israel

Judges 17, Jeremiah 30-31

Today we’re reading Judges 17 and Jeremiah 30-31.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 31:36, “‘Only if these decrees vanish from my sight,’ declares the Lord, ‘will Israel ever cease being a nation before me.’”

There is a method of interpreting scripture that interprets the promises God made to Israel, the nation, as fulfilled in us, the church. The church, according to this interpretation, is a full replacement for Israel.

There are significant problems to that method of interpretation. A primary problem is the specificity of God’s promises to Israel. Note in verses 38-39 how specific the proper place names are: “... this city will be rebuilt for me from the Tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate. The measuring line will stretch from there straight to the hill of Gareb and then turn to Goah.” How can these specific places be “spiritualized?” If you believe that “all Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Tim 3:16), then why did God keep making these promises to the nation, including specific places in the Promised Land, if he meant them in some kind of spiritualized way?

The only answer that makes sense and takes these promises seriously is a literal interpretation of them. In the future, after Christ returns, God will re-establish the nation of Israel in the land on earth with Jesus as king. We Gentiles will take part in that kingdom because we’ve been grafted in (Rom 11:13-17) and because it was always God’s plan to include people from all nations, not because we have replaced Israel.

The fact that Jewish people still claim a unique identity is a testimony to God’s faithfulness to these promises. Someday he will make good on every promise. When that happens, his people will be redeemed spiritually (vv. 33-34) and everyone on earth will “know the Lord” (v. 34). Human life will finally be restored to the condition God created us in--holy, devoted to him, and perfect in our faith and obedience. All of this will happen, of course, only by the grace of God: “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

Genesis 33, Esther 9-10, Psalm 32

Today’s Bible readings are Genesis 33, Esther 9-10, and Psalm 32.

This devotional is about Esther 9-10.

There are good, godly men who don’t believe that God cares about Israel as a nation any longer. They believe that God’s promises to Israel have been fulfilled in Christ and in the church. The Jews that exist today, then, are just like any other race of people on earth. There are some who are elect and will trust Christ by faith to become part of the church just as in every other nation. But, to those who believe that the church has replaced Israel, there is nothing special about national Israel.

I do not believe that.

I believe that God’s covenant with Abraham remains and that there are promises he made to Israel that have yet to be fulfilled. Those promises will be fulfilled by Christ and, when they are, then Christians and Jewish believers will be united as one people of God in eternity.

One reason I believe this is that Jewish people still exist with their ethnic identity in tact. Throughout human history, there have ben repeated efforts to extinguish their existence. You are aware of Hitler’s attempts to destroy the Jews and that they have enemies today, such as the PLO, who want to wipe them out as well. But these modern threats are only the latest. Here in Esther, we’ve been reading about how Haman wanted to eradicate the Jews from the earth. Yet, in God’s sovereign will, he placed Mordecai and Esther in Xerxes’s palace to thwart Haman’s genocidal intentions.

What’s so interesting about the book of Esther is that God’s name is not mentioned at all, not once in any form. And, Esther became queen through immorality (chapter 2) and neither she nor Mordecai are portrayed as believers in YHWH or adherents to Judaism as a faith. The closest reference we see in Esther to God or faith in him is when Esther asked the Jews in Susa to “fast for me” and said “I and my attendants will fast as you do” (Esther 4:15-16). That’s it! She doesn’t even mention prayer with this fasting; just the fasting.

It may be true (it likely is, actually) that Esther and Mordecai were believers. But the author of Esther does not say so or detail for us what their walk with God was like. The purpose of this book is not to laud these two people for their faith, but to show how God was faithful to his covenant regardless of whether any of the Jews were faithful to him. This book also shows us how God works sovereignly. There is not one miracle described in the book nor is there any divine revelation to help out the main characters. In the book of Esther, people acted rationally, with intention and in fear at times without any divine intervention or even any overt acknowledgement on God. And yet, God still worked in their everyday lives to save his people from being extinguished. God may not be mentioned directly in the book of Esther, but his faithfulness to his covenant and his care for his people is demonstrated on every page.

Israel today lives in unbelief. There are Jews, of course, who have embraced Christ as Messiah and become Christians like we are. But the nation we call Israel was politically created and is one of the most progressive (in the moral sense; in other words, “liberal”) nations on earth. Yet just as God protected and cared for his people in Esther, regardless of their faith or lack of faith, he is preserving his people and watching over them. There will come a day when they will turn to Christ in faith (see Romans 11 and most of the book of Revelation). Those Jews who die before that day will perish in hell just like any other person who does not submit to Christ in faith. But God is faithful and will make good on his promises to Abraham, David, and others.

For us, the lesson of Esther is to trust God. Things around us may look good at times; at other times, they may look bleak. God has ways of accomplishing his will even through unbelievers and he will do it. So hope and trust in him, not in people, governments, programs, or anything else.

Romans 11

Today we’re reading Romans 11.

Romans 10 discussed the fact that many Israelites rejected the good news about Christ but, today in chapter 11, Paul was quick to address the fact that not all Jews were in unbelief (v. 1). In verses 2-10, he reminded us that historically the Jewish people lived in unbelief and rebellion against God for most of their history. So the idea that only some of God’s chosen people were actually chosen to have faith in him is not something new. It is how God has always worked, saving a “remnant” who trusted him from the heart (vv. 5-6).

But why did this happen when Jesus came? Wasn’t the promise of Messiah that he would rule over all Israel? Yes, that was the promise and it will still happen (v.26). The reason it didn’t happen with Jesus’ first coming, however, was God’s desire to save us Gentiles (vv. 11-25). God will still redeem Israel, just as he promised, but not “until the full number of Gentiles has come in (v. 25b). This is all an expression of God’s mercy (v. 32). He hardened Israel, for a time, so that he would save us. The power of this grace overwhelmed Paul in verses 33-36. It caused him to remark on the greatness of God’s wisdom (v. 33a) and how his wisdom is beyond human comprehension (vv. 34-36).

Is this how you respond to doctrines that are hard to understand? Does the doctrine of election or of the Trinity lift your spirit to worship the immense wisdom of God? Or, does it cause you to question and even deny those doctrines because they are hard for us to understand. If God is all-wise and all-knowing, are we really surprised that he does things that we find hard to understand? If everything about God were simple and made perfect sense to limited, fallible people like us, then we should be concerned. So let the difficult doctrines of scripture, the ones you find hard to understand or to accept as true, cause you to look to God in awe. His judgments are “unsearchable... and his paths beyond tracing out!”

Romans 9

Today read Romans 9.

For a letter written to the church at Rome, the book of Romans has a lot of Jewish themes in it. The chapters we’ve already read talked about Jews and Gentiles explicitly, as well as discussing the Law of Moses repeatedly. Scholars have wondered why there is so much about Judaism and the Jewish people in this letter; some have speculated that the church at Rome was actually a divided church--a Jewish congregation and a Gentile congregation. Perhaps moving the church toward unity was one of Paul’s goals in writing this letter. Maybe he was laying a foundation for attempting unification when he came to Rome in person.

That’s all speculation. What is clear is that chapters 9 through 11 or Romans will address the unbelief of the nation of Israel as a whole. Today’s reading, obviously, began that discussion; however, Paul came to the discussion about Israel indirectly here in chapter 9. His true intent was to talk about election. Israel, in this chapter at least, was brought up here as an object lesson in election.

In verses 1-5 Paul discussed the many spiritual privileges that Israel as a nation had. Despite those privileges, they did not receive their Christ when he came which gave Paul great sorrow and anguish (vv. 1-2). The problem of Israel’s unbelief, however, was not a failure of God’s word (v. 6). Rather, their unbelief was the result of God’s direct, merciful choice in election (vv. 15-18). In verses 7-13, Paul demonstrated that Israel’s own history showed that God worked through election. Only Isaac was chosen between Abraham’s two sons (vv. 7-9), then only Jacob and not Esau was chosen (vv. 10-13).

From a human perspective, divine election feels unjust. Paul anticipated the objection of injustice in v. 14 and he answered it by telling us that we’re looking at it the wrong way. It is just for God to punish us all; if he chooses to have mercy on some, that is his right as the creator (vv. 15-18). If the President pardons a convicted murderer, he has not been unjust to every other murderer. He’s been merciful to one; the constitution gives him that right and he an exercise it as often or as rarely as he wants by whatever criteria he chooses. In a much greater way God, the one who created us all and the one against whom all of our sins were committed has the absolute right to save everybody or nobody or some number of people in between all or none.

The reason we have a problem with election is not because it is unjust. Rather, we have an authority problem (vv. 20-23). The doctrine of election strains our human limits and tempts us think that we know better than God does. But his ways are wiser than ours and his will is beyond our comprehension. Like everything else in the Christian life, we have to humble ourselves and trust God.

One thing that is often overlooked when discussing election is this: without election, nobody would be saved. We think the opposite; we think that, if salvation were available to anyone and everyone, then most people would get saved. But we forget that salvation requires a miraculous spiritual act--the act of opening blind eyes, turning hard hearts, humbling our pride and causing us to come to God in repentance. These are unnatural--impossible, actually--for sinners. Election exists, in part so that Christ’s death and resurrection were not in vain. Before Christ came and died, God determined that his death would matter by choosing people and predetermining that it would apply to them. Election shows us that God is more gracious than we realize, making certain to save some according to his mercy. I hope this causes your heart feel gratitude for his grace in your life and humbled that he chose you, not because of anything you’ve done but just because he chose to love you.

1 Kings 7, Ephesians 4, Ezekiel 37, Psalms 87–88

If you’re following the schedule, you should read these chapters today: 1 Kings 7, Ephesians 4, Ezekiel 37, Psalms 87–88. Click on any of those references to see all the passages in one long page on BibleGateway. If you can’t do all the readings today, read Ezekiel 37.

Here we have, perhaps, the most famous vision of Ezekiel—the valley of dry bones. Remember that Ezekiel was a very visual guy so many of God’s messages to him were in the form of stunning, even strange, visions that were highly visual metaphors for spiritual truth. Today’s passage is an excellent example. The Lord took Ezekiel to a valley and put him on the floor of that valley. As he looked in all directions, he saw human bones strewn across the valley (vv. 1-2). Then God asked him a very loaded question: “…can these bones live” (v. 3a)? Wisely, Ezekiel punted on the question; instead of giving a direct answer, Ezekiel deflected the question back to the Lord with the response, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know” (v. 3b). God then commanded Ezekiel to prophesy to the bones that the Lord would bring them to life (vv. 4-6). When Ezekiel obeyed, the bones flew together and assembled full skeletons (v. 7). Then, out of nowhere, they were covered with tendons and muscles and skin so that they looked like people, “but there was no breath in them” (v. 8). 

Ezekiel then spoke again, calling in the name of the Lord breath to enter these dead bodies (vv. 9-10). All of this would have terrified me, but for Ezekiel it was just another strange vision. At least, that’s how it seems. With this living army of soldiers standing all around Ezekiel, God gave him the interpretation of this vision. It was a vivid picture of how God was going to bring the dead nation of Israel back to life again (vv. 11-13). A change in metaphor (but not in meaning) happened in verse 15. There Ezekiel was commanded to write on two sticks—one to signify Israel and the other to stand for Judah (vv. 15-16). He was then to hold them in his hand so that they appeared to be one stick (v. 17). This indicated that God would not only resurrect Israel, he would reunite it (vv. 18-22). 

Finally, God told Ezekiel some more detail about this incredible prophecy. This people, Israel, which had struggled with idolatry for hundreds of years would finally be devoted to God (v. 23). Furthermore, God promised, “My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd.” This is a reference, of course, to David’s greater descendant, the Lord Jesus Christ himself. God promised that, when he came and took the earthly throne of David everything would be different. God’s people would be obedient to him (finally!—v. 24), would live in the promised land forever (v. 25) and would enjoy a thriving existence under God’s eternal covenant (vv. 26-28). This is all a reference to the coming Millennial kingdom of Christ. Despite all Israel’s sins, God has not abandoned his promises to them. Some day, Christ will rule over all. 

It is amazing that Israel still exists today as a people. The Babylonians, the Assyrians, the Philistines, the Hittites have all be assimilated into other cultures and ethnicities. But God’s chosen people still exist; you’ve never met a Philistine but you’ve met more than one Jewish person in your life. All of this is evidence that God is keeping his promise to Abraham; when Christ returns, that promise will be completed. And, by the grace of God, we Gentiles will be included by faith when this happens! 

Now for your thoughts: What stood out in your Bible reading for today? What questions do you have about what you read? What are your thoughts about what I wrote above? Post them in the comments below or on our Facebook page. And, feel free to answer and interact with the questions and comments of others. Have a great day; we’ll talk scripture again tomorrow.