Jacob and Esau - Understanding the Islamic Dilemma

On September 11, 2001, the world changed forever.  To say it lost its innocence is inappropriate, because evil has had a grip on this planet since time immemorial. But to the people alive today in the West, few atrocities have had a greater impact.  Now, with threats of stepping up of terrorist activity, it is evident that the underlying forces must be understood thoroughly before we can begin to deal with this horror.  Our fight is not against flesh and blood.  But the West is fast deserting its spirituality, and with it is losing its ability to recognise the true nature of the battle.

Documentaries try to identify the sources of the conflict, but don’t go back anywhere near far enough to get the real picture.  It goes back probably 4,000 years or more.

Somewhere in the desert in the middle east, Abraham and his wife Sarah dwelt, around 2000 BC.  God promised Abraham that he would become the father of many nations, but his wife was barren.  As was the custom in those days, a barren wife would give her husband her handmaiden to have children with. Sarah’s handmaiden was Hagar and she bore a son called Ishmael.  But they had jumped the gun, forgetting that God could easily perform a miracle and heal Sarah’s infertility. Sarah indeed became pregnant and gave birth to Isaac.


Jealousy resulted in conflict between the two women, which grew into friction sogreat that Abraham could no longer tolerate the two women living in the same household. He was forced to banish Hagar and her son into the desert. There they would have died, but for the Lord’s intervention.

Hagar and her son survived.  She was to become the mother of all the Arab tribes. Sarah on the other hand, became the mother of all the tribes of Israel.  This heritage of the Jews has been extended on to the Gentiles who believe in Jesus, sometimes referred to as the “spiritual Israel” (Galatians 3). Hence the promise made to Abraham, that he would be the father of many nations, was fulfilled.

Isaac married Rebekah. She bore two sons, twins which struggled with each other in the womb. She sought the Lord for the reason, and He told her that two nations were in her womb, and the older would serve the younger. Esau was born first, the hairy one, to become a hunter.  Holding onto his heel was Jacob, later to be renamed Israel, and he was a peaceful man, living in tents. The custom, then, was that the first-born would inherit everything, including the responsibility of passing records of history, traditions and established values on to the next generation.

One day Esau returned from hunting, famished, and sold his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of soup.  Hebrews 12:16-17 has much more to say about the reason Esau was not a suitable heir of the birthright. Nevertheless, at least in our eyes, Jacob also had his shortcomings. He deceived his father Isaac on his deathbed to receive the blessing, pretending to be Esau. It is evident from the subsequent discussions recorded in Genesis 27, that despite the deceit, the blessing was irrevocable.

Esau married one of the daughters of Ishmael, as well as other women, resulting in the birth of twelve ‘princes’, the start of the Arab nations.  Jacob married Laban’s daughters, Leah and Rachel, having twelve sons in all to the women and their handmaidens. These were to become the fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel.

The conflict which began as a dispute between Sarah and Hagar, later to be reinforced by the struggle between Jacob and Esau in the womb, was given new life when Israel reclaimed its birthright in 1948, thereby displacing millions of the descendants of Esau. Now, this same conflict has the whole world as its battleground, as Islamic extremists declare war on both Jew and Christian alike. However, the centre stage of the conflict is Jerusalem.  On the surface, the fight seems to be about land rights and ownership. On another level, it is about clashing cultures and spiritual beliefs. But on a much deeper plane, this is a momentous battle between spiritual powers not seen or understood by any of the participants.


When Abraham was ninety-nine, God established a covenant with him, giving him ‘all the land of Canaan as an everlasting possession (Genesis 17).  Abraham’s descendants, in return, were to ‘walk before Me and be blameless’, as well as practice the ritual of circumcision. (God also promised to bless Ishmael and his offspring here, for them to grow into a great nation). Genesis 15:18 defines the Promised Land as running from the river of Egypt to the river Euphrates. In Numbers 34, we read a more detailed definition of the boundaries of Canaan, but one which is still difficult to interpret in today’s terms.  Nevertheless, it certainly would appear to be close to the boundaries evident in Jesus’ days, if not substantially bigger. 

The ‘Old Covenant’ evolved from this initial ‘Abrahamic Covenant’, where the definition of what it meant to ‘walk before Him and be blameless’ was articulated in terms of laws, including the Ten Commandments. Establishment of these laws preceded return to the Promised Land, after Israel had been absent in Egypt for some hundreds of years.  During that absence, the land had become occupied by many pagan tribes. It is clear that God authorised the use of extreme violence to eject these worshippers of other gods from the Holy Land.

Whenever in history Israel ceased to ‘walk before Him’, God would allow them to be conquered and enslaved by other nations. Whenever they returned to following Him, God would empower them to take back their inheritance.  There is little doubt in my mind that God’s chosen people have a God-given right to their territory. But it is also unreasonable to expect the Palestinians to know that, not having access to the same scriptures.  

One thing which is in doubt, is whether the current Jews in the Holy Land are ‘walking before Him’.  When Jesus arrived, they were already under occupation by Rome.  The religious leaders of the day had lost any understanding of the Spirit of the Law and were into extremely ritualistic and legalistic practice, which Jesus denounced as hypocrisy.  Jesus introduced the ‘New Covenant’, under which forgiveness, and genuinely loving and caring, were shown to be the Spirit of the Law. So they had Him crucified. 

The Jews have been away from their Promised Land from 70AD till 1948AD.  After the Holocaust, world sentiment supported their return. Today, Jews in Israel can be divided into the Orthodox and the unbelievers.  There is a very small movement of Messianic Jews, who accept Jesus as the Christ, but they are more numerous in the western world than in the Holy Land. Certainly, rejection of Jesus as ‘the promised Messiah’ makes Jews walk out of step with what God is doing.  

Whether ‘walking out of step’ equates to not ‘walking before Him,’ I will leave to God to determine.  One thing is for sure, His Chosen People had to return to Israel, as many prophecies regarding end times are staged in this location.  Israel will be the centrepiece of world events, when all political, philosophical, economic and cultural forces come to a climactic confrontation in the not-so-distant future.  We witness the start of this in the news every day. 

Islamic extremism is the most obvious. It represents the eternal struggle between good and evil, between God’s standards and ours, between Jacob and Esau. Now the newly elected Hamas Muslim government of Palestine has sworn to bomb Israel out of existence.


So what are we to make of this incredible situation? And even more important, what should we do about it?

There are 1.3 billion Muslims in the world today, (about 90% Sunnis, 10% Shiites, plus a million mystics called Sufis).  To them, the world is divided into the ‘land of Islam’ and the ‘land of the unbeliever’, the latter being destined for conquest, Islam being Allah’s intended world religion and government. 

‘Sharia’, or Islamic law, drives Muslims.  There is no concept of human rights or democracy in Islam. The definition or interpretation of ‘Jihad’ or ‘Holy war’ is what separates the extremist Muslim from the peaceful one.  Jihad can mean an internal spiritual struggle or an external defence of Islam.  In some cases, it seems reasonable to interpret defence of Islam to include offensive action (such as terrorist activity) to prevent corruption of Islam by foreign ideas. It is estimated by some that 10–15% of Muslims are ‘extremist’.  That means as many as 200 million people could be intent on eliminating us!

There has been a huge growth in Muslim activity in the nineties. In 1990 there were 30 mosques in the US, now there are 3,000.  Pakistan alone has 40,000 Muslim religious schools.  The government estimates 6,000-7,000 of these are militant, each having hundreds of students spending their day learning how and why to kill Christians and Jews. Today the US has 2 million Muslims. Europe has 60 million. If this trend continues, our children will face an enemy of unimaginable proportions. (Reference: – FAST FACTS ON ISLAM by John Ankerberg and John Weldon (Harvest House)).


How do you deal with a threat that lives among you, looks like you and pretends to have the same value system as you do? Speaking peace, but deep down preparing to destroy us. And this intention is not because they hate our way of life – Muslims actually love the Western culture.  The problem is the  interpretation of the Koran as a justification for the spread of Islam by force.  It appears that the majority of Muslims, deep down, believe that the radical element probably IS the true Islam.  And therefore they feel justified in covering up the activities of those amongst them who are violent. 

Last year (2002) Richard Carlton of the Australian TV program 60 Minutes hosted a one hour special, giving the Islamic community in Australia the chance to say their bit after 9/11.  Whilst many said they thought terrorism was a bad thing, when asked: ‘ Do you think Osama Bin Laden is a bad man?’  they skirted around the question, and in the end not one of them said ‘yes’.


We know who’s going to win in the end, and that, at least, is some assurance, enabling us to maintain a relatively charitable outlook on the whole situation.  We know God wants us to love our enemies. Still, incidents like September 11 and Bali don’t make it easy, especially if it was our personal loved ones who suffered. I don’t know if there were many Christians who didn’t think war on the Taliban and al-Qaeda was justified, or who simply wanted to turn the other cheek.  Within our value system and way of thinking, these acts were so outrageous and despicable, I confess to having had serious doubts as to what to do and being grateful that ultimately the decision wasn’t mine to make.

And that is what, again, emphasises the urgent need for all of us to undergo total spiritual overhaul.


The tension between Arabs and Jews has its roots in a family conflict that happened 4000 years ago. 

The Islamic religion places the democratic world in a great dilemma. We treasure freedom of speech and freedom of thought, and accordingly we believe that this right belongs to everybody living in this country. Literal application of that principle accepts people who say and think we should not have those freedoms.  This is in fact what the Muslim faith teaches. So we are faced with making a terribly difficult decision: does protection of democratic rights include getting rid of those who are intent on eliminating democracy?

In trying to make that decision, we have ignored a huge part of the picture. Our decision wavers as possible economic, social, political and cultural impacts are considered.  We have reached a place where spiritual considerations are not even brought into the arena.  We have become so comfortable in our wealthy way of life, so preoccupied with lining our surroundings with gold-plated pleasure and leisure, (and work to pay for it all), that the time available to consider the big picture is minimal and usually amounts to zero.  


We don’t need bombs and soldiers with machine guns to stop weapons of mass destruction. We need the explosive power of the Holy Spirit to bring history to its Gospel climax, and for many of the Islamic faith to recognise, through the conviction of the Holy Spirit and demonstration of His love, that Jesus Christ is Lord! 

We need Christian revival. This battle can’t be won with guns and missiles. This battle calls for God Himself to intervene. No amount of preaching or intellectual persuasion is going to turn this thing around, either. We must stop pussy-footing around and come to terms with the real Gospel that Jesus brought us. We have to take away all the little modifications and adaptations we have made to it to make it palatable and suit our own preferences. The plain Gospel calls for all Christians to make sacrifices equal to the one Christ made. 

It is high time that we crawl out of our materialistic comfort zones and ‘bite the bullet’ on the real nature of the faith we profess