The Sovereignty of God and Israel
Malcolm C. Davis, Leeds, England
Israel’s National Election
When the God of glory called Abraham to leave Ur of the Chaldees to travel to a land which He would later show him, He intended to form from him a chosen nation, Israel. National election was a new departure in God’s sovereign purposes. Previously, He had dealt with chosen individual men who trusted Him, such as Abel, Enoch, and Noah. Nations had been formed after the flood judgement, and man’s rebellion at Babel had led to these being scattered across the earth. Abraham had once been an idolater like most other men, so that he had no special merit which qualified him for God’s sovereign electing love. The Lord later told His people Israel through Moses that there was no natural reason in them why He chose them, because they were neither deserving, numerous, nor very remarkable as a nation, Deut. 7. 7-8. As with all whom God sovereignly chooses to be His own, He loved them because He loved them; that is, because His nature is love. Israel is the only nation on earth whom God has ever chosen and called ‘my son’ corporately, Hos. 11. 1. In this respect, Israel is absolutely unique. The Lord later assured them that they were ‘the apple of his eye’, very special, near, and dear to Him, Zech. 2. 8.
In the Past
Israel was redeemed nationally from slavery in Egypt under Pharoah both by the shed blood of the Passover lamb slain on their behalf and also by God’s almighty power from the pursuing Egyptians at the Red Sea. The Old Testament scriptures contain many reminders to Israel of their miraculous deliverance at the Exodus. No other nation has been redeemed in such a way.
The Lord had several sovereign purposes in choosing and redeeming Israel. These included His call to them to become a kingdom of priests for His glory and a holy nation like Himself, Exod. 19. 6. Also, they were to become the recipients of God’s revelation, which led directly to the formation of the scriptures. They certainly carefully guarded and passed these down to us. Israel was intended to be the Lord’s witnesses in the world and to propagate the doctrine of the one true God, Isa. 43. 10-12, a task which they really failed to perform well. Finally, they were chosen to produce the Christ, Rom. 9. 5. All this meant that the Jews held the key to the way of salvation, as the Lord Jesus Himself said, John 4. 22.
Their Privileges and Promises
- Paul summarizes his people’s national privileges in Romans chapter 9 verses 4 and 5, namely:
- the adoption (national sonship mentioned above);
- the glory (the cloud of the Lord’s presence in the tabernacle and temple sanctuary);
- the covenants (that is, the unconditional ones, the Abrahamic, Palestinian, Davidic, and New Covenants);
- the giving of the law (that is, the conditional Mosaic covenant);
- the service of God (the Aaronic priesthood and Levitical service);
- the promises (of ultimate blessing despite their temporary failure as His representatives);
- the fathers (the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David, to whom the covenant promises of a land, a seed, and an everlasting house and kingdom were first made);
- ‘of whom, as concerning the flesh, Christ came’, v. 5.
Here we need to underline the largely unconditional nature of the Lord’s covenants with, and promises to, Israel, dependent entirely on His own sovereign electing will and purpose for them. Therefore they cannot be cancelled or transferred to anyone else, and will be fulfilled literally one day.
Their Perversity and Punishment
Israel, however, despite every advantage given to them, proved from the beginning of their history to be a stubborn and rebellious people. They continually broke the Mosaic law and covenant by their idolatrous, immoral, and unjust behaviour over many centuries. Therefore, although the Lord eventually led them into their Promised Land under Joshua, gave them a measure of victory over their enemies, and established His mediatorial kingship and temple in His chosen city, Jerusalem, He was later obliged to discipline them by allowing first the Assyrians, then the Babylonians to carry them into exile in foreign lands. There they were effectively cured of the sin of idolatry, and some of the exiles in Babylon were allowed, under the Lord’s sovereign hand, to return to Jerusalem after seventy years to rebuild the temple and city walls. But Israel’s culminating sin was their failure to recognize and welcome their prophesied Christ, their rejection of Him despite His morally perfect life, and their determination to crucify Him. For this, and for their failure to repent at the preaching of the apostles after Christ’s resurrection and ascension, they were again invaded by the Romans in AD 70, their temple was destroyed, and they have been dispersed among all nations for many centuries. God in His sovereignty has always used other nations to chastize them until they repent.
In the Present
Their Parallel Position
During this age of grace, since Pentecost and the formation of the church comprising all believers in Christ, God has temporarily rejected and set aside His earthly people Israel while the Holy Spirit is calling out of all nations a heavenly people as a bride for Christ. There are on earth at present, therefore, two parallel peoples of God, a heavenly one, the church, taking centre-stage in God’s redemptive purposes today, and an earthly one, Israel, in dispersion and under God’s discipline. But God has neither cancelled, nor transferred to the church, Israel’s unconditional covenants and unfulfilled promises. They still apply to them, despite much current teaching to the contrary. Otherwise, the obvious literal meaning of much scripture, especially Old Testament scripture, is denied, and there is complete confusion in interpretation.
Their Miraculous Preservation
God’s absolute sovereignty is seen clearly in the undeniable fact that the Jewish nation, despite several exiles and their present world-wide dispersion, has in large measure retained its separate identity, and has survived many attempts by Gentile powers to annihilate them completely. More than that, it is seen in the way that the present nation state of Israel was re-established in their land in 1948, and has defeated several invasions by their hostile Arab neighbours. Without doubt, God’s overruling sovereignty is evident here. He is owning His earthly people despite their present position under His discipline.
Their Current Prospects
Today, God is increasingly making Israel ‘a burdensome stone’ to all nations, Zech. 12. 3. World leaders do not know how to resolve the Middle East impasse. Scripture clearly predicts that this situation will continue and lead directly to the final world war, Armageddon, at the end of the future Great Tribulation, Dan. 11. 40-45. The coming evil prince will pretend to resolve the problem, but break his seven-year covenant with unbelieving Israel, Dan. 9. 26-27. Currently, we see various indications that God is sovereignly preparing the world for these end-time events.
In the Future
Their Rejection not Total
Romans chapters 9 to 11 are encouraging. Here Paul says that God has sovereignly overruled Israel’s rejection of Christ, and their consequent temporary rejection by God. In this age of grace and the largely Gentile Church, God is not working nationally, but individually, so that anyone, Jew or Gentile, who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved, Rom. 9. 30-10. 21. God had always promised to save a believing remnant of Israel from the fate of the unbelieving majority, Isa. 10. 20-23. Other prophets had also predicted this. Now Paul points out that there is still a remnant of Jews coming to faith, Rom. 11. 1-11. Today, these Jewish believers become part of the church and share her destiny. So the rejection of Israel is not total. God’s sovereign purpose in Israel’s stumbling over Christ was that salvation might go out to the Gentiles, the ‘wild olive branches’. But this, in turn, was to provoke the Jews to jealousy and so result in their conversion, Rom. 11. 11-15.
Their Rejection not Final
Because ‘the gifts and calling of God are without repentance’, Rom. 11. 29, after the full complement of Gentiles have believed during the present church age, and we have been raptured to heaven, in sovereign grace God will remove Israel’s partial blindness to the gospel and set them in the centre of His purposes again. 144,000 divinely-protected Jews will preach the gospel of the kingdom world-wide, Rev. 7. Then, when Christ appears in glory, the third part of Israelites who survive the tribulation will repent, believe, and be born again, Zech. 12-13. So ‘all Israel shall be saved’, and Christ will ‘turn away ungodliness from Jacob’, Rom. 11. 26. Thus God will graft the natural branches of His olive tree of covenant privilege and responsibility, which stems from His promises to the patriarchs, back into their own olive tree again, vv. 16-24.
Their Refining Necessary and Painful
God predicted to Daniel 490 further years of discipline for Israel to end their rebellion against Him, of which the last seven tribulation years will be the worst. This will be ‘the time of Jacob’s trouble’, from which the Lord will come to save them, Jer. 30. 7. It will purify Israel spiritually by means of the Beast’s persecution and God’s own direct judgements, Rev. 6-19.
Their Regathering and Restoration Certain and Glorious
At the beginning of the millennial kingdom of Christ, all surviving Israelites will be regathered by His angels to their land to form the chief nation on earth, Matt. 24. 31. Gentiles will seek after the Jews, who will become God’s witnesses to them at last, Zech. 8. 23. When Israel is in her sovereignly-given place under Christ, the whole earth will flourish and all its citizens will acknowledge the Lord’s glory.
With Paul, let us, therefore, praise God for the wisdom of all His sovereign ways of ‘goodness and severity’, grace and government, with the nation whom He calls ‘Israel my glory’, Rom. 11. 33-36; Isa. 46. 13!