Christianity 201

October 9, 2013

To Know What it Means to be Israel

Filed under: Uncategorized — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:29 pm
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Jacob Wrestles with God

I’ve been reading through Romans for the past several days and this verse stuck out yesterday:

NIV 9:6 It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.

Those of us who are non-Jews (ie Goyim) often believe that Judiasm is a wonderful combination of both ethnic and spiritual heritage; that to be a Jew constitutes both ancestry and ‘membership’ in the Jewish ‘church.’ But in an interesting turn of phrase, this verse points out otherwise.

The Reformation Study Bible states:

In the Old Testament era, natural descent did not automatically guarantee inheritance of the promise. God chose who should inherit it. This principle is evident in the families of Abraham and Isaac.

Matthew Henry wrote on this:

Many that descended from the loins of Abraham and Jacob, and were of that people who were surnamed by the name of Israel, yet were very far from being Israelites indeed, interested in the saving benefits of the new covenant. They are not all really Israel that are so in name and profession. It does not follow that, because they are the seed of Abraham, therefore they must needs be the children of God, though they themselves fancied so, boasted much of, and built much upon, their relation to Abraham, Matt. 3:9; John 8:38, 39. But it does not follow. Grace does not run in the blood; nor are saving benefits inseparably annexed to external church privileges, though it is common for people thus to stretch the meaning of God’s promise, to bolster themselves up in a vain hope.

Theology Online states:

Paul comes quickly to the heart of the matter: the reason God’s word will achieve its purpose, is that its scope with regard to Israel of the flesh was never universal in the first place: it is implied to us here that only some of those who are of Israel of the flesh will also be members of the Israel with which God is ultimately concerned and to which therefore the word of God was actually directed.

Given then that the only alternative to a determination along fleshly lines is a determination along spiritual lines, we understand that the Israel with which God is ultimately concerned is delineated solely by the spirits within it and not at all by the flesh within which those spirits reside. Thus the implication in Jesus’ words to the Jews:

“And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham” Mt 3:9

and in the more doctrinal:

“That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” John 3:6

What is incidental then but nevertheless worth stating, is that given that there can be no fleshly criteria by which one who calls upon the name of the Lord might be excluded from the Israel with which God is ultimately concerned, such Israel will highly likely be far greater in number than Israel of the flesh.

…As I read this, I couldn’t help but think of a Christian parallel: Being born into a Christian family doesn’t make you a Christian. Or: Being a member of a local church doesn’t mean you are a Christian. (Note: I’m just considering a small aspect of this verse, there is a lot more going on here. See the closing paragraph for a link to the verse’s context.)

However, at the outset, when I first saw this verse, I thought about various nuances of meaning as to what it might mean to be Israel.  Genesis 35 tells us of the first time that name is used, given to Jacob after his wrestling match in Genesis 32 with God:

AMP 35:10 Again God said to him, Your name is Jacob [supplanter]; you shall not be called Jacob any longer, but Israel shall be your name. So He called him Israel [contender with God].

MSG 35:10 “Your name is Jacob (Heel); but that’s your name no longer. From now on your name is Israel (God-Wrestler).”

NIV Footnote Israel probably means he struggles with God.

So now, to mash it up a little: Not all who are Israel by heritage wrestle with God.

For the Christian who considers himself/herself to be spiritually Israel, the parallel is that not everyone who claims to be a Christ-follower truly wrestles with God. Yet this is exactly what God wants. He wants you to get on the mat and wrestle with him in every respect: his commandments, his ways, his truths; engaged, considered and then owned; all of this not in a detached, or sterile academic sense, but in community with him.

For further study, read the whole chapter, Romans 9.

Jacob and God

The first image, no doubt from The Brick Bible, is from the blog Stonewritten; click the picture to link. The second, which could well be one of the most accurate online, is from the blog Living The Gospel; click the picture to link. The reference is to the story in Genesis 32.

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