Who is Israel in the Bible?

Who is Israel in the Bible?In this post I’d like to address the question “who is Israel in the Bible?” Because there’s a lot of confusion in the Church about what exactly in the Bible applies to us as Christians, and what doesn’t. So I’d like to lay this foundation before moving on to any other topics on the blog. Because many of them will hinge on the answer this important question. So what does Israel mean in the Bible? Let’s go ahead and flesh out that question in this article.

God is Not a Respecter of Persons

There’s so much to cover when it comes to the topic of who is Israel. But, I think a good place to start is to establish that God is not a respecter of persons. Or in other words, He doesn’t care about the physical way you look. Whether you are white, black, or brown; Italian, Mexican, or Indian; male or female; young or old. These types of things, in and of themselves, don’t affect your relationship with God.

“Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.” – Acts 10:34-35

“For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him.” – Romans 10:12

What matters to God is that you love Him with all your heart, all your mind, and all your soul:

Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mindThis is the first and great commandment.” – Matthew 22:36-38

God is Spiritual, Not Physical

It’s absolutely crucial to grasp that God is a spiritual, not a physical, being. Yes, He came in the flesh through Jesus Christ, but He has always been spiritual. It’s easy to forget this because we’re still bound to the flesh. We can go through the physical motions of worshiping and obeying God, without ever truly following Him.

God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” – John 4:24

Those who truly worship God in the spirit, even those in the Old Testament, understand this vital truth:

O Lord, open thou my lips; and my mouth shall shew forth thy praise. For thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt offeringThe sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” – Psalm 51:15-17

It’s important to note here that this verse is found in Psalms. Which means it’s in the Old Testament well before Jesus came as Messiah. This means that this is the type of sacrifice that God has required of us all along. Even when the Israelite’s were commanded to physically bring God sacrifices. What God truly wanted from the beginning was for us to come before Him with a repentant heart.

We can never fool God into believing we’re worshiping and obeying Him, when we are really just going through the motions. There are no loop holes. God can see deep into our hearts and know our true selves.

Clean the Inside so the Outside May Be Cleaned Also

What Does Israel in the Bible Mean? Clean the Inside so the Outside May Be Cleaned AlsoMany Christians make the tragic mistake of believing that Jesus “abolished” God’s law because of how much he contended with the Pharisees. This, of course, is a whole topic in and of itself. But, what I really want to point out here is that Jesus was actually attempting to teach that you can obey the letter of God’s commandments (the physical) without ever truly obeying them in your heart.

Jesus addresses the Pharisees about this very thing in Matthew 23:

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excessThou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.” – Matthew 23:25-26

So what Jesus is saying here is that our physical actions should actually be a representations of what has changed within us. We obey God’s commandments not in order to be saved, but we obey God’s commandments because we are saved.

Physical Representations of Spiritual Concepts

God loves to use physical representations of spiritual concepts all throughout the Bible. This is one thing that gives the Bible so many layers of depth and meaning. God is incredibly detailed and He has a way of explaining foreign concepts to us in terms we can grasp (to a certain extent) while we are still in these physical bodies.

Type in Shadows

One of the ways that God uses the physical to represent the spiritual is through type in shadows. There are a countless number of these all throughout the Bible. I’m always discovering new ways that God uses this method to represent spiritual concepts. Let me give you just a few examples so you can grasp what I mean mean by a type in shadow.

Moses and the Exodus

One of my favorite examples is the entire story of Moses and the Exodus. The Israelite’s were in bondage, which is a type in shadow of being in bondage to sin. God sends them a deliverer through Moses, which is a type in shadow of the ultimate savior we have in Jesus Christ.

After being released from their bondage, the Israelite’s must make the choice to trust in God and cross through the Red Sea. It’s often believed that the Red Sea was the sea that was turned to blood during the plagues. So essentially they had to cross through the blood in order to be delivered from their bondage. This sounds awfully familiar to the choice we make as Christians to be cleansed by the blood of Jesus in order to be released from our bondage to sin.

But, the type in shadow doesn’t end there. After crossing through the Red Sea (as with crossing through the blood) things don’t necessarily get easier. In fact, the Israelite’s must wander the wilderness for 40 years before they even make it to the promised land. As Christians we’re cleansed by the blood of Jesus, but we are still in the wilderness of  this fallen world. We must wander it, and rely on God to guide us until we make it to the promised land (eternity).

Joshua and the Walls of Jericho

I love this story because it shows how we have to completely rely on God and His wisdom, rather than leaning on our own understanding.

“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.” – Proverbs 3:5

The Israelite’s have come to a place called Jericho, which they must conquer in order to be able to enter the promised land. This first type in shadow is a wonderful representation of the battles that we will face as Christians. As Christians we may have strongholds in our life that we must conquer in order to follow God completely. We can’t ignore the sin in our life, or go around it. We must face it head on in order to keep it from reigning in our lives.

Joshua, as leader of the Israelite’s is given some very strange instructions for conquering Jericho. They are told to march around the city once a day for six days, and then on the seventh day they are to march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing trumpets of rams’ horns (Joshua 6). Typically these instructions would sound very ineffective for winning a battle. But, in order to win the battle, they MUST follow God’s instructions.

The same goes for us as Christians. Sometimes we don’t necessarily understand why God would command us to do (or not do) certain things. But just because we don’t get it, doesn’t mean that it is ineffective. We need to lean completely on God to win our battles and to obey His commandments.

More Type in Shadows

There are plenty more examples of type in shadows in the Bible. God quite frequently uses them in the Bible in order to speak to our spirit through physical stories. Yes, these stories really happened, but God also uses them to teach us something deeper about our walks with God.

As you begin to open your eyes to the stories in the Bible being more than just stories, you will begin to peel back the layers and see how much really does apply to you as a Christian, and individually.

Parables

Another way that God uses physical representations of spiritual concepts is through parables. Jesus often spoke in parables. In Matthew 13 the disciples even ask Jesus why he speaks in parables:

“And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables?” – Matthew 13:10

Jesus then proceeds to tell them:

Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understandAnd in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.” – Matthew 13:13-15

Jesus also gives them several other very relevant parables including the one about the sower (Matthew 13:18-23) and the wheat the the tares (Matthew 13:24-30). Later on He actually goes on to describe what these parables mean to the disciples (Matthew 13:36-43).

This isn’t the only place where Jesus uses parables. But they are used essentially to filter out those who are not seeing with their spiritual eyes and hearing with their spiritual ears. You can read and listen to the Bible all day long, but if you aren’t reading it with your spiritual eyes and listening to it with your spiritual ears, you will not see or hear what God is really saying.

How Does This Apply to the Question “Who is Israel”?

You might be asking yourself how type in shadows and parables apply to the topic of this post. The point of bringing these things up is to really help you to see that God works in the spiritual. He uses our physical surroundings to bring these spiritual concepts to a level that we can comprehend.

I will get into this a little more further on. However, the concept I want you to consider is what if God chose physical Israel to be a physical representation of the spiritual family of God?

For they are not all Israel, which are of IsraelNeither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.” – Romans 9:6-8

Circumcision of the Heart

Who is Israel in the Bible? Circumcision of the HeartDid you know that the concept of the circumcision of the heart is not just a New Testament concept? Just like with anything else, God doesn’t change. The problem has always been our mis-understanding God’s will, not that God has changed His mind.

“And the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live.” – Deuteronomy 30:6

Those who have been circumcised of the heart are those who love God with all their heart. The circumcision that God speaks of throughout the Bible, even in the Old Testament, was always a spiritual circumcision.

Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and take away the foreskins of your heart, ye men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem: lest my fury come forth like fire, and burn that none can quench it, because of the evil of your doings.” – Jeremiah 4:4

But, like I mentioned above, God knows that these spiritual concepts can be hard to grasp in the physical. So He gives us a type in shadow of physical circumcision to help our finite brains (at least somewhat) grasp a spiritual concept. This concept is solidified in Romans 2.

For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.” – Romans 2:28-29

They Honor Me With Their Lips

So it’s very possible for someone to honor God with their physical actions, but completely dishonor God in their hearts.

“Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men:” – Isaiah 29:13

“This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.” – Matthew 15:8

Unfortunately there are many people, both Jews and Christians that do this very thing. But these verses go to show that God cares more about what’s happening inside of you rather than on the outside. The outside of a person can look God-honoring, but the inside can be completely disobedient to God.

In Acts 15 the counsel at Jerusalem gathered to discuss this very topic. Because a false gospel was being preached that you must be circumcised in the flesh to be saved. The case was brought forth because God always intended for the circumcision to be an outward expression of the inward spiritual change. So by becoming circumcised in the flesh, but not realizing that it’s the circumcision of the heart that matters to God, they would be honoring God with their lips and not their hearts.

Spiritual Re-Birth

What Does Israel in the Bible Mean? Spiritual Re-BirthCircumcision of the heart and spiritual re-birth are very closely linked. When we are spiritually re-born into the family of God, we should in turn take that leap of faith to circumcise our hearts. Even in the Old Testament, God describes the circumcision to be a sign of what’s happened inwardly:

This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you; every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you” – Genesis 17:10-11 MEV

So this circumcision was always meant to be an outward sign of what has happened in the spiritual, which is a re-birth into the family of God. If nothing has changed inwardly, then it means absolutely nothing.

Jacob vs. Israel, What’s the Difference?

In the Bible there are a couple of cases where God gives certain people a completely new name. Abram becomes Abraham (Genesis 17:5), Sarai becomes Sara (Genesis 17:15), and Jacob becomes Israel (Genesis 32:27-28).

Saul also went by Paul more frequently after seeing Jesus on the Damascus Road. But this doesn’t seem to be the same as the other name changes. Because God didn’t establish it and it almost seems as though he might have gone by both names prior.

But, in the cases where God does change the name of someone, why does this happen? What is the reasoning behind it?

You will notice that in both of these cases they were renamed right after a major step forward in their relationship with God. In the case of Abram/Abraham and Sarai/Sara they were re-named right after God established a covenant with them (Genesis 17:2).

For Jacob/Israel the name change happened right after a mysterious wrestling with a man (Genesis 32:24-26). This wrestling match is quite mysterious and could definitely be explored in an article of it’s own. However, it seems as though it was a turning point in his relationship with God.

We are Born Spiritually Dead

I’d like to argue that these name changes actually happened because of a spiritual re-birth that happened simultaneously. The Bible says that we are all born spiritually dead.

“And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;” – Colossians 2:13

Being that we are all born spiritually dead, we all require a re-birth in order to be born into the family of God. This isn’t just a New Testament concept, believe it or not. As we’ve already explored in this article, God continually calls His people out to circumcise their hearts and to turn to him spiritually.

“And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh:” – Ezekiel 11:19

It’s also interesting to note that God often refers to the Israelite’s as both Jacob as well as Israel. Why is that? I haven’t looked deeply into this so I can’t present a case for why. But, it’s something that I think is worth studying more about.

Truly Following God Without Spiritual Re-Birth is Impossible

As I mentioned above, you can go through the motions of following God’s law while still being spiritually dead. A great example of this would be when Jesus spoke to Nicodemus about being re-born in John 3. Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a strict follower of the law was still spiritually dead all along. Because he didn’t grasp the re-birth that Jesus spoke of:

Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” – John 3:4-5

So many of those who read the Bible make the same mistake that Nicodemus did. They try to comprehend the Bible with their flesh, rather than their spirit. I have come across many people over the years who have “read the Bible cover to cover” and still don’t believe in God. How is that possible? Because they are reading it with their fleshly eyes while their spiritual eyes are still dead shut.

Adoption Into the Family of God

Even in the Old Testament, it has always been possible for those who were outside of the fleshly Israel to become apart of Israel in spirit. The law even addresses this and explains how someone can come into the tribe of Israel if they so desire to turn to the Lord.

“But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” – Leviticus 19:34

It’s important to realize this because by the time Jesus came on the scene there was already a really big prejudice among the Israelite’s towards those who weren’t physically born into Israel. But, so long as they turned to God with their whole heart, God was always willing to welcome those who aren’t physically Jewish into the family of God. Remember Jonah and the Ninevites?

Gentiles of the Old Testament Adopted Into Israel

A perfect example of a gentile becoming apart of Israel is Ruth. Ruth was not born into the tribe of Israel. However, when faced with the choice to turn back to her gentile family or staying faithful to the one true God, she chose God:

“And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God:” – Ruth 1:16

What makes the story of Ruth so powerful is that God makes it very clear that He views her as apart of the family of God. Because she not only makes it into into the lineage of David, but more importantly into the lineage of Jesus himself (Matthew 1:5). If this re-birth/adoption wasn’t legitimate, why would God have given her such a prominent role in history (or “His Story”)?

Another example is Rahab, who also was a gentile who chose to become apart of Israel at the battle of Jericho (Joshua 6:25), and who also found herself apart of the lineage of Christ (Matthew 1:5).

I believe that God places these examples in the Bible for a very important reason: to show us that He takes our grafting into the tree of Israel very seriously. We are not “outsiders”, but rather apart of the true family of God.

Grafted Onto the Tree, Not a Whole New Tree

Who is Israel in the Bible? Grafted Onto the Tree, Not a Whole New TreeIn the New Testament Paul speaks about how we, as believers are grafted onto the olive tree:

And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert grafted in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree;” – Romans 11:17

This means that we are actually grafted onto an existing tree. We don’t create a whole new tree as believers in Christ. Rather, we are adopted into the family of God, and grafted onto the existing family tree, if you will.

The Old Testament actually speaks of Israel’s beauty being as an olive tree:

I will be as the dew unto Israel: he shall grow as the lily, and cast forth his roots as Lebanon. His branches shall spread, and his beauty shall be as the olive tree, and his smell as Lebanon.” – Hosea 14:5-6

Jesus also speaks about abiding in the tree as well (Him):

I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.” – John 15:5-6

So as long as we’re abiding in Christ, we are gathering nourishment from the roots of the tree (God). But when we turn from God, we lose our source of sustenance, find ourselves withered, and eventually pruned from the tree. Whether we are born of the flesh into Israel or not, this is the case for everyone. We need God to keep our spirit’s alive.

Who is Israel?

Now for the big question. Who is Israel? Is Israel the Church? Is Israel only those who are native born Israelite’s? Let’s find out in the concluding paragraphs.

Jesus Breaks Down the Middle Wall of Partition

In the Jewish temple there was a physical barrier separating the Jews and the gentiles. This blog explains it well (with photos). Basically there was a prejudice among the Jews in Paul’s day that gentiles could not partake in the temple worship.

Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: ” – Ephesians 2:11-12

But because of Jesus this wall has been broken down:

But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of ChristFor he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us;” – Ephesians 2:13-14 

What does this mean for us?

“Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of GodAnd are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.” – Ephesians 2:19-22

This means that, through Christ, we are officially adopted into the family of God. We now have the same opportunity to come before God as those who have been physically born into Israel.

All Israelite’s are Not Israel

As you can see from the case I’ve presented in this article, the Bible makes it very clear that there is a differentiation between a spiritual Israel and a physical Israel. The Bible tells us that those who are born into the race of the Israelite’s are not necessarily apart of Israel.

Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of IsraelNeither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.” – Romans 9:6-8

This is a key piece of scripture to understanding the argument of this article. Christians cannot dismiss this scripture. God, through Paul, tells us that all those who are born of the flesh into Israel are not all Israel. It all comes down to what is in your heart and if you are truly following after God.

You can go through all of the motions, follow all of the laws to the letter, and even say that you love God. But if you haven’t truly surrendered your heart to God then you are not Israel: Jew or not.

All Christians are Not Israel

Just to be clear, God is not biased about who can be pruned from the tree. The Bible makes it clear that even those who have been grafted on can also be pruned:

Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in. Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear: For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee.” – Romans 11:19-21

Even Jesus makes it clear that those who do not abide in Him (the vine) will die:

I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.” – John 15:5-6

Let’s not forget that God is no respecter of persons. He wants people in His family who will love Him with their whole hearts, and souls, and minds.  Lest he spit out those who are lukewarm:

“I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.” – Revelation 3:15-16

You see, our works don’t save us, but our works actually reveal what has changed within us (James 2:14-26).

The Disconnect Among Both Groups

Somewhere along the way both Jews and Christians have forgotten that it all comes down to this: loving God. Those who follow the law with their flesh (to the letter) and not their spirit have forgotten the greatest commandment:

Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.” – Matthew 22:36-38

Then there’s Christians who have the misconception that they can love God in any way they want. But Jesus has told us how to love Him:

If ye love me, keep my commandments…Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” – John 14:15,23

Jesus isn’t just speaking about the commandments in the New Testament. But rather all the commandments He’s given from the beginning of creation (John 1:1-5). The whole book (the Bible, that is) applies to all those who follow God. You see, there are no loopholes. God has accounted for everything in His Word. He knows us, and that we will have a tendency to stray to the left or to the right.

So, Who Is Israel in the Bible?

What Does Israel Mean in the Bible?Well, of course there is a physical country of Israel, there is no denying that. But who is God referring to when He speaks to Israel in His Word? I think we each need to appeal before God to be led by the Spirit Himself to that answer. But, as for me, it seems pretty clear that Israel is God’s chosen people. Has God chosen you?

Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.” – John 15:16

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