The First Will Be Last…

It has always amazed me to think that the three dominant religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) all worship the same God. This is clearly more than coincidence. All three faiths stem from the covenant from God to Abraham to make him the father of a multitude of nations (Genesis 17:4). This is why I have always been bothered by our insistence that only one of these paths can lead to God. It doesn’t seem to be in line with the nature of who God is. How could he reject faithful followers who love him and try to abide by his law? For many their faith is also part of their heritage. Further the message from all three faiths uphold the same principles: Love and obedience to God/YHWH/Allah, generosity and compassion toward others (especially the less fortunate like widows, orphans and the poor), selfless acts of service, shunning evil ways, virtues of faith, wisdom, truth, love, and compassion. I don’t believe that God would lay a trap for his people and condemn two-thirds of them for selecting the wrong path. God’s nature is one of mercy, goodness, forgiveness, and love. (Lessons Learned:There is Only One God)

The main divide among all three is Jesus. Jews believe he was a teacher but not the Messiah. Christians believe he was the Messiah who redeems us from sin. Muslims believe he was a prophet and the Word of God. However, he did not actually die so there was no resurrection. This disagreement about the nature of Jesus has caused a divide, just as he foretold.

 “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

Luke 12:49-53

This fire that Jesus came to bring was the fire of the Holy Spirit to believers (mentioned in The Nature of Fire). But the fire of the Holy Spirit could not be given to believers until his purpose had been completed because receiving it required an act of faith. Again, this is what Jesus foretold.

“All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 

John 14:25

Why would God blind the Jews to the Messiah? Why would God not reveal Jesus’ true nature to Muslims? Why would he reveal the truth of Jesus to sinners and gentiles who had no prior knowledge, history, or understanding of God? Again Jesus gave us that answer in the parable of the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16).

“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

Matthew 20:16

To really understand what this means we have to understand a little about the history of each faith. Judaism began with the faithful remnant of the Israelites from the tribe of Judah, which was the prophesied lineage of the Messiah. To understand the discord between Jews and Muslims we must go back to Abraham, the father of both nations.

God promised Abram he would be the father of a multitude. However, his wife Sarai was barren. Sarai doubted that the LORD could make her conceive because she was too old and past the age of child-bearing. So she offered her servant Hagar so that Abraham may build his line through her (Genesis 16:1-6). But once Hagar became pregnant Sarah mistreated her until she ran away, but an angel of the LORD appeared to her.

The angel of the Lord also said to her, “I will surely multiply your offspring so that they cannot be numbered for multitude.” And the angel of the Lord said to her, “Behold, you are pregnant and shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, because the Lord has listened to your affliction. He shall be a wild donkey of a man, his hand against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen.”

Genesis 16:10-12

After Ishmael was born, God promised that Sarai would conceive a son, through whom God would establish his everlasting covenant. Abraham asked if God would establish the covenant with Ishmael, but the LORD had other plans.

God said, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him. As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation. But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this time next year.”

Genesis 17:19-21

Another great divide occurred due to a power struggle between Isaac’s children, Esau and Jacob. Esau and Jacob were twins, but Esau was born first. Because Esau was the firstborn.  he was the rightful heir to the covenant. Esau, however, did not value his birthright of God’s covenant. Unvalued, he sold it to Jacob in exchange for a bowl of stew one day when he was hungry. Through a degree of trickery, Jacob received the blessing from Isaac. Jacob later became Israel. His 12 sons became the 12 tribes of Israel. Esau, however, united with the line of Ishmael by marrying Ishmael’s daughter. 

It is understandable that there would be some resentment between the two groups. Firstborn sons are traditionally the rightful heirs. Ishmael was firstborn, but God’s covenant passed to Isaac. Again, Esau was the firstborn, but God’s covenant passed to Jacob. Thus the contention between Hebrews and Arabs began. Why did God choose to do this?

It was the tradition of mankind to pass the inheritance down to the firstborn. Though these acts, God made it clear that our ways are not God’s ways. It is also clear that he does not abide by our rules, he chooses to bless whoever he chooses. In both cases, the last became first and the first became last.

God still had plans for Ishmael and Esau. Arabs were descendants from the lines of Ishmael and Esau. God revealed himself first to the descendants of Jacob and promised the Messiah through his line.  This implies that he would reveal himself to the descendants of Ishmael last. This explains the many similarities between the two groups. The difference is that they followed differing timelines.

  • Ishmael had twelve sons who formed 12 Arab tribes
  • Jacob had 12 sons and formed 12 Hebrew tribes.
  • The Arab tribes became sinful and polytheistic with exception of a small remnant, Muslims.
  • The Israelite tribes became sinful and polytheistic with exception of a small remnant, the Jews from the tribe of Judah.
  • Many prophets warn the Israelites to turn back to God and repent. Prophets are persecuted for their message by their own people.
  • The prophet Mohammad warns Arabs to turn back to God and repent. Mohammad is persecuted for his message by his own people.
  • The Jews return to God’s law strictly abiding by the Torah
  • The Muslims return to God’s law strictly abiding by the Qu’ran

God does nothing without purpose, even if his purpose isn’t always clear to us.  He doesn’t choose to bless one follower and turn away from another. But he alone will determine the order of those blessings.

This discussion will be continued in my next blog, …The Last Will Be First, with a focus on Jesus.

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