Sunday, July 27, 2014

Understanding the Abrahamic Covenant: an American Christian's perspective on turmoil in the Holy Land.

If you follow me on facebook, you may have seen my little rant about anti-Arab posts. I'll blame that on pregnancy. Why be pregnant if you can't use it as an occasional crutch? Oh, cause of the cute baby at the end ... that's right, that's what all the hormones are really for.

Anyway, my post led me to some interesting study and research. I already had some background in the geo-political history of the region, but Friday night as I lay in bed I thirsted for more knowledge in regards to the geo-political future of the region. After all, the land in dispute is Holy Land. We may argue over who has claim to it right now, but we all have to agree three of the world's major religions all view it with special regard. And I wondered, what side (if any) of the Israel/Palestine battle should I pick based on my religious views of the Holy Land.

But it was late at night, and I just wanted to go to bed. So I sincerely sought God's insight, but without doing much of my own work. The late night answer was clear, and similar to many answers I've received before. God loves all His children. Because the worth of souls is great in the sight of God. He doesn't sit up on His throne in Heaven and cheer for the Muslims or the Jews. He weeps over the hatred individual Muslims and Jews hold in their hearts. He welcomes each precious life lost in the battle into His Spirit World. If needed, they are reproached and given chances to learn Gospel truths. If their life was good and noble or they died before the age of accountability, they will feel love and goodness. They will find peace. And they also will be given the opportunity to learn Gospel truths and receive the blessings of its ordinances and covenants.

I fell asleep satisfied with my answer, knowing it was from God. I awoke looking for no further religious enlightenment on the matter.

Then, around nap time (my best time of day for deep thought and study) on Saturday, a friend commented on my facebook post, asking for any religious insight I had into the conflict, particularly as it relates to the Gospel of the Restoration.

Without much effort I answered. I double checked some facts and added my understanding of religious history. You know, I summarized 2000 years of religious wars in one paragraph. Everything from the birth of Islam to the Crusades to the Holocaust is a lot easier to understand if you just compartmentalize it into one paragraph. Right?

Then the stirring in my heart began. I didn't want to remain satisfied with the answer I had given. I wanted a deeper understanding of the Second Coming of Christ, and the role the region surrounding Christ's homeland of Jerusalem has to play in that gloriously awaited second coming.

So, I went to and searched "Second Coming of Christ." First answer, the one God knew I needed: The Gathering of Scattered Israel. I soon found myself reading various manuals, scriptures, and conference talks on the subject. I was re-learning things I had forgotten from my own Seminary and Institute years. But this time around I was understanding them with the more developed, more learned, brain I have trained through my adult years.

I was able to ponder my knowledge of the geo-political details of the Middle East side by side with the spiritual truths I've been taught through out my life. Tender mercies I was given as a missionary, teaching in a Muslim country, were brought to my mind, and my testimony of God's love for all His children was strengthened once again. My original late night answer was correct, but God knew I needed to back it with a deeper understanding. He knew I needed to remember precious moments in His Holy Temples.

But I will only give you a more secular summary of the experiences I've had. I still want to keep the sacred spiritual ones to myself. So, let's dig into the history of Abraham and the scattering and gathering of Israel. Shall we?

A History
God made many great and important promises to Abraham regarding his seed. Christians, Muslims, and Jews alike agree on this point. They all view Abraham as one of their literal and spiritual fathers. They all view themselves as blessed by the promises God gave Abraham. As Abraham's seed, both Isaac and Ishmael are important to this promise. Many who follow Judeo-Christian religions only seem to remember Israel - born as Jacob - the grandson of Abraham. This is probably because it is easier to stomach the Old Testament if you just gloss over Abraham's weird and misunderstood relationship with Hagar. So to start lets just look at the line Judeo-Christians follow.

They follow Abraham's line through Isaac. Isaac had a son named Jacob and Jacob had twelve sons of his own (it was before the birth of Benjamin that Jacob became Israel). The twelve sons are: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Nephtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zepulun, Joseph, and Benjamin (Genesis 29:32 - 30:24 & 35:18). However, when Jacob divided the land of Israel he actually divided it into 14 tribes, but we (Jews and Christians alike) always refer to them as 12. See, Jacob, who we will now call Israel (because his name changed by the time he divided the land) gave Joseph a double portion of land, one for each of Joseph's sons, who were Ephraim and Manesseh. I found this map very useful when trying to figure out which of the 14 had land and where. You'll notice that Dan and Levi are missing. I guess they gave/sold their land to their brothers, and I know that Simeon was later absorbed into Judah, and Manesseh was split in two, but regardless of who was adopted where and who was split where the tribes are always referred to as 12 in number. Makes things easy and hard all at the same time. Gotta love the Old Testament!

Well, as is always the pattern of the Old Testament (and the New and The Book of Mormon), people who have the word of God like to reject it. They like to twist the teachings of the Prophets to fit their own desires. They reject the priesthood and God's authority on Earth. And that is exactly what happened, at one time or another, with all twelve (or fourteen or eleven -- depending on when you are counting) of the tribes.

First, the ten Northern tribes were taken captive by Assyria. This is where Ishmael re-enters the picture. Many historical records teach us that Assyrians were Ishmaelites. Yup, Ishmael, Abraham's eldest son, who is also part of the Abrahamic covenant. Even the scriptures, not just history and geography, suggest this. Before either of Abraham's sons were born, God told Abraham he would make a great nation out of Abraham, and that Abraham's seed would be as numerous as the stars. Another part of that promise was that Abraham's seed, and the greatness of that nation, would be a blessing to all the families of the Earth (Genesis 12:2-3 & 15:5). Then, when Ishmael was conceived by Abraham and Hagar, an angel declared the earlier promise to Hagar, that God would multiply her seed exceedingly, that it would be too great to count (Genesis 16:10). Finally, when Ishmael was 13 years of age, God promised Abraham that Ishmael would have 12 sons and that he would make Ishmael a great nation (Genesis 17:20).

As a quick aside, I recently tried to read the entire Old Testament and I had such a hard time with Abraham and Sariah's treatment of Ishmael and Hagar that I quit. Now I know I should have stuck it out, because Ishmael and his seed were not forgotten! They too are an integral part of the Abrahamic Covenant. Even if they were abandoned into the Arabian peninsula.

An honest and intellectual hypothesis would be to assume the ten lost tribes of Israel mixed with the descendants of Ishmael's twelve sons (many years after Abraham's wives and sons were separated -- so no incest going on there, not that the Bible goes out of it's way to avoid incest, anyway). They became lost to the records of mankind, but they were obviously not lost to the Lord. Oh how important it is for us to remember they are lost to the records of mankind, but not the Lord. Just as Ishmael and Hagar became lost to the records of mankind, they were not forgotten. The promises made to them have been and will continue to be fulfilled.

Back to Israel, later the two southern tribes, Judah and Simeon (with Simeon later becoming part of Judah), were also taken captive ... BUT ... here's the all important difference -- they were not lost to the records of mankind. Judah (and Simeon) are today's Jews. They are the people who kept the early records of the Bible. Many of them are tracked throughout the Bible. They are the line through which Christ came into the world (a promise given to Abraham as part of the covenant). And had King Solomon (and those who followed him) honored his covenants, Christ would have been born the King of the Jews. But King Solomon turned away from God and as a result his kingdom, Judah, was taken captive and has remained in exile ever since. They were scattered among the heathen, into all nations (Leviticus 26:33 & Jeremiah 9:16).

And I'll take a break at this time to explain this is why I am sympathetic to Israel -- to the Jews who reside, scattered, in all nations across the Earth. Judah has been persecuted since the captivity that occurred after King Solomon's reign. We have record of it and the record isn't pretty. From the Crusades to the Holocaust to horrible things before, in between and after; our brothers and sisters of Judah have not had it easy these past 2700 years (and it wasn't exactly easy in the hundreds of thousands of years before that either). My heart aches for the loss they have felt. Antisemitism is real and it should not be tolerated. Not from Christians and not from Muslims.

But I fear American Christians are so gung-ho on helping Judah, on getting Israel gathered so that Christ can come again, that we often forget Ishmael, his descendants, and the ten tribes lost to the record of mankind. We forget that God's great promise to Abraham also includes Ishmael, and Ishmael's twelve sons, and the ten lost tribes. Is it not likely that some of the descendants of Ishmael and of the ten lost tribes are today's Palestinian Arabs?

All history of the region points to this hypothesis.

The New Testament points to this hypothesis.

When Christ instructed the apostles in their missionary work He told them to go first to the lost sheep of Israel. He sent them to call out the elect of the ten tribes. And where did they go? Not to my ancestors in Europe (full bred Gentile over here). They headed towards Asia, into the heart of today's Middle East. It is my understanding that most Europeans and Native Americans are, like Joseph's sons Ephraim and Manesseh, adopted into the 12 tribes of Israel as they accept the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is also my understanding that Abraham's seed is so plentiful and prosperous that many people could trace their ancestry back to more than one tribe. But the main point is, we really don't know where the descendants of the other ten tribes reside. And though history tells us the descendants of Ishmael are on the Arabian peninsula, we don't have a record of their lives and covenants.

Only God truly knows where the descendants of Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, and Israel are. Five-sixths of Israel and 12/12ths of Ishmael were lost to our religious records but they were never lost to Him. Is it not possible, that after rejecting the missionary efforts of Peter, Paul, and other members of the Church during Christ's time, that some 600 years later some portion of those descendants accepted Muhammad as their prophet and Allah as their monotheistic God? Is it not possible, that God enlightened Muhammad as part of His promise to Abraham, but withheld His covenants from Muhammad because He knew Abraham's descendants had a history of rejecting covenants?

And if this is the case, then isn't it totally wrong for Christian Americans to assume all of the Palestine/Israel borders belong to the tribe of Judah? Surely, there is no denying the tribe of Judah has rights to that land, but what of the other 5/6ths? And what about the promises made to Ishmael, that his seed would dwell with Israel's? And that his seed would also be fruitful, and a great nation (Genesis 16:12 & 17:20). If we look at an untainted history of Arabia, we see that it was indeed a great nation (while Europe was in it's dark ages). And I promise that even today Islam blesses the lives of families through out the Earth.

I believe that when many American Christians get to the other side of the veil, and obtain part of God's great knowledge, part of His intent and part of His great love for all His children, when we see Him judge our brothers and sisters according to the laws and covenants (or lack of covenants) given to them, we will be ashamed of our attitude toward our Muslim brothers and sisters. I also fear that other American Christians will hold on so tightly to their hatred and their stereotypes, that they will not be able to behold God's greatness. They will not be able to accept the loving kindness He will offer the children of Ishmael and the ten lost tribes.

Amongst my favorite verses of scripture, even long before I understood what they meant, are the words often repeated by Isaiah (and therefore Nephi): For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still. 

That is the approach I imagine Christ and the Father taking in regards to the Israel/Palestine conflict. God knows who the seed of Abraham is. He knows of the many wars and great destruction they have brought on one another. God has to be angered at the recent destruction of Holy Lands and holy tombs, but His hand -- the sacrifice and mercy of Christ -- will never be turned away. He will patiently wait until the Gospel has sounded in every ear, until every single one of His children has had a chance to feel of the love and mercy Christ has to offer, until each of us chooses for ourselves, our own commitment to His will, and therefore our own level of eternal happiness (hint: the more we subject ourselves to His will the greater our eternal happiness will be). He offers peace and forgiveness, and a hope that all His children -- Israeli or Arab -- will give that same peace and forgiveness to their brethren.

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