15 But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. 17 I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus.
Why did Paul need to go to Arabia? Why did he bother going there immediately after his drastic conversion? Paul received a threefold calling. “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” sounded from heaven while he was on his way to Damascus. The blinding appearance of the exalted Jesus called the fervent Christian hater to a halt. On Straight Street the scales fell from his eyes: Jesus was God’s son, not a leader of a sect. Thereafter the called one felt called to share his newly acquired insights with others (Acts 9). His calling got a second dimension. Saul, or Paul, got a vision for non-Jews! For the gentiles. God opened his eyes for him to see that His love was not only for the descendants of Abraham and Isaac but for other nations as well. Not in the least for Ishmaels descendants.
Arabia in Galatians is not the same as the current Saudi Arabia. Rather think of an extended version of Jordan. Let us focus on residents rather than location: he went to the descendants of Abraham’s firstborn. In chapter 4 the apostle clearly makes the connection between Arabia and Hagar and Ishmael: the mother and her son who Muslims feel related to. Why did Paul go to Arabia? He was not advised to do so by Jerusalem’s church leader. On the contrary, he ignored his own “flesh and blood”. He was not guided by his own or someone else’s gut feelings. Despite disturbed family relations he decided to first visit his far-away cousins.
O God, may the peoples praise you;
May all peoples sing Your praise.
For You judge the nations justly,
Ruling over every race.
May they sing with joy and gladness;
May they all rejoice as one.
O God, may the peoples praise You
As they all unite in song.