ASK Commentary
October 1, 2004 

Who Is Israel?

Commentary for October 1, 2004 — October Newsletter and Article

The October 2004 Newsletter and Article are up on the ASK Website. This month’s article is titled “Who Is An Israelite Today?” When He brought the people of Israel to Mount Sinai, God proposed a Covenant agreement — similar to a contract in today’s terms — with the people of Israel:

“And Moses went up unto God, and the Lord called unto him out of the mountain, saying, ‘Thus shall you say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel; you have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself. Now therefore, if you will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then you shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And you shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which you shall speak unto the children of Israel.

Exodus 19:3–6

The people of Israel agreed to abide by the Covenant. The Covenant was sealed with blood:
“And Moses took half of the blood, and put it in basins; and half of the blood he sprinkled on the altar. And he took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people: and they said, ‘All that the Lord has said will we do, and be obedient.’ And Moses took the blood, and sprinkled it on the people, and said, Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord has made with you concerning all these words.”

Exodus 24:6–8

The benefits of the Covenant were contingent upon obedience to the agreement by the children of Israel. One major benefit (and responsibility) of God’s separation was that Israel was to be a priesthood nation among the other Gentile nations. Of the twelve tribes of Israel the tribe of Levi was chosen to provide the service of manual labor to assist the priests from the particular Levitical line of Aaron’s sons (Numbers 3:10). As a whole, Israel was to be a “kingdom of priests and an holy nation” that would distinguish them from the Gentile nations. This was established at the beginning of the Old Covenant, and this purpose has not changed.

What a Priest Does

What are the responsibilities of a priest? Generally a priest does two things:

  1. A priest is an intermediary or a mediator between God and a community, or between God and an individual. (This definition is true whether we are speaking of a pagan god or Israel’s mediation with YHWH.) Under the Old Covenant this is done by performing rituals and prayer, public and private, and explaining the various laws of God (Deuteronomy 24:8). This was done at the Tabernacle and later at the Temple.
     
  2. A priest teaches people about God. This is done in several ways. First it is done by maintaining a repository for sacred books (Deuteronomy 31:26). It is also done by explaining the history of God, the history of His people and how God has acted on His people’s behalf, and the meaning behind the laws and rituals that the priests perform.
[ It is important to keep in mind that just because someone teaches you about God, that does not mean that he or she is entitled to be called a priest, or to receive tithes, a privilege that many Christian teachers conveniently apply to themselves. See Dr. Martin’s online book, The Tithing Dilemma. ]
If Israel was (and still is) to be a “kingdom of priests and an holy nation” they are separated for a purpose of performing obedience to God and teaching the Gentile nations about God and God’s teachings. This is a major responsibility.

What Israel Will Do

Israel has failed that responsibility up to the present. As a result Israel was punished (as per the Covenant with God) and a later deliverance was prophesied by many prophets in the Old Testament. When Isaiah prophesied the deliverance of Israel he made mention of the priestly status of the nation of Israel:

“Thus says God the Lord, he that created the heavens, and stretched them out; he that spread forth the earth, and that which comes out of it; he that gives breath unto the people upon it, and spirit to them that walk therein: I the Lord have called you [Israel] in righteousness, and will hold your hand, and will keep you, and give you for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles.”

Isaiah 42:5-6

Yes, this is a prophetic verse about the Messiah, Jesus Christ, but it also applies to Israel in the future, when they fulfill the Covenant responsibilities and God fulfills His Covenant promises. See also Isaiah 2:2–5 (repeated in Micah 4:1–3), 43:9–11, 49:6, 51:4–5, 60:1–3; and Acts 13:46–48, for variations on this theme.
“But you shall be named the Priests of the Lord: men shall call you the Ministers [servants] of our God: you shall eat the riches of the Gentiles, and in their glory shall you boast yourselves.”

Isaiah 61:6

In Jesus’ day some Israelites, particularly the Pharisees did go out and attempt to convert Gentiles:
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, you make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.”

Matthew 23:15

Also, what Jesus commanded the apostles was fully in line with God’s purpose of Israel as being a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. However, Israel rejected their message, while the Gentiles more readily accepted it (and later perverted it). Because of Israel’s failure a New Covenant was made with Israel and with the ekklesia of God. The former is reflected in the pre-mystery passages of 1 Peter 2:5–9 and Revelation 1:6, 5:10, 20:6, and the post-Mystery section of Romans 12:1 (the last chapter was added later by Paul). In the future the work of Israel as a “kingdom of priests and an holy nation” will be fulfilled:
“Yea, many people and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts; ‘In those days [yet future to us] it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you.’”

Zechariah 8:22–23

This tremendous and emotional response by the nations will come when Israel is made righteous and worthy to receive the original Covenant promises and fulfill their responsibility through Jesus Christ.

Knowing Who Israel Is

Knowing who Israel is — and who Israel is not — is important so that no one will mistake and misapply the responsibilities and blessings that God established for Israel alone. Dr. Martin’s article makes clear this distinction. The tribes of Israel are not the peoples of the United States, or Britain, or the countries of Northwest Europe, or South Africa, or Australia. There is no possible way those peoples could fulfill the prophecies of the past or the future. The twelve tribes comprise the people today that are called “Jews.” Someday soon they will fulfill the role God has set for them to play. God’s blessings will overflow just as prophesied.

David Sielaff
david@askelm.com

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