The Concept of Israel in the Bible
What does the word “ Israel” mean as it is used in the Bible?
What is the “Israel of God?”
Why does God require non-Jews to believe in a Jewish Messiah?
Has the Church replaced Israel in God’s covenant with humanity?
How are the children of Israel God’s “Chosen People?”
Do not assume that you already know the answers.
Read this booklet for some fresh insights in a few pages.
By Christopher J. Patton
Just to mention the word “Israel” is to rouse emotions – either positively or negatively! What does the word “Israel” mean as it is used in the Bible? Do not assume that you already know.
The truth is that most only comprehend some aspects of this concept’s complex and richly multihued implications. Whether spoken or written, “ Israel” too often conjures meanings not biblical or Godly. This observation is true as applied to scholars as it is for the general public. The fact that Israel is also the name for a modern nation-state further complicates the emotional impact of the word and causes many unnecessary controversies in religion and politics.
The constant presence in “Israel” is that of the Creator of heaven and earth. God’s name and eternal purpose for humanity is intertwined with this term. The shifting variable that must be determined is the nature of His connection or how God is involved each time the word “Israel” is used. The use of the word “Israel” must be understood in its proper context.
The concept of Israel, like many other biblical concepts, must be understood with in its proper material or spiritual biblical contexts. God’s purpose, presence and performance pervade both the physical dimension of material time and space as well as the metaphysical dimension of the heavenlies. Just as the material creation exists to fulfill a spiritual purpose, so a material Israel exists from which God will fulfill His material and spiritual promises to humanity.
In modern history the Jewish people represent the remnant descendants of the material (mortal, biological or natural) children of Israel. Israel as a concept can be compared to the clay from which the Master Potter forms His vessels. First, the potter must dig out some clay from the pit. Only some of the clay can be chosen. There is too much in the world or even in one deposit to work with all of it. The children of Jacob were the clay separated from the rest of the families of humanity for the potter’s raw material.
But not even all of the clay dug out is suitable to be used. Even if a lump of clay is set on the potter’s wheel, the vessel made from it may be flawed in some way so that it is thrown away unused. In the analogy below, God is the Master Potter. The raw clay that meets with His approval, He fashions and places in service according to His divine wisdom. Some of these vessels see more frequent and more honorable service than others
Then I went down to the potter's house, and there he was, making something on the wheel. But the vessel that he was making of clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so he remade it into another vessel, as it pleased the potter to make.
Then the word of the LORD came to me saying,
"Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?" declares the LORD. "Behold, like the clay in the potter's hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel.
"At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it; if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it.
"Or at another moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to build up or to plant it; if it does evil in My sight by not obeying My voice, then I will think better of the good with which I had promised to bless it. (Jeremiah 18:3-10, NASB)
God’s promises to humanity are universally rooted in the original sin of Adam and Eve. When they chose the forbidden tree, they separated themselves and all of their descendants from the Creator. Because of this sin, Adam and Eve were driven out of Eden. Because of this sin, all of us have been born to experience suffering, strife and death in a fallen world of good and evil.
God in His mercy promised that a Seed would come from “the other side” who would also be fully a child of Eve. This child born would redeem humanity by providing a way back to God’s presence in the eternity of the heavenly dimension, which will be totally re-created anew in the final stage of His plan. In order for one mortal Servant-Savior of God to be born, He must have ancestors and other relatives, who will be biologically alive - both before His natural life, during it and after it.
To select and prepare the human “clay,” God first had to choose human material He could work with. Then He had to bless and protect the chosen tribes from which He would one day birth promised Seed. As history unfolded, God defined and refined these promised blessings through and with His faithful servants. First, Noah was chosen so that the Savior could be born without biological corruption – a natural descendant of Adam and Eve. In Abraham God unconditionally provides a place for the relatives of His promised Seed to live in relative abundance according to their faithfulness. The Almighty also repeated His promise to Adam and Eve that through this One will come eternal blessings to all the families of earth. Yeshua is the ultimate vessel made by the divine Potter from the muddy clay of Israel.
Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father's house, to the land which I will show you;
And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing; and I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed."
So Abram went forth as the LORD had spoken to him; and Lot went with him. Now Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his nephew, and all their possessions which they had accumulated, and the persons which they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan; thus they came to the land of Canaan.
Abram passed through the land as far as the site of Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. Now the Canaanite was then in the land. The LORD appeared to Abram and said, "To your descendants I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the LORD who had appeared to him. (Genesis 12:1-7, NASB)
The Creator made a binding covenant with Abraham that was not dependant upon a weak and sinful humanity for its success. God took that upon Himself to guarantee the success of His plan regardless of the general spiritual weakness of those He had to deal with. This meant that God blessed the relatives of the line of descendants He was preserving, whether they deserved it or not. As the clay, they were blessed materially because from them would be born the Savior of all. He did it to honor His name and fulfill His purposes.
Now when Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram and said to him,
"I am God Almighty; walk before Me, and be blameless. I will establish My covenant between Me and you, and I will multiply you exceedingly."
Abram fell on his face, and God talked with him, saying, “As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you will be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations.
"I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings will come forth from you. I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God."
God said further to Abraham, "Now as for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations.” (Genesis 17:1-9, NASB)
From the time of God’s covenant promises to Abraham, the Bible tracks the biological genealogy of Jesus, the descendant son of David, Jacob, Isaac and Abraham. God changed Jacob’s name to Israel because that grandson of Abraham overcame his spiritual doubts and struggled in faith with God believing that the Almighty would keep His promises. Thus, Israel means “one who struggles” with his humanity to claim God’s promises or “over-comer.”
At this point in the history of divine revelation, the Bible links the name “Israel” to God’s promises to humanity. The material aspects of those promises relate to the natural descendants of Jacob and the spiritual aspects to the faithful of all nations.
Although the spiritual aspects of God’s promises are from eternity past, they were designed to bless all the families of humanity, but they have always applied or been offered to the descendants of Jacob first – today’s Jewish people. In one sense this chronological precedence can be understood as proper courtesy to the relatives of His servants. From the perspective of practical reality, God’s servants’ first audiences have almost always been their relatives and neighbors.
The Creator God of the Bible often identifies Himself as the God of Israel or as the God of the children of Israel. This is because He is the God of covenant promises and the God of those with whom He made those promises, including their descendants.
The Bible is the book of God’s covenant promises to His people created by those promises, Israel. So those who live by the Bible are also an “Israel,” the people of the Bible by faith. Some of God’s promises to His Israel have conditions of obedience and/or restrictions attached that concern only some specific families. Parts of the New Testament discuss these issues in detail as they relate to the biological descendants of Jacob as well as how they relate to those who are not biological descendants of Abraham but are his children according to faith. These persons conduct their lives in imitation of his example of faithful obedience and courage of principle. (Galatians 3:19-29)
The Bible is first the holy book of those who accept and participate in the Creator’s promises by their faith. Secondly, it records the story of the tribes and nations who are biologically related to those with whom the God of Israel has made His promises. It is the Word of God spoken and written down for all ages. As originally uttered, it cannot be broken. It contains the promises of eternal life through Messiah to all on the condition of faith as proclaimed openly from the sincere heart and lived daily in accordance with its teaching commandments and ordinances.
Through Moses at Mount Sinai, the Eternal One not only revealed His nature through the Ten Commandments, He also constituted a nation with Himself as its temporal King in prophetic anticipation the Eternal Kingdom to come. The primary biblical focus is on God as King choosing to liberate His subjects (Israel) as promised from the Egyptian enslavement of sin and death. Indeed the Israelites include the biological descendants of Jacob, but Israel is defined as those who accept God’s covenant, so even at Sinai Israel included those who joined themselves to God who were not biologically descendants of Israel. The Bible does not focus so much on the specific persons liberated because God intends to liberate all people.
God will use the soon-coming Apocalypse to sift through the families of humanity, choosing those who would submit to His will in order to populate the prophesied millennial age of peace and justice under the reign of Jesus/Yeshua. In the plan of God, this 1,000 years of peace, justice and prosperity transitions from the material dimension of time and space to the heavenly dimension. Under God’s perfect government reigning over all nations, the heavenly dimension becomes co-apparent with the material one. This relationship is summarized in the Hebrew Alphabet Number System notation for the millennium as the Teth (9) Age of God’s plan. (http://www.apocalypse2008-2015.com/hebrewmystery.html) The equation may be expressed as 4 (Daleth, for the material dimension) + 5 (Heh, for the heavenly dimension) = 9 (Teth, the age of the millennium).
During this time of peace and abundance promised to the natural descendants of Jacob, Jesus will rule over all of the nations of the earth in His dual role as the Son of David king of Israel, and as Son of the Creator, who rules as the King of the kings of all the families of humanity. When the millennium ends at the coming of the Father, the Great Judgment precedes the New Heavens and New Earth. With this new creation God fulfills all of His promises.
In the 53rd chapter of Isaiah the prophet relates a startling vision of the Messiah’s first coming to His nation as the “Suffering Servant.” Jewish commentators usually state that this section of Scripture refers collectively to the nation of Israel.
While there could be a symbolic application of this prophecy to a nation used by God to fulfill His purposes for humanity, it clearly relates to a single person when read literally. When combined with Ezekiel 34 and other biblical verses, the picture is plain that God must save humanity Himself, beginning with the clay He chose, the children of Israel (Jacob). The leaders and people are incapable of spiritually redeeming themselves or anyone else. This is why God sent His Son born of Mary by the Holy Spirit without measure. (John 3:33-35)
A short Jewish commentary on this vital focus of a divine, yet fully human, Savior is found in Ephesians, a book of the New Testament. Read chapters 1 and 2 especially. Here Jesus’ role in God’s ancient plan from the beginning to redeem all of humanity is plainly related to the tribes and concept of Israel.
Ephesians begins with a clear recitation that the full blessings of God comes to the believer of any ethnic affiliation by His grace and purposed will through a plan instituted before the ages of the material universe. People can only become holy and without blame through faith in the redemptive sacrifice of the Jewish Messiah because God’s promised way of salvation for all humanity is mediated only through the biblical covenants He made with Abraham to create Israel.
How does a non-Jew qualify to participate in the Israelite covenants? Through obedient faith in the atoning sacrifice and resurrection of Yeshua as revealed in the whole Bible.
Through Yeshua/Jesus, the believer receives the free gift of the Holy Spirit, who enables the transformation of human nature through the creation of a new spiritual identity in Christ. This process is the foundation of one’s eternal inheritance as predestined in God‘s plan from the beginning. The inheritance here referenced is our eternal, heavenly bodies, fit together in service under the Father as part of the Kingdom of God. (Read 1Corinthians 15.)
Here are some selected verses from Ephesians. Note the central role and focus of Jesus as Messiah. When the believer sincerely submits and gives all to Him, he receives all in Him:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:
Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.
In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: that in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him: in whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: that we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.
In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:3-14, KJV)
Then in chapter 2, Paul explains why and how Jesus is the only way and means of salvation. People are born naturally bound in sin due to the spiritual heritage inherited from Adam and Eve. Mortal life is powered by the breath of life or life force spirit represented in the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Adam and Eve’s choices have left all humanity bound in sin destined to die because we are naturally incapable of pure good or holiness.
Yes, by our own spiritual power and physical discipline we can accomplish much good in this material world. In fact we should. We can have good feelings and even purpose to accomplish much that is commendable, but nothing a person can bring into being is pure to the point of abiding forever in the holy perfection of love as defined by the Father.
Because of humanity’s inescapable death, human nature is driven by self-preservation, which is a form of the fear of death. In some manner Satan, who is the prince of the power of the air, has strong influence over mortals through the natural spiritual life force of good and evil. This rebellious angel has the power of death, which can only be obliterated by one’s mystical participation in the death and resurrection of Christ by faith. (Hebrews 2:14-15)
Jesus as the Son of God proves the means by which the believer receives the Holy Spirit. He or she will live forever into the ages to come and inherit all of the New Heavens and New Earth jointly with the Godhead. Through the enabling agency of the Holy Spirit, Jesus works now to create holiness within His mortal and fallible disciples to accomplish good works that will abide forever.
And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.
But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: that in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1-10, KJV)
Jesus is the one Mediator between God and humans. (1Timothy 2:5) As a biologically Jewish son of the covenant originally made with Abraham and embellished through Moses and the prophets, Jesus qualified to participate in the Israelite covenants. Yeshua was born into the covenant people, and He fulfilled its terms and conditions perfectly.
Through and in Yeshua/Jesus, the non-Jewish believer is connected to the covenant promises without needing to become an Israeli. By faith in Messiah, he or she can fully participate in the full hope of the eternal promises otherwise reserved for circumcised members (after the flesh) of the theocratic commonwealth of Israel.
Through the Savior, the believer encounters and partakes in the perfection of Israel. By faith and the promised gift of the Holy Spirit, we come to dwell in Him who has overcome the Evil One, sin and death. Our hope is secured and guaranteed if our faith is real, though imperfect. We are saved by faith in Yeshua and not by works, metaphysical mantras nor correct knowledge/theology.
Regardless of biological and cultural heritage, the believer becomes a son, a beneficiary of the biblical covenants in the Son of God. Through the Holy Spirit, we have communion together with the Father and the Son as one fellowship. (I John 1:3) Because Israel (the natural nation of mortals) was created by covenant, so the immortal nation is created by covenant. Both are called Israel because it is the covenant name for the human side of the agreement. It is one covenant operating in two dimensions simultaneously throughout history, but the material dimension will come to an end with the close of the millennium.
Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; that at that time ye 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: but now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.
For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace;
And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: and came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh.
For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. (Ephesians 2:11-18, KJV)
While He walked the earth in fleshly mortality, Jesus actually lived in both the heavenly and material dimensions at the same time. (Read John 5:17-47)He also died in both dimensions at the same co-temporal and co-eternal instant. Thus, the Son of Man and Son of God bridged the gap between those presently separated realities. He is thus, the only Mediator between God and humanity. (1Timothy 2:5; Titus 2:11-15)
Through faith in Him, God creates an eternal Israel of the heavenly dimension that does not replace the temporal one of the earthly dimension. This is why we find that both dimensions of Israel will exist in the multi-dimensional fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham and his descendants in the millennium.
For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren,
Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee.
And again, I will put my trust in him. And again, Behold I and the children which God hath given me. Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.
For verily he took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham. Wherefore in all things it behoved him to be made like unto his brethren, that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted. (Hebrews 2:11-18, KJV)
While all nations will be incredibly blessed by peace and abundance during the millennium, the children of Israel will receive a double portion as the representative firstborn of all nations. There are two reasons. First, the government of the Kingdom of God will be located in Jerusalem. Yeshua’s thrones will be there from which He will rule Israel and rule the nations, as described in chapter 9 of Apocalypse Prophesied. The Holy City of Jerusalem will float like a pyramidal satellite above the natural city, located in the heart of the land promised to Abraham and his chosen descendants. The heavenly city of Jerusalem comes down to earth at the end of time during the creation of the new heavens and new earth. (Revelation chapters 21-22)
The second reason is that mortal Israel has served as the interface or enabling catalyst of communication and grace between God and humanity. For this reason the children of Israel as a nation have and will experience greater judgment and reward in this material dimension. They will both endure somewhat greater trials and enjoy somewhat greater blessings.
This truth does not justify anti-Semitism, nor does it in any way reduce the judgment of all nations according to the standard of the Father’s character and nature. Eternity is inhabited by perfection alone. The physical universe of material time and space was created for us to learn these lessons, often through suffering, so that we might enter into an eternity of productive, loving bliss.
The heavenly concept of Israel unites all of the families of humanity into one people. This Israel of God supersedes the imperfect nation that God used as His clay to establish a way to bring all peoples into the perfect love of His presence forever. (Galatians 6:16) Thus, when Paul writes the short phrase “Israel of God,” he means “the sons of God, by the Holy Spirit of God according to His covenant promises to Abraham.”
When the true Light of God - Yeshua the Messiah and Son of the God of Israel - came into the world, no one in the world recognized their Creator. Yeshua’s own neighbors did not recognize the spiritual Word of God even though they had been given the written Word of the Torah, prophets and writings.
He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.
And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:10-11, 14, NASB)
Since His death and resurrection, those who do believe are empowered to also become the children of God, though this certain spiritual transformation is only experienced through the clouding obscurity of our weak and mortal flesh in this material dimension. This miracle becomes reality only by the will of God and by His power.
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13, NASB)
One does not inherit eternity by becoming a member of the mortal nation of Israel. The only advantage the children of Israel have had is the necessary fact of physical proximity in the material dimension of time and space.
This is true whether one considers biological and cultural heritage, access to the holy writings and to the land where the plan of God unfolded, or being the clay from which Messiah was born. Eternal redemption does not depend upon bloodline. It cannot be attained by the power of the fleshly spiritual life force, nor can it be earned because a person desires it, wants it, wills it or sacrifices his life for it.
Proximity to the unfolding of God’s plan for all humanity does not equal superiority or indicate any favoritism. The nation of Israel was God’s covenant people – not His indulged upon “pet people.”
For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one [spiritually] in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's [spiritual] descendants, heirs according to [spiritual dimension of the] promise. (Galatians 3:26-29, NASB) [Brackets added for clarity.]
Those who enter into the faith of Jesus, submitting their mortal lives to His rule as revealed in His Word, are baptized into the covenants of Israel becoming sons of God. We are not yet born sons – just begotten or started on the path, for we are not yet resurrected to immortal perfection.
Thus, Paul wrote that even though we are yet biologically distinct as mortal people – being either male or female, Jew or non-Jew, slave or free, we are indeed one in Christ because there is only one Holy Spirit. Because of this ultimate spiritual unity, we are called to a life of peace and service towards believer and unbeliever while we walk the earth in the shroud of our mortality under the protective eyes of God. In this context read Paul’s famous analogy comparing the material and spiritual dimensions of Israel to olive trees in Romans chapter 11, and remember, for His own name’s sake
...indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. (Psalms 121:4)
The Foundation proclaims the Good News that Jesus the Messiah will soon return to reign over a redeemed kingdom of Israel and all nations in justice and peace.
Faith in the Future Foundation is a private charitable organization (501(c)3 of the Internal Revenue Code) dedicated to advancing peace in the Mideast and the world through the evangelism of nonbelievers to Jesus Christ and not to any denomination. The foundation also seeks to encourage and expand the horizons of those who already accept the Bible as God's Word and revelation of His mercifully loving and righteous plan for humanity. It is a railroad train dedicated to delivering the oracles of God to any and all who would receive them for as long as God gives us the means and ability to do so.
Read Chapter 1 next.