Monday, 22 January 2018

Israel in the Plan of God - A beginners guide

Israel in the Plan of God - A beginners guide

Why should a Christian consider Israel? What is its relationship to me as a Christian living in Australia? If true religion is helping widows and orphans, why bother about a small country in the Eastern Mediterranean? How does it affect my walk with Jesus? How should Christians respond to the re-established nation of Israel?

Well, we look at Israel because God has chosen to record his love for them in the Bible, and as Paul and Peter note, all that is in the Bible was written for our instruction. We look at Israel because Israel leads us to God. This is important. What is our response when we meet with God? It is awe and worship. If our studies on Israel do not lead us to Jesus (and we will see later that He is the beginning and end and center of their history), if we do not know and love Him more as a result, then we have not studied correctly. Theology is not about stringing together proof texts to prove a theoretical point – it is about drawing close to the heart beat of the Father!

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How do we look at Israel? Jesus gives a prophecy about Jerusalem in Luke 19, and often we rush past the introductory verses to get to the details of it. But how is it introduced? “as He came near and saw the city, He wept over it”. If we desire a Godly understanding of Israel, then we must look through the tears of our savior. The first and second Commandments begin; “thou shalt love ...” Paul also does this. Romans 8 ends; “what can separate us from the love of God?” And his wonderful answer; Nothing! Romans 9-11 then answers the question, ‘but Paul, what about Israel?’ They were in God’s love, then they killed his own son – (I know this is a problematic statement, please see the comment on it below) surely they are now rejected and prove that we can be separated from God’s love. They are the ultimate practical challenge to what Paul has just written. They present a problem that needs to be answered.  But see how he starts this discussion! Romans 9:1-3. “I speak the truth in Christ--I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit-- I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race.”

Paul is answering the question, but first he needs to establish some priorities, and in a sense, calls “time out” while he does so. He cannot discus them as an abstract theological point, but first declares; “they are my people and I love them!” (Romans 9), from here he moves on to “They need the Gospel” (Romans 10), and only then, to his triumphant conclusion “All Israel shall be saved” (Romans 11). The worst possible case against Romans 8 is turned on its head, and affirms the truth of it. Israel do not represent the limit of God’s love, but rather are the final proof of it. No wonder Paul then simply breaks into a hymn of praise! “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! … For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.”

How often do we find people who look at Israel without love skipping Romans 9, or, if they do love, then they do not want to witness to them, skipping Romans 10. But the promises of Romans 11 can only be entered through 9 and 10. See also that Paul’s reasons for his love of those “of his own race, the people of Israel” are not earthly reasons (‘we like the same food, jokes, etc.,’- which may well be the case in Colossians 4:11) but rather his reasons for loving Israel are God’s reasons; “Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.” We also, regardless of our race, should love Israel for God’s reasons (Romans 15:27). And so, if we open wide our hearts, and ask God to share His love and His tears with us, if we desire their salvation, and if, like Daniel, we humble ourselves to learn, how would the Lord instruct us through His word concerning His everlasting people?

1. Their history
The Bible shows us the history of Israel from beginning to end. From Abraham to Jerusalem filled with the knowledge and glory of God.

Their beginning

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Genesis 12:1-3; 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." Note that God’s call is always generous. David was called to be a shepherd of God’s people, Jeremiah to be a prophet to the nations, Paul to be an apostle to the Gentiles. Election, if you will, is not God’s way of abandoning the rest, but his way of rescuing them! So here, Abraham is chosen so that through him, all the peoples on earth will be blessed. God’s love for Israel is not a side quirk, it is the first expression of his love for all of us. The national and universal promises to Abraham are not separate, but are expressions of the same love - the two are inseparably linked in God’s plan of redemption. Interestingly, Hebrews says that the anchor of our souls is not the Cross, or even Jesus himself, but is this promise given to Abraham. Likewise, Romans 15:8 says that Jesus came to confirm the promises to the Patriarchs (“for in him all God’s promises find their yes”). If we attack or dismiss God’s promises to Abraham and the Jewish people, we attack the anchor of our own souls.

Their end. Romans 11:26; “and so all Israel shall be saved.”

2. Israel’s calling

Israel were called to be a nation of priests (Exodus 19:6), to show the ways of God to the world.
Israel shows us the ways of the Lord for in His love for them we see the nature of His unchangeable love, and so are included. God and Israel are a love story. See Ezekiel 16, Hosea, and Jeremiah where we read “the beloved of the Lord is taken captive.” So, let us look at this history and be blessed.

Why was Israel chosen? We read in Deuteronomy 7:7-8; “The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery.” It is like marriage; my wife didn’t choose me because I was the richest or best looking. If she had, I would have no security, as she would meet other guys who are richer and better looking all the time (!). But if her choice for me was based in love, then she can meet all the rich, handsome guys around, because her choice of me was not based on those things – I therefore have total security. It is the same with God - He didn’t choose me because I was the best teacher or speaker, and what a joy that is- if I lose my abilities, or someone else has more, He doesn’t love me any the less. Israel shows me that God’s choice is based in love, and that I am secure in it. It also reminds me that because God didn’t choose me for my abilities, He wants my love first, not my work.

How did Israel become a nation?

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In Egypt. God chose to have the nation born in slavery. It was God who sent Jacob to Egypt (Genesis 46; 2-4), not as a result of sin, but of his plan (Genesis 15:13). Being chosen can easily lead to pride, and God hates it when we look down on others. Proverbs reminds us that; “There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him:” and the top of the list are “haughty eyes.” Israel were chosen to be a blessing to others, and God took the threat of pride so seriously that he was prepared to have them spend 400 years in slavery, and to commemorate this every year to guard against this. Because you were slaves in Egypt be humble! Because you were strangers, care for the alien (Deuteronomy 24: 18-22). Clearly, this is a problem Christians also face. Do we look down on drunks and others, or do we love them with the love of Jesus?

Israel’s national history
We like to think that we can run our own lives, that with just a bit more money or a bit more luck, that all would be perfect. A few years ago there was talk of updating our constitution, and we establish Royal Commissions to point out where we are going wrong. 

Israel had their constitution written by God. They had rulers chosen by God, and prophets to show them where they were going wrong. Given these perfect conditions, what happened? They failed. They killed God’s own Son (clearly, this is not intended in an anti-Semitic sense – Jesus prayed on the cross for his Father to forgive them, and of all prayers every offered, surely God would answer that of his own dying son! Likewise Paul also affirms that God has NOT rejected his people). Israel do however show us the impossibility of reaching God. Were our constitution written by God himself, if he chose our leaders rather than us electing them, still we would fail. Even with every divine help, we cannot make it to God in our own strength/ by our own works. Israel represented humanities’ best chance, and they failed.

What are the wages of sin? Romans 6:23; “For the wages of sin is death.” And Israel has had a living death among the nations for the past 2000 years (Deuteronomy 28:64-68).  But is that the end of the story? Is our sin greater than God’s love? Praise God that is not the end of the story, or of that verse; “For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”    

Jeremiah 31:35-37 This is what the LORD says, he who appoints the sun to shine by day, who decrees the moon and stars to shine by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar-- the LORD Almighty is his name: "Only if these decrees vanish from my sight," declares the LORD, "will the descendants of Israel ever cease to be a nation before me." This is what the LORD says: "Only if the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth below be searched out will I reject all the descendants of Israel because of all they have done," declares the LORD.

Romans 11:25-36. 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. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: "The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins." As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God's gifts and his call are irrevocable.

Here, in the heart of the New, we have a total reaffirmation of the promises of the Old. And who did God choose to write these words to us? Paul, our Apostle, the Apostle to the Gentiles. He who had sacrificed everything so that we might have the Gospel and all its freedoms, he is the one God chose to tell us that he still loves the Jewish people, and will save them.

Israel will be restored because of the grace, the faithfulness and the mercy of God, because that is how God treats those he loves. He did not call them, rescue them, care for them (Isaiah 63:9 “In all their distress he too was distressed, and the angel of his presence saved them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them; he lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.”), send them into exile and then bring them back all so they could kill Jesus and then be dismissed from redemption history! That is not how God treats his servants! God promised to redeem them, and our sin is not greater than his word. Malachi 3:6 "I the LORD do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.”

Interestingly both James and Paul, in Acts 15 and Romans 15, declare that God will restore Israel so that the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy. “For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God's truth, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs so that the Gentiles may glorify God for his mercy, as it is written: ‘Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles; I will sing hymns to your name.’ Again, it says, ‘Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.’" We get a taste of this in Romans 11, in verses woefully under-valued my many; “Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their fullness bring! … For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?”

Israel were called to be a nation of priests, to show the ways of God to the world. Given every blessing, still they sinned, for we cannot make it to God in our own strength, even with divine help. They sinned, but their sin is not the end of the story, for God’s love is greater than our sin. God’s love, which cannot let us go, but which bears all things, hopes all things, and ultimately triumphs. Having failed in their own strength, Israel are saved when (according to Zechariah 12 and 13), they look on him who they have pierced (conviction of sin), mourn for him (repentance), and are washed in the fountain opened for them (baptism). That is, they are saved just as you and I were. And it happens in the sight of all the nations, because the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable!

And so, by their 4,000 year history, they declare to the world; “Salvation is of God, of ourselves we are nothing - it is by grace and grace alone, by God’s power and might and unto His eternal praise and glory that we exist. We are monuments to His grace. In our own strength, we failed, we pierced the son of God. Yet he never stopped loving us. Indeed, as Peter tells the men of Israel; ‘When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you.’ In every generation, there were a remnant saved by grace, and finally, all Israel have been saved! Our sin abounded unto death, but His love abounded unto life. That which was lost is found, he who was dead is alive. Praise our God who is indeed mighty to save!”

“The gifts and calling of God are irrevocable ... .” I fail, I let God down, and I can sometimes think, “after all I’ve done, surely God can’t still be interested in me”, but when that happens God turns my eyes to Israel and says, “I haven’t given up on Israel, I wont give up on you”. Just as Paul gloried in his position as the chief of sinners, and was thus able to help others in need, so Israel is the final proof of God’s love, the final test of Rom 8. God’s love triumphs, as indeed, nothing can separate us from the love of God. Equally, just as Paul, the miraculously converted Jew, was then to become the Apostle to the Gentiles, so the miraculously converted Israel will fulfill their call to take the Gospel to all lands; Romans 11:15, Zechariah 8:32.

We have looked at the beginning of Israel, at Abraham, and towards their final consummation and ending, but in the middle is Jesus Christ. In Him God’s promises find their yes, and He is the center of Israel’s history, and the center of His history is the Cross. From the very Cross where we see Israel’s guilt and unbelief, comes conformation of the promises given to the fathers.

Adolph Saphir[i] wrote; “After Jesus had uttered His last word, after He was already dead, John still stayed and watched, and when the soldier thrust his spear into His side, he saw the blood and water flow out, and wrote; ‘these things occurred so that the Scripture might be fulfilled, ‘none of his bones shall be broken.’ And again, another passage of Scripture says, ‘they will look on the one whom they have pierced.”  Thus, in the thrust of the spear, John saw the whole history of Israel, from its beginning to end. What is the commencement of their national history? It is the Exodus. Now it is fulfilled. Here is the Paschal Lamb, and not a bone of His body has been broken. And what is the end of their history? The Prophet Zechariah has told us, ‘they shall look on Him who they have pierced’. In the Crucifixion, John sees the whole history of Israel, ending in their final repentance and conversion, for ‘all Israel shall be saved’. In a similar way, on Patmos, John, looking to the end of history, looks to see the Lion of the tribe of Judah, and sees, ‘between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders, a Lamb, standing as if it had been slaughtered.’ Jesus truly is the center of Israel’s history, its commencement and consummation.”

In Zechariah 12-14, it is prophesied that just prior to Jesus’ return half of Jerusalem will be captured and plundered by all the nations of the world. It seems to be the ultimate nightmare for that already traumatized people. Then God Himself stands on the Mt of Olives and delivers them. How will their emotions cope, going from utter despair to the greatest victory in history? And we read, “and they shall look upon Him whom they have pierced, and mourn for Him.” The greatest human tragedy, the greatest human victory, and all they can see is Jesus, their long lost brother, and they fall on his neck and weep. Truly, when we look on Jesus, “the things of this world grow strangely dim.” Loving Israel has brought me to the Cross, and showed me anew how precious is my savior.

In summary, Israel teaches me;

That our call is based in God’s love, not our merits,
That we are kept by His grace,
That His love is stronger than my sin, and, above all,
The surpassing beauty and worth of Jesus.

An Analogy
The story of Joseph and his brothers provides a Godly analogy of these truths. It is instructive to read it together with Romans 11. Joseph’s brothers rejected him even though God had shown that Joseph would lead them. They believed him to be enslaved in Egypt or dead. Joseph meanwhile had, through God’s grace become ruler over the Gentile Egyptians. In many ways, this resembles the situation in the world today. Jesus ruling over a largely Gentile church, his brothers of the flesh estranged and distant from him. So, the brothers’ evil actions resulted in Joseph saving Egypt from famine.

Romans 11:11 “Again I ask: Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their fullness bring!” The same famine that affected the Egyptians also affected the brothers, the sons of Israel. While they did not know his identity, they knew that they needed what the Egyptians had if they were to live. They envied the food of the Egyptians. We should live so that others wish they had the blessings we experience! Romans 11:14; in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?

Romans 11: 16, Genesis 50:20. Israel did not wonderfully lay down their life for the Gentiles, and on one level we see the crowd crying “crucify”, yet on a higher level, as Isaiah reminds us, “it was the will of the Lord to bruise Him”.

Genesis 45:16; “When the news reached Pharaoh's palace that Joseph's brothers had come, Pharaoh and all his officials were pleased.” Hearing that Joseph’s physical family have arrived, the Egyptians are not jealous (maybe Joseph won’t love us any more), but rejoice - because they love Joseph, they are thrilled for him. They are so unlike much of the church today, which cannot see that Jesus still loves his brothers of the flesh, are offended by the very thought.

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Finally, Romans 11:26 And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: "The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins." Joseph sends out the interpreter, and speaks in Hebrew, “I am your brother.” Zechariah 12:10-13:1 "And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son. … On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity.” Clearly, this is the longed for return of our Lord, to the Mt of Olives just as the angels said; Zechariah 14 “I will gather all the nations to Jerusalem to fight against it; the city will be captured, … Then the LORD will go out and fight against those nations, as he fights in the day of battle. On that day his feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem.” This is what Paul meant by “For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?” Are we thrilled that God is restoring Israel? Thrilled because we love Jesus and are glad his brothers are drawing closer, thrilled because we long for the “greater riches will their fullness bring”? (But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their fullness bring!) Or would we end the story of Joseph when he rules Egypt, and his brothers are estranged from him? Do we realize that Jesus still loves Israel, do his tears mean nothing to us? Genesis 43:30 “Deeply moved at the sight of his brother, Joseph hurried out and looked for a place to weep. He went into his private room and wept there.” If we love Jesus, we will long for the salvation of Israel.

God’s own holy name is at stake
Jesus came not only to be a light to the Gentiles, but also to be the glory of his people Israel! Gabriel told Mary; The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end." If Israel is not restored with Jesus ruling it, then not only did Israel fail, but it is God the Father who failed, for this verse says that it is the Lord God (not the Jewish people) who will give him the throne of David. We see this clearly in Ezekiel 36: 18-38, 37: 11-24 and 37: 21-28. See also Jeremiah 31 2-14.

So far I have looked at the big picture, spanning millennia. This is vital as it places the present into its God breathed context. Looking (very!) briefly at the present, what do we see?

Israel re-established in unbelief, the first-fruits of redemption, and a miracle to be celebrated. While not always comfortable with Greek concepts, their idea of justice being blind and holding the scales is a good one. To exaggerate Israel’s faults while white-washing those of the Palestinians is unjust. Concerning the events leading up to the return of Jesus, Zechariah 12:9 notes that God will judge the nations who fight against Israel “On that day I will set out to destroy all the nations that attack Jerusalem.” They will be judged, not because they have not read Zechariah (they are pagan, after all) but because of the utter injustice of what they are doing. These chapters and many others clearly show that God has judged that justice is on the side of the as yet unconverted Jewish state! While not called to get involved in Israeli politics, Christians should rejoice in and affirm the re-establishment of Israel. Luke 21:28 “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near."

We also see Israelis sinning (like the rest of us) and needing the Gospel. Christians, born again and filled with God’s Holy Spirit still (to their shame) sin. Clearly Israel is not perfect either. Romans 10:1; “Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.” They need Jesus! Israelis today are isolated, vulnerable, surrounded by cruel enemies and need Jesus. As Christians, our task is to preach the Gospel to all, both Jew and Gentile. We need to remember that God loves Arabs and Jews equally, Jesus died for Palestinians as much as for Israelis. The church is not simply a cheer squad for unconverted Israel. Having said that, we do need to be careful not to buy into the anti-Israeli narrative spreading throughout the world. Satan hates the Jewish people and the Jewish nation. We should not be deceived, or ignorant of this mystery. Israel’s borders and future are in God’s hands-Israel’s souls are in ours.

[i] Saphir, A. Christ and Israel. 1911. Morgan and Scott, London, 40.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this wonderful expose'. God's hand is still upon Israel. If He were to break His covenant with them, how could anyone believe His Promises! They are right and True! Colin, do you believe in the teaching that Christ is Coming for His Church? His appearing in the clouds to take us to where He is...the place He has prepared for us?