I know that there is a dispute among Jews, Christians and Muslims as to who is the chosen line of Abraham. For Jews and Christians, the claim is that it is through Isaac that covenantal blessings flow. For those of Islamic faith, they claim it is Ismael.
But what does the Word of God say? Any time there is a dispute about theological differences, we must come back to the authority for our beliefs to be shaped. In fact, the Word of God says that when God was giving Abraham the sign of the covenant, namely circumcision, that Abraham asked God that the covenant would be placed on Ishmael. Genesis 17:17-18 Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed, and said in his heart, “Shall a child be born to a man who is one hundred years old? And shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” 18 And Abraham said to God, “Oh, that Ishmael might live before You!”
Abraham knows the difficulty that it will be for he and Sarah to have a child. This is what brought about his impatience in the first place, leading him to sleep with Hagar, which gave him Ishmael. This is one of those points where we see the Father of all who truly believe (Galatians 3:7), falling short in trusting God. Remember that God had told Abraham that he would be blessed and a father of many nations. Abraham got impatient, and took matters into his own hands.
Yet, the covenantal blessings are not to be upon Ishmael, but Isaac, whom Sarah will give birth to. When Abraham asks God to allow Ishmael to be the one in which those covenantal blessings flow, God rejects his request. Genesis 17:19 Then God said: “No, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him.”
God says no. He will not have His chosen people come from a union that was conceived in sin. He wants His line to come from those He has chosen. The people of God are always His work, not man’s work. Therefore He tells Abraham that it will be through Sarah that the covenantal blessings will spring forth. It is through this line that the Messiah will come and redeem the chosen throughout the world. God will not have fallen man adding to His plan of redemption. Even though Abraham was a friend of God, it is God’s work that brings about this redemption and Isaac.
That is part of the beauty of this redemptive event. God is showing that when it comes to His will and plan, He can work through a couple that are far past the age of childbearing. Genesis 18:11-12 Now Abraham and Sarah were old, well advanced in age; and Sarah had passed the age of childbearing.[a] 12 Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, “After I have grown old, shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?”
The idea of the phrase, passed the age of childbearing, actually comes from a Hebrew idiom meaning: the manner of women. That referred to a woman’s menstrual cycle. The text is telling us that Sarah no longer had the ability to have children. A miracle will have to be performed in order for her to have children. God will have to take something that is dead and make it alive. He will have to bring her womb to life again for her to have a child (probably Abraham too). This is what God does when it comes to our redemption. At every point, we are saved by Him, whether that is His plan to bring us the Savior, or working in our lives to get us to the point of belief. He is in the habit of taking that which is dead and giving it life (Ephesian 2:1ff).
He is the One that gave Sarah and Abraham the ability to have Isaac. Again, it is His plan that will be carried out in His way, not Abraham’s supplemental plan. God has a purpose and a plan for His chosen at all stages, and no, mankind cannot thwart that plan.
As for Ismael, he will be blessed. God tells Abraham this. Genesis 17:20 And as for Ishmael, I have heard you. Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall beget twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. He is blessed because he is Abraham’s son. God does that as a favor to Abraham. The man will grow and twelve princes will come from him, and he will be a great nation.
Lest you put too much on this, as Muslims do, God immediately reiterates the fact that His covenant is with Isaac, not Ishmael. Genesis 17:21 But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this set time next year.”
Also note, that when God initially tells Abraham of the coming child, He says that Sarah will be the mother of kings and many nations. Genesis 17:16 And I will bless her and also give you a son by her; then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall be from her.” Whereas Ismael will father twelve princes and one nation, Sarah will be the mother of many nations and many kings, showing covenantal supremacy in God’s election of them.
Why is This Important?
For several reasons. First, we need to recognize that the claim by Muslims concerning Ishmael is wrong. While Ishmael is blessed, he is not of the chosen line of God. It is through the line of Isaac that the covenant blessings pass. No amount of revisionist history by Mohamed can change that. This is what God’s word says and we need to rest upon it. I point this out for a very important reason: as Christians, we need to know this truth and not be duped who say that Islam is a true religion of God as well. Just as the Samaritans were rejected because of their revisionist history, so too are those who are Islamic. In our day, we must stress that God worked through history to bring us Jesus Christ and He is the only way of salvation (Acts 4:12). No other religion will do, not Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, etc., etc., etc.
Second, this shows us that those outside of covenantal blessings are not completely ignored by God. He may not extend His eternal blessings to them by bringing them into the covenant, but He still blesses them in life. Ishmael was blessed by God. He had his good things in life. While he may or may not have believed, his offspring were not of the covenant. They eventually departed (Genesis 21:8ff), the covenant-keeping community. And there is no salvation apart from the covenant-keeping community. (That is another way of saying “the church.”)