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The Question of Israel

“I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 12:3 NKJV

The above verse or variants of this verse are often quoted by well meaning Christians as reasons that we must support Israel. By Israel they are usually speaking of the country in the middle east that was established in 1948. According to this way of thinking, nations rise and fall based on the way they treat this little country. If you dare speak out against this position you are accused of opposing God’s “chosen people.”Star of David

It is my contention that this is not at all what the above passage is about. Modern day Israel, it is assumed, is fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament. It is my belief that this confidence is misplaced.

First let’s look at it from just basic human understanding, and then we will go to the Bible. Modern Israel is not in anyway, a godly nation. The vast majority of Jews are atheists, and secularists. The laws of Israel are perhaps the most liberal in the entire region. Yes it may be called the holy land, but in truth the land is distinctively un-holy.

Now let’s look at some Biblical evidence. First off, we have to answer the question what is Israel and how is it used in the Bible? The first appearance of the word Israel occurs in Genesis 32:28. Jacob, the son of Isaac, was returning to his homeland after a long period away. He had left his home because he was in fear for his life at the hand of his brother Esau. Jacob had deceived his father and received the blessing that Isaac thought he was giving to Esau, and Jacob had earlier purchased Esau’s birthright for a bowl of beans. In doing these things Jacob was living up to his name. He was Jacob, a supplanter or a deceiver.

Jacob was convinced that Esau was going to kill him. On his return journey he hears a rumor that Esau is coming, and he is sure that Esau wants to kill him. At night when Jacob is sleeping he is attacked by a ferocious stranger who attacks him and does battle with him. It is likely that Jacob thought it was Esau who was attacking him, and he fought for his life. During this combat the man touches Jacob on his hip and cause great pain and dislocates the hip. Jacob then realizes that this is no ordinary man that he is fighting and hangs on to him asking him for a blessing? The Angel who is combating him asks him a question, and that question is “What is your name?”

Unlike today this is not so simple a question. Names carry with them meaning. They are thought to represent the character of the named. Jacobs name, as we have discussed means supplanter or deceiver. Jacob has spent his whole life living up to his name. And now this Angel is asking Him who he is. Of course the angel already knows this, but it is his intention that Jacob must speak his name. When Jacob does answer it is a form of acknowledgement and repentance and the angel then changes his name. Again going back to the names having meaning, this Angel changes the name of Jacob to Israel which means “Prince with God.” So the deceiver, the supplanter has now been changed, he is now a Prince with God. This name was a spiritual name. It represented Jacob’s victory over a life of deception. He was given a new name, thus he was a new creature.

Israel, who was formerly called Jacob then with his sons moved to Egypt because of a famine in the land of promise. Joseph, as we know, had been sold by his brethren into slavery and had been raised to the position of Prime Minister in Egypt. The only person in all Egypt who had more power than Joseph was Pharoah himself.

What I would like to do is see how the Bible views Israel. Israel is mentioned over 2,500 times in the Bible, so I won’t be able to cover every single reference, but I would like to get an overall picture and see if we can draw some sort of conclusion.

Let’s start with how Israel is viewed in the Old Testament

First Israel is identified as God’s son, and specifically His first born.

These families and people are the literal physical descendants of Israel
Exodus 1:1-7 Now these are the names of the children of Israel who came to Egypt; each man and his household came with Jacob: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah; Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin; Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher. All those who were descendants of Jacob were seventy persons (for Joseph was in Egypt already). And Joseph died, all his brothers, and all that generation. But the children of Israel were fruitful and increased abundantly, multiplied and grew exceedingly mighty; and the land was filled with them.
Later in the book we see that the entire nation is now referred to as Israel. The Israelites, literally “heirs of Israel,” have now become a nation. And in Exodus 4, the nation is referred to as God’s son and as his first born. Remember the first born is the heir.
Exodus 4:21-23 And the LORD said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do all those wonders before Pharaoh which I have put in your hand. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go. Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD: “Israel is My son, My firstborn. So I say to you, let My son go that he may serve Me. But if you refuse to let him go, indeed I will kill your son, your firstborn.”’”
Now who else in the Bible is referred to specifically as God Son, and who is the heir of all the promises of God.

Second, Israel is identified as a vine.

Psalms 80:8 You have brought a vine out of Egypt;
You have cast out the nations, and planted it.

This passage speaks to the fact that God had brought Israel from Egypt and “planted” her in the promised land. There are numerous other references in the Old Testament where Israel is referred to as a vine, or the language of a vineyard is used in referring to Israel.

Hosea 10 speaks of the vine of Israel which is planted in luxury, but that rather than turning to God because of their blessing they further embrace idolatry.

In Isaiah chapter 5 we read the account of the Vineyard. This vineyard was planted to yield grapes, but instead the vineyard yielded wild grapes. Isaiah then details what will happen to this vineyard. It will be dug up and destroyed. In verse 7 Isaiah
identifies the vineyard as Israel.

For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel,
And the men of Judah are His pleasant plant.
He looked for justice, but behold, oppression;
For righteousness, but behold, a cry for help.

In Ezekiel 15 God speaks regarding the vine that he will make the land desolate.

“Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: ‘Like the wood of the vine among the trees of the forest, which I have given to the fire for fuel, so I will give up the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and I will set My face against them. They will go out from one fire, but another fire shall devour them. Then you shall know that I am the LORD, when I set My face against them. Thus I will make the land desolate, because they have persisted in unfaithfulness,’ says the Lord GOD.”

Third, we see Israel identified as “The Descendents of Abraham.”

Isaiah 41:8 “But you, Israel, are My servant,
Jacob whom I have chosen,
The descendants of Abraham My friend.

This title “Descendent of Abraham,” is meant to draw our attention to God’s original dealings with Abraham in Genesis 12.

“I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Fourth, Israel is identified as the Servant of God. We have the above verse from Isaiah 41:8 but we also have Isaiah 42:1-3 and Isaiah 49:3.
Isaiah 42:1-3 “Behold! My Servant whom I uphold,
My Elect One in whom My soul delights!
I have put My Spirit upon Him;
He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles.
2 He will not cry out, nor raise His voice,
Nor cause His voice to be heard in the street.
3 A bruised reed He will not break,
And smoking flax He will not quench;
He will bring forth justice for truth.

Isaiag 49:3 “And He said to me,
‘You are My servant, O Israel,
In whom I will be glorified.’

Well by now I would hope we can see where I am going with this.

In the Old Testament Israel is identified as Gods Son, as a vine, as the seed of Abraham, and as God’s servant. True there are other characteristics that Israel is identified with, but I want to take a moment and discuss a basic hermeneutical principle. Hermeneutics is the Science of Interpretation. When reading the Bible there are a few rules that we should follow when reading to make sure we get the proper meaning of the text. One of the most important rules is that we use the New Testament to Interpret the Old. It is very important that we don’t reverse this. The Old Testament is the Shadow the New Testament is the fulfillment.

Jesus told the two men on the road to Emmaus that “these” (the law and the prophets) “are they that speak of me.” It is very important that we understand when reading the Bible, Old and New Testament alike, that it is about Jesus.

With that in mind, how does the New Testament help us understand these Scripture in regard to Israel?

First let us look at Matthew 2:13-15:
Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Arise, take the young Child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I bring you word; for Herod will seek the young Child to destroy Him.”
When he arose, he took the young Child and His mother by night and departed for Egypt, and was there until the death of Herod, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Out of Egypt I called My Son.”
Not only does God refer to Jesus as his son in the following passage, but he also takes the prophecy in Hosea 11:1 which was spoken of the nation of Israel and applies it to Jesus Christ. Christ becomes the fulfillment of the Hosea prophecy. We begins to see that Christ is the new Israel that fulfills the promises to Israel.
In Matthews Gospel, the author goes into great detail to show that Jesus is actually retracing the steps of ancient Israel, showing that he is the fulfillment of these Israel prophecies.
Israel, after leaving Egypt crossed the Red Sea. 1 Corinthians 10:1-2 calls this their Baptism.

Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea,
In Matthew 3, which is right after the account of Jesus Birth and his early life, and his “calling out from Egypt.” We read the account of Jesus Baptism.

After Israel’s baptism at the Red Sea, they then go into the Wilderness for 40 years of wandering and trials. Reading through this account we see that these 40 years are marked by continual murmuring, complaining, and idolatry. After Jesus Baptism in the Jordan he goes into the Wilderness to be tempted of the devil. While there he is tempted three specific times, and in answering each temptation he quotes from the Book of Deuteronomy which is the Book that was given unto Israel while they were in the wilderness.

Israel the nation went to the Mount of God at Sinai where he revealed His Law unto them. Jesus, after his overcoming of the tempter in the wilderness also went to a Mountain. In Matthew 5-7 we read the account of the “Sermon on the Mount.” The sermon on the mount was not an overthrowing of God’s law given on Sinai, but a practical explanation of the law.
We have already seen that Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophecy regarding Israel being God’s Son. In Matthew 12:15-18 we see Jesus specifically fulfilling the prophecies regarding Israel as God’s servant.

But when Jesus knew it, He withdrew from there. And great multitudes followed Him, and He healed them all. Yet He warned them not to make Him known, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying:
“Behold! My Servant whom I have chosen,
My Beloved in whom My soul is well pleased!
I will put My Spirit upon Him,
And He will declare justice to the Gentiles.
He will not quarrel nor cry out,
Nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets.
A bruised reed He will not break,
And smoking flax He will not quench,
Till He sends forth justice to victory;
And in His name Gentiles will trust.”
Jesus applies the prophecy of the Vine to himself in John 15:1 in a very unique way. Not only does he identify himself as the vine he calls Himself the True vine. The implication is that in contrast to Israel, which became unfaithful and incurred the judgment of God, Jesus remains faithful and thus fulfills Israel’s calling to be the vine of God.

Lastly in Galatians 3 Jesus is identified as the seed of Abraham.
Galatians 3:16-17 Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “And to your Seed,” who is Christ. And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect.
As Israel is identified as God’s son so is Jesus. 2 Peter 1:17
As Israel is identifies as the vine, so is Jesus. John 15:1
As Israel is identified as the seed or descendant of Abraham, so is Jesus.Galatians 3:16

Israel was one man and his heirs became a nation, Israel, so to Jesus, the new Israel, is one man and his heirs are also Israel. According to Galatians 3:26-29 if you belong to Christ then you are Abraham’s seed.

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

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Michael Denna is a reformed pastor and expert on American Dispensationalism. Mike and his wife Michelle lived in California's Sacramento Valley for 24 years and they have recently moved to Grand Junction Colorado where Mike is now the Pastor at Providence Reformed Church.

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9 thoughts on “The Question of Israel

  1. Fernando Ramirez

    Thanks for the article, Mike!

    It is an extremely important topic that has been made complicated by many that do not seem to understand, as you pointed out, the New interprets the Old and not the other way around. Of course we’ve seen the sad results of the confusion.

    Great article and you’ve done the discussion justice.

  2. Mike Bull

    Great article! Just one point — the commonly-held view that Jacob was a deceiver is off-balance. His craftiness is serpentine, but it was the kind of craftiness that Adam was supposed to develop in Eden and beyond, a wisdom usurped from the serpent. Every lying serpent (and bloodthirsty dragon) that Jacob encountered he “deceived” with the wisdom of God. The Covenant (concerning the seed) was continually under threat of being either hijacked or compromised, and Jacob’s faithfulness gave him the wisdom to outsmart all God’s enemies. When he wrestled with an angel (as Adam was called to do), he understood that he had been wrestling with God all along, growing up into wisdom. So the name Israel was not the sign of a conversion experience but a delegation of authority, a blessing upon his previous service.
    Check out James B. Jordan’s book, “Primeval Saints” for more discussion on how we often get the patriarchs wrong.

    1. Mike Post author

      Mr. Bull, thank you for your kind comments. I also appreciate the critique regarding Jacob. I know you are right as to what you say on this, but I am slowly adjusting my views in this regard. I have read James Jordan’s book Primeval Saints, and I agree with you that we often get the Patriarchs wrong. By the way I have also read Totus Christus, and I do appreciate your comment.

  3. Aaron D. Everingham

    I love this subject, and really appreciate your treatment of it. One thought I had though is that I don’t think Hosea 11:1 is a prophecy. Rather, it seems to be a “retrospective”, if you wil. Obviously Hosea is writing long after Israel’s departure from Egypt (he’s writing in the late 600s I think). The Lord says, “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” When Matthew writes, “This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son'”, the “fulfillment” doesn’t seem to be that of a prophecy, but rather, that of typological significance. Matthew is interpreting what was recorded by “the prophet” as being fulfilled in the life of Christ, the True Israel. Anyway, just my two cents.

    Thanks for the edifying and spot-on article, nonetheless.

  4. michael

    I too like the article. A couple mundane thoughts went through my head. First I believe you should go back and correct the word to descendent of Abraham. You wrote defendant of Abraham?

    Second for some reason I started thinking about all Jacob’s sons buried in Egypt except of course Joseph who made them promise that when they left they took his bones with them. This of course is a digress question but have you given much thought to the reality that all of Jacob’s sons are buried in Egypt?

    Oh and one final thought. What I see looming on the horizon is a great yet small body of people, some of which are starting to get a stronger and greater foothold in the political process embrace their sacred writings and are beginning to conform to it which it seems to me the more they bluster the more they conform others until as a nation they become a pebble in the stride of the world and problematic and so cause great hardship to come against them by the world that has turned against them as a nation. Seems things are going to get rocky for this little puddle of joy in the hands of men?

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