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What Does the Future Hold for the People of Israel?
‘Israel. The Holy Land. There is no area in the world like it. Its past is pivotal in understanding world history. Its chief city has a special role to play in international events’, writes Lance Lambert.
My father, like many Jews, never lived in Israel. The Jewish people are scattered all over the world. In 1947 the state of Israel was re-established. Around 7.5 million people live in Israel today, of whom approximately 6 million are Jews. There are many other Jews still scattered around the world today. What does the future hold for the Jewish people?
I like the way that Eugene Peterson translates the New Testament passage for today using the term ‘insiders’ for the Jewish people and ‘outsiders’ for the non-Jewish people.
Many individual Jews over the years have become Christians. In fact all the very earliest Christians were Jewish ‘insiders’. But now the vast majority of Christians are non-Jewish ‘outsiders’. What does the future hold for the ‘insiders’?
The key to Paul’s understanding lies in Romans 11:29, ‘For God’s gift and his call are irrevocable.’ The apostle Paul is not introducing new teaching. It is a theme that runs throughout the Bible as we see in today’s passages.
1. God’s covenant with his people will last foreverPsalm 89:19-29
We see in the covenant with David that God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.
God called ‘a young man’ from among his people (v.19c). He gave him gifts. He ‘bestowed strength’ (v.19b). He ‘anointed’ him (v.20b). He promised that his love would be with him (v.24a) and that he would maintain that love to him forever. ‘My covenant with him will never fail. I will establish his line forever, his throne as long as the heavens endure’ (vv.28b–29).
This promise was originally given to David (2 Samuel 7:12–16). It is repeated many times (Jeremiah 30:9; Ezekiel 34:23; 37:24 and here). Then later, in the book of Isaiah, what was promised to David is promised to Israel. ‘I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David’ (Isaiah 55:3b).
Paul shows clearly that all this has been fulfilled in Jesus. He writes, ‘We tell you the good news: What God promised our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus’ (Acts 13:32–33). He goes on to quote Isaiah 55:3, ‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David’ (Acts 13:34).
God promised to establish David’s line forever and he fulfilled this promise in Jesus, whose throne will endure as long as the heavens endure (Psalm 89:29).
Father, thank you for your faithful love for David, for Jesus, and for us. Thank you that like David we can call out to you, ‘You are my Father, my God, the Rock my Saviour’ (v.26). Thank you that you promise you will maintain your love for us forever and that through Jesus we inherit the blessings promised to David.
2. God’s promises to Israel will prevailRomans 11:11-32
As we have seen, in Romans 11 Paul is answering the question, ‘Has God rejected his people?’ His answer is, ‘No, no, no’: ‘God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable’ (v.29). Or as Eugene Peterson puts it, ‘God’s gifts and God’s call are under full warranty – never cancelled, never rescinded’ (v.29, MSG).
We see first that the rejection was only partial. There has always been a remnant, chosen by grace (vv.11–16). Second, the rejection was fruitful, since it led to riches for the Gentiles: ‘When they walked out, they left the door open and the outsiders walked in’ (v.11, MSG). Third, the rejection was temporary. ‘ “Are they out of this for good?” And the answer is a clear-cut No’ (v.11, MSG). ‘This hardness on the part of insider Israel toward God is temporary’ (v.25, MSG). ‘Now, if their leaving triggered this worldwide coming of non-Jewish outsiders to God’s kingdom, just imagine the effect of their coming back! What a homecoming!’ (v.12, MSG).
Paul speaks about the full inclusion of the people of Israel (v.12). He goes on to say that ‘all Israel will be saved’ (v.26). He does not say ‘if’ this happens, but ‘when’ this happens. He uses an olive tree as a picture of the Jewish nation (vv.17,24). Christ came. The nation rejected him. The tree was chopped down but the roots were left. The gardener grafts in the Gentiles (v.17).
The time is coming when the Jewish branches will be grafted back. ‘He can perform miracle grafts. Why, if he could graft you – branches cut from a tree out in the wild – into an orchard tree, he certainly isn’t going to have any trouble grafting branches back into the tree they grew from in the first place. Just be glad you’re in the tree, and hope for the best for the others (vv.23–24, MSG).
Then the whole tree will be complete. The Gentiles grow up out of the stump – they do not support the root (the Jews) but the root supports them (v.18).
There are three successive stages in the fulfilment of the divine plan of salvation. First, the unbelief of the greater part of Israel: ‘some of the tree’s branches were pruned’ (v,17, MSG). Second, the inclusion of many outsiders through faith in Jesus: ‘you wild olive shoots were grafted in’ (v.17, MSG). Third, the salvation of ‘all Israel’ (v.26). But, what does ‘all Israel’ mean?
Some have argued that it means Jews can still be saved apart from Christ. However, this position is not credible. Paul has argued throughout the letter that Jesus is the way of salvation.
Others have argued that it meant the whole nation of Israel, including every single member, will put their faith in Jesus. However, ‘all Israel’ is a recurring expression in the Old Testament and other Jewish literature, where it need not mean ‘every Jew without a single exception’ but ‘Israel as a whole’ (for example 1 Samuel 7:5; 28:1; 1 Kings 12:1; Daniel 9:11). This also fits with the context of what Paul is saying here in Romans.
Paul is considering God’s dealing with the nation as a whole. Thus, ‘their fullness’ (Romans 11:12) is to be understood in the same sense as the fullness of the Gentiles. The large scale conversion of the Gentile world is to be followed by the large scale conversion of Israel.
Paul concludes: ‘There was a time not so long ago when you were on the outs with God. But then the Jews slammed the door on him and things opened up for you. Now they are on the outs. But with the door held wide open for you, they have a way back in. In one way or another, God makes sure that we all experience what it means to be outside so that he can personally open the door and welcome us back in’ (vv.30–32, MSG).
Thank you, Lord, that the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable. Thank you that you promise that one day all Israel will be saved. Lord, we pray for that day to come quickly that we will see not only a large scale conversion of the Gentile world but also a large scale conversion of the people of Israel.
3. God’s generous character and his blessings are unchanging1 Chronicles 4:9-5:26
God is in ultimate control of history. His call and his gifts are irrevocable. What was fulfilled in the New Testament began in the Old. The chronicler traces the history of Israel from its very beginning. God is sovereign – ‘the battle was God’s’ (5:22).
Does this mean that we are mere pawns? Are we simply pieces being moved around God’s chessboard with no choice or freewill? Not at all.
We are involved in God’s plans. Our actions make a difference – for good or evil.
- Act of dishonour
Our actions can cause us to lose out on God’s blessing: ‘Though Reuben was Israel’s firstborn, after he slept with his father’s concubine, a defiling act, his rights as the firstborn were passed on to the sons of Joseph son of Israel. He lost his “firstborn” place in the family tree’ (5:1, MSG). He lost a great inheritance because he could not control his desires.
Joyce Meyer writes of these verses, ‘Ask God to help you perceive what is truly valuable and never to allow the lust of the flesh or your emotions to cause you to miss out on a blessing.’
- A man of honour
Jabez, on the other hand, was a man of honour (4:9, MSG). Jabez’s prayer made a difference. ‘Jabez prayed to the God of Israel: “Bless me, O bless me! Give me land, large tracts of land. And provide your personal protection – don’t let evil hurt me.” God gave him what he asked’ (v.10, MSG)
This is not the most altruistic prayer in the Bible! But nevertheless God answered it. Jesus taught us to pray, among other things, ‘Give us today our daily bread’ (Matthew 6:11). Our first concern should be for God’s glory, his kingdom and his will. But it is not wrong to ask for God’s blessing, presence, protection and healing in our own lives as well. Likewise, God gave his people victory ‘because they cried out to him during the battle. He answered their prayers, because they trusted in him’ (1 Chronicles 5:20).
The battle was God’s (v.22). He was in ultimate control. Nevertheless, their prayers made a difference.
Lord, thank you that you are in ultimate control of history and events. Thank you that your gifts and your call are irrevocable. Thank you that you fulfilled your promises to David in our Saviour and King, Jesus Christ our Lord. Thank you that you will fulfil your promises to the people of Israel. Thank you that all Israel will be saved.
Thank you that the battle is yours. Thank you that our prayers make a difference. And Lord, I cry out to you today in the battles we face …
Lord, having cried out to you for all these things, I trust you for the result. Thank you that you answered the prayers of the people of Israel because they trusted in you (v.20).
1 Chronicles 4:9–10 (The Prayer of Jabez)
I probably pray far too many prayers focused on me and my family. God did answer Jabez’s prayer but having heard Nick Vujicic (who started the ministry ‘Life Without Limbs’) spoke last year at Focus, I am challenged by his attitude to life. He began his talk with, ‘I am thankful ...’