Posts Tagged ‘Israel’

Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson Eight

Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson Eight

© C. O. Bishop 2012, revised 2018

Genesis, chapters 16 and 17

Introduction:

There are many ugly histories in the Bible: God doesn’t pull punches when telling “what happened,” and “who did what.” Actually, that is one of the things that helps convince me that this actually is God’s Word, and not the word of man: God does not put his “heroes of the faith” on pedestals: he lets us see exactly what kind of flawed individuals they really were, and then shows us what He can do with such shabby, unpromising raw materials. We saw the sin of Adam, the drunkenness of Noah, and the foolishness of Lot: but all were saved individuals.

Virtually all the patriarchs, judges and kings also had deeply flawed lives; some far worse than others. But God chose them because of what He could do with them, not because of what “wonderful people” they were. He is still choosing that way today. He deliberately chooses “losers” through whom He will bring about victories. He leaves the “self-sufficient” to be just that…self-sufficient, self-satisfied, and self-centered. They feel no need for a Savior, and they see themselves as great people. (Perhaps they are, in fact, from strictly a human perspective.)

This story is about a couple of “failures, and losers,” living in the midst of a culture of failure, idolatry, and slavery, where life was cheap, and “human rights” were scarce, or even unheard of. We don’t like these subjects, as they make us uncomfortable, at least, and sometimes angry.

Genesis 16: Faith can Stumble

Back in chapter 15, God had made a promise of offspring, but Abram and Sarai were evidently tired of waiting. So Sarai had a “brilliant idea,” which was evidently a common “cultural norm.” She suggested that Abram impregnate her servant, Hagar, and she herself would simply claim the child. Abram, a typical man, apparently thought that was a great idea.

We would be horrified, today, in our culture, to even hear of such an idea, let alone to hear of someone attempting to carry it through, or, worse yet, actually doing such a thing. But there are actually more slaves today than ever before, and we simply are unaware, because it is mostly hidden, or in particular parts of the world. And, in those places, such a plan would be taken as a matter-of-fact solution, not a gross moral violation (which it certainly is and was.)

We will eventually see how Hagar felt about it all, but not in detail. However, this little scheme produced deep, serious trouble of the “fatal” kind, which continues still today. All the Arab peoples claim Ishmael (and Abraham) as their forefather, and believe that they are the chosen people of God (the Q’uran tells them so).

This incident occurred about ten years after Abram had moved into Canaan, so he was at least 85, since he left Haran at 75 years of age. The end of the chapter says he was 86 when Ishmael was born. We are not told how old Hagar was (much younger, evidently), but I can sympathize with her in this matter—as a slave, she was given no choice. She was being treated as a thing, an object…a possession; she had no more self-determination than did a domestic animal. She probably was not in favor of the plan, being forced to sexually serve her mistress’s husband; to be a surrogate mother; not even being allowed to claim her own son. She was not exactly a sex-slave, as that was not the intent: it was strictly for procreation, but when forced upon a woman, it isn’t much different. Whatever her initial feelings had been; once she was pregnant, she felt some satisfaction, or vindication, knowing that she could bear a child, while Sarai could not.

Sarai saw Hagar’s satisfaction (and the smugness and disrespect that followed it) and blamed the whole plan on Abram (how quickly we forget!) She called on God to judge him for his sin. But Abram said, in effect, “Hey, she’s your slave; you take care of it”. So Sarai physically abused Hagar (we don’t know how: the text just says “dealt hardly with her”), and Hagar ran away.

The Consequences of Sin

The story could have ended there, with a poor, lone, pregnant woman lost in the desert. But God met with Hagar in the desert at a spring where she had sought refuge, and He told her to go back. He further told her that she would have a son, that her son would be called Ishmael, and that he would be the father of a multitude…also, that he would be a “wild man” (some translations say “a wild donkey of a man”), whose hand would be against everyone, and against whom everyone else’s hand would be raised. (Does that sound familiar? The Arab nations all call Ishmael their father (whether he was or not), and they are at odds with the whole non-Arab world. The current pattern of worldwide Islamic terrorism has been deliberately exerted against all parties, in the attempt to start a world war, and bring about some particular prophecy in the Q’uran. Their stated desire is to wipe Israel off the face of the earth…in fact, to kill every single Jew.)

We should really think carefully about this whole story—it could sound simply like a tawdry tale of sin and abuse; the sad story of a very dysfunctional family, in a primitive, brutal society… and it is all of that. But the underlying lesson, it seems to me, is that sin always has an ongoing effect. Sin has consequences. I can’t go back and undo my errors: the hurts I have caused in the lives of others will have ongoing effects in their lives as well as my own.

Sin always affects more than just the ones sinning. The long-range results in this particular case are several nations of people who are deadly enemies to Israel—who openly state that their fondest dream is to wipe Israel off the map. I have no way to know which failure of mine will have far-reaching consequences—nor how severe. (Probably none as severe as this one, simply because I am not Abraham.) But all sin has eternal consequences: at the very least we will lose potential for eternal rewards. But we also dishonor God; we destroy our testimony, and we “…make the name of God to stink, among the Gentiles.” We drive people away from Jesus.

How many times have you met an unbeliever who has become embittered against Christians in general, and Christianity as a concept, or even against Christ as a person, specifically because of offenses committed by people claiming to be Christians? In fact, for the sake of argument, I will assume they really were Christians. Why would I assume this? Because Christians are perfectly capable of virtually every sin, if not absolutely every sin, commonly committed by unbelievers. We are supposed to be living holy lives, noteworthy for the Agape love displayed in us, and for the unity we enjoy with one another, and the general pattern of good behavior seen in all circumstances. Jesus told us to live in such a way that others will see our good works and glorify God. Unfortunately, none of the above is what the World tends to see. They capitalize on the failures, and assume failure is the “real” norm, and that all the “piety” was just hypocrisy.

I asked an unbelieving co-worker, recently, if, as his children were learning to walk, he had yelled “hypocrite!” at them, every time they lost their balance and fell. He replied that, of course, he had not. I pointed out that failure, especially among untaught or immature believers is quite common, and not necessarily a mark of hypocrisy. He thought a “hypocrite” is someone who says they believe one thing, and then do something else. I corrected his thinking, pointing out that the Greek word “hupocritos” only means an actor: a pretender; a fake. A failure and a fake are two different things. A fisherman who catches no fish is not a fake, but a frustrated failure. A runner who fails to finish a race is a failure, not a fake. Such examples are unlimited in number.

What we saw in this story was a prime example of a total failure of faith. They didn’t even think they were doing wrong: they simply assumed that “cultural norms” were OK with God, and they just didn’t think to ask His opinion. They ran ahead of God (a bad idea) with their own means of “implementing God’s plan.” This is certainly not the only example in the Bible of such choices by believers, but it is one that has incredibly severe long-range consequences.

I encountered a modern-day example of this assumption recently, through a friend in another state: his church is planning to hire a pastor, and they are following the “cultural norm” of soliciting résumés, and reading letters of recommendation. This is a classic abandonment of God’s command to not “lay hands on” (ordain) someone too soon, as it is patently impossible to get to know someone in just a week’s time, and it is therefore impossible for the congregation to know and respect that individual as an elder in that assembly. But the western churches have nearly universally chosen to go with the World’s way of thinking, and have reverted to the pattern of having one hireling, like a CEO, set over a church, with abnormal authority to rule, and an impossible task to accomplish as a servant, even if he is a perfect servant…and he isn’t!

God does give instructions as to how to find, produce, train and select church leaders…and they are always plural. But very few are willing to follow those instructions, and the results are frequently disastrous. Will that church survive the error? Very likely it will! Does the fact that it is a cultural norm make it a good replacement for God’s stated plan? Absolutely not! God says for us to trust in the LORD with all our hearts and to not lean unto our own understanding. Disobedience always has consequences.

Abram and Sarai replaced God’s plan with their own ideas, based upon cultural norms, and they assumed it would be fine. But they were wrong! We are always ill-advised to assume that our “cultural norms” are a good replacement for God’s stated will. I realize that this is a troubling idea, and I have no desire to stir up controversy, but it is important that we carefully examine our practices, traditions and beliefs, in the light of all of God’s Word (not just a pet “proof-text”), to see whether they are actually what God says to do.

Genesis 17: God’s Plan Revealed

When Abram was 99 years old—and Ishmael was 13—God met with Abram again, and reiterated his original promise, and, in the process, changing Abram’s name (which meant “exalted father”) to Abraham (meaning “Father of many nations”). But God also added a condition that was to be met by the recipients of the promise. The mark of the covenant was to be circumcision. Remember that this was before the giving of the Law…it was a provision that whoever was to receive the promise was to be marked as a son of the promise. In the New Testament, we see that it was a picture of discipleship—of the “putting away of the flesh.” And it is only a picture. There were countless Israelites (and millions of modern day Gentiles) who were circumcised as babies (or even as adults) but had no heart for the God of the Covenant. The flesh does not profit, at a spiritual level, unless the Spirit is driving the flesh…the physical body, in this case. But both the Jews and the Arab peoples still practice this, in the belief that they are complying with God’s demand, and that they thereby gain an entrance into the promise of God.

God went on to say that Sarai’s name would now be Sarah (meaning “princess”), and that she would bear a son, and that they would name him Isaac (meaning, “he laughs”, because Abraham laughed at the thought of a 99-year old man fathering a child.)

Abraham had his heart set on Ishmael as his heir, but God overruled: He said that, though Ishmael would be a great nation (and the father of many nations), Isaac was the son of the promise, not Ishmael. In Galatians 4:21-31 (read this), we see the explanation of what happened in Genesis 17 and 21. In Genesis 17 God told Abram that his son of the flesh (Ishmael) was not the son of the promise…in chapter 21, he was finally told to send Hagar and Ishmael away…and it deeply grieved him to do so. Abraham sincerely loved his son, Ishmael.

But God set up this picture, using the circumstances, so that we could see, almost 4000 years later that Law and Grace do not dwell together. The Law brings a curse, and Grace brings life. Does the Law have a purpose, today? Certainly, it does! The Law lets us know that we are a condemned sinner and in need of a Savior. Grace joins us to the savior.

“Doctor Law” diagnoses the need for a new heart. “Doctor Grace” is the surgeon who gives the new heart, and binds the believing heart immutably to Christ. They do work in the same clinic, but they never set foot in one another’s offices. Doctor Law always sends his patients to Doctor Grace—if they will go—and Doctor Grace never sends them back. They work well as a team—but always separately!

So, Isaac was a picture of Christ, in the sense that he was the Son of the Promise (and it showed in his life-story in a couple of places). Jesus is the Eternal fulfillment of the promises of God.

Chapter 17 ends with the circumcision of all the men in Abram’s extended household. (In chapter 14, remember, Abram had led into battle 318 fighting men from his own household. By this time there were undoubtedly more, as it was thirteen or fourteen years later. There must have been a lot of grief in that camp that week. That particular “surgery” is not a light thing for adults.

But: the result of obedience is blessing. Abraham continually received God’s blessing and protection. And, every time God gave him a command, Abraham got right in there and did it. We especially see this in Genesis chapter 22, where God tested Abraham.

Conclusion: Final “Review” Questions

  • Which came first, Faith or Obedience?
  • And, based upon which of those, was Abraham declared to be righteous, by God?
  • Which showed him as “righteous” to his fellow humans?

Answers:

  • Abraham believed God, and God declared him to be righteous on the basis of that faith.
  • Afterward, Abraham obeyed God, and, because of that, all of us can see the reality of his faith. He “put his money where his mouth was.” He put “shoe-leather” on his faith.

We already had discovered that this was Jesus, personally dealing with Abraham. After declaring Abraham righteous, on the basis of faith alone, Jesus made some demands on Abraham’s life, which we see as works.

Application: He does the same thing for us today:

  • He declared us righteous on the basis of faith in His blood at the Cross.
  • He then declared us to be his personal possession, as well as his offspring, and set us aside for His service, His purpose, and His blessing.
  • Finally, He says there are some things he wants us to do in response to faith, and in a personal response to Him as our Savior and Master. He wants us to walk with him and commit ourselves to His service.

Are you truly willing to follow him? Or is your faith going to be more like that of Brother Lot? Though he was truly saved, Lot was never really willing to make his relationship with God a priority in his life. As we will see next time, the results were not so good.

Lord Jesus, change our hearts and let us step forward in faith, breaking free from cultural norms, and doing what does not come naturally to our minds. Make us tools in your hands, to accomplish your will.


What About Israel? (Part Four)

What about Israel? (Part four)

© C. O. Bishop 4/21/16 THCF 4/24/16

Romans 11:1-36

Introduction:

We’ve followed Paul’s epistle from chapter one through chapter ten; chapters nine through eleven deal with the question “What about Israel?” “Where does Israel stand before God, today?” Paul spent chapters nine and ten explaining how they got into the mess they have been in for the last two-thousand-plus years, and what could have been done differently…and what can be done today.

Chapter 11: Where does Israel Stand Today?

1I say then, Hath God cast away his people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin.

So, Paul poses the next logical question: “is God all done with Israel, then? Has he cast them away?” His answer is the strongest possible negative: “God Forbid!”

God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew. Wot ye not what the scripture saith of Elias? how he maketh intercession to God against Israel saying,

Lord, they have killed thy prophets, and digged down thine altars; and I am left alone, and they seek my life.

But what saith the answer of God unto him? I have reserved to myself seven thousand men, who have not bowed the knee to the image of Baal.

Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace.

And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.
Paul says that God has always maintained a “faithful few” in Israel, or, more specifically, among the Jewish people, who believe in Him and desire to obey him. In Elijah’s day, it was down to 7000 people. Pretty slim margin….

And it was not their works that saved them. Even the fact that they had “not bowed the knee to Baal” was not what saved them. Paul emphasizes three times in two verses that salvation is by Grace, not works, and that the two cannot mix. He states that if it is by Grace, then it is not of works…and that if it by works then it is not of Grace. He heavily underscores the fact that the two concepts cannot co-exist.

V. 7-12: Judicial Blindness through Disregard for Light.

What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded.

(According as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear;) unto this day.

And David saith, Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumblingblock, and a recompence unto them:

10 Let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see, and bow down their back alway.
11 
I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy.

12 Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fulness?
Paul says that though they claim to seek for God, they have been blinded as a nation. That may sound harsh, but consider Samson: He ignored God’s light, and the responsibilities of his own standing as a Man of God, until his sin overwhelmed him and he was literally blinded by the enemy. Did he lose his salvation? Nope. Did he lose his giftedness? No, not really. He was set aside for a time, and he was used one last time some time later.

Israel consistently has rejected the messengers God sent, including all the prophets, and even the Messiah himself. So God allowed them to drift into a self-induced sleep—he says that he gave them the spirit of slumber that their eyes should not see, nor their ears hear.

The fact is; this is a danger to anyone, saved or unsaved, Jew or Gentile. If we ignore the light of God, we will eventually become blind to it…literally unable to see the truth of God. So, there is a trap in our disregard for warnings. And Israel is living proof of that fact. But God is using their fall to enrich us (not at their expense, but in the fact that seeing them fall is a warning for us.) Simultaneously, he is using our blessing to stir them to jealousy, so that they will return to Him. The Day he reclaims Israel, they will be a far greater blessing to the World.

V.13-16 Using Gentiles to Stir up Envy in Israel

13 For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office:

14 If by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them.

15 For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?

16 For if the firstfruit be holy, the lump is also holy: and if the root be holy, so are the branches.
Paul reminds us that though he speaks to the church as Gentiles, it is because he is the apostle to the Gentiles. That’s his job, in other words. And, it is his hope that the result will be that some of the Jews will be made jealous of the reality of the Gentiles’ walk with the God of Israel, enough that they themselves will investigate, and believe the Gospel. (By the way, that is why he always began with the Jews, in any new work…he went to the synagogues and offered to them the promises of their own Messiah, before turning to the Gentiles…and, in virtually every city, there were at least a few Jews who believed; thus, a remnant, who were saved.

Bear in mind that the nation of Israel has had more exposure to the Gospel historically, than any other nation on the planet. And, because of their unbelief, they have gone through more chastisement. I doubt there has been another nation or race that has been so consistently rejected by the world, and subjected to pogroms, holocausts, and genocidal attacks as the Jews have been. And yet they exist. They stand as a witness to the faithfulness of God.

The result of their being temporarily set aside as the channels of God’s Grace to a fallen world has been that the Gentile nations have been hearing the Gospel for the last 2000 years. Many millions have received the news with joy, and millions, over the centuries, have died for the sake of that Gospel. But there is coming a time when Israel will once again be specifically the channel through which God pours his blessing. The Millennial Kingdom, when Christ rules from Jerusalem in person, will see the nation Israel fully restored, and acting as a nation of priests for the entire world. The Church will not be doing that, by the way…the church is called the Body of Christ for a reason, and the Bride of Christ, as well. The Church will be in the Throne with Christ. I do not claim to understand it, but it is a fact. Israel, in their fleshly bodies, will be the ambassadors of God on earth. The Church will be reigning with Him, in their new bodies.

The restoration of Israel will be a sort of resurrection. Compare it to Ezekiel 37, the vision of the valley of dry bones. Yes, that is just a vision, but God says it represented the restoration of Israel.

Now, consider: God made his promise to Abraham, and declared Abraham holy (meaning, “set apart for God”). He said that the whole world would be blessed through Abraham, and his seed. If God did not fulfill that promise through the nation of Israel, for ANY reason, (remember: it was an unconditional promise!) then it would be GOD failing, not man. And that is simply not going to happen. So, Paul reasons that if the root (Abraham) was holy, then the branches (Israel) have to be holy as well. If the patriarch was set aside as separated unto God, and the promise was made that his progeny should be holy as well, then it is impossible for God to set Israel aside permanently. Bear in mind that this is not for salvation, but for a relationship with the Holy God, and a position of service and blessing. No one in the history of the world has ever lost their salvation. Jesus said so, in John 6:39. He said that of all the Father has given him he will lose nothing, but that he will raise them up at the last day.

V. 17-25: Salvation versus Service

17 And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, wert grafted in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree;

18 Boast not against the branches. But if thou boast, thou bearest not the root, but the root thee.

19 Thou wilt say then, The branches were broken off, that I might be grafted in.

20 Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not highminded, but fear:

21 For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee.

22 Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.

23 And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief, shall be grafted in: for God is able to graft them in again.

24 For if thou wert cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and wert grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree: how much more shall these, which be the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?

25 For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.


No it is not possible to lose one’s salvation. But! It is certainly possible for him to set aside certain “branches of the tree” as unusable, just as any orchardist prunes his trees and maintains the health of the tree by so doing. Paul says that the natural branches (some of them) have been cut out, and unnatural branches grafted in, in their place. This is not unusual, for orchardists, but usually, when it is done, a better branch is what is grafted in. I have a pear tree with fruit whose taste I don’t like. But it is a tree my mother planted, and is otherwise healthy. So I intend to graft in a variety of pear that I know I like, so as to use the strength of the roots, and preserve the tree, but also reap suitable fruit.

In this particular case, the grafted in scions are a “wild olive.” Their fruit is not known for its goodness, and no human orchardist would graft in a wild olive for the fruit…possibly for cross pollination, or some other cause, but not for the fruit. So it is a really odd thing for God to graft in the Gentiles who have never sought after God, and cut out the Jews (bear in mind, here that the issue is fruit-bearing—service—not salvation.) The Church age has seen Israel set aside as the channel of God, but the church is no longer actively doing what God sent them to do. They (“we”—let’s make this personal) have not continued to make the blessing of the world through the Gospel their (our) highest priority. So…is it possible for the church to lose its position of service and blessing? Not as a whole—the universal church is not in focus here, but the local church, and individuals therein.

The local church can be as the church of Philadelphia, who the Lord said had an “open door before it that no one could close” (speaking of service, and the outpouring of God’s grace and light, through the Gospel.) Or, in stark contrast, it can be as the church at Sardis, whom he said was dead, and whom he warned that they needed to strengthen that which remained.

Or, in the worst case, it could be as the church at Laodicea, to whom he made no plea, and gave no warning, except to say that he would “spew them out” of His mouth. He said he was going to remove their candlestick out of its place. He did not say, “…unless you repent…” as he did to the other churches. This church was all done, and their time was all gone. He went on to say that he still offered fellowship with any individual believer who would allow Him into their daily life (Revelation 3:20)…but he made no offer to that church as a group. It was being terminated. No one lost their salvation, but that particular local church had lost its position as the channel of God’s blessing, and the holder of God’s light (hence the “candlestick” reference.)

Paul points out that the danger of being removed from service is still real, for every believer. In another passage he stated that he was afraid of becoming a castaway—shipwrecked. (1st Corinthians 9:27). He was not fearful of losing his salvation, but losing his job. Remember that Balaam was a real prophet. He had a real relationship with God, and was a real mouthpiece for God. God spoke through him, and, up to a point, Balaam had been the channel of God’s truth. But Balaam sold out, (Numbers 24, 31) and lost his job, as well as his life; Sad, but true.  And we have seen many examples in our day of people who had once had a valid ministry, but through sin and self-will, they lost their testimony and shamed the Lord, as well. This was Paul’s fear, and it ought to be ours.

For the moment, the majority of Israel is blind to the truth of God, though there are always some who believe. There are thousands of Christian Jews in the world today, and they are a terrific blessing, as a rule, adding perspective to the understanding of the Old Testament, especially, that we, as Gentile believers, would normally miss. The time is coming, however, when Israel as a nation will be grafted back into the root, as the channel of God’s blessing to the world. By that time, the true church will be complete…the fullness of the Gentiles will have come in. At that time, the tribulation will be over, and the remnant of Israel (all believing Jews) will all be in God’s service again, and all will be the channels of His blessing, as He intended. Thus, “All Israel will be saved.”

V. 26-32 The Future of Israel

26 And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob:

27 For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.

28 As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the father’s sakes.

29 For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.

30 For as ye in times past have not believed God, yet have now obtained mercy through their unbelief:

31 Even so have these also now not believed, that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy.

32 For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all.

33 O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!
This verse, stating that “all Israel shall be saved”, like many passages, is frequently misunderstood. On the one hand there are those who take it as a lump, blanket-clause promise stating that all Jews are automatically saved. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, some of the worst enemies of the Gospel have historically come from the Jews. Who were the real enemies of Jesus when he walked this earth? The Jewish leaders! The Romans didn’t particularly care about him. But the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the rulers of the Temple, the high priest and his followers all wanted Him dead. John the Baptist warned them of hell-fire to come. He said that they would be baptized with fire. He explained that the “chaff shall be burned with unquenchable fire”. He made no bones about it: though they were Jews, and the chief of the leaders, they were not only not thereby automatically saved, but were in direct danger of eternal punishment…they were headed for Hell (So much for all Jews being saved.)

The other ditch on this particular road is to deny this verse entirely, and teach that God has permanently cast Israel aside, and will not fulfill His eternal promise to Abraham. Such teachers claim that, on the basis of Romans chapter four, where it says that the inheritors of Abraham’s blessing are those who believe, that the Church has entirely supplanted Israel, and is now the possessors of the promise. (Sorry to disappoint those who teach this, but Romans Eleven is a specific warning against that idea.) God says that we are a temporary replacement, and only in terms of service and blessing. The nation of Israel will definitely be “grafted back in” to the root of Abraham, and will take their eternal place as the nation of God.

One good point we don’t want to miss, here, (verse 29) is the fact that God does not change his mind about His gifts. Think again of Samson: God used him after his disobedience and foolishness, in very similar manner to the way he had used him earlier—he gave him great strength. God did not remove the gift, but simply set Samson aside for a “timeout”. Israel is also in such a “timeout”. The promise is still good…but they don’t have it at the moment.

They were only reduced to the current state in order to allow the mercy of God to extend to all. Romans 3 states that the “whole world was guilty before God.” And here, in verse 32, He states that the result is that He can offer the same Mercy to all. Someone has said, “The ground is level at the foot of the Cross.” I like that saying. The point is that “…there is no difference, for all have sinned, and come short of the Glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)

We tend to struggle with this whole passage. Questions are posed for which we would like to demand an answer, but for which we will have to wait on God’s timing. God’s Wisdom is so completely beyond ours that it is truly “unsearchable”, and His ways are truly “past finding out.”

Consider the plight of a child who has a physical ailment…a sore throat, let’s say: his parents take him to a doctor (possibly frightening in itself, but maybe not—his parents are there.) Then that nasty doctor sticks a swab down the child’s throat, and takes a culture, to see what is causing the sore throat. The child gags, and struggles; but his father holds him, and comforts him, though not allowing him to escape the procedure. The culture comes back positive for streptococcus bacteria, and the fever is high enough to demand a decisive treatment. An injection of penicillin is prescribed. (Now, I realize medical science is constantly changing, and possibly nowadays they don’t do this. But—I speak from experience—let me tell you! They did it this way when I was a child!)

So the child’s backside is bared, and cleaned with alcohol, and, while the father holds the child, that needle is jabbed into the muscle of his little rump, and the penicillin is injected to do its good work. What part of the whole experience is pleasant for the child? None of it! What portion can he understand? Only the fact that it is his father’s will. Does he question that wisdom? Yes! But that does not render the wisdom of the father invalid; it only reflects the immaturity and ignorance of the child. Please keep this in mind when you are tempted to question God.

34 For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor?

35 Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again?

36 For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.

Does God need my advice? Nope. Does he get it? Oh, yeah…frequently! And, unless it happens to coincide with His eternal wisdom, it is kindly and wisely ignored. God doesn’t need us; we need him. The whole world is his creation and handiwork; it all emanated from Him, as the creator, it all is ultimately returning to his eternal dominion, one way or another, and all will eventually be to His glory. He certainly does not need my advice. I need His.

Conclusion:

We can take the experience of Israel as both a warning and a learning opportunity: While I cannot lose my salvation, I can definitely be “set on the shelf” in terms of service. If I want my life to bear fruit, and have eternal value, I need to be daily seeking God’s direction, and doing things his way. Israel is definitely still on God’s agenda, but there have been thousands of wasted years, that were not necessary. Jesus wept over their lost opportunity, but still claims them as His own. We can be both warned and encouraged by their example.

Lord Jesus, grant us the wisdom to seek out and obey your will in our lives. Give us your love and compassion for Israel, but let us also learn from their experience. Make us the ambassadors you have chosen us to be.

 

 


What About Israel? (Part Three)

What about Israel? (Part three)

© C. O. Bishop 2/29/16 THCF 4/10/16

Romans 10:1-21

Introduction:

We have begun exploring Paul’s treatise in Romans chapters 9-11, explaining the current state of Israel, and how they still fit into God’s plans. Paul has already said how he feels toward Israel, not just as a nation, but specifically toward his fellow Jews. We saw how they rejected Jesus when He lived among them, and rejected His offer of salvation by grace through faith alone. The result has been that the Gentiles who were not even looking for a savior were then offered salvation…and many have joyfully received Him.

But Israel, who claimed to be seeking righteousness, and to be waiting for the Messiah, sought to do so by works of the Law, and had rejected faith. So, when their Messiah arrived, they rejected Him out of hand, as most still do today. They stumbled over the stumbling-stone that God set up throughout all the ages. Faith in a substitutionary sacrifice has always been the stumbling point. Cain rejected the blood sacrifice, and most people do, today, as a matter of fact. Jews and Gentiles alike stumble over this issue. But the Jews are a special tragedy, since it was their king, their Messiah, for whom they had waited, who they ultimately rejected.

What is Israel’s Position, Now?

10: 1Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.

For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge.

For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.
So, where does that leave Israel? Has God abandoned them? Paul says they do have a zeal for God, but not based on a genuine knowledge of His righteousness; that because they are ignorant (agnoountes…without knowledge) of the holy righteousness of God, they have worked to establish their own style of righteousness, sourced in self-will; they have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God. This is true of non-Jews, too. We insist that we can have a “do-it-yourself” salvation; a self-righteous standing before a holy God. Throughout the Bible, when people saw God, they usually collapsed in despair, seeing their own unrighteousness compared to His eternal Holiness. Isaiah 6 says that when the prophet Isaiah saw the LORD, he said “Woe is me! I am undone! I am a man of unclean lips!” The Apostle John simply collapsed. The prophet Daniel was in similar condition. No one who truly sees the holiness of God will ever again see himself as sufficient.

Paul goes on to further explain the plight of the Jews. He makes no excuses for their position, but also does not treat them as being “beyond hope”: Quite the contrary; his greatest desire is that they might be saved. They are his family, in the broader sense. He says that in terms of the righteousness of God (which they claim to desire), they have truly missed the point:

For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.

The End of the Law for Righteousness

Paul declares that, had they embraced their Messiah, (as they say they will do, if He ever shows up, but in fact they did not do, when He did arrive), they would now be free from the Law of Moses as pertaining to personal righteousness.

For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth those things shall live by them.

Paul quotes Leviticus 18:5, here: under the Law, it was said, “if you do these things you will live.” That is not what the Gospel says. Moses brought a Law, saying “DO THIS and live!” The Law (and most Human religions) says “DO!” (“Do or Die”, in fact.) But Jesus offers something entirely different: in Romans 7 we saw that the Law was specifically inaugurated to show us that we CAN’T “do the things of righteousness.” The more we understand the righteousness of God, the more completely we realize the hopelessness of attempting to achieve such righteousness through our own efforts. And that was the intent of the Law: that we should be driven to the Messiah as our only hope. So: Jesus died to fulfil the demands of the Law toward sinners (you and me), and said “it is finished!” Where the Law said “Do!” Jesus said “It’s Done!”

If they knew the Messiah, they would know that the righteousness He provides puts an end to the involvement of the Law in producing righteousness. Law never could produce righteousness; it could only advertise the lack thereof. The Jews constantly thought that they could produce righteousness through works, just as most world religionists insist today. God says they can’t. In fact, Paul pointed out in Galatians 2:21 that, if righteousness could be attained by means of the Law, then Jesus died for nothing.

Here, in Romans 10, he simply says that Christ is the “end of the Law for righteousness”, to everyone that believes. The word “end” is “telos” in Greek…and it simply means “the end”: “termination”…not “fulfillment”. Yes, Jesus was the fulfillment of the Law; but in this passage, it clearly says he was the end of the law for righteousness. Law keeping is not even to be the outward sign of righteousness, in this age. Jesus said (John 13:34, 35) “by this shall all men know ye are my disciples”…how? If you keep the law? No: “If you have love one to another.”

But the righteousness which is of faith speaketh on this wise, Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above:)

Or, Who shall descend into the deep? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.)

But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach;

That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.

10 For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.

11 For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.
Paul points out the sharp contrast between Law and Grace. Grace says that the word of faith, preached by Christ and all his servants, is the truth; and that “if you believe it…you shall be saved.” Notice I left out the “confess” part. Not because confession of faith is not important, but because the faith part is what saves you. Genuine faith will result in confession of that faith, but a strict adherence to the idea that “confession with the mouth” is part of what saves you would exclude every mute person in history. Jesus said that whoever believes the Gospel has eternal life now, period. (John 5:24) Paul reiterated it when he told the Philippian Jailer, (Acts 16:31) “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved!”

Calling Upon the Name of the Lord

12 For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him.

13 For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
What does it mean to “call upon the name of the Lord?” By the host of passages that say, “believe…and be saved”, “look, and live”, etc., I would say that believing the Gospel, and claiming Jesus as your only hope for salvation is what moves a person from “death row” to full release in Christ. It requires a conscious decision: no one is “born saved”. If anyone tells me “Oh, I’ve always been a Christian!” I have serious doubts that they are saved at all. When we talk about “repentance” (which comes up a lot in scripture), usually the Greek word is “metanoia”…meaning a “change of mind”. There is a conscious change of mind involved, in choosing to take Jesus Christ as your savior…in deciding that His blood sacrifice is the payment for your sins. Whether it is public or private, spoken or silent, that decision must be made.

14 How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?

15 And how shall they preach, except they be sent? As it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!
Paul points out an interesting chain of ideas, here: He says, “Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (quoting Joel 2:32). That implies a conscious decision…a choice. Then he poses a series of questions: “How can they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe on Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach except they be sent?” This is “Missions,” friends! He is flatly telling you that if people don’t hear the Gospel they will not be saved. And that, if we are to be a part of the fulfillment of the Great Commission, we have to either be sending preachers or going ourselves as preachers. It can’t be any clearer. But obedience is scarce.

16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report?

17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
Paul concludes that “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God”. That is a pretty solid passage pointing out the necessity of hearing and believing the Gospel, for salvation. We could already have concluded such a thing by reading Jesus’ promise in John 5:24 and many other, similar passages; Jesus said, “He that hears my Word and believes on Him who sent me, has eternal life…” Sounds pretty clear, all right. The problem is the response of the people. Paul states the problem, in the next few verses: Not everyone who hears the Gospel believes it.

18 But I say, Have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world.

19 But I say, Did not Israel know? First Moses saith, I will provoke you to jealousy by them that are no people, and by a foolish nation I will anger you.

20 But Esaias is very bold, and saith, I was found of them that sought me not; I was made manifest unto them that asked not after me.

21 But to Israel he saith, All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people.
Israel, as a nation, has rejected the message of the Gospel, the messengers of the Gospel (the apostles and prophets) and the Messiah of the Gospel, Jesus Christ. So, can the Jews be saved?

Of course they can, exactly the same as anyone else! Unbelief is not the “unforgiveable sin”; otherwise every person in history would be unredeemable: we are all guilty of unbelief at one level or another. When a rebellious, proud, self-centered unbeliever (as I was) changes his mind (that is what “repentance” means) and chooses Jesus for his blood-sacrifice for sin, he is saved…regardless of his past unbelief and other sins.

Is Israel still God’s chosen people? Absolutely…but they are having a “time-out” right now. The time is coming when they will again be central to God’s rule on Earth…He says that His reign will be from Jerusalem, and that all the inhabitants of that city will be Holy to God, and they will be a nation of priests…a kingdom of priests. This is not the same as the promise that the Church will be kings and priests. We are a different group. The promises to Israel are to Israel. The promises to the Church are to the Church.

Paul points out, also, that they have had more than adequate warning. God said that the sound of the message has gone out to the whole earth, and that He would make His people jealous through a foolish nation, and through insignificant peoples (from human perspective, as they did not comprise nations, or clear-cut ethnic groups, but were simple tribes and villages.) He said that people who had made no attempt to seek the God of Israel, were going to find him, while the people who claim to be seeking God, are in fact being sought constantly by the one true God, and have consistently ignored His voice, down through the millennia…and so fail to see Him.

“Replacement Theology” is a Snare

There have been people for centuries—whole cults, in some cases—who have gotten the idea that the Church is the “new Israel”, and that God has permanently replaced Israel with the Church or even some particular nation. (There was quite a movement that believed Britain had replaced Israel, but it has lost momentum.) I don’t know how anyone can read Romans 9-11 and still believe that God had rejected Israel permanently. Perhaps, in their desire to “claim the promises” made to Israel, they honestly believe that they can seize the promises by fulfilling the Law at one level or another. But they are missing the point of relationship.

When I was a child, my father offered each of us kids $5 (a lot of money back then) to memorize a certain poem (Rudyard Kipling’s “If”). Suppose a neighbor child up the street had taken the initiative to memorize the poem, and tried to claim that prize? Should Dad have felt compelled to honor a promise he never offered to that child? There was a relationship involved: we were his offspring, and it was an exclusive relationship, whether anyone else approved or not. Could he have chosen to include them? Of course he could, but he was under no obligation to do so.

God entered into an exclusive, unilateral covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15. God made the promise, and there was nothing for Abraham to do but believe it. In similar manner God has continued to broaden and extend that relationship through faith to believers ever since.

But part of the promise was to the physical “seed” of Abraham. That promise, including the land and the lineage of the Messiah, was continually narrowed, not broadened. It was narrowed to Isaac, in exclusion of Ishmael, as well as Midian, and his five brothers; sons of Abraham with Keturah. (By the way, the promise to Isaac was never rescinded.) It was later narrowed to Jacob, in exclusion of Esau. Part of the promise (the coming Messiah) was narrowed to the house of David, and then many generations later, it specifically excluded Jehoiachin (also called Jeconiah, or Coniah), by name, saying that none of his offspring would inherit the crown, because of specific sin in his life. Finally, it centered upon the person of Jesus, who was the son of David through Mary; bypassing the cursed line of Jeconiah (from whom Joseph was descended), via the virgin birth. But the promise of the land remained to the children of Jacob—Israel—no other nation, or people. The Priesthood still was exclusively offered to the house of Aaron.  None of those things changed until the destruction of the temple. Even now, if Israel was to rebuild the temple, they would have to come up with some Levites, and, hopefully, sons of Aaron, to serve as priests. But Jesus is the High Priest, in heaven, and will eventually reign on earth.

The promises to the Church are different, and not earthly, as a whole. They are heavenly in nature, and while we have the privilege of serving the God of Israel, we are in a different (and better) relationship. Ironically, any Jew today who believes in Jesus as his Messiah becomes part of this “New Man”, and is no longer technically part of Israel. He has “upgraded” to being part of the Bride of Christ. He is no longer just a “guest” at the wedding feast, but a part of the Bride.

How Should We Then Respond to Israel?

Once, years ago, I unexpectedly received an upgrade from economy to business class on an airliner. I was amazed at the difference in accommodations, leg-room, comfort and food! I was on the same aircraft as before, but in a completely different area, and was being treated accordingly. At the wedding feast of the Lamb, there will be many guests…but the Bride is in a special category. Don’t try to move into the “guest” area, when you are part of the Bride.

We must recognize the importance of Israel, and pray for the peace of Jerusalem: we are called to do both. Value the Jews highly, as a group, and as individuals. Reach out to them in friendship and Love. But don’t try to become a “part of Israel”, by attempting to keep the feasts and the Law. Continue to invite them to become part of the Bride, by Grace, through Faith.

Lord Jesus, help us to walk in the reality of our blessed relationship with the King, and seek to reach others for your Glory!


What About Israel? (Part One)

What about Israel? (Part One)

Has God Forgotten Israel?

© C. O. Bishop 2/13/16 THCF 2/21/16

Romans 9:1-13; 1st Corinthians 10:11

Introduction:

We have been working our way through the book of Romans for several months. The theme of the book has been “the Gospel of God’s Grace.” We have seen, traced in the first three chapters of Romans, the utter lostness of the whole human race, both Jew and Gentile, religious and irreligious; moral and immoral; good, bad and indifferent. We have seen that God has offered only one solution to the lostness of the human race: He says (Romans 1:16) that the Good News of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ as full payment for sins (that’s the Gospel of Christ, by definition), being believed in, is the power of God to save those who believe. And there is no other way offered. Jesus himself confirms that fact. He says “No Man cometh unto the Father but by Me.” Some call that “narrow.” It is only narrow to those who reject it. To those who receive Him as Savior, it is an “Open Door”, and “whosoever will may come!”

We saw in chapter four that the perfect standing of the believer in Christ is only by the imputed righteousness of Christ, added to the believer by God (that’s Grace) through faith alone. We saw in chapter five that the believer’s position and justification in Christ provided eternal peace with God.

We saw in chapter six that our new position in Christ also ended our slavery to Sin: we no longer have to yield to sin. But, in chapter seven we saw that the only way we can lay hold of that promise is by the indwelling Holy Spirit. We cannot please God in the strength of our old nature: we still have our old sin nature, and we have to live with the burden of that traitorous old self throughout our lives, but we are no longer identified with it. God has given us a new nature, and He calls us to live in that new life, walking with Him, in the power and guidance and control of the Holy Spirit. And He no longer sees us in our old selves.

Most recently, in chapter eight, we saw that there is no condemnation for anyone in Christ, whether Jew or Gentile, regardless of background, and regardless of subsequent success or failure in “walking with God”. We also saw, though, that there is a tragic loss of potential blessing and reward, if we fail to walk with Him. But, chapter eight concludes that we are unquestionably, eternally secure in Christ.

But, What about Israel?

Chapters nine through eleven, as a group, address the question, “What about the Jews?” The promises to Israel were solid, sure promises from God, but they have not been fulfilled in their entirety; so: you may ask, “Has Israel finally been rejected by God?” The answer is a resounding “NO!” God has not forgotten his covenant with Israel, though, for the time being, as a nation, they seem to have forgotten their covenant with Him. So, where do they stand, today? How does God see them? Let’s see how Paul addresses that question:

1I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost,

That I have great heaviness and continual sorrow in my heart.

For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh:

In verses 1-3 Paul grieves for the lost estate of the people of Israel, as his kinsmen; his brothers according to flesh. This is one thing that tells me this is God’s Word and God’s Work in Paul: he does not condemn them as “blind fools”, or anything like that: He grieves their lostness, as one should grieve the loss of any soul for whom Christ died. There is no “self-satisfaction” as to his own secure position. He so desperately desires their salvation that, if it were possible, he would consider it a “good trade” for himself to be lost, if it would save them.

Notice also: He does not suggest that Israel has been “forgotten by God.” This has been suggested in the past, by God’s enemies, as it would actually call into question the character and faithfulness of God. (Who is the chief accuser, who, from the beginning of time, has questioned the character of God? Give that some thought, when you hear such arguments. Consider the ultimate source of such a statement.) There are folks today who claim that Israel has been disqualified form God’s blessing, and that the Church has replaced Israel, inheriting the blessings in place of Israel. This is absolutely false, and has the same source as the above false teaching.

No, rather, Paul points out that they have forgotten the God who promised the Messiah (that is a huge difference!). They have rejected His Grace at every turn. Paul assures us that he continually grieves for Israel, and he actually wishes that he himself could be lost, if it would save all of the other Jews. But of course, that is not an option for Paul. This reflects the heart of God, who did go to the Cross in the person of Christ, offering himself, on their behalf and ours.

The Inheritance of Israel

Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises;

Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.

In verses 4 and 5, Paul lists eight advantages that ALL of Israel shares…take note that they are not only to ALL Israel, they exclusively to Israel. This is what is theirs by inheritance:

  1. Theirs was originally the statement of adoption (being the stated heirs of God), and
  2. Theirs was the glory of their history, of God living and working in their midst, and
  3. To them were the covenants offered and confirmed, and
  4. To them was the Law given, and
  5. To them was committed the Service of God (in the temple: the priesthood)
  6. To them were the Promises in which they had claimed to trust for thousands of years.
  7. To them alone belong the Patriarchs, and, as far as the flesh was concerned, and
  8. Through them came the

What more could they ask? The advantages that were given to all Israel are phenomenal, and they still exist today. But, for whatever reason, the majority of Jews, today, still ignore their heritage, and do not use that advantage to good effect. Let’s not become smug, though, or be judgmental in our thinking about this. As believers in Christ, we have even greater advantages today: the completed written Word of God, and the indwelling Holy Spirit.

(Are you using them?  Really? Are you using them to the best advantage?)

But what entitled the Jews to take part in those promises? We can see that some did and some did not.  What made the difference? All through History, we can see that some were privileged to take part in the promises, while others were disqualified. What makes a “Jew”, born of the house of Israel, a “real Jew,” from God’s perspective?

The Heredity of Israel

Paul points out that Israel was not just a “breeding stock” that God turned loose to graze, and, wherever it wandered, or whatever brood it produced, He approved of it. His Word is complete, and His will is perfect. Read what he says about the heredity of Israel. It is not strictly physical.

Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel:

Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called.

In verses 6 and 7 Paul begins to touch on the idea that not all who are physically born of the lineage of Abraham are actually his heirs. He begins by pointing out that in spite of Abraham having had two sons (Ishmael and Isaac, at that time), God said, “In Isaac shall your seed be called.” Ishmael, though he was equally “of the seed of Abraham” according to the flesh, was not the heir. It seems that there is a spiritual principle involved. Paul goes on to explain:

That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.

For this is the word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sarah shall have a son.

10 And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac;

11 (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;)

12 It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger.

13 As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.

In verses 8-13, then, Paul reminds us that it is not the children of the flesh who are heirs of God, but rather the children of the Promise. There are two points to notice in the promise: He says “at this time”, so we can see there was a timing issue from God’s perspective: His timing, not theirs. He further says that at that proper time He would come. It was to be God’s work, not theirs.

Isaac was born of a miracle, as promised by God. In sharp contrast, Ishmael was born of a scheme of an old man and his wife, who were trying to short-circuit God’s Grace, and force the hand of God. (Is that maybe not quite the same?)

I have deliberately worded the story in rather blunt terms, to show the “seamy side” of this history: Sarah was definitely not following the leading of God: she was scheming by offering Hagar to Abraham. Abraham (as might most men) jumped at the idea of committing “legal adultery”, at his wife’s suggestion. But God makes it abundantly clear that it was not from Him.  The long-term results have been horrendous, and we are still experiencing that destruction today. Almost daily, now, we hear of more attacks by Islamic terrorists who correctly call themselves sons of Ishmael. The long-term effects of Abraham’s unbelief and sin are being inflicted on his offspring, particularly, and the rest of the World, as well; and it is increasing in frequency and magnitude. Interestingly, that is exactly what God predicted in Genesis 16:11, 12. “He (Ishmael) will be a wild man, and his hand will be against every man, and every man’s hand against him, and he shall live in the midst of all his brethren.” (Thanks a bunch, Abe!)

(Oddly, this is one aspect of the Bible that actually adds to my conviction that it is truly God’s Word, not od human origin: Humans tend to gloss over the flaws of their heroes. God does not put the heroes of the faith on a pedestal. He shows them for exactly what they were: deeply flawed individuals through whom He showed His strength. Abraham made a mess: God says so. God is cleaning up that mess, in His way and in His timing.) And there was no condemnation for Abraham. Sound familiar?

By the way, after Sarah’s death, “good old Abraham” remarried (Genesis 25:1-4), and had six more boys by Keturah, his new wife (Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah.) Though we don’t know what happened to most of them, the few whose names we do recognize were enemies of Israel, later in history. The flesh has always warred against the Spirit. That was not something new in Romans 8:7, or Galatians 5:17. The offspring of Ishmael, Midian and Esau remain enemies of Israel to this day. So are the offspring of Lot.

Rebecca was a similar example, showing that the obvious human choice does not necessarily inherit the blessing of God, but rather, the choice of God will stand. God foreknew Esau’s choice to despise the birthright, trading it for a meal; and He foretold the result: “the elder shall serve the younger.” About 1000 years later He remarked, “Jacob have I loved; Esau have I hated”. (Malachi 1:2, 3) Was it just arbitrary, or capricious on His part? No, it was simply a recognition of the kind of person Esau turned out to be, and a statement that God knew it before it happened.

God knew who they were and what they would do, long before they physically existed. They were both sons of Isaac and Rebecca…they were fraternal twins, in fact—but one valued the birthright, and the other did not. One saw the things of God as being valuable—the other saw them as a waste of time and energy…and God responded in kind.

You do not “inherit godliness” from your human parents. You inherit it from your Heavenly Father, as a re-born Child of God, and you grow in it, by walking with God in obedient service. Every child of God has the capacity to become a Godly person: a man or woman of God, walking with Christ, and becoming a blessing to all around him or her.

Israel had some great promises. We have better ones. Israel also had the opportunity to walk with God. When they did so, they enjoyed His blessing. When they did not, times got lean. We can experience a leanness in our own souls when we neglect God’s Word, and ignore the leading of His Holy Spirit. We don’t want that, though. 1st Corinthians 10:11 says that all the things ancient Israel experienced were for examples, and for our admonition; an object lesson for us. Let’s learn from the failures and successes of Israel, and inherit the blessings promised to us. Their blessing is not lost; it is just postponed.

Lord; let us learn your Word, believe your promises, experience your Grace and Blessing, and become the Men and Women of God you have chosen us to be. Amen!


To Whom is the Promise of God Given?

To Whom is the Promise Given?

© C. O. Bishop 2/28/15 THCF 3/1/15

Galatians 3:15-18; compare Genesis 13:15-16

Introduction:

We have talked about the Promise of the Spirit, and our need to embrace that Promise. One thing that has always bothered me, in the following few verses, is that, from my human perspective, it always seemed that Paul was playing a little “fast and loose” with the grammar of the promise of God to Abraham, in Genesis. But I know that this is God’s inspired Word…Paul was doing exactly as he was directed. I also know that God is God, and He certainly has the right to comment on His own Word. So how can I resolve the question?

The Septuagint vs. the Masoretic Text

It recently occurred to me that, in modern times, we have always only had two real sources for the Old Testament scriptures: The Masoretic text (which is Hebrew and Aramaic, and the most recent example at about AD 200)— and the Septuagint (a Greek translation from about 140 BC.)

We might think, “Well…maybe a lot was lost in the Translation!” (as is frequently the case in translations), but this question was checked by hundreds of scholars over the last several hundred years, translating (again) the Hebrew into Greek to see if their translation matched the Septuagint; and, the reverse: translating the Greek Septuagint back into Hebrew, to see if it came close to the original language. All these exercises were done for two reasons:

  1. Believers earnestly want to know what God’s Word really says, and because
  2. Attacks are frequently made by the enemy and we feel forced to defend the Word of God.

Yes, the translation exercises showed the reliability of the two texts. And, in 1948, when the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in the caves at Qumran, the scholarly elite were filled with Joy; some because they were sure that these texts (including most of the Old Testament, in Hebrew and Aramaic,) would prove the unreliable character of the Bible, and others—believers— because they hoped exactly the opposite. As it turned out, over the years, as these scrolls were painstakingly opened and preserved for posterity, but carefully studied, as well, the scrolls strongly supported the accuracy and reliability of the Bible.

So, What Did Jesus Read? What Did He Quote?

Perhaps the strongest support for the Septuagint is the fact that virtually every single Old Testament quotation in the New Testament, whether quoted by an Apostle or by Jesus Himself, is quoted from the Septuagint… word for word. That is the reason the New Testament (for example) says “a virgin shall be with Child”, when they could have translated the Hebrew to mean “a young girl”. The Hebrew word (“alma”) does mean, “young girl”, but is usually used to mean a young girl who is not married and not sexually active. The translators of the Septuagint understood this, and chose to use the Greek word “parthenon”, which specifically means “virgin”, when they could have used the word “korasion” which simply means a “young girl”.

In light of that, one could either say, from the perspective of an unbeliever, that the translators (all 70 of them) had made a serious error, trying to prove the virgin birth (this was completed 140 years before Jesus was born: the translators had never heard of Jesus), or, still as an unbeliever, that Jesus and all his disciples deliberately chose to use a flawed translation, trying to prove it. Either response relegates the entire New Testament to the trash-heap, as one has to prejudge the translation to be false and prejudge Jesus to be a deceiver.

To a believer, though, this is powerful evidence that Jesus fully approved the Greek translation of His own Word…He quoted it! And so did Paul.  If Paul was the only one who used the Septuagint text, we might be tempted to think he was manipulating the meaning, here. But Jesus was very consistent in its use as well, and with similar results. My conclusion is that there are doctrinal points that were not specific enough in Hebrew, and God has made it clear in Greek. It might, in fact, be evidence that the Septuagint is an “inspired translation”. But all we know for sure is that Jesus used it constantly, as did his Apostles.

So, what is the difference? Does it matter which “Bible” Jesus quoted? I think it probably does! Let’s see what Paul had to say:

The Covenant—the Promise

15 Brethren, I speak after the manner of men; Though it be but a man’s covenant, yet if it be confirmed, no man disannulleth, or addeth thereto.

Paul is appealing to human law: he says, if a contract has been signed—an agreement made—you can’t start “adding things later”, or changing the terms of the agreement. Much more so, the covenant of God: God will not change it, because He is Holy and Righteous, and because it is His Word. We cannot change it because we have no authority to do so. Paul points out that it would violate both the principle of Law and of Promise, to alter a covenant after the fact.

16 Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.

To whom was the initial promise made, in Genesis 13:15? It was made to Abraham, regarding the land. And, in response to Abraham’s faith, it was extended to a lot of people. But the first giving of that promise was made to Abraham “and his seed”. In normal English, I would have interpreted that to mean his offspring, however few or numerous they may have proven to be. In Hebrew that would seem to be true as well—the words in Genesis 13:15 and 13:16 in Hebrew are identical (“zera”…seed.) As far as I can determine, the Hebrew word for “seed” is used the same as the English word—it could be singular or plural, depending upon the context. But in Greek, there are at least three different forms, and just as Jesus did, Paul was quoting the Septuagint—the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament.

But:  in the Septuagint, the word for “seed” in verse 15 is specifically singular! I looked up the Greek word used in Genesis 13:15 in the Septuagint, and, as a matter of fact, it is the exact same word that Paul used in Galatians 3:16 (“spermati”). I never would have understood this point without God bringing it to light: in English, the plural for seed is not always “seeds”—we say “I set aside 100 pounds of wheat for seed.” And we would mean that this wheat was being saved for planting, not eating. But Paul points out that, at least in this case, God meant the singular—the promised “seed”—the person of Christ.

But the word used in Genesis 13:16 is a different form of the same word, and is commonly used as a plural or substantive, meaning a large quantity (“sperma”), meaning “seed—and lots of it”. The particular promise of the land and blessing, then, was not initially to the whole family of Israel, but to one single offspring: Christ. The specific promise regarding Abraham’s offspring being so numerous uses a different word form.

There is a third form of the Greek word for seed (“spermasin”) that is specifically plural, referring to a numeric plural. That is the one Paul pointed out that God had NOT used. There is no question that Paul was making a valid point; again, because he quoted the Septuagint.

Why does this matter?

To Whom Was the Promise Given?

The initial promise, of course, was to Abraham. But the portion that said, “…and thy seed…” used the specifically singular word for “seed”, and, as we see in Galatians, that particular seed was not in reference to Isaac (who wasn’t born yet), but to Christ.

Since I do not easily read Greek, but rather have to look up every word, as a rule, I would not have caught this detail. And since I don’t even own a copy of the Septuagint, but had to find a copy on the internet that I could read and compare to the Greek New Testament (which I do own), I definitely never would have known that there was a detail I was missing without God commenting on His own Word and showing us something special.

So why is that so special? Because, if the Jews had been correct in assuming that all of the promises were to them because they were Abraham’s offspring, then those promises could not be applied to me unless I became a Jew. In fact, even then they would not apply, because I am not his offspring at all, by nature, and becoming a Jew would not change that. But…if, as Paul states, the promises were to Christ, then they can be applied to me, if I am in Christ.

The promise is both narrowed and broadened in that one explanation: it is narrowed from “all the Jews” to “just the Messiah”. It is broadened from “only the Jews” to “anyone and everyone who places his or her trust in the living Christ.” Paul underscores this “positional truth” in another passage; 1st Corinthians 15:22—“all in Christ shall be made alive”. If you are “in Christ” then the promises will be to you.

Are there specific promises given only to the Jews? Yes, I believe there are. I do not believe that the Church has “replaced” the Jews in the plan of God. Their promises are virtually all physical, earthly blessings. Ours are, without exception, spiritual, heavenly blessings. And a Jew who embraces Christ steps into a new relationship. Just as the Levite, who had no inheritance in the land, but whose inheritance was the person of God and the priesthood of God, the person whose life is hidden in Christ trades the earthly and temporary for the heavenly and eternal.

So; the question Paul is exploring here continues to be the relationship of Law to Promise—Law to Grace—Law to faith. His answer comes in the form of a question: “Which came first?” The answer is that the Promise came 430 years before the Law. His conclusion is that the Law could not change the Promise. By choosing to trust in Christ and his finished work at the Cross, we sidestep the curse of the Law, and embrace the eternal Promise of God. Paul goes on:

17 And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect.

Paul argues that, if the Law changed the promise in any way, then the promise is broken. But God does not break his promises, and the Law, coming far later, has no authority to change or set aside the promise.

By the way, remember that the Promise was an entirely one-sided covenant made by God…there was nothing for Abraham to do: no further conditions to meet. He had already been declared righteous by God. How? By Grace, through faith; and God made the unconditional covenant of the Promise, with no way for Abraham to fail.

Remember we have talked about how a serious, binding covenant between two Jews was made? The two parties brought a sacrifice, and split the pieces of that sacrifice, and together walked between the pieces of the sacrifice, calling God as their witness that they were bound by the terms of the contract.

But in Genesis 15, God did not allow Abraham to walk with him between the pieces of the sacrifice. He allowed Abraham to see, but not participate, as He himself walked alone through the sacrifices. Does that sound at all familiar? Doesn’t it strike you as significant that Jesus walked alone through all the trial of Gethsemane, the trial and the Cross? Alone, into the Grave, alone in the Resurrection and the Ascension…but invites us to join Him there, by faith? He has invited you to see, but not to participate, beyond faith. You do NOT earn your salvation in any way.

God bound Himself to the Covenant…there was nothing for Abraham to do, to fulfill “his part of the agreement”. It was entirely one-sided! There was no way that Abraham could fail, somehow negating the promise. The condition (Faith) had already been met. Abraham had already been declared righteous, and the Promise was secure. Does that sound familiar? We have already been saved by grace, through faith (Ephesians 2:8, 9). Peace with God has already been established (Romans 5:1) and the promise is eternally secure.

Paul’s Conclusion

18 For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise.

If the inheritance was somehow switched over to being accessible through the Law (instead of promise) then the promise would have to be set aside…and it was not. The Law and the Promise are not working at cross-purposes. They are working together.

Paul first points out what is common knowledge—that the Promise was given apart from Law. He pointed out that Abraham had the promise nearly half a century before Law was introduced. Then he concludes that inheriting the promise is also not connected to Law, but to Grace and Faith, just as it was in Abraham’s case.

If you want the promise of God to be applied to your life, look to the one who inherited them all…Jesus! If you have received Him as your savior, then the Promises are already yours, because you are in Christ. But, how do we experience them?

On a day-by-day, moment-by-moment basis, we experience the full blessing of God through faith and obedience. We regain fellowship through confession (1st John 1:9), and maintain it by simply walking by faith (1st John 1:7). As the Holy Spirit points out things in our lives that He wants to change or eliminate, we can say, “Amen, Lord”, and give those things to Him as an act of Worship, or we can scream, “NO! That’s my favorite!” and cling to our own way. As we give our lives over to Him, bit by bit, we grow closer to Him; we understand more of His perspective, and we learn to walk more consistently.

A baby learning to walk is very unstable. But eventually he or she learns to walk reliably, and seldom stumbles. This happens through practice, as the child grows stronger and gains a better sense of balance. We can do this, too! We can:

  • Practice confession and obedience—that is how we regain fellowship and walk with God. And it takes perseverance and practice.
  • Feed on the Word of God to grow stronger and healthier.
  • Pray for God’s leading, so that we will be sensitive to His Word.
  • Fellowship with other believers. This is how we learn the joy of walking with God.

Press on, my friends! It is worth it, every step of the way!

Lord Jesus, we ask that we may partake in the Divine Nature through the Promises available to us in You, as we fellowship with You and with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Make us the Men and Women of God you have chosen us to be. We pray these things so that we might be to your honor and glory.