Call Me Ishmael…

“You shall call his name Ishmael, because the Lord has heard your affliction.  He shall be a wild man; his hand shall be against every man, and every man’s hand against him.  And he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.”  Genesis 16:11-12

“Call me Ishmael.”  That might sound familiar as the very first sentence in Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick.”  But that fictional character was not the very first Ishmael, real or fictional.  I don’t think he has any connection to the original by inference from Melville either.

Ishmael is the key to the current state of affairs in the Middle East.  He was the son of Abram by way of his wife’s maidservant.  You might recall that God promised Abram (later Abraham) that he would have children and descendants like the sand.  As he and Sarai grew older, they started thinking that maybe they should take matters into their own hands.  She just couldn’t conceive, so, as was a custom of the day, Sarai tells Abram, “Take my maidservant Hagar.  Get her pregnant.  We’ll have a son that way.”

Abram was ahead of his time in that he knew the two most important words to a successful marriage: Yes, Dear.

Abram dutifully (?) did some knowing of Hagar, and as surely as day follows night, Hagar got pregnant and had a son, Ishmael.  Unfortunately, despite his age and experience of a long marriage, Abram didn’t apparently see that he had just rung the bell for the opening round of a cat fight.

Seeing as she was up on Sarai one/nothing in the conception department, Hagar started getting uppity with Sarai.  That sat none too well with the boss lady, who apparently had a memory drain regarding just WHOSE idea this was (hers).  No, she went after Abram for creating this horrible situation.  I can only imagine him standing there, mouth agape and wide eyed.  “But…”  I’m sure he wouldn’t have had a chance of finishing the sentence.

Sarai is so incensed that she demands that Abram send pregnant Hagar out of camp and into the wilderness.  Sitting hard in the Damned-if-You-Do-or-Don’t-Seat, I guess he figured it was even money she’d gig him for it later as if it was his idea to banish the two, but at least he’d have some peace till then.

In the wilderness, Hagar cries out to God, pleading for rescue.  God does so, with the promise that her son Ishmael’s descendants would also be like the ocean’s sands, but that his hand would be continually against his brother.

Ishmael is the father of the Arab peoples.  Isaac, Ishmael’s half-brother, is the father of the Jewish peoples.  Anyone here think that God’s promise isn’t still in force?  That, my friends, is the beginning of the unrest in the Middle East.  Who do you think the Jews displaced according to God’s direction after wandering in the desert generations later?  The descendants of Ishmael (at least some of those tribes; not all).  They had turned aside and worshipped idols and even sacrificed their own children in fire.  That’s why God ordered the Children of Israel to wipe them out and clean the slate.  It was yet another step in the divide between Jews and Arabs.

A lot of people say the Middle East problem is a much more complex, long-running problem than outsiders will ever understand.  They may be right on how long, but it comes down to some bad choices, chief of which was not trusting God and Abram and Sarai heading off on their own.  There is indeed a long history, and God’s promise…or maybe foretelling…of how things would play out.  This is not something that will be solved until the end of time.

Carter’s Camp David Accord and all of the efforts of presidents and rulers before and since won’t change any of that.  Like I said, either God made that the way it is, or He simply foresaw what would happen and gave everyone a heads-up.

So Middle East conflict is inevitable, not to be resolved or at least ended until the end of days.  We might be tempted to say that Carter’s Accord, President Clinton’s mediation, and every other effort is a waste of time.

Back in the 80’s I worked with an Arab guy, and we talked about the whole situation.  He said that he wished the US, Russia, and everyone else would quit sending arms and bug off.  I stupidly asked what difference it would make.  They’d still be at each other’s throats.  He smiled patiently.

“This is true.  But we would kill far fewer people with sticks and rocks.”  He seemed to acknowledge that the conflict was never-ending.  All we could do is try to stem the flow of blood.

We’re not going to end the conflict.  Not possible.  I could suggest, however, that we should continue to try.  We might put the brakes on enough to save lives.  Not all, but some.  That’s worth the effort, isn’t it?

I read once about a company that had very high, almost impossible standards of conduct for all employees.  The owner acknowledged that they could not always meet those standards, “…but it’s in the trying that we succeed.”

Whether in the Middle East or elsewhere, the earth is Satan’s playground.  He is the prince of this world.  We are not going to defeat him.  Like Abram’s son, our hand is against our brothers and sisters.  We are sinful, and that’s our destiny.  We just don’t dare quit trying.  We need to work at our loving response to Jesus’ sacrifice and still rely on His forgiveness when we fail.  I will fail over and over, but I must continue to try.  You see, figuratively speaking,…

…my name is Ishmael.

What do you think?  Do you have a touch of Ishmael’s condition in your life?  Have you given up or are you still trying?  I and other readers want to hear from you!

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