For a small nation in a big world, Israel certainly gets more than its share of attention. Why is that? The answers go far back into history, and far forward into the future.
Most of the Old Testament is the history of the people who would become the Jewish nation and how God used them as part of His plan for redemption.
- They started as one family chosen by God: Abraham, his son Isaac, grandson Jacob, and 12 great-grandsons including Joseph. (Genesis, starting at chapter 12)
- At this point, the people group was called “Hebrews”, as Abraham had originally been called “Abram the Hebrew” 1.
- They spent 400 years in Egypt, the last part as slaves, before being delivered by God and led back to the land promised to Abraham. (Exodus)
- They became a nation with a special covenant (binding contractual relationship) with God. (Deuteronomy)
- Now they were known as “Israelites”, after the new name “Israel” that God gave to Jacob (Genesis 32:27-28).
- They were unfaithful to that covenant…and were warned, then punished, then repented and were forgiven…over and over again. (Pretty much the rest of the Old Testament)
- By about 930 B.C., their twelve tribes (after the twelve sons of Jacob/Israel) had split into two kingdoms (1 Kings 12:1-24).
- The two tribes of Judah and Benjamin became known as “Judah” under King David’s grandson Rehoboam. The other ten became known as “Israel” under Jeroboam, a military leader.
- They were conquered more than once (by Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome) as part of their punishment for unfaithfulness to God.
- The kingdom of Israel completely ended, destroyed by Assyria.
- The kingdom of Judah, including descendants of the royal line of King David, survived to become the people that we now know as Jews.
God’s first words to Abraham were “…I will make you a great nation…and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Genesis 12:2-3). That promise was repeated to Isaac (Genesis 26:3-5), then to Jacob (Genesis 35:9-12). One of Abraham’s descendants, Israel’s great King David, was promised that his throne would be established forever (2 Samuel 7:8-17, Isaiah 9:6-7, Jeremiah 33:14-17). Notice, though, that even that very first promise is not to just Abraham or the Jews. The promise is of a blessing to all the world coming through them.
God was building the nation of Israel/Judah to be the birthplace of the promised Messiah, who would right everything that had gone wrong when sin and rebellion entered the world. Jesus was born to a people who had been learning about God (sometimes through honoring Him, sometimes through disobeying Him and suffering the consequences) for centuries. Their home was in a land at the crossroads of major empires, at a time when Greece and then Rome had established a common language, government, roads, and communication pathways.
In the midst of several chapters telling of the coming Messiah, the prophet Isaiah has this treasure: “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations so that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6) As the Messiah born into the Jewish nation, Jesus is their blessing to all of us!
The Jews must accept their Messiah in order to be heirs to Abraham’s promises, however. The Apostle Paul argued that it is the faith of Abraham, rather than his bloodline, that makes his people special (Galatians 3:6-9, Romans 4:16-17). Although all of the original Christians were Jews, official persecution by Jewish leadership drove most of them out of Jerusalem and Judea (Acts 8:1). For most (but not all) of the remaining Jews, as Paul says: “a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11: 25-26).
Everywhere that they went as they were driven out of Judea, Jewish Christians shared the news of Jesus with their new Gentile (non-Jewish) neighbors. Because of that, Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire, ultimately being accepted and allowed religious freedom 2 before being declared the official religion in 380 A.D. 3 Christians were not becoming a replacement “chosen people”, though. They were instead being “grafted in”, as Paul says in Romans 11, and given time to grow until God is ready for His entire family to come together.
Meanwhile, for the Jews….
Below is a very simplistic summary of 2000 years of post-Biblical history and conflict. God’s chosen people are currently in the midst of a long pause before their history is completed.
- Jerusalem was destroyed by Rome in 70 A.D., fulfilling Jesus’ prophecy that not one stone of the temple would remain in place (Mark 13:1-2, Luke 19:41-44). 4
- The Romans renamed the geographic area “Palastina”. Some Jewish people remained in their homeland, but most were dispersed throughout the world. For centuries, the area had a small mixed Jewish and Arab population, but was mostly empty and desolate. There was never again a nation/state with defined borders and common ethnicity, culture or language. 5
- In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, Jews started coming back to their homeland due to persecution elsewhere in the world. 6 7
- A bit after that same period, during the British Mandate of 1918-1948, many Arabs immigrated from surrounding countries into the same Palestine area. There is intense (and interesting) debate as to which of the two groups did the most immigrating, which has the best claim to being “indigenous”, and why. 8 9
- The worldwide persecution of the Jews culminated in the Holocaust, with the extermination of millions of Jews throughout Europe. 10
- The Peel Commission in 1937 proposed to partition the Palestine area into two states, one Jewish and one Arab. 11 The Jews agreed with that plan; the Arabs did not.
- In 1947, the U.N. General Assembly voted that there should be an independent nation of Israel. 12
- When Britain gave up control of the Palestine area in 1948, the Jews there declared the formation of the State of Israel. 13
- The Arab population of the area did not accept that, and have been trying to eliminate Israel ever since. 14
As to what will become of Israel, and the rest of the world, the Bible gives us detailed prophecies from both the Old and the New Testaments. From the Old Testament, I’ll look at the writings of two major prophets, Isaiah and Jeremiah 15. From the New Testament, I’ll look at the Apostle John’s vision in the book of Revelation.
Isaiah wrote from about 740 B.C. 16 until his death some time after 681 B.C. 17 He predicted that the remaining Jews who had survived the Assyrian invasion of of 722 B.C. would be conquered and carried to captivity in Babylon (Isaiah 39:5-8). This exile happened in three waves: 607, 597, and 587 B.C. 18 He also predicted the return from that exile at the command of King Cyrus of Persia, which happened soon after Persia conquered Babylon in 539 B.C. 19 (Isaiah 44:28-45:7, 2 Chronicles 36:22-23).
Jeremiah wrote later than Isaiah did, during the years immediately preceding and right up until the Babylonian exile, from about 626 until 586 B.C. 20 Like Isaiah, he warned the people of the coming captivity (Jeremiah 20:4-5, Jeremiah 25:8-11) but also told of a deliverance afterward (Jeremiah 33:10-11).
Revelation predicts a terrible time of “tribulation” for the entire world but especially for the Jews. It tells of great efforts to eliminate the Jews, but of their protection by God (Revelation 12:1-6, 13-14 21). That is followed by a glorious resolution of all history, with a renewed Jerusalem at the center of a renewed world (Revelation 21:1-4, 22-27).
The “deliverance” passages from Isaiah and Jeremiah had some fulfillment in the return from Babylon starting in 539 B.C. But that return does not fully live up to the entirety of all God’s promises written by these two prophets. Neither does the modern return of Jews to the current State of Israel. It seems that the prophets were looking even further ahead, beyond Babylon or our current day. Don’t the passages from the Old Testament below (from hundreds of years before Jesus was born) sound like those from the New Testament (Revelation) in 90 A.D.?
Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. …(Isaiah 60, verses 1, 3, 11, 18-20, but check out the entire chapter)
Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. …
Your gates will be open continually; They will not be closed day or night, so that men may bring to you the wealth of the nations, with their kings led in procession. …
Violence will not be heard again in your land, nor devastation or destruction within your borders …
No longer will you have the sun for light by day, nor for brightness will the moon give you light; but you will have the LORD for an everlasting light, and your God for your glory. “Your sun will no longer set, nor will your moon wane; for you will have the LORD for an everlasting light, and the days of your mourning will be over.
For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things will not be remembered or come to mind. “But be glad and rejoice forever in what I create; For behold, I create Jerusalem for rejoicing and her people for gladness. “I will also rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in My people; and there will no longer be heard in her the voice of weeping and the sound of crying. …Isaiah 65:17-19, 24-25
It will also come to pass that before they call, I will answer; and while they are still speaking, I will hear. The wolf and the lamb will graze together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox; and dust will be the serpent’s food. They will do no evil or harm in all My holy mountain,” says the LORD.
Behold, days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will fulfill the good word which I have spoken concerning the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch of David to spring forth; and He shall execute justice and righteousness on the earth. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will dwell in safety; and this is the name by which she will be called: the LORD is our righteousness.’(Jeremiah 33:14-16)
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”Revelation 21:1-4
I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.Revelation 21:22-24
There will no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His bond-servants will serve Him; they will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. And there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever.Revelation 22:3-5
Despite their temporary “hardening”, Jews will be an important part of this beautiful redeemed world. The end of Paul’s sentence above is “from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” (Romans 11:28-29). There are Messianic Jews today, faithfully loving Jesus and serving God alongside their Gentile Christian brothers and sisters. During the tribulation time, even more will recognize and follow their Messiah (Revelation 7:4-8, Revelation 14:1-5 22). They will see the final fulfillment of these prophecies: King Jesus of David’s line 23 24 forever on the throne in the center of new Jerusalem, where all nations come to honor Him and be blessed by Him.
I am thankful for God’s chosen people, and for the blessing of the Messiah Who was born to them. I am also thankful that Jesus’ death and resurrection give the same hope both to them and to Gentiles like me, and that God allows me to be grafted in among them (Ephesians 3:4-6). I look forward to sharing the prophesied, redeemed, future with them. As Paul says at the end of the Romans 11 passage that I’ve been referencing:
Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! … For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.Romans 11:33-36
Footnotes and Scripture References
- Probably referring to his ancestor Eber/Heber or to the Aramaic ebhrai “one who passes over the river” since Abraham had immigrated from beyond the Euphrates River.
- (Warning: This article is long and techical. If you are short on time, consider going straight to the summary at the end; look for the section heading “Every Reason to Believe”.) https://www.meforum.org/522/the-smoking-gun-arab-immigration-into-palestine
- These are not the only Old Testament prophecies available. Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zechariah are others with famous, detailed, prophecies of the destiny of Israel. They all agree on the same story.
- “the year that King Uzziah died” (Isaiah 6:1)
- when King Sennacherib of Assyria was assassinated (Isaiah 37:37-38)
- from the 13th year of Judah’s King Josiah until the 11th year of his son Zedekiah (Jeremiah 1:1-3, Jeremiah 39:1-8)
- Although there are a great many interpretations to this passage, the one that rings true to me is that the “woman” is a personification of Israel, giving birth to Jesus and being hated by Satan.
- The number 12 is sometimes used in the Bible to mean “complete” or “whole”, rather than the literal number. There is debate as to what it means in this verse.
- Jesus was a literal descendant of David, according to His human genealogy (Matthew 1:1-17, Luke 3:23-38). The difference in the two genealogies has several possible explanations. Matthew emphasized the line of royal heirs for his Jewish audience. Luke is either 1) giving Mary’s bloodline (with Joseph listed as the son of her father Heli since Hebrew had no expression for “son-in-law”), or 2) giving Joseph’s line through a different path that included adoptions and/or the Levirate law of marrying a brother’s widow in order to raise children in the brother’s name. No one at the time the gospels were written challenged either genealogy as being inaccurate.
- Compare the angel’s announcement to Mary (Luke 1:31-33) to the original promise to David (2 Samuel 7:12-13).