By Dr. Bruce Hebel
The Hatfields versus the McCoys. The Capulets versus the Montagues. History is filled with blood feuds – families, tribes, people groups – who hate each other because of an ancestral slight or wound. Blood feuds have led to some of the most tragic events in all of history where millions of people have died. Eleven million Jews were exterminated in the Holocaust. Seven and a half million Ukrainians were murdered in the Holodomor of 1932 to 33. Three million Cambodians were slaughtered in the Cambodian genocide of 1975 to 79. One and a half million Armenians were killed from 1915 to 1922 in the Armenian genocide. These blood feuds can last decades and even centuries.
Perhaps the longest running conflict between two families is between the sons of Abraham. The conflict started centuries ago and is recounted for us in the book of Genesis. God calls Abraham to a historic mission in order to establish an eternal covenant with Abraham and his descendants. God promised Abraham that he would have a son, and that through the son a great nation would be formed through which God would fulfill this covenant promise to Abraham. Yet like many of us, Abraham and his wife Sarah were impatient with God’s timing and decided to “help Him out”. Sarah, considering herself beyond childbearing age, insisted that Abraham conceive a child through her servant Hagar. Abraham cooperated with the plan and Ishmael was born. But whenever we try to “help God” it doesn’t solve the problem, it creates more problems.
Man’s interference never thwarts God’s plan, but often complicates it. Sarah miraculously conceived and gave birth to her promised son, Isaac. As the boys grew, Ishmael mocked and belittled his little brother. In response, Sarah convinced Abraham to force Hagar and Ishmael out of the family and away from the camp. Throughout the account, God was gracious to Hagar and her son. However, a deep wound of rejection was inflicted in Ishmael and the sibling rivalry was born which continues to this day. This rivalry is known to most people as the Middle Eastern conflict between the Arabs and the Jews.
My purpose in this blog is not to sort out the intricacies of all the conflicts involved between these two sons of Abraham and their descendants. My purpose is to point us all to the only workable solution to the conflict between any two groups. Most people, in trying to find a solution to a longstanding conflict, try to rehash the wounds by looking at what started it all, what was reciprocated, and then who needs to fix what. Yet focusing on the cause, as logical as that may seem, never solves the problem. The only solution is finding a way to settle the debt caused by wounds historically inflicted. Which means the only solution is the Cross of Jesus Christ.
In Ephesians 2:11-22 Paul talks about how the Jews and the Gentiles, long separated from each other, could find a new relationship with each other because of the Cross. The sons of Ishmael who were long cast out could be restored to relationship not only with God, but also with their Jewish brothers through their relationship in Jesus Christ. Verses 13-18 says:
“But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the law of commandments contained in ordinances, that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace and might reconcile them both in one body through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. And He came to preach peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near; for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father.”
How do we deal with the wounds of the past? Is there a way to settle blood feuds that have gone on for centuries? The answer is an unequivocal YES! The question that drives all blood feuds is this: who’s going to pay for what they did? The simple and eternal answer is Jesus already paid their debt on the Cross. The blood of Jesus truly does cover all sins, including the ones committed against me… and my family… and my people. Forgiveness is the key. Forgiveness is applying the blood of Jesus as payment in full for every wound I have or ever will suffer, including the wounds of my ancestors.
We are on our way to Israel where we will be leading a retreat for Church leaders in Israel; half of them will be from Arab congregations (the sons of Ishmael) and half of them from Messianic congregations (the sons of Isaac). Our goal is to see the cross elevated, the blood of Christ honored, and brothers united in the new covenant of Grace. Our prayer is that Ephesians 2:11-22 will be a practical reality, that Jesus’ High Priestly prayer of John 17:22 will be realized as we meet, and that we will be one in the same way the Father and the Son are one. When we truly are one, imagine the influence God’s people will have in Israel, in the Middle East, and throughout the world!
Will you join in Jesus’ prayer that His people will become one for the power of forgiveness paid for by our Savior on His Cross?