Book Review: Seeds of Turmoil by Bryant Wright

Title: Seeds of Turmoil: The Biblical Roots of the Inevitable Crisis in the Middle East
Author: Bryant Wright
Publisher: Thomas Nelson (2010)

It’s rare that a day goes by when there isn’t a new story in the media about the ongoing turmoil in the Middle East. Despite attempts to forge a lasting peace, there is none to be found. Temporary cease-fires give way to full-scale conflict. Suicide bombers wreak havoc throughout the region. Iran’s president has stated his desire to wipe Israel off the map. It seems like no matter what action is taken, no matter who is involved in peace talks, it just keeps going.

Buy why? Why is there such turmoil in this region—and why is Israel at the center of it?

The root of the problem, says author Bryant Wright in Seeds of Turmoil, lies in the sinful actions of one man: Abraham.

In part one of Seeds of Turmoil (which is the bulk of the text), Wright walks readers through the biblical account of the birth of Abraham’s children, Isaac and Ishmael, and of the rivalry between his grandchildren, Jacob and Esau, explaining how the prophecies made about each are still coming to bear in our present age.

These chapters read very much like sermon or lecture transcripts. There is a great deal of repetition that in a series of messages would feel quite natural (reminding & reinforcing what was learned the week prior); however, in print form it falls a bit flat as a reader moves from one chapter to the next in relatively quick succession.

Even still, I can understand why Wright felt the need to cover the same ground in multiple chapters—it’s important to stress that the conflict that exists today is, in a very real sense, a conflict between two “brothers.”

Had Sarah, in an act of unbelief, not told Abraham to sleep with Hagar (which he did without complaint), Ishmael would never have been born and God would never have said of him that he would be “a wild donkey of a man, his hand against everyone and everyone’s hand against him, and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen” (Gen. 16:12)—a prophecy ultimately fulfilled in the modern Arab nations of the Middle East. Similarly, had Jacob not stolen the blessing of Esau, there would not be the strife that exists between Israel and Edom (modern-day Jordan).

These chapters also do a solid job of stressing the seriousness of sin. Abraham committed (consensual) adultery. Jacob committed identity theft. And the consequences are felt to this very day.

The second part of Seeds of Turmoil looks at these events in light of the Christian, Jewish and Muslim perspectives. Particularly fascinating for me was to read more of the origins of Islam within chapter 10; here Wright describes Muhammad’s rise from obscure polytheist whose encounter with an angel claiming to be Gabriel led him to become an “itinerate prophet with new monotheistic religious ideas,” and eventually  “the founder of a combination of a new religion and a militant state” (p. 141).

As he grew in confidence and boldness, “he no longer saw himself as just one messenger in a long line of messengers of God but the final and ultimate prophet of God” (p. 142). He continues, “[o]riginally Muhammad wanted to unify and purify Arab religion under submission to the one and only God. But by the time of his death, he had taken on a classic utopian outlook,” that is, the total submission of all peoples to Allah (p. 143).

In this chapter in particular, the author doesn’t shy away from saying very hard things about the Muslim religion, even while seeking to keep his tone respectful. I don’t find that Wright comes across anti-Islam, so much as pro-Israel (which to some might be the same thing, but there is a distinction). And this he is, almost to a fault.

One of the greatest difficulties for many Christians today is how to support the nation of Israel. Does it deserve unquestioning support from followers of Jesus, or is it more the same sort of support we would seek to provide to any nation—that through our prayer, through proclamation of the gospel and seeking the good of the lands we inhabit, many would turn away from sin and worship Christ.

While Wright most certainly does advocate that it’s only when Christ returns that there will be lasting peace in the Middle East (and all nations for that matter), he gets a bit muddy in his view of the modern nation.

Even so, I was surprised to see that he seems to overlook the seriousness of Romans 9:6, “For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel.” This is as true today as it was when Paul wrote it nearly 2000 years ago. Do all who claim Abraham as their father, have him for a father? I’m not certain—certainly those upon whom God has mercy will be saved. I suppose I’m concerned that we may wind up applying a standard of merit (ethnicity) that God does not.

Does God still have a specific purpose for the Jewish people? Certainly; if not, they would no longer exist. And while we’re to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, most assuredly (Psa. 122:6), I wonder if it’s not the peace of the New Jerusalem that should be our focus (cf. Rev. 21:2)?

Overall, Seeds of Turmoil is an engaging and provocative primer on the biblical roots of the current turmoil in the Middle East—one that I believe will help many as they seek to understand the climate and pray for God’s peace to reign.

A complimentary copy of this book was provided by the publisher.

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