At 9:50 AM (EDT), on Saturday, October 27, 2018, while Shabbat morning services were being held, eight men and three women were killed and six wounded at the conservative Tree of Life synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Filled with irrational hatred of Jewish people, 46 year old Robert Bower, armed with an AR-15 and three handguns, opened fire on unsuspecting people.
The shooting shocked the nation, and for a good reason. Americans honor Jewish people. American’s love Israel. The American Embassy is located in the eternal city of Jerusalem. Twenty nine American states have Holocaust memorials. The son in law of the current president is Jewish. President Donald J. Trump has three Jewish grandchildren. Jewish people have done well in America as they excel in the arts, science, and the banking industry. And yet, there are individuals who do hate Jews. “I just want to kill Jews,” said Robert Bower to a police officer after being apprehended.
Bower joins a long line of people who are anti-Semitic, reaching back across the centuries to a young man named Ishmael, who was the first to commit an anti-Semitic act. The story is recorded in Genesis 21. On the day that Isaac, the son of promise God gave to Abraham and Sarah, was being weaned, a great feast was held. To wean a child from his mother is to give the child food to eat other than the milk of the mother. The weaning of a child is a sign of maturity and growth.
When Ishmael, who was twelve years old, saw Isaac trying to eat more solid food, it struck him as funny in some way, and he began to mock Isaac. Perhaps Ishmael grabbed his throat like he was chocking. Or perhaps he stuffed his mouth like he was over eating. Whatever expression Ishmael used, whatever words he uttered against Isaac, did not escape the notice of Sarah, the mother of Isaac. Sarah was furious and demanded that Abraham send Ishmael, and his mother, Hagar, away.
The pattern was established on that day, so long ago, and in that very hour. The true seed of Abraham would be mocked and persecuted by the seed of Ishmael, and those who have Ishmael’s hatred in their hearts. And the true seed of Abraham would move to defend themselves the best they could.
Sarah instinctively knew the eternal hostility in the heart of Ishmael. She knew that one day Ishmael would become a man, and seek the power, position, and wealth of the family. Therefore Sarah said unto Abraham, “Cast out this bondwoman and her son: for the son of this bondwoman shall not be heir with my son, even with Isaac” (Gen. 21:10).
When Sarah called upon Abraham to defend their seed of promise in Isaac, Abraham was reluctant to do as Sarah demanded. After all, Abraham was also the father of Ishmael for, in a moment of unwise haste, Abraham had an intimate relationship with Hagar, which produced Ishmael. So Abraham did not want to send Hagar and Ishmael from the camp.
Abraham hesitated. It was a grievous demand Sarah was making. Abraham was not sure it was the right course of action to take. Then God intervened. “And God said unto Abraham, Let it not be grievous in thy sight because of the lad, and because of thy bondwoman; in all that Sarah hath said unto thee, hearken unto her voice; for in Isaac shall thy seed be called. 13 And also of the son of the bondwoman will I make a nation, because he is thy seed” (Gen. 21:12-13).
Ishmael would not be forgotten. God promised to make him a great nation (Gen. 21:18). But God sided with Sarah in the question of what to do with Hagar and Ishmael, and a lesson is learned. Only God can protect the Jews. Only God can make sure that His promises are preserved.
God has promised to preserve the Jewish people. He will punish them and discipline them for apostasy and waywardness, to be sure, but God will preserve the Jews. “For I am with thee, saith the LORD, to save thee: though I make a full end of all nations whither I have scattered thee, yet will I not make a full end of thee: but I will correct thee in measure, and will not leave thee altogether unpunished” (Jer. 30:11). Hear O Israel, “The LORD hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee” (Jer. 31:3).
God will ultimately protect the Jewish people against every expression of anti-Semitism from Ishmael to Rome, from the Spanish Inquisition, to the Russian pogroms, and on through the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The survival of the Jews proves that God exists, and His Word, the Bible, is true.