For many people, the centrality of the good tidings or “gospel” is the life and atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. There is no doubt that this sacrifice is the central piece in the Master’s plan to redeem and reconcile the world back to the order He intended. But to truly understand the full scope and sequence of Jesus’ sacrifice, we must diligently seek—within the scriptures—to know the mind, heart, and intentions of God.
There is no doubt that this sacrifice is the central piece in the Master’s plan to redeem and reconcile the world back to the order He intended. But to truly understand the full scope and sequence of Jesus’ sacrifice, we must diligently seek—within the scriptures—to know the mind, heart, and intentions of God.
When one zooms out and views the word and plan of God in its entirety—from Genesis to Revelation—there seems to be a deeper, more intricate myriad of themes within which the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus play a central role. Obviously, we know that Jesus came for the redemption of all humanity and creation. Yet, a subtler, yet centralized, theme is the rise, fall, and restoration of Israel and their role in this redemptive process. In fact, this theme takes up a prominent part of the scriptures from Genesis to Revelation. All Israel hold a special place in God’s heart. Though many might agree with this statement, they may not readily admit that Israel still has a central role to play in the redemption of humanity and the restoration of all things. Israel are still God’s chosen people, and this is difficult for many to not only grasp but accept. In fact, this claim is often met with strong resistance, even among those who profess an unadulterated belief in God’s word. Despite what we may or may not feel about Israel, the important question is this: what does God have to say about Israel? What does He think and feel about Israel?
Before we can set out to answer this question, we must first examine our own stance and disposition concerning the word of God, whether we believe it to be inerrant in this matter or not. Our journey through the scriptures will be a struggle if we do not hold God’s word, in its entirety, to be true. We must start and be guided by the premise that it is God’s word, not man’s, that establishes the truth—past, present, and future. It is for this reason that our study of Israel, as with any Biblical endeavor, must set off with this question in mind: Is God’s word true, eternal, and will it accomplish what it says He will do? Is His word true and reliable, even if it does not align with our logic, our culture, our feelings, and our assumptions? We need to contend with this because God’s word, at some point, will challenge our conventional wisdom, our notions of what is right and wrong, good and evil. So the question stands: Do we take God His word… His ENTIRE word?
Through His messages to the prophets, God made clear that His word would accomplish what it was set out to do, and it is this word that He calls His people to live by through faith, despite our surrounding circumstances and contexts. It is this word that is the foundation, the very substance of our faith. As Paul states in Romans 10, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (10:17). Outside of the word of God, there is no faith, for it is the word of God that paints the picture of the realities that have been, that are, and more importantly, that have yet to be. In fact, it is the realities of what has and what is that continue to direct our attention to what will be. This is why there is so much repetition in the scripture, so much remembering because what has been is a shadow of what will be. Thus, if we ignore even one jot or tittle of the word, if we dismiss any of the events in God’s story–be they relevant to us or not–then we erase details within the picture, within this future spiritual reality on which our faith is set. Thus, we must start with the premise, as Abraham did, that God’s word is true and that it is worth acting upon whether we see its fulfillment in our lifetime or not.
Before starting our journey, let us reassure ourselves of the reliability of God’s word. There are a few examples that are worth taking note of to establish or re-establish our bearings.
In the book of Numbers, we find a powerful example through the false prophet Balaam. Balaam was called by Balak, the king of Moab, to pronounce a curse upon Israel, hoping this might lead to victory over Israel:
“See, they cover the face of the earth, and are settling next to me! Therefore please come at once, curse this people for me, for they are too mighty for me. Perhaps I shall be able to defeat them and drive them out of the land…”
Inside, we sense that Balaam knew that he could not contradict the word of God, so in his response to Balak’s request, we find the unshakeable truth that God’s word cannot and will not be tainted:
“Though Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go beyond the word of the Lord my God, to do less or more” (Numbers 22:18).
Balaam shares this with Balak, but Balak insists that he come anyway, convinced he would find a way to circumvent God’s word. At the request of Balak, Balaam makes several attempts to curse Israel but only blessings are allowed to come forth from his mouth. In his second attempt, God utters, through the mouth of Balaam, the following prophecy:
“God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that he should repent. Has He said and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good? Behold, I have received a command to bless; He has blessed and I cannot reverse it.”
No matter how many attempts he makes, Balaam cannot contradict what God has declared, thus confirming the following truths:
God cannot lie.
He does not need to repent for what He has spoken.
What He has said, He will do.
What He has spoken, He will make good.
What He has blessed (concerning His people) CAN NOT be reversed.
Despite man’s futile attempts to contradict God’s words and promises, His words will carry out what He sends them to do. The prophet Isaiah confirms this truth, likening God’s words to rain which is sent to the earth for the purpose of producing fruit. Just as the rain falls from the heavens and returns when its purpose is accomplished, so is the word of God:
“For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, but make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent.”
Again Isaiah states,
“The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever.”
In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus verifies these words, stating,
“Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.”
Even beyond this present heaven and earth, God’s words endure. They have to because even when the current heavens and earth pass, God’s word will continue working out His eternal purposes. This is why His word endures and, according to Peter, is incorruptible:
1 Peter 1:23
“…having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever.“
It is this incorruptible seed by which we are born and by which we live. It is for this reason that Deuteronomy commands–and Jesus echoes this command– that, “man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord”(Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4).
With this in mind, we know that one of the central promises God made in the Bible was to His servant Abraham. The book of Hebrews beautifully restates this promise:
“For when God made a promise to Abraham because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, saying, ’Surely blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply you.’ And so after he patiently endured, he obtained the promise. For men indeed swear by the greater, and an oath for confirmation is for them an end of all dispute. Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us.“
The words of Hebrews echo the words of Balaam, namely that it is impossible for God to lie. God’s words, His promises are immutable. To solidify His word to Abraham (as if He needed to), God even swore by Himself and confirmed it with an oath, and it is impossible for God to break His oath. The apostle Paul assures us that even when it appears that His word has faltered, “Indeed, let God be true and every man a liar” (Romans 3:4). Certainly, from our limited perspective, history seems to suggest errancy in God’s word, but what do we believe? When we consider the state of Israel and her so-called “failed history” God’s word seems to have fallen short but is this true? Could it be possible that, despite what we judge with our own eyes, our ears, and our understanding, God’s word is accomplishing exactly what He said it would?
Again we set off on this journey, we must do so constantly reading the scriptures through this lens: what God said, He will bring to pass. This is the faith that God asks us to cling to–the faith that clings to the assurance of His word. This is the faith that God uses to open our eyes, revealing the substance behind the shadows we are looking at. It is faith that gives us the confidence that what He promised He is able to perform.
By Brandy Goodnow
Who are we? Israeli? Jewish?
Gentile, Greek, Roman, Mexican, African, Chinese, Native American, etc.? We know people by their fleshly, physical origin but do we know who we are called to be spiritually? What’s more important our physical origin or our spiritual destiny?
We are called to be ONE people, CHOSEN, a holy nation, a royal priesthood… We are called to be Israel.
“For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth.”
Deuteronomy 7:6 NKJV
“Yet hear now, O Jacob My servant, And Israel whom I have chosen.”
Isaiah 44:1 NKJV
“But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light”
I Peter 2:9 NKJV
How are we Israel if we are not technically physical descendants or if we are uncertain if our bloodline is that of Israeli lineage? What does it mean to be Israel? Israel is more than 12 physical tribes. The very name Israel in Hebrew is so meaningful and prophetic:
Genesis 32:28 NKJV
And He said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.”
Wow! Did you catch that? One who struggles with God and men and yet overcomes. The name is incredibly significant to all of us and indicates our destiny. Let’s break the name Israel apart. First, what does it mean to struggle with God and men?
The word struggle means to contend, make every effort, plug away, dig, go all out, toil, try one’s hardest, pursue, ask, and seek. If we are called to be Israel we need to be constantly striving towards God (John 4:24). Many of us desire to seek God and grow deeper, but how many of us really struggle with God daily? We have to ask ourselves how deep do we want to go, how much are we willing to surrender, and what price are we willing to pay? The deeper we descend the more accountable we are.
Here’s my question and challenge to all of us: how are we able to really dig in, toil, and go all out if we do not read and grapple with the very Word He provided? I spent so much of my life and time reading a few ounces of NT Scripture (through a daily devotional), adding a verse or two to my notes while listening to a quick “drive by sermon” every Sunday. I attended many conferences, bought countless books written by men and women trying to find depth with God, but I wasn’t really striving, toiling, or struggling. I filled my book case with said books, studies, etc., but ironically I didn’t study His Book. When friends asked me to participate in a Bible study, it was always through another book outside of the Bible. The Bible was just a reference here and there, giving me exactly what I thought was sufficient: a tiny slice of God. Thankfully, God didn’t let me stay there… He was calling me to something deeper and greater— a depth I now know He is calling all of us to. He was calling me to my spiritual destiny, a destiny to be Israel.
When we arrived at this realization, my husband and I started shopping churches thinking this was the problem, that we were lacking depth. We didn’t want to be at a “seeker sensitive” church anymore. After visiting a few different churches over a 2 year period of time, I began to get frustrated and the same question would reverberate through my mind and heart: Is this all there is to God? He has to be deeper than this! Although I grew up in a faith based home and went to church all my life, I realized my relationship with God was superficial and shallow. Why? Because I didn’t dig in, toil, and struggle with the very Word He gave me.
In my shallow pursuit, I spent most of my life skimming the NT Scripture, and rarely did I venture into the Old. I finally went back to the beginning of the book where God laid the foundation, the Rock. It was here He used the physical aspects of His Torah to teach us how to love Him and treat others, but that was only the beginning. As we continued through His Word, He continued (and is continuing) to unveil more, so that what we see we may perceive, and what we hear is understood; the physical directed and continues to point our attention to the Spiritual, to show us “… on Earth as it is in Heaven” (Mathew 6:10). The things that are given to us on earth (physical) are a “copy and shadow of the heavenly things” (Hebrews 8:5). I believe THIS is the struggle: to not only understand that we, even though born of flesh in a physical world, are destined to be spiritual just like Elohim, but that this requires a knowledge, an understanding of His heart, mind, and nature. To do so means that we must spend our lives on this earth wrestling and toiling as Israel did–both the man and the nation–to ascend the physical into the spiritual.
To refuse or avoid this struggle is to accept a struggle opposite in nature than the one God calls us to: it is a toiling of laziness, idleness, and compromise.
If we don’t struggle with God we let idleness creep in, we become lackadaisical, and we avoid really asking for or seeking depth. Once this happens compromise follows. We forget who we are and who we are meant to be in the end. We will become status quo, numb or frustrated, neither hot or cold, but in the middle somewhere. To pursue our identity as Israel, though, we must struggle with men and ultimately with out Maker. We must struggle with every Word that comes forth form His mouth, tossing us to and fro until we, with unveiled faces, are born into our spiritual destiny: Israel.
2 Peter 1:3
“Seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.”
God has given us all that we need… everything for life and godliness. If we do not have it, it’s not because God is lacking, but it’s because there is a breakdown in faith. Somewhere we are not trusting, not approaching, not surrendering, or not obeying. It’s there. The question is, do we believe it’s sufficient enough to bring life? Are we willing to trust God completely and depend on what He is asking of us? God is always ready to give, but are we truly ready to receive? This is the very reason why He brought Israel out into the desert:
“In the wilderness He fed you manna which your fathers did not know, that He might humble you and that He might test you, to do good for you in the end. Otherwise, you may say in your heart, ‘My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth.”
There are three important things to pull from this:
a. God pulled them into the wilderness to humble them and test them.
b. He did all of this to do good for them in the end, not to destroy them (though they thought this many times).
c. He did this so that they would know that the process of salvation and godliness had nothing to to do with their power or strength, but it was completely of Him. It did require their trustful obedience. This one is huge for us, because we want to “get through all of this on our own power.” In fact, we see ourselves as “weak” if we ask for help or depend on anyone else. God sees it differently. Our inability to surrender to God in faith, trust, and obedience proves “the weakness” of our faith in His promises. I say “our” because this is a lesson I have learned recently, and that I am continuing to learn every week. Let me explain (take this however you will):
Many people have questioned and criticized me and my family for our observance of sabbath. They say that we have taken up the law and legalism (which in most churches is a no-no). They have voiced their concerns that I have either gone backwards or off the tracks completely. What they fail to understand is that it has been completely the opposite. Now, more than ever, I see why God commanded the sabbath and requires His people to observe it (Exodus 20:8-11). I also know more now than I did in the past what it means to trust and depend on God, to have faith, and to grow in the grace and the knowledge of Jesus Christ.
We do not observe it because it is some ancient rule that God put in place to take away all of the fun in life, nor do we observe it to gain salvation or because it makes me holier than everyone else. These thoughts have never even crossed my mind. Here lies the reason why I observe sabbath:
“Tomorrow is a sabbath observance, a holy sabbath to the Lord. Bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is left over put aside to be kept until morning.’ So they put it aside until morning, as Moses had ordered, and it did not become foul, nor was there any worm in it. And Moses said, ‘Eat it today, for today is a sabbath to the Lord; today you will not find it in a field. Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, the sabbath, there will be none.’ And it came about on the seventh day that some of the people went out to gather, but they found none.”
Did you catch what is happening here? When God promised to provide them with enough for both days, there was enough for both days. They had enough because God keeps His word. Unfortunately, some went out on the seventh day, the sabbath, and tried to gather more. No big deal, right? Honest mistake? Well, let’s see how God responded to this:
“Then the Lord said to Moses,’How long do you refuse to keep My commandments and My instructions? See, the Lord has given you the sabbath; therefore, He gives you bread for two days on the sixth day. Remain every man in his place; let no man go out of his place on the seventh day.”
When we look at this from only a physical standpoint and through the lenses of our culture, God seems to be an uptight dictator. This is why so many people reject the sabbath along with so many of God’s other commandments, they see them as unnecessary rules. But when we look at this from a spiritual standpoint, then we see why it was and still is so important to God. God asks His people to work six days but rest on the seventh. Why? There are many reasons, but remember, this is a test. He wants to see if they truly depend on Him. Will they trust Him enough to take care of their needs? Will they trust that He will feed them? Based on the fact that many of them went out to gather, the answer is no.
He stands ready to give, yet they lack the faith to receive.
There are many reasons and purposes for the sabbath, but one key one is that it is a day designed to teach us to press into and depend upon our Creator. For me, and for God’s people, sabbath is a day that we put down our own pursuits and attempt to pursue God wholeheartedly, the way He asks us to. It is a day we cease from providing for our own well-being and we turn to the God who provides for all of our needs (spiritual, mental, emotional, and so forth). It is a day when we realize that all of these things we pursue and chase after all week do not sustain us, nor do they truly bring life, but it is God who brings life and gives us the bread we need. For six days we work, we gather, we pursue, we entertain and depend on ourselves; we take care of our needs emotionally, physically, perhaps even spiritually. Sabbath is our reality check, a return to the Source. It’s our day to remember that there is only one who sustains and gives life: God.
With this said, we put things down and say no to many things not because God is going to strike us down if we don’t. We willingly and gladly choose not to work or pursue our own pleasure because it’s our way of acknowledging the fact that none of the things we chase after will fulfill, and that these things often get in the way of our pursuit of God. We do this in faith, believing that God’s Word–all of it– is true, and that His promises are designed to bring life. This day is difficult because it teaches us to trust, and it teaches us to have the type of faith God is looking for—the faith and the trust that I do not need to gather on this day, I do not need to work on this day, I do not need to entertain myself on this day, I do not need to care for my own needs, because this is the day that God will do these things with us. This is the day God WANTS to do these things with us. This is the day that He will do what He said He would do: refresh and sanctify us! He will provide us with what we need, if we are willing to be still and trust. Observing sabbath has truly been a step of faith for me and my family because we had to stop. We have had to surrender many things, “important” things, but we all know now that these things pale in comparison to what we have gained as individuals and as a family. God is truly transforming us.
In doing so, I realize how much I do not depend on God, and how much I truly depend on myself. Through this process, I have learned that it is one thing to read God’s Word, it’s another to understand it, and still another thing to have faith it will come true in my life. God wants our faith, because when He has this, then everything else will follow. Many people refuse the sabbath, oppose it, or render it unnecessary because they do not have the faith that it will draw us near to God; they do not have the faith that it can refresh, heal, and sanctify us (make us holy). Above all they lack the faith that He stands ready to give if only they make themselves ready to receive.
God wants to heal you, as He does all of us, but we have to come to Him in faith… faith that His Word is true and is enough for us. This is not a push so much to start sabbath. It is more a push to faith, faith in what God says and instructs, and sabbath just happens to be one of the central aspects of His Word where He infuses this type of faith. I am only speaking from my experience, and from the experience of those that have gone before us. Besides, like anything else, to jump into sabbath without the understanding of what it is and without the faith that it can heal is useless and even dangerous. Everything hinges on faith, and once we step in faith, that’s when we begin to see the truth in His Word: He stands ready to give us everything we need for life and godliness, if only we stand ready to receive.
Here is a little excerpt we put together about the importance of sabbath. God has not done away with the sabbath, but it is a day that He has asked us to observe and keep holy.
1 Peter 2:9-10
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
The world is descending deeper into darkness with injustice abounding, lawlessness increasing, light becoming darkness and darkness light. In the midst of all that is happening, people are left wondering where is the hope? Where is the light of God?
The light will not shine until the people of God collectively rediscover who they are, what their calling is, and to Whom they belong. In the time of the apostles, there was a strong belief that they, too, were near the end. There was a sense of urgency and expectancy, like there seems to be now, for God’s people to step into their calling and be the light that God ordained them to be back when this call was commissioned in Exodus (19:5-6). God redeemed His firstborn, Israel, from Egypt to establish them as His possession, His Holy nation, His priests that would bring forth light to the nations. This was God’s intention for Israel since the beginning. It was for this reason He called Abraham forth from Babylon and promised to bless all the world through his seed. Though Israel has certainly struggled and failed at this call, God has not forgotten them, nor will they ever be forgotten by Him:
“Remember these things, O Jacob, and Israel, for you are My servant; I have formed you, you are My servant, O Israel, you will not be forgotten by Me.”
Though Israel and her sister Judah have become blind and deaf towards their identity and their calling, it is certain that God will finish, in and through them, what He ordained from the beginning. For as the apostle so confidently says,
“From the standpoint of the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.”
And as the prophet Isaiah so eloquently tells us,
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth, and making bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so shall My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.”
God’s word, His promises, and His calling for His people will be accomplished at the appointed times. When these times come and the blindness is removed, then their true identity as God’s possession will once again be fully realized. Even more, they will be given power and strength to fulfill their initial calling: being a light upon a hill, and a kingdom of priests who follow the High Priests to minister and heal nations. Before this can come about, though, God must first heal their blindness (Isaiah 42:19), circumcise their hearts (Deuteronomy 30:1-6), and they must turn and be healed by their Messiah. Although this process and calling began when Christ ministered upon the earth, we have yet to see it come full circle… at least not in the way the prophets and apostles spoke/speak of it. Nevertheless, this is what we long for, what we pray for, and what we set our on eyes on as the world eats itself alive.
“For the anxious longing of creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”
As we eagerly wait, we fully submit ourselves to God through Christ, taking hold of our calling as fellow heirs with Christ (Romans 8:16-17), fellow citizens in the household of God (Ephesians 6:19), which is of the commonwealth of Israel (Ephesians 2:12-13). By the grace and mercy of God, we are being grafted into the household of God to share in the work He commissioned His chosen people, Israel, to do. If we are of the chosen, then we surrender ourselves to His purposes, His will, His Word, and His rulership, just as Christ did. Finally, we seek out what it means—to God, not to us—to be a holy nation, a kingdom of priests, a people of His possession. This is ONLY accomplished through His Word, and His Word alone—from Genesis to Revelation. May God grant us the eyes to see, the ears to hear, and the wisdom to understand His perfect will!