What does the Bible say about Saudi Arabia?
In our previous Q&A in Update No. 502, we showed that Saudi Arabia is the great nation that had been prophesied to Ishmael, the son of Abraham. Ishmael was born when Abraham was eighty-six years old. He was circumcised at the age of 13—a custom still followed today by the Arabs. Ishmael and his half-brother Isaac buried Abraham together. Ishmael died aged 137.
Ishmael had twelve sons—among them Ishmael’s second-born son, Kedar (“powerful”); Dumah (“silence”; compare Isaiah 21:11; Joshua 15:52); Naphish (“numerous”); Tema (“sun burnt”); and Jetur. The Bible, when addressing the descendants of Ishmael, sometimes refers to Ishmael, sometimes to Ishmael’s second-born son Kedar (synonymously used in Scripture with Ishmael); sometimes to Ishmael’s mother Hagar; sometimes to any of the other above-quoted names of Ishmael’s sons; and sometimes simply to “Arabia” (“wilderness”) or “Arabians.” Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible explains that “Arabia today consists mainly of Saudi Arabia. However, it also includes the two Yemens, Oman, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and the Sinai peninsula.”
As mentioned, the prophecy that Ishmael would become a great nation refers primarily to Saudi Arabia today.
Focusing on the biblical history of Ishmael and his descendants, we note that Joseph’s brothers sold him to Ishmaelites who in turn sold him to Potiphar (Genesis 37:27-28; 39:1).
Under David, an Ishmaelite officer was put in charge over camels (1 Chronicles 27:30). Previously, at the time of Gideon, Ishmaelites had the unusual custom of wearing golden earrings (Judges 8:24). At the time of Solomon, the kings of Arabia were famous for their riches in gold which they shared, in part, with Solomon (1 Kings 10:15; 2 Chronicles 9:14), and at the time of Jehoshaphat of Judah, the Arabians gave him valuable presents in the form of livestock (2 Chronicles 17:11).
We read about the nomadic nature of Ishmael and his sons, when the Bible refers to the tents of Kedar (Psalm 120:5; Song 1:5); or when it speaks of Arabians pitching their tents (Isaiah 13:20); or when it mentions the caravans of Tema, one of Ishmael’s sons (Job 6:19); or when it compares Israel with somebody sitting by the road like “an Arabian in the wilderness” (Jeremiah 3:2). Even though such nomadic nature would somewhat change in time, the Bible still uses those terms in respect to Ishmael and his descendants, when addressing prophetic events of the future.
The Bible describes the relationship between Israel or Judah and Ishmael and his descendants mostly as a hostile one. We read in 1 Chronicles 5:19 that the sons of Reuben, the Gadites and half of the tribe of Manasseh made war with some of Ishmael’s descendants, i.e., the Hagrites, Jetur, and Naphish.
1 Chronicles 5:10, 19-20 tells us that King Saul made war with the Hagrites, who are, as mentioned, the descendants of Hagar, the mother of Ishmael (The margin of the New King James Bible confirms that the Hagrites are descendants of Hagar.)
2 Chronicles 21:16 states that God stirred up the spirit of the Arabians, who were near the Ethiopians, against evil King Jehoram of Judah. Since raiders who came with the Arabians killed all the older sons of King Jehoram, his youngest son Ahaziah was made king over Judah, but he did not behave any better than his evil father (2 Chronicles 22:1-3). However, when later a righteous king came to the throne of Judah, namely King Uzziah, God helped him against hostile Arabians (2 Chronicles 26:7).
(In passing, we read that at the time of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, descendants of Ishmael’s second-born son Kedar, the “men of the East,” would be conquered, compare Jeremiah 49:28-29. It is not certain whether this prophecy has any dual application for us today.)
At the time of the prophet Jeremiah, we read in chapters 40 and 41 of the book Jeremiah, that an Ishmaelite slayed the governor of Babylon and all the Jews and Chaldeans who were with him (compare Jeremiah 41:2-3). Still later, Arabians opposed Nehemiah’s attempt to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem which had been destroyed by the Babylonians (Nehemiah 2:19; 4:7; 6:1-9).
On the other hand, we have seen that there were at times friendly relationships between Israel and Judah and the Arabs; for instance, when the kings of Arabia brought presents to Solomon and Jehoshaphat.
Turning to the New Testament, we find that Arabs were present in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost when God poured out His Holy Spirit on the New Testament Church (Acts 2:11), and that Paul, after his conversion, went to Arabia (Galatians 1:17) and stayed there for a while, perhaps, as Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible suggests, to associate with those Arabs who had been converted on the Day of Pentecost.
On the other hand, Paul states in Galatians 4:25 that Hagar is Mount Sinai in present-day Arabia, which is still not free, but enslaved to sin. This is true, of course, for the whole world today, which is cut off from God.
Focusing on our modern times, we read in Ezekiel 27:21 that Arabia and all the end-time princes of Ishmael’s second-born son Kedar would be the regular merchants of, and have regular bilateral economic trade relationships with mystical Tyre (symbolizing the end-time Babylonian system, as described in the book of Revelation).
Focusing more on end-time prophecies, we also find the remarkable statement that Kedar would not have changed their god in recent times—unlike the modern house of Israel which did (compare Jeremiah 2:10-11). Ever since the Arabs accepted Islam as their religion and began to worship Allah, they have over all stuck to that form of religious worship. The modern house of Israel, on the other hand, has totally abandoned the God of the Bible (Jeremiah 2:4, 9-11-13), and has instead adopted the worship of a “Trinitarian” god (the unbiblical curiosity of “one Person in three Persons”) with customs, practices and rites adopted from paganism. That God’s charge is directed against the house of Israel in our time is clear from God’s statement in verse 9 that God brings those charges against “you” and “your children” and “your children’s children.”
We also read, in Psalm 83:6 that Ishmaelites—the kingdom of Saudi Arabia—as well as other Arabic tribes, such as the Hagrites, will enter into an anti-Israeli confederacy with nations such as Edom (Turkey); Moab (parts of Jordan and perhaps Iraq); Ammon (Jordan); Amalek (perhaps today violent groups like the PLO); Philistia (Palestinians); Lot (Jordan); and, most noteworthy, Assyria or modern-day Germany.
When God intervenes in world affairs, He will begin to pour out His wrath and fury over all nations, by bringing the sword over them (Jeremiah 25:15-17), including Arabia and Tema, one of Ishmael’s sons (Jeremiah 25:23). This will happen during the Day of the LORD of God’s wrath (Jeremiah 25:33), which will begin approximately one year prior to Christ’s return.
We find a remarkable and somewhat detailed prophecy about the future of Saudi Arabia in Isaiah 21:13-17, stating:
“The burden against Arabia. In the forest in Arabia you will lodge, O you traveling companies of the Dedanites [apparently descendants of Jokshan, the son of Abraham by Keturah, Genesis 25:3, who settled in the region of Arabia Petrea]. O inhabitants of the land of Tema [see above], Bring water to him who is thirsty; With their bread they met him who fled. For they fled from the swords, from the drawn sword, From the bent bow, and from distress of war. For thus the LORD has said to me; ‘Within a year, according to the year of a hired man, all the glory of [Ishmael’s second-born son] Kedar will fail; and the remainder of the number of archers, the mighty men of the people of Kedar, will be diminished; for the LORD God of Israel has spoken it.’”
This Scripture tells us that “Arabia”–Saudi Arabia today–will experience defeat in war, and the time span of one year is given, apparently referring to the Day of the LORD. We are not specifically told who exactly will defeat the Arabs in war, but we note that in Old Testament times, the Assyrians did so, and most commentaries apply the prophecy of Isaiah to that occurrence. They overlook, however, that the prophecy is primarily for our times today (see below), but the question is whether the prophecy is dual, in that Assyria will again be the enemy defeating the Arabs in war, after they first had entered into an alliance with Assyria against Israel.
We also read that the Arabs are admonished to help those with water and bread who flee from the terrible weapons and distress of war—apparently referring to the war which will be started by the Babylonian system under Assyrian leadership, but it could also refer perhaps to the “retaliatory” war fought by the Russians and other Far Eastern nations against Babylon.
In that context, we note that the immediate context of this prophecy is the fall of the modern Babylonian system which is currently rising one more time in Europe (compare Isaiah 21:9, saying that “Babylon is fallen, is fallen”—referring to ancient and to modern times).
We are also told that Kedar—Saudi Arabia—and all the other Arab tribes will ultimately recognize and worship Jesus Christ after His return (Isaiah 42:10-13); and they will worship in Jerusalem and bring their gifts to that holy place where Christ will rule (Isaiah 59:20-21; 60:1-3, 7, 14).
What a time it will be when all nations, including the Arabs, will embrace the one and only true religion of the Bible, as taught in the Old and New Testament, and accept God the Father—the highest in the Godhead—and Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as their one and only true personal Savior, without whom there is no salvation (Acts 4:12).
Lead Writer: Norbert Link