Saturday, March 29, 2008

God’s purposes for Ishmael’s descendants

Updated 7 June 2009


Muslims attach a special role to Ishmael, as he is taken to be an ancestor of Muhammad. The greatest feast of Islam is Eid-al-Adha, where the obedience of Abraham is commemorated to sacrifice his ‘only’ son. (The Hebrew word ‘yachid’ of Genesis 22:1 is seldom used in the Bible, just as the 'New Testament'1 equivalent monogenos. This is the word used in John 3:16, appropriately translated with God’s unique son). Muslims take the son almost sacrificed on Mount Moriah to have been Ishmael. He is furthermore seen as one of their prophets.
The Hebrew Scriptures teach not only a common ancestry, but they also give examples of positive inter-action between the off-spring of Isaac and Ishmael. Esau married a daughter of Ishmael (Genesis 28:9) and Joseph was saved by Ishmaelite traders (Genesis 37:28), albeit that the traders’ motives were probably not purely humanistic. This nevertheless eventually saved the whole nation from extinction because of the severe famine. Perhaps we as Christians with our common (spiritual) Jewish roots could play an important role in mediation.
Traditionally we have been speaking as Christians much to glibly about the 'Old Testament'! All too often we did this haughtily and derogatorily, in spite of the admonition of Paul that we are merely grafted into the real olive, Israel. We seem to forget that the Bible is a unit, where both parts are equal in value. The entire 'OT' looks forward to the 'NT' and find in it its fulfilment. 'The people of God under the old covenant were as much a part of what God has been doing through history as we are. They and we are one, the elect people of God' (Lambert, 1975:88). I endeavour to avoid the term 'Old Testament' because of the unfortunate connotations, i.e. as if the 'New Testament' more or less replaced it. In this work I endeavour to refer consistently to the Hebrew Scriptures in stead. For lack of a better term (Jewish scholars sometime refer to the 'NT' as Christian Scriptures, but that terminology does not sound to me accurate enough), I try to use 'New Testament' consistently, i.e. with inverted commas.
This work does not take into consideration prophecies regarding Muslim-related Semitic tribes like Edom (where the descendants of Esau live), Moab (those from Lot) or a country like Lebanon. At least one prophecy about Edom is more like a curse, a judgement. The land would be deserted from generation to generation, will be called a land of nothing, (Isaiah 34:5ff). About Lebanon, where the Muslim sect of the Alewites thrive – they pride themselves to be the descendants of the Khalif Ali – there are quite a few prophecies, of which some are interpreted still to be fulfilled.

It is thrilling to know that God had a plan and a purpose with Ishmael and his descendants so to speak right from the beginning. On the other hand, we as Christians tend to think only negatively about Ishmael and his descendants. Typical would be one-sided generalisations like the following:

2.1. Generalisations around the Birth and Childhood of Ishmael
That the birth of Ishmael was a miracle is sometimes overlooked. He was fathered by Abraham when the patriarch was eighty-six years old. Typical of distorted and bigoted thinking is that Ishmael was the result of the disobedience of Abraham, a compromise because the arch father could not wait on God’s promise. It is highlighted in this reasoning that Abraham listened more to his wife than to God. Worse still, it might be concluded that he was weak, giving in to the demands of Sarah by sending Hagar away with the boy. Due to the teaching in Galatians 4:21ff of Paul, the apostle, Christians tend to have a negative view of Ishmael and his mother Hagar. Thus Ishmael is negatively viewed as the son of Abram, born from the flesh (Isaac was the son of Abraham, the father of many nations and the son of the promise.) The problems of the Middle East are thus viewed to stem ultimately from Abraham’s disobedience.
Because Ishmael – by then a teenager - teased the baby Isaac (Genesis 21:19), he was to be blamed for the misery - causing his downfall and that of his mother Hagar, to be finally sent away. The misguided inference sometimes followed that Ishmael was not blessed.

2.2. Generalisations around the Arab Nations as Enemies of the Israelites
The Arab nations now constituting the countries in the Middle East, are all basically the enemies of the Israelites. In the mind of many a Christian (and Jews I suppose as well) Philistines (Palestinians), Midianites, Moabites, Hittites, Jebusites, Amalakites, Egyptians, Medes and Persians plus a few others are all bundled together. The only exception would be the Samaritans, but this is possibly only so because the parable of the Good Samaritan, the confrontation of Jesus with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well and the parable of the one thankful Samaritan leper are well known. The common Islamic faith of the countries living in the Middle East tends to enhance this prejudice. The average church goer in the West often does not even know about the existence of Arab Christians.

2.3. Generalisations around Prohibition of Miscegenation
The Jews were not allowed to marry people from other nations. In earlier generations many mission agencies deduced from this fact the prohibition of their workers to marry nationals. Out of this misguided notion, well-meaning Christians even derived the idea that believers should only marry people from the own racial group.

None of these conclusions are actually completely unfounded. They can actually all be deduced from the chapters of the historical books of the OT. So often it is merely a matter of interpretation, influenced by our upbringing.
Let us examine some of the above assumptions and generalisations:

In Genesis 16:1- 4. We see that it was not so much Abraham’s impatience, but rather the insistence of Sarah that her husband should sleep with the Egyptian slave Hagar, which led to the birth of Ishmael: pregnancy in those days was considered a blessing of God. A wife was compelled to provide her husband with a surrogate mother according to customary law if there was no offspring after ten years, so that there could be continuing leadership of the clan or tribe. If Sarah had not acted as she had, Eliezer of Damascus, Abraham’s steward and not even a blood relative, would have become his heir. Sarah was under enormous social pressure. This is not to condone that the couple didn’t trust God sufficiently, but we can sympathise with both of them! Because Sarah had not become pregnant after all these years, Hagar despised her mistress Sarah when she became pregnant. Of course, this behaviour cannot be condoned as well.
Let us praise God for His love for every person, even if the conception of such a person is a result of sin. We find that God reacts compassionately to human error in every case. In spite of the failure of Abraham and Sarah to wait on God to fulfil His promises to give them a son and Hagar's flight, He makes a promise to bless her child. Then Sarai mistreated Hagar so she fled from her. … The angel of the Lord found Hagar near a spring in the desert; … And he said, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” (Genesis 16:6,7,8). The compassionate God sees and hears the cry of a destitute woman, even though she had despised her mistress.
Hagar's behaviour is a lesson to all of us. She confesses her sin, that she has fled (v.8), thus setting the paradigm of confession and divine cleansing (1 John 1:9). How often we also want to run away from problems.
The divine response – the first time the Angel of the Lord appears in Scripture – contains no promise that things will improve for Hagar. Instead, we find a pointer to another scriptural principle. She was told to humble herself under the hand of her mistress. We are reminded of James 5:6. If you humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, in his good time he will lift you up.
The Angel of the Lord, who spoke in the first person to Hagar, may often be interpreted as the manifestation of Christ as God’s Messenger Servant in the 'Old Testament'.2 In spite of the failure of Abram and Sarai to fully obey God, God blessed Ishmael, their son. Then the angel of the Lord told her, “…I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count. … You are now with child and you will have a son. You shall name him Ishmael, [God hears] for the Lord has heard your misery. … The prophetic word given by the Angel of the Lord before his birth (Genesis 16:11f) also contained an element of freedom. He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, he will live in hostility toward all his brothers” (Genesis 16:9,10,11-12). In the book Job we read how a wild donkey lived: ' ... He explores the mountains for his pasture and searches after every green thing (Job 39,5-8).' Ishmael did not use his freedom in a proper way.
That the Angel of the Lord appears to Hagar for the first time in Scripture is prophetic in yet another way. At the time of the first appearance she was destitute and lost. Centuries later the Almighty would send his Son Jesus to rescue the lost.
It is also significant that this verse speaks of God who sees her misery and the one who hears the cry of the needy and destitute. The name given to the son of Hagar was Ishmael (God hears). We praise God that He continues to hear the cry of the women and mothers, also of the spiritual ancestors of Ishmael, those in the Muslim faith. Let us remind God of His promise to hear the cry of those who are desperate about their circumstances. In the Genesis 16 context it is furthermore significant that Hagar obeyed, returning to Sarai. It is possible to confess and then continue with a sinful life style. Hagar followed her confession up with the deed, returning to her mistress who had mistreated her. This is on the moral scale actually a step better than the prodigal son who also followed up his intention with the action and going back to his father, but where he was evidently the guilty party (Luke 15).
We have the benefit of hindsight to know that God chose Isaac to be the son through whom He was to bless Abraham especially and make him into a great nation. At the time however, because of their customs, Abraham would have seen Ishmael as God’s answer to His promise. Thus he would probably have regularly held Ishmael in his arms and reminded him of what God had promised. When Ishmael was thirteen years old and had been living with Abraham as a son and also knowing all the blessings that God had promised to Abraham and his off-spring, the Lord appeared to Abraham saying, “… I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers. … I will make you fruitful; … I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you” (Genesis 17:2,6,7).
As confirmation of God’s covenant to Abraham, every male child was to be circumcised. And God said to Abraham, “…My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant” (Genesis 17:13). Even though the covenant is not expressly extended to his other descendants, the blessing on them because of his obedience is implied. On that very day Abraham took his son Ishmael …and circumcised [him], as God had told him (Genesis 17:23).
We note how Abraham obeyed God immediately. He had been disobedient as Abram. His immediate and complete obedience was one of the attributes that endeared Abraham to God. Ishmael was circumcised at the age of thirteen years and is therefore part of God’s covenant blessing made to Abraham and his descendants. The Muslims in many countries recognise this covenant and circumcise their sons at the age of thirteen and not when they are eight days old. (The latter practice is incidentally also customary amongst Cape Muslims!)
3.1. A Blessing on Ishmael and Isaac At the time God renewed His promise to Abraham; He said that His promise was to be accomplished through his first wife Sarah. Abraham, who had been raising Ishmael as His son, was distraught and pleaded with God: “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!” Abraham pleaded with an intercessor’s heart, crying out to God to reveal His love to Ishmael and his descendants.
Then God said, “Yes…” (Genesis 17:18,19). He blessed Ishmael and his off-spring. “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 twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation” (Genesis 17:20).
We praise God for Abraham’s faith to plead for God’s covenant blessing for Ishmael. Let us pray that God would soon fulfil His promises to reveal Himself to the sons and daughters of Ishmael also those who are following Islam in even greater measure.
Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him (Genesis 21:5). When Isaac had been weaned, Abraham held a great feast (Genesis 21:8) to celebrate God’s confirmed blessing. When Isaac was weaned at about two years of age, Ishmael would have been a boy of about fourteen years. There arose a serious disagreement between Sarah and Hagar after the hurting and rejected teenager Ishmael had mocked the celebration.
Sarah requested Abraham to banish Hagar and Ishmael. Hagar hereafter no longer enjoyed the favoured status of being the “blessed” wife of Abraham, the one who gave him a son. Sarah's request was clearly an over-reaction out of jealousy. This matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son (Genesis 21:11). We note that even after this promise from God, Abraham still saw Ishmael as his first son through whom God would bless him. God assured Abraham of the future blessing of Ishmael and his sons: “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your maidservant. … I will make the son of your maidservant into a nation also, because he is your offspring” (Genesis 21:11ff). We note however how God actually instructed Abraham to listen to Sarah (Genesis 21:12).
3.2. Isaac and Ishmael in Tandem
God allowed Hagar and Ishmael to be removed from Abraham’s household at two occasions. The first time was when Hagar became proud and arrogant towards Sarah her mistress (Genesis 16:4) after she had become pregnant and the second time when Ishmael mocked Abraham’s celebration of the weaning of Isaac (Genesis 21:9). Although God loves all people, He opposes those who reject and mock His love. Although Ishmael was merely a teenager, God would not allow him to get away with this behaviour.
Ishmael was just like many brothers whose stories are recorded in the Bible. God rejected Cain because he was jealous and angry towards his brother Abel, whose sacrifice was offered with a heart motivated by love for God. We compare Genesis 4:4,5 with Hebrews 11:4, By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts... Similarly God rejected Esau, because he sold his birthright to his younger brother Jacob for a bowl of soup. (See Genesis 25:29-34, Malachi 1:2-3).
It is only through Jesus, the ultimate Son of the promise, that God was to reveal His covenant love to all Abraham’s descendants. Pray that Muslims would search and recognise that God’s covenant blessing is through Jesus Christ!
At the time of their banishment from Abraham’s household, God saw the plight of Hagar and Ishmael. He did not reject them forever; He did not forget His promises made to Hagar. In fact, God continued to show His favour and mercy from the moment Hagar and Ishmael were chased from Abraham’s estate.
While Hagar and Ishmael were in the desert and had consumed what food and water they had, Hagar began to sob; “I cannot watch the boy die” (Genesis 21:16). God then reconfirmed His commitment and promise made earlier to Hagar. God heard the boy crying and the angel of the Lord called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation” (Genesis 21:17,18).
Hagar is one of very few people in the Bible to whom an angel appeared more than once, possibly the only person mentioned to whom the Angel of the Lord appeared twice.3 We note that God heard the boy. By now Ishmael was of course a teenager. We read that God was with the boy as he grew up (Genesis 21:20). We can therefore presume that God has an appointed time to reveal Himself more fully to the sons and daughters of Ishmael.
It is interesting to note that though the Qur’an has 99 names for God, it does not have the name of God as Father (The Qur’an does speak frequently though of Allah, the merciful). The heart of God continues to cry out to Islamic adherents that they may be received by God as His sons. With a prophetic pointer God intervenes via a well with water of life. Jesus would centuries later refer – at Jacob's well in his altercation with the Samaritan woman - to the living water leading to eternal life via faith in him (John 4:14).
Let us pray that the Holy Spirit would arouse in the hearts of Muslims a search for God as a compassionate and loving Father. May Christians who are living alongside or trading with Muslims demonstrate Christ’s love for them in practical ways!
We emphasise that there was a blessing on both Isaac and Ishmael. The impression that the descendants of Isaac and Ishmael have been eternal enemies (and should remain that way,4) has no biblical basis, even though the Qur'an advises Muslims not to befriend Christians and Jews. (The background of the relevant verses is of course the disappointment of Muhammad that representatives of these groups would not recognise his perceived status as a divinely appointed rasool, the special messenger of Allah for the Arabs.). Whereas it is clearly recorded that there was an inner-Israelite feud between Joseph and his brothers, there is no biblical evidence that the brotherly link between Isaac and Ishmael was severed during their lifetime despite the sad separation. In fact, at the funeral of Abraham both sons buried their father together (Genesis 25:17). If there had been some unreported rift, the deduction that the two were reconciled to each other at this time is thus definitely appropriate.

3.3. Other Scriptures applying to the Descendants of Ishmael
These are the names of the sons of Ishmael, listed in the order of their birth: Nebaioth the firstborn of Ishmael, Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, Mishma, Dumah, Massa, Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish and Kedemah (Genesis 25:13-15). God has not forgotten His promises made in Scripture to Ishmael and his descendants. A few times we read of God’s promises to the sons of Ishmael.
During the life of Isaiah, one thousand seven hundred years after God has made his promises to Abraham, the sons of Ishmael were apparently living as enemies of the Jews. Yet, Isaiah prophesied with an eye and heart of faith that the descendants of Ishmael would some day form part of God’s covenant community.
An oracle concerning Dumah (the name of a son of Ishmael, meaning Silence or Stillness): Someone calls to me from Seir, “Watchman, what is left of the night? Watchman, what is left of the night?” The watchman replies, “Morning is coming, but also the night. If you would ask then ask and come back yet again” (Isaiah 21:11-12).
In Biblical history the night is almost over and God is calling the watchmen, the intercessors, to raise their voices and prophetically call the Sons of Ishmael (Dumah) to join the family of God.
An oracle concerning Arabia: You caravans of the Dedanites, who camp in the thickets of Arabia, bring water for the thirsty; you who live in Tema, bring food for the fugitives (Isaiah 21:13,14).
Let us pray that God would raise more descendants of Ishmael to be the future evangelists who would go to the Muslim nations proclaiming the Good news of Jesus. Islam is a religion that encourages a fanaticism even to death through suicide. (Converted Muslims who became Christian evangelists have already started to speak courageously about the sacrificial love of Jesus in different parts of the world. The people movements among South Asian Muslim nations which gave birth to the CAMEL method,5 was ushered in by the persecution and testimony of one from their ranks.
This is what the Lord says to me: “Within one year, as a servant bound by contract would count it, all the pomp of Kedar will come to an end. The survivors of the bowmen, the warriors of Kedar will be few. The Lord God of Israel, has spoken” (Isaiah 21:16,17).
Let us pray that the pomp and pride of Islam would be humbled and that the descendants of Ishmael would turn to Jesus in their millions. Pray that there may be a mass turning to the Lord as they recognise the deception which is holding them captive through fear and ignorance.
Let the desert and its towns raise their voices; let the settlements where Kedar lives rejoice. Let the people of Sela sing for joy; let them shout from the mountaintops. Let them give glory to the Lord and proclaim His praise in the islands (Isaiah 42:11-12).
Let us pray that throughout the Muslim world there may be rejoicing and celebrations as Jesus is revealed as the Messiah of God. Pray in particular for the Muslim neighbours far and wide.
Vast droves of camels will converge upon you.... All Kedar’s flock will be gathered to you, the rams of Nebaioth will serve you; they will be accepted as offerings on my altar, and I will adorn my glorious temple (Isaiah 60:6,7).
It is interesting that this verse occurs in the prophetic context of the Messianic age, the light that will be shining upon the nations. The restoration of Ishmael's descendants started as a clear pointer to the end times after the birth of Jesus. The evangelist Matthew, who took the Jews as his special target audience, apparently had an eye for this by including - as the only one of the gospels - the oral tradition of the magi from the East. The 'children' of Ismael lived to the East of Israel, especially in the land of the Arabs. The Arabians, Kedar's wealthy merchant princes, bring lambs, rams and goats (Ezekiel 27:21). The Arabs and Ishmaelites were understood to come from the East. Incense and myrrh grew in the East, especially in Arabia. Taking this into account, the wise men were possibly descendants from Ishmael. Thus the first non-Jews who worshipped the baby Jesus were Arabs. This ties up perfectly with the fact that the first time the Angel of the Lord is mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures was the encounter with Hagar, the Afro-Arab Egyptian mother of Ishmael. (That the Camel Method has such success among Muslims seems to be more than incidental).
Pray that the religious clerics and leaders of Islam may receive special revelation of who Jesus is. Let us pray that they might discover how the message of the Cross has been consistently omitted in the Qur’an. Pray that they would get down to study the Bible and discover the mystery of Christ that has been hidden for generations from the Muslim communities. Pray that there may be a warm welcoming of many as they become followers of Jesus. Ask God to raise your level of faith to see many Muslims come to faith in Him, also in the communities where they live in close proximity to faithful and loving Christians.
On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine—the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations (Isaiah 25:6,7).
This mountain referred to in Isaiah 25:7, is the same mountain (Moriah) on which Abraham was prepared to sacrifice Isaac, the temple mount in Jerusalem. It was here that David first built the tabernacle of reeds, which was a place of continuous prayer and where Solomon later built the temple (2 Samuel 24:18ff, Amos 9:11, Acts 15:16, 2 Chronicles 3:1).
Currently the Dome of the Rock stands on Mount Moriah. This is one of the most important Islamic shrines. Islam is a religion of the veil and blocks some 1.2 billion people from the light of Christ’s salvation. Just like Jews in general, Muslims have a spiritual veil over their eyes, which still prevents them from recognising Jesus. It is also a religion that in some communities hides the women entirely from a clear view behind a double veil.
Pray that just as the iron curtain of Communism came tumbling down as a result of prayer, the veil of Islam might be ripped aside soon. Pray that Muslims would recognise how the sacrifice of Jesus on the hill of Calvary has paved the way for them to enter the throne room of God.
Let us pray that Christians from Islamic backgrounds would recognise that as followers of Jesus they will be also be part of the Bride of Christ who will be revealed without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless (Ephesians 5:27).
Has God forgotten His promises made through the prophets? Surely not!
Let us remind God that according to Isaiah 49:15, He will never forget His promises to Ishmael and his descendants. “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the son of her womb? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me. Or again we are reminded in Psalm 10:12, 17,18a “Arise, Lord! Lift up your hand, O God. Do not forget the helpless. … You hear, O Lord, the desires of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed.”
Dark am I, yet lovely, O daughters of Jerusalem, dark like the tents of Kedar, [Ishmael’s son] like the tent curtains of Solomon (Song of Songs 1:5).
As the curtain of the Solomon’s temple was torn apart in order that we may enter the presence of God, pray that Muslim believers may understand that they too have a similar access to God’s Holy chambers through the sacrificial death of Jesus.
During the time of the 'New Testament', Islam as a religion had not started; the sons of Ishmael were commonly referred to as Gentiles. When we read the references about Gentiles, it includes people groups that have now become a part of the Islamic world. With regard to the Gentiles there are specific promises that have yet to be fulfilled. The Scriptures foresaw for example that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the Gospel in advance to Abraham (The father of Ishmael and Isaac): “All nations will be blessed through you” (Galatians 3:8).
Pray that God’s delight would be made complete when the sons of Ishmael and the sons of Jacob embrace one another as brothers in Christ. For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord (Jesus) will be saved” (Romans 10:12,13).
4.1. Lumping together of all Non-Jews
The Hebrew Scriptures do give the impression that the special position of the Israelites as God’s elect made them haughty and proud with respect to the other nations. Yet, God chose the Jewish people. They did not choose themselves. However, pride is not the exclusive domain of Jewish people. There is all too often also pride and arrogance in Christianity, with some Christians asserting that the Church has been chosen in the place of Israel. There is also pride and arrogance amongst Muslims, with the Islamic belief that they not only have the last and best revealed scripture but also the final prophet.
The whole issue of Jews and race was abused by Hitler. It was and is actually a spiritual issue, not a racial one. Only the twelve tribes stemming from the patriarch Isaac via Jacob are counted as ‘proper’ Israelites. Thus one finds the Midianites lumped together with the Ishmaelites (Judges 8:24, Genesis 37:28), although Midian was a son of Abraham with Ketura, not a son of Ishmael. Furthermore, Zipporah, the first wife of Moses, was the daughter of Reuel or Jethro, a Midianite priest (Exodus 2:21). To all intents and purposes Moses seems to have had a good relationship to his father-in-law, possibly also learning a thing or two from him. Later he readily accepted the advice from Jethro to delegate his responsibility.
It is usually conveniently overlooked that Hittites were very friendly to Abraham after the death of Sarah (Genesis 23). But also before that Abraham sojourned in the land of the Philistines for many days (Genesis 21:34). Ishmaelite traders helped saving Joseph from certain death when they bought (Genesis 37:28) and sold him as a slave to Potiphar. Three female ancestors of King David - namely Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth - did not stem from one of the twelve tribes.
In Jewish parlance Gentile nations have been depicted as idolaters. The Jews were expected to be God-fearing. Yet, the Torah is honest enough to narrate how none less than the High Priest Aaron led the Israelites in the idolatry of the golden calf (Exodus 32:4,5). Furthermore, the serpent which Moses put on a pole in the desert, became an idol in later years (2 Kings 18:4).
Not many Christians are aware of a curse put on the city of Jericho (Joshua 6:26). Significantly, the curse was lifted at the price of the first-born and the youngest son of Hiel, who went to rebuild the city (1 King 16:34). Jesus, the unique son of God (thus first-born and youngest simultaneously), is powerful to lift all curses through the power of his blood shed on Calvary.

One reads of Jebusites, Hittites etc. as the original peoples of Canaan. These tribes were later just collectively called Philistines - with negative connotations. Originally the Philistines had been a coastal tribe and the Samaritans were despised because they mixed the true worship of the Hebrew arch fathers with idolatry. The Samaritans still exist today as a group and they suffer terrible persecution at the hands of Muslims.
The first commandment that Hashem (literally the Name) gave to Moses was that He was to be worshipped alone. Muhammad seemed to have understood this very well when tawid, the worship of only one Deity, became the prime doctrine in the religion that he founded. All the more it is sad that Muhammad did not stop idolising the Black Stone of the Ka’bah, which he perceived as the prime symbol of the veneration of Allah. His equating Hubal, the Lord of the Ka’bah, with the divine deity of the Bible, was of course completely off target. One could have expected a change of direction after the 'satanic verse' correction. This did not transpire. Furthermore, Muhammad did not heed the warning of the hanifs, those followers of the religion of Abraham who had influenced him so profoundly. They warned him that a stone cannot hear or speak.
Yet, Christians (and to a lesser extent Jews) would do well to be humble in respect of Muslims. Even though so much of the biography of Muhammad is not supported by other written material, there is enough recorded in Islamic history that should make Christians ashamed. There is so much information regarding the first 'revelations' to Muhammad that point to doubtful motives on the part of Waraqah bin Naufal, a Christian priest and a cousin of Muhammad’s first wife Khadiyah. When Muhammad was in great doubt whether he was in fact demon-possessed or not, Waraqah misled him into believing that he was a prophet. Much blame has to be apportioned to Khadiyah, who became Muhammad’s first follower. She encouraged the middle-aged Muhammad on flimsy grounds to believe the same, thus becoming the human ‘author’ in the process of the Islamic creed that Allah is one and Muhammad his prophet.
On the other hand, Christians are only grafted into the natural olive tree, destined to make Israel jealous. We completely not only seem to have forgotten this, but also that the blinding of Israel's eyes and the corporate hardening of the their heart were the natural result of Israel's wilful rejecting their Messiah. We as Gentiles were not to become a monopoliser of spiritual blessings in Christ – merely a partaker. Instead however, the Church through the ages had the temerity to regard itself as ‘the new Israel’. The Emperor Constantine succeeded in the 4th century in side-lining the Jews, by giving preferential treatment to Christians. What guilt has been laden on the Church in this way! And what about the terrible persecution of Jews, when the careless words of a few at the crucifixion of Jesus were abused ('let his blood come upon us and upon our children')? This was a complete over-reaction, especially if we consider that thousands of Jews of that generation were truly converted, in spite of the rejection by the religious leaders and Jesus' crucifixion. We note furthermore that Jesus extended forgiveness aloud, saying 'Father forgive them; for they know not what they do' (Luke 23:34).
Sadly, even worse, the Jews were often labelled in toto as ‘murderers of Christ’, for example during the 15th century Inquisition in Spain. The well-known Martin Luther reacted carnally when Jews would not convert to Christianity straight away. Adolf Hitler could thus abuse Luther’s views to take millions of Jews to the gas chambers. Christian leaders would do well to come up with a joint international confession in this regard on behalf of the universal Church.
4.2. Inter-racial Mixing
It is often forgotten that the problem with inter-racial mixing only started to be a major issuewith Solomon when his many wives led him into idolatry. There were incidents chronologically before this when Israelites were punished for taking wives from other nations, but the prohibition of miscegenation became only big time with the priest Ezra when he strictly forbade marriage to non-Jews. The Bible did not hide the fact that the circumstances around the conception of some of the ancestors of King David were actually despicable. It is significant how the story of Joseph is actually interrupted by the juicy story of Judah and his impregnating Tamar, his daughter-in-law when she disguised herself as a prostitute because he did not honour his promise to her (Genesis 38). We note that Miriam and Aaron were divinely rebuked with leprosy when they criticised Moses'choice of an African (Cushite) wife (Numbers 12:1-15). The circumstances leading to David taking Bathsheba as wife and the subsequent birth of Solomon were morally even more abhorrent. It included adultery with Bathsheba and the cool-blooded planned elimination of her husband Uriah. The latter however did not co-operate in the initial cover-up plan after his return from the battle field (Bathsheba had informed King David that she was pregnant from him, the adulterous king.)
The haughty attitude towards the Assyrians, with Nineveh as their big city, comes through in the narrative of Jonah, where God had to chastise Jonah for his attitude. And even thereafter Jonah had to be reprimanded once again.
The example of Jesus in his attitude towards Samaritans speaks for itself. Furthermore, he taught through correction, exposing the prevalent Jewish attitude to foreigners at the synagogue in his home town Nazareth (Luke 4:26f). Jesus referred positively to Naaman, a Syrian military officer and the widow of Zarapeth, a city of Sidon. At the cleansing of the temple Jesus attempted to bring back its original purpose where outsiders of the society like children and foreigners would have access to the house of prayer (Matthew 21). However, this positive view towards foreigners somehow still did not filter through properly to his disciples. Peter had to get down from his pedestal in a double sense to meet Cornelius (Acts 10), who is the paradigm for the Muslim. (Cornelius was giving alms to people, and prayed to God always.) Peter was not ready yet to bring the Gospel to Gentiles. A supernatural visitation was needed to make him prepared to enter a Gentile home.
Matthew, the Gospel writer, was definitely divinely inspired to highlight the non-Jewish female ancestors of Jesus. As we have pointed out, there is nothing to boast about with the circumstances how the births came about in his genealogy via the only women mentioned in Matthew 1:3-6 - Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba. This is completely consistent with the teaching and life-style of Jesus who had no hesitation to communicate with the despised quisling tax collectors, prostitutes and rough fishermen. In fact, when everybody else was despising and looking down to Zacchaeus, Jesus looked up to him in a double sense, honouring him specially by dining with him. Respect and loving Jews and Muslims is thus the example of Jesus, set before all Christians.

What distinguished the Jews from other peoples has always been their waiting for the Messiah on the authority of the Scriptures. Alfred Edersheim (1959:14) warned against not perceiving the unity of the “Old Testament' in its progressive unfolding of the plan of salvation. 'Moses must not be read independently of the Psalms, nor yet the Psalms independently of the Prophets.' They represent three well-marked stages, leading up to the suffering and the glory of Messiah. Already in Genesis 3:15 we see a person behind the seed of the woman; 'suffering, in the prediction that his heel will be bruised; and victory, in htat He would bruise the serpent's head' (Edersheim, 1959:14). In the Psalms the Son of David, the Sufferer and the Conqueror, is depicted as that person. In the writings of the prophets, especially those of Isaiah, in chapter 53, it is shown that the Messiah is the culmination of the sacrificial types. In Isaiah 52:13 through chapter 53 the vicarious sufferiings of the Messiah is referred to no less than 12 times. Early works as the Targum Jonathan and the Jerusalem Targum, that embody the elements of the very earliest Aramaic biblical interpretation (Edersheim, 1959:15, footnote), frankly adopt the Messianic prophecies of Isaiah 53 and more - such as that Isaac carried the wood like someone would carry a cross. Two different Strains of Prophecy
That ancient rabbis discerned two different strains of prophecy regarding the life, ministry and destiny of the Messiah, constituted a problem for Jews ever since. Several prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures predicted a suffering servant who would die for the sins of the people while others predicted a ruling and reigning Messiah. Unfortunately many of the Jews derived from this teaching that there would be two Messiahs.
Maimonides, the influential 12th Century Jewish scholar who died in Egypt, complicated matters further with the third of his thirteen principles of Judaism, viz. God's spirituality and incorporality. He not only deeply influenced Al-Ghazzali, who is widely regarded as the prime philosopher of the Sufist strand of Islam, but Maimonides has been doing this to Jews to this day. The Jewish author Stuart Sacks concedes in his book Revealing Jesus Messiah -identifying Isaiah's Servant of the Lord, (p.8) that he had been confused by the above-mentioned statement of Maimonides: 'For the Jewish mind, the idea of God assuming human form has an idolatrous ring to it.' In recent decades however, archaeological studies have revealed that the assumption that Jews of Jesus' life-time expected two different Messiahs may not have been widespread. In the Biblical Archaeology Review of November/Decemb er, 1992, the Hebrew scholars Michael Wise and James Tabor came to the following conclusion in their analysis of the Qumran text 4Q521 of the Dead Sea Scrolls: '... there is not much evidence in the previously published scrolls that straightforwardly supports a putative doctrine of two Messiahs.... So the text (of 4Q521) is, in speaking of a single Messiah, more the rule than the exception... The Messiah of our text is thus much closer to the Christian Messiah in this regard than in any previously published text...' 'Two' Messiahs in One
During the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth he declared to his disciples that after his death and resurrection He would come again for His church. His disciples heard him confirming more than once that he was the Messiah, e.g. at Caesarea Philippi (Matthew 16:13ff).
One of the main issues why Muslims and Jews have difficulties to believe in Jesus is because the 'New Testament' describes him as the Son of God. In the course of Jesus’ ministry Peter confessed: ‘You are the Messiah, the son of the living God’ (Matthew 16:16). Jesus confirmed the supernatural nature of this confession: ‘This was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven’.
Interestingly, the Qur'an confirms Jesus' status as Messiah, albeit that we should be careful not to give too much weight to the statement that angels – in the plural - came to Mary in Surah al-Imran 3:45 saying His name is Christ Jesus, the son of Mary... , (In Surah Maryam 19:17 'our angel' appears to Mary as a man in all respects, bringing the good news to the Virgin Mary of the supernatural birth of a son, al-Mashiach).
The supplement son of Mary in Surah al-Imran 3:45 would make little sense other than to emphasise that He is not the Son of God. The doctrine of Jesus as the Son of God has its origins in the Bible. God would have a monogenes, a favourite, a uniquely born Son. All three synoptic gospels report how a voice from heaven confirmed at his baptism that Jesus is God’s Son whom He loves, with whom he is well pleased. On two occasions the Gospel of Matthew reports the divine voice mentioning ‘This is my Son, whom I love’ (Matthew 3:17; 17:5). Satan tried to tempt Jesus before the outset of his ministry (If you are the Son of God...) and Jesus was crucified for this very reason. In his trial the Jewish religious leaders brought the accusation that led to his crucifixion, that Jesus had – in their view blasphemously - said that he was the Son of God. Jesus as the figurative Son of God
There is no doubt that the 'New Testament' teaches clearly that Jesus is the figurative Son of God. But Jesus did veil the Father's identity from his enemies, not using the name God when he spoke to them. Denying himself, He always nevertheless honoured the Father, when he said for example: The Father is greater than me (John 14:9). According to the 'New Testament', even demons reckoned with Him as such. In fact, in the initial stages of His ministry Jesus stopped them from proclaiming this message far and wide (Mark 5:8; 1:27, 33). Once again, the bickering theologians caused simple believers and hence Muhammad and the Muslims, to stumble.
The concept of Jesus as the Son of God is not a peripheral but a central teaching of the 'NT'. In his first epistle John even uses the tenet as a test of the Antichrist. Whoever does not believe in Jesus as the Son of God, reflects the spirit of the Antichrist (1 John 2:22). Those who display the spirit of the Antichrist, such as those writers who contradict the concept, have to be regarded as false prophets (1 John 4:1) according to the apostle.
In the Gospels Jesus referred to God as His Father no less than 185 times, and His claim to divinity comes to the fore in many ways, for example in His own statement: I and the Father are one (John 10:30). In the book of Acts the apostles - in fact all the 'NT' writers - implicitly ascribe divinity to Jesus when they refer to him with titles and descriptions like Creator, Lord, Christ and a few more. In this regard some authors have tried to suggest animosity between James and the Nazorean Christian community on the one hand and the Pauline followers on the other. This is highly artificial because in his epistle James speaks twice about Jesus as the Lord and the Messiah (Christ) and in James 5:7 he awaits the coming of the Lord. That is almost the equivalent of the supreme God himself. The wording is no different than Pauline equivalents. The description of Peter's encounter, when he was still a fisherman and not yet a disciple in Luke 5:7, leads to a similar discovery of Jesus as Kurios, Lord. Peter was so aware of his sinful nature after he witnessed the extraordinary catch of fish against all odds that he fell on his knees in adoration, ostensibly aware that he was in divine presence. God's beloved Son
An Islamic notion is portrayed by the notion in the excerpts of the secondary version of the Ebionite Gospel, namely that the heavenly Christ has been created like an archangel. The inference could thus be derived that Jesus was not divine as such. Epiphanius includes in these excerpts clear traces of material borrowed from the Gospel according to Luke. This differs considerably from the beginning of Matthew's Gospel. Really surprising is the divergent account of the baptism of Jesus in the Ebionite Gospel where the voice from heaven is included twice, saying: This is my beloved Son. Almost in the same breath it says in whom the first time and the second time in Thee, followed by the common I am well pleased. This represents quite interesting 'mutilation', because it is in a sense a synopsis of the accounts of the voice at Jesus' baptism and His transfiguration where the following different versions occur: with (in) him (Matthew 3:17; 17:5), with (in) Thee (Mark 1:11; Luke 3:23) and whom I have chosen (Luke 9:35). 'This is my beloved Son, listen to Him (Mark 9:7) has no equivalent in the excerpt. Nevertheless, is it conjectural to suspect that the author of the Ebionite Gospel could have had all different versions in some written form at his disposal?
What it does portray however is that the oral tradition of the saying of the voice from heaven must have circulated very widely, i.e. in spite of any problems on the part of some Ebionites to accept the divinity of Jesus and his being the Son of God. God as a Daddy
Quite universal is the Jewish understanding that God is Our Father and our King. The fatherhood of God was no new concept for them at all, although the bulk of the Jews might still have had difficulty understanding that the deity could have a son, as Proverbs 30:4 alludes to. The Essenic Teacher of Righteousness of Qumran is however cited as having said: For in God we live, and move and have our being. In truth, we are his sons, and he is our Father (Szkely, 1976:82).
Moses was not satisfied with God's second best. After God had assured Moses that his presence would accompany them, Moses’ insisting response was: ‘if your presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here’ (Exodus 33:14).
In this way Moses is the definite foreshadow of Jesus who also had such an intimate relationship with God as his heavenly father. He became the supreme example to the Jewish nation and to all of us to regard the Holy One as “our Father... in heaven”.
As a 12-year-old child the things of the Father were the Lord Jesus’ top priority. He had to be in the things of His Father. The Lord went a big step further after the disciples’ request the Lord to teach them how to pray,starting to address the Almighty with ‘Our Father’. In fact, he also gave the model of speaking to God intimately and affectionately, using the Aramaic abba. This would be the equivalent of daddy in our day and age. Jesus' reply to the request of his mother at the wedding in Cana would sound almost rude in our ears: ‘Dear woman, why do you involve me?’ (John 2:4). It can only be properly understood from his complete dependence on God as His Father. That is the absolute authority from which He would take his orders. In the Garden of Gethsemane, in his darkest moment on earth, he pleaded thrice from his abba (actually doubly, abba Father) to take away the cup that was destined to take him away from the intimate constant presence (Mark 14:36). Paul highlights in his letter to the Romans how his death and resurrection enables the follower of us to enter the throne room of the Father in prayer, like little children running to their daddy. Through the ministry of the Holy Spirit we can now speak to God as our abba, our daddy ( Romans 5:1,2 ; 8:15). This however does not not give licence for irreverence, to regard the Holy One as a buddy.
A Jewish midrash (teaching) points to the fact that Moses saw in his spirit that the time would come when the Mishkan (the Ark, Sanctuary) would cease to exist and the Shekinah (divine presence and glory) would dwell no more in Israel’s midst. ‘Moses was anxious to know by what means the sins of his people would then be expiated. The Almighty vouch-safed the information that he would choose a righteous man from their midst and make him a pledge for them and through him their sins would be forgiven’ (Rappoport, 1968:48). How remarkably this points to the Messiah!
The intimate relationship to the Almighty was also picked up by Paul in his letter to the Galatians. In a very special verse which has a trinitarian ring to it he wrote in the context of the role of the Holy Spirit – called the Spirit of His Son – to take believers out of bondage and slavery to become heirs. '... God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying Abba, Father. Wherefore you are no more a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ (Galatians 4:6,7). Also Romans 8:15 refer to abba. There the Spirit of adoption is mentioned, making all those led by the Holy Spirit to become adopted children of God. Keeping in mind that Martin Lloyd Jones highlights in his exposition of this verse that the Holy Spirit, in convicting us of sin, brings to light our own sinfulness and imperfection, giving us some impression of the holiness of God. It also produces a 'spirit of bondage' and a 'spirit of fear'. This should be good news to Muslims who possibly are in general more open to the awesome holiness of the Almighty.6 It is neverthless sad that Waraqah bin Naufal and other Christians of Muhammad's day did not comprehend the depth of these truths, to pass it on. Until today Islam is proud to be a religion where its adherents are slaves of Allâh, not having heard that they can become sons and heirs through personal faith in Jesus, without merit on the human side.
5.1.2. The Divinity of the Messiah implied
Judaism definitely sees the coming of the Messiah as a divine intervention but to see him as a normal human being remains a problem. Islam however definitely expects both the coming Mahdi as well as the return of Jesus to be as human beings. The Divinity of the Messiah is perhaps the most clearly implied in Surah al-Imran 3:45 and Surah Maryam 19. Both Surah al-Imran 3 and Surah Maryam 19 refer to the infant defending Mary from the cradle when others accused her for being unchaste. Islam acknowledges Jesus' miracles, including the making of a bird out of clay – a notion taken from the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas - but the religion stops short of deriving divinity from it. (That Jesus created in this way would actually put him on the level of the divine Creator of everything.) The addition by permission or leave of Allâh is included to make sure that Jesus is regarded as less than divine. Similarly, his ability to raise people from the dead, which would imply divinity, is watered down by the words by Allâh's permission, by My leave (Surah al-Maida (The Table Spread) 5:113). Also here, at least one narrative from his childhood miracles has been passed on. When a young teenager was accidentally killed, he was falsely accused. 'Just before judgement was passed “Isa began to pray for him and Allâh restored him to life'. This story can be traced from the apocryphal pseudo-Gospel The Infancy of Jesus Christ, that has been rejected by the Christian Church from the earliest times. This is also the case of other miraculous stories and possible embellishments around the infancy and childhood of our Lord. The (Judaic-)Islamic objection needs however to be kept in mind that Jesus was 'only a messenger of Allâh' (4:171) and created in the likeness of Adam (3:59), thus only human and not divine. We know of course that performed exceptional miracles which displayed His divinity, e.g. quieting the storm (Mark 4:39). Above all, the Bible teaches clearly that Jesus could forgive sins. The sinless Messiah
The confidence of the Servant of the Lord in his vindication can be found in Isaiah 50:8. Who is my accuser? Let him confront me. This points to Jesus' challenge to His detractors: Can anyone of you prove me guilty of sin?' (John 8:46). The tradition of the sinlessness of Jesus filtered through to the age of Muhammad. Especially in Surah al-Imran 3 and Surah Maryam 19 there are many special attributes which bring Nabi Isa very close to being divine. The miraculous conception and miraculous birth are well-known, and that He spoke at His birth we have already noted. That the Qur'an saw Him as sinless, a faultless son (19:19) is no secret, nor that He had supernatural knowledge (3:49). That Nabi Isa was endowed with the Holy Spirit and a Word brings him in close proximity to the Gospel portrayals of our Lord.
The Hebrew Scriptures allude to a sinless person in the Messianic prophecies. One of the most profound is possibly Isaiah 9:6 where a child would be born that would be called no less than 'Mighty God', 'Eternal Father' and 'Prince of Peace'. It is just as significant that the Qur'an (Surah Mariam 19:19 refers to Jesus as blameless, i.e. without having committed any sin.) Of no other prophet this is said in the sacred book of Islam. The context is interesting because the virgin birth – which is stressed in both Surah Imran 3 and Surah Mariam 19 - implies that he did not inherit a fallen, corrupt human nature.
The Qur'an highlights a very central tenet of Christianity in this way. Billheimer (Destined for the throne, 1975:73) puts it in a nutshell: 'In order to furnish Satan no claim upon him, he had to live an absolutely sinless life. If Jesus were not the Son of God by Mary by virtue of a supernatural conception, then He was merely the son of Adam. .. Then He would have inherited Adam's sin... In order to qualify legally, He had to be truly human. In order to qualify morally, He had to be unquestionably divine.' The problem of justice in the spiritual realm was solved in this way. Because Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, he was not the fallen son of Adam. In the 'NT' different people testified to his sinlessness. Judas, one of his disciples, testified “I have sinned in that I have betrayed innocent blood' (Matthew 27:4). Peter and John, two other disciples who walked with him for about three years, said respectively that 'Christ ... did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth' (1 Peter 2:21, 22) and 'And you know... that in Him was no sin.' The Roman ruler and judge Pontius Pilate and his wife both found Him without guilt (John 18:38 and Matthew 27:19). Even demons trembled, recognizing that he was the Holy one of God (Mark 1:27; Luke 4:34). An interesting dimension of the humanity of our Lord is highlighted in the gnostic Gospel of Judas, that has perhaps been derided much too glibly. In this document Jesus laughs a great deal. Hebrews 4:15 shows how Jesus is the ultimate fulfilment of the High Priest of the Hebrew Scriptures while his humanity displays his identification with our own frailty and weakness: We have a High Priest 'who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin'; Paul, the apostle, links this up with the atonement in 2 Corinthians 5:21 to show how God 'made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.' In Colossians 2:13-15 Paul lifted the veil how all this has transpired: '...having forgiven us all our transgressions, having cancelled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us... having nailed it to the cross... He disarmed the rulers and authorities...' The resurrected Messiah
The Messiah's victory stems from His vindication. Nowhere is this more thoroughly done than through His resurrection, that God raised him from the dead. The honour bestowed upon Him is highlighted at the beginning (Isaiah 52:13) and at the end of the fourth song of the 'Servant of the Lord' (Isaiah 53:12). Commenting on Isaiah 52:13 a Talmudic Midrash says of Him: 'He shall be exalted above Abraham, lifted up above Moses and be higher than the ministering angels.' Similar language about Jesus is not only found in the epistle to the Hebrews (1:4ff ; 3:3), but also Surah Imran 3 and Surah Mariam 19 that mention al-Masih by name. Highly exalted (Isaiah 52:13) Raised thee to myself (Surah Imran 3:55 and Raised up (Surah Mariam 19 :33) are variations on the theme of resurrection and ascension. The word Christ (al-Masih) means literally the anointed one. In the Gospel of John it (12:1-8) it is recorded how another Mary – the sister of Lazarus whom Jesus had just raised from the dead - anointed him like a King (2 Samuel 5:3), pouring costly oil on his head. She obviously discerned that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. No wonder that he defended her 'wasteful' act, done in advance 'for the day of My burial' – we are tempted to add 'and for His resurrection. Later in the chapter (v.34) He compared His death prophetically with a grain of wheat that must die before it can bear fruit.
In the Gospel of John the report of his anointing is followed by his triumphal entry on a donkey when a crowd of people hailed Jesus as Messiah as they discerned that this was fulfilment of Zechariah 9:9, albeit that verse 10 of that prophetic pericope points to Jesus second victorious coming return when 'his dominion will be from sea to sea... and to the ends of the earth.' Accordingly, the crowd cried in jubilation 'Hosanna to the son of David' (Matthew 21:9). Confusion around the Messiahship and Sonship of Jesus
Because Muhammad was misled and thus confused – like probably many Christians of his day – with his comprehension of the deity of Jesus and the misunderstanding of the concept of the Trinity, we find in the Qur'an various verses equating Allâh with Jesus. We can fully understand this. Even in our day Christians easily speak of Jesus as equal to God, not distinguishing between deity and divinity. Closely linked to this is the objection against Jesus being the literal Son of God and his perception that Christians were worshipping Mary and Jesus as two distinct gods - just like the pagan Arabs had been worshippping Allâh with three daughters. Thus we read in Surah Maida 5:116 And when Allâh says: 'O Jesus, son of Mary! Did you say to mankind: Take me and my mother for two gods beside Allâh...' and in Surah Mariam 19:88, 'The Compassionate has taken to Himself a son' (Also 21:26 and 9:30 and a few other ayahs.) Also in Scripture we find that eyes needed (and still need) to be opened to the truth of the Messiahship of Jesus. In Luke 18:31-34 we read how Jesus prophesied his death and resurrection to His disciples. But they did not understand the full ramifications until much later. They could have picked it up when immediately hereafter something transpired which could have opened their eyes. A blind man (Mark 10:46 identifies him as Bartimaeus and the place just outside of Jericho where inhabitants tried to quieten him when he called 'Jesus son of David...' The reason for this was probably because son of David was the title for the expected Messiah. When the blind man put his trust in Jesus, he was healed. This has double significance. Many a Jewish and Muslim eye will be opened when they put their trust in Him, the Messiah, the one that was pierced on the Cross of Calvary. Scriptural Development towards the Concept of the Trinity
In the biography of Ibn Hischam it it stated that Muhammad perceived that the Christians of Najran, who visited him in Medina, were worshiping three gods, Mary as a third god next to Jesus and the Father. It was also known of the contemporaryChristian Arabian sect of the Collyridians that they venerated Mary like a goddess. The word went around that other Christians of Muhammad’s day also believed in Tri-theism, in three gods. It is fairly easy to understand why he had great difficulty understanding the concept of the Trinity. Orthodox Christianity rightly objected to the concept of Tri-theism, which is nothing else than veiled polytheism. The veneration of Mary – along with the efforts of theologians to explain the divinity of Jesus with the doctrine of the Holy Trinity – caused a lot of confusion. The Dispute around the Natures of Christ
Possibly no single doctrinal conflict shook the church as much as the dispute concerning the natures of Christ. In the same vein, the fact that Muslims have problems with the belief in the divinity of Jesus can be derived from the wrangling of Christians. Jesus was the only person who arose from the dead who did not die subsequently. Of no other person it has been reported that he was without sin. Only weeks after the resurrection Peter publicly mentioned that. If it were possible to dispute it, surely his body could have been shown. Although the different groups of first century Christians did differ on some doctrinal issues like the Law and circumcision, their faith in the resurrection of the Master was unanimous.
The origins of Islamic denial in the divinity of Jesus can be traced to the Ebionite background of Waraqah bin Naufal, who influenced Muhammad so profoundly. The Jewish sect that started in the pre-Christian era has been revived in 1985. In The Ebionite Manifesto we read the following: 'The Evyonim (Ebionites) are Yahwists above all else. It allows for One Ruler, the God of Israel alone, with none beside Him. God is not man, and no man is divine. No man can make you right with God except yourself, and only you can atone for your sins through repentance and reparation to Him and your fellow man.' Regarding Mecca, in particular the Kaa'ba as a holy place, it has a forerunner in the temple in Jerusalem and its Hebrew Scriptural predecessor, the tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant were fore-runners. The element of awe at the sight of the divine or the awareness of the presence of the Almighty is a central biblical tenet. James Kennedy (1999:76) has put it so beautifully: 'The very foundation of His throne was holiness, and no sin could ever come into His presence without His inevitable power consuming it with his wrath.' The biblical Position
The Bible affirms the supremacy of the one true God (1 Corinthians 8:4-6). Isaiah 43:10 declares that there is only one true God and no other God (with capital G) was formed before or after him. Sometimes Paul has been accused of making a god, an idol out of Jesus. Yet, Paul did not even mention one of his miracles. And he stopped short of actually saying that Jesus is God, stating that the fullness of the Godhead dwells in Him bodily (Colossians 2:9) and that He is the Spirit of God (1 Corinthians 2:10,11). 'Paul probably never in set terms called Christ God, he taught Christ's unity in character with God.' Furthermore, Jesus was not regarded in ancient Christianity as a second God, but rather seen as a unique representative of the Almighty. In fact, the writings of Paul contain a most comprehensive teaching about the person, nature and mission of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Titus 2:13 and Romans 9:5 (next to John 1:1 8:58 and 20:28) are just a few verses testifying that Jesus Christ is of the same nature as His heavenly Father. Romans 1:3,4 and Philippians 2:8-11 are two Pauline passages affirming that the divine Son of God also became man, also called the Incarnation of Christ, God becoming flesh and living amongst us (John 1:14). 1 Timothy 2:5 points to the importance of the Incarnation: 'There is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus'. Some Christians however not only construed from Paul's epistles Jesus' full identification with God, but also often meant to defend such an identity. This caused however unfortunate confusion, notably among Jews and Muslims. The distinction between Christ as divine but not identical with the Almighty got blurred.
Paul furthermore looks upon the earthly life of Jesus as one of obedient humiliation. The Incarnation of Christ, his death, resurrection and exaltation is clearly summarised in Phillipians 2:8-11: 'And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death on the cross. Therefore God also exalted him... that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow...' In this way Paul's Christology combines in a remarkable manner Hebrew and Gentile conceptions. In it appear the suffering and exalted servant, the pre-existent diviine wisdom, the divine agent in creation, and the redeemer power who for man's sake came down from heaven, died and rose again. The Awareness of Divine Presence
Apart from the special miracles which Jesus performed – to which the Qur'an also attest e.g. in Surah al-Imran 3:46.49 – we read at different places how he was worshipped and ministered to, not only by befriended humans like Peter and the disciples who recognised that they were in divine presence (Matthew 16:16f, Matthew 28:17 and Luke 5:8) but also by angels (Matthew 4:11). The evangelist Mark described in chapter 5 of his Gospel three persons who prostrated themselves in worship and adoration after the manifestation of his divine power, viz. the extremely demon-possessed Gadarene after his liberation, the incurable blood flowing woman who touched his garment in faith and Jairus after Jesus had raised his 12 year old daughter after she had died.
The Gospels depict the divinity of Jesus in different ways. The Gospel of Mark especially showed how this is depicted in the life of Jesus. Carsten Thiede (1990:47f) highlighted this by listing no less than nine instances in this Gospel. I quote here the first and the last: The disciples 'were terrified and asked each other: Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him (Mark 4:41). 'Trembling and bewildered the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid' (Mark 16:8). In the extension of this there is the healing power, which led various persons to worship him, at least one of them acknowledging him as the Son of God (John 9). His dominion over demons (e.g. Mark 1:24ff; 5:6f) and especially his power to raise the dead (John 11; Mark 5:21-43) are highlighted. Is it any wonder that he declared I am the resurrection and the life (John 11:25)? Being eternal like the Almighty, Jesus in fact alluded to it in so many words: Before Abraham was, I AM (John 8:58). Duvekot (1979:147) notes that Jesus claimed things that would substantiate his divine authority like alone God is Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:28); alone God can forgive sins (Mark 2:10); God alone can raise people from the dead (Mark 2:8:31); alone God is a judge over people (Mark 8:38).
The description of the encounter of Peter, when he was still a fisherman and not yet a disciple in Luke 5:7, leads to a similar discovery of Jesus as Kurios, Lord. Peter was so aware of his sinful nature after he witnessed the extraordinary catch of fish against all odds that he fell on his knees in adoration, aware that he was in divine presence. Another exceptional occurrence in this regard is possibly the description of Jesus by Peter as 'Kurios' and Messiah in Acts 2:36. Kurios was favourite language of the Tenach, whenever the authors referred to Yahweh and it was also frequently used in the Talmudic period. That Jesus referred to himself as the bridegroom (Matthew 9:15; Matthew 25:1ff.) is a veiled indication of his divine image. John the Baptist also describes himself in a similar way as the friend of the bridegroom (John 3:29). The once returning Jesus is described as the bridegroom in various 'NT' books. Yahweh as the husband of his people is a common tenet of the Tenach (e.g. the book Hosea, Song of Solomon, Ezekiel 16). A valid exegesis of Luke 18:1ff would be to see the church allegorically as the widow, after the death of the husband at Calvary. Now the Church is the 'widow', waiting for the bridegroom. When His opponents pointed to the fact that His disciples were not fasting, the Master did not cancel the feasibility of it. He merely stated that the disciples would be doing it when he, ‘the bridegroom’, would have been taken away (Matthew 9:15). At the return of Christ, followed by the 'Marriage Supper of the Lamb', the 'widow' the Church as the Body of Christ will marry again. She then becomes 'the Bride'. The Divine Recipient of Worship
Examining the use of proskyneo in relation to Christ in the Synoptic Gospels’ in his article on the Website, Sam Shamoun showed how Jesus was the divine recipient of worship.
According to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, worship or proskyneo should be given to God: And the devil took him up, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, ‘To you I will give all this authority and their glory; for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship (proskyneses) me, it shall all be yours.’ And Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “You shall worship (proskyneseis) the Lord your God, and him ONLY shall you serve (latreuseis)”’(Luke 4:5-8; Matthew 4:8-10).
Since Jesus’ words imply that proskyneo should be rendered to God, and not to someone else, we find God-fearing individuals refusing to receive proskyneo from others: 'When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him (prosekynesen). But Peter lifted him up, saying, ‘Stand up; I too am a man.’ Acts 10:25-26. Jesus is pictured as receiving proskyneo all throughout the Gospels. Sam Shamoun then highlights how the disciples worshipped Jesus as the Son of God who is the I AM that controls the seas and winds: “And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried out for fear. But immediately he spoke to them, saying, ‘Take heart, I AM (ego eimi); have no fear.’ This has astonishing resemblance to Psalm 107:23-30. “Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the great waters; they saw the deeds of the LORD, his wondrous works in the deep. For he commanded and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea. They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths; their courage melted away in their evil plight; they reeled and staggered like drunken men and were at their wits’ end. Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad that the waters were quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven” Jesus thus carried out the very same Divine functions which the 'OT' ascribes to Yahweh.
Just before Jesus ascended to heaven we read the following: Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him (prosekynesan); but some doubted (Matthew 28:16). If we keep in mind that those disciples still doubted had been with the Lord over three years, the Muslim or Jew who still has doubts about the divinity of our Lord is actually in august company. Next to the Trinity this tenet of Christian faith belongs to the most difficult for them to accept. Further Development of the Trinitarian Concept
An interesting development is how the concept of the Trinity developed in the Middle East. The oral tradition of the the audible voice at the baptism of Jesus and the dove descending on Jesus circulated very widely. This could have contributed greatly to the tenet of the Holy Trinity which has no clear proof in Scripture as such. God, the Father, is of course the voice speaking. This was widely regarded as the crowning occasion of Jesus as the Son of God and the Messiah. All four Gospels refer to the dove as the visible demonstration of the Holy Spirit descending on the Son. In the fourth Gospel we read how John the Baptist pointed to Jesus in the same context as the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29,36). Attributes of the three manifestations and functions of God can be found throughout the Bible like truth (John 7:28, Revelation 3:7 and 1 John 5:6) and benevolence (Romans 2:4, Ephesians 5:25 and Nehemiah 9:20).
The Christian viewpoint of the Trinity (Tri-unity of God) is that Father, Son and Holy Spirit are co-eternal and co-equal. The Godhead consists of three personalities within the same substance of God). 'In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God' (John 1:1). All three persons are at work in creation, preservation and redemption. Isaiah 9:6 is a profound messianic prophecy that supports a triune God. We note that the Child which is born, the Son given, is also Mighty God. He is also divine. The government will one day rest on His shoulders. This speaks of a physical reign on earth, during the millennium after His return to the earth as the King of Kings. The Qur’anic doctrine of God is Unitarian (God is not a Trinity but one person). This unity is seen as a mathematical unity, as opposed to the unity of created life, even plant life, which is complex.
In the Hebrew Scriptures the existence of the Holy Spirit is taken for granted but not defined. The 'NT' clearly sees the Holy Spirit as a person, more than merely a force. But that the Holy Spirit is some divine person is also implicitly taught. Thus Peter said to Ananias: Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit? (Acts 5:3). When shortly thereafter he says to Ananias: You have not lied to men but to God, this implication becomes clear.
The second century north African theologian Tertullian became known for profound insights, among other things about the Trinity. His adage that martyrdom is the seed of the church has been quoted again and again. Yet, although there was so much persecution of Christians in Carthage during his lifetime, his numerous writings still sadly have bequeathed 'little of the public and external history of the North African Church' (Chadwick 1967:91).
It is surely true that the Holy Spirit is much more than a force like electricity of the wind. But to debate about its nature was unnecessary in my view. Against the advice of Paul to get involved in futile philosophical arguments, Tertullian brought the element of loveless bickering into the equation like few others before or after him. Jesus referred to the Holy Spirit in the context of man to be born again, which is something unexplainable, to the wind.7 It is blowing where it wills, you cannot tell where it comes from or where it goes to (John 3:8). The wind is a reality and yet one cannot explain it. Why did folk start to try and explain unexplainable things, thereby merely causing confusion? I suggest that satan himself was at work, because argumentation all too often leads to the lie via exaggeration and distortion. And this almost invariably brings with it demonic division of the Body of Christ.
5.1.3. The System of Sacrifices
The sacrificial system that is so intimately connected to Moses and the Torah is a type and foreshadow of the redemptive death of Christ. By offering the sacrifices ordained by God, one was able to obtain forgiveness of sin through the death of a substitute life. Both Talmudic and Islamic tradition apparently recognises the centrality of the slaughtered animal. The central biblical salvation message is contained in Hebrews 9:22, ‘without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sin.’ Three other 'NT' authors – all of them Jews of course – refer to a divine plan as one before the foundation of the earth, that could easily be linked to Jesus as the Lamb of God (Matthew 25: 34; John 17:24 and Revelations 17:8; Paul in Ephesians 1:4) This can be detected most clearly in Revelations 13:8 where it speaks of 'names... written in the Book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the earth.' Sacrifices were offered before the first Tabernacle was built by Adam, Abel, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses. One can speak of a 'blood line' going through the Hebrew Scriptures, right from the animal slaughtered to provide skins for Adam and Eve when they were naked. Then there is the special sacrifice of Abraham in Genesis 22 (Alluded to in Surah 37), the Passover, (Exodus 12:2) and Rahab's red chord (Johua 2:18,21). In Judaism, it is taught that when a Jew sins against God, Satan in heaven demands of God to 'take away the soul' of the sinner. God replies that he accepts the sacrifice in place of the sinner’s death. When the sinner truly repents, God accepts the sacrifice of the animal. Only peaceful animals are allowed for sacrifice – ox, sheep, goats, pigeons and turtle doves, and only healthy strong ones are taken.
Sages of the 'Old Testament' accepted that the sheep led to be slaughtered in the prophetic Isaiah 53 could be a person or the nation of Israel, but modern scholars like Samuel Levine insist that a person could never render atonement for sins, that it has to be an animal. I regard the objection that Jesus was not silent on the Cross as semantic. Isaiah 53 speaks of a sheep led to the place of slaughter. It is thus in the run-up to his crucifixion that Jesus was led like a sheep. I regard Levine's interpretation of Jesus' words on the cross as plain conjecture. His powerful word of forgiving those who brought him to the cross is surely not one of a desperate man but rather one of composure, practising what he preached and setting the example that has been emulated profitably ever since all over the world. Divine Over-ruling of human Disobedience
In the creation story the disobedience to the divine instruction was the cause of havoc. God granted authority and dominion to man over the earth, linked to obedience to the divine command and man's free will to obey or not. Disobedience would lead to slavery, the slave of satan. Genesis 3:1 tells us that "the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field," while Gen.3:12 records Adam's words to God, "I heard your voice in the garden and I was afraid because I was naked and I hid myself." There is an interesting play on words in the Hebrew text. In vs.1 the word translated "cunning" is the Hebrew word arum while in vs.12 the word translated "naked" is the Hebrew word erom. Both are from the identical root (the letters ayin, resh, mem). The devil was arum, Adam was erom. Our arch ancestors sought to become like God, but their disobedience caused them to become like the devil! Disruption of the unity between man and God, discord between Adam and Eve and strife between man and nature (Genesis 3:15) were the result of man's first act of disobedience. The basic enmity though is between the seed of the snake and the seed of man. Interesting is the divine intervention, the provision of skins, which was of course preceded by the slaughtering of an animal and the shedding of blood. This pattern cn be found throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, how the Almighty overruled the disobedience and wrong compromises of sinful human beings. The ultimate sacrifice was that of his Son, the Lamb of God, which made all other sacrifices redundant. The Sacrifice of Yom Kippur
The sacrifice of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is separate and distinct from all the other sacrifices offered during the year. No wonder that this would point to the event of Calvary like virtually no other 'OT' tenet. While the others reconciled the sinner on a day to day basis with God, Yom Kippur is the day that God would forgive all the sins of all the people in every generation.
Yom Kippur was the only time that the High Priest would enter into the presence of God in the Holy of Holies, doing this four times in all that day. He would remove four of his eight garments – all those with gold –and enter only with four white linen garments.
Two goats were sacrificed, one to Hashem (the Name) and the other sent to Alazel after all the sins of the people were 'placed' upon it. The agnus dei in church liturgies caught this phenomenon with the following wording: Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.... be merciful unto us. A miracle/sign that took place in ancient Israel, showing God’s approval and forgiveness was that the red ribbon tied to the scapegoat always turned white. The Talmud records that the usual Yom Kippur miracles ceased to occur about 40 years before the destruction of the second Temple, and never returned. We can read in Yoma 39b During the last forty years before the destruction of the Temple the lot [‘For the Lord’] did not come up in the right hand; nor did the crimson-coloured strap become white... This coincided with the time of the death of Jesus, amplifying the belief that he was indeed the ultimate scapegoat, the Lamb of God that was slain for the sins of the world. The Levitical Sacrifice System removed
If it had been widely known, there would have been at least one reason for Christians to believe that the Law and the Levitical sacrifice system had in fact become past tense. At the time of the second Temple it was a custom to tie a piece of red wool to the horn of the goat which was to be sent away on the Day of Atonement. When this ribbon became white – a clear allusion to Isaiah 1:18, (though your sins be as scarlet... they shall be as white as snow...) it was to the Jews a sign that God had forgiven their sins. In a very astonishing portion of the Babylonian Talmud, it is hinted in connection with the destruction of the temple in 70 C.E. That the Levitical sacrifice system had lost its efficacy nearly forty years earlier. Yoma chapter 39b contains the following: '... forty years before the second temple was destroyed... the red wool did not become white. Nevertheles, the oral tradition would have circulated any way that the Lord Jesus, to whom John the Baptist referred as the Lamb of God, was the perfect ransom for the sins of the world. In the celebration of the Lord's Supper they reminded each other regularly of His blood that was shed for their sins, the cup is the new covenant for the forgiveness of sins (Matthew 26:27). The letter to the Hebrews (e.g.) chapter 9) highlighted the imperfections of the Levitical legal sacrifices on the one hand and the efficacy of Christ's blood8 on the other hand, while stressing that there is 'no salvation without the shedding of blood (v.22). Quite remarkably, the letter to the Hebrews (12:24) - with reference to the Jewish sacrificial system - speaks of 'Jesus, the Mediator of the new covenant'. Automatically the Jew would think of the old covenants with Abraham (the circumcision) and Moses (the Law).
Paul, the apostle, referred to conversion as the circumcision of the heart (Collossians 2:11,12), rendering the old custom of sacrifice system and circumcision obsolete. In this sense conversion in faith to believe with in your heart that Jesus died for your sins and declare him as Lord (Romans 10:9, 10), e.g. through Baptism as such a symbol of profession, signifies the entry into the Church.
It might be a help to both Jews and Muslims to recognise clearly the prophecies of a common destiny. It should counter prejudice to recognise clearly the prophecies of a common destiny of the descendants of Isaac and Ishmael. I refer specifically to the Messianic prophecies of Isaiah 60, 6+7 and Isaiah 19:19-23. In the former prophecy, the off-spring of Kedar and Nebaioth (the oldest sons of Ishmael) are accorded a prime role. In the context of Messianic prophecy and global salvation, Isaiah 60 speaks of various peoples who will come to God when they see His light. To some Christian people - and very likely also to Jews - it may be discomforting that among those who will come to the glory of the coming Messiah there will be Midianites, who are regarded by many as the traditional enemies of the Israelites. In Isaiah 19:21-23 Egypt, Assyria (i.e. modern Syria and Iraq where Jewry had once thrived) and Israel are mentioned in that order. It could surely help the warring parties in the Middle East to see their future in a biblical perspective. But we should not gloss over prophesies of tribulation over Egypt in Isaiah 19 that appear to occur before an altar to the LORD (verse 21) will be erected there.

The position of the Jews as the elect of God, the apple of his eye, has a sound biblical foundation. In tradition they were often pooled together against the rest of the peoples of the Middle East. But they were actually expected to use there heritage and monotheistic faith in ‘Hashem’, the Almighty, as the foundation to be a ‘light to the nations’ (Isaiah 42:6, 49:6). This incidentally happened when Muhammad ditched the polytheism of the Arabs in favour of one deity. Unfortunately he identified the God of the Bible with Hubal, the chief deity of the Ka’bah, which was an idol.
Christians have nothing to boast with regard to the development of Islamic doctrine. Without going into detail here, I dare say that very few Muslim doctrines do not possess an origin either in distortion or in Christian (or Jewish) heresy.9 These doctrines came into being as a rule through theological bickering. In some cases even highly regarded Christians have been responsible for the damage. Thus no less than the respected Augustine made the use of force fashionable through his distorted exegesis of Luke 14,23 (compel (force) them to come in).

5.2.1 The Unity of the Body of Christ
Ephesians 3:10 speaks about the manifold, multi-coloured, multi-faceted wisdom of God to be made known throughout the church. The verse actually implies that the implementation of the manifold wisdom of God manifested through the church sends a message into the spiritual realms, i.e. into the unseen world. A few verses later, in 3:17+18, Paul admonishes the believers to be rooted and established in love, to grasp the dimensions of the love of Christ ‘with all the saints’, a clear reference to the body of believers.
William Barclay (New Testament Word, calls the use of the word poikilos (many-coloured) by Peter in his first epistle (4:10) ‘sheer genius’. Describing the grace of God as many-coloured, he actually says that ‘no possible situation can arise which the grace of God cannot match and answer’. That gives a challenge to the Church to deal with differences in a way which will radiate the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
The conscious striving after and making use of the visible unity of the body, ideally including followers of our Lord with both Jewish and Muslim upbringing - for example in combined prayer and outreach - is thus not an option nor a luxury for the church, locally and in mission endeavour.
5.2.2 Messianic Jews together with Muslim background Believers
It is time for the West to wake up to the potential of Messianic Jews and Muslim background believers working together in the spreading of the Gospel. This sounds like a pipe-dream if one considers how cumbersome it is to get Christian organisations to work together. Co-operation in World evangelization has been described as the 'great Achilles heel of world evangelization'. This has also been the case on the local front. An author referred to 'the unwillingness of the great spiritual entrepreneurs ... to lay aside their individualistic dreams and organisational manifestations and cooperate with others equally gifted and equally committed' (Cited in George Otis’ book The Last of the Giants, 1990:232).
Taking Isaiah 19:19-25 as a cue, I will not be surprised at all if the next major missionary push comes from Cairo, Baghdad and Jerusalem. The highway between Cairo and Baghdad has been completed for some time. I foresee a special role for the Back to Jerusalem movement of Chinese believers. With so many Chinese who have been coming to South Africa in the last few years, and to Cape Town particularly, our city may still play a significant role to in this move.
On the local front we may have seen the beginning of the erosion of the Muslim stronghold Bo-Kaap. It has been reported how quite a few people there have been selling their properties, in some cases homes that had been family possessions for generations. A next challenge could be to see Sea Point and Bo-Kaap joining hands in reaching out in love to the many foreigners who have been streaming into our City. Capetonians surely know what this implies, i.e. that ex-Muslims and Messianic Jewish believers would network in such a project. That would be a great miracle! But thus we could become a vanguard of a new missionary movement, ushering in the reign of our Lord and Messiah. We could be in for exciting times!
5.2.3. Persecution in divine Service
Celcus, a hostile external observer of the church around 180 CE, referred to the coherence of the Christians and to their close-knit structure as a principal source of strength. He saw it as a result of their being persecuted. Persecution of Christians is happening all around the world, especially in Muslim countries. This presents a big challenge, not only to Western arm-chair Christians who love the comfort zones. The second century North African theologian Tertullian became known for profound insights. His adage that “martyrdom is the seed of the church” has been quoted again and again. The abuse of force for religious purposes has a precedent in the 'New Testament' – a negative one! Herod deemed it feasible to eliminate the inconvenient John the Baptist. In a similar way, the Lord was crucified basically because of his convictions and teaching. The persecution of His followers, which started in the first century, has not ended to this day. In Acts 9 we read how Saul, who had witnessed the martyrdom of Stephen, set out to stamp out the beliefs of the people of the Way. Stephen prayed for forgiveness to his persecutors (Acts 7:60), emulating the prayer of Jesus on the cross when he said 'Father forgive them; for they know not what they do' (Luke 23:34). This powerful example has been followed ever since, changing persecutors all around the globe in the process. The 'New Testament' sees persecution and trials as a positive issue. Thus James, possibly the brother of Jesus, starts his epistle with Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds (1:2). as the Harbinger of changed former Persecutors
Through persecution the faith was spread, sometimes also through the former persecutors, as it happened to Saul who became Paul, the great apostle. Blinded by a bright light when he was spiritually blind and deluded, he was subsequently radically changed. The fierce persecutor of Christians became the author of the beautiful song of love, 1 Corinthians 13. Faisal Malick, a Muslim background believer from Pakistan, who had set himself the target of converting Christians to Islam, penned some interesting thoughts around Saul. 'Just as Saul was the most unlikely candidate for the Kingdom, most would consider Ishmael to be the last to realize that Jesus is the Son of God.' He goes on to suggest that 'God is going to use the conversion of Ishmael to stir up the Church as He used the conversion of Saul to stir up the Church in the midst of persecution' (Malick, 2005:38f). May this start to happen on a world-wide scale! The power of the blood of the crucified Lord of Lords has been transforming hate-filled murderers into gentle fathers and mothers; callous, brutal men and women, into caring and loving husbands and wives all over the world. The accuser of the brethren himself is being overcome again and again by the power of the blood and the testimony of those who follow the example of their Master, who did not count it loss to leave his heavenly glory - who was also obedient to be crucified innocently as the Lamb of God.
5.2.4. Reconciliation under the Banner of Jesus
It seems helpful to look at reconciliation under the banner of Jesus, the Messiah, described as al-Masih in the Qur’an. The theme of reconciliation is one of the major themes of the Bible. It is surely no exaggeration to state that the will of the Almighty to reconcile men to Himself ever since Adam and Eve were driven out of paradise, can be seen as a golden thread in Scripture.
That is the paradigm which the movement Musalaha in the Middle East has been using to bring together Christians from Jewish and Muslim background. The descendants of Esau are Arabs. The founders of the movement Musalaha documented as early as 1993 that they discerned the ministry of reconciliation and its study as an aid to equip believers to represent our Lord more faithfully. A biblical example given is the reconciliation between Esau and Jacob, described in Genesis 33. Reconciliation is never cheap. Usually there is great risk involved in such a venture, but it is always worthwhile.
We in Cape Town have the special situation of sizeable minorities of Muslims and Jews, next to the majority group of Christians. On top of that we have a wonderful heritage and history of harmonious living next to each other of representatives of the three Abrahamic religions for decades in places like District Six, Bo-Kaap and Green Point until the 1950s. Of course, at that time no one even thought of the possibility of a common movement like the one we now have in the Middle East. The first tentative steps have been taken. As in every effort of reconciliation, a price has to be paid. But the biggest price of all has already been paid by no less than God himself, who gave His one and only, his unique Son to reconcile us to himself. This is the basis of Paul’s challenge to all followers of the Master, viz. to get reconciled to God, to accept his gift in faith, the death on the cross for our sins. The resentment and hatred of Esau was very deep, to the extent that he ‘thought in his heart that when his father dies he would kill his brother.’ In Genesis 27 we read that this was told to Rebecca and she of course would have told it promptly to Jacob. The latter was still full of trepidation, even after 21 years of voluntary exile. But also for Esau it would not have been easy to forgive Jacob after possibly harbouring feelings of resentment and the search for revenge for many years. It is seldom easy both to forgive and to be willing to ask for forgiveness.
The descendants of Esau are Arab tribes of which almost all are today Muslims. The Jews have their father Jacob as their great ancestor. And Abraham is of course the even greater common arch-father. The Hebrew Scriptures teach not only a common Semitic ancestry, but also gives examples of positive inter-action between the offspring of Isaac and Ishmael. We have noted already that Esau married a daughter of Ishmael (Genesis 28:9) and that Joseph was saved by Ishmaelite traders (Genesis 37:28). The Ishmaelites were thus not only unconscious instruments in God’s hand, but the Arabs thus have another link to Abraham as arch-father. Esau had to be willing to accept the gifts which Jacob had prepared, even though they could never make good the loss of the right of the first-born, out of which he may have felt to have been tricked.
5.2.5. Two 'OT' Prophets of the last Days
Daniel has been highly regarded as an eschatological prophet, as one whose words could be checked out as events will be unfolding around the return of Christ. While he was praying and fasting, there came to Daniel the prophetic programme of the seventy weeks (Daniel 9:24ff).
A very profound prophecy of Daniel states that the seventy weeks were designed ‘to finish the transgression, to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity’ (Daniel 9:24). Then he foretold the cutting off of the Messiah, an event that Isaiah chapter 53 had prophesied and depicted so dramatically. Daniel relayed the message given to him by the angel Gabriel that sin is a reality, and must be paid for. The Messiah would do this by being cut off; that is, He will die for the sins of men. The Hebrew word translated as 'cut off' is karath. According to The Messiah Factor, written by Mark Eastman and Chuck Smith on p.110) this word literally means to punish with death by piercing. Jesus was pierced by crucifixion on a Roman cross. Zechariah 12:10 prophesied for the end time that Jews will look on me whom they have pierced'. Down the ages Christians always thought that this clearly refers to the second coming Messiah Jesus. In the above-mentioned article of the Hebrew scholars Wise and Tabor state on page 58 of their article that 'there was the belief among the Qumran community that the Messiah would suffer initial defeat, but that he would ultimately triumph in the end of days.' The scholars argue furthermore: 'We know that the Qumran group was intensely interested in this seventy week prophecy of Daniel... They must have made something out of this Messiah figure who was cut off.' An Occult Islamic Messianic Pointer
It is not surprising that exactly at this point, the cutting off in the Daniel prophecy where folk Islam contains a Messianic Pointer, viz. in the practice of Karate, where dancers in a trance pierce their bodies without blood flowing. This is demonic, evidently a travesty of the central biblical salvation message contained in Hebrews 9:22, ‘without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sin.’ Both Talmudic and Islamic tradition apparently recognised the centrality of the slaughtered animal. Great care is taken in the selection of the animals at sheep-slaughtering occasions like Eid-al Adha. In the original Levitical ordinance the worshipper was required to press his hand on the head of the burnt offering (Leviticus 1:4) whose life he was offering up to God as a propitiation or atonement for sin.
God gave the instruction in Numbers 19:2 that a red heifer without any blemish, which had not been yoked before, had to be used. We note how the ashes of the heifer serve as a source for the removal (purification) of sin (v.9). It has universal connotations when one reads: ‘This will be a lasting ordinance both for the Israelites and for the aliens living among them’ (v.10). The death of the innocent Jesus, the Lamb of God, on the cross of Calvary was just such an atonement for the sins of the world (John 1:29,36). It is no wonder that the crucifixion is an issue that caused a divide between the religions because the arch enemy was however defeated by the 'slaughtering' of Jesus, the Lamb of God, followed by His resurrection by the power of the Almighty. Paul highlights the connection in Colossians 1:20 where he states that peace with God is achieved through the blood of Jesus. The redeeming Death of Jesus foreshadowed
In typical fashion, the deceiver changed the red colour. Thus we read in Jeremiah 10:9 about idols being dressed up by the craftsman and goldsmith in blue and purple. It happens immediately after the Almighty is described as King of the nations (v.8). The inference is clear: the colours suggest an imitation of his royalty.
Significantly, the incident of the red heifer is linked to the separation of the account of the water of separation – God’s wonderful provision for cleansing of the defilement contracted in daily life. The cleansing was effected by the water that was mingled with the ashes of the red heifer, rendered as a sin offering. Thus it was an offering based upon atonement, ‘a foreshadowing of the blood of Jesus Christ which cleanses (i.e. goes on cleansing) from all sin those who are walking in the light (1 John 1:7, Hodgkin 1979:32).
In the case of the heifer, not only is the colour striking, but also the fact that it was not yoked before. The ass, on which Jesus entered Jerusalem, comes to mind. That ass was one that had not been ridden before and the letter to the Hebrews speaks of Jesus as the unblemished Lamb of God. Arthur Glass, who comes from a Jewish background, has shown that Isaiah 62:11 includes the root of the Jewish name for Jesus (Yeshua). This is the parallel text to Zechariah 9:9 (Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion…) which Matthew, the evangelist, saw as the prophecy pointing to Jesus entering Jerusalem on an ass. Isaiah 62:11 could thus be translated: ‘Behold Jehovah has proclaimed unto the end of the world, Say you to the daughter of Zion, behold thy Yeshua (Jesus) cometh...’10
We contrast the above with what the Qur’an says quite emphatically about the colour of the heifer to be used as a sacrifice. In Surah Al-Baqara (The Cow)2:67-71 a whole discussion is recorded about the heifer to be used as a sacrifice. This context does mention some similarities with the above: ‘a heifer not trained to till the soil or water the fields; sound and without blemish’. Hoever, two clear differences emerge with the biblical reference. The Qur’an quotes Moses as saying that the animal had to be ‘a fawn-coloured heifer, pure and rich in tone’ and that ‘they offered her ... not with good-will.’ Thus the biblical heifer that was given voluntarily is contradicted as well as the colour red.
Interesting is how a midrash (teaching) depicts Moses as a forerunner of the Messiah: ‘To Moses He gave God’s rod and upon the head of the Messiah he placed His own crown’ (Exodus Rabba 8). Another midrash (Ecclesiastes 1) states that ‘Moses, the first redeemer, who rode on an ass, gave the Israelites manna for food, and brought up the water. Messiah will be seen riding on an ass (Zechariah 9:9). He shall bring down manna from on high (Psalm 70:16) and cause the rivers of Judah to flow with water (Joel 4:18)’. (Also the midrash Song of Songs 1 highlights the Zechariah prophecy as Messianic).
5.3. Western Prejudice
I suggest that we pray to the Lord to help us to shed our Western prejudice, by looking back in history to the period before Muhammad came on the scene. I consider the Samaritans to be the biblical fore-runners of the Muslims. Let us examine the places where the ancestors of the Samaritans came from. In 2 Kings 17:24 a few of these places are mentioned. We know that Jews were taken in exile to cities like Babylon and Nineveh. We find that inhabitants from exactly these parts were brought to Samaria. The Samaritans started to worship the God of the Israelites according to 2 Kings 17:24-33. But they continued to worship Baal, although some folk from their ranks had been devoured by lions in punishment.
Let us also go back to the early beginnings of the church. Acts 2:13 gives us a picture of the places from where Jews had been coming at that momentous Pentecost in Jerusalem. We in the West have been blinkered by thinking that all church history revolved around developments from Rome. Our teaching by and large ignored that Alexandria and Antioch were major cities of culture next to Rome and Jerusalem in the first centuries of the common era. In very few Bible Schools is any attention given to the missionary work that went out from the Nestorian-Assyrian Church. In typical bigoted Western prejudice pastors and theologians in the West would only know about Nestorius from the Christological bickering around the two natures of Christ and not as the father of a great missionary movement, which had Baghdad as its epicentre. Yet, historically the Assyrian (Nestorian) Church had the biggest influence on the Turkish and Mongolian peoples of Central Asia, with churches planted as far as India and China possibly already by 61 CE. Also Armenian and Jacobin Christians were prominent in early missionary endeavour. These believers will have come from Asian, Arab and Jewish backgrounds. Working in small teams and making use of ‘tent-making’ (vocational skills), they advanced the Kingdom very fast indeed, driven by a pioneering spirit.
5.4. No time for Euphoria or Triumphalism
Although it is special that many Jews and Muslims have become followers of Jesus in recent years, biblical prophecy commands us to be humble and cautious. Any way, triumphalism never behoves a believer. Various portions of Scripture like Revelations 12;7ff and Ezechiel 38 point to the distinct possibility of a war of massive proportions, to be possibly preceded by the coming of the Antichrist, which could be a figure like Gog of Ezechiel 38 (It is nowhere clear-cut, because Revelations 20:7-9, which speak of Gog and Magog, refer to the post-millennial period, i.e. after the reign of Jesus for a thousand years). Whereas it is wonderful that many from the Abrahamic religions have become followers of Jesus, we should also be aware that there will still be millions who would persevere willingly in religious bondage at the return of the Lord. According to many hadith and believed by most Muslims, Nabi Isa will return to the earth. He will marry, destroy all crosses and die ultimately. A special variation of the open grave of Christianity is that the grave next to that of Muhammad in Medina is kept open for Jesus to be buried there. The majority of Muslims believe that Jesus will physically return to this world with the Mahdi at the time appointed by Allâh. There is some divergent beliefs in Shiite and Sunni versions of the religion how this would transpire. Convergence with Christianity and Judaism (with the advent of the expected Messiah) is that all wars will stop and an era of peace will be ushered in. ad -Dajjal, the antichrist figure in Islam. According to hadith he will defeat all the followers of ad -Dajjal, marry and ultimate die. Thereafter he will be buried in the open grave prepared for him.
5.5. A possible End-time Scenario Various Christian writers expect the final showdown before the victorious return of the Lord11 in glory to be an Armageddon scenario between myriads of Islamic troops fighting diminutive Israel. This is very realistic if one considers that Zechariah 12:2,4 foresees Jerusalem as 'a cup that causes reeling to all the peoples around... a heavy stone for all the peoples.' It may still be rather difficult to foresee all the nations of the earth will be gathered against it, but it does not not need much imagination to see all the Islamic former Soviet republics, together with Russia, joining forces with Muslim nations from the Middle East in alliance with countries like Sudan and Somalia, to attack Israel. It is surely no baseless conjecture to see the trigger of such an escalation coming from either Orthodox Jews attempting to rid the Temple Mount of the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem or a Muslim crank trying to blow up the wailing wall. It would not be the first time that a major war involving many nations would be ignited by a senseless act. It is not clear whether this would co-inside with or precede the rapture of believers in Jesus. 5.5.1. The Rapture and Great Tribulation Bible scholars differ considerably about the moment of the supernatural rapture from the earth of followers of Jesus and whether this would indicate the start of 42 months of tribulation. That this could become the trigger of a significant turning to the Messiah, is very likely. The great Andrew Murray has showed very impressively how powerfully the blood of Jesus permeates all of Scripture. In this light Revelation 12 and 13 gets a special prophetic place in the end times. The woman clothed with the sun (of righteousness? - Malachi 4:2), with the moon under her feet and on her head a garland of twelve stars (Revelation 12:1) could very much be a picture of the Church, the Bride of Christ after the rapture - where the moon (the crescent) could signify Muslims who have come to faith in Christ and the twelve stars the Messianic Jewish believers, those who have their origins in the twelves tribes of Israel. The flight of to the wilderness (v. 6) for one thousand two hunderd and sixty days (= 42 months) could depict the rapture and period of tribulation. The wide-scale acknowledgement and recognition by Jews at this time of Jesus as their Messiah, whom their ancestors have pierced on Calvary's cross Zechariah 12:10), is therefore no mere conjecture. That could very much be the move of national repentance, followed by divine restoration. Revelation 13:8 refers to the divine plan from before the foundation of the earth, that could easily be linked to Jesus, the Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world. foundation of the earth, that could easily be linked to Jesus as the Lamb of God. Revelation 13:8 speaks however of 'names have not been written in the Book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the earth.' This means that the followers of Jesus whose names were written in the Book of life of the Lamb when they accepted him as Saviour will not be around. The big emulator and deceiver, the dragon and the accuser of our brethren (Revelation 12:10) will have a field day. He will be roaming and roaring around like a lion as never before (1 Peter 5:8), but he will be overcome by overcome by the blood of the Lamb and by the testimony of those followers of the Lion of Judah who would come to faith in him during this time of tribulation(Revelation 12:11). When the nation of Israel repents collectively of Rabbinism, which boasts the absence of atoning blood, returning to the religion of Abraham, Moses and the prophets based on the atoning blood shed by the Lamb of God, the nation will be in the forefront of evangelism and missions again as it was in the first century and perhaps even in a greater way! Perhaps the prior repentance and confession of the Church universal for her arrogance, calling her adherents spiritual Israelites and excluding Jews, could be the spark to ignite this movement. 5.5.2. The Return of the Lord in Glory When John Wilkinson, the founder of the Mildmay Mission to the Jews, suggested in 1889 in his booklet God's Plan for the Jews, that the splitting of the Mount of Olives (Zechariah 14:1-5) could be taken literally, he was probably not taken seriously. Similarly, the prophecy of Jesus that events happening in Jerusalem would be visible around the globe would probably have been taken by Christians as a very remote possibility, even in 1946 when the booklet was republished. Interestingly, also from the Muslim side there is an expectation that the events in the Middle East would be audibly heard worldwide when the Mahdi would appear. According to some Bible scholars, including George Otis, (The Last of the Giants, 1990:216) the Mahdi would be the equivalent of the false prophet of Revelation 13, expecting the healing of the deadly wound in Revelation 13:11-18 as a surprising recovery of Islam after a crushing defeat. In this whole scenario there is in my opinion still too much conjecture, but Jerusalem as 'a cup that causes reeling' seems to me the crucial litmus test. If this occurs, we should know that we are entering the final straight of the fulfilment of biblical prophecy.
It was not very long ago where one still needed some imagination to foresee things happening in Jerusalem to be visible around the globe. The twin towers event in New York on September 11, 2001 and the tsunami in Indonesia in December 2004 are just two occurrences less than a decade ago that were seen visually on TV screens around the world. The development of mobile phone technology has made the arrival of Jesus on Mount Olives (Zechariah 14:1-5) to be visible even in the remotest parts of the globe. That this could usher in 'on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on me whom they have pierced'. That Jews worldwide 'will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a first-born' (Zechariah 12:10), is now much easier to foresee. recognition by Jews around the globe that the man of Calvary is indeed and after all their long awaited Messiah. This is reason enough to cry out with joy and expectation: Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus, King of Kings!

Select Bibliography
Chadwick, Henry-, The Early Church, Penguin, Harmondsworth (UK), 1988 (1967) Carrington, Philip – The Early Christian Church, Two Volumes, Cambridge University Press, 1957 Cloete, Ashley D.I. - Pointers to Jesus (Unpublished manuscript)
- Roots of Islam (Unpublished manuscript)
- The spiritual Parents of Islam
Cohen, A. - Everyman’s Talmud, Dent and sons, 1971, London
Cohen, Chuck and Karen, The Roots of our Faith, Christian Friends of Israel, Jerusalem, 1982 Eastman, Mark and Smith, Chuck – The Search for Messiah, Joy Publishing, Fountain Valley, 1996
Levine, Samuel - You take Jesus, I'll take God, Hamoroh Press, Los Angeles, 1980
Malick, Malick, Faisal - Here comes Ishmael, Guardian Books, Belleville, Ontario, Canada, 2005
Pearce, Tony - The Messiah Factor, New Wine, Chichester (England), 2004
Wilkinson, John - God's Plan for the Jews, The Mildmay Mission to the Jews, 1946 [1889)


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