By Dr. Stanley Watson, Syndicated Columnist
The Picayune Item
During our evening devotionals last evening wife Sheila and I read the account of the conflict between Sarah and Hagar in Abraham's family. You need to know that story to understand the greatest danger in the world today.
A feud began when two strong willed women became locked in a power struggle. One was an older woman, Sarah, who had retained her beauty. The other was a young woman called Hagar, who had just arrived at a high level of health and youthful attractiveness. These two women were of different races- Hagar was Egyptian while Sarah was Babylonian. Each had a son that was fathered by Sarah's husband, Abraham, and they all lived in the same household.
When Abraham was in his mid eighties he complained to God that, because he had no heirs, when he died his head servant, a Syrian from Damascus named Eliezer, would inherit his considerable possessions. God explained to Abraham that he would indeed become a father, that his descendants would be like the stars in heaven in number, and that they would possess the land of Canaan all the way from the border of Egypt to the Euphrates River on the north.
Abraham's wife, Sarah, was distressed by the fact that she could not bear children. She was sure that she was a disappointment to her husband. In desperation she took Hagar to Abraham and asked him to sleep with her servant so that, "perhaps I can have children through her." This procedure was not uncommon and has been practiced throughout history. A problem often arises in this plan when the woman bearing the baby wants to keep it.
If you are wondering what a family squabble of over four thousand years ago has to do with the world today, you might want to consider the present state of mind of the Arab nations, the descendants of Ishmael. The feud that developed in the house of Abraham is taught in homes and mosques as though it happened only a few years ago. Muslims consider Ishmael to have been the strong son of Abraham and the rightful heir of his faith and blessings. The Koran teaches that it was Ishmael and not Isaac that Abraham was about to sacrifice that day on the mountain when Allah stopped him. When Muslims make their once in a lifetime journey to Mecca, one of the rituals is to run back and forth in the desert to reenact the experience of their distant grandmother, Hagar, after she had been forced out of the house by Sarah.
Jesus put in plain words the way to resolve the issue between Sarah and Hagar and their descendants: "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins. "Matthew 6:14-15 (NLT)
Many noted Christian scholars agree that this passage of scripture contains one of the most neglected truths in the entire Bible. It is said that if all Christians would simply obey what Jesus said to do when a brother causes an offense against us, it would solve over half of all problems of the world.
Jesus words have worked wonders in many personal lives and they would work for the spiritual descendants of Abraham, the Jews and the Arabs. Why has every effort to make peace between these branches failed every time? Because both the Old Testament of the Jews and the Koran of the Muslims allow for revenge in settling disputes. This accounts for the vicious cycle of attacking each other while defending themselves.
As things now stand it appears, except for a miraculous change of attitude, the cycle of hate and death will go on into the future as far as the eye can see. Today the world is faced with the threat of Iran who is building a nuclear bomb to destroy the "little Satan" Israel first then the "big Satan", the United States of America, the traditional friend of Israel.
But there is hope in the rest of the story: Christianity, the third great religion that grew out of the faith of Abraham, provides the miracle that answers the problem. When God made a covenant with Abraham he promised that the descendants of Isaac and Ishmael would be multitudinous and that they would both bless the world. He designated Isaac as the one through whom he would carry out the "everlasting covenant."
Throughout the history of the Jewish nation their leaders reminded Israel that God called them to be a "peculiar treasure"- a "holy nation." The covenant included a promise that a Messiah savior would come and reign forever. David sang about it in the 89th psalm and the prophet Isaiah expressed it in poetic verse in the 9th chapter of his prophecy. In his great oratorio Handel quoted those words in describing the nature of Jesus Christ, "For unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace ..."
Jesus counsels to love your neighbor, if taken seriously, this could and would save the world.