The Name and People. Jacob, grandson of Abraham, was named Israel after he hadwrestled 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] andmen you will be called yisrael). When Jacob had returned to Canaan, God commandedhim to settle in Bethel; there God appeared to Jacob again and repeated that his name wasno longer Jacob but Israel. This confirmation of the naming was followed by God confirminghis covenant with Jacob ( Gen 35:9-12 ),emphasizing specific elements of the covenant he had made with Abraham ( Gen 17:1-8 ). Thename, expressing the concept of wrestling, clinging firmly to God, and overcoming, andGod's confirming of his covenant with Jacob, indicates that Israel is to be understood asJacob's covenant name. The name spoke of his being bound with a bond of life and love toGod. His descendants were at times referred to as Hebrews ( Genesis 39:14 Genesis 39:17 ; 40:15 ; 41:12 ), and whenthey were slaves in Egypt ( Exod 1:15 ; 2:13 ), andoccasionally 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 ). Theuse of these references, "Hebrew" and "Jew, " indicated that among thenations, Abraham and Jacob's descendants were thus known nationally and/or ethnically. Thename "Israel, " however, referred to Jacob's descendants' spiritual, covenantal,and religious heritage. The name "Israel" spoke of the ethnic or nationalHebrews' and Jews' unique relationship with God. There was a time when the name was notused to refer to all of Jacob's descendants because after the division of the tribes, thenorthern ten tribes were known as Israel and the southern tribes as Judah. After the exileit was used again to refer to the entire community.
The Old Testament is often considered to be specifically a record of Israel's nationalhistory, of its unique religion, and of its hopes for the future. The Scriptures are alsoused as a source for understanding God's redemptive activities on behalf of and goals forIsrael. While it is true that these are aspects of the Old Testament record, the moreinclusive message is to reveal how God sovereignly chose to prepare and use Israel as hisunique 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 fiveinterrelated and correlated themes.
First, Israel was to, and did, bring the Messiah to Israel and to the nations of theworld. God had assured Adam and Eve that the seed of the woman would crush Satan's headand thereby undo the disobedience, sinfulness, and corruption resulting from theirdeviation from God and their breaking of the covenant. Of Noah's progeny, Shem wasidentified 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 beblessed ( Gen 12:3 ).It was to be through Abraham's seed ( Gen 15:5 ; 17:1-8 ) that Godwould bring in the Messiah and the sure redemptive victory over Satan, sin, and itseffects. This seed line was narrowed to Isaac, Jacob/Israel, Judah, and David. Meanwhileall 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'sdivinely determined role to give, uphold, and preserve the Scriptures, both the Old andNew Testaments. This written Word is the sure, infallible record of how God created thecosmos, and how he purposed to bring redemption and restoration to the cosmos and itsinhabitants. 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' mediatorialleadership, this first part of the word was written by him; and it was added to by otherIsraelite writers, historians, poets, sages, and prophets. Thus, Israel's divinelydetermined purpose was to bring the eternal living Word, Jesus Christ ( John 1:1-3 ), andthe inspired, inerrant, and infallible written word to all the nations of theworldincluding 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 worldto place him in the center among the nations. There, with smaller nations as nearneighbors, Syria, Ammon, Moab, Edom, Philistia, Tyre, Sidon, and larger ones beyond, theArabians, Egyptian, Hittite, Assyrian, and Babylonian, Israel was made to be a peculiartreasure, to be a kingdom, a priestly people, and a holy nation ( Exod 19:4-6 ). Thismultifaceted 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 Godand the nations. This mediatorial work was to be carried out through living according tothe word God had given so that nations would take note of and desire to join in theblessing, 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 blessednessof covenantal life. The non-Israelite, drawn to Israel in this way, was expected to learnand 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'scovenant 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 choseIsrael 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 andexhibit in the totality of their lives that God was their one and only King. No other godswere to be recognized as their sovereign ruler or as their source of life and itsinclusive blessings. Israel was to know itself as a theocracy under the reign of God. Assuch they were called to be royal, loving, obedient, serving people.
Israel had the duty, according to God's purposes, to demonstrate to itself, itschildren, its non-Israelite neighbors living within Canaan's borders, and surroundingnations, how, as a redeemed, covenantal serving people, they should live as a theocratickingdom. This could only be done by faithfully carrying out the three creation covenantmandates: the spiritual, the social, and the cultural.
The spiritual mandate called for loving fellowship with God and an adoring worship thatwould glorify the sovereign covenant Lord. Fellowship and worship were to be carried outin families (e.g., Passover, Exod 12 ) butparticularly in the courts of the tabernacle and temple. The people, old and young, wereto be called together, and as an assembly were to pay homage to their Lord. Means for theassembly's worship were prescribed. The tabernacle and later the temple, giving symbolicand typological expression to the the covenant promise, "I am your God, I am withyou, " 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 whichpriests officiated ( Deut 12:15-19 ).Yahweh provided the priesthood and the prescribed sacrifices to enable the assembly toworship as a devout kingdom people. Some sacrifices were to be offered daily ( Lev 6:1-8 ), othersat appropriate times (feasts or for specific situations); the Sabbath was to be the day ofno work but to be the time of worship for the entire assembly. God repeatedly reminded hispeople that they were not to assemble around and worship other gods because he was ajealous Lord ( Deut4:15-24 ; 13:1-18 ).Nor were the people to worship as they saw fit ( Deut 12:8 ); theywere to keep the basic principles for obeying and carrying out the spiritual mandate asthese were stated in the first four commandments.
God called Israel as a covenant community to live and exhibit kingdom life to theworld. Israel was to obey and carry out the creation covenant social mandate. Commandments5-7 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 noncovenantpeople was strictly forbidden ( Deut 7:1-6 ).However, those who were not biological descendants of Abraham could be taken as mates ifthey became members of the Israelite community. Procreation was to be considered a divineordinance for thus seed would come forth to continue covenantal service within thetheocracy. 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 andcarrying out the creation covenant cultural mandate. Prerequisites were their activitiesas a worshiping assembly and their communal life expressed by their mutual love and joy inmarriage, family, clan, and entire covenant community. God's purpose for Israel as a holynation was that they be totally separated from heathen practices spiritually, socially,and culturally and be consecrated to their sovereign Lord who had commanded "Be holybecause I, the Lord your God, am holy" ( Lev 19:2 ). Israel,the holy nation, was to be organized politically. Yahweh was their sovereign King. Eldersand judges had to carry out administrative and judicial duties; priests had to assistparticularly in regard to health laws.
Israel, to meet the challenge of being a holy, politically organized, governed, andlaw-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 enableIsrael to serve as the mediatorial nation in the midst of the nations. Each tribe and clanwas given an inheritance from which they were to remove all Canaanite inhabitants so thatthey could live without unholy pressures and truly be free to live up to God's purposesfor them. Israel was promised prosperity but these material blessings were to be receivedas means to serve. Thus, as good stewards, they could develop and beautify their naturalsurroundings and with skill produce materials that would enhance the beauty of theirenvironment. The tabernacle and temple were examples of highly developed culturalcraftsmanship.
Fifth, to work out his purposes for the world under sin, God chose Israel to be hiscovenantal servants who were to live by faith and demonstrate it to the nations. Noah andAbraham exercised faith as did many others ( Heb 11 ). This faithincluded knowing the Lord, trusting in him, and living a life of courage and hope. Thisfaith was inseparable from obedience to all of God's revealed will. Through obedienceIsrael 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 andrevealed to them. In this way, Israel would serve mediatorially as a messianic people andin time bring forth the Messiah himself, receive and give to the world God'sinscripturated word, and show that the kingdom of God included all of life's activitiesand relationships.
Israel's Privileges. In the economy of God's kingdom, privileges involveresponsibilities. Israel, called and enabled to carry out God's purposes, was givenprivileges commensurate and in correlation with the responsibilities given them. Theseprivileges were many.
First, it was Israel's privilege to represent and mirror the Sovereign of the cosmos tothe nations. Israel's privilege was to serve! Self-serving and self-aggrandizement wereentirely contrary to the responsibilities and privileges given to the descendants ofJacob. The people, as an assembly, as a community, and as a nation, were never to considerthemselves only as objects of God's election, love, and providential goodness; theywere to consider themselves basically as subjects called for the purpose of serving. Inservice according to God's purposes, Israel would be honored by the privileges madeavailable 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 ) andIsrael as his precious possession whom he had brought to himself, implied Israel was hisbride ( Exod 19:4-6 ).This covenantal/spiritual marriage relationship was a bond of life and love God would notbreak. He would not divorce her though he would send her away for a time ( Isa 50:1 ). Israelhad 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 byMoses and then via the priests, the people could come into the presence of God. Hecommuned with them, receiving their sacrifices, praises, and prayers. He spoke to themdirectly, through his written Word read to the people, and by the prophets. In thisintimate relationship, Israel could know the character of their God. He was sovereign andall-powerful; he declared and showed himself to be compassionate, gracious, patient, fullof 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 hadprepared for them by Canaanite endeavors. It was a land with flourishing cities, housesfilled with good things, wells providing water, productive vineyards, and fruitfulorchards ( Deut6:10-12 ). This promised land was their inheritance to be possessed for service and notto be occupied for self-satisfaction and feelings of superiority. The land was never to beseen as a prize or as a possession without regard for the reasons that it was given: to becentral among the nations so that the messianic light of God's kingdom would shine out toall 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, andpeace; Israel thus had the privilege of portraying to all nations what the redeemed andrestored cosmos would be like. By its serene, serving life Israel could portray hope for ablessed future for peoples of all nations who joined them in faith, obedience, and serviceto God, thus bringing glory to the cosmic King.
Fifth, within their promised land and to the nations beyond, Israel had the privilegeof proclaiming, as no other could, that God reigned. This message was one of assurance forpresent and future times. The Sovereign God was in control and directed all the affairs ofthe cosmos, of the nations, and of individuals. Moses sang, "The Lord will reignforever and ever" ( Exod 15:18 ). Thepsalmists sang it ( Psalm93:1-2 ; 97:1 ; 99:1-5 ). Theprophets proclaimed it to Israel ( Isa 52:8 ) and tothe nations ( Obadiah 1:1 Obadiah 1:21 ).
Sixth, Israel was given promises concerning its continuation as a people. Thisprivilege had the potential of breeding a false security that irrespective ofcircumstances, Israel as a nation could expect to endure throughout all ages. Inseparablyinvolved, however, with this tremendous privilege was the demand that the people live byfaith, obediently and in the service of God and his purposes concerning his enduringkingdom.
Israel's Response. Biblical revelation records how Israel responded to its callto believe, obey, and serve God's purposes for Jacob's descendant's and to the privilegesgiven so that God's purposes could be fulfilled. The account is a revelation offaithfulness, obedience, and service on the part of varying numbers of the people invarious ways, and unfaithfulness, disobedience, and lack of service, often on the part ofmost of the people. God, however, remained faithful and steadfast in working out hiskingdom, covenantal, and mediatorial plan. He did so by blessing, by withholdingblessings, and by executing, in a mitigated way, the curse of the covenant. Israel wasnever completely destroyed as a community although it suffered severely when the warningsMoses had enunciated (Deut. 28-29) went unheeded. God humiliated Israel by bringingfamines, hardships, military defeats, foreign oppressions, and eventually exile.
The tensions between covenantal living and violations of it were starkly present amongJacob's twelve sons. Ten brothers sold Joseph into slavery and lied about hisdisappearance. Judah had sex with a woman he considered a prostitute ( Gen 38 ) while Josephrefused the sexual temptations in Egypt. In spite of his humiliations he remained faithfuland 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 Israelwas to bring into the world ( Gen 49:8-12 ). Itwas 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 ofconscious obedience and service to Yahweh once Joseph had died, except for the midwiveswho spared Moses ( Exod 1 ).Ready to be freed as slaves under Moses' leadership and spontaneous in vows to obey andserve Yahweh as a covenant community and nation ( Exod 19:8 ; Exodus 24:3 Exodus 24:7 ), Israel'ssons 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 prescriptionsfor sacrifices and feasts, the people had every opportunity to be a believing, obeying,worshiping, serving community and theocratic nation. But there were murmurings andrebellions ( Num 11:1 ; 12:1-2 ; 14:1-4 ; 16:1-3 ; 21:4-5 ); two ofthe 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 Transjordanwas conquered, God had Moses reveal to the people that he, the covenant Sovereign of earthand heaven, called upon and demanded the people to love, obey, worship, and serve as adevout 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 werehumiliated by military defeats and economic hardships. Ever faithful, God moved his peopleto acknowledge him by means of these hardships and provided leaders so that the people hadfreedom and prosperity again. Throughout the turbulent times of the judges, from Othnielto 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 dramaticallyrevealed in the time of David and Solomon. David, a descendant of Judah, of the seedlineof Abraham and Shem, was anointed and enthroned. David, the poet and prophet, in spite ofhis sins, was a man after God's heart. He conquered and reigned over the entire territoryGod had promised to Abraham ( 2 Sam 8:1-14 ).His reign is described as just and right ( 2 Sam 8:15 ). Thecovenant was confirmed and expanded with specifics concerning covenant seed and an eternaldynasty ( 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 Davidand 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 ) andNathan pronounced one of the most significant prophecies when he addressed David, assuringhim that a descendant would reign, that David's throne and kingdom would last forever. Inthis prophecy no reference is made to the nation of Israel itself but rather to thecentral person, David, and to his seed. Israel would provide the context but the centralthrust was on the house of David, his throne, and the kingdom God was to bring to everfuller manifestation.
The high points, as exhibited in the covenant with David, his victories, his just andrighteous reign, the wisdom of Solomon and grandeur of his throne and kingdom, were notmaintained. God's purposes did not diminish; the privileges given to the royal house ofDavid were initially expanded. But Solomon in his later years and the majority of theDavidic dynasty did not remain faithful covenant and kingdom believers and obedientservants. A major part of the theocratic nation seceded and took the name"Israel." The tribes of Judah, Simeon, and Benjamin constituted the ongoingenvironment in which God continued to work out his purposes. The low point came afterIsrael 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. Judahparticularly was repeatedly reminded that God's kingdom and covenant would continue; thepromise of the messianic mediator was repeated before (Isaiah and Micah) and during(Ezekiel and Daniel) the exile. The descendants of Jacob, the Israelite covenantcommunity, whether in homeland or in exile, would continue so that God's covenant promisesconcerning the conquering seed, as represented by the Davidic dynasty, and concerning hisall-encompassing kingdom would in time be realized. Thus the nation of Israel was not thecentral 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 thanIsraelites, formed a social and religious community. The efforts to be a worshiping,called-out people were diminished by legalistic scribal and priestly activities and byvarious fanatic attempts that failed to transform the people living in Palestine into anation again. Thus, while Israel as a nation no longer functioned, it did as a social andreligious community. In that setting the ultimate purpose for Israel's call and existencewas fully realized in Jesus, even as God had purposed. Forty years, the same period oftime Israel wandered in the desert, after Jesus ascended to reign over the kingdom, theIsraelite community, temple, and sacrificial system were removed. The promise God made toAdam and Eve, repeated to Abraham, Judah, and David concerning the conquering, reigningSeed 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 preparedit.
Contemporary Issues Regarding Israel. The relationship of Israel to theScriptures is definite. Both the Old and New Testaments were written by people who wereknown to be of Israelite nativity. The entire Bible is God's gift to the world via thepeople of Israelwhether 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 throughthe believing, obeying, and serving covenant community. Moses and the historical, poetic,wisdom, and prophetic writers were covenant servants; equally so were the New Testamentevangelists, historical epistolary, and apocalyptic writers. Serious differences of viewspertain, however, concerning the nature of the entire Bible. Is it a record of Israel'sorigins, existence, and development as a nation? In other words, is the Bible a strictlyhuman 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 andinitially 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 areasof Near Eastern archaeology and historical criticism have offered variant views. ThatIsrael as a body of approximately two million people lived and served as slaves in Egyptis not accepted by many such scholars. That there is some evidence that a group of Semiticpeople lived and were enslaved in Egypt is generally accepted. But the manner and time ofthe dramatic exodus event are not accepted as historically or archaeologically verifiable.Likewise, the Sinai experience, the forty-year wandering in the wilderness, and themilitary 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, graduallyinfiltrated Canaan and took on many of its ways of life. The development of Israel as anation has been seen as a gradual formation of a league of tribes of various origins. Theevidence presented by archaeologists and historical critics has not bee accepted by manyscholars, particularly evangelical, conservative scholars. These scholars, however, haveshown that archaeological and scientific historical studies do not contradict the biblicalrecord but illumine it.
A third debated issue in relation to Israel, and closely related to the two alreadymentioned, is the origin and nature of Israel's religion. Reference is made particularlyto Israel's beliefs, worship patterns, and practices. The Scriptures testify to Israel'sfaith as revealed by God and its worship activities directed by him. With the aid ofscholars who have studied Israel's social structures and psychological attitudes, studentsof Israel's surrounding nations and their religions have attempted to demonstrate thatmuch of what Israel practiced religiously was adopted from those of the peoples aroundthem. Israel did not live in isolation from its neighbors; it had various religiouspractices that were outwardly similar, such as portable shrines, systems of sacrifice, andreligious objects such as altars. Israel's religion was unique, however, in origin andpractice. God revealed himself directly to Abraham, as he had done to Adam and Noah. Heespecially revealed himself as a covenant Lord to them and this covenantal relationshipwith all its ramifications and implications was explicated in detail by God through hisappointed mediatorial agents. Israel's faith and religious life and activities had theirorigin 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 wasmuch vacillation in its loyalty to him and there is much evidence of disobedience asexhibited in Israel's following of their neighbors' detestable idolatrous practices.
Much discussion is involved in the issue of Israel and the land. That God promisedAbraham and his progeny a land as their possession cannot be doubted. But did Godunconditionally promise that it would be an eternal possession? Many evangelicalChristians believe this is the case; they speak of the Palestinian covenant on the basisof their interpretation of Deuteronomy 28. Other equally sincere evangelical biblicalstudents point to five important qualifying factors. First, Moses emphatically stated thatobedience 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 thesense of never-ending, for at the Lord's return at the end of time, the order of therenewed heavens and earth will be ushered in. Third, God fulfilled his promises regardingthe 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 aremnant returned (Ezra 2). Fifth, the New Testament does not refer to Israel as a nationpossessing the land forever; rather, it speaks of Abraham's believing covenant offspringinheriting the world ( Rom4:13 ).
Another issue concerns the interpretation of prophecies concerning Israel. This issueis closely related to Israel's relationship to the land, the church, and the millennium ( Rev 20 ). The followingfactors 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 ofthe remnant is dominant, particularly of Israel as a believing covenant community.Furthermore, when the prophets spoke to their contemporaries they did so in terms thepeople at that time understood. Hence, when prophets spoke of the wonderful future ofYahweh'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 regardingIsrael as a political, national entity, must be used very discretely if not completelyavoided.
Another specific issue concerns the relationship of Israel and the New Testamentchurch. On the basis of a too literal interpretation of Old Testament propheciesconcerning Israel and maintaining the view that New Testament writers referred to apolitically organized national entity rather than to the believing covenant community, astrict separation is posited between Israel as a nation and the non-Jewish New Testamentcovenant community of believers, the church. It is believed that God has two distinctpeople in mind with a distinctly separate program for each. Many biblical scholars havedifficulties with this separation. Some of the points stated in preceding paragraphsshould be kept in mind. Moreover, Jesus never spoke of Israel's continuation as apolitically separate religiously oriented nation; rather, he spoke of God'sall-encompassing kingdom. And while it is true Paul spoke of his ethnic people as"the people of Israel" ( Rom 9:3-5 ), hespoke of all true believers in Jesus Christ as Abraham's seed, heirs according to thepromise made to Abraham's descendants ( Gal 3:28 ). He alsowrote of all believers, Gentiles as well as ethnic Jewish people who believed in JesusChrist, 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 tofaith, 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'snational existence as a millennial kingdom. This issue has many ramifications that cannotbe included in this essay. Suffice it to state that John did not write that Israel as adistinct religious national entity would be a separate kingdom for a thousand years. Nordid 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 typeof the eternal kingdom Jesus is perfecting and will return to the Father ( 1 Cor 15:24-28 ).
Gerard Van Groningen
Bibliography. F. F. Bruce, Israel and the Nation; L. A. DeCaro, IsraelToday: Fulfillment of Prophecy?; A. Gileadi, ed., Israel's Apostasy and Restoration;W. Hendrikson, Israel in Prophecy; A. W. Kac, The Rebirth of the State of Israel;M. Karlberg, JETS31/3 (1988): 257-69; G. E. Ladd, The Last Things; H. K.LaRondelle, The Israel of God in Prophecy; J. B. Payne, Encyclopedia of BiblicalProphecy; P. Richardson, Israel in the Apostolic Church; J. F. Walvoord, Israelin Prophecy; M. J. Wyngaarden, The Future of the Kingdom.
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan USA.
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[N] indicates this entry was also found in Nave's Topical Bible
[E] indicates this entry was also found in Easton's Bible Dictionary
[H] indicates this entry was also found in Hitchcock's Bible Names
[J] indicates this entry was also found in Jack Van Impe's Prophecy Dictionary
[S] indicates this entry was also found in Smith's Bible Dictionary
Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Israel'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".