Ethnic Warfare

Is the perfect display of sin.

Genesis 25:12-18 (ESV)

These are the generations of Ishmael, Abraham's son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah's servant, bore to Abraham. These are the names of the sons of Ishmael, named in the order of their birth: Nebaioth, the firstborn of Ishmael; and Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, Mishma, Dumah, Massa, Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah. These are the sons of Ishmael and these are their names, by their villages and by their encampments, twelve princes according to their tribes. (These are the years of the life of Ishmael: 137 years. He breathed his last and died, and was gathered to his people.) They settled from Havilah to Shur, which is opposite Egypt in the direction of Assyria. He settled over against all his kinsmen.

The sons of Ishmael settled from Havilah to Shur, which is opposite Egypt in the direction of Assyria. Shur is Sinai; Havilah probably means the northern Arabian Peninsula. With both an Egyptian mother and grandmother they are now “settled over against all his kinsmen.

That last sentence is translated charitably in the ESV. The Hebrew word translated as “settled” is literally “fell,” and can even indicate conflict. The NIV renders this as, “And they lived in hostility toward all their brothers.

Ishmael still rates being referred to as Abraham’s son – something Keturah’s sons don’t get – but it’s all downhill from there. In Gen 37:25-36, when Joseph’s brothers sell him into slavery the slave traders are called both Ishmaelites and Midianites. Midian was one of the sons of Keturah. “Ishmaelites” seems to have become the generic label for all of Abraham’s non-covenantal descendants, while Midianites is a specific reference to who these traders are.


This passage lifts the lid on the Pandora’s Box of ethnic warfare. We’ve seen some wars already, such as Abraham rescuing Lot, but they ended. This is the dawn of a war that’s still going on. This manifestation of sin would qualify as the most unfortunate ever, except that it is such an airtight example of something that can’t be explained using secular reasoning (such as evolution). As horrible as it is, it’s useful because it’s such a perfect illustration of the doctrine of sin.

As Sherman said, “War is all hell.” But at least war over money or land or resources or some other valuable thing makes sense. People are just being violently selfish. That’s evil, but it’s not nuts.

Conversely, ethnic war is costly with no prospect for gain. It’s stupid the way robbing a gorilla is stupid; even if you succeed, he has no money. There’s no way to explain this in terms of people just being evil and selfish. It’s not even rationally evil and selfish. It’s just crazy.

That’s sin.

Ethnic warfare and genocide go hand in hand. We all know the examples and they are nauseating. One wonders why God allows such evil.

Pray for an end to these horrors. It seems too far-fetched to even ask, but we are called to pray for such things. Ask God to give mercy to the afflicted and to open the eyes of those duped by the forces of evil.


The weekly study guides, which include discussion questions, are available for download here:

https://www.ailbe.org/resources/itemlist/category/91-deep-studies

Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.

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