Most evangelical Christians are thrilled that Israel became a nation in 1948, are happy to visit the Biblical tourist sights there, and have some far-off notion that there is a volatile military build-up soon to explode in the Middle East that they will have a mild interest in reading about in the evening papers.
What is up with Israel and with Almighty God? What is Israel, in the divine scheme of things? Have you ever pondered just why Israel is mentioned over 6,000 times in the Bible?
Why couldn't redemption just be given to individuals all over the world without even a mention of a small rag-tag nation being attached to the passions of a redemptive God? Why the need for this additional story of a nation of a small band of Jews being superimposed over the story of an evangelical, individual access to redemption? Why is the Father’s eye always upon Israel? “He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:4, NIV). Why does it appear to be a divine obsession? What is the deal here with this hunk of earth and an apparently indefatigable race of people devoted to a God Who once spoke to them (in a manifestation of the Son, Yeshua—the true lawgiver) from Mt. Sinai?
If one meditates on this mystery long enough, surprisingly five "aha's" emerge. Wondrous musings, indeed!
One: Israel is little
God even calls her little. "Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom" (Luke 12:32). He appears to favor working through little amounts, little events, little people—little everythings—to show his unmistakable mightiness. Little loaves and fishes, little uneducated prophets, little armies—"Gideon, for heaven's sake, send home thousands—you have too many soldiers!” (rough paraphrase of Judges 7:2). Little David is needed because he is half the size of Goliath. Perfect.
Two: Israel is His firstborn
Firstborns have more responsibilities, more pre-eminence, larger inheritances, often lose their inheritances, and are more influential on all of the younger children, sought after by the Devil to destroy, tested more severely, and require more expensive ransoms and more elaborate celebrations. Firstborns get larger coveted blessings. When parental hands get switched upon son's heads as blessings are uttered among the patriarchs, there is panic.
When Moses asked Pharaoh to "Let my people go" it was not because they were God's people, it was because they were his firstborn. Moses tells Pharaoh that God says "Israel is my firstborn—let my firstborn go" (Exodus 4:22, 23).
God is quoted in the New Testament as saying, "This is My Beloved, My only begotten Son" (Matthew 3:17 and 17:5)—ipso facto, my firstborn. Israel, too, is strangely His firstborn, here among the nations. And there are other firstborns, tagged to Israel. An entire tribe of Levi was offered as a firstborn replacement for the firstborn head of each house of Israel—to offer the equivalent of all the firstborn men of Israel in perpetual service in the temple (Numbers 8:16). Sacrifices need to be gathered from firstborns only—not from any old animal, or any old crop. "Take the first of your flocks, the first of your harvest" (Deuteronomy 12:6).
The Heavenly Father perpetuated His earthly seed through the lineage of His firstborns here on earth—a divine lineage which He hovered over through all time. While this fragile lineage precariously careened this way and that, He hovered over it and hedged it in. It survived by a mere thread from the killing of Abel, the firstborn, onward to Herod's slaughter of the baby boys, etc. Ishmael was an imposter to replace Isaac as the firstborn. They both were firstborns—as were perhaps both Mary and Joseph. The firstborns seem to be important as some sort of divine funnel for divine activity—contested all the way. For some reason Israel is needed as a firstborn. Redemption can't be offered any old way, at large. It comes through a proper order, a specific lineage—a gatekeeper.
Three: Israel is deeply embroiled in a covenant
Israel has been integrally involved in covenant, cut by God Himself. To make this covenant He required a split animal. He walked between the bloody halves. There was blood confirming this original covenant. (It is why we have a central aisle in churches; a covenant is cut between the bride's side and the bridegroom's side—symbolized by the aisle, with the altar directly in front.) Israel was given not one covenant but seven covenants, each of them still in effect. We still have the rainbow. Israel has been promised "via covenant" a land, national security, a Son of David to sit upon the throne, a millennium of peace, etc. These convents were not made with seven billion people, they were only made with a smaller pre-eminent representative of divine government—a group of people to traverse this territory first. They are the elder brother. There is a hint here about some celestial legal deal about how redemption comes to the world.
Four: Israel is to be an example of the divine lifestyle
We, in America, believe in a redemptive God but we spend much of our time in pagan culture. Our lifestyle is the same as our neighbors’ lifestyle. Israel's is different. This daily different lifestyle is marked by seven divine appointments each year (feast days such as Yom Kippur) and a centuries-old observed Sabbath that has never been deviated from, from the beginning of time. To this day, oddly, strangely, Israel's commerce totally shuts down on the Shabbat—one day in seven in a full cease-fire from commerce—a truce with money and secular activity—devoted fully to Divine worship, instead. The Sabbath was kept alive through the centuries in little hovels in Yugoslavia to Spain; it was kept by the Jews without interruption.
Israel was meant to be the carrier of a message—a message of what divine life looks like. Just take the story of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba and one sees the power of this example. The queen of another nation hustled to go see it. This is what Israel was designed to be to all of the nations on earth—an example of extraordinary occupation with God in exchange for extraordinary blessing. They are promised perpetual national security, abundance produce, and wisdom—depicted in the prototype of the judgments of Solomon, if Israel but consents to obey God's commanded lifestyle in addition to being redeemed by His blood. Men (and one very curious Queen of Sheba) came to Israel to get counsel, to observe the abundance, to gawk at the godly lifestyle —in hopes that they would get the message, jettison their inferior gods, and desire to worship the one great "I Am." Submitting to This god and only this god, is the place of blessing.
And Five: Israel is very likely the site of the original Garden of Eden
"He who began a good work will also bring it to conclusion" (Philippians 1:6, NIV). Did He abandon Eden? Start a new story somewhere else? Is it likely, given God's nature to redeem all things? Some now wonder whether Israel is the site of the original Garden of Eden (Ezekiel 28:13). We had a worldwide flood in between—perhaps it camouflaged Eden's location? Was it on purpose? Why the spiritual whirling dervish over the Temple Mount, and the foaming at the mouth of Israel's enemies on her borders? Why the raging of the nations at her doors, the staging of all three superpowers there in the surrounding waters right now—China, Russia and the USA? Why the rush of all the religions of the world to possess the pinnacle site?—unless this little piece of geography hasn't been claimed and counter-claimed since the beginning of time.
What has God's attention? Let us ask ourselves why. Is it not a hint of something quite grand? larger than life? Look straight toward Jerusalem. Keep your eyes fixed upon Israel. Here at the end of days, Israel is God's hour-glass, and Jerusalem is His minute hand--and the Temple Mount is His second hand. We are promised that "They that bless Israel, I will bless" (see Genesis 12:3). Love her. Seek citizenship in her forever. Die to a national love of any country but Israel and you'll be on the winning team when this world's house of cards crashes. She shall be a praise in all the earth, and Jerusalem shall enthrone the God you love.
For further reading, download our free 48-page eBook, A Simple Story of Israel, or order it while it is still in print.