Abraham, Ishmael’s Covenant and The Arab-Israeli Story

Did Ishmael and his descendants have claim to the Abrahamic Covenant in which God gave Abraham blessing and land? What is the seed of the Arab-Israeli story? What’s the beginning that God established? Is there a covenant with Ishmael?

Let’s step back into history, into the biblical text, and consider the origin of the Arab and Jewish fathers, Ishmael and Isaac, respectively. Both were sons of Abraham. There’s a modern narrative that says Ishmael, Abraham’s first born and father of the Arab people, is Abraham’s rightful heir, including an inheritance of the land of Israel today.

Genesis 12: The Unconditional and Eternal Covenant

A good starting point into the story is Genesis 12, where we see the origination of the unconditional and eternal covenant God made with (then) Abram. God chose an elderly man with a barren wife to form a family, a nation, through whom God would bless the world.

It was the most impossible scenario – no way could this couple have a son in their natural ability. But what is impossible with man, is possible with God (Luke 18:27).

God’s Ultimate Blessing

God‘s ultimate blessing to the world would be the Messiah, God’s Son, Jesus, who would provide for our forgiveness of sin and eternal life through His death and resurrection.

In God’s plan of salvation, Jesus took on human form and is redeeming a people for Himself from every nation (Philippians 2:6-11; Hebrews 2:14-15). Jesus had to come through a family, and God chose Abraham. How could we possibly argue about His choice? It’s a wonder He would come at all.

Shepherd near Nazareth, Israel

Abraham’s Impatience and Ishmael’s Birth

Ten years passed after the promise in Genesis 12, and still no son. The wait caused Abraham to question the validity of the promise, but God confirmed it and laid out the land boundaries that Abraham’s promised son would inherit (Genesis 15:18-21). The promised land includes, but isn’t limited to, today’s land of Israel including Jerusalem.

Another year passed and Abraham’s barren wife, Sarah, suggested her maid, Hagar, could provide the son. Abraham listened to Sarah, and Hagar became pregnant with Ishmael. Impatient in the waiting, Abraham and Sarah grafted a Plan B into God’s promise.

Genesis 16 tells the sad story of conflict between Sarah and Hagar, yet God appeared to Hagar in her extreme anguish. He promised her son, Ishmael, would be greatly blessed with too many descendants to count. Ishmael would be a wild type, with his hand against “everyone” and everyone’s hand against him. This young man would live to the east of all his brothers. Catch that: He would live to the east of the land given in the Abrahamic Covenant.

Isaac: The Covenant Son

For thirteen years, Ishmael was Abraham’s only son. Abraham loved his boy very much.

But God appeared to Abraham again in Genesis 17, and (sort of) tapped His sovereign finger on the 25-year-old covenant that promised a son, an heir to the covenant through Sarah, and in essence said, I meant this! I haven’t changed My mind. It hasn’t been fulfilled yet. Abraham fell on his face and laughed because he was 100 years old, and Sarah was 90. It was impossible!

Genesis 17:18-21: And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before You!” But God said, “No, but Sarah your wife will bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; and I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him.

As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I will bless him, and will make him fruitful and multiply him exceedingly. He shall become the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you at this season next year.”

Genesis 21:1 tells us the Lord took note of Sarah as He had said and did for her as He had promised . . . at the appointed time, she gave birth to the son of promise, the covenant son. It was Isaac.

The Unchanging Nature of God’s Promises

The writer of Hebrews tells us Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. If God has spoken a promise to you and it has been years or decades without fulfillment – hold fast! Trust. Believe Him. For nothing will be impossible with God (Luke 1:37).

God typically waits until we have nothing to offer before the promise is fulfilled, so that it will be all about His power and His renown. The Psalmist wrote of Joseph: Until the time that his word came to pass, the word of the Lord tested (or, refined) him. How true! How are you doing in your waiting?

God’s Blessing for Ishmael

Back to our story.

Did you notice that God’s promises over Ishmael are similar to the blessings for Isaac? Yet, with an exception: the covenant promises would apply to Isaac and his descendants.

Genesis 25:5-6: Now Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac; but to the sons of his concubines, Abraham gave gifts while he was still living and sent them away from his son Isaac eastward, to the land of the east.

Abraham sent Ishmael to eastern lands

God’s Love for Ishmael and the Arab People

Did Abraham love Ishmael? Very much. Did God? Absolutely. Does God love the Arab people? Tremendously. But the covenant promises were through Isaac and then Jacob, who is Israel. This is what God established and He has every right to make the choice.

The Abrahamic Covenant included these promises: A specific land (Gen. 12:7; 15:18-21) A great nation A great name with blessing Through this family, all the families of the earth will be blessed.

In Genesis 22:18, God said the promise of blessing to all families would come through a specific “seed” and Paul identified that “seed” as Jesus (Galatians 3:16).

Isaac: The Natural Heir of the Covenant

Why is it significant that all the Abrahamic Covenant promises go through Isaac? Why is Ishmael not named as a natural heir of the covenant?

Because the Abrahamic Covenant identifies the family and the land to whom the Messiah, the ultimate Promised Son, would be born.

By God’s sovereign choice, that family and land is Israel. The breathtaking story held in the seed points us to the Seed sent from Heaven, Jesus.

The Role of Faith in God’s Promises

God chose Abraham and Sarah because they could offer nothing within their own ability to bring forth the family of faith. The promises and provisions of God, the Messiah, would all come through the power and faithfulness of God – never by human effort.

Ishmael was a product of Abraham and Sarah’s flesh-driven efforts to rush the timing of God.

He was imperfect, but Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. Paul wrote in Galatians 3:7: it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. What’s he mean? Any person from any nation who receives the Messiah by faith, as Father Abraham had done, is grafted into the family as a spiritual son or daughter of Abraham.

The Grafting in of Ishmael’s Descendants

Can Ishmael’s descendants, the Arab people, be grafted into Abraham’s covenant family by means of individual faith? Yes! Let it be so! Let people from every nation be grafted into the family through the Messiah. Abraham has natural and spiritual children.

Arab child next to a tent

The Spiritual Conflict Between Arabs and Jews

So, why is there such conflict today between Arabs and Jews? Honestly, it’s all about a hatred toward the Jewish people ignited by Satan because he hates God. It’s a spiritual issue, really not about land or politics or even refugees, although all those topics have been grafted into the modern narrative. It’s Satan’s fight against God.

We began in Genesis 12, but the story really begins in Genesis 3:15, where on the heels of the fall, Adam, Eve and Satan were summoned before God in the Garden and He gave the first prophecy of a seed.

The Prophecy of Genesis 3:15

Speaking to Satan, God revealed there would be enmity between Satan and the woman’s seed. The woman’s seed will crush Satan on the head, and Satan will bruise the woman’s seed on the heel.

The seed in Genesis 3:15, is the ultimate Seed or Son promised to Abraham through Isaac’s lineage, Jesus. Satan’s death blow is prophesied here and he hates it.

Satan used men and nations in his many efforts to destroy the Jewish people and prevent Jesus’s coming. The prophets foretold that Jesus will one day return as King and rule from a Jewish Jerusalem. Satan would like to prevent or delay that.

A Multi-Front War in Israel

More than at any other time in modern history, Israel is required to fight a multi-front war involving military force, politics, media, public opinion, and international courts.  

The October 7 Hamas Terrorist Attack

Since the October 7 Hamas terrorist attack against Israel, the region is experiencing tremendous shaking with reverberations spreading throughout the world. The Arab-Israeli conflict is on center stage and the world appears very opinionated. Yet, with all the focus and fury, all the demonstrations and op eds, experts and those posing as experts – it seems very few understand the origin, or the seed, of the story.

Aftermath of a terrorist attack, part of the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict

The Seed of the Arab-Israeli Conflict

In botany, the seed determines what type of plant will grow. No apple trees from orange seeds. The seed holds the story. What is the seed of the Arab-Israeli conflict?

The Dangers of Hybrids

Horticulturists have the ability through grafting to override the seed and modify the plant to produce a hybrid. Recently, I had an aprium, a delicious apricot and plum mix. We find, though, that not all of life’s hybrids, or mixtures, are good for us.

For example: There can be a destructive hybrid of truth and lies. Isaiah wrote of lying words spoken from the heart with the result of truth stumbling in the streets (Isaiah 59:13-14).

Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, offered “strange fire” before the Lord – an incense mixture that God had not commanded them to offer, and the result was their immediate death (Leviticus 10:1-2).

God’s Established Order

You can’t override what God has set forth with a mixture of whatever you want, and hope things work out smoothly.

In the past 80 years especially, there have been ideas, accusations, half-truths, political strategies . . . grafted into the Arab-Israeli story that have produced the fruit of confusion and misinformation resulting in violence and hatred.

The Increasing Focus on the Middle East

The Arab-Israeli story has taken different forms and intensities over the centuries, but we live in a day when the birth-pains leading to the return of Jesus will intensify and with each contraction, the world’s focus will shift increasingly to the Middle East, and specifically to Jerusalem. There’s a fight for the place because we’re about to step into an appointed time of prophetic fulfillment.

The Answer for Peace

Is there an answer for peace? Yes, The Prince of Peace. Fascinating stories are coming out of Arab nations of people coming to faith in Jesus. There are Palestinian believers living within Israel and Gaza today who very much need our support, friendship, and prayer. The sons of Ishmael, although not natural heirs to the covenant, can be spiritually grafted in. They come to faith in Jesus at great cost.

A Call to Prayer

Will you pray with us that as Jews and Arabs embrace the Prince of Peace, that they will also embrace one another? Will you pray with us for a revival, a great awakening, in the Middle East?

God’s Perfect Plan – From Israel to You: Free PDF Download

The Bible is full of God’s promises that can encourage our faith. Together, these promises make up one master plan of God.

You’re about to discover God’s perfect plan through the lens of 25+ references throughout Scripture.


Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

tag icon-info envelope-o search map-marker money-heart globe contact-plane flag wallet star icon-directions controller-play calendar location world thumb-up comments verified language handshake-o congregations youth-young-adults social-outreach worship-and-prayer outreach resources members-az israel-outline members biblical-soundness excellence-integrity financial-transparency leadership-accountability spirit-of-unity paint-brush-1 leader