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Father of 12 Rulers

by David Johnson

(Transcribed from the Words of Life Radio Program)


IMG_0666   It is great to be together again as we look into the Word of God and make personal application and witness these truths to others as applicable.   The title for the lesson is, “Father of 12 Rulers” and the text is in the Old Testament, Genesis chapter 17 verses 17 through 21.  Please listen to the Word of God.

Abraham fell face down. He laughed and said to himself: Will a son be born to a man 100 years old? Will Sarah bare a child at the age of 90?  And Abraham said to God: If only Ishmael might live under your blessing.  Then God said: Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard you. I will surely bless him. I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of 12 rulers. And I will make him into a great nation, but my covenant I will establish with Isaac whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year. This is the Word of God.

In this lesson that we are going to study together, I want us to note at the very beginning of the lesson that the narratives and especially the prophecies both fulfilled and unfulfilled that were written thousands of years ago are so very practical and applicable to today, even to today’s news headlines, because recently the news headlines have been dominated by radical Islamic terrorists. And the continual targeting of Jews and innocent civilians. And this is a message with a biblical perspective, not a worldly perspective.  In the Bible, especially the Old Testament, the focus is on God’s original, uniquely chosen people Israel, the Jewish people.  Increasingly the tendency in American and now especially in western Europe in places like France and the United Kingdom, Germany and Belgium, there is a growing suspicion, even a negative attitude toward all Arabs, Middle Easterners who are generally Muslims and generally Israel’s arch enemies. However, many of our impressions and opinions regarding Arab peoples past, present and future are mistaken as revealed in the Bible.

For example, is the God of the Bible’s wrath against all Arabs?  Are all Arabs lost and without hope? Will the Arab peoples ever be a blessing on this earth?  Will Arabs and Jews ever worship together toward the one true God of the Bible? And what should be the Christian’s attitude toward Arabs, even Muslims? Certainly, Muslims are part of our mission field.

Consider another popular, widespread misunderstanding. For example, that all Arabs are Muslims. Is that true? Well, according to the 2014 estimated population amounts in the World Almanac, in Egypt there are about 7.6  million Arab Christians. In Syria there are about 2.2 million Arab Christians.  In Lebanon there are about 1.6 million Arab Christians. In Iraq there are about 955,000 predominantly Arab Christians. In Jordan there are about 389,000 Arab Christians. Even in Israel there are about 154,000 predominantly Arab Christians.  Of course, it is true that many of these Christian populations are leaving their native countries, but they are still Arab Christians.  And it is also true that these Christians in these predominantly Arab nations and Muslim nations are small minorities in their native countries. But just these six nations equals almost 13 million souls, Arab Christians. About every single person, man, woman and child in the state if Illinois in the United States.

It is also a popular and widespread misunderstanding that all Muslims are Arabs.  That is simply not true.  Again, according to the 2014 World Almanac, the nation with the largest Muslim population is Indonesia with about 222 million Muslims.  And Indonesians are a Malay people.  In Pakistan there are about 185 million Muslims and they are not Arabs.  In India there are about 125 million Muslims and they are not Arabs. In the nation of Iran there are about 80 million Muslims and they are not Arabs. They are Persians. Egypt has the largest Arab population, which is only 76.7 million Muslims or predominantly Muslims.  So not all Arabs are Muslims.  And not all Muslims are Arabs.
So are there more amazing truths in the Bible that explode popular, widespread opinion regarding Arabs? Yes, there are. For example, most would expect a close ethnic connection between Iraqi Arabs and Iranian Persians.  But actually, according to the Bible, there is a closer ethnic physical background between Israelis, the physical descendants of Isaac and Arabs, the physical descendants of Ishmael, because they, the descendants of Isaac and the descendants of Ishmael are actually half brothers physically by blood line through their common patriarch Abraham. Really?
Well, consider our study text in Genesis chapter 17.  In Genesis chapter 17 and verse 18 it says: And Abraham said to God: If only Ishmael might live under your blessing. Now do you recall the context? According to Genesis chapter 16 and verse one and following, Sarai, Abram’s wife, decided to help God out to give Abram or Abraham a son, an heir. So Sarai or Sarah gave her husband Abram to her maidservant Hagar and she gave birth to Ishmael, the son of Abram and Hagar. But God reaffirmed that he would give Abraham a son, an heir by Sarah, his barren wife miraculously, even in her old age of 90.  Abraham had doubted God in this and desired Ishmael to be his heir. Abraham, a man of great faith in his God and our God still had doubts.  Yet he obeyed God. Here there is a great principle for all of us.  When we doubt God we must still obey God.  Even when we

do not really understand the things of God we should always obey nevertheless.

In Genesis chapter 17 and verse 19 God said: Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son and you will call him Isaac.  Now note two important truths here.  First, yes, corresponds to Abraham’s plea toward God for Ishmael to live under God’s blessing. And God said yes. There would be blessing and Ishmael would live, blessing to Ishmael and even his descendants.
Secondly, Abraham was the blood father of both sons, first Ishmael and second Isaac. That makes these two sons half brothers.  Today the descendants of Isaac, Israelites or Jews and the descendants of Ishmael, Ishmaelites or Arabs.

In verse 20 it amplifies this. The first truth, which reveals: And as for Ishmael I have heard you. I will surely bless him.  I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers.  He will be the father of 12 rulers.  And I will make him into a great nation, fruitful. Today there are more than about 270 billion Arabs that consider themselves to be the physical descendants of Abraham through Hagar and later Keturah his wife, probably after Sarah died according to Genesis chapter 25, plus the descendants of Esau, the Son of Isaac.  Ishmael, the father of 12 rulers or princes.  And their name are actually listed in the Bible, the 12 rules in Genesis chapter 25 verses 13 through 16, beginning with the tribal ruler Nebaoth, the son of Ishmael. So Jacob whose name was changed to Israel had 12 sons, 12 tribes. And Ishmael had 12 sons and 12 tribes, plus the tribes through Keturah, plus the descendants through Esau who was also called Edom. All became known eventually as Arabs.  And all are half brothers to those who became known as the Israelites.  The Arab world today includes 18 separate nations, nations that are over five million square miles in area, from Morocco in North Africa to Yemen on the Arabian peninsula, exactly as Scripture prophesied thousands of years ago regarding the great nation of Arabs.

And many of these nations are also greatly blessed in that they have great oil reserves. They are oil rich lands.  The Bible prophesied, predicted or more importantly the Holy Spirit through the writers, the human writers prophesied, predicted even more regarding especially Ishmael and many, not all, of his descendants.  In Genesis chapter 16 and verse 12 it says of Ishmael that he will be a wild donkey of a man. His hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him and he—that is, Ishmael—will live in hostility toward all his brothers.  Certainly down though the centuries Ishmaelites and Israelites have fought, eventually between Jews and Muslims with many hostilities and wars.

Now the imagery here of a wild donkey is actually the untamable desert onicker, which is fiercely aggressive and stubborn and independent minded.  Today many Arab tribes and clans and sects fight each other even as brothers, as much as they fight the Jew. Today the physical descendants of Abraham, sadly, continue a fierce family feud, prophesied thousands of years ago.

In Genesis chapter 25 and verse 18 it says, in part, again: They lived in hostility toward all their brothers. But there is even more prophesied in Scripture, even unfulfilled Scripture yet future.  So will the battles and the bloodshed persist even into the distant future on this earth between the descendants of Ishmael and the descendants of Isaac?  Consider the truth revealed in Scripture by the Hebrew prophet Isaiah chapter 19 and verses 24 and 25, which says: In that day Israel will be the third along with Egypt and Assyria a blessing on the earth.  The Lord almighty will bless them saying: Blessed be Egypt my people; Assyria, my handiwork and Israel, my inheritance. Wow.  That is amazing.
It is written. That is in Scripture.


Some important points on this passage. In that day has to describe the future messianic, millennial coming age with Jesus Christ reigning when according to Isaiah chapter two and verse four it says: He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.  Why?  Israel, Egypt and Assyria together. These were two of Israel’s or they were two... the two of Israel’s arch enemies: Egypt to the west and south an Assyria to the east and north. But finally brothers living in peace, even worshipping the one true God of the Bible. They will be my people, my handiwork and my inheritance, finally, as brothers.

Today, are the Arab nations—Egypt, Syria and Iraq—friendly generally speaking toward Israel? Well, no, but they will be one day. These nations dealing with ancient Assyria would be Syria and Iraq and, of course, Egypt. This is who they are referring to in Scripture. And especially note a blessing on the earth, not heaven. Egypt, my people, God’s people, Assyria my handiwork, God’s handiwork; Israel my inheritance, God’s inheritance. How is this possible?  All people including Arabs and Jews will be God’s people in Christ Jesus because only believers will go into messianic millennial kingdom. In Christ after Jesus returns to this earth, all will truly be brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus.


David Johnson is minister of the Sellersburg Church of Christ, Sellersburg, IN.

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