The Arabs in Prophecy
Fated for hope or despair?
The Arab peoples often seem to be ignored in prophecy. This is so because the prophetic Scriptures focus on the Jewish people since they are the Chosen People of God. But this does not mean the Arabs are ignored.
God chose the Jews to give the world the Scriptures, and it was through the Jews that He provided the Messiah.
The Jews also serve as God’s prophetic time clock, for He points to future events in their history as the key to the timing of other important events. (For example, Jesus said that He would return at a time when Jerusalem is back in the hands of the Jews — see Luke 21:24.)
The Jews continue to serve today as a chosen witness of God’s grace. This is manifested in their very existence, for what other god would have tolerated for so long a people so stubborn and rebellious?
The Bible says that the Jewish people will continue to serve as the Chosen People in the future, for when Jesus returns, a remnant of the Jews who have put their faith in Him will be established as the prime nation of the world (Isaiah 60-62). During the Lord’s millennial reign, the Jewish nation will be a channel of blessings to the whole world (Zechariah 8:23).
Does this mean that God has no blessings for the multitudinous Arab peoples? Not at all. God has given them great blessings in the past, and He has great blessings reserved for them in the future.
But before we look at those blessings, let’s consider first the identity of the Arab peoples. Who are they?
A popular misconception is that Arab identity is determined by religion — that if you are a Muslim, then you are an Arab. That is not true.
One of the most populous Muslim nations in the world is Indonesia, an island nation in Southeast Asia. Indonesians are not Arabs. They are Malays. Likewise, the nation of Iran is composed of Muslims, but they are not Arabs. They are Persians.
There are also Christian Arabs scattered all across the Middle East. In Israel, the city of Bethlehem is a Christian Arab town.
Arab identity is not determined by religion. Most Arabs are Muslims, but not all; and all Muslims are certainly not Arabs.
Arab identity is determined by ethnic heritage. And the amazing thing is that all Arabs — like all Jews — are descended from the family of Abraham! That means the Arab-Israeli conflict is a family dispute — the longest running and most intense family squabble in history.
It all began when Abraham decided to help God. That’s a nice way of saying that he decided to run ahead of God. I’m referring, of course, to his impatience with God’s promise that he would be given an heir.
As he and Sarah continued to advance in years without a child, they decided to help out God by having Abraham conceive a child through Hagar, his wife’s Egyptian handmaid. The child born of that union was named Ishmael. God made it clear that Ishmael would not be the child of promise through whom all the world would be blessed (Genesis 17:20-21), but God did make some great promises to Ishmael’s mother.
God promised that He would make Ishmael fruitful and would multiply his descendants exceedingly, making of him a “great nation” (Genesis 17:20). He also gave Ishmael’s descendants the land to the east of Canaan (Genesis 16:12).
God has been faithful to these promises. Today there are 21 Arab nations with a combined population of 175 million people. The Arabs occupy a total area of 5.3 million square miles of oil rich land.
By contrast, there is only one Jewish state with a population of 4 million people who are squeezed into only 8,000 square miles of space. That’s a population ratio of 43 to 1 and a land ratio of 662 to 1. The Arabs have truly been blessed.
Ishmael took an Egyptian wife (Genesis 21:21) and became the father of 12 tribes which are listed in Genesis 25:12-16. These tribes were to become the nucleus of the Arab peoples, a people with a mixture of Semitic and Egyptian blood.
Other Arab tribes trace their origin to the six sons of Abraham who were born to him by his second wife, Keturah. They are listed in Genesis 25:1-4. Finally, some Arab tribes were to emerge from the descendants of Esau, the twin brother of Jacob who sired the 12 tribes of Israel.
All the Arab tribes have been characterized historically by their impulsive and violent nature. They have been involved in endless wars among themselves and against both Jews and Christians.
It is interesting to note that their volatile nature is a fulfillment of prophecy. God told Hagar that her son, Ishmael, would be “a wild donkey of a man” and that “his hand will be against everyone” (Genesis 16:12).
Let’s look now at what the Bible prophesies about the Arab peoples. First, it says they will claim the land of Israel which God gave to their brothers, the Jews. The prophet Ezekiel says this claim will be made in the end times (Ezekiel 35:5,10; 36:2,5).
This prophecy has been fulfilled in this century. For 2,000 years the Jews were dispersed from the land which God gave them, and during that long period of time there was never an Arab state in the area that the world called Palestine. The Arabs who lived in the land considered themselves Syrians. They had no consciousness as Palestinians, and no effort was ever made to create a Palestinian state.
When the Jews began returning in this century, the Arabs gleefully sold them the land at inflated prices because it was considered worthless. It was World War I that changed the Arab viewpoint. The war resulted in the land of Palestine being transferred from the Turks to the British, and the British immediately proclaimed it to be a homeland for the Jews. Suddenly, the Arabs were confronted with the prospect of a Jewish state, and they began to dig in their heels, claiming the land as their own.
The British gave in to Arab pressure, and in 1922 they gave two-thirds of Palestine to the Arabs, creating the state of Jordan. This was land that they had promised to the Jews. But this action did not satisfy the Arab appetite. They wanted all the land God had given to the Jews, and they still covet it to this day, just as prophesied.
The Bible further prophesies that God will pour out judgment upon the Arab nations in the end times for their hostility toward the Jews and their attempt to claim the Jewish homeland as their own.
Consider Joel 3:19, for example. This passage has a clear end time context, and in that context it says, “Egypt will become a waste, and Edom will become a desolate wilderness, because of the violence done to the sons of Judah, in whose land they have shed innocent blood.”
Keep in mind that Edom is often used as a symbolic term for all the Arab peoples, just as Israel is used as a term for all the Jewish tribes. Ezekiel says that “all Edom” will be dealt with in the end times because of its hatred against the Jews, and the result will be desolation (Ezekiel 35:10-11,15). The book of Obadiah prophesies a similar fate for Edom in “the day of the Lord” (Obadiah 15-18).
But the future for the Arabs is not all bleak. They must suffer for their sins just as the Jewish people will suffer during the Tribulation. And, like the Jews, a remnant of the Arabs will emerge from their suffering with their hearts turned to the one and only true God (Jeremiah 12:14-17).
The most remarkable prophecy concerning the future salvation of an Arab remnant is contained in Isaiah 19:16-25. Isaiah says that when the Lord strikes Egypt and Assyria, they will turn to Him and He will have compassion on them and “heal them.” Isaiah then presents an incredible picture of Egypt, Assyria and Israel living together in peace, worshiping the same God!
Another remarkable prophecy concerns the Arabs who will be living in the land of Israel after the Lord returns. This prophecy relates to the fact that the territory of Israel will be greatly expanded when Jesus returns, incorporating many of the Arab nations that exist today. (The considerably expanded borders of Israel during the Millennium are detailed in Ezekiel 47:15-20.) Amazingly, Ezekiel says that the Arabs living in Israel at that time will be “allotted an inheritance” of the land together with the tribes of Israel! (See Ezekiel 47:21-23 and Isaiah 14:1-2.)
An Impartial God
There is no partiality with God (Romans 2:11). He chose the Jews, not to be a repository of His blessings, but to be a vehicle through whom He would bless all the nations of the world, including the Arabs. But the fundamental requirement to receive God’s blessings — for both Jew and Arab, as well as all people — is to accept God’s gift of love in Jesus by receiving Him as Messiah.
When I consider God’s grace toward the Arab peoples, I am reminded of what Paul wrote when he considered God’s grace toward his Jewish brethren: “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” (Romans 11:33).
Keep in mind that the amazing grace which God is displaying toward the Arabs and the Jews is available to you. The message of God’s dealings with the physical descendents of Abraham is that there is no sin so great and dark that it can separate you from the love of God which He has expressed in Jesus.
The key to experiencing that grace is repentance. As Paul put it in his sermon in Athens: “God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent” (Acts 17:30).