Has God Cast Away His People?
Jun 24, 2008
In Romans 9-11 we find the well-known "Israel passage," which has caused so much confusion in the Church in the past century. Paul asks in Rom. 11:1 and 2,
"I say then, Has God cast away His people? God forbid. For I also am an Israelite of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not cast away His people which He foreknew."
There are two assumptions that make this a confusing passage. The first is the assumption that the Jews are Israel. The second is that there is no distinction between Israel as a corporate group and an individual Israelite.
In Romans 9-11 Paul was dealing with one of the big problems of his day: Nearly 800 years earlier, God had cast out the nation of Israel, as we read in 2 Kings 17:18 says,
"Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel and removed them out of His sight; there was none left but the tribe of Judah only."
Two centuries after Israel's dispersion, Jeremiah wrote about Judah, saying in Jer. 7:15,
"And I will cast you out of My sight, as I have cast out all your brethren, even the whole seed of Ephraim."
Ephraim was the leading tribe of Israel, for that tribe had been given the birthright and the birthright name, Israel in Gen. 48:16. Yet Israel had continually rejected God and had rebelled against His laws, preferring their own traditions of men (man-made laws). For this reason, God cast out the House of Israel. He spared not even the holders of the birthright.
Should he then spare the tribe of Judah? No, of course not. Yet God could not cast out Judah until that tribe had produced the Messiah. So Judah's captivity to Babylon, predicted by Jeremiah, was a mere 70-year captivity, after which time a portion of the people returned to the old land. Why? Because Jesus had to be born in Bethlehem to fulfill Micah 5:2.
The debate in Paul's day centered primarily around the fate of the House of Israel, which had been carried into Assyria. Josephus tells us that they were, in the first century, a great multitude living on the other side of the Euphrates--that is, in Parthia. The border between the Roman Empire and the Parthian Empire was the Euphrates River.
Although they knew where those Israelites were located, they were not Jews. They were known as Gamirra, living in the land of Gamir, not far from the Caspian Sea. These Israelites had been divorced from God and cast out of His house (Jer. 3:8). And yet Hosea prophesied boldly of a remarriage between God and Israel--something forbidden in the law (Deut. 24:1-4).
So the rabbis debated how this prophecy could be fulfilled. Many concluded that Judah had replaced Israel as the birthright holder. Others disagreed, but had no real solution to the enigma. The problem was not solved until Jesus Christ died and was raised again as a "new creation" in the eyes of the law. Jesus was the Yahweh of the Old Testament, who had married Israel at Mount Sinai. Jesus was the One who had divorced Israel as well in Jer. 3:8. As such, He was forbidden by His own law to remarry Israel.
When Jesus died and was raised again, He became a new creature, a new person in the eyes of the law. This made Him eligible to remarry Israel. In Paul's day, the only thing that stood in the way was Israel's continuing apostasy. Jesus Christ had no intention of marrying an idolatrous wife again. That is why the marriage has not yet taken place with Israel as a corporate body.
The rabbis, of course, who rejected Jesus Christ, are still puzzled by Hosea's prophecies of Israel's restoration, for they have rejected the only solution to the enigma. Zionists went further by essentially declaring themselves married to God without Jesus Christ. Hence, they call themselvesIsrael, in order to trick Christians into thinking that the Jews replaced Israel as the holders of the birthright.
But Hosea is not the only prophet to speak of Israel's restoration. Jeremiah himself spoke of it in Jer. 18:1-10. He was told to go to the potter's house to receive a revelation. The potter was working on wet clay. The bottle he was making was marred, so he beat it down and began his work again to build another vessel. Then verse 6 says, "O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter?"
The Israel passage ends in verse 10, and then Jeremiah launches into a parallel prophecy of the house of Judah. The rest of chapter 18 is a terrible indictment of Judah's rebellion and sin. Then in chapter 19 the Lord tells the prophet to get an old earthen bottle--NOT WET CLAY--and smash the bottle in gehenna, the valley of the son of Hinnom. This, he said, would be how God would deal with Judah and Jerusalem. That people and that city would be like an old earthen bottle, which, once smashed, could not be repaired again (19:10, 11).
In other words, the ultimate fate of Israel is quite different from the ultimate fate of Judah. Israel is to be restored and rebuilt like the potter's vessel. But Jeremiah told the elders of Judah and Jerusalem that "this people and this city" would be broken permanently. Christians today generally do not understand the difference between Israel and Judah, so it is no wonder there is so much confusion about the modern Israeli state.
Paul identifies himself as being an Israelite of the tribe of Benjamin. Benjamin was Joseph's brother. In fact, Benjamin was the only son born after Jacob's name had been changed to Israel. One might make the case that the other tribes were Jacobites, while Benjamin was an Israelite. But the tribe of Benjamin had been loaned to Judah at the time of the Divided Kingdom (1 Kings 11:36).
After the return from the Babylonian captivity, the tribe of Judah settled south of Jerusalem (Neh. 11:25-30), while those of Benjamin settled to the north (Neh. 11:31-36). In time, the land of Benjamin became known as Galilee, while the south retained the name, Judea.
Jesus found most of His disciples in Galilee and did most of His ministry there. He was primarily rejected in Jerusalem and Judea, and for this reason John 7:1 says,
"After these things Jesus walked in Galilee; for He would not walk in Jewry [Judea], because the Jews sought to kill Him."
In other words, the Jews sought to kill Him, but the people of Galilee were more accepting of Him.
Paul's concern in Romans 9-11 was about the casting away of Israel (745-721 B.C.). Most of the examples he raises are taken directly from prophetic statements about the northern tribes of Israel. Yet Paul sometimes uses the term Israel in the generic sense to include all of the tribes. I discussed these chapters more fully in my online book, Blindness in Part, as well as Who is an Israelite?
Being a genealogical Israelite has some advantages, as I showed in a recent weblog series, "The Advantage of Genealogy." But genealogy saves no one, regardless of who we think Israel is today. Israel was cast out as a nation, but many individual Israelites have been restored by faith in Christ. The restoration of Israel--along with all other nations (Isaiah 56:8)--is conditional upon faith in Christ. All will be saved in the end, but NOT UNTIL they have come through the only Door--Jesus Christ.