At the time that Paul wrote to the Romans, he was likely not aware at the importance of this statement to future generations. Paul points back to Genesis and the story of Abraham, the beginning of their faith, to point out that it is not all offspring of Abraham that have received the promise. His distinction was between Ismael and Isaac, but the movement of Islam did not actually start until more than 500 years after Paul wrote this letter.
Paul sites scripture and then gives its meaning. “and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.” (Rom 9:7-8) In this statement Paul references a divide among brothers Isaac and Ishmael. He then references another brotherly split that ended in violence. “As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”” (Rom 9:13)
Ironically, throughout scripture, there is a theme that repeats many times where a divide exists between brothers. Cain and Abel, Jacob and his brothers, the Parable of the Prodigal Son. In all these cases, there was apparent favoritism towards one brother and the other brother was jealous. In the parable, the father points out to the jealous older brother that he had no reason to be jealous, he was always included in the inheritance.
The same was true between Isaac and Ishmael. Although Ishmael was banished, God still offered hope. God said, “And I will make a nation of the son of the slave woman also, because he is your offspring.” (Gen 21:13) However, like all the other examples, one brother’s jealousy of the other eventually let them to violence. God did make a great nation of Islam through Muhammad (a descendant of Ismael). Islam was birthed through Muhammad’s revelation in 610 but did not turn violent towards Israel until 624 when Muhammad broke a treaty with Israel.
In all of these brotherly quarrels, both were promised inheritance, but one turned violent against the other. God did promise to make a great nation through Ishmael. That nation was once at piece with its brotherly nation of Israel. Yet the nation of Islam turned violent against its brother.
So how should we respond towards our Islamic brother? The model is set in Jacob’s response to his brother who had caused him harm. “But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” (Gen 50:19-20a)
I am not expecting the Islamic response to be equal to the response from these brothers, but can still follow this example. This does not mean to turn a blind eye to their atrocities, but it does mean we can continue to pray for them and their salvation just as Jacob desired the best for his brothers.
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