Israel in the Bible (and Today)

[June 11-13 (Fri-Sun) only, I am offering the eBook version of my book, Spiritual Things, for free. Click here and grab it before leaving this page]

The Old Testament reveals that God took a specific people as a covenant partner: a chosen nation that would fulfill the promises made to Abraham. This nation took the name divinely given to the great patriarch, Jacob. We call this nation Israel.

No person of Christian or Jewish faith can doubt this fact. Nearly the entire OT tells the story of Israel and how they both overtook the land of Canaan and established themselves as a country. At no point is there any mystery or debate: Israel was God’s chosen nation, His covenant partner, and the recipient of Abraham’s blessings. This is an unassailable fact of Scripture.

The question is, are they still God’s chosen people? Does the current nation of Israel continue to enjoy this unique status?

My aim in this article is to explore these incredibly important questions. The way we view the nation of Israel has much to do with how we interpret God’s plans in our world and the very meaning of salvation. I will examine these matters in three distinct ways, and as briefly (but meaningfully) as possible.

First, I will look at how Israel is described within the OT. Second, I will examine how the people of Israel are depicted in the NT, when Jesus entered the scene. Third (and last), I will discuss the country of Israel that exists today, inquiring as to whether or not it remains God’s chosen nation.

Part One: Israel in the OT

Every time I work my way through the OT, I am taken aback by how insufferably corrupt God’s people were much of the time. Over and over again, the people rebelled against God and proved themselves to be lousy covenant partners. Where to even begin with the examples?

Almost immediately after being rescued from Egypt, the Israelites began a campaign of disobedience. They complained about a lack of food (Num. 11:4). They grumbled about not having enough to drink (Num. 20:5). They doubted the leader God had chosen for them, even plotting to usurp Moses’ position (Num. 16). They even lamented being saved from Egyptian captivity in the first place (Ex. 16:3).

This was obviously a very grateful community.

When God took the Hebrew people to Mt. Sinai to establish a covenant with them, it took them no time flat to dismiss the miracles they had seen and to fashion a bovine statue for themselves (Ex. 32). Here, again, God had to be persuaded not to destroy the entire lot of them (save for Moses). The people had finally proven to be so unfaithful that God left them wandering in the wilderness for forty years, so that the whole generation could perish (Num. 32:13).

After not wanting to obey God’s commands to overtake the land of Canaan, the new generation entered and possessed the land under Joshua’s leadership. From there, things finally went swimmingly. Or, not . . .

The period recorded in the Book of Judges may have been the most corrupt time in Israel’s history, though the competition is stiff. Judges reveals an endless cycle of sin, judgment, repentance and (temporary) restoration. The phrase, “the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord,” can hardly be missed. They did evil, and then did some more. Every time a Gideon or Deborah helped to put Israel back on track, they turned around and blew it. This exercise in futility culminated exactly how we would expect: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit” (21:25).

They did as they saw fit, not as God commanded.

After sufficiently rejecting God as King and getting human kings of their own, the same narrative continued to play out. Saul was an abject failure who ended up dying in the least regal way imaginable: suicide (1 Sam. 31:1-6). David and Solomon fared much better, in general, and took the nation of Israel to its highest point. However, David and Solomon both failed God in horrible ways. David had Uriah killed in order to take his already-impregnated wife (2 Sam. 11), and Solomon’s almost unparalleled sexual appetite also led him into spiritual adultery (1 Ki. 11). As for the nation overall, they couldn’t even get along with one another, much less stay faithful to God. Israel and Judah split into two kingdoms in 930 BC and remained so for centuries to come.

Probably nowhere in Scripture is Israel’s wickedness depicted more clearly than through the prophets. Nearly every prophet—whether Major or Minor—preached against Israel and/or Judah’s debauchery. One of the central themes was that the people had become spiritual prostitutes: God’s chosen bride was nothing more than an adulterous whore. These are their words, not mine. Take just these two examples, among countless that could be used.

“You adulterous wife! You prefer strangers to your own husband! All prostitutes receive gifts, but you give gifts to all your lovers, bribing them to come to you from everywhere for your illicit favors. So in your prostitution you are the opposite of others; no one runs after you for your favors. You are the very opposite, for you give payment and none is given to you” (Ez. 16:32-34).

And . . .

“Look at the shrines on every hilltop. Is there any place you have not been defiled by your adultery with other gods? You sit like a prostitute beside the road waiting for a customer. You sit alone like a nomad in the desert. You have polluted the land with your prostitution and your wickedness” (Jer. 3:2).

This is truly a miniscule sampling of the immoral carnage at play in the OT. Israel’s moments of faithfulness would take much less time to chronicle.

The simple truth is that Israel is depicted as both a rebellious child and an unfaithful prostitute throughout most of the OT. I am not exaggerating; I mean most of the OT. If you doubt this, you didn’t read the previous section and probably haven’t read either the Historical Books or the Prophets.

The image of God dragging Israel by the hair of her head is the only thing that does it all justice. God took His people, kicking and screaming, to the Promised Land. After that, things continued in much the same way.

Part Two: Israel in Jesus’ Day

Judges proved to be a disaster. Kings were ineffective, on the whole. Prophets were largely unable to stir the people to holy living (at least not for long). Would the long-awaited Messiah be able to spark a different feeling among the Jewish people?

Anyone at all familiar with the NT knows that the answer is no. It is important to note that multitudes of Jewish believers did accept Jesus and chose to follow him. Thousands of people appeared to hear him, sometimes too many to keep in order (Lk. 12:1). Like today, a remnant of people chose to follow the Lord (while others just showed up to be fed).

However, Jesus butted heads with the Jewish authorities—the “church leaders” of the day—constantly. Having watched this for centuries, the Son of God could not suffer their corruption. Everything was for show and their faith was hollow. The only “leading” they did was to lead people astray. The Gospels also reveal repeated plans to murder Jesus, all coming from the religious elite. Ultimately, they succeeded, as the chief priests cried out to Pontius Pilate with the words “Crucify him!” and “we have no king but Caesar.”

When Jesus conquered the grave, they made up stories about how it never happened. The disciples “stole the body,” don’t you know? He didn’t really appear to scores of people on a multitude of occasions.

They followed up by persecuting the apostles and many of the converts they had made, both among their fellow Jews and the Gentiles. Being consistent with their shouts to Pilate, the religious elite supported Rome in persecuting Christians. I would argue that the corrupt Jewish authorities may even have been the initial fulfilment of the “beast from the earth” in Revelation 13, and that Jerusalem was the Great Harlot of chapter 17.

Maybe all this is why Jesus called the Pharisees a “brood of vipers” (Mt. 12:34), “whitewashed tombs” (Mt. 23:27-28), and children of the devil (Jn. 8:44). Maybe this is what spurred him to deliver these fateful words to the Jewish nation:

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing” (Mt. 23:37).

Yes, the Son of God had watched this go on for centuries. He watched them hurl insults at God’s chosen leaders, disobey divine commands, persecute the prophets, treat one another contemptuously, live decadently, and commit spiritual prostitution like it was a religious duty. This culminated in the murder of Jesus—their Messiah—when he came to them.

As I said in the last section, if you think this is an uncharitable take, then I strongly urge you to revisit the Gospels. Jesus was actually harsher than I have been. That, I can assure you.

Part Three: Israel Today

Admittedly, this part is by far the most difficult to explain. We do not have a set of Gospels or an inerrant account with which to evaluate the matter. Instead, the identity of the nation of Israel in our present time is passed through the funnel of 21st century politics and (mostly) unreliable reporting outlets.

Let me just offer a few things for your consideration, most of which do not involve a great deal of speculation.

The first is that God has provided approximately zero prophets or leaders—much less a Messiah, if not Jesus—to the Jewish people in roughly 2,400 years. The Minor Prophets ended their ministries somewhere toward the end of the 5th century BC (with Malachi) and no universally recognized figures have come since then. This raises some serious questions for those of the Jewish faith. What is there now to go on? What is the expected future for those who rejected the ministry of Jesus?

If you look around, you’ll see that modern Jews have no real answers to such questions. I do not say this pejoratively but as a matter of objective fact. As a quick example, I have listened to Dennis Prager on and off for many years now. He is a conservative radio host who has done many good things (like PragerU), and he is also a devout Jew. He has authored biblical commentaries and is a very capable OT scholar in his own right. While firmly believing in the afterlife, Prager is unable to provide virtually any biblical reasons why there would be one. Instead, he ends up relying on logical arguments based on assumptions about God’s character, the lack of justice in the world, or the way he sees reality functioning.

In the end, it boils down to affirming the existence of an afterlife out of sheer desire. Prager wants it to be so but cannot validate the view within his scriptures. I am by no stretch targeting Prager, either. A vast number of Jewish Rabbis hold to some vague—and I mean very vague—idea of the afterlife, and others reject it altogether.

This is a microcosm of the greater issue, which is that the OT does not contain the complete set of truths that God has revealed to the world. It is half of the story, at best.

  • It does not end (in Malachi) with a way of providing atonement for the sins of the world.
  • It does not provide insight on what to do when the temple no longer exists in Jerusalem (which it hasn’t since AD 70), particularly as sacrifice is concerned.
  • It does not provide much information about the afterlife, or what anyone should have expected after the time of the prophets.
  • It does not reveal or chronicle the coming of the Messiah, who is spoken of in its very pages.

The OT, in and of itself, provides an incomplete picture of reality. It leaves us on a gigantic cliffhanger: a cliffhanger that was resolved entirely within the NT writings and the work of Jesus Christ. The NT provides explanations for how sin was once and for all destroyed, for who the Messiah is, for how we can explain the evil forces of our world and the heavenly realm, and perhaps most importantly, for where everything is heading and how it will conclude.

For the last 2,000+ years, the Jewish people have been living partially in the dark because they rejected the light that entered the world.

One final point should be mentioned in this section. There is much debate about the current state of the Middle East, especially the relationship between the Jews and Palestinians. This is a highly complex and layered issue, to say the least. What I can definitively tell you is that a huge number of the Jews living in the region are not religious Jews. These are not people sitting by the Jordan River singing praises to Yahweh and studying the Torah.

Don’t believe me? Contemplate these numbers, concerning Israeli Jews over the age of twenty (in 2020):[1]

  • 43% self-identify as secular
  • 22% as traditional but not very religious
  • 13% as traditional-religious
  • 11% as religious and 10% as ultra-Orthodox

This means that about 65%—that is, almost 2/3—of adults living in Israel are either atheists/agnostics or would only affirm a very basic belief in god.

This should absolutely stun you. But it gets worse.

The practice of Israeli Jews attempting to displace Palestinians—often claiming a “divine right” to the land—is extremely prevalent. They burn down houses, verbally and physically attack families, and make life a living hell for them. A lot of these Palestinians have had family ties to the land for centuries and some are even practicing Christians. There are countless videos on the web of these mobs breaking into houses and attacking Palestinian families. Many people have reported that these events are often done out of resentment toward Jesus and because the intruders believed it was “God’s will” that Jews possess those buildings and lands.

The acts of violence in this capacity are not few and far between, either. Instead, they’re incredibly common. As I showed, many—though certainly not all—of the Jews living in Israel are non-religious and often despise Christians. This does not mean the Jewish people living in Israel have not been targeted by Palestinians and other groups. They certainly have at times. I am saying that, in this particular case, it “takes two to tango.” Israeli Jews have played a major part in the violence of recent times.

People of faith from the US (and elsewhere) need to know this, and it should make us re-evaluate a lot our beliefs.

You won’t hear many pastors say this (though here is one), but it remains true: The nation of Israel that has existed since 1948 is not the same Israel that was guided by God throughout the OT. The connection exists only in two primary ways: 1) The name “Israel” and 2) The common rejection of Jesus as Messiah.

Conclusion

Given the complexity of this topic and the firm allegiance that many have to the belief that Israel remains God’s chosen people, I have assuredly ruffled many feathers in this blog. Some will no doubt believe that I am being rather uncharitable. I would like to emphasize that I have almost exclusively allowed the Bible and the statistics to speak about the nation of Israel. If anyone thinks I am being “anti-Semitic” or sacrilegious—and I am neither—then just know that the Jewish people who wrote the OT must have been too.

Israel’s own prophets condemned her as a spiritual prostitute.

God condemned her as an unfaithful and unworthy bride.

Jesus announced her murderous nature, and then proved it through the Crucifixion.

Candidly (and regrettably), I spent most of my early Christian life believing that the Israel of today—the one founded in 1948—continued to have a special status with God. Like so many others, I believed that to be against Israel (for any reason) meant to be against God. I believed that, despite their prominent atheism and (mostly) strong detestation of Jesus, they were still the “chosen” people of Yahweh.

Certain things never smelled right to me—like why those who flat out hate Jesus can still be divinely cherished—but I sat those concerns aside. I errantly drank the Kool-Aid of Christian Zionism, disregarding what the Spirit was telling me and accepting what too many mainline evangelical leaders were preaching.

Here, I wish to call others away from operating with this worldview. Don’t spend even one more day with it. Why? Because there are many who need to be saved. The nation of Israel needs Jesus. All the nations of the world need the risen Savior. We are doing the Jewish people a disservice—and ignoring the Great Commission—in affirming that salvation is possible apart from Jesus.

Paul made this clear, when speaking about his fellow Jews:

“I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I take pride in my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them(Rom. 11:13-14, my emphasis).

Paul hoped to “save some of them,” meaning by persuading them about the truth of the gospel. He knew that, as things stood, their rejection of Jesus would result in condemnation. The view that people—whether Jew or Gentile—can outright reject the Son of God and be saved is heresy, plain and simple. Such a view is really the anti-Great Commission; a doctrine aligned with the spirit of antichrist, not the Christ.

I want to implore those of you who have read this blog to re-evaluate things. Do your research. Look into this for yourselves. It seems not only possible but highly probable that many Christians have accepted a false bill of goods about Israel and their current place in God’s economy.

It might well be that the people of Israel are the same as every other group of human beings on earth: the same as you and me. Maybe they are fallen and in need of salvation. Maybe they are only “chosen” if they follow the Chosen One, who is Jesus Christ.

Perhaps they, too, need to repent of their evil deeds, accept Jesus as their Savior, and walk in the light.

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Footnotes

[1] “Vital Statistic: Latest Population Statistics for Israel (2020).” Jewish Virtual Library. Accessed Jun 9, 2021. https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/latest-population-statistics-for-israel


Author: Brian M. Rossiter

I am a Christian teacher, author, and lecturer. Most importantly, I am a truth-seeker. My research has led me to both believe in and defend the veracity of the Bible, evaluating my own personal views in light of its teachings along the way. In addition to my blogs, I have written several books: "The Death Myth," "God Made the Aliens," "Spiritual Things," and most recently, "Missing Verses: 15 Beliefs the Bible Doesn't Teach." My hope in these endeavors is to give skeptics reasons to believe, to strengthen the faith of those who already do, and to challenge each of us to truly evaluate our own worldviews.

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