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Preface
Study 1
Study 2
study3.htm
Study 4
Study 2
The Historical and Biblical Basis of the Conflict

Focus • Analysis of the cause of the conflict indicated in the Bible

In this second study we will look at:

the Biblical account of the origin of the conflict through

• Abraham;
• Isaac and Ishmael;
• Jacob and Esau;
• Moab and Ammon; and,
• other regions.

Middle East countries today

Map 4: Middle East Countries today

Noah and Shem
Indirectly, the scene set for the conflict begins after the great Flood. You will recall that only Noah was saved from destruction, together with his family (Genesis 9:18). That family included three sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth. Genesis 10 contains a record of what happened to the descendants of each of the sons. Of particular interest is the son, Shem. These descendants became known as the ĎShemites' a term that was later modified to ĎSemites' A descendant of Shem was Eber. At this time (immediately after the Flood) and for some period afterwards, there was only one language. In what can be seen as one of the many occasions men disregarded God, the people decided to build a tower that demonstrated their own prowess • "so that we may make a name for ourselves" (Genesis 11:4). God was displeased and dispersed them to all parts of the earth, and also punished them by confusing their language. The tower was called Babel (hence our very appropriate word Ďbabble'. The term ĎBabylon' had its origins in the word ĎBabel'. This area now corresponds to Iran/Iraq. Shemís descendents inhabited the area from the Mediterranean Sea to the Indian Ocean, including the area then called Ur of the Chaldees • again, Iran and Iraq, or the area formerly known as Persia. Of considerable significance is that the word Eber, the descendant of Shem (the ĎSemite', gave rise to the word ĎHebrew'.

Abraham • the foundation
Part of the dispersal involved the descendants of Shem, Eber, and later Terah (who had three sons, Abram, Nahor and Haran), living in Ur of the Chaldees. So, even though the Semites/Hebrews eventually settled in the land now known as Israel and the surrounding regions, they initially started just north of the tip of the Persian Gulf (see Map 6).

The way they began to migrate is clearly indicated in Genesis 12. God called Abram (the name by which he was then known) to travel from Ur of the Chaldees into the land later known as Canaan. Here we see the directness of God. He chose His people and placed them in the land in which He wanted them to live. It is important to note at this stage that this is a reference to the whole of the Semitic people that included the Jews and Arabs.

Abram's journey

Map 5: Abramís journey

Abram was given a promise before he left. God said:

• He would make Abram and his descendants a great nation;
• He would bless them;
• He would bless those who blessed Abramís descendants and curse those who cursed them; and,
• that all people of the earth would be blessed through Abraham.
(Genesis 12:2-3)

Abram travelled with Lot • his nephew. (Lot was the son of Haran.) Some time after they arrived in Canaan there was contention between Abramís and Lotís herdsmen, Abram gave Lot the choice of land in which he could take his cattle. Lot chose the best-looking pastures. These were in the land of Jordan, to the east of the Jordan River. The land included the notorious cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. It was after Lot left that God reiterated His promise to Abram. He said that:

• all the land he saw would be his; and,
• he would have numerous offspring.
(Genesis 13:14-17)

(God changed Abramís name to Abraham. The former meant ĎFriend of God' and the latter means ĎFather of many nations'. It is obvious from this that God saw the latter as being of greater significance for the future population of the earth.)

History has shown that Abrahamís descendants included the Jews and the Arabs.

The division of the Semitic peoples
Abraham was over 80 years old and he still had no Ďoffspring'. He was conscious of Godís promise so he took the matter up with God (Genesis 15:2-6). God again stated His promise. Unfortunately, Sarah (Abrahamís wife) was unable to bear children. She suggested that Abraham have a child by her maidservant, Hagar. Abraham thought that this might be the way in which God was going to keep His promise.

When Hagar became pregnant, she began to despise Sarah. Sarah, in turn blamed Abraham for the tension: "You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my servant in your arms, and now she knows she is pregnant, she despises me." (Genesis 16:5) Hagar tried to escape from Sarah but Godís angel intervened and told her to return. "I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count" (Genesis 16: 10). The angel also said:

• Hagar would have a son who would be named Ishmael;
• he would be wild and antagonise everyone; and,
• he would be hostile to his brothers.
(Genesis 16: 11-12)

Abraham was 86 at the time. Thirteen years later, God indicated that he would have a son by Sarah. Abraham laughed at this because he was in his hundredth year and Sarah was 90. He said "If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!"(17:18)

Godís response is very pointed and enlightening:

• Sarah would have a son whose name would be Isaac;
• Godís covenant would be established with Isaac and with his descendants;
• Ishmael would be blessed with many descendants and he would have twelve sons; but,
• nevertheless, His covenant would be with Isaac.
(Genesis 17:19-21)

Ishmael did have twelve sons. They populated the area of the northern Arabian Peninsula and south of the Dead Sea, the region that now corresponds to western Jordan.

Isaac
God had made it clear that Isaac was to be chosen to carry on the line of Godís promises. Isaac prayed to God because his wife, Rebekah, was also unable to have children. She became pregnant and the babies struggled within her. She prayed to God who told her that:

• there would be two nations in her womb;
• the two would be separated- one would be stronger then the other; and,
• the older would serve the younger.
(Genesis 25:23)

This is quite a remarkable prophecy because, as it happens, Rebekah had twins, Esau and Jacob • born in that order. As they grew up, Esau, who had the normal birthright being the firstborn, sold this birthright to Jacob when he desperately wanted food. The Genesis account records that Esau "despised his birthright." (25:34) Godís prophecy was fulfilled; Esau, the older, served the younger.

The problems continued for Esau. Due to some deceit on the part of Jacob, Isaac blessed Jacob more than he did Esau. Isaacís blessing of Jacob was - "May nations serve you and peoples bow down to you". Of Esau, Isaac said, "You will live by the sword and you will serve your brother. But when you grow restless you will throw his yoke from off your neck". Genesis records that Esau held a grudge against Jacob. It is interesting to note that Esau married a daughter of Ishmael. We have the line of blessing from Abraham to Isaac to Jacob, whereas the line of less blessing went from Abraham through Ishmael to Esauís descendants and through his daughter Mahalath.

Line of Israel and Arab peoples

Line of Israel and Arab peoples

Esauís descendants
Genesis 26 has a detailed description of Esau and his descendants. The fact that there is such detail indicates the importance God, through His inspired word, places on the beginnings of Arab nations. Esau went to Edom. Map 7 (below) indicates that Edom was to the east of the Jordan and what is now regarded as Jordanian or Arab territory.

Moab and Ammon
Two other regions on the East side of Jordan need to be mentioned. Moab and Ammon were descendants of Lot. These descendants moved into the area near the Dead Sea. (Archaeological evidence suggests that the two notorious cites of Sodom and Gomorrah are now buried under the Dead Sea at the southern end.) It might be noted that they were Semitic in that they were descendants of Terah. At the same time they chose to live in what was then a very fertile area of the Jordan valley. They were excluded from the congregation of Israel because they didnít help Israel in their flight from Egypt, and they hired Balaam to pronounce a curse on Israel (which God turned into a blessing) (Deuteronomy 23:3-7). In the same chapter, it should be noted that Godís instructions were that the Israelites should not hate an Edomite "because he is your brother". God always recognised the value of Arab peoples.

Further developments
Jacob had descendants who became known as the twelve tribes. Map 6 also shows the settlement of the tribes in the promised land.

Israel at the time of Jacob

Map 6: Israel at the time of Jacob and the twelve tribes


 It might be noticed that there is a ring of Arab peoples to the east of the Jordan River • Edom (Esau) in the south, with Moab and Ammon further north.

People of other countries • Lebanon, Syria and Egypt • and, in Northern Africa • Libya and Ethiopia • migrated at various times south of the Mesopotamian region. They are now generally known as Arab peoples where their language has Aramaic origins. Many of these countries have demonstrated their antagonism to Israel over the years. Lebanon, for example, was often referred to in the Bible by its chief cities of Tyre and Sidon. People from these cities were frequently involved in persecuting the Jews and were eventually destroyed because of this. Egypt in the time of the Pharaohs persecuted the Israelites before they came into the Promised Land. Syria is a Greek term adapted from Assyrian. At the time of its greatness, the Assyrian empire, that included the area of Mesopotamia through to the Mediterranean Sea, was a constant antagonist of Israel, as can be seen, for example, in the captivity.

Punishment for these antagonistic countries was prophesied in the Old Testament. In Ezekiel 26 and 28, Tyre and Sidon are singled out. God, through the prophet, said, "No longer will the people of Israel have malicious neighbours who are painful briers and sharp thorns. Then they will know that I am the Lord." (28:24)

Reference is also made to a number of countries in two other chapters - Ezekiel 35 and Psalm 83. Ezekiel 35 (1-13) refers to punishment for Mount Seir, or Edom, or modern day Jordan. God said that He would be against Mt Seir and make it a desolate waste because:

• it had been hostile to Israel for a long time; and,
• it had persecuted the Israelites.

He also indicated that their history of violence would continue to stay with them.

In Psalm 83 there is a prophecy that clearly indicates that over a long period of time what we now know as Arab nations have plotted against Israel • and questioned its right to exist. The Psalmist says:

• these nations would form an alliance to destroy Israel; and,
• the nations would include the Ishmaelites, Moab, Ammon, Philistia, the people of Tyre, and Assyria.
(Psalm 83:1-8)

The nations surrounding Israel • Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinians • have all persecuted Israel and sought its territory. And all of this was prophesied 3000 years ago!

In summary
Some essential points that emerge from this Biblical history are:

• God called Abraham from the original Semite (Shemite) region to inhabit a land all of which was promised to him forever.
• Other Semites (and also descendants of Ham) migrated south to regions such as Egypt, Syria, Lebanon (Phoenicia) and were independent of Abrahamís extended family. These people were linked by ethnicity and language.
• Abrahamís descendants, Ishmael and then Esau, became the Edomites and were born and bred in conflict that had occasional reconciliation but was usually based on hatred, a hatred that continued through the years.
• Over many years of Biblical history most all of the Arab nations surrounding Israel, including modern day Palestinians, have been in conflict with Israel.
• The conflicts were born out of jealousies, deceit and hatred, often on both sides.

Relevance
In Study 3 we will examine some more detailed prophecies, some of which relate to the 20th century. While we are looking at these, let us always keep in focus the fact that while the Middle East may be a long way from where we live, the events that take place there are very relevant to us because they will affect all nations. If we believe in the truth of the Bible, we can be assured of a lasting peace • national and personal • eventually, even though there will be continued conflict in the meantime.

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1. What is the origin of the word Semite?

2. Summarise the promise made to Abram.

3. Who were the two sons of Abraham that contributed to the development of Israeli and Arab people?

4. What caused the antagonism between Esau and Jacob?

5. Which prophet (and what chapter) indicated that Mt Seir, or Edom would become a "desolate waste"?

6. What Psalm provides a list of nations that would seek to destroy Israel?

  

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