Have you ever wondered if God really cares for the human race? With all the evil and suffering in the world, can we ever really trust the teaching of the Bible about a just, merciful and all-powerful God?
These are honest questions that sometimes come to the minds of sincere people wanting to believe the Bible and trust in God. A look at the world and at history can be sobering, causing us to doubt. And some even read the Bible and wonder why God did some things we read about there.
Let us consider, then, God’s enduring love for Israel.
Understanding the world through the backstory of IsraelJesus Christ told the people of His day they needed to “discern this time” (Luke 12:56). He said they were able to look at the sky, see a cloud rise out of the west and say, “A shower is coming,” while if the south wind were to blow, they’d say, “There will be hot weather” (Luke 12:54-55). But this same people had trouble discerning exactly who He was, and they could not act on the message of the gospel He taught.
How about you?
Can you discern your time, our time, in relation to Bible prophecy? Can you discern today’s world with all the many events shaping our lives? Do we understand why today’s world seems increasingly out of control and a place we don’t even recognize anymore because of the moral, cultural and social changes around us?
You can understand today’s world events—and you need to. Because your faith in and understanding about God depends on your discernment of this time. Let me show you how by focusing on a part of the world we regularly hear about in the news.
Again, let’s look at the state of Israel. This tiny nation in the Middle East plays a significant role in world affairs. The state of Israel is now 70 years old, having been proclaimed on May 14, 1948, by David Ben-Gurion, the head of the Jewish Agency, following the Nov. 29, 1947, United Nations Resolution 181 vote calling for partition of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states.
During this 70-year period the Jewish state has fought many wars against its Arab neighbors. Its survival is constantly threatened by hostile and unrelenting Islamic terror groups. In time the United Nations came to regularly condemn Israel through resolutions, with member states constantly attacking Israel’s policies and actions. Israel lives in a tough Middle East neighborhood, where it’s continually forced to defend its existence to survive.
However, in spite of 70 years of hostility Israel has developed a vibrant, prosperous society. Its people make positive life-enhancing contributions to the world in many critical areas, such as technology, medicine, education and humanitarian efforts. So why does Israel struggle against continual danger? Why must it defend itself before the court of world nations? Why the antagonism and hatred?
If we are to understand this paradox of hostility and blessing surrounding Israel, we must look to the Bible for the story. Scripture gives us the backstory of Israel’s origin. Only in the Bible do we find the divine purpose for Israel’s existence—both in the ancient world and as a modern nation today.
Covenant relationship arising from God’s devoted loveThe ancient nation of Israel was made up of the descendants of the 12 sons of Jacob, himself the son of Isaac, who was the son of Abraham, known as the father of all faithful people who seek after the true Creator God. Now any man with 12 sons makes for an interesting story. Jacob was no exception. His life, as revealed in the book of Genesis, involves all the elements of a good story—betrayal, revenge, children by multiple wives and concubines. It’s all there, the good and the bad.
For purposes here the story told about Jacob wrestling all night with a Being who can only be God is perhaps the most important. At daybreak God gives Jacob a new name, Israel, meaning “prevailer with God” or “prince of God.” This name, Israel, is given to the nation that arises from his 12 sons. The man Israel concludes his life in Egypt with his sons and their families after they escape a severe famine. Years pass, and the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob come out of slavery in Egypt under the leadership of Moses in the great Exodus.
God remembers the promise He made to Abraham—a promise that Abraham’s descendants would be strangers and servants in a land not theirs. The Egyptian captivity lasted several generations until God delivered the Israelites from slavery and brought them back to the land God promised to their forefathers, the land known today as Israel.
As God had made a covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob regarding the land, so He also entered into a covenant relationship with their descendants, the children of Israel who had grown into the nation of Israel. This covenant relationship between God and the people, the terms of which both agreed to, is at the heart of the story of the state of Israel today.
This is not an old story from the ancient mists of time. This is not a myth created by ignorant tribes who somehow wandered into this land and created an epic story to justify their presence. God loved these people. His desire was to give them every opportunity for peace and success—allowing them to grow and prosper. Israel the nation was to become a model for all others to emulate in following His way of life, showing that His laws and judgments can produce a culture blessed with peace and prosperity.
Notice how God said it in Scripture in Deuteronomy 7: “For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to a be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 7:6). The Israelites had an amazing opportunity with God. They were given a special land to serve as a special people.
And note what lay behind God choosing them: “The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because the Lord loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers, the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of bondage” (Deuteronomy 7:7-8).
God had a deep spiritual love for the nation of Israel. This love, I say again, is at the heart of this story. God promised Abraham his family would grow into a nation and inherit promises lasting for generations, far beyond his day and into the modern world. Notice what God said next:
“Therefore know that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments” (Deuteronomy 7:9)
God is faithful. He keeps His agreements for a thousand generations. Here is a key to understanding why the modern state of Israel sits in the same geographical spot as ancient Israel. The Jewish state is a continuation of the people with whom God entered into a covenant relationship so long ago.
There were multiple covenants involved in this relationship, including that with Abraham previously. God’s covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai, where the nation agreed to be His people and accept the terms of obedience to His laws, was a marriage agreement—with God as the Husband (compare Jeremiah 31:32). And God made yet another covenant with the Israelites prior to their entry into Canaan in Deuteronomy 29–30 concerning the habitation of the land—with destruction and casting out for disobedience, and yet bringing the people back with repentance in the future.
This is something you don’t read about in your history books. But this special covenant relationship and God’s promises and prophecies concerning His people and the Promised Land are at the heart of understanding the importance of today’s state of Israel after 70 years of survival and the controversies over and within Jerusalem, its capital.
A love story gone wrong—to yet be put rightLet me take you into a passage of the Bible that is profound. It reveals the deep love and passion that God has for Israel. This love started thousands of years ago and continues to this day. And while the love story we find here is between God and one particular people, it’s ultimately meant for all peoples and nations. It’s also a sign that God is faithful to all His promises for mankind.
This narrative is found in Ezekiel 16, where God speaks through His prophet to Jerusalem, the heartbeat of the nation. “On the day you were born,” God says, “your navel cord was not cut, nor were you washed in water . . . nor wrapped in swaddling cloths. No eye pitied you, to do any of these things for you, to have compassion on you; but you were thrown out into the open field . . .” (Ezekiel 16:3-5).
Recall that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were wanderers with no permanent home. When Abraham’s wife Sarah died he had to purchase a burial spot from his neighbors. Jacob took his family into Egypt to find food to survive, and his descendants became slaves making mud bricks for Pharaoh. No one but God was looking out for the children of Israel.
Then God says: “When I passed by you and saw you struggling in your own blood, I said to you . . . ‘Live!’ . . . I made you thrive like a plant in the field, and you grew, matured, and became very beautiful” (Ezekiel 16:6-7). “But,” He further said, “you were naked and vulnerable, fragile and exposed” (verse 7, The Message).
God delivered the Israelites from Egyptian slavery and brought them into the land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. After many years as a small confederation of tribes, the fledgling nation grew into a major power under its greatest kings, David and his son Solomon. Israel’s location enabled it to act as a stabilizing power preventing such nations as Egypt, Assyria and Media from dominating the region.
God’s transformation of Israel is described in these terms: “I took care of you, dressed you and protected you. I promised you my love and entered a covenant of marriage with you . . . I gave you a fashionable wardrobe of expensive clothing. I adorned you with jewelry . . . emerald rings, sapphire earrings, and a diamond tiara . . . You were absolutely stunning . . . You became world-famous” (Ezekiel 16:8-14, MSG).
But this did not last. Israel did not live up to its part of the agreement. It did not keep the laws of God. The people adopted pagan forms of worship from neighboring nations, and they effectively abandoned God, the true and ultimate source of their wealth, security and standing among the nations.
God describes it as adultery—immoral and unfaithful relations outside the marriage partnership—and even harlotry.
He states: “But you began to trust in your beauty. You used the good name you had and became unfaithful to me. You acted like a prostitute with every man who passed by. You gave yourself to them all!” (Ezekiel 16:15, Easy-to-Read Version).
God said they took all the clothes and fine food He had given—the wealth and the prosperity and status as a powerful nation—and used them in foreign, idolatrous worship: “You acted like a prostitute with those false gods!” (Ezekiel 16:19, ERV).
So depraved was God’s unfaithful bride Israel that, rather than having strangers pay her for sexual relations as a typical prostitute, she paid them (Ezekiel 16:31-34). Every norm was turned inside out!
This graphic passage of Scripture, with its beautiful imagery descending into horror, shows the depth of God’s feeling for the nation He created from nothing and made His own—His model nation to all the other nations. Israel’s story did not end well. God brought other powerful nations like the Assyrians and Babylonians against His people—to destroy and remove them from the land.
Yet through all the unfaithfulness, idolatry and ultimate decline, God always held out a lifeline of hope based on His enduring love for the people who once held such promise.
God said to Israel, “I’ll remember the covenant I made with you when you were young and I’ll make a new covenant with you that will last forever” (Ezekiel 16:60, MSG). Israel would then be forgiven and changed: “You will be so ashamed of the evil things you did that you will not be able to say anything. But I will make you pure, and you will never be ashamed again!” (Ezekiel 16:63, ERV).
This final phase of an everlasting new covenant with Israel has not happened yet. The Church of God, as spiritual Israel, is a forerunner in this new relationship, the fullness of which won’t occur till Jesus Christ returns to earth and sets up the Kingdom of God to last forever. At that time, all of Israel will be brought into this relationship, and Israelites from all over the world will return to the same land. Then, with Jesus Christ as King of Kings and Lord of Lords over all the earth, all nations will be led to become part of God’s covenant relationship with Israel.
Judah only a part of Israel—yet set forth as clear testimonyLet’s pause to consider a little understood piece of the historical puzzle. The modern Jewish state bears the ancient name of Israel but in actuality represents only a small part of the entire people of Israel whose ancestors lived in the land and to whom so many of the biblical prophecies apply.
As we have seen, in the Bible the nation of Israel refers to the 12 tribes that marched out of Egypt under Moses in the story of the Exodus. These 12 tribes were descended from the 12 sons of the patriarch Jacob whose name was changed to Israel by God.
But here is what you should understand at this point. One of these sons was named Judah. His descendants were Judahites, a name later shortened in passing through other languages into the term Jews. King David, who was of the tribe of Judah, came to rule over all 12 tribes—as did his son Solomon.
But after Solomon, the nation was split into two kingdoms—the kingdom of Israel in the north, made up of 10 tribes, and the kingdom of Judah in the south, made up of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin and a large portion of Levi, as well as a few from other tribes who ended up moving to the south. The people of this southern kingdom all came to be known as Judahites or Jews.
What this means is that the Jews, the people of Judah, made up only one part of the larger nation of Israel. So you don’t have to be ethnically Jewish to be an Israelite!
But how did the Jews become so prominent? Why do people usually think of the Israelites today as only the Jews? It’s a good question, and the Bible gives us the answer.
The northern kingdom of Israel existed for about 200 years after Solomon’s death before falling captive to the Assyrian Empire. The northern Israelites were forcibly exiled from the land and scattered. They are known in history as the lost 10 tribes of Israel. But they are not truly lost even though they have largely forgotten their identity.
God had said they would be sifted among the nations as grain without the smallest grain falling to the ground (Amos 9:9). And indeed, through comparing history and prophecy, we are able to identify the nations descended from the northern tribes of Israel today.
The southern kingdom of Judah survived longer than Israel, but eventually it too fell—in its case to the Babylonian Empire. Most of the people of the ancient Jewish state were taken to Babylon. Seventy years later, after Persia took over from Babylon, a group of Jews, fulfilling a prophecy of Jeremiah, returned to Jerusalem, with a few more to soon follow, and the city of Jerusalem and its temple were rebuilt.
A partially restored Jewish nation then existed in Jerusalem with its distinctive culture until the time of Jesus and the New Testament Church, when the Roman Empire ruled over the land.
It was about 40 years after rejecting Jesus that the Jewish nation collapsed in A.D. 70 at the hand of the Romans, who destroyed Jerusalem and its temple following a Jewish rebellion. Still another Jewish revolt was put down by the Romans in 135. Many of the Jews were scattered in these Roman actions, joining the Jewish Diaspora (or dispersion among the nations) that existed since Babylonian times. Descendants of the scattered Jews founded today’s state of Israel in 1948.
The existence of the modern state of Israel is necessary to the fulfillment of certain end-time prophecies and also assures mankind of God’s enduring faithfulness. As He remains committed to His people, we can also be confident that His promises to all nations and peoples are sure. In fact, Israel is a key factor in this.
The promise God made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob involve both spiritual and physical promises. These promises will be poured out on all the nations—including you and me.
To understand the existence of the state of Israel today is to understand God and His prophetic timeline. The constant opposition of most of the world’s nations to Israel today, many with severe hatred, is tangible proof of the removal of God from mankind’s knowledge. But God’s grace and enduring love transcends this corrupt condition that will come to an end. Your Bible shows us that God’s spiritual promises will be given to all. Peace, restoration and eternal life are the hope of all nations!
God’s people not cast away—to still be a blessing to allIn the book of Romans, the apostle Paul tells the story of ancient Israel’s rise and fall and hope of restoration. The Israelites had a deep relationship with God. Their opportunity was to become a nation based on the law of God and His glory. God made special promises to the people of Israel, setting them apart from all other nations, promising protection and prosperity. All of the physical blessings God promised were lesser types of greater spiritual blessings to be found in Jesus Christ, a direct descendant of King David.
But ancient Israel failed. As we saw earlier, they split apart, and through a combination of idolatry and Sabbath-breaking they dishonored and disobeyed God—resulting in their captivity and exile. Most of Israel, with the exception of the Jews, forgot who they were. And the Jews have not done as they should.
But Paul’s desire and his prayer for Israel, his people, was that they would be saved (Romans 10:1). Even though they did not obey the gospel (Romans 10:16), their rejection is not total or permanent, as Paul makes clear in Romans 11. God has not cast Israel aside. Through Paul, God reveals there is a remnant of Israel among today’s nations, and by His grace they will be regathered.
But here is the amazing and little understood truth: Israel’s rejection of God works to His glory and purpose! All other nations and peoples, what the Bible calls the gentiles, can have this same relationship with God based on His eternal promises. In God’s time, all will have opportunity to know Him. For God loves not just the people of Israel, but the whole world for whom He gave His Son to die (John 3:16).
The apostle Paul says that blindness has come on Israel until the fullness of the gentiles has come in. In a magnificent piece of writing Paul is inspired to show that Israel, all 12 tribes, and the whole world will have the opportunity for salvation. All nations will have the opportunity to receive the full promises of God, both physical and spiritual.
Notice Romans 11:1-2 where Paul asks, “Has God cast away His people?” He then answers: “Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew.” God had used physical Israelites such as Paul to form the very foundations of the Christian Church. Jesus Himself was a Jew!
Paul goes on to explain that because of unbelief leading to sin, the original physical Israelites were cut off from being part of spiritual Israel—God’s covenant people—but that these are to ultimately be rejoined to Israel on repentance, as are the gentiles.
He says in verses Romans 11:11-15 that by those of physical Israelite descent being cut off at this time, salvation is opened to the world. Gentiles thus have a place in God’s true spiritual Israel today. Yet it’s further explained that God is not finished with the physical descendants of Israel. By their being brought back into God’s grace, they will yet serve as the model nation for all peoples they were intended to be. This will happen during the coming reign of Christ on earth. Then all will be given the opportunity to be saved, Israel being used powerfully in “the reconciling of the world” (Romans 11:15). All the tribes of Israel, not just the Jews, will be united.
Then all mankind will seek the Lord. In fact, “in those days ten men from every language of the nations shall grasp the sleeve of a Jewish man, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you’” (Zechariah 8:23). All nations will come to Jerusalem and learn of His ways. Jerusalem, the capital of the modern state of Israel, will one day become the capital of the whole world under God (see Jeremiah 3:17).
So Israel matters. Not just the Jewish state in the Middle East today. All the tribes matter to God. And all the nations of the world matter to God—yet they must all become part of Israel to be saved and live forever as God’s family, nation and Kingdom.
In one last burst of inspired enthusiasm Paul exclaims: “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!” (Romans 11:33).
The understanding of the identity and role of Israel is the key to understanding today’s world and the march of history toward the Kingdom of God. The understanding of Israel shows us the enduring promises of God’s salvation for all the nations. Because He is faithful in His committed love toward Israel, He will be faithful in His promises through Christ to all people—including you and me—with all of us given a part in His covenant nation. This great love story involves God’s love for all people. That is the good news of the gospel!
Finally, let me repeat that to understand Israel is to understand God and His prophetic timeline. The state of Israel’s existence, in spite of all the odds, is a sign that God controls the destiny of all nations. It is proof that God watches over history and is guiding our world with all its peoples to His ultimate purpose. God watches over the nations. The state of Israel is living proof!
The world at large will continue to plot and rage against Israel and the Jewish people. But they will survive and will complete their God-ordained purpose. Remember this as you watch today’s headlines!