Israel: Still God's Chosen People
The Bible is the revelation of God's will to man. It is a self-disclosure
by God giving us information we could not gain from any other
source. It begins with the book of Genesis, explaining in just
a few chapters, how the human race was brought into existence
by the personal activity of the God who created the universe.
It shows that the first man and woman were the objects of His
love and special attention. They were created "in His image"
(Genesis 1:26-27), and were given the privilege of regular communication
with Him (Genesis 2:15-17; 3:8) One man and one woman were appointed,
not only as the progenitors of our race, but also as God's stewards,
His custodians and caretakers over the creation. They were created
with the characteristics of mind, emotions, personality, and will.
They were made creative, imaginative, inventive, artistic, capable
of loving and being loved--and above all, able to worship.
As the account of Genesis continues its simple but profound revelation of God's dealing with our human parents, the problem of evil surfaces. Even though Adam and Eve had been created perfect, they had also been created with the ability to choose, or reject, God's will for them. In theory, they could have chosen to obey God completely, but instead, being tempted by Satan, they partook of the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3). Evil did not begin with man but with a rebellion among the angels. The angelic rebellion damaged the created universe and its invisible angelic government. (Isaiah 14:12ff.; Ezekiel 28:12ff.) It also brought about the possibility that man, too, could choose a course of action contrary to the perfect ways of God. This first human sin alienated our original parents from their creator. Instead of looking forward to walking with Him in the garden, they hid themselves from Him (Genesis 3:8-10).
The separation from God that is the result of sin is the greatest of all problems for the human race. God had warned Adam that if he disobeyed, "you will surely die" (Genesis 2:17). Adam did not die immediately in a physical sense, although the process of aging and eventual death was triggered by this event of rebellion. But Adam died spiritually (Romans 5:12)--the word "death" in the Bible actually means "separation." Thus, when a person dies physically, there is a separation between the physical and the non-physical aspects of his being: his Soul and Spirit. The body is laid to rest where it will return to dust (Genesis 3:19), while the immaterial part of man goes on to wait the judgment, and the eventual destination of heaven or hell (Luke 16:19-31). There is also a spiritual death separation of man's spirit from the spirit of his Creator. This is what the Apostle Paul had in mind when he declared,
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. (Ephesians 2:1-2)
Sin, therefore, poses the greatest of all threats to the well-being
of our race. Man's fall resulted in his spiritual death. His body
was genetically damaged so that all men are mortal because of
the sin of Adam. Men cut off from the source of life have no hope--and
God IS Life! All life, all forms of life, come from God. Being
disconnected from the source of life (for any reason) means an
organism will begin to die, and continue to die. Men begin to
die as soon as they are born, but God in His love for us did not
abandon us in our plight. A god who was simply good might have
declared the human experiment a failure, and would have left us
to suffer the consequences of our rebellion, or, perhaps, would
have put us out of our misery, snuffing out the planet with a
momentary explosion, in order to preserve the rest of His creation
from possible contamination. A god who was simply just could have
easily allowed anarchists and rebels to perish. After all it is
His universe not ours.
But God is not simply good, nor simply just. Above all He is holy, and He is a God of love. His very nature is love. (1 John 4:8). In His love, He sought to reestablish a relationship with Adam and Eve by seeking them out. When they hid from Him, the Lord found them and offered a way back, a way of restoration. That restoration involved wearing the skins of an animal sacrifice. An animal sacrificed by God Himself was the first creature to die. The death of the animal was symbolic of the physical death they deserved to die. It demonstrated a great principle of Scripture that "without the shedding of blood there is no remission (removal) of sin." The concept of a substitutionary atoning sacrifice was introduced. Before they received this gift from God, they were in a state of being spiritually dead-cut off from Him. But when they received it and wore it, they were in effect confessing their sin and their inability to solve the problem for themselves. The death of that first animal on their behalf became a "covering" for their sin (Genesis 3:21). Fig leaves and other forms of clothing would come to be symbols of man's self-righteousness. Sin causes man to lose his own righteousness as the prophets tell us, "All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags." (Isaiah 64:6) This would later be the basis for the institution of the system of animal sacrifices. sacrifices and would teach us about "imputed righteousness"--that inherent goodness of Christ with which we are clothed when we place our faith in Him. And the animal sacrifices, in turn, point to a future final sacrifice by the Messiah. That is why Paul continued the explanation in Ephesians this way:
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions--it is by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:4-5)
The next few chapters of Genesis trace the spread of the human
race and its eventual corruption--within less than 2000 years--to
the point that God needed to send a flood to destroy the evil.
Again, He did not destroy the entire planet, but, in love and
grace, God preserved the eight persons who still trusted in Him.
Therefore, Noah and his family were saved (Genesis 6-10).
After the Flood, God told men to "be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth." (Genesis 9:1) This would require them to gradually migrate in all directions. Those who were migrating East built a city and a tower at Babylon, and established there false religious system in an effort to disobey God and stay together. God confused their languages so they could no longer work together. (Genesis 11)
Several hundred years later people had established cultures in many places. There were some who still retained the truth passed down to them by their fathers from the time of Noah, but there were many who had abandoned that truth. God picked out one man, from the city of Ur of the Chaldees, a place where most people no longer believed in Him. He called Abram (later called Abraham) with these words:
The LORD had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you. "I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you." (Genesis 12:1-2)
God does not act whimsically or arbitrarily, but deals with
individuals and nations on the basis of great contracts or covenants
which He Himself initiates. The very name Yahweh is known as the
"covenant name" of God. Yahweh is related to the Hebrew
verb "to be" and indicates that God is a living Person
who enters into personal relationships with individuals and with
groups of individuals. Everything God has done in regards to our
salvation is based on one or more of the covenants God has made
in the past. None of these has been abrogated or annulled.
Even before Abraham's time God had made a covenant with Noah on behalf of the whole human race. That covenant was a promise never again to destroy the earth with a flood. (Genesis 9:8-17)
There are groups of churches today which stress what they call "covenantal theology." We do not disagree with this emphasis on the ways God has chosen to enter into contracts with His peoples. However many of the "covenant churches" would not necessarily agree with our eschatology. The subject of covenants in the Bible is important and complex. The Appendix introduces this subject for the serious student.
Five principle covenants--all still in effect--apply to the nation of Israel. These include the Abrahamic Covenant (later confirmed to Isaac and Jacob), The Mosaic Covenant, the Covenant of The Land, the Davidic Covenant, and the New Covenant.
The Abrahamic Covenant was the promise of a special blessing for Abraham's descendants: a "chosen" people. But it is obviously not for their benefit alone, but that, through them, all people would be blessed!
The LORD had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you." (Genesis 12:3)
The promised benefit to the whole human race was later revealed
as the Messiah - - the Deliverer from the penalty of sin. That
is, the promise to Abraham was really the promise of one unique
seed, Messiah, in whom all the covenants would find their fulfillment
(Galatians 3:16). The theological term "eternal covenant"
refers to an agreement within the Godhead, made before the foundation
of the world, out of which all the covenants with mankind would
An important part of the promise to Abraham was that he would be led to a land which God would show him.
At the time of Abraham's journey, the land was occupied by various Canaanite tribes, and was therefore known as the land of Canaan. Canaan was the son of Ham, and the grandson of Noah. Following the flood, the descendants of Canaan traveled to the area and settled there. Canaan's sons became the heads of what would become the tribes of Canaan. Canaan himself had evidently participated in his father's sin of mocking and gross disrespect when Noah accidentally became drunk, dishonoring his grandfather (Genesis 9:21-26). Canaan manifested the same moral weakness his father had, but to a greater degree. His descendants, resisting God's grace, became more and more decadent and ungodly as their history unfolded. Eventually these idolatrous peoples were to be deprived of their land. (Deuteronomy 7:1-10)
Following a long series of conquests of the Canaanite tribes (See the Book of Joshua), the twelve tribes of Israel finally occupied a large portion of the land originally promised to Abraham. In the days of David the land was renamed "Israel" after the new name God had given the patriarch Jacob, whose twelve sons were the heads of the twelve tribes of Israel. The tribes were united in one great kingdom until after the reign of David's son Solomon. After Solomon died a power struggle ensued, resulting in a division of the people. The northern ten tribes were still called Israel, but the southern two tribes, and the land which they occupied, was called Judea, after the name of the larger of the two tribes, Judah. This is the name from which the words "Jew" and "Jewish" were derived.
The name "Palestine" is not found in the Bible. It has had a variety of meanings. Nelson's Bible Dictionary tells us how the word was first used:
"The word itself originally identified the region as "the land of the Philistines," a war-like tribe that inhabited much of the region alongside the Hebrew people. But the older name for Palestine was CANAAN, the term most frequently used in the Old Testament.
"The term Palestine as a name for the entire land of Canaan, beyond the coastal plains of the Phoenicians, was first used by the fifth century B. C. historian Herodotus. After the Jewish revolt of A. D. 135, the Romans replaced the Latin name Judea with the Latin Palaestina as their name for this province."
As you can see, the name is actually an insult to the Jewish
people, denying the name Israel, which it once had, and going
back to the Philistines, their earlier opponents.
Before the rebirth of the Nation of Israel in 1948, the name Palestine was virtually synonymous with "The Holy Land." Most writers from the time printed books were first introduced until this generation used the term in a non-political sense for the entire region of the Bible lands. Palestine was a well defined area at the end of World War II. The modern nation of Jordan was carved out of the larger portion of Palestine, and the remainder was the area now known once again as the nation of Israel.
Today the name "Palestine" has a different meaning with highly political connotations. This will be described later in the section on "Modern Israel."
Covenants can be conditional or unconditional. As it turns
out only one of the covenants applicable to Israel is conditional---the
right of the Jews to live in the promised land.
This partly conditional covenant has several elements: (1) dispersion of the Jews was to be a consequence of disobedience. (2) Future repentance will be accomplished by God. (3) God will regather his scattered people and restore them to the land. (4) The people of Israel will be brought to the Lord as a nation. (5) The enemies and oppressors of Israel will be punished. (6) Future national prosperity and preeminence is guaranteed. (See also Deuteronomy. 28, 29.) Because of this covenant, the right of the Jews to live in the land is conditional upon their behavior.
"See, I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you this day, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his ordinances, then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land which you are entering to take possession of it. But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you this day, that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land which you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice, and cleaving to him; for that means life to you and length of days, that you may dwell in the land which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them." (Deuteronomy 30:15-20)
Disobedience and Discipline
2 Kings, Chapter 17, documents God's reasons for His temporarily
removing the ten Northern tribes from the Land. The Lord indicates
that the approaching 70 year Babylonian captivity would allow
the Land to enjoy its seventh-year Sabbath rests which had been
ignored by the Jews since their entry into the land under the
leadership of Joshua.
Moses had given Israel this warning about what would happen if they forsook the Lord:
I will scatter you among the nations and will draw out my sword and pursue you. Your land will be laid waste, and your cities will lie in ruins. Then the land will enjoy its sabbath years all the time that it lies desolate and you are in the country of your enemies; then the land will rest and enjoy its Sabbaths. All the time that it lies desolate, the land will have the rest it did not have during the Sabbaths you lived in it. (Leviticus 26:33-35)
Second Chronicles records the result of their disobedience:
He carried into exile to Babylon the remnant, who escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and his sons until the kingdom of Persia came to power. The land enjoyed its sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed in fulfillment of the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah. (2 Chronicles 36:20-21)
Daniel, who had been among the young men taken captive to Babylon, expressed the repentance that the exiles felt after years of captivity. He had lived out a long and useful life in Babylon serving a succession of governments and administrations, but as an old man he realized the time of the captivity there was about to end when he happened to be reading the scroll of his immediate predecessor Jeremiah:
In the first year of Darius son of Xerxes (a Mede by descent), who was made ruler over the Babylonian kingdom--in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the LORD given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years. So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed: "O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with all who love him and obey his commands, we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes and our fathers, and to all the people of the land. "Lord, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame--the men of Judah and people of Jerusalem and all Israel, both near and far, in all the countries where you have scattered us because of our unfaithfulness to you. O LORD, we and our kings, our princes and our fathers are covered with shame because we have sinned against you." (Daniel 9:1-8) (See also Daniel 9:15-19)
Rebuilding - Ezra, Nehemiah
The books of Ezra and Nehemiah describe the leadership of Zerubbabel and Nehemiah, who led small numbers of Jews back to the Land at the end of the appointed 70 years in Babylon. A modest Second Temple was constructed and the city walls were rebuilt in answer to Daniel's prayer of intercession (Daniel 9:1-19). The land from that time until now was under Gentile dominion, however. Yeshua would later affirm that Israel's subservience to Gentile powers would continue until He returned, (Luke 21:24). This did not change in 1948 when Israel achieved national independence--Jerusalem is to be overrun and destroyed by foreign armies at least one more time. (Zechariah 14:1-3)
Coming of The Messiah
The Gospel of Matthew was written primarily for Jewish readers.
It constantly refers to the Messianic prophecies fulfilled by
Yeshua (Jesus) as the rightful King of the Jews. Among these striking
fulfillments, Matthew cited Yeshua's virgin birth (1:22-23), the
place of His birth in Bethlehem (2:5-6), the flight of His parents
to Egypt to spare him from Herod's slaughter of children (2:14-15),
His boyhood years in Nazareth (2:23), the beginnings of His public
ministry in the area of Galilee (4:13-16), His miraculous healing
ministry (8:14-17; 12:17-21), His rejection by non-believers (13:13-15),
His entrance into Jerusalem on a donkey (21:1-5), His surrender
to His enemies (26:54-56), and His betrayal for thirty pieces
of silver (27:3-10).
His agony in the garden, illegal trial in the middle of the night, crucifixion, burial and resurrection are vividly described (26-28). The other three gospels give complementary details.
Fulfillment of Prophecy
A comparison of all the Gospels with the Old Testament record results in over sixty different prophecies fulfilled in Yeshua's birth, life and death. The odds against any person coincidentally fulfilling these prophecies is astronomical! It was this fact that convinced His followers that He truly was the long-awaited Messiah. Here are some examples of this fact:
The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, "We have found the Messiah" (that is, the Christ)
Philip found Nathaniel and told him, "We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote--Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph." (John 1:41, 45)
When Jesus spoke with the Samaritan woman at the well, He revealed to her that He was Messiah.
The woman said, "I know that Messiah" (called Christ) "is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us." Then Jesus declared, "I who speak to you am he."
Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, "Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?" (John 4:25-26, 28-29)
It should always be remembered that the entire first church
was Jewish. All of the Twelve Apostles were Jewish. Their first
assignment was to preach to "the lost sheep of Israel."
(Matthew 10:6) Yeshua was reluctant at first to even share the
Gospel with the Canaanite woman who asked for His help because
His focus was also the Jewish people. (Matthew 25:22-28).
As the nation began to reject their promised King and Messiah (Matthew 12:14-21), Jesus began to conceal truth from the nation, by speaking in parables (Matthew 13). He focused on training. His disciples for the age which would follow, and on His primary mission of arriving in Jerusalem at the time appointed for His crucifixion. God's plan for ultimate blessings promised to the Gentiles came more into view.
On the night of His betrayal at the "Last Supper"--after Judas had left to finalize his plot to betray the Lord--Jesus brought the 11 disciples, as representatives of true, believing Israel into the "New Covenant" which had been promised to Israel hundreds of years earlier by the prophets Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Isaiah. This New Covenant was to be the basis of the spread of the gospel message of Jesus by these same men, after they were made Apostles of the church. The nation Israel was to be brought back to God under the terms of this New Covenant, though for a period of time they were to be set aside because of their rejection of Yeshua as Messiah.
Yeshua's official rejection of Israel and His plan for the calling out of a church was announced at Caesarea Philippi (Matthew 16:17-19). A few months later, during His final week in Jerusalem, He announced to the nation and its leaders,
"The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes' Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you [Israel] and given to a people [the church] who will produce its fruit. He who falls on this stone [Messiah] will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed." (Matthew 21:42-44)
Yeshua wept over Jerusalem as He realized the terrible fate that would come upon the nation because of their rejection of Him. For the second time the conditional provisions of the Covenant of the Land were to be enforced. This time their exile ("Diaspora") was to last not 70 years but 2000!
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord." (Matthew 23:37-39)
The resurrection of Jesus and His appearances to friends and
disciples over the next 40 days, reassured them considerably--for
they had all forsaken Him when He died (Matthew 26:31). Promising
to send them "Another Strengthener" (John 14:1516),
He told His followers to wait ten more days.
Gathering in Jerusalem on the appointed day--the Feast of Pentecost following Passover--the Jewish followers of Yeshua were empowered by the Spirit of God and baptized into a new community of believers known as the church--the Body of Christ. (Ephesians 3:1-21)
All of those who first heard the Gospel on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2) were Jewish (including converts and those dispersed to other countries).
It was only after the persecution of the early church by the Jewish enemies of Yeshua in Jerusalem that they were scattered from there, and began to take the message to the rest of Judea and Samaria, and eventually, to Gentiles living in Israel, and even to other Nations (Acts 8:1; 10:1-48; 13:1-4).
Even when Paul, the "Apostle to The Gentiles" would go to any new place, he would first seek out the Jewish people and proclaim the Gospel to them. (Acts 13:5; 14; 14:1-5; 17:1-5; 18:1-6) Typically, some of the Jews would believe and the rest would not. Only then would he began to preach to the Gentiles. Here is an example from the visit to Antioch in Pisidia:
As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath. When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God. On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying. Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: "We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For this is what the Lord has commanded us: "'I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.'" When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed. (Acts 13:42-48)
Paul summarized his God-given method in Romans 1:16 where he stated, "I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile."
Rejection of Messiah
The second violation of the conditional provisions of the Covenant Of The Land occurred when Israel as a nation rejected her rightful Messiah, Yeshua, when He came riding into Jerusalem on a donkey as legitimate King of Israel (exactly fulfilling Zechariah 9:9)
As he [Jesus] was now drawing near, at the descent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, "Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!" And some of the Pharisees in the multitude said to him, "Teacher, rebuke your disciples." He answered, "I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out." And when he drew near and saw the city he wept over it, saying, "Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace! But now they are hid from your eyes. For the days shall come upon you, when your enemies will cast up a bank about you and surround you, and hem you in on every side, and dash you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave one stone upon another in you; because you did not know the time of your visitation." (Luke 19:37-44)
One might have thought that during the 400 years following the close of the Old Testament (after the book of Malachi was written) the nation would have learned its lessons from history and been ready for the coming of the Promised One. But the priesthood had become thoroughly corrupt and the bulk of the populace wanted relief from Roman Oppression--not release from inner evil, sin and spiritual death. Messiah's rejection as rightful King in the line of David was followed within a few days by His betrayal and execution. When Jesus stood before Pontius Pilate the assembled crowd of Jews was given an opportunity to free Jesus who was by all counts completely innocent, or to release a known criminal. In the ensuing clamor the people asked instead for the release of Barabbas,
Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted. And they had then a notorious prisoner, called Barabbas. So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them, "Whom do you want me to release for you, Barabbas or Jesus who is called Christ?" For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up. Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, "Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much over him today in a dream." Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the people to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. The governor again said to them, "Which of the two do you want me to release for you?" And they said, "Barabbas." Pilate said to them, "Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?" They all said, "Let him be crucified." And he said, "Why, what evil has he done?" But they shouted all the more, "Let him be crucified." So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, "I am innocent of this man's blood; see to it yourselves." And all the people answered, "His blood be on us and on our children!" (Matthew 27:15-25)
It is wrong for us to label Jews as "Christ-killers"
because quite clearly all mankind is involved in the conspiracy
which put Jesus to death. Representatives of each of the
sons of Noah: Shem, Ham, and Japheth had a responsible role in
putting Messiah to death. Had the Son of God been born in any
other country, in any other time, the results would have been
the same. Yet the leaders of the Jews standing before Pilate in
that generation were willing to assume responsibility for the
blood of Jesus, "Let his blood be upon us." God will
evidently require this of the nation in the final days of the
The resurrection of Jesus three days after his death, and the sudden and dramatic formation of the church of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost (50 days after the resurrection) did not turn the heart of the nation to their Messiah. It was only a matter of time until the Jewish followers of Jesus, some thousands in number, were forced to flee Jerusalem. Soon the unbelieving Jews, in their continuing revolt against Rome, provoked the Romans to remove them from the land. As a consequence, the provisional terms of the Covenant Of The Land were invoked for the second time by the Owner of the Land.
After this second dispersion, lasting nearly 2000 years, God allowed His chosen people to return to their land again. The exciting history of the regathering of the Jews from all lands began a hundred years ago---culminating in the rebirth of the State of Israel in 1948 and the tiny nation's rise to power and a restored place of great power and influence as a modern progressive democracy. Thankfully, God is faithful to His promises in spite our unbelief!
The drama of the Jewish people during their Diaspora is little known to most Christians. It is fascinating reading because it soon becomes clear that God has in fact protected the Jewish people, their religion, values and culture against the great pressures to assimilate, against almost constant terrible anti-Semitism, against horrendous persecution down through the ages. The very existence of the Jews today, the recovery of their language, their regathering to the land of their fathers, and the clear signs of their Messianic expectations, are surely among the greatest miracles one can find on the pages of human history.
Hardening and blindness - Romans 11
In the early years when God had moved to call out a church to His name, and because the majority of Jewish people did not accept Yeshua as Messiah, the Apostle Paul explained that they had become spiritually blind. The same thing happens to any people anywhere in any age who hear truth from God and ignore it. The Jews are representative--not unique--in their demonstration of all of mankind's rebellion against God down through the ages.
I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. (Romans 11:25)
One might ask if the past hundred years of great economic development,
prosperity, and overwhelming military victories against enormous
odds, has brought the Jews to a place of contrition and repentance
and humility as far as their God is concerned---especially since
the restoration of the State of Israel was born out of terrible
persecution and hardship?
It is quite true that many thousands of Jews from all over the world have become believers in Yeshua over the past 2000 years, and these have been added to the church (see Ephesians 2:11-3:12 for God's purposes in this present age). It is also true that there is a small remnant of some thousands of believing Jews now resident in the Land of Israel (Romans 11:5). Yet for the most part Israel is a secular state. Most of her citizens are not only indifferent to the God of their Fathers, but openly hostile to any notions that the God of the Land is anything more than an interesting mythological character now outgrown and to be discarded.
People who live in Israel can not help but be reminded of their past because the Sabbath is observed, and the major Biblical feasts are kept by many. Furthermore, archaeology is the national pastime, so there are reminders of early history in the news every day. At the present time about half of the Jews living in the land are "Sabras"--that is, they were born in the land and not immigrants. This younger generation is especially involved in a quest for their roots and identity, and from among the young men of this generation, well over 100,000 are already diligently studying the Torah in the many yeshivas of the land.
Although God is known for his great patience and long-suffering, it is appropriate to ask how much longer the Holy God of the Covenants will tolerate the present indifference, rebellion and disregard for His Person which typifies the Israel of the past hundred years? Of course we can not speak much more favorably about the disregard for God in our own country these days, especially since most Americans have already heard the truth about God, but never taken it seriously.
Sadly, we have further indications from the New Testament that tell us that not only will Israel continue in its denial of Yeshua as Messiah--they will in fact readily embrace a counterfeit Messiah. Jesus warned His people when he was with them,
You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness to me; yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. I do not receive glory from men. But I know that you have not the love of God within you. I have come in my Father's name, and you do not receive me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive. How can you believe, who receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? (John 5:39-44)
Israel is God's model nation, yet in spite of the fact that
Israel's history of repeated failure is on public display in the
Bible for all to read, God has neither abandoned nor rejected
His chosen people. When all the final scores are in concerning
all the nations and their animosity and hatred of the one true
God, no one will have any cause for boasting. In fact God will
judge all the other nations of the world by how they have treated
the Jews (Joel 3).
One hundred years of God's grace, kindness, mercy and favor have not turned the nation of Israel towards faith in their God. Nor are they any closer to accepting their true Messiah. Will then God banish the Jews from the land again, perhaps this time permanently?
The answer from Scripture is clear. Israel's final testing will occur in their land and involve the destruction of a majority of the populace, a time of trial compared to which the Nazi holocaust will pale in insignificance.
Ezekiel, chapters 36 and 37 plainly predicted that the Chosen
People would one day be regathered from the various nations of
the world, back to their own land, Israel. The Prophet saw a vision
of a valley full of dry bones, shaking and coming back together.
Once the skeleton was formed, muscles appeared, then skin covered
the reconstructed body which is symbolic of the rebirth of Israel.
The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, "Son of man, can these bones live?" I said, "O Sovereign LORD, you alone know." Then he said to me, "Prophesy to these bones and say to them, 'Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.'" So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them. (Ezekiel 37:1-8)
The modern nation of Israel came into existence on May 14,
1948 when the British, who had occupied the area of Palestine
since the end of World War II withdrew their forces and ended
their occupation of the land.
This was not a surprise, since Jewish people had flocked to the land for decades as part of the Zionist movement, begun in the late 1800's. At the end of World War I the British issued the "Balfour Declaration" which endorsed the establishment of "a national home" for the Jewish people in Palestine During World War II the Nazis killed 6 million Jewish people, (approximately one-third of all Jews living at the time). Because of this, world opinion was in favor of the establishment of a homeland for Jews.
However, all of the nations immediately surrounding the little sliver of land were opposed to the formation of a Jewish state, so, on the very first day of Israel's independence, all of Israel's neighbors declared war against them. Israel miraculously won that war--and four more which have been waged against them during their first fifty years of existence.
The Arab population of the land, who were mostly Moslems, were invited to stay when Israel became a nation. They were offered citizenship if they would stay. Many of them accepted the offer, but the majority fled into buffer areas just inside the borders of Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, where they formed Palestinian refugee camps. The neighboring countries would not assimilate them, preferring to use their plight as homeless refugees for political advantage.
Today "Palestinians" are the residents of certain areas of Israel designated by the Oslo Accords of 1963 as areas for self-rule of Palestinian people under the leadership of Yassir Arafat and the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization). There is a great deal of unrest, and occasional terrorist activity, between the residents of these areas and the rest of Israel, all of which threatens to destroy the progress of the "peace process" in the area.
The Nation of Israel has been brought back together as promised in Ezekiel: the skeleton, the muscles, and the skin are in place, but there is still one part of the prophecy which awaits fulfillment. That is the spiritual rebirth of the people. This is symbolized by God breathing life into Israel, even as He did into Adam when he was created.
Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.'"
So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet--a vast army. Then he said to me: "Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, 'Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.' Therefore prophesy and say to them: 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.'" (Ezekiel 37:9-14)
Israel has moved back into their ancient lands without any
special regard for the God of their Fathers, who was doing this
for them. The treatment of the immigrating Jews towards the Arabs
living in the land was often harsh and unfair. This is surely
because they had returned in a general state of unbelief. They
had forgotten for the moment the Law of Moses, and God's standards
for treatment of strangers and aliens living in God's land. Much
of the rebellion by the Palestinian people against the Jews is
based on legitimate complaints, and God, of course, can not overlook
this in the long run. He has no favorites and is even-handed in
His judgments of all people.
As mentioned earlier, God's ultimate intention for the nation Israel is that they should one day live under the more powerful, more effectual conditions of the New Covenant which is the covenant which is now in effect in the world-wide church of Jesus Christ,
This is pictured in Ezekiel 36 this way:
"'For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws." (Ezekiel 36:24-27)
It is after the church is completed that God will turn again to Israel as a nation and focus His activities once again from His unseen headquarters in Jerusalem.
Peter has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, as it is written, `After this I will return, and I will rebuild the dwelling of David, which has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will set it up, that the rest of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who has made these things known from of old.' (Acts 15:14-18)--The quote is from Amos 9:11-12).
In his great discourse on Israel's future the Apostle Paul assures us,
Lest you [believing Gentiles] be wise in your own conceits, I want you to understand this mystery, brethren: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles come in [to the church], and so [or, "then"] all Israel will be saved; as it is written, "The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob"; "and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins." As regards the gospel they are enemies of God, for your sake; but as regards election they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable. Just as you were once disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may receive mercy. (Romans 11:25-32)
The Old Testament books of prophecy are full of promises of
the future blessing of Israel. This will be developed later in
the last section on the Millennial Reign of Christ and beyond.
|Index Page||Prefatory||Chapter 1|
|Chapter 2||Chapter 3||Chapter 4|
|Chapter 5||Chapter 6||Chapter 7|
|Chapter 8||Chapter 9||Chapter 10|
|Chapter 11||Chapter 12||Chapter 13|
|Chapter 14||Chapter 15||Appendices|