Israel in the Plan of God
Disclaimer: This essay delves into the biblical perspective on the relationship between God and Israel and His plan for Israel. It is not to be interpreted as a defense or endorsement of the actions of any modern entity, including the Israeli government.
1. God and Israel in the Old Testament:
The foundational relationship between God and Israel is initiated with Abraham’s covenant. God vowed to make Abraham a “great nation,” emphasizing that all nations would find blessing through him (Genesis 12:1-3). This universal blessing signified Israel’s critical role as Abraham’s descendants would have in God’s salvific narrative. Successive covenants with Isaac (Genesis 26:3-5) and Jacob (Genesis 28:13-15) affirm Israel’s distinctive status as a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:5-6). Despite Israel’s periodic lapses, prophecies consistently reiterate God’s enduring commitment and salvation plan for Israel (Jeremiah 31:31-34).
2. Israel as the Chosen People:
Israel’s “chosen people” title illuminates their unparalleled role in God’s divine plan. Through Abraham’s lineage, “all the nations of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 22:18). This foretells the emergence of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, heralding redemption for humanity. In the New Testament, all believers in Jesus Christ also became children of Abraham (Galatians 3:7) and chosen in him without distinction between Jew and non-Jew (Galatians 3:28).
3. The Unique Role of the Jewish People:
Israel’s singular position in the divine story is monumental. The Jewish people, bestowed with the Law, became its guardians, laying the bedrock for spiritual morality (Romans 3:1-2). Through them, the world witnessed the rise of prophets and, most pivotally, Jesus Christ.
4. God, Israel, and the Church in the New Testament:
The New Testament era witnessed a recalibrated relationship. St. Paul, straddling Jewish heritage and a mission to the Gentiles, offers invaluable insights. He underscores the Gospel’s primacy to the Jew first and then the Gentile (Romans 1:16) and vehemently reaffirms God’s commitment to Israel: “I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means!” (Romans 11:1).
5. Israel According to the Flesh and Spirit:
St. Paul introduces a nuanced understanding of Israel, delineating between the Israel “according to the flesh” and the “Israel of God” or those “according to the Spirit” (Galatians 6:16; Romans 9:6-8). The former alludes to the physical descendants of Abraham, whereas the latter encapsulates those, Jew and Gentile alike, who by faith embrace the promises of God in Christ.
6. Replacement Theology and its Rejection:
Replacement theology postulates that the Church has superseded Israel in God’s plan. However, this contrasts sharply with Paul’s teachings. Paul emphasizes God’s unyielding promises, cementing Israel’s perpetual significance: "For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable" (Romans 11:29).
7. The Concept of Grafting in the Olive Tree:
Paul illustrates the relationship between Israel and Gentile believers using the metaphor of the olive tree in Romans 11:17-24. While natural branches (Israel) may be pruned, wild branches (Gentiles) are grafted. This illustration signifies shared spiritual inheritance, not substitution.
8. Passion for the Salvation of Israel:
Paul’s zeal for Israel’s salvation is palpable, echoing God’s own heart: “Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved” (Romans 10:1). This fervency spotlights Israel’s continued relevance in God’s grand design.
9. Israel’s Role in the Second Coming and the Messianic Belief:
The New Testament implies Israel’s seminal role in eschatology. Jesus, speaking to Jerusalem, proclaimed: “For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.’” (Matthew 23:39). This suggests that a widespread acknowledgment of Jesus as the Messiah by the Jewish people will precede His return. Paul further elucidates this, indicating a future time when “all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26), emphasizing the eventual national belief of Israel in Jesus as the Messiah before His final advent.
The intricate bond between God and Israel, from ancient covenants to New Testament proclamations, remains central to biblical history. Though grafted into divine promises, the Church doesn’t negate Israel’s role. As the Second Coming of Christ looms, the destinies of Israel and the Church, intricately interwoven, will culminate, reflecting God’s unceasing love and mission for His chosen people, the Jewish and the Gentiles who believe in Jesus Christ.
Fr. Abraam Sleman