Biblical Israel

A People

Introduction: Given all the news about the War in Israel, I decided it would be important to spend a few weeks sharing what the Bible has to say about Israel: The People, The Promise, The Person, and The Plan.

It could very well be that not only do our children not have an understanding of Israel, but many adults and Christian adults may not either.

Transition: Israel is a Hebrew personal name. It first appears in the Hebrew Bible when the patriarch Jacob is given the name after wrestling with a man at Penuel. The name Israel is also used collectively in the Bible to denote God’s chosen people, the descendants of Jacob, as well as the geographical region God grants to his chosen people.

  1. Israel’s NameGen. 32 – Who is known as Israel?

Jacob, son of Isaac and Rebekah, is given the name Israel in Gen 32.

  • Alone in the wilderness, Jacob is beset by a man with whom he wrestles throughout the night.
  • Jacob tells the man he will not let him go until he blesses Jacob, and the man replies that he shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel (yisra’el), because “you struggled [sarita] with God [‘elohim] and with humans and have prevailed.”
  • The Hebrew roots for “struggle” (srh) and the name of God (el) seemingly combine to form Jacob’s new name, Israel.
  • Jacob’s new name is reiterated by God in Gen 35:10 when he tells Jacob, “no longer shall you be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” Both names are used interchangeably from this point in the text.

Following the death of Jacob, the name Israel passed on to his descendants who form the twelve tribes of Israel.

At that point, we find the designations “Israelite,” “sons of Israel” (bene yisra’el), and “house of Israel” (beit yisra’el) used to describe God’s chosen people.

  • The name Israelis is apt not only for describing the wrestling match between God and Jacob but also for the unique relationship the Israelites have with their God.

The Israelites actively engage in dialogue and confrontation with God throughout the Hebrew Bible, and many of the biblical stories are born out of their struggle with God.

  1. Israel’s LocationGenesis 15 – Where is Israel?

The name Israel is also used to describe the geographical region promised to Abraham and his descendants in Gen 15: “from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates.”

Following the Exodus from Egypt, the Israelites conquered and settled in a small area of this land (Num 34) before expanding their reach in the books of Joshua and Judges.

  • The limits of the territory of the land of Israel fluctuate throughout the Hebrew Bible. While the borders are described in detail in Num 34, the settled areas are also referred to several times as “from Dan to Beersheba” (Judg 20:1, 1Sam 3:20, 1Kgs 4:25) and “from Lebo-hamath to the Wadi of Egypt” (1Kgs 8:65, 1Chr 13:5).
  • During the reign of King David, the twelve tribes united to form the “Kingdom of Israel” with Jerusalem as its capital.
  • The united monarchy dissolved during the reign of David’s grandson Rehoboam when the ten northern tribes rebelled and created a new kingdom. This northern kingdom continued to be called the “Kingdom of Israel” or Samaria. The tribes of Judah and Benjamin remained loyal to Rehoboam and formed the “Kingdom of Judah” in the south.
    • At this point, Israel came to refer exclusively to the people of the northern kingdom while Judah was the preferred label for the people of the southern kingdom. The two kingdoms existed independently from each other until both were conquered by larger empires.
  • Despite the centuries of occupation and exile that followed, the Hebrew Bible continued to emphasize that Israel in its broadest sense was still the promised land of God’s chosen people. Geographical region God grants to his chosen people.

Transition: So, who is Israel? It is not just a geographical location but a PEOPLE. You are probably familiar with the phrase ‘God’s chosen people’ when talking about the Jewish people. It has become more than just a Biblical reference. Theologians and churchgoers alike have debated its meaning and who deserves this title.

  1. Israel’s People

Questions: Why did God choose Israel? Who are God’s chosen people? Why doesn’t everyone get to be chosen?

Illustration: To help with our understanding, let’s look at the difference between the western perspective and a biblical worldview.

In the Western mind, the word “chosen” is often equal to “preferred.”

  • When we go out for ice cream, we choose the Flavors that we like best. When we choose something, it often means that we prefer one thing over another.

In contrast, the biblical description will often refer to a subject’s function or purpose.

We are told in Romans 2 that God does not show favouritism. So, the concept of being “chosen” or God liking the Jews better, is not an accurate one.

  • Rather, when something is chosen, it was for a specific purpose.

Illustration: When you chose your toothbrush rather than a wire scrub brush to clean your teeth, it is not because you love your toothbrush more. It is because it is the best choice for a specific task. If are removing rust from a piece of metal in your garage, you would reach for the wire brush, not the toothbrush. You are choosing it to complete a specific job.

  1. A Holy People – Deuteronomy 7:6

The first time we see God saying that He has chosen Israel is in Deuteronomy:

“For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” (Deut 7:6)

Application: Holy not Perfect – There’s an interesting note to add here. In Hebrew, the word “holy” does not mean “perfect” or “blameless” but “set apart for a specific purpose”. In this verse, God tells Israel they are a “holy people” or a people set apart for a specific purpose, and that He has chosen them for that purpose.

1 Peter 2:7-10, ‘Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, “The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone,”

8 and “A stone of stumbling And a rock of offense.” They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed.

9 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;

10 who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy’.

Question: So why does God have a chosen People?

  • Most “chosen people” quotes stop right here. Of all the peoples of the earth, He has called Israel alone “holy” and “His own possession.”

At first glance, one might think that if God prefers them, they must be the biggest and the strongest. But let’s keep reading.

‘The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But because the LORD loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers…’ (Deut. 7:7-8)

  • God chose Israel for a specific purpose out of love and to keep His oath to their forefathers.

Question: Why Israel? Quite simply, God has chosen the Jewish people to demonstrate His own kind and promise-keeping character to the world. And, to bless all the families of the earth!


Quesation: What was His oath and what was the purpose?

Next week, we’ll look at Biblical Israel: A Promise (with the Purpose)

While He did bring them out of Egypt as promised, the connection goes back to the promise God made to Abraham. In Genesis 15 we read that God made the original covenant or oath.

God promised Abraham that He would multiply Abraham’s descendants as the stars in the sky. He would be their God and give them a specific piece of land forever. Yet even before that, God said He would bless Abraham and his descendants so that all the families of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 12).


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