Monday, 30 September
I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. Romans 11:1
Throughout the church age, there have been differing views on the state of the Jewish people. There was an expectancy of the Jews turning to God, but in AD70, the temple was destroyed and the Jews were dispersed. As time went on, it seemed more and more unlikely that Israel would ever be a people again. The land fell in and out of enemy hands, but for the most part, it was a barren wilderness, unsuitable to support life in an real sense. This continued through the 1800’s as was well-documented by Mark Twain in the account of his travels, Innocents Abroad, which can be read right on-line from numerous sources.
Around the world, the Jews were here and there in little pockets, but they were doing their own thing and no one could have guessed that they would ever reunite as a group of people. The many promises of the Old Testament, which are very specific and certainly “earthly” promises to Israel, were spiritualized and the church was inserted into these passages. The reason for this is obvious – “If this is God’s word, and God is truthful, then these things must belong to the church – Israel is a goner.” It was believed to be the only obvious conclusion.
But ancient pictures and prophecies clearly showed that Israel the people would be returned to Israel the land. This is seen from Genesis to Malachi and some prophecies, such as in Ezekiel 4, actually pinpoint the dating of this occurrence. In the late 1800s, this became so obvious to Bible scholars, that in advance of Israel’s reestablishment, it was understood that it was coming. The 19th century scholar E.W. Bullinger actually noted the number of years until this would come about. The only thing he lacked was what the starting date of his calculation should be.
The world was being prepared, both physically and spiritually, for the return of the people Israel to Israel the land. The Zionist movement, the re-establishment of the ancient language, the events of World War I and World War II, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls – on and on, the miraculous time was at hand. And then, on 14 May 1948 it came – Israel was reestablished. Nineteen years later, on 7 June 1967, Jerusalem once again came under Jewish control.
These things are obvious now, but at Paul’s time, and for the next 2000 years, difficult questions were asked. Misunderstanding Romans 11 – although inexcusable from a biblical standpoint, is almost understandable from a historical standpoint. The fact is, few people had access to a Bible and those that did were mostly focused on other things. When the publication of the Bible took off and people really started digging into its contents, suddenly things started to become clear.
Now that Israel is back in the land, one would think that everyone would agree on her role… well, at least everyone who was a Bible believer. But such isn’t the case. To this day, one’s early training in the issue of Israel will normally stand. If they are taught from the old school mindset, then that is what will be believed. One must actually put aside presuppositions and allow the word to be mixed with the reality around us. Israel is home and it isn’t an aberration. God is working towards the fulfillment of all of the promises previously made to them. The world is being prepared for the return of Messiah and the establishment of the Kingdom Age.
Paul gives us hints into this in Romans 11. He begins chapter 11 with an obvious question, one based on the closing quotes from chapter 10. “I say then…” is his way of getting us to think through what will be asked. In essence, “If this is so, then what about….?” He is acting as if a defendant in a trial concerning Israel’s stubborn rejection of God’s provision found in Christ. The question is, “Has God cast away His people?”
“His people” is speaking of Israel. This is obvious from the preceding verses and from the defense he will make in the coming verses. Has God cast them away? The word for “cast” is aposato: away (from)/thrust, hence “to thrust away.” Has Israel been pushed out of the biblical scene, never to return? Paul’s emphatic answer, “Certainly not!” To support this, he speaks of himself.
“For I also am an Israelite.” He is one of the people that he just asked about. Has he been cast away? No. If he is an Israelite and he hasn’t been cast away, then Israel hasn’t been cast away. One obvious conclusion from this is that Israel isn’t the church and Jews are not gentiles. Paul couldn’t say the words he is saying, even thus far in Romans 11, if the church had replaced Israel, or if there were no difference between Jew and Gentile.
He is of the physical descent of a physical group of people. Any believer in the church is considered a “spiritual descendant” of Abraham by faith (see Galatians 3). But this concept is never repeated in either Isaac or Jacob. The reason for this is that Abraham’s declaration of faith came prior to the mark of circumcision. The circumcision was an outward sign of his already-possessed faith. On the other hand, Isaac and Jacob were circumcised prior to any faith; they were members of the covenant people.
Only after noting that he is an Israelite does he say that he is “of the seed of Abraham.” This shows us that he was not only an Israelite by descent, but a true member of the faith. He would be, as termed in Galatians 6:16, of “the Israel of God”; one not only of national descent, but also of faith in God’s provision.
After stating his national lineage, and then his spiritual heritage, he returns to the national identity and defines what portion of that group he belongs to – “of the tribe of Benjamin.” This is a high honor indeed. Israel’s first king, Saul, was of the tribe of Benjamin. Further, the tribe was almost annihilated due to a case of disobedience leading to war against them by the other tribes. They were reduced to a mere 600 men (see judges 20). Members of this tribe also sided with David during his pre-ruling years. They actually supported him in opposition to the king who belonged to their own tribe (see 1 Chronicles 12). These, along with other noted accounts, could be considered a point of boasting.
In the chapter ahead, Paul will continue to speak about the state of national Israel. As stated above, one may need to put aside their presuppositions about Israel in order to understand what God has been doing and what He will do with them in the future. Israel is back home once again and unless this is just a magnificent mistake, then we need to make sure and support them, lest we be found to be fighting against God.
Life application: Diligently study the issue of Israel by diligently studying your Bible. If God has planted them again in their land for His purposes, then be sure to acknowledge that, maybe by witnessing to Jewish people or maybe by some other show of support for what He is doing.
Lord God, today I come before You in regards to the nation of Israel. Open my eyes to know if their return is simply by chance, or if it was directed by You and for Your future purposes. Help me to be informed on them as a nation and as a people. May my actions and prayers for them be in line with Your intent for them. My desire is to be pleasing to You in this matter. Amen.