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Who's Who in Prophecy - Ishmael

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Issue #154November 2001

Who's Who in Prophecy - Ishmael

The time has come for the Church to understand (from the biblical perspective) who the major players are in the world today. This study is intended to help Christians see how Bible prophecy is being fulfilled today. Many think they already know. It is my belief that relatively few really understand who today is represented by Ishmael, Esau, and Israel. For this reason we intend to devote three bulletins to these three men whose lives have changed history.

Ishmael is perhaps the most complex of the three. He represents three groups of people who are very different and yet the character of all three have a common thread. These three groups are:

  1. the Arab nations (physical Ishmaelites)

  2. the old Jerusalem (legal Ishmaelites)

  3. the Pentecostal calling (spiritual Ishmaelites)

Before we study these three groups, however, we will tell the basic story of Ishmael, the son of Abram.

The Story of Ishmael

God called Abram out of Ur of the Chaldees in the land of Mesopotamia and told him to go to Canaan. He obeyed. At the age of 75 he arrived in Canaan (Gen. 12:4). When he arrived in Canaan, he discovered that there was a famine in the land, so he continued traveling until he came to Egypt (Gen. 12:10).

As he approached Egypt, he worried that the people there would be lawless and would kill him in order to abduct his beautiful 65-year-old wife, Sarai. So he told a half-truth, telling the people that she was his “sister.” In those days “sister” was a general word meaning any close relative. According to the book of Jasher 12:44, Sarai was his niece, the daughter of Haran, Abram’s brother.

Pharaoh heard of Sarai’s beauty and, of course, wanted her for his harem. God then judged Pharaoh (Gen. 12:17) until he figured out it was on account of Sarai. Jasher 15:30-32 then says,

30 . . . And Pharaoh took more cattle, men servants, and maid servants, and silver and gold, to give to Abram, and he returned to him Sarai his wife.

31 And the king took a maiden whom he begat by his concubines, and he gave her to Sarai for a handmaid.

32 And the king said to his daughter, It is better for thee to be a handmaid in this man’s house than to be mistress in my house. . .

Later we learn that this daughter of Pharaoh was Hagar, the mother of Ishmael. She was a princess of Egypt, yet she was Sarai’s bondmaid.

Ten years later we find Sarai still barren in spite of God’s promise. So she suggested to Abram that he take Hagar as a surrogate mother to bring forth the promised son. Genesis 16:3 says,

3 And after Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Abram's wife Sarai took Hagar the Egyptian, her maid, and gave her to her husband Abram as his wife.

Sarai had to give Hagar to Abram, because she did not belong to Abram, but to Sarai. This shows that women had property rights in ancient times. Hagar became Abram’s wife, but in those days there were two types of wives: free and bond. Sarai was a freewoman, Hagar a bondwoman.

Hagar bore Ishmael when Abram was 86 years old (Gen. 16:16). For many years they assumed that Ishmael would be the chosen seed promised by God through whom all the nations of the earth would be blessed. But when Abram was 99 years old, God revealed the shocking truth that God was going to give Sarah a child who would be the child of promise. Also at that time God changed Abram’s name to Abraham and changed Sarai’s name to Sarah. Genesis 17 says,

18 And Abraham said to God, "Oh that Ishmael might live before Thee!" 19 But God said, "No, but Sarah your wife shall 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. 20 And as for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I will bless him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall become the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation.

Isaac was born the next year to Abraham. So Abram was the father of Ishmael, but Abraham was the father of Isaac. This is prophetic and legally significant, for the promise was first given to Abram, not to Abraham. We learn later that there are greater and lesser promises and that these are associated with the old and new covenants.

There was conflict between Hagar and Sarah from the moment that Hagar conceived Ishmael. Years later, after Isaac was born, there was conflict between Ishmael and Isaac as well. No doubt Ishmael knew the Word that Isaac was the promised heir, and he resented it, for he was the firstborn. The conflict finally reached a crisis, where God told Abraham to “cast out this bondwoman and her son” (Gen. 21:10). They settled in Arabia, the place associated with the old covenant, for the Apostle Paul tells us that Mount Sinai is in Arabia (Gal. 4:25).

The Arab Nations

Ishmael had 12 sons, who were to become 12 princes of nations (Gen. 25:12-16). The Arab nations trace their descent to Ishmael, son of Abram. Note that Ishmael was born to Abram and thus has some claim upon the old land of Canaan. Legally, Ishmael was the second in line to inherit that land, so in the absence of Isaac, Ishmael was to be the inheritor of Canaan. Keep this in mind.

The name Abram signifies a man prior to receiving the breath of God (the “H”). In this way Abram represents the Old Testament time period prior to the giving of the Spirit at Pentecost. Under the old covenant, even Isaac could not inherit the real promise, but only inherited the real estate called Canaan. But God had something better for him—better promises under a better covenant.

Jews and Apparent Jews

In essence, there are two promises. Under the old covenant, the promise to Abram is merely the old land of Canaan. Under the new covenant the promise to Abraham is the New Jerusalem and the heavenly Mount Sion. Hebrews 12:22 says,

22 But you [Christian Hebrews] have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels.

Those Jews (Judeans) of Jesus’ day who accepted Him as the Messiah came into a new covenant promise as described in the book of Hebrews. Their new inheritance was not the old land of Canaan, but the true promise given to Abraham, who sought a “better country” (Heb. 11:16).

The Jews who rejected this new covenant and adhered to the old covenant continued to desire its promise—the old land and the old Jerusalem.

Hence, there was a split in the early Church between the Christian and nonchristian Jews. These were two distinct “fig trees” as described in Jer. 24. The one became the good fig tree called Christianity, while the other was the “evil” fig tree of Judaism.

Paul tells us in Romans 2:28 and 29,

28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly [lit., “apparently”]; neither is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. 29 But he is a Jew who is one inwardly [lit. “hidden”]; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.

Paul is telling us that those who are “apparently” Jews are called Jews, but are not really Jews. “HE IS NOT A JEW.” Those who follow Jesus Christ and have the inward circumcision of the heart are the Jews. “HE IS A JEW.” In other words, from the world’s perspective, a Jew is one who continues to follow Judaism and reject Jesus Christ, but God defines such a person as being “NOT a Jew.” They are only apparent Jews.

Only Christians are Jews in the sight of God, because they have adhered to the King of Judah, the prince of the tribe. The tribal head carries the tribeship itself. Only Jesus Christ is the Head of the tribe of Judah, and only those who under His authority have the legal right to be called by the name of the tribe of Judah. The problem is that those who rejected Him simply usurped the name of tribe and continued to apply it to themselves unlawfully.

The law says in Lev. 17:3, 4,

3 Any man from the house of Israel who slaughters an ox, or a lamb, or a goat in the camp, or who slaughters it outside the camp4 and has not brought it to the doorway of the tent of meeting to present it as an offering to the LORD before the tabernacle of the LORD, bloodguiltiness is to be reckoned to that man. He has shed blood and that man shall be cut off from among his people.

This is a prophetic law regarding Jesus Christ, Who is the fulfillment of all the sacrifices in the law. If anyone kills a sacrifice “outside the camp,” but does not offer it to the Lord for their justification, he is guilty of shedding blood and “that man shall be cut off from among his people.”

Jesus was crucified “outside the camp,” on a hill outside of Jerusalem (Heb. 13:13) as the law prescribed. He was the sacrifice for sin. However, those who crucified Him did not offer Him to the Lord for their justification, and therefore, they were “cut off.” That is, they lost their citizenship in the tribe of Judah. Only those who were obedient to this law may retain citizenship with Judah and be called a biblical Jew (i.e., Judahite).

And, of course, all converts to Jesus Christ from all other nations are like branches grafted upon the trunk of this “fig tree,” gaining their sustenance from the life that is in Christ Jesus. All who accept Jesus Christ and receive the circumcision of the heart are those of whom Paul speaks: “HE IS A JEW.” Such people have been grafted to the good fig tree of Judah.

This is not something new that was instituted in the New Testament. From the beginning, a “mixed multitude” of Egyptians and others came out of Egypt with Israel (Ex. 12:38). They could become full citizens in the third generation (Deut. 23:7, 8), ceasing to be called Egyptians.

So we conclude that there are Jews and there are apparent Jews—those who call themselves Jews, but are not really Jews at all by legal (i.e., biblical) definition, regardless of their genealogy. One cannot legally be called a Jew apart from embracing the King of Judah, Jesus Christ. Those who continue to call themselves Jews apart from Christ are those that John mentioned in Rev. 2:9,

9 I know your tribulation and your poverty but you are rich, and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.

He repeats this in Rev. 3:9. He was speaking of the apparent Jews, those who continued to call themselves Jews even though God had cut them off from the tribe of Judah according to the sentence of the law.

Any apparent Jew who wishes to be reinstated along with everyone else must repent, separate from the evil fig tree, and place his faith in Jesus Christ, the King of Judah and the King of the whole earth. We all must come to God as sinners through the same Door, for the divine law is impartial in the means of salvation (Rom. 3:22).

Legal Ishmaelites

With an understanding of Paul and John’s definition of those who claim the name of “Jew,” we can now show from Galatians 4 that these apparent Jews are actually not Jews but legal Ishmaelites. This is, of course, not genetic, but legally speaking.

God gave Arabia to the Ishmaelites. Mount Sinai was in Arabia. Thus, there is a legal association between Mount Sinai and Ishmael, son of Hagar and Abram. Paul tells us in Galatians 4,

22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwomanand one by the free woman. 23 But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise. 24 This is allegorically speaking: for these women are two covenants, one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar. 25 Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother.

Paul says that Hagar is Mount Sinai and corresponds to the present (old) Jerusalem. In Arabic, “Hagar” means a stone and is one of the names of Mount Sinai. When the apparent Jews rejected the Mediator of the New Covenant and decided to continue under the old covenant of Sinai, they became the legal children of Hagar. Thus, they have desired the inheritance of the old Jerusalem and the old land of Canaan given to Abram, father of Ishmael.

In rejecting Jesus Christ, they also did not qualify to receive the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. Hence, they remained children of Abram, rather than of Abraham. Abram fathered Ishmael prior to the time when God added the Hebrew letter hey to his name. This letter signifies the breath of God, or inspiration of the Spirit.

All of this is part of the “allegory.” In essence, the apparent Jews put the old Jerusalem under the jurisdiction of Hagar (Sinai) when they rejected the New Covenant. Then they persecuted the early Church, even as Ishmael persecuted Isaac, for Paul tells us in Gal. 4:29,

29 But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also.

Paul (or Saul) knew what he was talking about, because he had been at the forefront of the persecution (Acts 8:1-3). Paul later regretted his actions, telling Timothy that while he was part of Judaism, he was a “blasphemer and a persecutor” (1 Tim. 1:13). John concurred with this in Rev. 2:9 (quoted earlier), saying that those who call themselves Jews are guilty of “blasphemy”— the very charge by which they crucified Jesus (Matt. 26:65).

Forty years later God sent His armies to destroy the city of Jerusalem as Jesus prophesied in Matt. 22:7. Later, in 135 A.D. after the Bar-Cochba revolt had been suppressed, the Romans banned the apparent Jews from setting foot on Judean soil again. Ultimately, God gave the land to the Ishmaelites, who were the secondary inheritors of the land as children of Abram. Actually, this was accomplished according to the Jewish desire to put that land under the legal jurisdiction of Hagar and Ishmael.

Spiritual Ishmaelites of Pentecost

In our book, The Wheat and Asses of Pentecost, we showed in detail that wheat and asses are symbols of Pentecost. We will not attempt to repeat that information in this short bulletin, but you need to know this material.

We showed earlier that Ishmael’s descent from Abram is an allegory of the time before the giving of the Spirit at Pentecost. It is not that the Holy Spirit was inactive during the time of the Old Testament. The Holy Spirit has always been present and active at least as far back as Gen. 1:2 when the Spirit fluttered like a dove over the face of the waters. When we speak of the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost we are really referring to an increased measure of the Spirit not previously available to the general public.

In other words, the “coming” of the Spirit is relative to the level seen in the previous time period.

The situation today is that we have now come to the end of the Pentecostal era (40 Jubilees of time) and are entering into the Tabernacles era. In this new era we are seeing a new anointing, an increased level of the Holy Spirit that was not seen earlier under Pentecost. Hence, the “coming” of the Spirit in our day is separating Pentecost from Tabernacles in the same manner that the age of Passover was separated from the Age of Pentecost.

Relatively speaking, the age of Pentecost was Abram, while the age of Tabernacles is Abraham. The earnest of the Spirit given under Pentecost must give way to the fullness of the Spirit at Tabernacles. Isaac must replace Ishmael. Saul must die, and David must reign.

The Apostle Paul said to “cast out the bondwoman and her son” (Gal. 4:30). He meant that the early Christians were to cast out the old form of Judaism that centered around the old Jerusalem and its temple. The Galatian church had had teachers who were attempting to bring the people back under Judaism, particularly by means of physical circumcision. Paul’s position was that one should not be grafted to a branch of the Judah fig tree that had been pruned from the main trunk, for there was no life in it apart from the trunk, which is Christ.

Another way of looking at it is through the eyes of the prophet Jeremiah, who saw Judah as two distinct fig trees, one producing good fruit, and the other evil fruit. Why would any Christian want to convert to Judaism and graft himself to an evil tree that is in rebellion against God?

The problem today is identical to the problem in Paul’s day. There is a growing movement among Christians to become Jews. There are many Jews who convert to Christ only because they do not have to break with Judaism. Repentance is a casualty, for we cannot offend them.

These people become Zionists, desiring the old land and placing their trust in the old Jerusalem as their inheritance. They want both inheritances—the inheritance promised to Abram and to Abraham. This theology is that of spiritual Ishmaelites. It is half Hebrew (Abram) and half Egyptian (Hagar). Like Pentecost itself, it is leavened.

Christian eschatology is largely centered upon the old Jerusalem, as if that is the place where Jesus Christ will return to set up His Kingdom. If that were true, is the New Jerusalem a temporary city? Is the Kingdom of God to be ruled by “apparent” Jews? Will the evil fig tree be converted and triumph in the end? I think not.

Some accuse me of teaching “replacement theology.” If this means that I teach that the New Jerusalem has replaced the old Jerusalem, then that is certainly true. Our September bulletin showed how the N.T. writers interpret the “Jerusalem” of the prophets to mean New Jerusalem.

If “replacement theology” is defined as the Church replacing Israel as the inheritors of the Covenant with Abraham, let me say that the Church itself is the good fig tree of Judah with Jesus Christ as the Trunk of that tree. The first believers were people of the land of Judea. To them have been added converts of all nations like branches on the tree. No replacement—just grafting. The good fig tree has been with us from the beginning, and we should stop trying to split the tree into Israel and the Church, as if the Church is something separate. It was never separate. The Church was in the wilderness under Moses (Acts 7:38). In Acts 2 that Church was given a greater anointing.

The only separation came with the evil fig tree that produced only evil fruit. Jeremiah pictures it as a different tree and has only bad things to say about it. That tree will not bear fruit and will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

There are some Jews in the Church who are deliberately attempting to replace the good fig tree with the evil one. I have heard evangelical Christian ministers actually teach that in the millennium God will re-institute the sacrificial system of animals, based upon a literal interpretation of Ezekiel 44-46. Since they also teach that there will be a physical temple in the old Jerusalem from which Christ will rule the earth, it is easy for them to interpret the animals sacrifices in an Old Testament manner as well.

Yet there is a more fundamental question of “replacement theology” that few people ever address: Did the Jews replace Joseph as the inheritors of the Birthright? 1 Chron. 5:1, 2 gives the birthright to Joseph, not to Judah. Jacob-Israel gave his name to the sons of Joseph (Gen. 48:16). The Jews claim descent from Judah, not Joseph. How is it that they call the Zionist state “Israel”?

These questions and more will be clarified in the next few bulletins as we study Esau and Israel.