Israel in Prophecy - Still God's Chosen People
Updated: May 3, 2019
The Bible uses examples and object lessons to make difficult concepts easier for us to understand. The existence of the Jewish people and the land of Israel is one giant object lesson. Through His promises to Israel, God shows us important aspects of His nature and His plan for humanity.
Israel was set aside as God’s chosen people for a specific purpose:
- To serve as the bloodline of the Messiah, Jesus Christ
- To preserve and protect God’s word, the Bible
- To instruct the other nations about God and His word
The detailed genealogies in the Bible prove the direct descent from Adam to Jesus Christ, and God’s faithfulness to carry out His purposes. The narrative of the Old Testament is the story of the defense of this bloodline. On many occasions, the plan depended on the survival of a single person. The Bible shows God’s intervention to preserve Israel even though Satan tried to destroy them. When God’s people sinned and turned their backs on Him, God preserved the bloodline. God is faithful to fulfill His promises and His purposes, even when humans are not.
In the ancient world of the Old Testament, covenants were legally binding agreements between two parties that were recognized by many cultures. Covenants involved oaths and rituals that were taken as seriously as the legal documents of our day. To make His will clear to humans, God entered covenants on numerous occasions.
There were two types of covenants between God and man - conditional and unconditional. A conditional covenant was dependent on man to perform some action. An unconditional covenant was a promise from God that He would do something and did not depend on the actions of man.
God made a covenant with Abraham to establish a nation from his descendants. (Genesis 12, 13, 15 and 17).
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” -- Genesis 12:1-3 (ESV)
The later chapters spell out the details of the covenant. God made a promise and there was nothing that Abraham (Abram) had to do to receive the benefits. The covenant came with the promise of:
- A son (even though Abram and his wife were old and had no children)
- A land - forever
- Offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven
- Blessings and a great name - Abraham became the father of three major world religions. In his lifetime he was blessed with great wealth, success and a long life
- Blessings to all the nations of the World - God’s salvation through Abraham’s descendant, Jesus Christ
In chapter 15, there is a strange ritual performed in relation to this covenant.
And he said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you out from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to possess.” But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” And he brought him all these, cut them in half, and laid each half over against the other.… As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram. And behold, dreadful and great darkness fell upon him. When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. -- Genesis 15:7-10, 12, 17 (ESV)
In the ancient world of Abraham, livestock were the most valuable possession. In studies of legal agreements of the day (mostly from the Chaldean culture), this ritual was performed between two parties to signify a binding blood oath. The animals were cut in half and the two parties would pass between the carcass halves. The agreement was that if one party failed to meet his obligation, he would to be divided in half like the animals.
God put Abraham to sleep while this ritual was performed. Abraham was not capable of upholding his end of a blood oath with God. God was showing that He alone was responsible for carrying out the promise. (The practice of circumcision was a memorial and a reminder of the covenant for Israel and of the importance of obedience).
God spelled out very clearly the boundaries of the land that Abraham’s descendants would inherit:
“To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.” -- Genesis 15:18b-21 (ESV)
This is a much larger area than Israel inhabits today. The southwestern border is the Nile river. The northeastern border is the Euphrates river. The areas inhabited by the tribes listed is difficult to identify on a modern map, but roughly, Israel was meant to inhabit a large portion of Egypt, modern Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and a portion of Saudi Arabia.
Israel has never occupied all this territory but came closest during the reigns of David and Solomon. The reason they have not controlled the entire territory is due to sin and disobedience. The story of Israel’s disobedience is recounted throughout the OT and follows a pattern. God blesses Israel and they worship Him. Israel becomes enmeshed in pagan religions and deserts God. God punishes them through war, plagues and being sold into slavery several times. Israel repents and calls out to God. God rescues them and restores them to the land. Then the cycle repeats. This is a revelation of God’s true nature. He is patient with His people (and with us). He understands our weaknesses and failings and is a merciful God. However, His patience does not last forever.
Since Israel rejected Jesus Christ as the Messiah, many modern Christians believe that God has abandoned them. There is a theory called “Replacement Theology” which teaches that God has rejected Israel as His chosen people and has transferred all His blessings to the church. It teaches that God has no future for Israel and has abandoned them completely.
But God preserved Israel through all recorded history and restored them to the land after a 1900-year absence. God said that the land would belong to Israel forever. (Genesis 13:14-17). Because Israel sinned and continues to sin, they cannot enjoy the full benefits of the land, but they still have a right to it.
The error of Replacement Theology started early in the church. Within one generation of Christ’s resurrection, the apostle Paul had to refute it:
Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. … As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. -- Romans 11: 25, 28 & 29 (ESV). (emphasis mine)
Never in recorded history has a nation, language and culture been restored after total dispersion. But God has protected Israel during numerous conquests and dispersions. The most recent and longest dispersion, after the conquest by Rome in 70 A.D., lasted over 1900 years. The return of the Jewish people to the land of Israel in 1948 is proof that God is not finished with them.
“Even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for My Name.” -- Nehemiah 1:9
If God did not keep His promise to Israel, how can we be sure that He will keep His promise of salvation to us?