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Abrahams Legacy: Readings on the Holy Land and the History Behind its AgeOld Conflict

A series based upon Jewish, Islamic and Christian sacred texts that explains the beliefs that lie behind the ongoing conflict in the Middle East.

REV THE HON DR. GORDON MOYES, A.C., M.L.C., B.A., LL.D., Litt.D., D.D., F.R.G.S., F.A.I.M., F.A.I.C.D., M.A.C.E..

Obedient Faith
It is an amazing fact of history that three of the biggest religions in the world call one man father. That man is Abraham who lived 4000 years ago about 2000BC. The name Abraham means, "father of a multitude." Abraham certainly became the father of a multitude: he is regarded as the father of all those who adhere to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The followers of these three religions have been locked in the most violent of conflicts in the Middle East with the potential of worse to come. Abraham was known as the prime example of faith. He was the son of Terah, a descendant of Noah's son, Shem (Gen. 11:27). He was a Semite and his childhood was spent in Ur of the Chaldees, a city in the south of modern day Iraq. This is relevant, as modern Iraq remains an ongoing theatre of war. At the same time, in Israel and Lebanon, Arab and Jew are fighting over the land Abraham claimed for his descendants. Elsewhere Muslims are in conflict with Jews and Christians, and Christians in a dozen countries are suffering persecution from Muslims. Yet these three faiths regard Abraham as one of their founders. In this series of articles we will learn many new facts about Abraham that will help us to understand some present world conflicts in context. Many people have studied the Bible for years and know the Jewish interpretation and the Christian interpretation about Father Abraham. But in these articles we will also study Abraham, or Ibrahim as he is known by Muslims, and their interpretation will present many new facts that differ from Jewish and Christian understanding. Iraq, Syria, The West Bank, Palestinians, Jews, Arabs, Christians no one man straddles all of these as does Abraham. He was known at the beginning as Abram, but this was changed subsequently to Abraham (Gen. 17:5). Terah, his father, moved to Haran (in modern Syria) with the family (Gen. 11:31) and after some years died there. All religions testify God called Abram to migrate to Canaan, assuring him that he would father a vast nation in that land of modern Israel he would inhabit.

Abram wanted offspring and when his wife Sarai produced no children, he took her servant girl Hagar as a concubine. She conceived and produced a son Ishmael. All Arabs see Ishmael, the first born, as their ancestor and hence the one through whom they receive Abrahams inheritance. But Ismael, according to the Jewish scriptures (The Old Testament) was not destined to become Abram's promised heir. Then Sarais name was changed to Sarah meaning "princess". In advanced old age, she conceived and had her long-promised son, Isaac, which means "laughter". This was Abrahams reaction when told he would have a son through Sarah. Ishmael's presence with his mother Hagar caused trouble in the family, and he and his mother were expelled into the wilderness. Ishmaels descendants became known as the Arab tribes and he is highly revered among the Muslims. Abraham's faith and obedience were tested by God in Moriah when he was commanded to sacrifice the remaining son, Isaac. At the last moment, after Abraham was prepared to do even this, God provided an alternative sacrifice, saving the boy's life. As a reward for Abraham's faithfulness, God renewed the covenant promises of great blessing and the growth of a mighty nation to father and son. Isaacs sons gave rise to the Jewish nation which highly reveres him. As we will see in a later article, Muslims dispute this interpretation of events. According to the Jewish scriptures, Abraham recognized God as the Almighty Lord of all and the Author of a covenant by which the Hebrews (Jews) would become a mighty nation. Abraham instituted the practices of circumcision and tithing as signs of being a Jew. God Himself was known subsequently as the God of Abraham (Exo. 3:6). Through him God revealed His plan for human salvation (Exo. 2:24). The promises to Abraham became assurance for future generations (Exo. 32:13; 33:1). Abraham became known as "God's friend forever" (2 Chron. 20:7). Christians honour Abraham as the father of the Jewish people and whose example of obedient faith can lead us to salvation. John the Baptist claimed that physical descent from Abraham did not guarantee salvation (Matt. 3:9) as the Jews believed. Indeed, foreigners would join him in Gods kingdom (Matt. 8:11). Jesus taught that true children of Abraham do the works of Abraham, that is, have obedient faith (John 8:39). Paul said Abraham was the great example of faith (Romans 4; Gal. 3). In Hebrews Abraham provided the model for tithing (Heb. 7) and of obedient faith (Heb. 11).

James used Abraham to show that justification by faith is proved in the good works we do (James 2: 21-24). Abraham, until recently, has not received the credit he deserves as a religious innovator of the basic belief of there being only one God, monotheism, a foundational plank of the Jewish, Christian and Islamic faiths; the instigator of circumcision, tithing, the Covenantal promise of establishing a great nation and inhabiting a promised land. Abraham is on par as a pioneer with Moses and Paul. Abraham changed the world. Jews, who consider him their own, are largely unaware of Abraham's presence in Christianity in contexts ranging from the Roman Catholic Mass to a Protestant children's song ("Father Abraham had many sons / And I am one of them and so are you ... "). Neither Jews nor Christians know much about Abraham's role in Islam. Muslims acknowledge the Old Testament but with significant changes as we will see in later articles. These changes are included in the Koran, in passages that cover the same events as the Old Testament. With conflict around the world between Jews and Arabs, Christians and Muslims, it is time we made a considered study of Abraham. Perhaps we will find in him some common ground, which might aid reconciliation between the major faiths and races. 1. OBEDIENT FAITH IS ESSENTIAL TO GOD. The real fruit of the true teacher lies in the transformed characters of people who do the will of God. That is the test of good and bad fruit: people who do the will of God, who grow in grace and seek to be perfect as the Father in heaven is perfect. In the Bible, disobedience to what God requires is presented as lack of faith. If you have faith you will obey. Faith and obedience belong together. Disobeying God is a sign that you do not believe at all! God demands obedience, to know God is to obey all He requires. God said in the Old Testament to His followers: It is the LORD your God you must follow, and Him you must revere. Keep His commands and obey Him (Deut. 13:4). God expects of His people obedience. God did not give Ten Suggestions to consider which we might follow, but Ten Commandments which we would obey. The Old Testament made it clear that God's blessings were dependent upon the believers' obedience Follow my decrees and be careful to obey my laws, and you will live safely in the land (Lev. 25:18). God said:

I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing if you obey the commands of the LORD your God that I am giving you today; the curse if you disobey the commands of the LORD your God and turn from the way that I command you (Deut. 11:26-28). The Jewish nation was to be judged on its obedience to the commands and requirements of God. Abraham gave the great example of being faithful and obedient to God. This the Jews hold to be true. 2. OBEDIENT FAITH WAS A MARK OF JESUS. His obedience to His parents as a child is mentioned by Dr Luke following His childhood visit to the Temple and His discussions with the theologians. Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them (Luke 2:51). Reflecting on His life Jesus said: I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in His love (John 15:10). But His obedience to the Father's will before the Cross was the point that remained in the minds of the Gospel writers. They knew that the life of Jesus was following not His own will, but His Father's will. Being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross! (Phil. 2:8). The writer of the letter to the Hebrews (5:8) sums it up "Although He was a son, He learned obedience from what He suffered." His obedience to God was seen at the beginning of His ministry in His baptism. He walked to the place where John was calling people to repentance and baptism in the River. Crowds had been coming to John to hear what this strange man of the desert had to say. He was taken back by the request of Jesus. Jesus convinced John that His baptism was necessary. So John baptized Jesus (Matt. 3:13-17). Did you note the reply of Jesus? "Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfil all righteousness." His baptism was the outward sign of His obedient heart and of His dedication to God's will. When Jesus said, "It is proper for us to fulfill all righteousness". He deliberately used the plural "It is proper for us". The demand for our obedience has never been revoked. Christians hold this to be true. 3. OBEDIENT FAITH IS EXPECTED OF US. Even among those who have chosen Him there are two responses which are far from satisfactory. Some followers sin with empty words, saying the right thing but not doing anything for God's kingdom. Others sin by listening to His word without obeying it. That is how Jesus concludes the Sermon on the Mount, by asking us to back our words with our deeds. Jesus confronts

us with the radical choice between obedience and disobedience, and calls us to an unconditional commitment of mind, will and life. He warns us of two unacceptable alternatives, first a merely verbal profession (Matt. 7:21-27) and secondly a merely intellectual knowledge. Neither can be a substitute for obedience; indeed each may be a camouflage for disobedience. Jesus emphasizes that our eternal destiny depends on obedient faith. Jesus says: Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers! (Matt. 7:21-24). Jesus is not impressed by our pious and orthodox words. Mere speaking and praising is not enough. He asks for evidence of our sincerity in our good works of obedience. It is not the one who says he knows Jesus or who believes certain facts about Him. It is the one who does the Father's will. If a person lives a life of disobedience, it will not matter what he says. Practical obedience to God's will is our faith response. Obedient faith, as modeled by Abraham, is as concerned with doing the will of God as with affirming the facts of true doctrine. Islam, Judaism and Christianity all get that from Abraham. Faith and obedience belong together. This was the hallmark of Abraham and is why is meant by our hymn, Trust and obey, for there is no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey. We read of the early Church, The word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith. (Acts 6:7). Paul said this also, We received grace and apostleship to call people from among the Gentiles to obedience that comes from faith. (Romans 1:5). Obedient faith! That was it! We have faith, so we are obedient to God. Jesus made this clear: Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock (Matt. 7:24). It was not possible to be a person of faith and to be disobedient to His commands commands that effect our personal lives, our moral behaviour, our intellectual belief, our social attitudes, our racial prejudices, our political allegiances the whole of life must be brought under faithful obedience to Him. That was the great lesson we have learnt from Abraham.

That was the obedient faith that Abraham demonstrated in absolute trust in God and his obedient behaviour. You can offer no less.

Venturing into the Unknown

Recently my wife Beverley and I followed in the footsteps of Charles Sturt. Sturt was that heroic Australian explorer, who from 1828 to 1846, charted some of our greatest rivers including the Darling, the Murray, the Brogan, the Castlereagh, and the Murrumbidgee. I was always captivated by how he led his small band of starving men rowing up against the flooded Murray and Murrumbidgee from its mouth in South Australia, back to safety in New South Wales, against hostile Aborigines and without adequate food. It is one of the great sagas of Australian history of brave men who ventured into the unknown. In 1829 Charles Sturt discovered the Darling River and came to the area later where Bourke would be established. It was extremely hot 46 degrees Celsius or 114 degrees Fahrenheit. Normally, huge areas of land are planted in cotton, grapes and citrus crops. The river supports sheep and cattle, all of which are suffering incredibly because of this long drought. The mighty Darling River, once the home of scores of paddle steamers, drains from central Queensland down to the great Southern Ocean some 3000 kilometres. The river runs deep and in flood times wide as some states, moving the same quantity of water as is in Sydney Harbour through Bourke every day. But while we were there all was dry. The river is not running. The mighty river is just a series of water holes. The river is dry. The river has ceased to run. Back o Bourke is where the real Australian outback begins. Charles Sturt, the explorer, moved through this region not knowing where he was going. Perhaps he would discover a great inland sea. The quest drove him on through some of the worlds harshest terrain. The explorers walked through thousands of sand dunes, over saltpans, in blinding dust and heat driven by the dream of a promised land. Such venturing takes courage, strength and concentrated commitment. While I was in Bourke I was thinking of the example of Abraham in a similar harsh terrain. It is an amazing fact of history, that three of the biggest religions in the world, call one man father. Over the next weeks, we will

learn many new facts about Abraham that will help us understand some present world conflicts. God called Abram to migrate from the productive lands of southern Iraq thousands of miles to Canaan and assured him that he would father a vast nation in that land known today as Israel. By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going (Heb. 11:8). Like our Australian explorers, he ventured into a wide unknown. 1. ABRAHAMS CALL. Abraham was to Israel second only to Moses. In Christianity, Abraham is mentioned in the Christian scriptures 74 times. He was Pauls great example of how a person becomes right with God through his obedient faith. All greatness can be traced back to a calling. Abraham had a definite call from God, but it was going to be a big leap, or venture, of faith. Terah and his family, including Abraham and Lot, had left Ur of the Chaldeans and travelled as far as Haran, en route to the land of Canaan (Gen. 11:31). There is no mention of the call of God until Chapter 12 after the death of Terah. We are explicitly told that Ur of the Chaldeans, not Haran, was the place of Abraham's birth (11:28-31). Thus when the command is given Abraham to leave the place of his birth your country only Ur of the Chaldeans is meant. That is significant. The call of Abraham from Ur is mentioned also in the Book of Nehemiah (9:7) and in The Acts Of the Apostles (7:2-3). By putting the call of Abraham within the setting of Ur of the Chaldeans, the author aligns his narrative with themes that will prove central in later prophetic literature. For Isaiah the "glory of the Chaldeans" (13:19) is the city of Babylon. The Chaldeans were those who later enslaved God's people and carried them off into captivity. As Abraham was to be called from "Ur of the Chaldeans," so God would call all those future exiles who, in faith, wait for their return to the Promised Land. The prophet Micah pictured the remnant that awaited the return from exile as descendants of Abraham faithfully trusting in God's promise to lead them home (Micah 7:18-20). God would one day call them as He did Abraham. 2. ABRAHAMS OBEDIENCE.

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God (Hebrews 11:8-10). Gods call received the desired response: Abraham obeyed. "When called" translates a present participle that indicates a very prompt obedience. "He obeyed the call (as it were) while it was still ringing in his ears". His prompt obedience took him out to a region as yet unknown to him but which he would later receive "as his possession", "inheritance". The last half of this verse is a classical statement of the obedience of faith. We like to know where we are going and to choose our own way. But the way forward can be obscure. Abraham was one who could go out, knowing that it was right to do so, but not knowing where it would all lead. God told him to go "to the land that I will show you" (Gen. 12:1). That required obedient faith. 3. ABRAHAMS FAITH. Paradoxically, when he got to the land of Canaan that God had promised to him, Abraham lived in it, not as its owner, but as a resident alien. The verb translated "made his home" is not normally used of permanent residence but, it means to "inhabit ... as a stranger" like some of our illegal immigrants from Iraq and other Middle eastern places, who have come here, but who do not yet belong. They are still aliens, and may have yet to pass on to some other place. Abraham was eventually to go to Egypt. It was not till some time after he reached Canaan that he was informed that this was the land God would give his descendants (Gen. 12:7). To leave the certainties one knows and go out into what is quite unknown, relying on nothing other than the Word of God, is the essence of faith, as the author sees it. There was no proof able to be given to others just faith in God. The phrase, "The promised land" is found only here in the Bible. As the context plainly shows it means Canaan, or Israel, on todays maps. But there is a deeper meaning. The promised land also means heaven. The earthly Canaan is a foretaste of God's heavenly country where we will be citizens not just passing aliens. Though Canaan was to be his own land in due course, Abraham, when he first arrived, had to live there as though "in a foreign country." He had no rights. He and his household lived in tents, in temporary dwellings. The whole land had been promised to him. Yet Abraham did not even have

a proper house in it. The verb rendered "lived" has the notion of settling down. It is normally used of a continuous, permanent dwelling. But Abraham's permanent dwelling place in Canaan was a temporary tent! Right to the end of his life the only piece of the country he owned was the field he purchased as Sarah's burial place (Gen. 23). God "gave him no inheritance here, not even a foot of ground" as the Acts of the Apostles puts it (7:5). Abraham did not end up with much of this worlds goods and possessions. But incredibly, he became the father of a great nation. Charles Sturt revealed the secrets of our inland and chartered our greatest rivers. But every opportunity of reward and return on his investment of time and life eluded him. He owned only a little of this country he had opened up when he died. Sometimes God calls us in a clear but unexpected way. If we obey, we also must venture into the unknown. We will be required to live in faith. We may not receive a great reward, but God knows our faithfulness, and there is reserved for us an eternal home in heaven. I met two Abrahams while there. Both women. Both without children. Both from the midlands of England. Both were teachers and trained child-care workers. In their church two years ago, they had a calling of God to go into the unknown the outback of Australia where God would show them the work He had for them among children in need. By a series of unmistakable miracles, they have ended in Bourke. At 46 degrees Celsius (114 degrees Fahrenheit) the weather was totally opposite what they had been used to in England. They had no money, but from a source totally unexpected they were given $25,000 as a deposit upon a large house. They were given two teaching jobs. They have no visas to work or to stay, but the police have been bringing them abandoned indigenous children for their care. Now, without resources they have been given a second house. There are more children arriving. Food and provisions arrive. They have gone where they were led. They are trusting God for all of the outcomes. The story is unfinished. For the local police, their presence is a godsend. For the local Christians, their service in Gods name is inspirational. For the public servants in the Immigration Department, they are a nightmare, because they do not fit into

any of the categories. They have ventured into the unknown, not knowing where, knowing only that God is going with them. They trust Him. Maybe God will give them an inheritance of children beyond their dreams. It has happened before to those who have had faith and trusted God. Here is Miss Abraham in duplicate, back O Bourke. When God calls you venture into the unknown, heed His call and obey. Who knows? It may be to the adventure of your life!

The Promised Land

Many people seek a promised land somewhere. It is the place of their dreams. It may be a new country. After every war there are hordes of refugees travelling from one country to another seeking their promised land. Today in Australia we have Iranian refugees, Iraqi illegal immigrants and detained boat people who have destroyed their papers preventing their repatriation back to their country of origin. This looks like a Promised Land to them and they want to stay. Sometimes the Promised Land is the work of a dreamer like William Lane. He envisaged a socialist utopia called New Australia that was founded in Paraguay in 1893. Sometimes the Promised Land is a new beginning. It is shifting to a new town, a new home, beginning with a new identity. The promise is there. A new spouse, a new house, a new figure, a new job, people everywhere seeking new satisfaction in some promised land! I admire people who undertake such steps in faith. One of the young men who grew up in Wesley Mission with our children felt the call to ministry. He trained, is married with a family and has had a very good, long first ministry. But he has put on a lot of weight. That leads for loss of selfesteem, dissatisfaction with other people, a critical attitude to what is happening, and that in turn leads to feelings of self-centeredness and overeating. It is a vicious circle. But he has sought his promised land new church, new location, new home and a new figure! He lost 36 kilos by diet. That is the weight of a bag of chook pellets or a bag of cement! He looks trim, taut and terrific. He has arrived at a new town, new church and a new image! The promised land is an encouragement for everyone. The dream helps them achieve it. 1. ABRAHAMS CHILDREN. Given conflict between Israel and the Arabs, some do not believe the two nations are closely related. But they both have Abraham as father and both the Jews and the Arabs descend from the nomadic tribes that wandered the Arabian peninsula in ancient times. Abraham's call was God's gift of salvation in the midst of judgment. Abraham's call and blessing comes after an earlier account of a similar gift of salvation in the midst of judgment, the conclusion of the Flood of Noahs time. Genesis 8:15-19 The similarities between the two narratives are striking, showing that Abraham, like Noah,

marks a new beginning as well as a return to God's original plan of blessing "all mankind". The relationship between Jews and Muslims is complex. It is true that theologically Islam's Holy Book the Koran does criticize Jews and Islam's Prophet Muhammad is on public record as having been angry with Jewish communities living in the midst of the early Islamic communities. Scholars have speculated that he regarded Judaism - then well established in the Arabian peninsular - as more of a threat to the infant Islam than anything else. In any case, both Muslim fundamentalists and hardline Israelis have seized on this portion of the Islamic tradition to prove that the Arab-Israeli conflict is nothing less than a continuous Holy War between Judaism and Islam. Christians are quoted in the Koran as the slaves of Satan, infidels and friends of the Jews and they too deserved to be destroyed. Today in Morocco, Sudan, Egypt, many parts of Africa, the Middle East, Indonesia, West Papua, the Philippines and other countries, Christians are killed and persecuted by Muslims as are Jews. 2. ABRAHAMS PROMISE. God gave to Abraham a promise that included heirs, land and being a blessing to others. God's plan of salvation and blessing to His people, is one of the unifying themes of the Old and New Testaments. God's promise begins with a declaration by God. It covers God's future plan for not just one race, but all the nations of the earth. It focuses on the gifts and deeds that God will bestow on a few to benefit the many. We may define God's promise this way: it is the divine assurance given first to Eve, Shem, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and then to the whole nation of Israel, that the Almighty God would be their God, that they would be His people, and that He would dwell in their midst. To enable this He will bless them with land and growth as a nation. These words and deeds of God began to constitute the continuously unfolding divine plan by which all the peoples and nations of the earth would benefit from that day to this. For Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Patriarchs of Israel, the triple promise included: (1) the promise of offspring (Gen. 12:7; 15:4; 17:16,19; 21:12; 22:16-18; 26:3-4,24; 28:13-14; 35:11-12);

(2) the promise of land (Gen. 12:1,7; 13:17; 15:18; 17:8; 24:7; 26:3-5; 28:13,15; 35:12; 48:4; 50:24); (3) the promise of being a blessing on all the nations (Gen. 12:3; 18:18; 22:17-18; 26:4; 28:14). They are heirs to the inheritance and the blessing of the gospel. The promise is to all generations so Abraham's descendants had to transmit the promise to subsequent generations until the final Seed, Jesus the Messiah, came. They too had to participate personally by faith. The promise plan of God is both in His person and His works, to communicate a blessing to Israel and thereby to bless all the nations of the earth. The descendents of Abraham had this promise. 3. ABRAHAMS LAND. God told Abraham to go to the land that I will show you (Gen. 12:1). Only after he reached Canaan was he told that this was the land God would give his descendants (Gen. 12:7). Originally Palestine was only the coastline of the land of Canaan (Exodus 15:14; Isaiah 14:29, 31; Joel 3:4). Abrahams promised land was called variously: "the land of the Hebrews", "the holy land", the "land of promise", the "land of Canaan", the "land of Israel", and the "land of Judah". This is the Jewish version of the events. Abrahams land was bounded on the east by the River Euphrates in Iraq, on the west by the Mediterranean, on the north by Iran and on the south by the river Nile in Egypt. This territory, about 60,000 square miles, was conquered by King David, and ruled over by his son Solomon (2 Samuel 8; 1 Chronicles 18; 1 Kings 4:1, 21). This vast area is the Promised Land occupied today by both Jews and Muslims, Israelis and Arabs. The internal borders are in dispute. What we called Israel is only part of it. No single country has so great a variety of climate, and hence also of plant and animal life. In the time of Christ, the country looked, in all probability, much as now. There is no Biblical reason why part of this area cannot be called Palestine and be divided from Israel as a home for the Palestinians. Israel believes it should not give up any territory it has won by grant or victory in war. The Muslims believe they too should share in Abrahams inheritance of land as his descendents. Christians own none of the land but want to live there simply as Jewish Christians or Palestinian Christians. The

land could be divided by rational compromise with freedom for all. A number of world leaders and the United Nations propose this. 4. ABRAHAMS PARADOX. Paradoxically, when he got to the land of Canaan that God had promised to him, Abraham lived in it, not as its owner, but as a resident alien. The verb translated "made his home" is not used of permanent residence but, it means to "inhabit as a stranger" as illegal immigrants live in Australia today. "The promised land" was to be his own land in due course, but Abraham lived there as though "in a foreign country." He had no rights. He and his household lived in tents, in temporary dwellings. The whole land had been promised to him. Yet Abraham did not even have a proper house in it. Abraham's permanent dwelling place in Canaan was a tent! Right to the end of his life the only piece of the country he owned was the field he purchased as Sarah's burial plot (Gen. 23). God "gave him no inheritance here, not even a foot of ground" (Acts 7:5). Nor was it any better with Isaac and Jacob, his son and grandson. They shared the same promises. They were the descendants through whom God's purpose would be worked out. However, they had no more share in Canaan than Abraham did. Toward the end of Jacob's life the clan went down to Egypt, and when they came back many years later, it was not as sojourners but as a mighty people who made the land their own. The lives of the three patriarchs thus cover the whole time of the temporary dwelling in the land. When the descendants arrived back from Egypt, the land was not empty. They had to fight and defeat tribes who occupied the land. The land ever since has been the subject of wars and occupying forces, and local resistance to occupation. What lessons can we learn from all of this? Look again at the promise: The LORD had said to Abram, Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you. "I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you (Gen. 12:1-3). The descendants of Abraham, through Ishmael are Arabs and through Isaac, Jews. The Arab race is predominantly Muslim. Both occupy the Promised Land. Jewish Christians and Arab Christians should have the right to live in it, as people of other lands have the right to live here, provided

they abide by the laws of the country. To preserve peace there is no scriptural reason why Palestinians should not have a place they can call their own. Christians should not recognize Jews as the only people who can inhabit the Promised Land. Evangelical Christians especially have to change their views on this. There are other insights here as well. You will remember that when Abraham was in his promised land he did not recognize it. So he went to live in Egypt thinking it had the answers to famine and drought. Many people think the answers to their problems are always somewhere else. They are never content, always looking elsewhere. Some people are always looking for the new: new place, new spouse, new house, new location, new friends: always dissatisfied, always looking. Never belonging, always discontented. The lesson of Abraham is that the Promised Land is exactly where you are. Bloom where you are planted. Lovely lilies can bloom in mud. This is not to disparage the new or the adventure. But so many people never arrive because they are always travelling. When you find your Promised Land, it may not be all you dreamed, but make the most of what youve got. Otherwise you will spend your life dissatisfied and miserable. That also applies to your family. Usually families are not perfect, but they are yours. Your husband could be improved or traded in, but there is noone perfect in this life, and so many people have learned the hard way that the new does not always satisfy more than the old. This does not mean you should be trapped in a marriage that is abusive and demeaning. What it does mean is the grass on the other side of the fence is not always greener. The dream of a Promised Land somewhere else can drive you on and make the prospect of the future exciting. But if you have been searching for a long time, if the prospects seem no closer, if the journey is too exhausting, then why not take stock of your situation and ask: Am I already in my Promised Land, only I cannot recognize it? Can I make more of what I already have? Can I bloom where I am planted? Can I stop travelling and discover I have already arrived? Can I make the most of what I have already got? These are the questions the children of Abraham still have to answer. The great thing about Abraham was his faith in God. It was His faith that saved him and marked him out. That faith is something we all can emulate. Abrahams faith made him, and it can make you too.

Looking for a City

In the Middle East, the conflict between Jew and Muslim, between Israel and Lebanon, between Israel and the Palestinians, and also between the coalition of the Western-willing and the regimes of Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan, has centred on military attacks upon cities. We have seen every night on television the ruins of cities, the streets burning and littered with concrete and twisted steel, and in between the bodies of civilians. Warfare is always an attack against cities. Today the first stage of the war is a massive air strike with the new E-bombs. Delivered by a cruise missile, the E-bomb will explode to emit a high-energy pulse like a bolt of lightning that fuses electrical equipment. All electricity will fail. Airconditioners will stop. Lights will fail. Computers will melt down. Phones will go silent. Water and sewerage pumps cease. The city is in darkness. The desired effect of the first nights bombing is to so stun and demoralise the local army they will quickly give up and turn on their government. The United States Armed Forces would also drop 3,000 precision-guided bombs and missiles on military targets the same night. Resistance will be short-lived. That is the philosophy of warfare on todays cities. It is high-tech war. No lumbering tanks. No skies filled with planes dropping bombs at random. No great guns booming into the night sky. The army is designed to be a nimble force that can see the whole battlefield at night, can act quickly, using its superior information and its high-precision firepower to disable enemy units before they can respond. In the Middle East however things can go wrong. A sandstorm may blind eye-in-the-sky satellites and crash helicopters. Wars can go as planned provided our communication links do not go down and the new gizmos work! Arab-language broadcasts and leaflets from the sky try to convince the people that the Western forces have come as liberators, not as occupiers. They call this doing a Joshuaafter the Biblical Joshua, whose mighty trumpets blew down the walls of Jericho. The goal is not to massacre Muslim armies. They will be needed for the new government after the war. Hopefully, in this kind of a war, casualties among civilians will be light. However that has not been our experience to date in Iraq or Lebanon.

Urban fighting is horrendous. We have seen in these past weeks, armed civilians resisting all invaders. Invading forces do not want to get bogged down by wild, young terrorists and street fighters. If there is retaliation on us, it will be a chemical, explosive or biological terrorist attacks upon our cities, notably Sydney and Canberra, London, Paris, New York and Washington. We are not prepared. What if Sydneys citizens face terrorist attacks here? Christians oppose war and seek peace. Yet Muslim extremists see this as their finest hour, volunteering to be martyrs, gaining world attention, creating fear in countries they loathe, becoming a dominant force in Western regions. It is hard for righteous people to accept this. It is hard to allow dictators to bully their own and threaten us. It is easy to chant No more war. but it is another thing to know what to do with an international terrorist threat. If we refuse to fight, what do Middle Eastern dictators do? Many say they want to wait until we have a UN Security Council vote and peace-keeping forces in place. That will come. What then? Has anything changed except you now have some company going to war? Does the UN vote actually mean anything? The UN has done nothing to help the hundreds of thousands who have died in Kosovo, Zimbabwe, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Ambon, Arche, Nigeria, North Korea and a dozen more places suffering international terrorism. Where is our sense of justice if we wait for others to act first? Can peace be better achieved by pre-emptive strikes? We disarm them before they get us? History shows that this has sometimes shortened potential conflicts. Anglican Bishop Tom Frame, recently wrote: We must also assess the cost of allowing Iraq to retain Weapons of Mass Destruction, recognise the price paid by the Iraqi people for the continuation of this evil regime, and the damage to the standing of the UN if its authority is challenged and its resolutions are again ignored. The price of inaction will be much greater in the long term. The Church has rejected the way of the Crusades, the way of pacifism, and usually supports war only if it is just. If we reject the theory of a just war, is doing nothing, just? Is that Christian? Alternatively, can we have a pre-emptive humanitarian strike? That is, bomb them with bread and butter, medical supplies and international aid from welfare organisations? Would that be a better way of disarming a dictator leading to his downfall? We have to have a motivation beyond revenge, acquisition of more territory, emasculating a dictator or preserving oil. What should motivate us?

There may be this alternative way in the story of the father of Jews, Christians and Arabs. Abraham, father of Judaism, Islam and Christianity, was granted a promised land. He went seeking it. But what drove him was not power, wealth, or dominance. What motivated Abraham was the vision of a heavenly city! Not the cities of earth but of heaven. Not doing his own will but Gods. Not his own power but Gods. When Abraham invaded the land of Canaan he lived in it, not as its owner, but as a resident alien. His eyes were always on another city whose architect and builder was God. By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God (Hebrews 11:8-10). Abrahams ultimate goal was not the invasion of Canaan but so acting as to enter God's heavenly country. Canaan was to be his own land, but, Abraham lived there as though in a foreign country. He and his household lived in temporary dwellings. Abraham looked forward to the city with foundations. The heavenly city had God as the architect and builder of the the heavenly Jerusalem (Hebrews 12:22). This thought recurs in The Revelation of St John (3:12, 21:10). This "city with permanent foundations" is eternal, owing everything to God, who is its "architect and builder." More than Canaan was in Abraham's mind when he went out in faith. Abraham acted justly in his invasion of Canaan and showed benevolence towards the local inhabitants because he kept his eye upon heaven. The antidote to war lies in the spiritual commitment of our people. Mankind has always built cities. At the dawn of history the Bible records the first cities being built (Gen. 10). As soon as mankind achieves the level of civilisation he builds a city. We have children and build cities. We cannot do without our children and our cities. Even those destroyed by wars are rebuilt on old guidelines. The destiny of Christians lies not in conquered cities but in the New Jerusalem. This is an amazing fact - that when the world ends it will be with a city. Heaven in the Christian concept has nothing to do with an earthly paradise, a rural scene, floating clouds, green pastures, or idyllic, primitive Edens. Other religions of the world see a return to a primeval state of bliss, or an Islamic oasis. But the Christian believes the world will end in the city of God! The Greek and Latin myths of Arcadia were all of a return to a

primitive state of Eden. But the Christian concept be-gins with a garden but ends in a city. The Romans never pictured a heavenly Rome, nor the Greeks a divine Acropolis, but the prophets of Israel saw a New Jerusalem. The Christian concept is that God takes into account man's creativity and transcends it to perfection. God accepts man's concept into the divine, not because of the brilliance of men, but because of God's grace. The new heavenly Jerusalem requires no effort of man. It is the creation of God. Here is a great insight: all of our activities centring in earthly cities lead ultimately to death, but God brings life in the creation of a new, eternal city. God does not reject our buildings. It is the city as a spiritual force that God rejects. God separates us from the principalities and powers of the city and glorifies the city of His own making. Spiritual darkness still rules this world forcing nations to fight. We can draw up beautiful plans for high-rise flats, cloverleaf freeways, and underground railways, but good intentions lead only to greater slums, higher pollution, and underground passages for violence and obscenity. We can never improve humanity by our own efforts by either building new cities or bombing old ones. The problem lies within the unregenerate forces within people and the spiritual darkness of the human heart! That is what we must attack in Iraq, Lebanon, Israel and at home the spiritual darkness in the human heart! The attack must be a spiritual one. Only God can free us from being the playthings of spiritual forces. God in Christ frees people to live in this world, to seek the welfare of others and to work for the common good in anticipation of a New Jerusalem. God has made all things new. He chooses a new setting for humanity as we wanted, except that instead of us wanting to be away from God, we will now rejoice in God's presence as the very centre and light of the new city. All things on heaven and earth are to be united in Christ Jesus (Eph. 1:10). "The greatness and the wealth of the earth's nations will be brought into the heavenly city" (Rev. 21:26). Peace then reigns. Then we will live in harmony with ourselves, our environment, and our God. Until God brings forth his New Jerusalem, Christians are to work within the cities of mankind for the welfare of all. We are to be witnesses to God, remembering that everything ultimately depends upon God's grace and pardon. While we await the New Jerusalem, the Church lives as part of God's colony in the cities of men working for the welfare of all.

An early Christian writer in The Epistle to Diognetus Chapter 10 makes this clear: "Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country nor language nor the customs which they observe. They neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, but inhabit Greek as well as barbarian cities, and following the customs of the natives in respect of clothing and food. They dwell in their own country, but only as aliens. As citizens they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as foreigners. Every foreign land is their fatherland and every fatherland a foreign land." For when we desire heaven, we treat earth differently. Our destiny lies in a heavenly city. They were longing for a better country-a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them (Heb. 11:16). Meanwhile the West may make war on Iraq and Israel on Lebanon and Lebanon on Israel. If so, our role then will have to be the most amazing response of humanitarian aid. The cities of those countries will require our mercy, and the people in our cities must be ready to help. There is no city on earth worth the price of war. Not to do anything in the face of a madman bent on murderous acts against nations, may increase the suffering of all people. But our response must always be to love those who persecute us, and rebuild their lives with our love. We have to keep our eyes, looking towards the city of God.

Ishmael and the Arabs

A number of scholars, looking at the international conflicts between Jew and Arab, Christian and Muslim, have turned to Abraham, hoping to find some points of mutual understanding that could lead to possible inter-racial reconciliation. Their search has been in vain. Jews and Muslims, who control the source material, cannot agree on the source material they hold in common. Abraham lived about 2000 BC in what we now call Iraq. He shifted into what we now call Iran, and later lived in what we now call Israel. Arabs are descended physically from Abrahams first-born son, Ishmael. Jews are descended physically from Abrahams second-born son, Isaac. Christians who grew up on the Old Testament teaching look back to Abraham spiritually as the father of all three mono-theistic faiths we all believe in only one God, the supreme Almighty. What do Arab Muslims believe about father Abraham and his first-born son, Ishmael? To understand that we need to look beyond the Jewish sources to the Muslim accounts in the Koran, the Islamic Holy Book. This was written about 1700 years after the Jewish Torah (the earliest books of the Old Testament.) Muslims believe Allah, the Muslim name for God, through the Angel Gabriel, inspired the account that was written by Muhammad. It has much in common with the Jewish scriptures and some say a disaffected Jew aided Muhammad in writing the story. Christians do not believe the Koran account. Both accounts agree that Abraham was responsible for stressing the uniqueness of God, the one God. Moses and Jesus are regarded as prophets. But Muhammad is the last and supreme prophet. 1. FATHER ABRAHAM God promised Abraham land and descendants. The stirring first words of Genesis 12 are often referred to as the Call: The LORD had said to Abram, Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you (Gen. 12:1-3).

Abraham would appear ill suited to the job. To make a nation, one must have an heir, and he is a childless 75-year-old whose wife Sarah is past menopause. He and Sarah set off into the desert and come to Canaan. As they travel, God elaborates on his offer. Abraham's children will be as numerous as grains of dust on the earth and stars in the sky. They will spend 400 years as slaves but ultimately possess the land from the Nile to the Euphrates. The pact is sealed in a mysterious ceremony in a dream, during which the Lord puts Himself formally under oath and requires from Abraham the sign of the Covenant on his body, initiating the Jewish and Muslim custom of circumcision of boys. He is now committed to "keep the way of the Lord to do righteousness and justice." Many Jews (and some conservative Christians) believe it granted the Jewish people alone the right to the Holy Land. That belief fuels much of the Israeli settler movement and plays an ever-greater role in Israel's hostility toward Palestinian nationalists. The Israelis say: "Our connection to the land goes back to our first ancestor Abraham. Arabs have no right to the land of Israel," This argument infuriates Palestinian Muslims especially since the Koran claims that Abraham was not a Jew but Islam's first believer. The Muslims say: "The people who supported Abraham believed in one God and only one God, and that was the Muslims. Only the Muslims." Christians say Abraham found Gods grace outside Jewish law because of his faith, and consequently Christianity, which is based upon faith and grace, replaces Judaism. That has caused a great deal of anti-Semitism. Abraham's domestic life was a soap opera. Convinced she would have no children, wife Sarah offers him her young Egyptian slave Hagar to produce an heir (Gen. 12:1-3). It works. The 86-year-old fathers a boy, Ishmael. The story about Abram and Hagar is later used as a warning about taking wives from other races. To the Jews the story of Hagar and Ishmael is divine warning about interracial marriage. This became important to later generations of Israelites. Even though Ishmael was born to Hagar, God insists that Sarah herself will conceive, and in a wonder confirming Abraham's faith, she bears his second son, Isaac. Jealous of Hagar's and Ishmael's competing claims on her husband and his legacy, Sarah persuades Abraham to send them out into the desert. God saves them and promises Hagar that Ishmael will sire a great nation through 12 sons. These sons are today regarded as the founders of

the twelve tribes that grew out of Arabia and hence the Muslim community as we know it spread across the Middle East. 2. ABRAHAM THE MUSLIM No faith is as self-consciously monotheistic as Islam, and it embraces Abraham fully. Muslims regard him as one of the four most important prophets. So pure is his submission to the One God that Muhammad later says his own message is but a restoration of Abrahams faith. The Koran includes scenes from Abraham's childhood in which he chides his father for believing in idols. He survives, Daniel-like, in a fiery furnace to which he is condemned for his faithfulness to Allah. The biggest difference lies in the Korans version of Abraham's ultimate test, the offering of his son to God. Muslims believe it was Ishmael their father, not Isaac, the Jews father, that Abraham takes up Mt Moriah. In the Koran, Abraham tells his son of God's command, and the boy replies, "O my father! Do that which thou art commanded. Allah willing, thou shalt find me of the steadfast." The Koran adds, "They had both surrendered," using the verb whose noun form is the word Islam. The Old Testament says it was Isaac that was taken up the mountain, but the Koran does not specify which son God tells Abraham to sacrifice. Muslim interpreters a generation after Muhammad concluded that the prophet was descended from the slave woman Hagar's boy, Ishmael, their forefather. Later scholars determined that Ishmael was also the son who went under the knife. The decision effectively completed the Jewish disenfranchisement. Not only was the Jewish claim rejected, but their forefather Isaac lost his role in the great drama of surrender of Mt Moriah. So the faith stories have different heroes. Things went down hill from there. Jews took steps to cement Abraham's Jewish identity. Their teaching describes Abraham following The Law of Moses even though Moses lived 700 years later, and speaking Hebrew even though the language did not exist at Abrahams time. The Jews severely downgraded Ishmael. Initially Jewish parents named their boys after Abraham's Arab son, but that ended as they lived under Muslim rule. By the 11th century they described Ishmael as a "thief whom everybody hates," an insult that is still taught in many Jewish religious schools. Muslims by the 13th century struck back by claiming the Jews had "dishonestly and slanderously" introduced Isaac into the Old Testament story: "They forced this

understanding because Isaac is their father, while Ishmael is the father of the Arabs." Muslims repeat that today. Jews teach Ishmael was a bully and Isaac was a persecuted younger brother. That belief persists. Says an Israeli settler: The Muslims are very aggressive, like Ishmael, and the Jews are very passive, like Isaac, who nearly allows himself to be killed without talking back. That's why they are killing us, because we don't fight back." The Muslims say that any Jewish claims based in Genesis are "pure lies, aimed at achieving political gains, at imposing the sovereignty of Israeli occupation on the holy places." As in any war, the first casualty is truth. Christians who have grown up only hearing the Jewish side of the debate should be open to hearing the Muslim side. This does raise for us however, our understanding of the inspiration and authority of the Old Testament. 3. ISHMAEL, ACCORDING TO THE SCRIPTURES Ishmael was born at Mamre, when Abraham was eighty-six years of age, eleven years after his arrival in Canaan (Gen. 16:3; 21:5). At 3 years he was circumcised (Gen. 17:25) in accordance with the Divine command received by Abraham: Every male among you shall be circumcised (Gen. 17:10). This means Ishmael was party to the Covenant into which God had entered with Abraham. Ishmael would also inherit the Promised Land. Is this something we should be encouraging today as an answer to the Middle East conflict? He was certainly made to understand how much his father loved him and how deeply he was concerned about his spiritual welfare. Abraham considered Ishmael as his seed. His error was made clear to him when God promised him the birth of another son by Sarah. That seemed incredible Abraham being 100 years of age and Sarah 90. And yet, how could he disbelieve the word of God? His cherished belief about Ishmael, his doubts regarding the possibility of Sarahs motherhood, and the first faint glimmer of the real meaning of Gods promise, all these thoughts found their expression in the fervid wish to God: "If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!" (Gen. 17:18). Abraham came to understand God would favour Isaac. When Isaac was weaned, Ishmael was about 16 years of age. The weaning was made an occasion for great celebration. But it seems the pleasure of the day was marred by the objectionable behaviour of Ishmael. And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian mocking (Gen. 21:9). Her jealous motherly love made her react. Sarah objected to the bringing up her son with this older boy and

urged Abraham to send Ishmael and his mother away from Abrahams tents. So both Hagar and Ishmael were banished from the tents of Abraham with only some bread and a bottle of water. The two walked in the wilderness of Beersheba. The water was soon spent, and with it went all hope and energy. The boy, being faint with thirst and tired out by his constant walking in the fierce heat of the sun, seemed to be dying. His mother laid him in the shade. She lay down at a distance and expected the death of her son and herself. But God cared for them. For the second time Hagar had a marvelous experience. God heard the voice of the lad and comforted the unhappy mother. He renewed His promise regarding her son, and then He showed her the location of a nearby well. The lads life was saved and, growing up, he became in time an archer. He lived in the wilderness and was married by his mother to an Egyptian wife (Gen. 21:21). When Abraham died the two brothers met after being long separated. Isaac with his hundreds of household slaves, and Ishmael with his troops of wild retainers and half-savage allies, gathered before the cave of Machpelah, to pay the last duties to the father of the faithful. Ishmael had 12 sons regarded as the founders of the 12 Arabian tribes. The character of Ishmael is vividly depicted in the Jewish account: He shall be as a wild ass among men; his hand shall be against every man, and every mans hand against him. (Gen. 16:12). The nomads of the desert are today jealous of their independence, rejoicing in their wealth from oil, and still facing off the descendants of Abrahams son Isaac. How we need again to discover the grace of God who loves us all.

Isaac and the Jews

Everybody knows that Jews, when speaking of their faith and culture, refer to the patriarchs of their land and faith as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Isaac is the second of the patriarchs. He was the son of Abraham (Gen. 17:18; 21:3) and the father of Jacob (Gen. 25:26). Isaac is mentioned seventy times in the book of Genesis. The Isaac story is in chapters 17,18, 22 and 26. Isaac is the link that connects the history of Abraham to that of Jacob, the father of the tribes of Israel. This gives him his primary significance apart from the Jewish, Muslim and Christian traditions about his presence on Mt. Moriah. Genesis highlights the amused reaction that surrounds Isaac from before his birth. Both his mother and father burst out laughing (Gen. 17, 18) when they heard the unbelievable news that a hundred-year-old man whose wife was in her nineties, would bear a son. Isaac was circumcised eight days after his birth (Gen 21:3-5). At the time of his being weaned from his mother, his father gave a banquet (Gen 21:8). He grew up among his kinfolk, playing with his half-brother Ishmael up to the very day that Sarah drove Ishmael and his mother Hagar (Gen 21:9-21) out into the desert. We encounter Isaac again (Gen. 22) in the event that took place on Mt. Moriah, an event often designated the sacrifice of Isaac, when it really deals with the testing of Abraham. Abraham decides to marry off his son and asks his servant to find Isaac a wife among his relations in the home country (Gen 24:1-61). The servant returns with Rebekah. Isaac was forty years old at the time of his marriage and he and his wife would remain childless until twenty years later when Rebekah gave birth to twins (Gen. 25:21-28) Esau and Jacob. 1. THE UNUSUAL MOUNT MORIAH The Jews and the Muslims have conflict between the Korans version of Abraham's ultimate test, the offering of his son to God and the Jewish version in the Torah. Muslims believe it was Ishmael their father took, not Isaac. The Jews believe Abraham took Isaac up Mt Moriah. In the Koran, Abraham tells his son of God's command, and the boy replies, "O my father! Do that which thou art commanded. Allah willing, thou shalt find me of the steadfast." The Koran adds, "They had both surrendered," using the verb whose noun is the word Islam.

The Old Testament says Isaac was taken up the mountain. The Koran does not specify which son God tells Abraham to sacrifice. Muslim interpreters a generation after Muhammad concluded that the prophet was descended from the slave woman Hagar's boy, Ishmael. Later scholars confirmed Ishmael was the son who went under the knife. That decision effectively removed the Jews from Mt Moriah. Not only was the Jewish claim rejected, but their forefather lost his role in the great drama of surrender of Mt Moriah. Mt Moriah then, is absolutely sacred to both Jews and Muslims. The Jews believe Abraham was directed by God to take his son Isaac, to go into the land of Moriah, and there to offer him for a burnt offering upon a mountain which God would show him. There is little to identify it. Both Jews and Muslims believe Mt Moriah was a mountain, now within the walls of Jerusalem on which Solomons Temple was built. It is here that Jews believe Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac. The Muslims agree that this was the spot where Abraham was tested to sacrifice Ishmael and so on top of the Temple mount where Herods Temple once stood, they have built The Dome of the Rock Mosque. From this rock where the testing of Abraham occurred, Muslims believe Mohammad stepped and ascended into heaven. Therefore the foundations which include the famous Western Wall is the most sacred place of all Judaism, and on top of it, the Mosque which is sacred to Muslims. One further complication. When Abraham journeyed from the land of the Philistines, on the 3rd day he saw the place afar off (Gen. 22:4). This mountain farther to the north than Jerusalem, the Samaritans say is the scene of the sacrifice of Isaac, which was actually on their Mt Gerizim. 2. THE UNIQUE SACRIFICE So this is one of the world's most sacred sites, to both Jews and Arabs, the site of a Temple where animals were sacrificed on an altar. The blood of those animals was offered for the forgiveness of sins. Just outside those temple walls, 2000 years ago, another sacrifice was made that affects your future. The man who tried to kill Jesus shortly after his birth in Bethlehem - Herod the Great - was the great architect of the Jerusalem that Jesus came to

know. Herod had rebuilt the Temple over a period of 60 years, from 19 B.C., using 10,000 labourers and 1000 priests trained as masons. It was totally destroyed forty years after the death of Jesus just 7 years after its completion. All that remains is the Temple Platform on which the Temple was built. It was built on the highest point of Jerusalem, Mt Moriah. At a crisis point in the life of Abraham, Jews and therefore Christians believe God called Abraham to sacrifice his young son Isaac. As they climbed, young Isaac looked around and saw their donkey laden with wood, the bowls of burning coals, and his father with the sacrificial knife. Isaac said, Father, we have the wood, I see the knife, and we have the fire, but where is the sacrifice? Abraham said, Son, God will provide. As they neared the mountaintop, the lad spoke again. Father, we have the wood, we have the knife, we have the fire. Where is the sacrifice? His father said, Put your hands behind you, son, and he bound the lad, laid him on the wood, and took the knife. A voice called, Abraham, stay your hand. Look in the thicket. There in the bush was a ram, caught by its horns. Abraham took the ram and sacrificed it. He gave the mountain a special name, Jehovah-Jireh. The name means, The Lord provides. In the Scriptures we read that for our sin, loneliness, and helplessness, God will provide. Jehovah-Jireh! God will provide whatever you need. Paul wrote to the church at Philippi, My God will supply all your needs (Phil. 4:19). The Psalms say: Give yourself to the Lord; trust in Him, and He will help you (Psalms 37:5). Peter wrote: Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you (1Pet 5:7). God provides for all our anxiety, and for our need for a sacrifice for our sins. The concept of offering sacrifices is foreign to our understanding, but to Israel it was central to her worship. Israel had an agreement with God called a Covenant. God would be their God and bless them as a nation if they obeyed his laws. Their failure to be obedient meant they had to offer gifts of produce from the farms and vineyards, and the sacrifice of animals. The Patriarchs - Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses - all built altars and made sacrifices. The Temples of Solomon and Herod had huge altars where animal sacrifices were made. The more evil the sin, the more expensive the sacrifice. The wealthier the person, the more expensive the sacrifice. The Priest who sinned, or the wealthy man, had to sacrifice a bull, a chief had to sacrifice a he-goat, an

ordinary citizen a female lamb, a very poor person a dove, such as Mary and Joseph gave after the birth of Jesus. Part of the slain animal was burnt on the altar and the smoke was a sign of the person's repentance. The person who had sinned deserved to die, but a sacrifice was made instead - the blood of the animal being given in place of the blood of the person who deserved to die. The animal's life was the sinner's substitute. Jesus was seen as the Lamb of God, sacrificed for the sin of the world. Paul said: "Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed" (1Cor. 5:7). "God offered Him, so that by His death, He should become the means by which people's sins are forgiven through their faith in Him" (Rom. 3:25). Christ's death became an atoning sacrifice to enable the forgiving of our sins through His blood. Jesus was to replace the old sacrificial system with a unique sacrifice: His own death as the Lamb of God. Isaac Watts put it: "Not all the blood of beasts on Jewish altars slain, Could give the guilty conscience peace or wash away the stain. But Christ the heavenly Lamb, takes all our guilt away; A sacrifice of nobler name and richer blood than they." Jesus would be the unique sacrifice. His blood was powerful in its effect, cleansing all from sin. "His blood can make the foulest clean. His blood avails for me." We think of Jesus dying upon the Cross, shedding His blood as the sacrifice for our sins. His death upon the Cross is powerful in how it cleanses us from our sin. He was the unique Temple sacrifice for our sins, made once and for all. 3. THE ULTIMATE DIFFERENCE Jesus was to replace the old sacrificial system with the unique and ultimate sacrifice, His own death as the Lamb of God. Isaac Watts put it: "Not all the blood of beasts on Jewish altars slain, could give the guilty conscience peace or wash away the stain. But Christ the heavenly Lamb, takes all our guilt away; A sacrifice of nobler name and richer blood than they." Jesus was Gods provision as a sacrifice for our sin. "His blood can make the foulest clean. His blood avails for me." Jesus died upon the Cross, shedding His blood as the sacrifice for our sins. His death upon the Cross cleanses us from our sin. He was the ultimate sacrifice for our sins. Here is the ultimate difference between Islam, Judaism and Christianity. In Islam Abraham offers Ishmael his son, on Mt Moriah for the sake of Allah. Today multitudes of Muslims would offer their sons to die for the sake of Allah. In Judaism, Abraham had the faith to offer his son Isaac on Mt

Moriah, but God provided a substitute, a ram, whose blood was shed in the place of Abrahams son. So the animal sacrifices continued in the Temple. In Christianity, on Mt Calvary, God offers His Son to die for us, the Lamb of God who takes away our sin. God gives His son for us, not we give our sons for Allah. He died for us a perfect sacrifice. No other sacrifice is required. His was the unique and ultimate sacrifice. By faith we believe that Jesus died in our place, a substitute for each of us. Where Jesus died is marked today by The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The grey rock mass of Golgotha (or Calvary) inside is the most Christian place in the world. Just above the rock is a chapel shared by the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches. The Catholic side boasts three mosaics. In the centre is Mary; to the left is Christ, lowered from the Cross; and to the right is Abraham, about to slay Isaac who is bound on the altar in an image of Jesus sprawled on the Golgothas rock. The Apostle Paul proposed Isaac's binding and release was a prophetic foreshadowing of the Resurrection. The Apostle Paul reminds us of Abraham's original response to God's Call and through the old man's embattled faith, or "hope against hope," as Paul famously put it, that God would bring him a son. Such faith, Paul wrote, made Abraham "the father of all who believe." This means a believer no longer needs be Jewish or to follow Jewish law to be redeemedthe way now lay through faith in Christ. Because Abraham predated the Jewish law as brought down from the mountain by Moses, "the promise to Abraham and his descendants ... did not come through law." Nor, Paul argued, did it come through tribal inheritance. The God of the Hebrew Bible deemed Abraham to be "righteous" years before his circumcision, and years before he had a son. Abraham's children are people of faith and Baptism in faith brings you into Gods family. It was Abrahams faith that God would provide a sacrifice that led him to take Isaac to the top of the Mount. God did provide the sacrifice and on the top of Mt Calvary, God in his great love provided His own son as a sacrifice for our sin. Like Isaac, Jesus was bound at the place of sacrifice and God provided the sacrifice for our sin. Our faith in Jesus Christ enables us to have our sins forgiven and to receive the promises first made to Abraham.

Sarah the Princess

Some women live incredibly full lives. They possess multifaceted characters and are attractive people. Such a woman of our generation was Princess Diana. In the earliest annals of history, we read of Sarah the Princess, the wife of Abraham. She was such a woman. She was an intriguing woman, full of strength and character, marked by obvious flaws, and with a biography as complex as any we read today. In her early life she was known as Sarai (Gen. 17:15). The name means She that strives, meaning a contentious person. This is not a name that might be given to a child at birth but later when the childs character developed and the parents are frustrated with her argumentative and touchy nature. In Genesis 16:6 and 21:10 her contentious character appears. She first appears as a: 1. BEAUTIFUL PRINCESS Sarai was the name this woman brought with her from Mesopotamia. The name Sarah, which she received when her son was promised, means princess, for it is the feminine form of the title used by the Semites to designate a ruler. God also said to Abraham, As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her (Gen. 17:15-17). Sarah was called princess, but her behaviour was still contentious. She was also a half-sister to Abraham; they had the same father, but different mothers. Marriages within the family and tribe were common then. She was a beautiful princess. Twice she was desired by kings who wanted her in their harems. This was normally done to formalize an international treaty between two tribes or nations. The idea was that families linked by marriage would not go to war against each other. The first concerned the Egyptian pharaoh (Gen. 12). Due to a famine, Abraham, Sarah and their herds and servants traveled down into Egypt to get food. There Abraham was fearful that the locals would want her, and if they thought she was his wife, they would kill him and take her. So Abraham said:

"I know what a beautiful woman you are. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, 'This is his wife.' Then they will kill me but will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you." The deception worked until the Pharaoh found out, and fearful of the consequences returns her to Abraham. "What have you done to me?" he said. "Why didn't you tell me she was your wife? Why did you say, 'She is my sister,' so that I took her to be my wife? Now then, here is your wife. Take her and go!" Sometime later, they used the wife/sister deception again through the cowardice of her husband Abram. They were in the modern area of Gaza, in an area later inhabited by the Philistines. A local sheik Abimelech, King of Gerar, desiring to be allied by marriage with a man of Abrahams power, sends for Sarah, whom he knows only as Abrahams sister, and for the second time she takes her place in the harem of a prince. But the divine promise is not to be thwarted, even by persistent human weakness and sin. Abimelech discovers the true state of the case, and Sarah is restored to her husband with an indemnity. The beautiful princess was desired by powerful men who wanted a treaty with Abram. 2. COMPROMISED COMMITMENT There is a problem here of people lying to avoid trouble. Marriage then with half-sisters was common and the double relationship suggested to Abraham the expedient he twice used when he lacked faith in God to protect his life and in cowardice sought his own safety at the price of his wifes honour. Expediency is the way of a fearful compromiser and those who lack commitment. 3. CHILDLESS WOMAN Sarah was childless in a time when infant mortality was high, and the production of many sons was needed to build the family fortune and to care for the elderly. When she married Abram, it is immediately stated, Sarai was barren; she had no child. By this simple remark the writer sounds the motif that is to be repeated in subsequent events. Because of her frustration of not having a child, she hands over her Egyptian servant girl to Abram to see if she can give her

husband the child for whom he hopes. Sarah is trapped in a system that sees women good only for breeding. Hagar is also trapped and devalued. Hagar is not described in any other manner than that she had an effective womb. We have compassion for childless women who want children and cannot have them, and for women who are treated only as sexual objects. Both those issues are with us today. Many a princess is highly regarded by her husband and his people until she cannot have children, or else she produces only female children. I think of the Shah of Persia whose wives were childless, as was the wife of the Crown Prince of Japan. Who decreed that the childless woman be called barren when possibly the fault lies in the husbands inability to fertilize the ovum? The issue central to the story of the Patriarchs is as contemporary as frustrated people in every IVF clinic. The mystery of conception and the miracle of birth still evoke wonder in those of us who are so blessed. I feel sorry for those who face the frustration of conception in spite of our medical inventions. I feel anger at those who know the sex of the child and who reject the child because the sex is wrong or the doctors report an abnormality or when the child is coming at a time inconvenient to the parents and so is aborted. We have debased and devalued the preciousness and mystery of the gift of a child. The importance of the announcement of Sarah eventually giving birth to baby Isaac, is seen in the choice of the verb announcing the child. The child was born because of the graciousness of the Lord. Now the LORD was gracious to Sarah as He had said, and the LORD did for Sarah what He had promised (Gen. 21:1-3). Also important is the reminder that Isaac was the "son ... in Abraham's old age" and that he was born "at the very time God had promised him." The key themes of the earlier promises (Gen. 18:10-14) are reiterated with the announcement of their fulfillment in the birth of Isaac. 4. JEALOUS MOTHER When a child is born after years of childlessness and perhaps against every hope, there are often unrealistic expectations upon that child, and parental restrictions far from ideal. Mothers can become very jealous for the child against other children and over-protective.

I remember as a young minister, a middle-aged woman who was childless, and for whom her lack of conception had become a major psychological problem. I counseled her in coping with her situation when, miracle! she became pregnant to her husband to whom she had been married for more than twenty years. The shock of the pregnancy sent her husband into a mental spin. She was delirious beyond measure. We were all happy. I have photographs of her newborn son and our first-born daughter. Two mothers with two beautiful babies and a church that was full of instant grandmothers! For two years, the little toddlers grew together and our hearts were full of gratitude. I will never forget the shock that sent me racing to their home. The little boy had fallen in their backyard into a shallow dish of water and drowned. That funeral was the hardest I have conducted. The mothers grief was such that she wanted to throw herself into the grave when we buried her only child. The child of promise can change a mother forever. Sarah, the beautiful princess, changed into a jealous mother. A cruel streak is seen in her treatment earlier of her young servant girl who became pregnant. The Bible says: Sarai his wife took her Egyptian maidservant Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. He slept with Hagar, and she conceived. When she knew she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. Then Sarai said to Abram, "You are responsible for the wrong I am suffering. I put my servant in your arms, and now that she knows she is pregnant, she despises me." "Your servant is in your hands," Abram said. "Do with her whatever you think best." Then Sarai mistreated Hagar; so she fled from her (Gen. 16:4-6). No kitchen is big enough for two women. No tent Abraham owned was big enough for the woman who couldnt conceive, and the young one who did. Sarah forced the girl out into the desert to die. But God intervened speaking to the young pregnant girl: Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from, and where are you going?" "I'm running away from my mistress Sarai," she answered. Then the angel of the LORD told her, "Go back to your mistress and submit to her." The angel added, "I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count" (Gen. 16:-10).

The girl went back, submitted to the older woman and I have no doubt was treated badly. But she submitted. Her child was born, a son, and he was named Ishmael. Later Ishmael and his decendents would become the foundation of the 12 Arab tribes, and the forefathers of the Muslim nations of this day. Interestingly, the Hebrew root word for submit is the modern Arabic word for Islam. Sixteen years later, Sarah gave birth to her own son, Isaac. At the celebration to mark the childs weaning, the teenage Ishmael was mocking Sarah. So Sarah banished Ishmael and his mother into the wilderness to die. She said to Abraham, Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac. (Gen. 21). There is no anger like that of a jealous mother. Ishmael was to become father of the twelve Arab tribes, and Isaac the father of the twelve Jewish tribes. The conflict between Jews and Arabs over their common claim to the same land, is a conflict that has roots 4000 years old to the birth of these two boys. Hagar and Ishmael were sent to die in the desert. Once more God intervened and they lived. Sarahs jealousy would stop at nothing. In spite of these imperfections of character, Sarah is an example of incredible faith. 5. FAITHFUL BELIEVER Sarah trusted God through all her years of childlessness. God had promised. She believed He would be true to His promise. That is amazing faith! When Sarah heard she was pregnant, she laughed. Sarah said, "God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me." She added, "Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age." Abraham's response to God's promise was similar: Abraham fell facedown and laughed "Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?" This is a Hebrew joke. The name of the child is Isaac a word almost identical with the word laughter. Neither Abraham nor Sarah is a person whose faith in God has reached maturity.

The character of Sarah is mingled light and shade. She lapsed from faith that ended in the birth of Ishmael. Her lack of self-control resulted in injustice to Hagar. Yet we see in Sarah, as the New Testament writers point out (Heb. 11:11; 1 Peter 3:6), one who through a long life of companionship with Abraham shared his hope in God, his faith in the promises, and his power to become Gods agent for achieving what was impossible. Sarah becomes a spiritual mother, in the same way that Abraham is the father of the faithful. Women may be the spiritual daughters of Sarah. The Apostle Peter said, You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear (1 Peter 3:6). Sarah is not an example to us in many of her attitudes or actions, but she is a wonderful example of faith in Gods goodness and graciousness in spite of our imperfections. God can still work miracles in ordinary people. Our faith is used to change the ordinary into the extra-ordinary people of God.

Why do Christians have Different Views to Israel?

Christians agree on almost everything. I have found some have different attitudes on the death penalty, a few on abortion, and some on the method of baptism, but basically we agree on everything except in our attitudes to Israel. Why is this so? The church over the centuries has been ambivalent towards Israel. This includes the dreadful era when the church persecuted Jews in retaliation of early Christian persecution, and the holocaust in Europe under Hitler when the church in Germany was silent. Today for some Christians, Israel is part of Gods great plan for the end of the world, and we must do all we can to help the Israeli nation grow in an aggressive world where Islam is on the march. In fact, they argue we should celebrate the Jewish military victories because they will bring the return of Christ to Earth sooner, and that we must join in Jewish feasts and practices. Where did these ideas come from? Other Christians believe Israel was the cradle of the Christian church, but when the Jews rejected the opportunity of recognising the Messiah, and in fact aided in his rejection and death, they forfeited that special privilege of being Gods chosen people. The argument therefore continues that today Israel is like every other nation in desperate need of repentance and obedience to faith in Jesus Christ. A third belief is that the Jewish faith is just like Buddhism, Islam, and every other faith correct for those who believe it. These various ideas are important when they guide or direct the political and financial support of countries towards Israel because of the specific belief of a Christian President or Prime Minister. That is the case today. The change of ideas about the nation state of Israel came about because of the rise of new eschatological viewpoints during the last century or so, and the decision by the United Nations after World War Two, to give the Jews who had suffered so much in Europe their own homeland in the middle of Palestinian-occupied territory. This land covering much of the area promised to Abraham and when Israel became a nation in 1948 it was a moment of unbelievable rejoicing. The big change came in the mid-nineteen century with one mans theology of the end times, and its incorporation by a Bible publisher into his range of Bibles. Rev J. N. Darby was an Irish Anglican clergyman who proposed godly living, devotion to study of the Scripture, simple worship, churches

without clergy, missionary zeal, and a new understanding of the end times according to millennial dispensationalism. He organised Bible teaching conferences and conventions and his followers became known as the Plymouth Brethren. Although never claiming to be a denomination they have influenced world Christianity in the twentieth century more than any denomination. In the later part of the nineteenth century he shifted to the United States where he had profound impact on many popular preachers, including the great evangelist D. L. Moody, and the Bible institutes which produced most of the American overseas missionaries. One of those institute teachers in Dallas was a congregational minister Rev Cyrus Scofield who codified human history and the Bible into seven time periods, or dispensations, each with different Biblical responsibilities. The last one will involve the return of the Jews to Israel, the rapture of the church, the rise of superpowers that will go to war with each other, the fulfillment of prophecy, the return of Christ, His thousand year reign on earth, and then the eternal new heaven and earth. Scofield put his timeline on charts so people could easily follow them. Often church meetings would display the enlarged charts running across their stages and around the walls. They were also published in 1909 and included in Scofield Bibles which became immensely popular. For the most part the theory depended upon a translation of the Bible that was 400 years old. Broadly speaking, this dispensational premillenialism swept through the Bible colleges and institutes of America. These organisations trained most of the pastors for American fundamentalist churches and overseas missionaries. Hence wherever they went and wherever Bible institutes were established this form of teaching became predominant. It was severely critiqued in all mainstream churches and theological seminaries. Hence while pastors from Bible institutes followed this teaching, ministers trained in seminaries and universities did not. There are no mainstream denominations in the UK, USA or Australia, expect for the Baptists, who follow dispensational millennialist teaching. In most other parts of the world, it is not even an issue. Essential to the dispensational millennialist teaching is the return of the Jews (all of them) to Israel, conflict that will involve the worlds greatest nations over the Middle East, and finally culminating in the Battle of Armageddon before the Return of Jesus and His thousand year reign on Earth. If this form of doctrine is believed by international presidents (such as Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush) it is easy to see how they would support

Israels supply of arms and massive military response to Palestinian aggression. Victory could even hasten the return of Christ. It does not seem to matter that among the Palestinians there are large numbers of Christians, and among the Lebanese, Marionite Christians are a significant group. Hence we have Western Christians supporting a secular Israeli state attacking Christians whose ancestors lived where they live for the past thousand years. These Christians pray for the peace of Israel, support atheist Israeli leaders, and ignore Christian bothers and sisters in Palestinian areas and Lebanon. The church is composed of Christians who hold different views on issues like the method of baptism and the details of the fulfillment of prophecy. On these matters of difference it is important we not present one view only. We are composed of pastors who have been trained in Institutes and Ministers trained in Seminaries, and members from independent fundamentalist churches and mainstream denominations. We hold differing views on a few subjects. On those matters we should understand the history of our viewpoint, appreciate the views of others and show acceptance and love to others who may disagree. Above all we should seek peace on the Middle East for all and an equitable distribution of land and other resources among all who live there.