How Should We View Israel? Truths about Israel Every Believer Needs to Know

Posted on May 2, 2013

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israel 1By David Ettinger

God’s Nation
It is astounding how the tiny nation of Israel dominates headlines.

Think about it. In Africa, hundreds of thousands of people die tragically every year from AIDS, starvation, and political upheaval. Yet, their plight usually warrants no better than a bottom-of-the-screen placement on news websites. In third-world nations, rebellion and civil war ravage countries, their carnage wreaking death upon millions. Yet, these events blossom for a day on news telecasts, then fade twenty-four hours later.

And then there’s Israel. It seems that even the smallest clashes with the Palestinians – even clashes not involving fatalities – receive copious attention by world media outlets. Then there are the “really big” things: terrorist attacks, “peace” talks, surrendering of Israeli land to the Palestinians. Those occasions, of course, are reserved for the front page of newspapers, the lead story on the TV news, and the headline banners on online news. Why is this? Why do all other global concerns seemingly fade in the glare of Middle East hostilities?

The reason for the world’s fixation on Israel is simple: it’s a “spiritual thing.” Israel is the conduit through which God has, does, and will reveal His glory, power, and sovereignty. Unfortunately, much of the western Church is confused concerning modern-day Israel’s place in God’s plan. As a consequence, otherwise discerning, loving believers don’t know what to make of Israel. In order to help the western Church discern how better to relate to modern-day Israel, it is our humble yet fervent belief that Israel is a nation brought into existence by God, and though severely punished by her Creator over the centuries because of unrighteousness, Israel has never been abandoned by Him. The fact that Israel is indeed God’s special and chosen nation (all nations are God’s, but we speak here in theological terms) is a truth – among many others – that every believer needs to know.

Israel Chosen
The first truth every Christian should know about Israel is that she is chosen of God. The question, however, is, Chosen for what?

Israel was chosen as God’s special people: “For thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God: the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 7:6). God set Israel apart for the purpose of demonstrating His glory to the world. The selection of Israel as God’s special possession was not meant for Israel’s sole benefit, but that through Israel the world would be blessed. Hence, the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham: “And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed” (Genesis 12:3).

Israel as God’s chosen vessel is a theme that courses through the Bible. King David says, “For the Lord hath chosen Jacob unto himself, and Israel for his peculiar treasure” (Psalm 135:4). The prophet Isaiah echoes this refrain: “Yet now hear, O Jacob my servant; and Israel, whom I have chosen” (Isaiah 44:1). And in the New Testament, Paul reminds us that, “As concerning the gospel, they [Israel] are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the father’s sakes” (Romans 11:28).

We should remember, however, that Israel was not chosen based on her own merit, but simply because, in God’s sovereignty, He decided to choose her: “Understand therefore, that the Lord thy God giveth thee not this good land to possess it for thy righteousness; for thou art a stiffnecked people” (Deuteronomy 9:6). In other words, Israel has done nothing to earn God’s blessings; it is something God has chosen to do. Though we may not always understand why God has decided to bless Israel, we must accept His perfect will and discernment in this matter.

 Israel’s Purpose
israel 2
With chosenness comes responsibility. If Israel thought she could just relax and simply bask in the glow of God’s favor, she was mistaken. There was a purpose for which God selected Israel and it was her duty to fulfill it. As the children of Israel gathered at the foot of Mount Sinai, God told them: “Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation” (Exodus 19:5-6). One of the charges of the priests was to make intercession to God on behalf of the people. It was through them that the people would be blessed. So, too, as a priestly nation, would Israel bring blessing to the world. However, there was a caveat, and it was that Israel needed to obey God. Israel failed to do so, but this does not detract from the Lord’s original intent for His chosen people.

Aside from being a “kingdom of priests,” Israel’s other purpose was to bring glory to God. Isaiah writes: “This people have I formed for myself; they shall shew forth my praise” (Isaiah 43:21). Jeremiah echoes this truth in greater detail. He proclaims: “For as the girdle cleaveth to the loins of a man, so have I caused to cleave unto me the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah, saith the Lord; that they might be unto me for a people, and for a name, and for a praise, and for a glory: but they would not hear” (Jeremiah 13:11). By her actions – righteous living in obedience to God – Israel was to bring God honor, praise, and glory from the nations of the world. Israel was to live in such a way that the heathen nations could not have helped but to glorify the God who would create and choose such a people.

Again, that Israel failed does not annul God’s choosing her. A child may not live up to her father’s expectations, but she does not cease to be his child. The same holds true with Israel regarding Israel her relationship with God.

Israel’s Role
Israel had – and still has – a role to play in God’s plan for humanity. Isaiah clues us in: “Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he” (Isaiah 43:10). Israel’s role was to be a witness of God, who and what He is. In a courtroom, a witness is not to expound or opine upon the facts, but simply state them, to tell what he knows. So was Israel’s role. As a witness – one who had special “inside information” about God based on her relationship to Him – Israel was to tell (and show) the world who God was and is. She was to tell the world that it is the Lord, and not false gods and idols, who created the universe. Israel was to inform the nations that it is God, and not the false pagan deities who gives life to every man, woman, and child. And Israel was to relate to all mankind that God is good, merciful, loving, and gracious.

The reason why Israel was able to serve in the role of a witness – why she possessed this “inside information” – was because of what the Lord has done through Israel. King David proclaimed: “And what one nation in the earth is like thy people Israel, whom God went to redeem to be his own people, to make thee a name of greatness and terribleness, by driving out nations from before thy people, whom thou hast redeemed out of Egypt?” (1 Chronicles 17:21). Throughout her history, beginning with her redemption from Egypt, Israel witnessed firsthand all the miraculous deeds God performed on her behalf. In fact, no other nation has been the recipient of so many miracles and blessings. Even today, as the Jewish people live in their own land after almost 2,000 years of exile, Israel stands as a witness of God’s goodness.

Again, the fact that neither corporate Israel of old nor modern Israel choose to acknowledge this, does not negate God’s intent for His people.

Israel’s Position
With Israel’s purpose and role already established, the position of Israel among the nations of the world is the next issue requiring examination. Simply put, Israel was to be the most prominent of all nations. God tells Moses, “And you shall say unto Pharaoh … Israel is my son, even my firstborn” (Exodus 4:22). What does the word “firstborn” mean? Obviously, Israel was not the first nation created. The world was well populated long before God ever called Abram to be the father of a new people (Genesis 12). In this verse, “firstborn” refers to prominence, not age. Israel was chosen as the foremost of nations. Israel was neither the largest nation (Deuteronomy 7:7), nor, as we have already seen, the most righteous. She was, however, called to be the most prominent nation because of the special plans God had for her. Hence, Israel’s position as firstborn made her (and will again make her) the foremost of people.

As God’s most prominent people, Israel will be deserving of a place of honor. Had the Israelites been obedient to the Lord in the past, they would already have received this honor. Though Israel is not honored now, she will be in a future day: “And kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens thy nursing mothers: they shall bow down to thee with their face toward the earth, and lick up the dust of thy feet; and thou shalt know that I am the Lord” (Isaiah 49:23).

Again, it should always be acknowledged that God has not bestowed upon Israel special status in order that she may be glorified in her own eyes or in the eyes of the world. Note the verse: when the time comes for all nations to honor Israel, it will prove God’s existence and sovereignty. In other words, to honor Israel will be to honor the God who created her.

Israel Punished
That Israel is God’s chosen nation does not give her carte blanche to do whatever she pleases. Early in Israel’s history, God promised that He would severely punish the nation if it failed to obey Him (Leviticus 26:14-26; Deuteronomy 6:15; 7:4). Of course, Israel did fail to obey God and reaped the consequences. In 722 B.C., the northern kingdom of Israel was swept into exile to Assyria (2 Kings 17:6-23). In 586 B.C., the city of Jerusalem was destroyed and the inhabitants of the southern kingdom were herded off to Babylonian exile (2 Kings 25).

Speaking both of the past (the Assyrian exile) and prophetically, Isaiah tells of Israel’s justified punishment:

Who gave Jacob for a spoil, and Israel to the robbers? did not the Lord, he against whom we have sinned? for they would not walk in his ways, neither were they obedient unto his law. Therefore he hath poured upon him the fury of his anger, and the strength of battle: and it hath set him on fire round about, yet he knew not; and it burned him, yet he laid it not to hear (Isaiah 42:24-25).

It is an unfathomable blessing to be chosen of God. However, where blessing is great, so is responsibility. Israel had the opportunity to be the most blessed nation that ever existed, but she stubbornly refused to obey her God.

Speaking more directly of Israel’s punishment, which could refer to either the Babylonian exile or the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 A.D., Isaiah writes: “There I have profaned the princes of the sanctuary, and have given Jacob to the curse, and Israel to reproaches” (Isaiah 43:28). Yes, Israel’s fall from grace was severe, however, never was the nation removed from God’s plan and purpose. Israel was heavily chastised, disciplined, and punished, but never forsaken, disinherited, or cut off from God’s love. The people continued throughout the annals of time, and today are miraculously thriving (though in unbelief) in their land.

Israel Not Rejected
israel 3That Israel was disciplined harshly does not mean she was rejected. Fathers discipline their children out of love and necessity, but that in no way translates into rejection. Though disciplined, Israel remains God’s chosen people. Isaiah makes this clear when he, speaking for God, declares, “Thou whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, and called thee from the chief men thereof, and said unto me, Thou art my servant; I have chosen thee, and not cast thee away” (Isaiah 41:9, emphasis added). And don’t forget, this is the same prophet who also speaks of severe retribution upon Israel. The message is clear: God’s sovereign choosing of Israel goes hand-in-hand with the fulfillment of His promises to her. If God rejects Israel, then He cannot fulfill those promises, and hence, the nullification of God’s clear teaching that He has not rejected Israel.

The prophet Jeremiah also speaks fervently of God’s refusal to reject Israel: “Thus saith the Lord; If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done” (Jeremiah 31:37). This poetic passage is amazingly reassuring to Israel. Basically, what Jeremiah is saying is that if the heavens can be measured and all the mysteries of the earth revealed, then the Lord will cast off Israel. However, these things are humanly impossible, just as God permanently rejecting Israel is impossible.

The apostle Paul is equally as adamant. In his great discourse on Israel (Romans 9-11), he writes: “I say then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid” (Romans 11:1). Here, the English translation is not nearly as strong as the Greek. Read “God forbid” as “May it never be!” or “Such a thing can never happen!” Paul, speaking to Christians in the New Testament Church Age, powerfully, directly, and boldly, proclaims the irrefutable truth that God has NOT rejected Israel.

Israel Restored
As Christians, we should thank God for allowing us to live in such an amazing time of history. To see God’s prophecies fulfilled before our eyes is beautiful, awesome, and joyous. Israel’s history of punishment is a sobering account, but its present and future blessings are wonderful to behold. The prophet Ezekiel tells us, “For I [God] will take you [Israel] from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land” (Ezekiel 36:24). This prophecy, made about 2,600 years ago, is now being fulfilled – and has been so ­– for the past 120 years. It was the latter part of the nineteenth century when the scattered Jewish people of the world began returning to Israel. The immigration continued well into the twentieth century and culminated in 1948, when modern-day Israel officially took its place among the nations of the world. Jews from Russia, Yemen, Ethiopia, South America, and from all over the globe have been returning ever since.

However, there is a problem. Most of those who have returned have done so in unbelief –not having accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. But this, too, will be remedied. Hear Ezekiel: “Therefore prophesy and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, O my people, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. … And shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live” (Ezekiel 37:12;14). In essence, Ezekiel described Israel’s rebirth in the following way: Step One – Israel’s return to the land in unbelief ­– is ongoing. Step Two – the Jewish inhabitants of Israel accepting Jesus Christ as their Messiah ­– will come.

Many in Christendom seem to think that the Church has replaced Israel, but this is not the case. However, during what is referred to as this current “Church Age,” the Church is the agent through which God is bringing to the world the message of salvation through Christ. Hence, Israel, for now, is on the sidelines, but this is also the reason why she needs restoration.

Israel’s Program
With Israel’s future restoration now established, the next question is, “Why will Israel be restored?” One easy explanation is that God must be faithful to His promises to Israel. On a greater level, however, the Lord has a glorious program for Israel:

Therefore say, Thus saith the Lord God; Although I have cast them far off among the heathen, and although I have scattered them among the countries, yet will I be to them as a little sanctuary in the countries where they shall come. Therefore say, Thus saith the Lord God; I will even gather you from the people, and assemble you out of the countries where ye have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel. And they shall come thither, and they shall take away all the detestable things thereof and all the abominations thereof from thence. And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh: That they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God (Ezekiel 11:16-20).

Magnificently encompassed in this extraordinary passage is practically all of Israel’s theological history in a nutshell. The early part of the excerpt speaks of Israel’s punishment through exile (v. 16a). The prophet then refers to God’s protection of Israel during its dispersion throughout the earth (v. 16b). Next, we are told of God’s restoration of the Jewish people to the land (v. 17). Once in the land, Israel will eventually become a sanctified and holy people, serving God in righteousness (v. 18). This will be accomplished when the Lord will give Israel His spirit (when the Jewish people accept Jesus Christ). At that time, Israel will be God’s people and He will be their God (vv. 19-20). Israel’s future program is the exact same as their original program: They are to be the people of God, chosen, holy, and sanctified.

Israel Forever Blessed
Despite all the glorious promises made to Israel early in her history, the nation did everything the Lord told it NOT to do. Therefore, God punished Israel severely, and though the promises given to her were never rescinded, they were certainly interrupted. In fact, they were so interrupted that many in the Church have gone so far as to believe that God has cast off Israel. Looking back over history, it is understandable – from man’s perspective – to see why people believed this (though there is no excuse for believing it today, considering that Israel is a thriving nation living in its own land). However, even an elementary reading of the Bible clearly shows that God has not, and will not, turn His back on Israel.

With this in mind, it is natural to wonder, When God’s promises to Israel are finally fulfilled, how long will they last? King David tells us. After the Lord established an eternal covenant with him (2 Samuel 7:8-17), David replied, “For thou has confirmed to thyself thy people Israel to be a people unto thee for ever: and thou, Lord, art become their God” (2 Samuel 7:24). The answer to the above question is, “Forever!”

God’s eternal purpose for Israel is further buttressed by the prophet Amos: “And I will plant them upon their land, and they shall be no more pulled up out of their land which I have given them, saith the Lord they God” (Amos 9:15, italic added). Yes, Israel was indeed uprooted, but, when she is finally restored, she will be eternally secure. The prophet Hosea echoes the eternality of God’s future blessings for Israel. With great tenderness, he writes: “And I will betroth thee unto me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in lovingkindness, and in mercies” (Hosea 2:19, italic added).

Israel’s future has already been determined by God. Though He has justifiably dealt with Israel harshly, God will restore the Jewish people to Himself in great love and for eternity!

Conclusion: The Clear Evidence in Favor of Israel
israel 4Why has a portion of the Church – past and present – been so quick to want to replace Israel – ascribing to itself all the blessings promised her throughout the Scriptures?

No doubt, some of the problem is simply a matter of misunderstanding. God loves the Church; He also loves Israel. This latter truth is something rarely taught in today’s churches. How blessed Christendom would be if believers would adhere to the biblical truths concerning Israel and the Jewish people. Rather than regarding her as accursed, Christians should view Israel as siblings. Now, the Church in general is following God in obedience, having bowed its knee to Jesus Christ. Israel, at this point, is the disobedient sibling who has not obeyed the Father’s will in regard to His provision of sin through Christ. However, instead of reckoning its sibling Israel as stubborn, insubordinate, and condemned, the Church should regard her older sibling with compassion, understanding, and the greatest of desires that she come to know Christ. It is no different than if you, who know and love the Lord, have a brother or sister who is living a life of sin. Think about how you love and pray for your sibling to come to Christ. Such should be the attitude of the Church toward Israel.

From God’s point of view, loving both the Church and Israel is certainly no dilemma. Just as a father is able to love one daughter as much as the other – as different as the two may be – so God is able to shower his love on the Church and Israel.

For believers who cannot allow room in God’s plan for both the Church and Israel, we would ask you to reconsider the facts as stated in Scripture. To cast off Israel and replace it with the Church is to fight the irrefutable stockpile of verses and passages (only a handful of which are mentioned in this article) that speak of God’s special place – past, present, and future – for Israel. It is far more reasonable and God-honoring to accept the clear evidence in favor of Israel as presented in the Bible than to look for strained arguments refuting it.

Ultimately, Israel’s acceptance of Christ will be the fulfillment of the Church’s blessing. Paul says: “For if the casting away of them [Israel] be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?” (Romans 11:15). And this – above all – is the greatest truth about Israel every believer needs to know.

Read more insightful articles by David Ettinger and Marv Rosenthal at zionshope.org.
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