Israel explained

God’s Purpose for Israel

Why do the nations concern themselves over tiny Israel?

God's purpose for Israel

Israel is dwarfed by surrounding nations
Image: University of Texas

World events now seem to focus on the Middle East, and especially upon Israel. Israel is mentioned in almost every news bulletin.

 

  • Why is this tiny little nation of just 8 million people so newsworthy?
  • Why is this piece of land just 290 miles (470 km) in length and 85 miles (135 km) in width so important to both Jew and Arab?
  • Why have there been three major wars over tiny Israel since 1948?
  • Why is there continual conflict between Jews and Palestinians?
  • Why does the world dispute Israel’s claim that Jerusalem is her capital?
  • Why is the UN and the media so heavily biased against Israel?
  • Why are there international boycotts of Israeli goods?
  • Why does the Vatican have claims on Jerusalem real estate?

     

    Given all this unrest, how will it all end? The answer rests with the biblical role of Israel. Yes, God has a plan for the nation Israel.

    God’s Purpose for Israel – a Blessing to the Nations

    Some 3,500 years ago God made an unconditional covenant with His chosen servant Abram (later called Abraham). The primary part of this covenant was that through Abram’s descendants all the nations for all time would be blessed. God said to Abram:

    In you all the families of the earth will be blessed (Gen 12.3)
    In your descendants all the nations of the earth shall be blessed (Gen 22.18)

    So how are the nations blessed? Tracing through the descendants of Abraham we find that the tribe of Judah is given ‘royal lineage’ in terms of a scepter (Gen 49.10). This symbolized kingship and led to the royal house of David. Following the genealogies from David in the book of Matthew we come to Joseph the husband of Mary who bore Jesus. God gave Jesus the throne of David (Lk 1.32), but Jesus’ mission at that time was the reconciliation of sinful mankind to God. Through Christ’s death on the cross, everyone who believes in Him – the resurrected Christ – and follows Him is reconciled to God. Jesus said:

    Salvation is of the Jews  (Jn 4.22)

    That is the first and foremost blessing of the nations. Israel’s primary purpose, her primary reason for existence, was to bring salvation to the world through Christ.

    A Blessing on Israel: With this historic mission for Israel in view, God blessed this embryo nation – the children of Israel – as they made their exodus from Egypt under Moses. Listen to the beautiful singing of this blessing in the book of Numbers, chapter 6 verses 24-26:

    God's purpose for Israel

    A Song of the LORD’s Blessing upon Israel.
    Sung in both Hebrew and English

    The Lord bless you and keep you;
    The Lord make His face shine upon you,
    And be gracious to you;
    The Lord lift up His countenance upon you,
    And give you peace.

    God’s Purpose for Israel – a Witness to the Nations

    People often ask ‘Where is God – where is the evidence that He exists?’ God’s plan anticipated such questions. He created a special nation (Israel) to be His witness in the world, to be His servant, to achieve His purposes, and to lift up His name amongst the nations. For example, it was through Israel’s deliverance from Egypt that God showed His presence and power. And it is through Israel’s aliyah (return to their own land) that we see God working todaty:

    But now, says the Lord, … He who formed you, O Israel, “Do not fear … I have called you by name; you are Mine! … You are My witnesses … and My servant whom I have chosen …”
    (Isa 43.1,10)
    And what one nation on the earth is like Your people Israel, whom God went … to make a name for Himself
    (2 Sam 7.23)

    Isn’t it amazing that this small nation, Israel, has survived for over 3,500 years despite some 2,500 years of exile and severe persecution? Isn’t it amazing that millions of Jews have recently returned to the land promised to Abraham’s descendants (Gen 17)?

    When King Louis XIV of France (1643-1715) asked Blaise Pascal, the great Christian philosopher to give him proof of God, Pascal answered, ‘Why the Jews, your Majesty, the Jews!’ Today, the nations are being forced to look towards Israel, whether in hatred or in support or in bewilderment. Why? Because God is working with His people and His land to make a name for Himself – see for example the amazing growth of Israel. And there is more …

    God’s Purpose for Israel – a Channel for the Word of God

    God chose the tribes of Israel (commonly referred to as ‘the Jews’) to be the original recipients of His word. It started with God’s Law, as in the ten commandments, and was fulfilled when Christ came (Mat 5.17). Once received, the Word of God was to spread throughout the world to all nations. So Moses commanded the Israelites to diligently follow God’s Laws:

    Obey them faithfully, and this will show the people of other nations how wise you are. When they hear of all these laws, they will say, ‘What wisdom and understanding this great nation has!’ (Deut 4.6, GNT)

    Israel in Prophecy

    So the world benefited from God’s Words and Will given through Israel. For example, through the inspired scriptures they received moral and ethical guidelines for correct living, guidelines as to how to please God, explanations for the origin of man and for the observed creation, and visions/explanations of the future. The world need look no further for “truth”; it is found in the scriptures and Christ the Jew is the embodiment of all truth (Jn 14.6).

    So when you are tempted to ask “what purpose Israel?” or “what purpose the Jew?” remember that it was through Israel that the nations received God’s Word:

    Then what advantage remains to the Jew? [How is he favored?] … Much in every way. To begin with, to the Jews were entrusted the oracles (the brief communications, the intentions, the utterances) of God. (Rom 3.2-3, AMP)

    God’s Purpose for Israel – a Light in a Darkening World

    God's purpose for Israel

    Today there is great unrest amongst the nations as they wrestle with increasing national debt, economic uncertainty, international terrorism, social unrest, overpopulation and so on. In particular, there is increasing spiritual darkness as Western nations turn away from biblical truth to humanistic ideas. For instance, the word “God” is not even in the EU Constitution, link. This scenario is prophesied, along with hope:

    I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth (Isa 49.6)
    For behold, darkness will cover the earth And deep darkness the peoples; But the Lord will rise upon you And His glory will appear upon you. Nations will come to your light, And kings to the brightness of your rising (Isa 60.2,3)

    This text refers to the world status at very end of this age i.e. now, and ends with a brief look into the next age on earth. It says that as the nations sink into spiritual darkness they will see a light – the nation Israel. It says the LORD God will once more favour His servant Israel as she becomes His witness to the world. In the Millennial Age the nations will be attracted to the spiritual light, hope and truth as seen in Israel.

    God’s Purpose for Israel – a Sign of the End of the Age

    The Bible says that at the end of this age Israel will become the vortex of the world in the sense that major world events will be centered around Israel. Nations will be caught in a political vortex in the sense that they will be forced to look towards Israel. They can choose to ignore Israel and her God, but sooner or later Israel will command their attention. Why? Because God is using Israel as a sign to the nations:

    He will set up a ensign for the nations and will assemble the outcasts of Israel (Isa 11.12)

    God's purpose for Israel

    This prophecy is being fulfilled before our eyes. Within just 100 years the Jewish population in Israel has increased dramatically. In 1915 there were just 83,000 Jews but this increased to over 6 million Jews in 2013, link – an amazing 7100% increase! Many take Jesus’ parable of the ‘budding fig tree’ (Mat 24.32) as pertaining to the restoration of Israel immediately prior to His return, link, link. In other words, when we look at Israel today we see a people restored to the land promised to Abraham’s descendants and an indisputable sign that we are near the end of this age and Christ’s return to earth.

    God’s Purpose for Israel – a Glorious Future for the Nations

    Bible prophecy reveals that, at the end of this age world events will be centered around Israel. Unseen spiritual principalities and powers raged against Christ at His birth (Rev 12.4), and today they are raging against Israel by aligning nations against her (Rev 12.9, 20.8). This spiritual warfare culminates in the final war of this age (Armageddon) as all Gentile nations are gathered against Israel (Zech 14.1-3). The good news is that these events herald the return of Christ to the earth and the ushering in of an age of peace – the so-called millennial age, when Christ reigns as King from Jerusalem:

    And the LORD will be King over all the earth  (Zech 14.9)

    These are the days when nations beat their swords into plowshares, the wolf lies down with the lamb, and the earth is full of the knowledge of the LORD (Isa 2.4,  11.9,  65.25). These are the days when Israel and Egypt and Assyria (Iraq) are one with each other and are a blessing to the world (Isa 19.24). This is the time when the land and people of Israel will be blessed above all nations, and many peoples will go up to Jerusalem to worship the LORD and keep Israel’s Feast of Tabernacles (Isa 2.2, Zech 14.16). Why? Because

    Jerusalem shall be called the City of Truth  (Zech 8.3)

    Summary

    So why does Israel exist? Answer: God has a universal plan for Israel:

    • Through Israel came a blessing to the world: reconciliation to God through Christ
    • Through Israel came the Word of God – the inspired scriptures of Old and New Testaments
    • Through Israel’s miracles, survival and restoration we can see strong evidence for God
    • Through Israel we can see a sign announcing the return of Christ
    • Through Israel we can see God working in the world and making a name for Himself
    • Through Israel the world will enjoy peace on earth as Christ reigns from Jerusalem

    trusting in Jesus

    Israel – A Timeline for World Events

    world timeline
    Israel: timeline for the world

    Why look at Israel, or even think about this tiny little country? After all, Israel has only some 8 million people and is only the size of Wales. And isn’t stubborn little Israel a thorn in the flesh for the Palestinian people and a hard nut to crack for the UN politicians?

    Yes – all that is true. But there is more to Israel than meets the eye – and the vast majority of the population fails to see it. A look at the facts, and a little reading of the Bible shows that Israel’s history and future are extremely important for the nations; she cannot be ignored. Like it or not, the milestones in Israel’s history and the prophesied milestones for the future are crucially important for the world. They affect all nations and all individuals.

    The aim of this site is to be an eye-opener to the mystery of Israel. We want to spread the truth about the amazing role of Israel and how it can give us hope in an increasingly violent and chaotic world. Don’t walk away – this divine timepiece is running fast and events surrounding Israel will soon embrace the whole world. Whether you believe in the Bible or not, this site offers food for thought that you might find interesting and worth studying.

     

    The timeline below is best viewed on desktops, laptops and tablets

    If you’re viewing this on a mobile phone, click HERE for a PDF version

    Israel’s End Time Milestones

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    Brief History of Israel

    Israeli tour guides sometimes say:

    Israel may be three hundred miles long, thirty miles wide, but it’s three thousand years deep.

    They are simply referring to the fact that over three millennia of Bible history is sown in the land of Israel. Others say:

    Israel is the very embodiment of Jewish continuity: It is the only nation on earth that inhabits the same land, bears the same name, speaks the same language, and worships the same God that it did 3,000 years ago.
    [Charles Krauthammer – The Weekly Standard, May 11, 1998]

    The History of Israel Started with Abraham

    The history of Israel started some 4,000 years ago when God told Abram (later called Abraham) to go from his home in Ur of the Chaldeans (probably in southern Iraq) and travel to a land that God would give to him and his descendants. It was from there that God would make a people for Himself, a people to be a witness of Himself to the nations. As part of the deal they were given the land of Canaan for perpetuity. God said to Abram (Abraham):

    I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you … I will give to you and your descendants … all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God
    (Gen 17.7,8)

    history of Israel

    Fig.1: Settlement of the tribes of Israel
    Biblical maps


    The “Promised Land”

    Through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob came the Twelve Tribes of Israel (Judah, Joseph, Benjamin, Dan …) and they inhabited the land God gave them, Fig.1. Note that this includes the area currently known as Israel and embraces the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights. Furthermore, it is important to realise that God’s covenant was unconditional (Gen 15.18), meaning that, even today, the nation of Israel owns the land we now call Israel. Present-day Israel is not occupying ‘Palestinian land’. More at Israel’s Borders.

    Israel: God’s Special People

    Note that in Genesis 17 God said: ‘I will be their God’. Here, God was claiming Israel to be His own; ‘You are Mine’ (Isa 43.1). So here we have God identifying Himself with a particular people. Here we have the God of Israel – they are God’s very own people, forever (2 Sam 7.24). It follows of course that those who contend with Israel are actually contending with God! God will fight on Israel’s behalf, as demonstrated in the 1967 6-day war, link. Hamas beware!

    Why did God do this? God made a people for Himself for a very real purpose. Besides blessing all nations through Christ, God made Israel to be His witness to the nations (Isa 43.10) and to be His servant (Isa 49.3). Israel is unique since it is the one nation on earth that God uses to make a name for Himself. As King David exclaimed:

    Who is like Your people Israel, the one nation on the earth whom God went to redeem for Himself as a people, to make a name for Himself
    (2 Sam 7.23).

    The Scattering or Diaspora

    Sadly, after the Davidic Kingdom around 1,000 BC the tribes of Israel gradually fell away from their God and through their disobedience were uprooted from their land and scattered throughout the nations. Subsequently, in 70 AD the Romans committed genocide against the Jews, smashed the Temple in Jerusalem and declared the land of Israel would be no more. To this end the Romans renamed the land of Israel, principally Judea, as ‘Palaestina‘ (modern Palestine) which some believe was an attempt to minimize Jewish identification with the land of Israel.

    Recent History of Israel: The Ingathering or Aliyah

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    The scattering of Israel was fulfillment of Bible prophecy, but recent history has also seen the fulfillment of Bible prophecy in the ingathering of Israel. FACT: despite the scattering, God did not destroy national Israel – He simply gave her a ‘writ of divorce’ (Jer 3.8), and there are many prophecies of the ingathering of national Israel and her ‘remarriage’ to her God. For instance, In the end-time context of the restoration of national Israel, God sets Israel as a ‘banner (or sign) to the nations’ and gathers Israel and Judah ‘from the four corners of the earth’ (Isa 11.12). The prophet Ezekiel saw this restoration of Israel in his vision of ‘the valley of dry bones’ (Ezek 37). Here, God says:

    Behold, I will take the sons of Israel from among the nations where they have gone … and bring them into their own land (Ezek 37.21)

    Today’s term for this ingathering or immigration of Jews to Israel is aliyah (Heb ‘ascent’). Clearly, there have been dramatic changes in Israel/Palestine in little over 100 years, and not least in Israel’s demographics. During these years the ingathering from the nations into Israel has been remarkable, as shown by Jewish population statistics: 1882: 0.025m; 1918: 0.06m; 1948: 0.72m; 1965: 2.3m; 1985: 3.5m; 2005: 5.3m; 2014: 6.1m; link. So in just 100 years the Jewish population of Israel increased by an amazing 7400%.

    GO DEEPER

    Israel and the Olive Tree

    olive tree

    Several centuries old olive tree.
    Image: Wikimedia

    A Mystery Few Choose to Understand

    The Bible refers to a “mystery” surrounding the historic nation of Israel (Rom 11.25). A mystery is defined as “something that is difficult to understand or explain”, and the New Testament spiritual reference to “branches of an olive tree” is a good example. In fact, this is an extremely important example because if we fail to understand the symbolism (mystery) of the olive branches we will fail to understand the real significance of modern Israel and her relationship to the church. Sadly, many in Western institutionalized churches choose not to understand this mystery and so fall into error. The end result is a dying, anti-Semitic church!

    The apostle Paul likened the nation of Israel to the natural branches of a cultivated olive tree. When talking to the early Gentile church he said:

    For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree? (Rom 11.24)

    olive tree

    Click image to download the e-book about the Mystery of the Olive Branches

    Solving the Olive Tree Mystery

    So what did Paul mean? Let’s examine the mysterious biblical symbolism. All trees begin from a root, and in Romans 11.16 we read of a holy root. This can be nothing less than a symbol for the one holy and eternal Creator God. Everything in creation begins and grows from this spiritual root. As Genesis says: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”. John 1.1 is more specific and identifies the holy Christ (the Word) with this root; “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”.

    The Abrahamic Covenant: Man’s intimate knowledge of this Holy Root, and specifically man’s introduction to the mystery of Christ, was delivered by the Spirit through the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (renamed Israel, the ancestor of the Israelites). Subsequently more knowledge came through Moses, the prophets and the New Testament. So usually the symbolic olive tree is likened to the Abrahamic Covenant (Gen 12.2-3; 17.7-8), link, link. This covenant is God’s unconditional promise to Abraham and his descendants of a great nation and of land for that nation. The covenant also promised that through him all nations would be blessed. What was that blessing? Here is more symbolism. Few realize it can be seen in the lives and experiences of the three patriarchs. Put simply, the lives and experiences of the three patriarchs illustrate man’s relationship to God through Christ:

    • ABRAHAM – the purpose and choice of the Creator God
    • ISAAC – the Son (Christ) is given
    • JACOB – sinful man’s transformation from carnal/soulish to Spiritual

    This deep teaching is emphasized in the New Testament, as in Matt 22.31-32 and Luke 13.28.

    The Natural and Wild Branches

    In understanding the symbolism of the olive tree it can be helpful to see the tree root as the Holy Creator God, the trunk as the Messiah, Christ, and the branches as those who follow God through Christ. So any branches of this tree are holy since the root and the trunk are holy. The New Testament likens ancient Israel to the natural branches of a cultivated olive tree (Rom 11.24). God’s subsequent covenants with Israel (Mosaic, Sabbatical, Davidic, and New) were the ‘cultivation’. So we see that, starting from the Abrahamic Covenant, the Jewish nation was placed under a program governed by covenants. In contrast, Gentile believers are like wild branches in that they had no covenants (Ephesians 2.11-12).

    Sadly, and to their hurt, the Jews in Jerusalem rejected Christ as their looked-for Messiah (their Moshiach) and so were symbolically ‘broken off’ from the tree, from Christ. The Jews have suffered ever since, and in their place branches were ‘grafted in’ from a wild olive tree. These were believing Gentiles (Rom 11.13,17). Prior to this, the northern kingdom, the so-called ‘ten lost tribes’ had rejected God’s laws and warnings given to them through the prophets. But, pushing the symbolism a little further, they were not totally ‘cutoff’ from the olive tree (the root) and a remnant were preserved (Rom 11.3-5).

    Christ and the Olive Tree

    Let’s pursue the concept of the Creator God as the tree root and Christ as the tree trunk. In Isaiah 11.1 the prophet saw a Shoot coming from the cut-down trunk of the olive tree:

    And there shall come forth a Shoot out of the stock of Jesse [David’s father], and a Branch [Sprout] out of his roots shall grow and bear fruit.

    This is a clear reference to the first coming of Christ. He is seen here as a Shoot from a stump. Historically, Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, finally destroyed the southern kingdom of Judah in 586 BC and the family of David became like a tree cut down with only its stump left in the ground. But then, whilst in humiliation and obscurity, a descendant of David (a ‘Shoot’) comes out of the tree root (the Creator God). The Shoot which grew out of the stump represented Jesus the Messiah. Crucially then, it is only via the Root (the Creator God) and the re-grown Trunk (the Messiah, Christ) that the rest of the branches of the tree receive the sustenance of life. So all subsequent branches grow from and are sustained by Christ the Messiah. Conversely, the branch that breaks away from the tree (from the Messiah) dries up and dies! Jesus emphasized this point when He said:

    I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing (Jn 15.5)

    One Tree: The Coming Unification of Israel and the Church

    The olive tree represents the place of blessing in God’s plan for mankind. But due to unbelief (rebellion, stumbling, transgression) God broke off national Israel (the natural branches) from the tree and grafted Gentiles (the wild branches) into the place of blessing (Rom 11.17). In horticulture a lone wild olive tree is unfruitful, or its fruit is very imperfect and useless. So, as in horticulture, Gentile believers can only bear good fruit once they are grafted into the living tree, Christ.

    Put another way, today’s believers can only be truly fruitful once they recognize that their faith stems from the same tree that bore historic Israel. The true church is intimately and historically connected to Israel.

    The New Testament explains that one day saved (regenerate) natural Israel and the church (spiritual Israel) will be “one tree”. It refers to this one tree as “all Israel”. At that time we see God’s people, saved Jew and saved Gentile as “one tree”. Referring to Jewish Israel’s spiritual restoration and to her future ‘oneness’ with the true church, Paul wrote:

    And so all Israel will be saved (Rom 11.26)

    Jesus made the same point:

    I have other sheep (Gentiles), too, that are not in this sheepfold (Jews). I must bring them also … and there will be one flock with one Shepherd (Jn 10.16, NLT)

    This “oneness” of Israel and the true church is also seen in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21). Here this future symbolic city has all 12 tribes of Israel associated with the gates of the city, and all 12 apostles of the early church are associated with the city walls.

    A Warning to the Western Church

    Currently, Gentile believers occupy the place of blessing formerly held by national Israel. There the church should bear good fruit as she, as branches, feeds on and is sustained by the Trunk of the tree, Christ. But does this church recognize her Hebrew roots? Does she recognize that she is really like wild branches that have been grafted into a tree which first bore national Israel? And does she recognize that God will soon graft the remnant of national Israel (the broken branches) back into their own olive tree (Rom 11.5,23,24)?

    Sadly, many in the institutionalized Western churches choose to ignore this point, become anti-Semitic, and ‘dry-up’, link. God discards them and they die spiritually. Is this a major reason why regular Church of England attendance in the UK is now less than 2% of the population, link? Historically, the lack of will to understand the olive tree perpetrated outrageous acts towards the “natural branches” (the Jewish people) during the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the Pogroms.

    Conclusion

    We can now explain the symbolism of the olive tree in Romans chapter 11. The tree root and trunk are holy and represent God’s place of blessing for mankind. Its broken-off branches represent the Jewish rejection of Christ and the added branches represent both Gentile believers and and end-time regenerate Jewish remnant. The tree therefore signifies the covenanted congregation of Israel, made up of both Jew and Gentile. Importantly, it shows that Gentile Christians are really spiritual Jews with their roots in the Hebrew patriarchs.

    Clearly, this understanding of the olive tree completely destroys Replacement Theology since it underscores the future role of Jewish Israel following their recognition of Christ as their Messiah, link. Paul warns the church that it should not be foolish and ignorant of this mystery (Rom 11.25).

    Looked at another way, upon their turning to Christ both Jews and Gentiles will be incorporated into one church. Recall that ‘church’ (Ekklesia in Greek) simply means ‘the called out ones’ or an assembly of followers of Christ. So, one Shepherd cares for one sheepfold, and all one in Christ makes one church!