Son of the Promise: Ishmael or Isaac?


This issue, perhaps more than others, determines where truth can be found and what people should follow to guarantee their salvation. The Tenakh, New Covenant, and Qur’an speak of Ishmael and Isaac. We must consider the words found in all of these texts to determine where we can find the truth. Of course we must acknowledge that Jews do not regard the New Covenant or Qur’an as inspired by God. Christians reject the Qur’an and Muslims believe the Tenakh and the New Covenant are corrupted revelations. In this journey we must grasp what can be reasoned to be true and not the orthodox beliefs of these faiths. This is the only way we can consider all points of view to determine who received the covenant handed down through Abraham.

Jews, Christians, and Muslims all agree that Ishmael was the firstborn son of Abraham. This can be found in Genesis 16:15. On the surface this would seem to begin and end the argument. Ishmael is the firstborn son of Abraham so he is the heir, the son of the promise. The Muslims got it right! However, there are some other factors to take into account. Abraham fathered Ishmael but not by his wife, rather he was given permission by his wife, Sarah, to sleep with her handmaid Hagar because Sarah was barren. Had Ishmael been the first born of Sarah there would be no dispute. However, one identified as the Angel of the Lord appeared to Hagar (Genesis 16:12) and told her to name her child Ishmael which means, “God Listens”. The Angel of the Lord then revealed the following: ‘He will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man’s hand against him; and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brothers’.  According to Genesis 17:20, Ishmael would have a multitude of descendents.  

God, however, personally appeared to Abraham as recorded in Genesis 17:1, 22; 18:1, 13, 16-17, 22, 33.  In doing so, God established the covenant through circumcision and predicted the birth of Abraham’s second son Isaac. In Genesis 17:19, 21, God emphasized that the everlasting covenant would be established through Isaac. Genesis 21:12 makes clear that Isaac is the heir of the promise when God tells Abraham to listen to Sarah. So Sarah put it into the mind of Abraham to bring Ishmael into the world and then she was instrumental in banishing him and his mother. This account differs from the Islamic account. The Biblical account was written on scrolls close to 1000 years after Abraham. The Islamic account is found in the Qur’an and the Tarikh. The Qur’an was compiled over 2600 years after Abraham. The Tarikh was not completed until the middle of the 10th century, so the complete Islamic account of these events was revealed nearly 3000 years after Abraham.

In Genesis 22, with the covenant established, God told Abraham to take Isaac to Moriah (Modern day Jerusalem), and sacrifice him on an altar Abraham was instructed to build.  Abraham took his son Isaac, and an ass and two young men to bear the necessary wood, and reached his destination on the 3rd day.  Abraham took the wood and laid it upon Isaac to carry up to the place of sacrifice. Isaac saw they had the torch and the wood, but asked about the object of the sacrifice. Abraham told Isaac that God would provide the sacrifice. Abraham laid Isaac upon the wood on the altar and bound him to it.  Isaac was essentially a pre-teen while Abraham was about 110, but Isaac allowed his father to put him on top of the wood piled on the altar. HIS faith was at least as significant as his father’s.  In fact, this was the greatest recorded episode of faith in Isaac’s life. Abraham then raised his hand with a knife to sacrifice Isaac when God called to him and told him not to harm Isaac because God now knew that Abraham feared God because he was willing to sacrifice his son.  Because he was willing to sacrifice Isaac, God provided a ram which was sacrificed. Abraham was blessed with multiple seed and these descendents would possess the gates of their enemies. A seed of Abraham was promised to be a blessing to all the nations of the earth because Abraham obeyed God.

In Genesis 25, after the death of Sarah, Abraham took another wife, Keturah, and had many more offspring. Yet, in verse 5, he gave all that he had to Isaac. He sent his other offspring away from Isaac.  After Abraham died both Isaac and Ishmael came together to bury him at Makhpelah near the great tree of Mam’re, at the same cave site where Sarah was buried, a site purchased by Abraham from the locals to be a family crypt.  The site was purchased by Abraham in Genesis 23 – 16-17; it is located in modern day Hebron on the West Bank. This site is agreed to by Jews and Muslims. Stephen, who lived in the 1st century AD, stated in Acts 7:16 that Abraham bought a sepulcher from Emmor (Hamor) of Shechem because Jacob (Israel) and his sons were brought back from Egypt—but where were they buried? Moses brought Joseph’s remains out of Egypt (Ex. 13:19) and he was interred at Shekhem. Genesis 33: 18-19 and Joshua 24:32 state that Jacob bought a parcel of ground where Joseph and his brothers were buried. Abraham bought one sepulcher where Joseph would be buried. Jacob bought additional land at Shechem where his other sons were to be laid. Where was Jacob buried? Jacob was clearly buried in the field of Machpelah near Mamre as stated in Genesis 50:13. This occurred 400 years before the exodus.  Stephen, in the Book of Acts, knew this and just recapped that Jacob and his sons were all removed from Egypt. It was “they,” the sons of Jacob and not “he,” Jacob, who were buried at Shechem. According to Genesis 35:27-29, Isaac died at Mamre (Hebron) where his father Abraham lived and was buried. The Psalms, most of which are generally attributed to King David, state in 105:8-10 that God made a promise to Isaac. This pertains to Genesis 17:19.

The New Covenant also speaks about Isaac. Jesus, one hundred percent of the time, speaks of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans 9:7-9, he said that Israel are the children of Abraham but it is through the son of the promise Isaac that they are his seed. This can be found in Genesis 18:10, 14. This means that all the other offspring of Abraham are excluded as the seed of Abraham. Paul expounds this in his letter to the Galatians. In Chapter 4:28-30, just as the promise was made to Isaac, who was in the lineage of Messiah Yeshua, so the promises of the Messiah apply to those (Jew and Gentile) who believe in the promise of the Messiah. This also expressly eliminates Ishmael who was born out of the flesh and who persecuted the son of the promise Isaac as stated in Genesis 21:9.  Therefore, Ishmael and his bondwoman mother, Hagar, were cast out and cannot be heir to the promise. So salvation flows from the descendents of Sarah the freewoman not Hagar the bondwoman. In the 11th chapter in the book of Hebrews, verses 17-18 state that Abraham was tested in offering the son of the promise, Isaac, because as Genesis 21:12 states “in Isaac shall your seed be called”. Finally, in James 2:21, Abraham was justified before God for attempting to sacrifice his son Isaac.

The Qur’anic point of view follows concerning Isaac. In Surah 37:113, Isaac is called a prophet, righteous and blessed. Surah 4:163 states the truth was revealed to Isaac. So it is clear that the Qur’an speaks favorably of Isaac. Then what about Ishmael? According to the Tarikh of Al-Tabari, Ishmael accompanied Abraham to Mecca to rebuild the Kabbah. In Surah 19:54, Ishmael was considered a Rasul and Nabi (Messenger and Prophet).  In Surah 37:102-110, Ishmael submits to Allah’s Will and was willing to be sacrificed by Abraham. After they became Muslims, Ishmael was thrown down on his head to be sacrificed. It was at this point that Allah intervened. In Ishaq:628, the Quraysh, and by extension, Muhammad are called descendents of Ishmael. This lineage can be traced to Genesis 25. In this biblical chapter, Ishmael is named along with his twelve sons. In verse 17, Ishmael died and was gathered to his people who dwelt from Havilah to Shur before Egypt but towards Assyria. This means Arabia to the Sinai and north towards the Euphrates.


The time period where the events of Ishmael and Isaac occurred was circa 1900 BC. These accounts were recorded by Moses 700 years later in 1200 BC. Regarding the prophecy related to Ishmael, the Torah states that there would be strife. He would make enemies and by doing so strike them and be struck by them. He would live among his brothers. This means the other sons of Abraham. The Angel of the Lord revealed this to Hagar while she was pregnant with Ishmael.  Therefore, before Ishmael was born Hagar knew that Ishmael was not the son of the promise but rather a son that would bring strife. We have no record of Ishmael but if we extend this prophecy to his descendents then it meets its fulfillment in the Quraysh and their most famous descendent Muhammad. Conflict became a regular part of Arab society during the period of Jahiliyyah (Ignorance) through the present day when one considers all areas of the world where the descendents of Ishmael reside.

As for Isaac, the biblical text is emphatic that he is the son of the promise because it was the intent of the Almighty that the son of the promise was to be born through Sarah. The events of Genesis 22 are described in detail because of their messianic significance. God tells Abraham that he requires a sacrifice. God required the shedding of blood to solidify the covenant. Although decreed righteous, Abraham sinned and thus was tested. In being obedient to the utmost, his son was spared, but the sacrifice for sin was still required. How would this be done? Another descendent of Abraham and Isaac would carry wood upon his back at the same location. He would be a lamb led to the slaughter where he would be laid upon wood and then bound to it. It was in this manner that sin would be atoned for by God. The ass was symbolic for the messiah riding into Jerusalem before his atoning sacrifice (Zechariah 9:9). The two men that accompanied him on the way to sacrifice were servants (Genesis 22:1-7] converted to faith in God and circumcised by Abraham (Genesis 17:23-37). Symbolically, two members of the Sanhedrin, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus were also converted to faith prior to the Messianic sacrifice. The three day journey was symbolic for the period between execution and resurrection. The final symbolism to be revealed in this section is with Rebekah. In this case in Genesis 24, Isaac being a type of messiah, goes to the land of his people to choose a body of believers. Just as Messiah, chose his disciples and asked them to follow him so Rebekah left her home to follow and join with Isaac. In this the Jewish and Gentile believers in the messiah follow their shepherd to be joined after accepting him through the Ruakh ha Kodesh…the Holy Spirit of God.

The New Covenant agrees with the Tenakh with an emphasis on Isaac the son of the promise. This is most significant because it places the blessings through the Jewish people and by extension the Messiah who comes through Isaac not Ishmael. This is solidified through Genesis 17:19 where the covenant is promised by God to be everlasting.

Before we analyze the Islamic claims we must lay the groundwork and state what we know is true. The Events involving Ishmael and Isaac occur over 2500 years before Muhammad received his first revelation from his lord Allah through who he thought was Gabriel. This means that Muhammad’s lord Allah had between 2500 years (when the events occurred) to 1800 years (when the events were recorded into the Torah) to counter any biblical errors in the Qur’an. If the Tenakh was corrupted, then certainly Yeshua, who Muslims claim to be a prophet of Islam, would have known this. Yet, he never mentions Ishmael and refers to God as his Father and the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  Furthermore, Islam also claims Moses [Moshe/Moise], David [Dawveed] and Solomon [Shlomo/Suleiman] as prophets, yet none of them ever claim any affinity to or descent from Ishmael, only Isaac.

The story of a very old Abraham and Ishmael travelling nearly 1000 miles though one of the worst deserts on earth cannot be found in the Qur’an. It is recorded in the Tarikh, an Islamic authoritative source, which was written 2100 years after Moses’ Genesis account. At that time in 1900 BC, Mecca was a non issue. Nothing existed at Mecca in 1900 BC. It was a barren desert. The Ishmaelites were not yet born. This is what we do know. One of the grandsons of the Aramean, Nahor, through the concubine Reumah, was Maacah. Lineages in Genesis often depict the origins and development of tribes and clans.  Maacah is the Arabic word for Mecca. Rebekah was Bethuel’s daughter; one of her half-brothers was Maacah. [Genesis 22:20-23].

The account of Ishmael’s sacrifice as recorded in the Qur’an draws no significance to what we know about Muhammad’s life. Islam claims that Genesis 22:2 is in contradiction when it calls Isaac “thine only son” because Ishmael was the only son of Abraham before Isaac was born. Let’s examine the Islamic claim. In Genesis 21:1-5 Isaac was born. In Genesis 21:9-10, while Isaac was young, Ishmael mocked Isaac and Sarah demanded that Ishmael bear no inheritance with Isaac. God then tells Abraham to listen to his wife because “in Isaac shall thy seed be called”. What does this mean? The answer is revealed in Genesis 24:36; 25:5, where it states “Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac.” Although Abraham loved Ishmael, God told Abraham to listen to Sarah because God wanted there to be no doubt that Isaac was Abraham’s heir. By giving everything to Isaac and nothing to his other son’s, Ishmael was in fact disinherited. This means that the Ishmaelites were of the nations (goyim), Mecca had no significance to the God of the Bible, Allah is not the same deity as the God of the Bible, and Muhammad is not a prophet of Abraham and Isaac’s God. Had Abraham been buried at Mecca it would give the Islamic story credence. One is not cast out of Hebron to then travel 700 miles through forbidden terrain to a wasteland. We have no proof that Ishmael was buried there or ever visited Mecca. If Mecca was the holy of holies why was Abraham, his son, and his grandson buried in Hebron as the Bible claims? Ishmael was not buried with them because he was disinherited. This detailed analysis points towards Yeshua being the fulfillment of the promise made to Isaac since now we know with no doubt that Isaac was Abraham’s only son because Isaac was his sole heir to the promises. Peace in Messiah Yeshua. -Joe



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Filed under General, Islam, Judeo-Christianity, Religion

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