All Israel

Do you believe the Bible? This might seem an odd question to put in an article addressed to Christians, but I pose it nonetheless. Do we really believe all that God has said in His Word? Let me illustrate what I mean, not through some obscure sentence or phrase, but by taking up a whole section of the Bible. I refer to the prophecies regarding the restoration and blessing of the nation of Israel. Many who claim to believe the Bible are found wanting here. They do not like what they read, and so, not being able to change the words themselves, they alter their meaning. When they read of judgment in relation to God’s earthly people the text is rightly taken at face value, but when they read of blessing, ‘the Church’ is substituted in place of ‘Israel’. This is not believing the Bible: it is believing what we would like the Bible to say.

   No real Christian would question the importance of the Lord’s words in John 3: “Except any one be born anew he cannot see the kingdom of God” (v3). What many overlook is the force of v7: “It is needful that ye should be born anew”. No longer is it “any one” but “ye”, not just “the teacher of Israel” (v10), but the house of Israel addressed through him. It is what Paul speaks of when he declares that “all Israel shall be saved” (Rom. 11: 26), a spiritual re–birth of the nation. If this seems unbelievable, it is not because God’s Word lacks clarity, but because we fail to realise that: “all things are possible with God” (Mark 10: 27).

   On the face of it, it does indeed appear that the house of Israel is in a state of permanent and final estrangement from Jehovah: “Our bones are dried, and our hope is lost” (Ezek. 37: 11). For nearly two millennia the heavens have remained shut while generations of pious Jews have spread their hands in prayer. For centuries they have abode “without king, and without prince, and without sacrifice” (Hos. 3: 4), and though some have regained the land of their fathers, it is not credible to call them God’s people in any practical sense. Having crucified their own Messiah, it would indeed seem that their hope is forever lost.

   Not so! Scripture tells us that God has not cast away his earthly people (see Rom. 11: 1), and Ezekiel 37 is proof of this. Unbelief may scoff, but for the true believer it is enough that the “word of [the] Lord abides for eternity” (1 Pet. 1: 25). But do we really believe that Word? When Jehovah asks “Shall these bones live?” (Ezek. 37: 3), shall we answer ‘No’? Of course the bones are “very dry” (v2) after so long a time, but what is that in the face of a “Thus saith the Lord Jehovah” (v5)? Nothing at all, and hence: “Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live. And I will put sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live” (vs 5, 6). Israel shall be revived! Why pervert Scripture and claim that Ezekiel 37 is the Church?  Is the language not plain enough? Who shall Ephraim and Judah be (see v16)—Popery and Protestantism? If “the house of Israel” (v11) is Christianity, when did they make their “sons to pass through the fire” and where did they go “into captivity for their iniquity” (Ezek. 20: 31; 39: 23)? Are we to ascribe all the bad things to Israel and all the good to the Church? Again, can the Church, however faithless she may be, really be equated with a valley full of bones? The whole scheme is absurd: theology it may be, but biblical doctrine it is certainly not.

Why question God’s ability to bring back from the dead his long–estranged people? Is it any more wonderful for God to “breathe upon these slain, that they may live” (Ez. 37: 9), than for the believer to be “born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by [the] living and abiding word of God” (1 Pet. 1: 23)? If of “his own will begat he us by the word of truth” (James 1: 18), why must His will with regard to Israel to “cause you to come up out of your graves, O my people” (Ezek. 37: 12) be frustrated? What material difference is there between being “born of water and of Spirit” (John 3: 5) and “the breath came into them, and they lived” (Ezek. 37: 10)? If the sinner’s condition as dead in “offences and sins” (Eph. 2: 1) made it imperative that God act in sovereign mercy that he be “born anew” (John 3: 3), why is it so remarkable that God should bring “bone to its bone” and “put my Spirit in you” in relation to Israel (Ezek. 37: 7, 14)? Why should Israel’s future entrance into blessing be any more remarkable than that of individual believers today? Both need to be re–born “not of blood, nor of flesh’s will, nor of man’s will, but of God” (John 1: 13) and as such are purely “objects of mercy” (Rom. 11: 31) having neither merit in themselves nor the inclination to turn to God.

   Yet there is more. Popular dispensationalism may make much of the coming spiritual revival in Judaism, but the bones before Ezekiel are not just Jews, not just Judah and Benjamin, but “the whole house of Israel” (Ez. 37; 11)—all twelve tribes! Go back to Romans 11: “all Israel shall be saved” (v26). Not just individuals, not just two tribes, but all Israel. And so Ezekiel was told to “take thee one stick, and write upon it, For Judah, and for the children of Israel, his companions. And take another stick, and write upon it, For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim and all the house of Israel, his companions. And join them one to another into one stick; and they shall become one in thy hand” (vs. 16, 17). Thus the long enmity between the ten tribes and Judah is to be removed, and “they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all” (v22). The doubters say that the so–called ‘lost tribes’ have been long since merged into Judaism and thus the prophecy was fulfilled centuries ago. Even if God–fearing individuals from the Northern Kingdom found spiritual refuge in Judah (see 2 Chron. 30: 11; Luke 2: 36), that is hardly the scope of what is here. Ezekiel sees a gathering “from among the nations” and “from every side”, and “David” reigning again over all Israel and Judah and being “their prince for ever” (Ezek. 37: 21, 25). Has there been a revival such as this in the history of God’s earthly people? Never—but it will happen because God has said it will!

   I return to the question with which I began: Do you believe the Bible? If I read in faith as a little child, then I will find no difficulty in what God has set out in such plain and simple terms as to the future of Israel. Why should he not “turn away ungodliness from Jacob” seeing that “the gifts and the calling of God [are] not subject to repentance” (Rom. 11: 26, 29)? If, however, I read Scripture through a filter of human wisdom then what is not acceptable to my mind will have to be modified until it is so. Thus all the promises given to Israel so unequivocally in the Prophets are made to find their fulfilment in Christianity. Such spiritualization is anything but spiritual. At its root is not faith, but unbelief—unbelief in what God has promised, and unbelief in His power to achieve it. If we really believe in a God who is able to do “far exceedingly above all which we ask or think” (Eph. 3: 20), then all that He has said will be found perfectly believable.