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2.10 Isaac vs Ishmael

Why have we spent so much time on the fate of Ishmael?


Modern history reinterprets the meaning of these events in the light of Muslim-Christian and Muslim-Jewish hostilities.  These conflicts supposedly have their root in this ancient family breakup. There was a division of races that took place then: the Jews trace their descent from Isaac, and the Arabs from Ishmael.   But Ishmael was not a Muslim (though Islam regards him as a prophet), nor were any of his descendants until 2500 years had passed.  This is a vast amount of time in which his descendants spread through the Middle East and developed their own nations, tribes and religions.  The immediate descendants of Ishmael are given in Gen 25:12-18.  These 12 princes corresponded to the 12 sons of Jacob.  Note that there was a strong Egyptian influence in this first generation, and no Canaanite blood:  Ishmael himself was half-Egyptian, and his wife was Egyptian (Gen 21:21).


It would be unlikely if, after all the dissension and disinheritance, the final word on Ishmael was one of reconciliation.  Yet we have a hint of this at the death of Abraham:

             His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah near Mamre (Gen 25:9).   


This is a remarkable verse.  Despite the separation and Ishmael's banishment (which, we must remember, Isaac himself did not cause),  the two sons were able to reunite to mourn their father.  This was a great achievement, a step towards reconciliation.  Perhaps, as with Jacob and Esau later on, the sons in their maturity were able to overcome the animosities of their parents and their youthful rivalry.  If only the religions who look to these men as their forebears could do the same today.  Instead, Sarah's attitude prevails through the Middle East:  "Get rid of them, the inheritance of Abraham cannot be shared."  There can be no racial peace without the desire to share the blessing of the father.

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