Israel: Still the Apple of God's Eye (Part 1)
It is impossible to examine the basic truths of the Bible and omit the nation of Israel. Israel is central to what the Bible has to say about so many things and is key to our salvation.
A bird's-eye view of Israel's history enables us to understand what lies
ahead for the world. God formed the nation for His glory. The calling
and fashioning of three of Israel's greatest leaders illustrate both
Israel's creation from obscurity and what God is seeking from all men.
ABRAHAM, MAN OF FAITH. Throughout Scripture, Abram (later called Abraham) is recognized as the symbol of faith and is credited with being the "father of faith" because he evidenced trust in God. God appeared to Abram in Ur of the Chaldeans (Ge11:24-12:1-3)
According to Joshua 24:2 Abram and his family were idol worshipers. [vw: See note at bottom] God did not call them because they were commendable in His sight; but, rather, He reached out to them just as He reaches out to us. He lifts us out of our sin, idolatry, and spiritual death and hostility and calls us to Himself. So God called Abram out of idolatry.
He called him to the land of Canaan and made him a promise: Now the LORD had said to Abram: "Get out our country, from your family and from your father's house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Gen12:1-3)
This famous passage of Scripture is known as God's covenant with Abraham. This covenant underlies all of the relationships with the nation of Israel for the rest of its history.
The Abrahamic Covenant contains three promises: land, seed (offspring),
and blessing. So God brought the nation of Israel into existence by
bringing someone out of one country and into an entirely different
country and giving him land, seed, and blessing. Abraham illustrates
that "without faith it impossible to please Him" (Heb11:6)
After 40 years in Egypt, he murdered an Egyptian in an attempt to help his brethren and then fled to the wilderness where he spent another 40 years waiting on God. Then, in Exodus 3, God appeared to Moses in a burning bush and called him to be the agent for redeeming the nation of Israel.
The Israelites traveled through the Red Sea and the wilderness to Mount Sinai and spent about a year camped at Mount Sinai. That is when the Tabernacle was built. That is when Moses received God's revelation, the Law-the Ten Commandments- recording all of that information for us. That work formed the foundation of the Levitical system on which the entire Old Testament is built.
So Moses became Israel's greatest statesman-prophet. In Deuteronomy we
read that God would raise up a prophet like Moses one day to deliver His
people. Moses, the great mediator of the Law, illustrates that "man
shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds
from the mouth of the LORD" (Dt8:3)
David was the youngest of Jesse's eight sons and was often picked on by his brothers. Yet when Samuel went to Jesse to anoint a king, God made it clear He had chosen David (1Sam16:8-12) Scripture says God looks on the heart, not on the outward appearance (v7). So God chose David to become the shepherd of Israel. He was, according to 1Sam13:14, a man after God's own heart.
With David, God established what we call the Davidic dynasty. As with Abraham, God made David a promise: His kingdom will endure forever. It will be established in perpetuity (2Sam7:16)
Overwhelmed with thanksgiving, gratitude, and awe, David then entered the Lord's presence to worship Him (vv18-29). And so David is called "the sweet psalmist of Israel" (2Sam23:1) It was David who led the procession to bring the Ark of the Covenant to a resting place in the city of Jerusalem. And as sweet psalmist, he led God's people in worship and provided for the expression of worship. David illustrates that "true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him" (jn4:23)
Thus Abraham laid the foundation of faith as he responded to the challenges to trust God. Moses led the people as he responded as a prophet to provide them with revelation and information from God. And David led the people in a search for the heart of God.
Israel: Still the Apple of God's Eye (Part 2)
Many people who become Christians still struggle in their faith and have
an inability to trust God earnestly. Mankind in general has a problem
trusting God. Israel is no different. And though there has always been a
faithful remnant, the vast majority's rejection of Him down through
history has cost the nation dearly. Three major examples illustrate
Israel's failure-and that of all mankind.
Camped in the wilderness, they worshiped foreign gods. While Moses was on Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments, Aaron was building a golden calf that the nation worshiped (Ex32). The Israelites also worshiped Moloch and the gods of neighboring countries (Acts7:43)
Leviticus 17:7 (Hebrew text) says some Israelites worshiped goat demons even as the Tabernacle stood in their midst, with God's pillar of cloud visible by day and His pillar of fire by night. Some worshiped foreign gods even as they gathered food in the form of manna sent by Yahweh.
In many ways they were not so different from many Christians today. Each day we experience God's blessing and see all He gives us, yet we find our hearts drawn to "foreign gods." We're more concerned about getting the latest iPod or iPhone or having the latest model car than we are about pursuing God and investing time in personal devotions. We're more concerned about material things than about cultivating our relationships with God.
Imagine how God must have felt as He was leading Israel through the wilderness. And then came Kadesh Barnea, the nadir for that generation. From Kadesh Barnea Moses sent 12 men, one from each tribe, into Canaan to spy out the land God had given them. They returned with samples of the fruit, saying the land "truly flows with milk and honey" (Num13:27) However, they also discouraged the congregation by saying, "We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we" (vs31) Only the spies Caleb and Joshua believed God would give them victory, but they were shouted down:
All the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron, and the whole congregation said to them, "If only we had died in the land of Egypt! Or if only we had died in this wilderness!" (14:2)
The lack of faith at Kadesh Barnea was so egregious that God refused to
work with that generation any longer. Fed up, God rejected them; and
they wandered in the wilderness for the next 38 years until they died.
Then He brought their children into the land.
It was he who built the first Temple in Jerusalem, which became one of the wonders of the ancient world. With God's glory inhabiting the Temple and God's people ruled by their greatest king, Israel experienced the tremendous blessing of God.
Then, at the apex of his life, Solomon turned from God to worship the deities of his foreign wives. What Moses had clearly prohibited in writing, Solomon did. Eventually his sin caught up with him, and the latter years of his life are a sad story of his rebellion from God.
These events picture what happened to the entire nation of Israel. In
722 B.C. God dissolved the northern kingdom as it went into captivity in
Assyria. And from 605 B.C. to 586 B.C., the southern kingdom went into
captivity in Babylon. The nation's history is virtually the story of
Solomon repeated over and over through the years, as Israel turned away
from the glory of the majesty and revelation of God, who had drawn
Israel to Himself.
The Pharisees spurned Jesus' ministry. He came proclaiming Himself to be the Son of the living God, offering them the Kingdom God had promised to David and Solomon and offering Himself as the Savior of Israel. Yet these religious rulers rejected Him and looked for ways to get rid of Him. Finally he was crufified.
Jesus told them that hypocrisy marked their lives. In Matthew 23 He castigated them for their sinfulness, rebellion, and hard-heartedness, saying over and over again, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!" They had turned away from the God who had given them such wonderful blessings.
Isn't that where we are as a nation today? Haven't most Americans rejected the things of God, ignoring all the blessings He has provided? We celebrate Thanksgiving and stop for a moment to say, "Thank you God, for this great land. Thank you for all of the blessings and religious freedoms we have." But then we say, "No thank you, God. I don't want your Word. I don't want your ways. I don't want you in our schools. I don't want you in our public arenas anywhere." And, as with the Pharisees, the day will come when we will be judged.
At the end of Matthew 23, Jesus left Jerusalem. As He looked out over the city, He lamented:
Today many would say there is no future for Israel. They believe nothing good lies ahead for the nation because it failed to receive Jesus as its Messiah.
But Scripture teaches quite the opposite. Israel has paid dearly over the years its failure to walk in God's ways. Yet God has not forsaken Israel. In fact, His Word is abundantly clear about Israel's future restoration and glory.
Israel: Still the Apple of God's Eye (Part 3)
Today we live in what Jesus referred to as the "times of the Gentiles"
(Lk21:24) The entire world lies under Gentile domination and has done so
since the Babylonians destroyed the Temple and Jerualem and carried the
Israelites into captivity in 586 BC But Gentiles will not dominate the
world forever. Scripture is clear that God has a future for Israel, and
it will be glorious. Three prophecies summarize Israel's future Kingdom.
1. DANIEL's FIVE KINGDOMS. In the book of Daniel God summarized future world history through Nebuchadnezzar's dream and Daniel's vision. In Daniel 7, four beasts come out of the sea. The first is like a lion; the second, like a bear; the third, like a leopard.
The fourth, however, is different. It is grotesque, "dreadful and terrible, exceedingly strong. It had huge iron teeth; it was devouring, breaking in pieces, and trampling the residue with its feet" (vs7) Daniel was told that these four destructive beasts represent four major Gentile kingdoms. The prophet's vision expanded on the dream Babylon's King Nebuchadnezzar had in Daniel 2.
Nebuchadnezzar saw a statue. Its head of gold represented Babylon, corresponding to the lion in Daniel's vision. Its chest and arms of silver represented Medo-Persia, corresponding to the bear. The statue's bronze belly and thighs represented Greece, corresponding to the leopard. And the legs of iron and feet of iron and clay represented the Roman Empire, corresponding to the grotesque beast.
In Daniel 2, a stone "cut out without hands" strikes the statue and destroys it:
JESUS CONFIRMS DANIEL
Today many argue that Daniel's prophecy was scuttled by Israel's rejection of its Messiah. But they are wrong. Daniel 9:26 actually includes a reference to the Messiah's crucifixion: "Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself." Furthermore, Jesus actually reaffirmed Daniel's prophecy. It is no accident that in Matthew 24, at the request of His disciples, Jesus laid out Israel's future. When they asked Him, "What will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?" He explained what lies ahead (Mt24:4-31)
2. JESUS' OLIVET DISCOURSE. In Matthew 24 Jesus elaborated on Daniel 9:24-27, where the angel Gabriel told Daniel, "Seventy weeks [literally, seventy groups of seven] are determined for your people and for your holy city" (vs24) Each "week" is composed of seven years. When Jesus spoke on Mount Olivet, He stood between the end of the 69th week and the "cutting off" of the Messiah. It was now merely two or three days before Jesus' death. He certainly knew that Israel had rejected Him and that He would return to build His church.
In Matthew 23, Jesus had castigated the Pharisees, scribes, and Sadducees for their rebellion against Him. Now, addressing His Jewish disciples who asked, "What's the sign of Your coming?" He elaborated on the one remaining week (70th week) of Daniel's prophecy.
This would have been the time for Him to say, "Men, I want you to understand something. There is no future Kingdom for Israel." Instead, He explained the future to them. Though He had been preparing them for the mystery form of the Kingdom for a year, He now reverted to Israel's Kingdom program and what will happen.
The 70th week is divided in half by the breaking of a covenant and the Abomination of Desolation. Jesus said there will be "wars and rumors of wars" (24:6). These will occur during the first half of the 70th week, also called the Tribulation. Then will come "famines, pestilences, and earthquakes" (vs7) These constitute the beginning of birth pangs. There will be tribulation and persecution. Lawlessness will increase, and the gospel of the Kingdom will be preached (vs9-14)
Yet it is not the end. It's only the beginning of the end. Then, Jesus said, "When you see the 'abomination of desolation' spoken of by Daniel the prophet," flee to the mountains because things will get a whole lot worse (vs15). Much greater tribulation, "such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time," will follow (vs21) False christs (messiahs) will be everywhere. Then the sun will grow dark and the "sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven" (vs30)
Perhaps the sign will be akin to the glory of God that appeared to Moses in the burning bush or to Abraham in the Chaldees. All we know is that it will be clear indeed that the Son of Man is coming. Jesus then said that the Son of Man will descend to this earth and establish His Millennial Kingdom. Throughout the remainder of the Discourse, Jesus warned His disciples to watch and be alert.
Thus, mere hours before His death, Jesus clearly reaffirmed Daniel's
prophecy that the Kingdom will come to the nation of Israel.
Twenty-five years after Jesus' prophecy and well after the establishment of the church, the apostle Paul confirmed the future of Israel's Kingdom. Though the apostle to the Gentiles did not focus primarily on eschatological issues (as did John in Revelation), he did affirm the centrality of Israel in God's program and the future of its Kingdom.
3. PAUL'S OLIVE TREE PROPHECY. In Romans 11 Paul likened Israel to the root of a cultivated olive tree whose branches were broken off due to unbelief. Then branches from a wild olive tree (Gentiles) were grafted in. However, a day is coming, Paul wrote, when the natural branches will be grafted back into its root. "Do not boast against the branches," he told the Gentile believers in Rome. "Remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you" (vs18) "Blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved" (vs25-26)
Through the prophet Isaiah, God told Israel,
Second, we must share Jesus' love with them. And third, we must thank God for all the blessings we enjoy because of what He has done through the nation of Israel. Israel's Messiah is our Savior; and someday, as His Bride, we will reign with Him in a Jewish Kingdom that will have no end.