The Biblical Origin of ISIS

One of the most important news stories of today had nothing to do with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump’s jests at the Al Smith Dinner. Seriously? There’s something of much greater concern. (Have you listened to Dr. Albert Mohler’s The Briefing today? You should.)

Query “ISIS” and your search results will point to the new offensive undertaken from an Iraqi coalition against ISIS to recapture Mosul. This is big news. Something we should be paying close attention to. Its effects continue to be far-reaching, and many are especially nervous about where the terrorists will go if the Islamic State falls.


ISIS is a massive reality in our day, but not one that should surprise us. From the moment we rise, to the moment we lay back down—we are to operate within a worldview that sees all things from the hand of a sovereign God

As true worshippers of Jesus Christ, we have had our hearts and minds illumined to see the very Word of God as the starting point of everything we hold to be true. However, it is not just the starting point, it is the only point.

The Bible is the foundation to our understanding of human history. It is absolute truth. God has revealed His redemptive plan to us in the Bible; and it has been given with authority. There’s no “maybe” between the pages of the Bible. Almighty God has spoken, “Thus saith the Lord” (Isa 44:6).


President Obama originally introduced the term ISIL to Americans when he used it five times in a speech on June 13, 2014, and then another sixteen times in his commencement speech at West Point six days later.

ISIS is shorthand for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. The L in ISIL is a translation of the term al-Sham, meaning the Levant—a region stretching from southern Turkey through Syria to Egypt.

What’s important here is that this area includes the nation of Israel. The group’s stated goal is to restore Islam to the likes of the Ottoman Empire, an Islamic state, or caliphate.

isis-wallet-appWhile most have decided to stick with the term ISIS, others have steered clear from it and come up with their own version, only adding to the confusion (here’s a USA Today article explaining the Islamic names).

On a more lighthearted note: perhaps you heard about the mobile wallet app some time ago that had introduced their product as the “ISIS wallet” on smart phones. A quick re-branding was in order. Today it is known as “Softcard.” Who can blame them, I mean, would you want an ISIS app in your pocket?


Before exploring the biblical origin of ISIS, it should also be noted here that there is a danger in placing all Islamic events into a single category—as there are many different kinds of Muslims. Some are liberal in their doctrine, others orthodox, and others radical. Indeed, their roots are the same—the tree is a Muslim one, but it should be noted that their branches are many.

Historically, the original Muslims viewed themselves as the descendants of Ishmael, the first son of Abraham. Mohammed traced his own line back through the Arab peoples to the princes and tribes born to Ishmael. God states as much to Abraham in Gen 17:20:

As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I will bless him, and will make him fruitful and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall become the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation.

Be sure to view the offspring of Ishmael listed in 25:12-18. There you’ll find a detailed record of these princes, as Abraham indeed is the father of the Arab peoples.

Within our Christian worldview, we can appreciate this divine promise, for there is no doubt that these people have become numerous and great. Yet, while we may recognize the fulfillment of this promise, we must also be clear that the book of Genesis teaches that God did not see Ishmael as the chosen son of promise. That role is for Isaac alone.

Some of our Muslim friends believe that Ishmael was the one offered up by Abraham in Genesis 22, claiming that scribes had corrupted the original text from Ishmael to Isaac. In fact, that is what many believe about the Bible, that it is corrupted. But the Quran plainly teaches otherwise.

For example, in Sura 3:42-50 it states that Jesus was born of a virgin with no earthly father. Add to that the Quran’s claim that the Torah, Psalms, and Gospels were revealed by Allah (Sura 4:163-65; 5:46-48; and 6:91-92).

Former Muslim Thabiti Anyabwile tells of his own personal and spiritual struggle in an excellent little book The Gospel for Muslims1. Anyabwile writes in the introduction:

51bte1pcb-l[N]owhere does the Quran teach that the Bible was corrupted or changed, only that some have covered its meaning, misunderstood it, or forgotten the message.

So, for me, any consistent and intellectually honest Muslim had to come to grips with the teaching of the Bible…

How could Jesus be virgin born, as the Quran taught, and not be the Son of God as the Gospels so clearly teach? How could the theme of atonement and sacrifice so pronounced in both the law of Moses and the Gospels simply vanish in Islam? And most troubling of all, how could my righteousness and sin ever be atoned for without a perfect sacrifice on my behalf?

This should make for an interesting conversation with our Muslim friends!


Back to the beginning… God had told Abraham that he must leave his homeland of Ur. Yet, Abraham did not know where he was going—and he wasn’t even saved (cf. Gen 15:6). Even so, remarkably, Abraham obeyed God.

The Almighty had begun His work of choosing a people for Himself (Gen 12:2-3):

And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.

An heir had been promised, and through this heir a people would have the God of Abraham as their God: the Israelites. This meant that the 100-year-old Abraham would have children as a fulfillment of this promise from God.

Look at his confusion as he begins to reason how this might occur, Gen 15:1-4:

After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not fear, Abram, I am a shield to you; Your reward shall be very great.” Abram said, “O Lord God, what will You give me, since I am childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Since You have given no offspring to me, one born in my house is my heir.” Then behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “This man will not be your heir; but one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir.”

Abraham (Abram at the time) had thought that perhaps God would allow for the adoption of his servant as his heir, a Mesopotamian practice, but when God tells him that the heir will be from his own flesh and blood—he follows his 90-year-old wife’s suggestion (much like Adam did Eve’s). Sarah proposes to her husband that he conceive a child with her maidservant—the Egyptian slave named Hagar (Gen 16:1-2).

While we might raise our eyebrows at this idea (and rightly so), culturally speaking this was also a common practice in the ancient Near East. The result of this union was an illegitimate son. Ishmael would be the father of the Arab peoples.

In Gen 16:10-11, we read of God’s message to Hagar:

Moreover, the angel of the Lord said to her, “I will greatly multiply your descendants so that they will be too many to count.” The angel of the Lord said to her further, “Behold, you are with child, and you will bear a son; and you shall call his name Ishmael, because the Lord has given heed to your affliction.

What follows next in verse 12 has even greater significance. Compare these words with what we are seeing today:

He will be a wild donkey of a man, his hand will be against everyone, and everyone’s hand will be against him; and he will live to the east of all his brothers.

Our headlines have confirmed this promise from God. The enemies of God are aggressive and violent.

1 Chronicles 5 connects the descendants of Ishmael with the Hagrites. Then add in Isaac’s rejected son Esau (Gen 25) and his descendants to the mix and you can see how Israel would be surrounded!

It’s imperative that we think biblically. As we find ourselves in unsettling times, texts such as these remind us of God’s sovereignty over all things. A Christian’s worldview sees the events unfolding around us through the lens of God’s Word. Genesis 16:12, the biblical origin of ISIS.

Long before the beginning of time in eternity past, to forever and a day—each and every event is tethered to the sovereign plan of God—yes, including ISIS.

God is still in control.


 Anyabwile, Thabiti. The Gospel for Muslims: An Encouragement to Share Christ with Confidence (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2010). 20.