have long had problems with the pervasive pop-dispensational views to which you allude, which are relatively new, originating in the 1800s, if I’m not mistaken. I think there is a misguided view toward Israel (mind you, I do love my Jewish friends), as well as faulty interpretations of the book of Revelation, as if it were written specifically for 21st century Christians (and every other generation that preceded this one, claiming that the end times were at hand and trying to figure out who is the Antichrist). I love all my brothers and sisters in Christ, as well as those who desperately need the gospel taken to them, that they might receive Christ’s mercy as we have. I hope to read more articles like this one.

  • http://struth-his-or-yours.blogspot.co.nz Kerry Campbell

    Hi Derek, Good stuff. I often think of what Paul had to say about Ishmael, and Agar- Galatians 4:1-7 shows that even heirs of Christ (the seed of promise) had a time of slavery “under the elements of the world” but in the fullness of time redeemed them that were under the law that “we might receive the adoption of sons”. This is a tacit admission that he- a Jew with many so called credentials pertaining to Jewishness (Phil.3:3-6)- still relied on Christ for his redemption and the Holy Spirit for adoption into the children of God- through Christ alone. This amounts to an indirect denial that Jews are God’s chosen people by being fleshly descendants of Abraham. They too, as much as any, need to have faith in Christ to be his “peculiar people, a chosen nation”.

    Ishmael being born of “the flesh and not the promise” is indicative of those who trust in a fleshly ancestry to validate their claim to be “the Chosen people”

    Agar is an allegory for the two covenants. “Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children.” I have a blog post that may interest you here: http://struth-his-or-yours.blogspot.co.nz/2007/11/israel-of-god.html

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  • Phil

    Come home brother. This is the kind of madness that inevitably arises outside of the context of the Church.


  • Randy

    Excellent way to put things into proper perspective. Thanks brother.

  • http://www.domestickingdom.com Gloria Furman

    Derek, thank you for writing this piece. You’ve artfully and graciously articulated something that our Arab Christian friends/neighbors long for us to understand.

  • http://chanroberts2.wordpress.com/ Chancellor C. Roberts, II

    Ishmael may indeed have been Abraham’s “mistake,” but he wasn’t God’s mistake and his birth (and that of his descendants) is as much a fulfillment of God’s purposes as the birth of Isaac (and of his descendants). Further, when God forgives sin, He chooses to forget; so, it’s as if those sins never happened. Who are we to hold Abraham’s “mistake,” his sin, against Ishmael and his descendants (or those presumed to be his descendants)?

    God’s ultimate purpose has been to gather unto Himself a single people for His glory – a people called out FROM every people/language group, every tribe and tongue and ethnicity and nationality. There is no such thing as American Christians or French Christians or Tutsi Christians or Palestinian Christians or (insert people/language group, tribe, etc. here), there are only Christians.

  • Chris Schwenk

    I’ll admit that I’ve been a staunch “There is no Palestine” Dispensational premillennialist most of my life. I still hold to the Premillennialist view, but I recognize that in its extreme form, it leads to animosity towards entire people groups, and I know that’s wrong. Now, one could be inclined to see this and just throw out premillennialism altogether, but I just can’t do that. I’m not convinced Scripturally of the Amil and Post-mil views.

    How can those who see God having a special future for ethnic Israel, condemn the terrorism of Palestinian organizations such as Hamas and the P.A., while recognizing that we have Christian brothers and sisters who identify themselves as being Palestinians?

    • http://struth-his-or-yours.blogspot.co.nz Kerry Campbell

      “How can those who see God having a special future for ethnic Israel, condemn the terrorism of Palestinian organizations such as Hamas and the P.A., while recognizing that we have Christian brothers and sisters who identify themselves as being Palestinians?”

      The answer is to be even handed and condemn acts of oppression by any government or other institution whether Israeli or Palestinian. Besides this I would challenge this view of a “special future for ethnic Israel” have a look at this: http://struth-his-or-yours.blogspot.co.nz/2007/11/israel-of-god.html This will challenge you also on the authority of scripture, and mainstream evangelical understanding of Israel. Also if you search for these terms in the search bar you will see a book review: “The Land of Christ – A Palestinian Cry”. Find the book and read it.

  • http://orthosphere.org/ Kristor

    While I completely agree with the argument of this post, I have to say: “people group” must be stopped! “People” is not an adjective, but a noun, or a verb. There is nothing wrong with the more normal expression, “group of people.” But English offers a much more economical and majestic alternative, often used in translations of the Bible: “people.”


    …ambivalence toward Palestinians and Arabs as a people group.


    …ambivalence toward Palestinians and Arabs as a people.

    The latter has a certain nobility to it.

  • Melody

    The relationship with God is based on individuals. He does not save or destroy whole groups as evidenced by all of us.
    He is not done with the Jews however they have some hard lessons to learn. I wouldn’t want to be them. To deny that is silly when we have verses that tell us otherwise. And the obvious evidence that they would not be in the land now if HE did not allow it. Those of us that believe in a GOD that has His hand in everything, that is.

  • Emerson

    I would like to see a better explanation of how Dispensationalism is connected with the “Ishamel is a mistake” reasoning; I think Covenantal theology can arrive at the same conclusion.

    BTW, I am not a Dispensationalist, just trying to undestand the connection.

  • http://www.goldcountrybaptist.org Phil Layton

    Great post and reminder that in Christ we are closer to Arab Christians than unbelieving Jews in Israel (or Americans of our closest ethnic ancestry next door). What should go through our mind when we see someone of Arabian or Middle Eastern background with a turban or traditional dress? If we really had the worldview of Gen 1-12, we’d think “they’re part of God’s plan in Gen 12; these are peoples God promised to bless through the Jews/Jesus”! When we think of the Arab-Israeli conflict, have you ever thought “God’s purpose for Israel is for them to bring salvation to Arabs”?
    Spiritual sons of Abraham should love Israel…and its neighbors! Our prayers for Middle East should include gospel prayers for all.

    We sometimes forget Abraham himself was originally an Iraqi before he was an Israeli, that Arab nations by name (from Genesis 10) are part of the promise to be blessed (12:3), that his contemporary Job lived in Uz and would be classified as an Arab today, that the greatest revival in Biblical times was in the heart of Assyria (Nineveh), that Jesus highlighted God’s grace to a woman from Lebanon and the Syrian Naaman (Luke 4) and said the Queen of Sheba would rebuke unrepentant Jews on judgment day, that men from the East came to worship baby Jesus, and that there were Arab converts on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:11).

    I preached a whole sermon on this called “God’s Multi-Ethnic Family Plan: His Heart for Arabs and Muslim Nations” which I pray God will use to open eyes and hearts further to this subject and concluding with a great testimony of a former Jew and Muslim who became best of friends in Christ at a rescue mission:

  • Bill

    This is the kind of stuff I want to find on sites like TGC. A topic I usually do not engage in or think about much. Rather, something I can learn from and that will contribute to my growth.

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  • Jeremy

    “I guess what I’m trying to say is, as a Palestinian Christian, I am not Abraham’s mistake. I am God’s choice in Christ.”

    I guess I don’t understand then. I’d just like to add that I’m not trying to attack anyone, just trying to understand.

    If your identity is in Christ and not Abraham, Ishmael, or being an Arab, then why does saying Abraham made a mistake bother you? Why Palestinian or Arab Christian?

    I’m just trying to understand as I never hear any claim to be an American, British, Russian, Chinese, etc Christian. I’m just thinking of Col 3:11 as Scripture says there’s no distinction any more.

    It’s debatable whether or not without Ishmael we would still have the problem in the Middle East as the sons of Lot, Esau, and others all intermarried with the sons of Ishmael.

    Thanks for the clarity.

    • Melody

      Because it’s silly and offensive. Not to mention it ignores the fact that nothing can happen outside God’s will. It’s like when people point at Jews and tell them that they crucified Christ. Completely ignoring that if it hadn’t happened they would still be hanging out in some pagan temple with no knowledge of God.

    • MichaelA

      “It’s debatable whether or not without Ishmael we would still have the problem in the Middle East as the sons of Lot, Esau, and others all intermarried with the sons of Ishmael.”

      They also intermarried with the sons of Isaac, therefore using the same reasoning it would be equally true to say that “without Isaac we would still have the problems in the Middle East”. I don’t agree with either view, I might add.

  • Celia

    It was sinful of Abraham to doubt God and try to force His hand through Hagar.
    Having said that, I think the story is a prime example of how God takes the sins of those who love Him and uses them for good. (Rom. 8:28)

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