The Name and People. Jacob, grandson of Abraham, was named Israel after he had wrestled with God (Gen32:28). This name is a combination of the Hebrew words for “wrestle” and “God” (because sareta [you have wrestled] with God [‘el] and men you will be called yisrael). When Jacob had returned to Canaan, God commanded him to settle in Bethel; there God appeared to Jacob again and repeated that his name was no longer Jacob but Israel. This confirmation of the naming was followed by God confirming his covenant with Jacob (Gen 35:9-12), emphasizing specific elements of the covenant he had made with Abraham (Gen 17:1-8). The name, expressing the concept of wrestling, clinging firmly to God, and overcoming, and God’s confirming of his covenant with Jacob, indicates that Israel is to be understood as Jacob’s covenant name.
The name spoke of his being bound with a bond of life and love to God. His descendants were at times referred to as Hebrews (Genesis 39:14 Genesis 39:17, 40:15, 41:12), and when they were slaves in Egypt (Exod 1:15, 2:13), and occasionally in other contexts (e.g., Deut 15:12; 1 Sam 4:6; Isa 36:11; Jeremiah 34:9 Jeremiah 34:14). Eventually they were known as Jews (first mentioned in Jer 32:12). The use of these references, “Hebrew” and “Jew, ” indicated that among the nations, Abraham and Jacob’s descendants were thus known nationally and/or ethnically. The name “Israel, ” however, referred to Jacob’s descendants’ spiritual, covenantal, and religious heritage. The name “Israel” spoke of the ethnic or national Hebrews’ and Jews’ unique relationship with God. There was a time when the name was not used to refer to all of Jacob’s descendants because after the division of the tribes, the northern ten tribes were known as Israel and the southern tribes as Judah. After the exile it was used again to refer to the entire community.
The Old Testament is often considered to be specifically a record of Israel’s national history, of its unique religion, and of its hopes for the future. The Scriptures are also used as a source for understanding God’s redemptive activities on behalf of and goals fo rIsrael. While it is true that these are aspects of the Old Testament record, the more inclusive message is to reveal how God sovereignly chose to prepare and use Israel as his unique mediatorial agent. He unfolded his kingdom plan on behalf of all races, nations, peoples, and ethnic groups.
God’s Purposes. God’s purpose for electing Israel can be divided into five interrelated and correlated themes.
First, Israel was to, and did, bring the Messiah to Israel and to the nations of the world. God had assured Adam and Eve that the seed of the woman would crush Satan’s head and thereby undo the disobedience, sinfulness, and corruption resulting from their deviation from God and their breaking of the covenant. Of Noah’s progeny, Shem was identified as the seed-bearing progenitor (Gen 9:24-27). Then Abram/Abraham was called and told by God that through him all nations were to be blessed (Gen 12:3). It was to be through Abraham’s seed (Gen 15:5, 17:1-8) that God would bring in the Messiah and the sure redemptive victory over Satan, sin, and its effects. This seed line was narrowed to Isaac, Jacob/Israel, Judah, and David. Meanwhile all of Abraham’s seed was to serve as light to the peoples of the world (Isa 9:2-7, 42:6, 49:6).
Second, inseparably related to this first and all-inclusive purpose, was Israel’s divinely determined role to give, uphold, and preserve the Scriptures, both the Old and New Testaments. This written Word is the sure, infallible record of how God created the cosmos, and how he purposed to bring redemption and restoration to the cosmos and its inhabitants. Without this written word there would be no record of what God had done, promised, and carried out. Once Israel was formed as a people under Moses’ mediatorial leadership, this first part of the word was written by him; and it was added to by other Israelite writers, historians, poets, sages, and prophets. Thus, Israel’s divinely determined purpose was to bring the eternal living Word, Jesus Christ (John 1:1-3), and the inspired, inerrant, and infallible written word to all the nations of the world—including themselves.
Third, Israel, by God’s determinate counsel, was given the unique role of being amediatorial people. God called Abraham from a “corner” of the then known world to place him in the center among the nations. There, with smaller nations as near neighbors, Syria, Ammon, Moab, Edom, Philistia, Tyre, Sidon, and larger ones beyond, the Arabians, Egyptian, Hittite, Assyrian, and Babylonian, Israel was made to be a peculiar treasure, to be a kingdom, a priestly people, and a holy nation (Exod 19:4-6). This multifaceted role was not just simply for Israel’s sake. Israel was elected, empowered, qualified, and given the opportunity in centrally located Canaan to mediate between God and the nations. This mediatorial work was to be carried out through living according to the word God had given so that nations would take note of and desire to join in the blessing, wonder, and glory of life with and under his beneficient reign (Isa 2:1-5; Micah 4:1-5).Israel’s initial purpose was not to witness verbally, but to exhibit the rich blessedness of covenantal life. The non-Israelite, drawn to Israel in this way, was expected to learn and submit to God’s revealed demands. Such was the case with Rahab (Joshua 2:9-13), Ruth (Ruth 1:16-18), and Uriah (2 Samuel 11:6, 2 Samuel 11:11). They were neither Hebrew nor Jew but became true citizens of Israel, God’s covenant people.
Fourth, God called, elected, and declared that Israel as a people were to be a kingdom (Exod 19:6). Moses emphatically declared they were chosen because of no merit of their own. God chose Israel to be his covenant/kingdom people because he loved them with a gracious love (Deut 7:7). Israel, however, had its responsibilities placed before it. The people had to acknowledge and exhibit in the totality of their lives that God was their one and only King. No other gods were to be recognized as their sovereign ruler or as their source of life and its inclusive blessings. Israel was to know itself as a theocracy under the reign of God. As such they were called to be royal, loving, obedient, serving people.
Israel had the duty, according to God’s purposes, to demonstrate to itself, its children, its non-Israelite neighbors living within Canaan’s borders, and surrounding nations, how, as a redeemed, covenantal serving people, they should live as a theocratic kingdom. This could only be done by faithfully carrying out the three creation covenant mandates: the spiritual, the social, and the cultural.
The spiritual mandate called for loving fellowship with God and an adoring worship that would glorify the sovereign covenant Lord. Fellowship and worship were to be carried out in families (e.g., Passover, Exod 12) but particularly in the courts of the tabernacle and temple. The people, old and young, were to be called together, and as an assembly were to pay homage to their Lord. Means for the assembly’s worship were prescribed. The tabernacle and later the temple, giving symbolic and typological expression to the covenant promise, “I am your God, I am with you, ” was to be the central place of worship (Deut 12:1-14).Moses later told the people they could assemble for worship around local altars at which priests officiated (Deut 12:15-19).Yahweh provided the priesthood and the prescribed sacrifices to enable the assembly to worship as a devout kingdom people. Some sacrifices were to be offered daily (Lev 6:1-8), others at appropriate times (feasts or for specific situations); the Sabbath was to be the day of no work but to be the time of worship for the entire assembly. God repeatedly reminded his people that they were not to assemble around and worship other gods because he was a jealous Lord (Deut4:15-24, 13:1-18).Nor were the people to worship as they saw fit (Deut 12:8); they were to keep the basic principles for obeying and carrying out the spiritual mandate as these were stated in the first four commandments.
God called Israel as a covenant community to live and exhibit kingdom life to the world. Israel was to obey and carry out the creation covenant social mandate. Commandments 5-7 provided basic guidelines. Within the community, family life was to be fundamental; parents were to teach, train, and discipline their children (Deut 6:4-9; Psalm 78:1-8). Children were to respond to parents with honor and dignity. Marriage with noncovenant people was strictly forbidden (Deut 7:1-6). However, those who were not biological descendants of Abraham could be taken as mates if they became members of the Israelite community. Procreation was to be considered a divine ordinance for thus seed would come forth to continue covenantal service within the theocracy. Abuse of sexual potential was strictly forbidden as was adultery.
Israel as a holy nation was to exhibit the kingdom of God to the world by heeding and carrying out the creation covenant cultural mandate. Prerequisites were their activities as a worshiping assembly and their communal life expressed by their mutual love and joy in marriage, family, clan, and entire covenant community. God’s purpose for Israel as a holy nation was that they be totally separated from heathen practices spiritually, socially, and culturally and be consecrated to their sovereign Lord who had commanded “Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy” (Lev 19:2). Israel, the holy nation, was to be organized politically. Yahweh was their sovereign King. Elders and judges had to carry out administrative and judicial duties; priests had to assist particularly in regard to health laws.
Israel, to meet the challenge of being a holy, politically organized, governed, and law-abiding nation, was called to live separately among the nations. God gave them Canaanas their land, not first of all for their own advancement and enjoyment but to enable Israel to serve as the mediatorial nation in the midst of the nations. Each tribe and clan was given an inheritance from which they were to remove all Canaanite inhabitants so that they could live without unholy pressures and truly be free to live up to God’s purposes for them. Israel was promised prosperity but these material blessings were to be received as means to serve. Thus, as good stewards, they could develop and beautify their natural surroundings and with skill produce materials that would enhance the beauty of their environment. The tabernacle and temple were examples of highly developed cultural craftsmanship.
Fifth, to work out his purposes for the world under sin, God chose Israel to be his covenantal servants who were to live by faith and demonstrate it to the nations. Noah and Abraham exercised faith as did many others (Heb 11). This faith included knowing the Lord, trusting in him, and living a life of courage and hope. This faith was inseparable from obedience to all of God’s revealed will. Through obedience Israel would exhibit to its offspring and neighbors what service to God entailed. Indeed, the life of faith, obedience, and service would fulfill the purposes God had in mind and revealed to them. In this way, Israel would serve mediatorially as a messianic people and in time bring forth the Messiah himself, receive and give to the world God’s inscripturated word, and show that the kingdom of God included all of life’s activities and relationships.
Israel’s Privileges. In the economy of God’s kingdom, privileges involve responsibilities. Israel, called and enabled to carry out God’s purposes, was given privileges commensurate and in correlation with the responsibilities given them. These privileges were many.
First, it was Israel’s privilege to represent and mirror the Sovereign of the cosmos to the nations. Israel’s privilege was to serve! Self-serving and self-aggrandizement were entirely contrary to the responsibilities and privileges given to the descendants of Jacob. The people, as an assembly, as a community, and as a nation, were never to consider themselves only as objects of God’s election, love, and providential goodness; they were to consider themselves basically as subjects called for the purpose of serving. In service according to God’s purposes, Israel would be honored by the privileges made available to them.
Second, it was Israel’s privilege to be in a unique covenantal relationship with God. God, referring to himself as the Husband (Jer 31:33) and Israel as his precious possession whom he had brought to himself, implied Israel was his bride (Exod 19:4-6).This covenantal/spiritual marriage relationship was a bond of life and love God would not break. He would not divorce her though he would send her away for a time ( Isa 50:1 ). Israel had assured security in the love, goodness, and faithfulness of God.
Third, Israel had unique access to God. God dwelt in the midst of his people. First by Moses and then via the priests, the people could come into the presence of God. He communed with them, receiving their sacrifices, praises, and prayers. He spoke to them directly, through his written Word read to the people, and by the prophets. In this intimate relationship, Israel could know the character of their God. He was sovereign and all-powerful; he declared and showed himself to be compassionate, gracious, patient, full of love, faithful, forgiving, righteous, and just (Exod 34:6-7; Num 14:17-18; Psalm 103:8-13; Jonah 4:2-3).
Fourth, it was Israel’s privilege to have a land and cultural blessings that God had prepared for them by Canaanite endeavors. It was a land with flourishing cities, houses filled with good things, wells providing water, productive vineyards, and fruitful orchards (Deut6:10-12). This promised land was their inheritance to be possessed for service and not to be occupied for self-satisfaction and feelings of superiority. The land was never to be seen as a prize or as a possession without regard for the reasons that it was given: to be central among the nations so that the messianic light of God’s kingdom would shine out to all nations. In this land, then, Israel had the privilege of carrying out its spiritual, social, and cultural mandates. It was to be a place of rest, prosperity, security, and peace; Israel thus had the privilege of portraying to all nations what the redeemed and restored cosmos would be like. By its serene, serving life Israel could portray hope for a blessed future for peoples of all nations who joined them in faith, obedience, and service to God, thus bringing glory to the cosmic King.
Fifth, within their promised land and to the nations beyond, Israel had the privilege of proclaiming, as no other could, that God reigned. This message was one of assurance for present and future times. The Sovereign God was in control and directed all the affairs of the cosmos, of the nations, and of individuals. Moses sang, “The Lord will reign forever and ever” (Exod 15:18). The psalmists sang it (Psalm93:1-2, 97:1, 99:1-5). The prophets proclaimed it to Israel (Isa 52:8) and to the nations (Obadiah 1:1, Obadiah 1:21).
Sixth, Israel was given promises concerning its continuation as a people. This privilege had the potential of breeding a false security that irrespective of circumstances, Israel as a nation could expect to endure throughout all ages. Inseparably involved, however, with this tremendous privilege was the demand that the people live by faith, obediently and in the service of God and his purposes concerning his enduring kingdom.
Israel’s Response. Biblical revelation records how Israel responded to its call to believe, obey, and serve God’s purposes for Jacob’s descendant’s and to the privileges given so that God’s purposes could be fulfilled. The account is a revelation of faithfulness, obedience, and service on the part of varying numbers of the people in various ways, and unfaithfulness, disobedience, and lack of service, often on the part of most of the people. God, however, remained faithful and steadfast in working out his kingdom, covenantal, and mediatorial plan. He did so by blessing, by withholding blessings, and by executing, in a mitigated way, the curse of the covenant. Israel was never completely destroyed as a community although it suffered severely when the warnings Moses had enunciated (Deut. 28-29) went unheeded. God humiliated Israel by bringing famines, hardships, military defeats, foreign oppressions, and eventually exile.
The tensions between covenantal living and violations of it were starkly present among Jacob’s twelve sons. Ten brothers sold Joseph into slavery and lied about his disappearance. Judah had sex with a woman he considered a prostitute ( Gen 38 ) while Joseph refused the sexual temptations in Egypt. In spite of his humiliations he remained faithful and served his covenant Lord. Jacob referred to various other sins of his sons ( Genesis 49:4 Genesis 49:5 Genesis 49:17 Genesis 49:27 ).Yet in spite of Judah’s failings he was prophesied to be a forbear of the Messiah Israel was to bring into the world (Gen 49:8-12). It was Joseph, richly blessed (Gen 49:22-26),who acknowledged God’s faithfulness and sovereign providential guidance (Gen 50:19-20).
Israel as a growing community in Egypt suffered as slaves; there is little evidence of conscious obedience and service to Yahweh once Joseph had died, except for the midwives who spared Moses (Exod 1). Ready to be freed as slaves under Moses’ leadership and spontaneous in vows to obey and serve Yahweh as a covenant community and nation (Exod 19:8; Exodus 24:3; Exodus 24:7), Israel’s sons and daughters soon exhibited their fickleness and hankering for life in Egypt (Exod 32:2-8).Moses’ intercession was heard and Israel was made to know that God was a faithful, covenant-keeping God whose jealously preserved his character and his people (Exod 34:5-14).
Once Israel had received the tabernacle, the Aaronic priesthood, and the prescriptions for sacrifices and feasts, the people had every opportunity to be a believing, obeying, worshiping, serving community and theocratic nation. But there were murmurings and rebellions (Num 11:1, 12:1-2, 14:1-4, 16:1-3, 21:4-5); two of the twelve spies trusted in and honored God (Num 13); ten did not. Nor did the nation as a whole. When under Moses and Joshua’s leadership the Transjordan was conquered, God had Moses reveal to the people that he, the covenant Sovereign of earth and heaven, called upon and demanded the people to love, obey, worship, and serve as a devout covenant people. Joshua, divinely ordained, was an effective military leader. Israel as a nation was given the promised land, cultivated, built up, and productive.
After Joshua’s death, the people repeatedly broke covenant with God. They were humiliated by military defeats and economic hardships. Ever faithful, God moved his people to acknowledge him by means of these hardships and provided leaders so that the people had freedom and prosperity again. Throughout the turbulent times of the judges, from Othniel to Samuel, God continued to work out his messianic purposes. The judges, Boaz and Ruth, and Samuel, the judge/prophet, stand out.
God’s faithfulness in regard to his messianic purposes and goals was dramatically revealed in the time of David and Solomon. David, a descendant of Judah, of the seed-line of Abraham and Shem, was anointed and enthroned. David, the poet and prophet, in spite of his sins, was a man after God’s heart. He conquered and reigned over the entire territory God had promised to Abraham (2 Sam 8:1-14).His reign is described as just and right (2 Sam 8:15). The covenant was confirmed and expanded with specifics concerning covenant seed and an eternal dynasty (2 Sam7:1-28). His son Solomon carried out the plans David made for the temple and worship. Solomon exhibited wisdom (1 Kings 10:1-13)and the splendor of the theocratic monarchy was unsurpassed (1 Kings 10:14-29). Psalm 72 expresses the glory of the messianic kingdom, as initially realized under David and Solomon and to be fully and finally realized under Jesus Christ.
The prophetic office served Yahweh’s purposes. Moses had been a prophet par excellence; Samuel fulfilled a key role in anointing David (1 Sam 16:13) and Nathan pronounced one of the most significant prophecies when he addressed David, assuring him that a descendant would reign, that David’s throne and kingdom would last forever. In this prophecy no reference is made to the nation of Israel itself but rather to the central person, David, and to his seed. Israel would provide the context but the central thrust was on the house of David, his throne, and the kingdom God was to bring to ever fuller manifestation.
The high points, as exhibited in the covenant with David, his victories, his just and righteous reign, the wisdom of Solomon and grandeur of his throne and kingdom, were not maintained. God’s purposes did not diminish; the privileges given to the royal house of David were initially expanded. But Solomon in his later years and the majority of the Davidic dynasty did not remain faithful covenant and kingdom believers and obedient servants. A major part of the theocratic nation seceded and took the name “Israel.” The tribes of Judah, Simeon, and Benjamin constituted the ongoing environment in which God continued to work out his purposes. The low point came after Israel was deported into exile in 722 B.C. (2 Kings 17:21-23). A small remnant from Judah fled to Egypt (Jer 41:16-18, 44:26).
The prophets continued to speak God’s words of both warning and promise. Judah particularly was repeatedly reminded that God’s kingdom and covenant would continue; the promise of the messianic mediator was repeated before (Isaiah and Micah) and during (Ezekiel and Daniel) the exile. The descendants of Jacob, the Israelite covenant community, whether in homeland or in exile, would continue so that God’s covenant promises concerning the conquering seed, as represented by the Davidic dynasty, and concerning his all-encompassing kingdom would in time be realized. Thus the nation of Israel was not the central focus; God’s purposes to be realized through Israel were. Israel, as a people, would bring in the Messiah.
After the exile, the descendants of Jacob, often referred to as Jews rather than Israelites, formed a social and religious community. The efforts to be a worshiping, called-out people were diminished by legalistic scribal and priestly activities and by various fanatic attempts that failed to transform the people living in Palestine into a nation again. Thus, while Israel as a nation no longer functioned, it did as a social and religious community. In that setting the ultimate purpose for Israel’s call and existence was fully realized in Jesus, even as God had purposed. Forty years, the same period of time Israel wandered in the desert, after Jesus ascended to reign over the kingdom, the Israelite community, temple, and sacrificial system were removed. The promise God made to Adam and Eve, repeated to Abraham, Judah, and David concerning the conquering, reigning Seed of the woman was fully kept. Israel, in spite of its repeated Acts of unbelief, disobedience, and rebellion, fulfilled the purposes for which God had called and prepared it.
Contemporary Issues Regarding Israel. The relationship of Israel to the Scriptures is definite. Both the Old and New Testaments were written by people who were known to be of Israelite nativity. The entire Bible is God’s gift to the world via the people of Israel—whether one wishes to refer to the Bible as Hebrew (Old Testament) and Jewish (New Testament). The fact remains, the entire Bible was given by God through the believing, obeying, and serving covenant community. Moses and the historical, poetic, wisdom, and prophetic writers were covenant servants; equally so were the New Testament evangelists, historical epistolary, and apocalyptic writers. Serious differences of views pertain, however, concerning the nature of the entire Bible. Is it a record of Israel’s origins, existence, and development as a nation? In other words, is the Bible a strictly human book or is it a divinely inspired book that has the message of divine creation, humanity’s fall, God’s redemptive and restorative program, and his enduring kingdom to and initially carried out largely by Israel? The biblical account is clear and definite: Israel was God’s instrument by which the Bible was given to the entire world.
The biblical record concerning Israel’s origin is clear. Scholars, working in the areas of Near Eastern archaeology and historical criticism have offered variant views. That Israel as a body of approximately two million people lived and served as slaves in Egypt is not accepted by many such scholars. That there is some evidence that a group of Semitic people lived and were enslaved in Egypt is generally accepted. But the manner and time of the dramatic exodus event are not accepted as historically or archaeologically verifiable. Likewise, the Sinai experience, the forty-year wandering in the wilderness, and the military conquest of Canaan have been seriously doubted. Alternate views are projected, such as a small group that escaped from slavery in Egypt, joining other groups, gradually infiltrated Canaan and took on many of its ways of life. The development of Israel as a nation has been seen as a gradual formation of a league of tribes of various origins. The evidence presented by archaeologists and historical critics has not bee accepted by many scholars, particularly evangelical, conservative scholars. These scholars, however, have shown that archaeological and scientific historical studies do not contradict the biblical record but illumine it.
A third debated issue in relation to Israel, and closely related to the two already mentioned, is the origin and nature of Israel’s religion. Reference is made particularly to Israel’s beliefs, worship patterns, and practices. The Scriptures testify to Israel’s faith as revealed by God and its worship activities directed by him. With the aid of scholars who have studied Israel’s social structures and psychological attitudes, students of Israel’s surrounding nations and their religions have attempted to demonstrate that much of what Israel practiced religiously was adopted from those of the peoples around them. Israel did not live in isolation from its neighbors; it had various religious practices that were outwardly similar, such as portable shrines, systems of sacrifice, and religious objects such as altars. Israel’s religion was unique, however, in origin and practice. God revealed himself directly to Abraham, as he had done to Adam and Noah. He especially revealed himself as a covenant Lord to them and this covenantal relationship with all its ramifications and implications was explicated in detail by God through his appointed mediatorial agents. Israel’s faith and religious life and activities had their origin in revelation, not in borrowing or in religious perceptions. It must be added, however, that Israel was not always faithful to their sovereign covenant Lord. There was much vacillation in its loyalty to him and there is much evidence of disobedience as exhibited in Israel’s following of their neighbors’ detestable idolatrous practices.
Much discussion is involved in the issue of Israel and the land. That God promised Abraham and his progeny a land as their possession cannot be doubted. But did God unconditionally promise that it would be an eternal possession? Many evangelical Christians believe this is the case; they speak of the Palestinian covenant on the basis of their interpretation of Deuteronomy 28. Other equally sincere evangelical biblical students point to five important qualifying factors. First, Moses emphatically stated that obedience was a basic requirement to inherit the land and to remain blessed possessors (Deut 4:25-31, 28:15-68). Second, the term translated “everlasting” is often translated correctly “for a long time,” “for ages.” The term cannot mean eternal, in the sense of never-ending, for at the Lord’s return at the end of time, the order of the renewed heavens and earth will be ushered in. Third, God fulfilled his promises regarding the land and its extent at the time of David and Solomon (2 Sam 8:1-4 ; 1 Chron 18:1-13 ; 1 Kings 4:20-21 ; Psalm 72:8). Fourth, the prophetic promise of a return to the land after the exile was fulfilled when a remnant returned (Ezra 2). Fifth, the New Testament does not refer to Israel as a nation possessing the land forever; rather, it speaks of Abraham’s believing covenant offspring inheriting the world (Rom4:13).
Another issue concerns the interpretation of prophecies concerning Israel. This issue is closely related to Israel’s relationship to the land, the church, and the millennium (Rev 20). The following factors must be kept in mind. The prophets spoke of a future for Israel. They did not, however, always refer to Israel as a political entity, an organized nation. The concept of the remnant is dominant, particularly of Israel as a believing covenant community. Furthermore, when the prophets spoke to their contemporaries they did so in terms the people at that time understood. Hence, when prophets spoke of the wonderful future of Yahweh’s covenant people, they did so in simple urban, pastoral, agricultural, and natural(nature) terms (Isa 35). Strict literal interpretation, often controlled by certain presuppositions regarding Israel as a political, national entity, must be used very discretely if not completely avoided.
Another specific issue concerns the relationship of Israel and the New Testament church. On the basis of a too literal interpretation of Old Testament prophecies concerning Israel and maintaining the view that New Testament writers referred to apolitically organized national entity rather than to the believing covenant community, a strict separation is posited between Israel as a nation and the non-Jewish New Testament covenant community of believers, the church. It is believed that God has two distinct people in mind with a distinctly separate program for each. Many biblical scholars have difficulties with this separation. Some of the points stated in preceding paragraphs should be kept in mind. Moreover, Jesus never spoke of Israel’s continuation as apolitically separate religiously oriented nation; rather, he spoke of God’s all-encompassing kingdom. And while it is true Paul spoke of his ethnic people as “the people of Israel” ( Rom 9:3-5 ), he spoke of all true believers in Jesus Christ as Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise made to Abraham’s descendants ( Gal 3:28 ). He also wrote of all believers, Gentiles as well as ethnic Jewish people who believed in Jesus Christ, as Israel ( Gal6:16 ). It is therefore believed that Paul, when speaking of his own ethnic people, many of whom did not accept Jesus as the promised Messiah, and of many Gentiles coming to faith, includes all believers, whether they be Jews or Gentiles, to constitute the “all Israel,” that is, the unified body, the covenant community of believers (Rom 11:25-32).
The last issue to be referred to, although others could be included, is Israel’s national existence as a millennial kingdom. This issue has many ramifications that cannot be included in this essay. Suffice it to state that John did not write that Israel as a distinct religious national entity would be a separate kingdom for a thousand years. Nor did Jesus say he would return to earth to reign over the Jewish kingdom. In addition, various scholars have pointed out in times past and present that the Israelite kingdom, first as a theocracy and then under the reign of David’s dynasty as a monarchy, was a type of the eternal kingdom Jesus is perfecting and will return to the Father (1 Cor 15:24-28).
Gerard Van Groningen
The name Israel in the Bible
Israel is the name given to Jacob during his encounter with the Angel of God at the river Jabbok (Genesis 32:28). His older twin brother’s name is Esau, his parents are Isaac and Rebekah (Genesis 25), and his grandparents are Abraham and Sarah. The nation of Israel came from four matriarchs— Leah and her servant Zilpah, Leah’s sister Rachel and her servant Bilhah— and their twelve sons would become the patriarchs of the twelve tribes of the nation of Israel:
- Israel’s first born son is Reuben (Genesis 29:32). His mother is Leah. Reuben forfeits his station of first-born son when he sleeps with Bilhah, the mother of his two half-brothers Dan and Naphtali (Genesis 35:22).
- Israel’s second son is Simeon, also with Leah (Genesis 29:33). Simeon forfeits his prominence when he and his brother Levi revenge the rape of their sister Dinah by Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite (Genesis 34), by killing every male living in the city of Hamor.
- Israel’s third son is Levi, also with Leah (Gen 29:34). He also forfeits his prominence, along with his brother Simeon.
- Israel’s fourth son is Judah (Gen 29:35). Due to the crimes of his three older brothers, Judah rises to prominence. The land of Judah is central to Israel, and the capital of Israel, Jerusalem, was situated in Judah. King David was from Judah, and Joseph, the father-by-law of Jesus was from Judah as well. By the time of Jesus, the name Judah has been applied to the Roman province of Judea, and the Israelites who made it out of the Babylonian exile became collectively known as Jews, meaning those of Judea.
- The fifth son of Israel is Dan (Gen 30:6). His mother is Bilhah, the servant of Rachel (30:4).
- The sixth son of Israel is Naphtali, also with Bilhah (Gen 30:8).
- Israel’s seventh son is Gad (Gen 30:11). Gad’s mother is Zilpah, the servant of Leah (Gen 30:9).
- Israel’s eighth son is Asher (Gen 30:13). Asher’s mother is Zilpah as well.
- Israel’s ninth son is Issachar, Leah’s fifth son (Gen 30:18).
- Israel’s tenth son is Zebulun, Leah’s sixth son (Gen 30:20).
- Israel’s eleventh child is a girl. Her name is Dinah and her mother is Leah (Gen 30:21).
- Israel’s eleventh son is Joseph. His mother is Rachel (Gen 30:24). In time, the tribe of Joseph breaches in two sub-tribes, named after Joseph’s two sons Ephraim and Manasseh. Their mother’s name is Asenath (Gen 41:50-52).
- Israel’s twelfth son is Ben-oni or Benjamin (Genesis 35:18).
The name Israel appears also frequently in the New Testament, 68 times in 12 of the 27 books (all four Gospels, Acts, the Pauline epistles and Revelation). In Greek Israel is spelled Ισραηλ, and the ethnonym Israelite in Greek is spelled Ισραηλιτης. The latter appears 9 times.