Ishmael and the origin of the Arab world

            What one believes will always determine what one does.  One’s misplaced belief in errant “truth” can lead to confusion and evil deeds, such as when the Jews- believing in their lineage and political/religious system- cried for Christ to be crucified in their ignorance and hardheartedness (John 19:15, KJV).¹  Their arrogance led to their spiritual blindness that has continued throughout history.  In like manner, it is extremely important to be correct in one’s belief of the Arab World and its origins.  To have a skewed understanding of the creation and goals of the Arab World leads only to further misunderstanding of God’s Word and future end time events.  For this reason, this paper will look at the Origins of the Arab World and the gross misunderstanding that Ishmael is her forefather.

            To understand the depth of conflict that exists today between Israel and her neighbors, it must be understood exactly just who Ishmael was.  Abraham and Sarah would have a son that would carry on the promise of the Covenant given to him by God in Genesis, chapter 12. Because of their old age, and unbelief on their part, they thought it necessary to attempt to assist God in the fulfillment of this promise.  Sarah, worried about conception in her old age, convinces Abraham to take Hagar, her Egyptian handmaid, and bear a son with her to provide the son of promise (Genesis 16, KJV).  This being completed, a son is born unto Sarah and Abraham through Hagar, and is named Ishmael.  God lovingly reproves Abraham after this mistake, and reaffirms the promise that he and Sarah will still bear a son who will be the son God intends to pass His Covenant promises through to Abraham’s offspring (Genesis 17:15-19, KJV).  God, being faithful to Abraham and showing kindness and mercy to Hagar, the birth mother, graciously promises to not leave Ishmael without a legacy and promises to Abraham “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” (Genesis 17:20, KJV).  This promise would indeed be fulfilled, but not the way the worldly history has recorded it. 

Ishmael would father 12 sons as recorded in the book of Genesis who would be “princes” with “castles”, over their “nations”  (Genesis 25:16, KJV).  One could be mislead into believing that, indeed, these sons were to be the foundation of the Arab world, especially with the reference to “nations”.  There appears to be a conflict within the two passages of Genesis 17:20 and that of Genesis 25:16, but a closer study and rendering of the original language yields a clear picture of Ishmael and his descendants.  God’s Word records that Ishmael “dwelt from Havilah unto Shur, that is before Egypt, as thou goest toward Assyria…” (Genesis 25:18, KJV).  The land of which the verses describe is that of Arabia.  With this knowledge, one can easily study and find that the terrain of this country of that day was a dessert land.  There were no castles during this time in history, though Genesis 25:16 clearly records the use of the word.  What, then, is the correct rendering of this verse?  Did God make a mistake?  Is the Holy Scripture with error?  On the contrary!  What presents within this passage is a personal influence of culture of the Bible interpreters of that day.  In 1611, when the King James Bible was translated, there abounded princes, and castles, and nations.  The writers simply transposed some of their local culture into events of the past.  A more realistic rendering of the passage in comparison to the original Hebrew would be “twelve chiefs, according to their tribes, living in tents”.  Now there is harmony with the two verses!  There is no conflict.  Indeed, Ishmael fathered 12 sons who would become chiefs of their tribes, and who would live in tents in the dessert of Arabia.  They were “Arabs” of Arabia, known as Bedouin.   Ishmael fathered one nation only- Arabia, as God records in His Word.

            Not only is there plain Biblical truth that Ishmael was not the founder of the Arab World, but the Bible itself speaks of these other nations, referred today as “Arab”, long before Ishmael’s existence.  For example, as previously discussed, Ishmael was born to an Egyptian handmaid (Genesis 16:1-4, KJV).  Egypt existed before Ishmael, and is considered to be the most populated  Arab nation in the world today.    Other countries, such as Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia, Libya, and Iraq are also listed in God’s Word as being on the scene of history 500 years prior to the life of Abraham.  Once again, countries existing before the before of Ishmael could in no way ever have been founded by him.

In its rush to group nations together under the cloak of “Islam”, the world has labeled countries as being “Arab” that do not fit the proper definition.  The proper use of “Arab” has always been in relation to Arabia, and the Bedouin people, who are nomads.  Today’s use of this word includes any country who is Islamic and speaks the arabic language, which still does not represent countries such as Iran who are greatly influenced by Islam, but do not speak arabic.  In short, it is very important to understand Ishmael is not the father of the Arab world, and this is not a war through history of “Isaac and Ishmael” that so many have wrongly labeled as such throughout history.  Many of these nations were in existence prior to Ishmael’s birth, and attempts to name Ishmael as their founding father is to misrepresent God’s Word and to incorrectly interpret God’s Scripture.


1All Scripture quotations are taken from the King James Bible version, Royal, 1971.


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Filed under Bible Study, Prophecy

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