Articles addressing Scriptural concepts that are misunderstood by many Believers today.
Who is 'Israel'?
Israel. The one word that sums it all up. It’s kind of a buzzword, like 'Salvation' or 'Heaven.' I will state now that this writing does not address the “Two Houses” or the “One House” or even British Israelism. The purpose of this article is to hopefully establish a foundation as to who “Israel” was and is.
The word Israel means something different to a lot of people. To the modern world, it is the smallest country located in the Middle East. To many people today it is seen merely as the “Jewish State” that was rebuilt in 1948. But there is a lot more behind Israel than simply the title of a small piece of land. Scripturally speaking, the word Israel is a name. It refers to Jacob, son of Isaac, son of Abraham. It also refers to the descendants of Jacob. Jacob had 12 sons. They were: Rueben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulon, Joseph and Benjamin. These 12 sons then had children, and grandchildren and so on. These peoples, the descendants of Jacob (who was renamed Israel in Genesis 32 & 35) are known as the “b’nei Yisrael,” the “Children of Israel.” Because they were, quite frankly, Israel’s children.
There is a lot of misconception surrounding Israel, however. Many today believe that Israel is made up of Jews and that’s all. But they forget about all the other tribes. After the death of Solomon in 1 Kings 11, the kingdom of Israel was split. Jeroboam led the Ten Northern Tribes (all except for Judah, Benjamin and Levi), while Solomon’s son Rehoboam led the Southern Kingdom consisting of the three that did not follow Jeroboam. After this event, the term Israel then refers to the Northern Ten Tribes, while the term Judah refers to the Southern Kingdom. The Northern Tribes are sometimes called Ephraim, since that was the leading tribe of the Ten. However, Yahweh’s plan is not for a divided house, but for unity. That is why He told the prophet Ezekiel in Ezekiel 37 that He will be bringing them together yet again. This is what leads into the more in-depth part of this writing. Who is Israel, and what role does Israel play in the end?
The Whole Nation
To begin, let’s establish who Israel is. As previously stated Israel is the descendants of Jacob, but is that all? Go back to the beginning, when Israel first left Egypt. Exodus 12:38 says that a “mixed multitude went up also” with them out of Egypt. The term “mixed multitude” in Hebrew is “ayrab rab,” meaning “mixed kinds, abundance.” Or more specifically, a mixture of a great number. So it was not ONLY native Israelites that went out of Egypt, and it was not ONLY native Israelites dwelling in the wilderness. Now a few verses later we read in Exodus 12:48-49:
“48But if a stranger sojourns with you, and celebrates the Passover to Yahweh, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near to celebrate it; and he shall be like a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person may eat of it. 49The same law shall apply to the native as to the stranger who sojourns among you.”
The same law (Torah) is for the NATIVE and the NON-NATIVE.
Next read Numbers 15:15 “15[As for] the assembly, there shall be one statute for you and for the alien who sojourns [with you], a perpetual statute throughout your generations; as you are, so shall the alien be before Yahweh.”
Again, the same Torah for the native as well as for the alien (non-native). This command was given to show – as Numbers 15:15 states – that the native was to be seen the same as the non-native in the eyes of Yahweh.
Lastly, consider Joshua 8:33.
“33All Israel with their elders and officers and their judges were standing on both sides of the ark before the Levitical priests who carried the ark of the covenant of Yahweh, the stranger as well as the native. Half of them [stood] in front of Mount Gerizim and half of them in front of Mount Ebal, just as Moses the servant of Yahweh had given command at first to bless the people of Israel.”
All Israel is defined as the native as well as the stranger. Why? Because citizenship in the nation of Israel (Yahweh’s people) is not determined by flesh and blood. It is about obedience, not genealogy.
All Israel Will Be Saved
Most people have heard this term before. But where does it come from? It is primarily quoted from Romans 11:26-27 “26And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written, “The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will banish ungodliness from Jacob;” 27 ‘and this will be My covenant with them when I take away their sins.’”
Here Paul says all Israel will be saved, though he is actually quoting Isaiah 59:20-21, which is why he said “as it is written.” He also made reference to Isaiah 45:17 and Jeremiah 30:7 when he wrote “all Israel will be saved.” Remember, Israel is the nation of people that choose to obey Yahweh. This is where a lot of “replacement” theology comes in. Many denominations of Christianity claim that the “church” replaced Israel (see article “What is the ‘Church?’”). This, however, is not the case. Yahweh’s “ekklesia” or His “assembly” has always been about choice. It has always been about choosing to follow Him. We will cover that more in the next section. The primary point to take away from this is that all Israel will be saved. It does not say “all Christians,” or “all Jews,” or anything like that. It simply says “all Israel.”
The Choice of Citizenship
Citizenship in the Kingdom of Elohim is a choice. Everyone must decide for themselves whom they will follow. Obedience leads to life, disobedience to death. In Deuteronomy 30:15-20 Yahweh declares:
“15See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, and death and adversity; 16in that I command you today to love Yahweh your Elohim, to walk in His ways and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His judgments, that you may live and multiply, and that Yahweh your Elohim may bless you in the land where you are entering to possess it. 17But if your heart turns away and you will not obey, but are drawn away and worship other gods and serve them, 18I declare to you today that you shall surely perish. You will not prolong [your] days in the land where you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess it. 19I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, 20by loving Yahweh your Elohim, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him; for this is your life and the length of your days, that you may live in the land which Yahweh swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.”
Here He says that we are given a choice: to follow Him to life, or to turn away to death. Remember that “all Israel shall be saved.” Being part of Israel is determined by your faith, as evidenced by your obedience.
Paul declares this very fact in Galatians 3:28-29 when he says, “28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Messiah Yeshua. 29And if you belong to Messiah, then you are Abraham’s descendants, and heirs according to the promise.”
If you belong to Messiah, you become a descendent of Abraham. Whether your DNA miraculously changes or not is irrelevant. You are counted as a child of Abraham, a member of the Commonwealth of Israel. Paul reiterates this in his letter to the congregation at Ephesus. He starts in chapter 2. Ephesians 2:1-7:
“1And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4But Elohim, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Messiah (by grace you have been saved), 6and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly [places] in Messiah Yeshua, 7so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Messiah Yehsua.”
Paul starts by establishing that the Ephesians were FORMERLY walking in the course of this world (sin), but that they were made alive in Messiah. He says in verse 3 that “we too” formerly lived in sin. The “we” he speaks of is the Jews. Remember, Paul was a Pharisee. Next skip down to verse 11.
“11Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Un-circumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands– 12[remember] that you were at that time separate from Messiah, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without Elohim in the world.”
Paul is not belittling those of Gentile birth. He is reminding them they were born outside of the Israel, and were not raised inside the covenant that Yahweh made with Israel. He tells them they were “excluded from the commonwealth of Israel.” Notice very carefully the language used. He says “formerly gentiles in the flesh” meaning he is referring to the past. They were called “uncircumcision” by what is called “circumcision.” This is one of the ways Paul refers to Jews. He calls them “those of the circumcision” or simply “the circumcision.” (See Romans 4 & Titus 1)
Ephesians 2:13 “13But now in Messiah Yeshua you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Messiah.”
Again, the same type of language. You were FORMERLY far off, but now have been brought near. Moving on to the next chapter.
Ephesians 3:6 “6…the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Messiah Yeshua through the gospel.”
There again, same as in Galatians, we have Paul saying the gentiles (non-natives) are fellow heirs. He also speaks of this in Romans. Romans 11 is the reason we hear the term “grafted in.”
Romans 11:17-24 “17And if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive tree, have been grafted in among them, and came to share the root and fatness of the olive tree, 18do not boast against the branches. And if you boast, remember: you do not bear the root, but the root bears you! 19You shall say then, “The branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.” 20Good! By unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by belief. Do not be arrogant, but fear. 21For if Elohim did not spare the natural branches, He might not spare you either. 22See then the kindness and sharpness of Elohim: on those who fell sharpness, but toward you kindness, if you continue in His kindness, otherwise you also shall be cut off. 23And they also, if they do not continue in unbelief, shall be grafted in, for Elohim is able to graft them in again. 24For if you were cut out of the olive tree which is wild by nature, and were grafted contrary to nature into a good olive tree, how much more shall these who are the natural branches, be grafted into their own olive tree?”
The Tree being spoken of is Israel. All Israel. The “branches” are the people. The natural branches are those that are native. The “wild” olive tree (and its branches) refers to the non-natives. Paul makes it clear that only by your belief can you be grafted into the Tree of Israel. By unbelief some were broken off. They can be restored, however. Again we see that Yahweh’s plan, as it was from the beginning, is for “all Israel” to be saved.
And we know from 1 Timothy 2:4 that “[Elohim] desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” So then, His desire is for all men to be part of Israel, His chosen nation. Peter reminds the dispersed Israelites that they are a chosen people and a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9). The context is shown in 1 Peter 1, when he states that he is writing to “the chosen, strangers of the dispersion.” This is also echoed in Revelation 1 & 5, where it says the Saints (set-apart ones, or “holy people”) are to be kings and priests.
In Genesis 22, Yahweh told Abraham that through his seed, all nations would be blessed. And we learn from Romans 11:25 that the plan was for the “fullness of the gentiles” to come in. Come in to what? The assembly of Israel. The word “gentile” is from Strong’s #H1471 “goy” meaning nation. It means literally all nations BESIDES Israel. The Greek equivalent, as we see in Romans 11 (and all throughout the Apostolic Writings) is Strong’s #G1484 “ethnos.” Ethnos, like goy, means nation. Yahweh’s plan was to bless ALL NATIONS through the seed of Abraham. That was Israel’s mission, to be a light to the world.
In Isaiah 60:4 Yahweh says, “4″Pay attention to Me, O My people, And give ear to Me, O My nation; For law [Torah] will go forth from Me, And I will set My justice for a light of the peoples.”
It is prophesied of Yeshua in Isaiah 42 & 49 that He will be the Light to the World. We know from John 8:12 that Yeshua Himself declared He was the Light of the World.
In Luke 8:16 Yeshua says that “no one takes a lamp and hides it under a basket. Rather, he puts it on a stand for all to see.” Israel failed to do this in ancient times. They continually turned to serve the gods of the nations around them. Israel was not meant to conquer the entire world by the sword. They were simply being lead into the land that had been prepared for them. There were only seven nations they were to utterly destroy. The rest of the time they should have been praising the Name of Yahweh, and proclaiming His salvation (Psalm 96:2). But alas, they turned aside. They did what was right in their own eyes instead of following Yahweh (Judges 21:25). They worshipped creature instead of creator (Romans 1:25). They even went against the very nature of human relationship (Romans 1:26-27). But all was not lost. The plan from the beginning of time was that Yeshua, the Son of Yahweh Elohim, would come to die for the sins of the entire world (1 Peter 1:20, Revelations 13:8 & Hebrews 4:3).
Ger vs. Goy
One of the more confusing aspects of Torah for the non-native is the Scripture that seems like a contraction at first. Remember, if we find a contradiction in Scripture, we are either reading it wrong or it was poorly translated. In Exodus 12:48-49 above, we read that Passover was to be kept by the native and the stranger, right? Consider the following: Exodus 12:45 says a foreigner shall NOT eat of the Passover. Now there are multiple words used for “foreigner” and “sojourner” and “layman.”
We have the Hebrew words ger (גר), nokri (נכרי), toshab (תשבי) and zur (זור). Ger is commonly translated as stranger or alien. It appears in the phrase, “…the stranger within your gates.” Nokri is typically translated as foreigner or sometimes as stranger. Toshab is usually translated as sojourner or foreigner. Zur is usually rendered as layman or foreigner.
So we see a problem here. Four different Hebrew words (completely different) all translated almost interchangeably into English. To straighten this all out, let’s break these words down, examine their usage, and see if we can see the picture as accurately as possible. Starting with ger, we find that it most represents someone of foreign nationality that lives as an Israelite. Indeed, Exodus 12:49 (and Numbers 15:16) informs us that the ger is subject to the same Torah as the native-born. So for this, we find it most accurately represented by the English “sojourner.” This is based on the ger being a “dweller” in the land, and also on the statement of Moses, who named his son Gershom, saying, “I have been a ger in a foreign land” (Exodus 2:22).
Next is nokri, which always carries a meaning of foreigner. This is the person that is outside the covenant. It is the word used in Deuteronomy 17:15 which states not to “…put a foreign man over you…” On account of this (and the many other times it is used) it should be read consistently as “foreigner.”
Toshab is usually mixed up with ger, as both have similar meanings. While a ger would be treated as a member of the assembly of Israel, the toshab is a person who is not part of the covenant, but is still sojourning among Israel. This would be a foreigner that is staying as a temporary resident. Because of this, word is best translated as as “guest.” A quick reading of Leviticus 25 shows there are many times the word is used, and seems to be associated with ger, though we find a major difference in Exodus 12:45, as noted above. Exodus 12:49 states that the ger is just as much a member of Israel as the native-born. But four verses prior to that we are told that a toshab may not eat of the Pesach [Passover]. This is because although the toshab may live with you, he is not an active member of the covenant, and that is his choice. If the toshab desired to become an Israelite (which is by choice), then he would fall into the category of ger and would be a member of the community.
Last, we have the zur. Zur should rendered as “stranger” for a couple of reasons. For one, using the word “stranger” helps to differentiate between the other words. Two, it is the word used in Leviticus 10 when Nadab and Abihu offered “strange fire” before Yahweh. However, the word is LITERALLY defined as a verb, meaning “to be strange.”
In Exodus 12:49, Numbers 15:15 and Joshua 8:33 the word used for “stranger” or “alien” in each verse is “ger.” The “ger” is to be treated as a member of the assembly of Israel. He is treated as a native-born citizen. Jews would refer to the “ger” as a proselyte. That is, one that converted from his former religion to that of Israel, despite being of foreign birth.
The major separation can be seen as follows. The toshab, zur and nokri are simply foreigners, outside of the covenant. They are of the “nations” so they are goyim (gentiles). They are not part of the assembly of Israel. These would be people that were travelling through the wilderness that would have traded with the Israelites. They would be the people who would dwell with them without joining themselves to Israel. The ger is the “proselyte” or the “convert.” Technically speaking, the ger is the one of foreign birth, who has BECOME an Israelite. In all the Scriptures that talk about fairness for native and “alien,” about the same laws applying to the native and the “alien,” the word used is ger. The ger is allowed to eat of the Pesach (Passover), while the others are not. The ger is an active member of the community. For all intents and purposes, the ger is, himself, an Israelite.
The choice of citizenship is what defines that. Notice in Exodus 12, where it says that the ger may partake in the Passover. Something must be done first. An outward symbol of an inward heart change. He must be circumcised. That would be his symbol of outward faith that he would want to be a citizen of Israel.
A great example of a ger becoming an Israelite is the story of Ruth. She was a Moabite, a goy. She was not a native-born Israelite, and was “foreign to the promise.” Yet she was brought into the commonwealth of Israel because she desired to follow the Elohim of Naomi (which was the Elohim of Israel).
In Leviticus 23:22 Yahweh said, “22When you reap the harvest of your land, moreover, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field nor gather the gleaning of your harvest; you are to leave them for the needy and the sojourner. I am Yahweh your Elohim.”
What is fascinating is that the word used for “sojourner” is ger. They were commanded to leave the gleanings (the leftovers) and the corners (furthest edges) of their fields for the needy and the ger. Now compare this to what happens in Ruth 2. Ruth follows Naomi back to Bethlehem where she meets Naomi’s relative Boaz. Boaz was rich, which in their day usually implied he owned a lot of land. We see that he did, indeed, own land and that he hired harvesters to gather the crops from it for him. In verse 3 we read that Ruth followed behind the harvesters and gleaned after they had harvested. She was a ger (sojourner/proselyte) and therefore the gleanings were legally hers to begin with!
To sum it all up, Israel will be saved. All Israel. Israel was and is the assembly of Elohim. In Revelation 21 we are told that the New Jerusalem (our eternal home) has 12 gates. On these 12 gates are the names of the 12 tribes of Israel. It is definitely worth mentioning that there is no “gentile” gate. There is no such thing as a “gentile believer,” just as there is no such thing as a “Jewish believer.” (The one Scripture sometimes translated as “Jewish believer” is Acts 16:1. However, it should be rendered “son of a Jewish woman, who was a believer”). There is only “the Believer,” for all are as one in Yeshua. (See Romans 3, Romans 10, Galatians 3 and Colossians 3) Once you become a Believer, you become a child of Abraham (Galatians 3:28-29) and are grafted into the commonwealth of Israel. As Paul wrote to the assembly of Ephesus, you were FORMERLY (as in, not anymore) gentiles. I pray this has blessed you and, at the very least, sparked an interest in you to study this on your own.
Be Berean. Shalom.
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J. A. Brown