Sunday, April 28, 2013

Israel - The Big Picture, Part 1

It has come to my attention lately, through several emails from friends, that the Church is either confused or badly misinformed about the role of Israel today in God’s plan.  So why is Israel important?

In this post, which will be rather long, I will be looking at the Biblical and historical background of Israel.  Part 2 will look at the rise of modern Zionism since the mid 1800s and the formation of the State of Israel.  You may or may not agree with my conclusions, but I encourage you to stay in the Word and pray for God to give you understanding.  I am not your ultimate authority, He is.

God’s plan for mankind, especially the culmination, is centered on Israel.  Many in the church have a hard time with this, but it’s true.  When Yeshua returns to earth, it will be to Jerusalem.  He will set up His millennial kingdom there.

Satan knows this, and is doing everything in his power to stop the plan of God from happening.
Israel begins with a promise to Abram, later called Abraham.  (Israel was still a twinkle in Abraham’s eye, so to speak).  Technically, the redemptive seed was promised way back in the garden after the fall.  But it was through Abraham that God really began to unfold His purposes.

Gen 12:3 tells us God’s promise to Abraham, and it is also a promise to us:  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.  This blessing was repeated for Isaac in Genesis 17:19, and Jacob in Genesis 27:29.  Jacob’s name was later called Israel.

In Genesis 15, God made an unconditional covenant with Abraham.  The sealing of the covenant involved the cutting of the animals.  God alone passed through and consumed those pieces with fire, which tells us that this covenant is unconditional.  

Genesis 15:18-19 says, And it came to pass, when the sun went down and it was dark, that behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces. On the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying:  To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates (and then goes on to list all the tribes that currently lived in the land). 

This promise is reiterated again in Psalm 105:9-11 - The covenant which He made with Abraham, and His oath to Isaac, and confirmed it to Jacob for a statute, to Israel as an everlasting covenant, saying, “To you I will give the land of Canaan as the allotment of your inheritance.”

Gen 17:7 also tells us this will be an everlasting covenant.  This covenant has never been rescinded!  God keeps His promises!

The nation of Israel was forged in Egypt from the 12 sons of Jacob (Israel), and then delivered out of bondage.  In scripture, Egypt represents sin.  The Passover and exodus out of Egypt is a picture of redemption from our sin.

The Israelites were led into the wilderness and given the covenant at Sinai – the law, or Torah.  Its purpose was to demonstrate their own sinfulness – falling short of God’s perfect standard.  No one was able to perfectly keep it.  This covenant was conditional, temporary, and required obedience to it. Deuteronomy 30 talks about the blessing or cursing in regard to keeping God’s commandments.  But this was NOT an everlasting covenant.  Someone was to come Who would fulfill it perfectly.

Jeremiah confirms this when he prophesied the new covenant.  Jer 31:31-33 says “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah— not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”

So after Israel left Egypt, they wandered in the wilderness 40 years due to their fear of entering the Promised Land.  They finally took the land, and began living there and being governed by judges.  But they wanted to be like other countries, so they cried out for a king.  Israel was then ruled by kings Saul, David, and Solomon respectively.

After King Solomon, the Israelites split into two kingdoms, the north and the south.  The northern kingdom, Israel, fell into idolatry first and were scattered.  The southern kingdom of Judah remained for another hundred or so years but also succumbed to idolatry.  They were sent to  Babylon for 70 years, and then brought back miraculously through Cyrus, king of Persia (who was mentioned BY NAME hundreds of years before he was even born, by Isaiah in chapters 44 and 45).

The Jews came back from Babylon because God keeps His promises.  And, they needed to be back in the land to bring forth the Savior, who was to be born in Bethlehem as prophesied.

The new covenant came, replacing the temporary covenant made at Sinai, which Yeshua instituted at the Passover meal the night before His death, and then sealed it with His blood on the cross.  The new covenant was made with Israel and Judah, exactly as foretold by Jeremiah.

Yeshua perfectly fulfilled every single command of the Torah.  Because He did not fall short, or sin, He was able to pay our penalty for us.  In doing so, He BECAME the law… it is trust in HIS redemptive work that saves us.  He is the fulfillment of Jeremiah 31.  (Yeshua did not come to start a new religion called Christianity.  He was the Jewish Messiah who came to fulfill God’s singular plan of redemption for the entire world.)

The new covenant was rejected by the Jewish leaders, and therefore by most of the Jewish people.  (This is why leaders are held to a higher standard – people tend to be sheeple and follow their leaders blindly.)  However, many people thought for themselves… the entire early church was Jewish… thousands of them.

Just as the Jews were punished for disobedience to the Sinai covenant by being sent to Babylon for 70 years, as a nation, they were also punished for rejection of the new covenant.  Since the new covenant was a much better and higher covenant, so too was the punishment for its rejection.  Instead of 70 years, the Jews were dispersed throughout the four corners of the earth, where they remained for nearly two millennia.

But because of the everlasting Abrahamic covenant, they will be [and are being] brought back.  Just as they were brought back to fulfill God’s purposes in the FIRST visitation of the Messiah, so too will they be brought back to fulfill God’s purposes for the SECOND visitation of Messiah.  And that is exactly what is happening today!

The Book of Amos is filled with judgments on Judah and Israel.  Most of it is rather depressing.  However, the very last two verses – Amos 9:14-15 says,
I will bring back the captives of My people Israel;
They shall build the waste cities and inhabit them;
They shall plant vineyards and drink wine from them;
They shall also make gardens and eat fruit from them.
I will plant them in their land,
And NO LONGER shall they be pulled up
From the land I have given them,”
Says the Lord your God.

Did you catch that?  NO LONGER?  This cannot mean the Babylonian exile, because they were exiled again after that. 

So where is the church in all this?

A change began to occur in the all-Jewish church beginning in Acts 10.  The kingdom of God began to be offered to Gentiles!  This was unheard of in the Jewish culture!  The Torah had kept the Jews separate from Gentiles, for the most part. 

The Jerusalem Council convened in Acts 15 to decide what to do with all these Gentiles that wanted to follow Yeshua, and the consensus was, yep, let those Gentiles come in.  Ephesians 2:12 says, speaking to Gentiles, that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the COMMONWEALTH OF ISRAEL and strangers from the COVENANTS OF PROMISE, having no hope and without God in the world.

Romans 11 then gives us a great picture of the Gentiles being grafted into the olive tree of Israel, and warns us not to be arrogant toward the branches that were broken off. 

Unfortunately, arrogance did happen.  Some of the early gentile church fathers began teaching that God was done with Israel.  Origen and Chrysostoam both spoke against the Jews.  This is called Replacement Theology – the idea that God hates the Jews and is finished with them, and that all His promises are now for the Gentile church.  This was picked up by the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, and carried right into the Reformation with Martin Luther, who said some terrible things about the Jews.  He wrote a treatise called “On the Jews and Their Lies.”  You can google it to see what it said, but prepare to be disgusted if you've never seen it before.

How did/do these teachers of Replacement Theology miss Romans 11?  Look at verses 1-2: I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has NOT cast away His people whom He foreknew. 

Verses 11 and 12 tell us:  I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles. Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, HOW MUCH MORE  their fullness!

Verse 26 says ,
And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written:
“The Deliverer will come out of Zion,
And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob;
For this is My covenant with them,
When I take away their sins.”
 (Paul is quoting Isaiah 59:20)

Sadly, there is still an anti-Israel sentiment that is pervasive even today in many, many churches.  Some are adopting boycotts of any Israeli-made goods.  At a recent IHOP [International House of Prayer] conference we attended, there were people protesting the Israeli treatment of the Palestinian people and handing out postcards of what they call the “apartheid” wall (more information on all of this in part 2).

Is this what God wants for His church?  Let me give you a few passages to consider and meditate on.
Again, read Genesis 12:3 - I will bless those who bless you, and he who curses you I will curse… this is part of the everlasting covenant.  This applies to us today! 

And by the way, two different words are used for “curse” in Hebrew.  The word arar means just what it says, to curse.  The other word, qalal, means “to treat lightly, to ignore, to lightly esteem.”  The NET Bible translation sticks pretty close to the original language:  I will bless those who bless you, but the one who treats you lightly I must curse

Deuteronomy 32:9-10 says [speaking of Israel],
 For the Lord’s portion is His people;
Jacob is the place of His inheritance.  

 “He found him in a desert land
And in the wasteland, a howling wilderness;
He encircled him, He instructed him,
He kept him as the apple of His eye.”

Now that we know WHO the “Apple of my eye” is, let’s look at Zechariah 2:8 - For thus says the Lord of hosts: “He sent Me after glory, to the nations which plunder you; for he who touches you [Israel] touches the apple of His eye.

The “apple” is the pupil – one of the most sensitive parts of the body.  It’s like poking God in the eye when you lightly esteem His chosen people.

I love this one - Isaiah 40:1-2
“Comfort, yes, comfort My people!”  says your God.
“Speak comfort to Jerusalem, and cry out to her,
That her warfare is ended,
That her iniquity is pardoned;
For she has received from the Lord’s hand
Double for all her sins.”

Exactly who is God talking to in this passage?  To Israel, to comfort herself?  I don’t think so!  Comfort MY people says YOUR God.  The word for comfort is menachem, which is also one of the Hebrew words for the Holy Spirit – the comforter.  The Word is addressing Holy Spirit-filled believers here!  The Ten Boom family understood this verse as they reached out to God’s people before and during World War II.

See how Yeshua weeps over His people in Matthew 23:37, knowing what was coming for them:
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!  See! Your house is left to you desolate; for I say to you, you shall see Me no more UNTIL you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!  (Until means that something is coming).

This same end-time context is carried over to Matthew 25, beginning in verse 34:
Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:  for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in;  I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink?  When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You?  Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’  And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these MY BRETHREN you did it to Me.’  

He is literally talking about His close kinsmen here – the Jewish people.  What follows is the separation of the sheep and the goats.  In this case, you want to be a sheep!

Think about the prodigal son story of Luke 15(which the NET version beautifully calls the Story of the Compassionate Father).  The church historically has acted very much like the older, arrogant brother.  Yet the loving and compassionate Father is waiting, waiting for his wayward son longingly.

God will put different people groups on your heart.  For me, it is Mexico and India. But keeping Romans 1:16 in mind puts things in proper perspective: For I am not ashamed of the gospel of the Messiah, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. 

On Paul’s journeys, he ALWAYS went to the Jews first.  God blesses that and gives His increase all over the world.

Moishe Rosen, founder of Jews for Jesus, was accused in a radio interview that in his ministry, for every Jew that was saved, five gentiles come to faith.  His response… “well, what do you want me to do?  Throw them back?”

In closing, do you want to be blessed?  Bless Israel! 

Bless them prayerfully, financially, physically – however you can!  Make some Jewish friends.  Seek them out.  Love them unconditionally, regardless of whether they receive Yeshua as their savior or not. 

Ruth, the Gentile from Moab, attached herself to Israel.  The passage “your people shall be my people” makes a lovely wedding sentiment, but that isn’t what Ruth was talking about.  Did God bless her for her attachment to Israel?  Ruth the Moabite became the great grandmother of King David, and thus helped bring about the first coming of the Messiah through her faithful alliance.  Could it be that by attaching ourselves to Israel today, we Gentiles can help bring about the second coming of the Messiah?

Psalm 122:6 says, Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:  May they prosper who love you.

For part two,  a look at modern Israel, please click here.

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