Jews: a Unique People, a People with a Mission
Over 80% of the world’s population claim some religious faith and some 30% claim to be Christian, link. In contrast, only about 0.2% of the world’s inhabitants are Jews, link and only a mere 6 million Jews actually live in Israel. Yet the Bible says that the future of the world depends principally upon this minority people and the tiny nation of Israel, and that one day all Gentile nations will honour the Jews. Even Tolstoy acknowledged that there is something very special about the Jew:
What is the Jew?… What kind of unique creature is this whom all the rulers of all the nations of the world have disgraced and crushed and expelled and destroyed; persecuted, burned and drowned, and who, despite their anger and their fury, continues to live and to flourish [Leo Tolstoy]
Yes. Despite nearly 3,000 years of persecution (under, for example, the Babylonians, the Romans, the Spanish Inquisition, Protestant Europe, Russia and Nazi Germany, link) the Jews have survived. And according to Bible prophecy a remnant will continue to survive into the so-called Millennial Age. Surely there must be reason for their survival?
So Who is a Jew?
What do we understand by the term ‘Jew’? Strictly speaking, today’s Jews (Hebrew, ‘Yehudi’) are those who follow Judaism and who are descendants from the kingdom of Judah. But over time, the word Yehudi described anyone from the kingdom of Judah, which included the tribes of Judah, Benjamin and Levi. So today the word ‘Jew’ is used to refer to all of the physical and spiritual descendants of Jacob (renamed Israel). The media tend to loosely refer to the people of Israel as ‘Jews’. In 1915 there were just 83,000 Jews in Israel, but this increased to over 6 million Jews in 2013, link, corresponding to an amazing 7400% increase!
Of course it is necessary to have a formal definition of ‘Jew’ for purposes of immigration to Israel. According to Orthodox Jewish law, link, descent is one way a person can be a Jew – through matrilineal descent (birth from a Jewish mother). Israel’s Law of Return (2nd Amendment) defines ‘Jew’ as “a person who was born of a Jewish mother or has become converted to Judaism and who is not a member of another religion”. But today, genetics may also be used to identify ‘Jewishness’; in 2014 the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI) presented the Israeli Government with recommendations on the genetic testing for ‘Jewishness’ of potential immigrants, link, link.
Broadly speaking, Israel’s Jews are either ultra-Orthodox (8%), traditional/modern-orthodox (72%), or secular (20%), link.
What is the Mission of the Jew?
Put another way, we could ask: ‘What is the Purpose of Israel?’ These questions are only meaningful in a spiritual rather than secular context. According to the Bible, Israel is indeed a special nation, chosen by God to bless mankind and to make a name for Himself. To Abram (Abraham) God said:
I will make you a great nation … and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed (Gen 12.2,3)
And King David exclaimed:
And what one nation on the earth is like Your people Israel, whom God went to redeem for Himself as a people and to make a name for
Himself, and to do a great thing for You and awesome things for Your land … (2 Sam 7.23)
History confirms the reality of such statements. Israel led to the Messiah, Jesus, and prophecy indicates that the land and people of Israel will be used to glorify God in the sight of the nations at the end of the age and in the age to come (the Millennial Age). Right now the world is starting to wonder why the people and nation of Israel has come to world prominence after thousands of years of obscurity!
What is Judaism?
Judaism is a religious tradition rooted in the history of the nation of Israel and some claim it originated at Mount Sinai (c1400 BC) when God gave Moses the ten commandments, link. Unlike the term ‘Jew’, the term ‘Judaism’ is not in the standard Bible. The word literally means ‘Judah-ism’ or ‘the religion of the Yehudim’ – the religion of the Jews. That said, some identify themselves as ‘Jewish’ by race and culture rather than religion and so may not follow Judaism in one of its several forms (Orthodox, Reform, and Conservative Judaism).
Today a body of Israelite people (Messianic Jews, following Messianic Judaism) are preaching a return from traditional Judaism to the true faith of Israel, namely, a real relationship between God and man as realized through faith in one Mediator between God and man:
There is one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus (1 Tim 2.5)