Why Is Israel the Key?
The people of Israel became a Nation whilst they were slaves in Egypt and were rescued from there by a Hebrew named Moses, who had been brought up as an Egyptian. After a traumatic period as refugees in the Sinai peninsular they conquered land on both sides of the River Jordan and established a nation which was governed by the law that God had given them in Sinai. They had a distinctive form of service, with priests and a sacred shrine, and in time they became a Kingdom.
God chose their kings and directed their national life, bringing them good or bad experiences according to the quality of their behaviour in His sight. When things were bad, He allowed their enemies to overrun them and eventually to deport them. First the northern tribes were deported to Assyria and then the southern ones to Babylon (modern-day Iraq).
The Kingdom ended then and was never re-established. For the remainder of their national existence during Bible times the Jews were a subject people – governed by Persians, Greeks and then by Romans. It was during the Roman occupation that the Lord Jesus was born -God’s “only begotten Son” (John 1:18).
All through their chequered history the nation had longed for a Deliverer who would save them out of their troubles. There were some such men, but all were mortal, so their influence was limited. It was left to the prophets to promise someone better and that they certainly did. They foretold a coming King who would reign in Israel for a long period and be triumphant and victorious in everything.
Here’s just one of those promises:
“Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder. And his name will be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over his kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever” (Isaiah 9:6, 7)
Whenever they were in trouble, and that was quite often, Jews would turn to promises like these and they would look for their Messiah. They reckoned upon him being an all-conquering King and there were occasions when this small nation defeated much mightier powers.
About 150 years before the birth of Christ there was a national revolt against the Greeks, who were then their overlords, and the Jews won! They established a religious state, run by the family of the Maccabees. When the Romans had taken control, they had another go at self-rule and declared a Jewish Republic, which had short-term success. Military prowess was something that elements of Jewish society were very keen to achieve and an all-powerful heavenly leader would have been very much to their liking.
When he came, their Messiah had to deal with a bigger problem than that of national sovereignty or political independence. Jesus came to deal with the worldwide problem of Sin — the greatest enemy of all, and one which had defeated everyone. Unless that could be tackled and conquered nothing else was possible. If Jesus could overcome Sin, and its sidekick Death, then restoring God’s Kingdom to Israel and reviving Israel’s ancient heritage would be straightforward. But it was impossible to do the second without achieving the first objective.
Here lies a great paradox, one which completely defeated many of the people of Israel. Jesus came preaching that the Kingdom of God was now at hand; for he was God’s appointed King.
He had come to save the nation, indeed to save the world, from the rulership of Sin and Death — to offer a way of salvation that would bring freedom and liberty for all. But most of his contemporaries could only understand that opportunity in political terms. They wanted to be a free nation first and foremost and any talk of salvation through sacrifice came a long way down their national agenda. So they rejected God’s Messiah and conspired to have him crucified by the Romans.
God knows the end from the beginning; nothing takes Him by surprise. So why did He choose this nation, rather than another which might have been more co-operative or more ready to accept His way of working?
We should not delude ourselves in that respect. The nation of Israel was representative of all mankind; what they did we too would have done, given the opportunity. For everyone puts their national and individual self-interest first. That’s why the world is still at war.
Jewish people have been more exposed to prying eyes than have other nations, because of where they are located — at the centre of the earth. God called them to be different — to be a special, holy, priestly people — and those differences were intentional.
So why did he choose them, and not us — whatever our national identity? Here’s the answer:
“The LORD did not set his love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because the LORD loves you, and because he would keep the oath which he swore to your fathers … Therefore know that the LORD your God, he is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love him and keep his commandments” (Deuteronomy 7:7-10)
God chose Israel because:
- He loves them;
- He had sworn a solemn oath to their forefathers about their descendants;
- He had redeemed them from Egypt when they were slaves;
- He is a faithful covenant-keeping God;
- He demands love in return from His people.
This is the way God reveals Himself in the Bible. He explains why He does things as well as what He has done and will do. That way we can get to know Him. As we follow the trail of divine explanation, we discover that God made great promises to a man named Abraham who became the father of the Jewish nation. He was called by God to come to the land of Canaan, as the land was then called. Seven times in all God made him promises about the future and, great man of faith that he was, Abram believed them and lived accordingly. He put his entire trust and confidence in God.
The promises were about a nation who would be descended from Abram (Genesis 12:1-3) through which a blessing would come to mankind. They would possess the land of Canaan (12:7; 13:14-17). They were to be strangers there at first and would be made into a nation elsewhere (15:13-16 — that turned out to be in Egypt). And they would have one special descendant who would bring victory over all their enemies(22:15-18).
Those final promises were accompanied by an oath, for, when He made them, God swore to Abraham that it would be so, making this the most solemn of all the great things He had promised:
“By myself I have sworn, says the LORD … your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice” (Genesis 22:16-18)
This is why God chose Israel — so that Abraham would have many descendants, some related by birth and others, from all nations, who would follow his faithful example. He was to become the father of all those who believe the promises of God (Romans 4:11). And, as the apostle Paul later explains, there would be One special descendant born of Abraham’s line — the Lord Jesus Christ:
“To Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one, —And to your Seed, who is Christ” (Galatians 3:16)