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    Apparently Contradictory Prophecies of Eschatological Israel in Isaiah

    Any view of scriptures as inspired and inerrant demands of the interpreter a final product which is free of all absolute contradiction. If the bible is the word of God, and if God is trustworthy, then in the bible, A can never equal non-A fundamentally. That is, A can never equal non-A in the same sense and at the same time. Every instance we have in the bible, therefore, of A being equated with non-A is only a superficial, or accidental equation, and never an essential contradiction. That is not to say that we can find no examples of express A equals non-A formulas in the bible, but rather that every one of those formulas must be understood as indicating the negation of A respective of a different sense, or respective to a different time.

    For instance, when we examine Paul's statement in Romans 9:6, "they are not all Israel, which are of Israel," we must be content to presuppose of Paul as a reasonable man, not to mention a man writing under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that the contradiction intended is not a fundamental one. The precise formulation of this expression leaves us no doubt that a contradiction is being posited: under the rubric "all who are of Israel" is included a subset, "those who are not Israel". Of this subset, therefore, we see characteristic A, being of Israel, attributed to them, and at the same time the negation of A, being not-Israel, attributed to the same set. The context of the apparent contradiction leaves us no difficulty in vindicating our presupposition of the reliability of scriptures. As Paul goes on to elaborate, there is, of the entire set of those who are in some sense "Israel" a smaller set of "Israel according to God's promise" or "elect Israel". This elect Israel is truly Israel in a deeper and more fundamental sense than the set of those who are merely ostensibly Israel. Therefore, the non-elect offspring of Jacob are, in a superficial sense, "Israel," but in a more fundamental sense they are not true Israel. And so the A equals non-A formula is one of contradiction respective merely of a different sense.

    This interpretive presupposition of biblical reliability also leads us to assume a corollary truth, namely, that Paul himself was not positing a solution to an apparent contradiction which, when accepted, must lead to the simultaneous acceptance of an essential contradiction in the Old Testament corpus with which he was dealing. In other words, Paul's understanding of a set that could be characterized as Israel and not-Israel was not a fabrication that was foreign to the Old Testament writings. Paul was expounding and interpreting the Old Testament prophecies; therefore, his solution to the apparent problem of promises to Israel not being fulfilled to the preponderance of Jacob's physical offspring must have been in response to a truth which inhered in the Old Testament prophecies from the beginning. Paul himself, then, was dealing with apparent contradiction in scriptures. He was dealing with prophecy A being made to Israel concurrently with prophecy which was the negation of A. His solution to the apparent contradiction is one that must be of first importance to us due to its being inspired by the Holy Spirit just as were the Old Testament prophecies themselves. And his solution is one that relegates the apparent contradiction to a distinction in sense, not time. The application of this observation is obvious: our understanding of the apparently contradictory Old Testament prophecies of eschatological Israel are to be solved with regard to a variable sense in which the term "Israel" is employed, and not with regard to a different time about which the prophecies are being made. That this conclusion is not in fundamental violation of the Old Testament prophecies viewed with respect to themselves alone is the proposition that this article will attempt to demonstrate; but before we turn to the Old Testament, it would be of benefit to substantiate further two points that we have just touched on: (1) that in the book of Romans, Paul is using the term "Israel" in a variable sense, and (2) that, in doing so, he is expressing his understanding of Old Testament prophecy, and not suggesting a novel development.

    In the Book of Romans, Paul is Using the Term "Israel" in a Variable Sense, So As to Account for Apparent Contradictions in Old Testament Prophecies

    Even the quickest perusal of Romans serves to substantiate this claim. In Romans 2:28,29 Paul sums up in as explicit terms as can be conceived the essential point that he has been taking some pains to demonstrate, namely, that

    He is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.

    We have here a proposition, together with its converse expression, clearly and unmistakably set forth. Positively, not all who are outwardly Jews are true Jews. And negatively, some who are not outwardly Jews are true Jews. This point, so clearly made, is to prove vital for our understanding of Old Testament prophecies made to Israel. Have they failed, because outward Israel is no longer God's people? By no means. Why not? Because in the future they will become God's people again? No, that is not the point of reconciliation for the apparent contradiction; rather, it is that the prophecies made to "Israel" intended Israel in a different sense than merely outward Jews. In fact, the whole reason this issue is being addressed is to disprove the supposition that, because the Jews do not believe in Christ, God's faithfulness has fallen into reproach (Romans 3:3). How could this conclusion be suggested, other than to adduce Old Testament prophecies that, in the days of Christ, Israel would still be God's people, with his law written on their hearts? Paul is simply demonstrating that the promises made to Israel have not failed because of the variable sense in which "Israel" was used by the Old Testament prophets.

    Again, we have the same basic point expressed for us in Romans 9. Has the word of God failed? By no means. Why not? Because the prophecies made to Israel were made, not to outward Israel, but to elect Israel (Romans 9:6-13). Does this elect subset of Israel then exclude any who are not outwardly Israel? No, for the restored Israel prophesied in the Old Testament was to be an Israel who is truly God's people, irrespective of outward Jewishness. This is precisely the point of which we read in verses 23-26 of Romans 9. Paul here quotes a prophecy from Hosea 1, which expressly states that the rejected people of Israel will be restored, so that, once again, "the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea," and "where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people, there it shall be said unto them, Ye are the sons of the living God," and, "Then shall the children of Judah and the children of Israel be gathered together" (Hosea 1:9-11). So when Paul says that this restoration of God's people, involving their reconstitution as "the children of Israel" was fulfilled when God called all believers "not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles" (Romans 9:24), he is arguing that the Old Testament prophecies have not failed because the prophesied restoration of Israel intended a true Israel which was composed of various ethnicities. In other words, there is a variable sense in which the Old Testament prophets employ the term "Israel," even to the point of the prophet Hosea's using that same term in the same passage to indicate two essentially different groups -- "Israel" (physical offspring of Jacob) would be cast off, but "Israel" (elect from every nation) would be restored. So then, the Pauline approach to reconcile superficial Old Testament contradictions was to posit a different sense in the term "Israel," and not a different time in which the prophecies would be fulfilled.

    Nor is this conclusion at odds with Romans 11. Although this chapter has been understood as Paul's substantiating the validity of the promises to Israel by deferring their fulfillment to a future epoch, the more reasonable understanding, which alone accords with the rest of the Romans passages addressing the same objection, is that a deferred time-frame is not at all being suggested. The answer to the question, "Hath God cast away his people?" is not, "No, because in the future ethnic Israel will again be a people of God," but, "God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin," and, "Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace" (Romans 11:1-5). So then, the Old Testament prophecies are not vindicated because of a future fulfillment, but because of the present fulfillment to the restored remnant. Again, the answer to the question, "Have they stumbled that they should fall?" is not, "No, because in the future they will be restored," but, "No, the purpose of their stumbling was not simply arbitrary, but rather it had the purpose of bringing the Gentiles in as fellow-partakers of salvation" (Romans 11:11). This in turn was to provoke ethnic Israel to jealousy over the fact that the Gentiles were receiving God's riches, not through the works of the law, but by grace alone, in order to drive them to seek God's grace as pure grace, and not as favor conditioned on the merits of ethnic descent, law-keeping, or anything else. This was a cycle that Paul was laboring to see being fulfilled in his own day (Romans 11:13,14), and not something he awaited a future time to see. In conclusion, all "Israel" was being saved, as per the Old Testament prophecies, by the process of ethnic Gentiles and Jews provoking each other to come to the free riches of God's grace and glorify him who has mercy on all who are shut up in unbelief, regardless of race. (Romans 11:28-32). A variable sense in "Israel" terminology, not a future expectation for physical Israel, is Paul's reconciliation of apparent Old Testament prophetic failures. Hence in Romans 11:25,26, the clear teaching is that ethnic Israel was cast off as a people of God so that the Gentiles might be brought in to become an integral part of the people of God (just as a branch being grafted into a tree), and "in this way" all true Israel (Jews and Gentiles alike) will come to salvation. This is the only reasonable and consistent interpretation of these verses in spite of the common mistranslation of houtos (verse 26) as a temporal "then," instead of, in accordance with the actual meaning of the term, "in this way." That this interpretation necessitates a variable understanding of the term "Israel" in the same context should not be a surprise for us, since Paul clearly employs the term "Jew" in a variable sense in the immediate context of Romans 2:28,29, and indicates a variable sense in the immediate context of Hosea 1:9-11 when he interprets it in Romans 9:23-26.

    Now that we have substantiated our claim that Paul is vindicating the reliability of Old Testament prophecies by positing a variable sense of the term "Israel" as employed by the prophets, we will turn our attention to the Old Testament writings themselves. If there is any prophetic book which may lay claim to being superlative in its genre, it is the book of Isaiah. Therefore, we will address the prophecies of Isaiah, as a test-case for Old Testament prophetic writings in general, and attempt to establish, in doing so, that Isaiah's prophecies of future Israel involve apparent contradictions; and that these ostensible contradictions can best be explained as resulting from a different sense in which they speak of "Israel," not a different time-frame in which they speak of Israel.

    A Brief Survey of Isaianic Eschatological Prophecies Concerning Israel

    A brief survey of the prophecies of Isaiah as they touch the end-time state of Israel leaves us with an impression of two utterly distinct and diametrically opposed expectations for the nation. On the one hand, the days are coming in which Israel is to be cast off, forsaken, desolate, and destroyed. On the other hand, the days are prophesied in which Israel is to be accepted by God in a vastly more inclusive sense than ever before. She is to be holy, peaceful, fruitful beyond imagination, prosperous, and full of unfaltering joy. The obvious and immediate tension felt at the simultaneous existence of two such classes of prophecies representing patently incompatible portraits of eschatological Israel is only a little alleviated at first: but as the prophecies continue to unfold, the nature of the solution to this apparent difficulty becomes more and more clear. At the end of the book, in fact, it is stated in quite explicit terms. Let's turn to the text to trace this progression in brief.

    Chapter One

    In the first chapter of his writings, Isaiah immediately lays out some major themes of his argument, which will form the substance of his message throughout the book. These themes include

    1. that Israel has enjoyed a privileged status as God's own people, the children of his fatherly care (Isaiah 1:2a)

    2. that Israel has egregiously rebelled against her Maker in spite of her privileged status (Isaiah 1:2b-4)

    3. that Israel has undergone severe chastisement for her transgressions (Isaiah 1:5-8)

    4. that the only factor standing in the way of Israel's absolute destruction is God's preservation of an elect remnant (Isaiah 1:9)

    5. that Israel cannot presume God's favor or willingness to listen on the basis of any national distinction, but on the basis of an internal righteousness alone (Isaiah 1:10-17)

    6. that this internal righteousness is offered by God through a complete cleansing of sin (Isaiah 1:18)

    7. that it is only those who actually receive this cleansing who will be preserved and enjoy prosperity; but those who rebel will be devoured (Isaiah 1:19,20)

    8. that on this basis the prophetic outlook for Israel is nothing but utter and absolute destruction and rejection by God (Isaiah 1:21-25;28-31)

    9. that in the midst of this prophetic picture of destruction and rejection is a diametrically opposed prophetic expectation for Israel which looks to a restoration which extends beyond any previous condition of blessing and is characterized by a genuine, reigning, pervasive righteousness (Isaiah 1:26,27)

    In summary, from the beginning Isaiah anticipates a time in which Israel as a national entity will be utterly cut off for her rebellion; and yet not all Israel will be lost, for God will sovereignly save an elect remnant by going to the exorbitant lengths of atoning for their sins and working a righteousness within them. Of utmost importance is that, on the basis of these foundational themes, Isaiah gives two prophetic outlooks for "the faithful city," Zion, which indicate vastly different end-time scenarios. These are given in the same context, to the extent that the one prophetic picture is surrounded before and after by prophecies which give the opposite picture. Although there are some differences in the immediate context by way of terminology, mode of address, etc., which indicate a distinction in the subjects of the prophecy, there are also modes of expression which are common to each, for instance, "the faithful city," which is addressed to a city about to be consumed and a city about to be restored. In other words, in Isaiah 1:24-31 we have the first example of what may superficially be understood as an A equals non-A formula: Israel will be rejected, Israel will not be rejected; Israel will be redeemed, Israel will be consumed, etc. However, in the broader context, we have the first hint that would lead us to a reconciliation of this apparent contradiction: "Israel" (or "Zion," "the House of Israel," and so on) is being used indiscriminately to describe two different sets of people: (1) those who are outwardly Israel but inwardly wicked; and (2) those who are the remnant of Israel and inwardly righteous. The broad context of Isaiah, then, would lead us to favor a reconciliation of apparently contradictory "Israel" prophecies by supposing a different sense in "Israel" terminology, and not by supposing a different time frame to which the prophecies refer. Who precisely is comprised in this set of "the remnant" of Israel remains somewhat ambiguous, but becomes clearer as the prophecies continue.

    Chapter 2

    In chapter two, we immediately discern one of the most optimistic outlooks for eschatological Israel in any of the prophetic writings. Included in this lofty expectation is fruitfulness, all-pervasive peace, genuine, internal righteousness, and the very presence and teaching of God himself (Isaiah 2:1-4). All of this is in a very Jewish context: all the blessings flow from "the house of the God of Jacob," the law goes forth "out of Zion," and the word of the Lord proceeds "from Jerusalem" (Isaiah 2:3). What is strikingly different about this prophecy, when compared with the previous chapter's prophecy of hope for the remnant, is that all the nations of the world are included in its extent (Isaiah 2:2,3). Is this simply a case of expanding the subjects of prophesied blessing, so that the remnant is included together with a distinct set composed of all nationalities? Verse five, following on the heels of the first four verses, seems to indicate otherwise: immediately after the description of "all nations" coming to walk in the light of the Lord, we find Isaiah giving an exhortation to those who are to be included in these blessings, that they should take heart and see them actually realized. In so doing, he refers to this set of persons who are about to experience the future blessings of Zion, and who are to come from every nation, as the "house of Jacob" -- "O house of Jacob, come ye," Isaiah urges, "and let us walk in the light of the Lord." So we see the first hint that the remnant of the house of Jacob is to be multi-national. If one prefers to interpret verse five as being addressed merely to national Israel, he retains a problem of another sort: a blatant prophetic contradiction that gives no contextual hint of being salvable by relegating one or the other to a different time-frame. For the next verse immediately states that God has "forsaken [his] people, the house of Jacob." If God has forsaken his people, then the foregoing prophecies, which are so clearly depicted in Jewish terms, must have nothing to do with the house of Jacob. How are we to account for this apparent contradiction? The context gives us an answer: the house of Jacob has become thoroughly Gentile: verses six through nine catalogue the resemblance of Israel to the Gentile nations around them. If many from the nations become as the house of Jacob, coming to Zion and being taught of the Lord; and if many from the house of Jacob become as the Gentiles, worshiping idols, practicing wizardry, and so on; then God makes clear that he will cast off those who are the house of Jacob outwardly but Gentiles inwardly, and that he will bring to Zion those who are Gentiles outwardly but the house of Jacob inwardly. In conclusion, Isaiah 2:1-5, set off against Isaiah 2:6-22, presents the reader with a clear A equals non-A formula. No time-frame difference is indicated to ameliorate the contradiction. But the context makes a difference in sense painstakingly clear: those who are inwardly righteous and God-lovers are to be treated as the house of Jacob, and blessed with the riches of Zion. Those who are outwardly wicked and pagan are to be cast off and destroyed. In this way, we start to see the prophetic "remnant" of Israel take on a multi-national quality, just as Paul later observed in his letter to the Romans.

    Chapter 3, Verses 1-11

    As we proceed to chapter three, we see more clear prophecies regarding the absolute destruction and casting off of Israel as a nation. Once again, this is because of her essential similarity to Gentiles, in this case Sodom in particular (Isaiah 3:9). Hope is again given to a select set of those who are different, and again, the criteria for receiving blessing instead of cursing is internal righteousness rather than internal wickedness (Isaiah 3:10,11). Other than the clarity resulting from repetition and the continued emphasis on internal righteousness, there is nothing here that substantially adds to our understanding of the remnant, or the variable sense of "Israel" terminology. And so we continue to

    Chapter 3, Verse 12 through Chapter 4

    The rest of chapter three basically catalogues a thorough destruction of Israel, with special attention being directed to her women, as typical of the qualities of the nation in general. The prophecies continue to emphasize utter destruction because of utter corruption. The summative statement of the entire catalogue of prophecies is in Chapter 4, verse 1, where we read, "And in that day seven women shall take hold of one man, saying, We will eat our own bread, and wear our own apparel: only let us be called by thy name, to take away our reproach." The women of Zion have been thoroughly haughty and corrupt, and therefore, in the eschatological period of the end times ("in that day"), the women of Zion will be put to thorough shame and reproach. There is nothing positive whatsoever in this summative prophecy against the women of Zion. And yet in the next verse, in the very same time frame (prefaced again with the same expression, "in that day"), we find a prophecy which is precisely the opposite being made regarding the remnant of Israel. This prophecy is explicitly said to include "the daughters of Zion," who were also the subjects of the diametrically opposed prophecies preceding (Isaiah 4:4). We ascertain a major development in this prophecy by noting the essential connection between inward righteousness (the condition for eschatological blessing, as we have observed before), and truly Jewish qualities. For those who remain of Zion and Jerusalem, that is, for those whose filth has been purged away, there shall be reserved a dwelling place on Mount Zion. But this dwelling place will be greater than that of old Israel inasmuch as the presence of God will be personally found in each individual assembly. The pillar of cloud and fire, long symbolizing God's presence with national Israel, will be individualized in the eschaton, so that every one who dwells in Zion will have the pillar of God's presence before him personally. The vast implications of this prophecy are noted by the author of Hebrews, who develops the theme, declaring that all believers in this period of the last days worship on Mount Zion, and come into the very presence of God (Hebrews 12:18-24). Being Jewish, and experiencing the blessings of being Jewish, are therefore internalized. In other words, being a Jew has taken on a different sense than one of outward nationality; and it is this circumstance which explains the blatant (but superficial) contradiction in the prophecies of chapter 4, verse 1, and chapter 4, verses 2-6.

    Chapter 6, Verses 9-13

    In the latter portion of chapter six, we find a striking prophecy that has much bearing on our topic at hand. God's judgment of Israel includes hardening and blinding so that they will not understand and turn and be healed (Isaiah 6:9,10). Consequent to this judicial hardening God will bring about destruction and captivity, laying waste to Israel (Isaiah 6:11,12). However, in his mercy God will preserve a remnant, whom he will bring back to the land (Isaiah 6:13a). This series of events is likened to a great tree having been felled: the tree is Israel, who has been cast off; the stump is the holy remnant of Israel which alone remains; the inference is that God will cast off the main body of his people, who have become corrupt, but preserve just enough who are still holy to grow once again the tree (symbolic of his people) from the same stump. It is striking to compare this analogy to Paul's illustration in Romans 11 of national Israel being branches who have been removed from God's tree, and believing Gentiles being branches grafted into the same tree. If we admit a similarity of interpretation between the two images, it is no difficult stretch to see the point of this parable being God's intention to cast off the bulk of ethnic Israel, who are not truly his people, preserving only enough to "grow" from that remnant a true Israel, composed predominantly of those who are Gentile by ethnicity.

    Chapter 8, Verses 13-16

    Here we have a prophecy of Christ, given with an understanding that, when he comes, he will be rejected by his people, and a cause for their stumbling, instead of their salvation. Therefore, God will hide his face from the house of Jacob. Nevertheless, Christ will redeem a multitude to be his children, and these children will be signs and wonders in Israel, raised up by the God who dwells in Zion. So then, in the days of Christ, those who are not of the house of Jacob will be taken into Israel as God's children; and this will be a sign, most likely with the intent of provoking physical Israel to jealousy, as we read in Romans 11.

    Chapter 8, Verse 21 through Chapter 9, Verse 6

    In this prophecy we see that Israel will walk in gloom and darkness; but pursuant to this, the light will shine among the Gentile nations, in the way of the sea. This process is not referred to as a casting off of the nation, but as a multiplying of the nation, and an increasing of its joy (Isaiah 9:3). This increase of the nation is resultant of the eternal, personal reign of Christ from the throne of David, a reign which will comprehend "Galilee of the Gentiles". Therefore, the increase of the nation of Israel in the days of the reign of Christ involves Gentile inclusion. Gentiles do not just enjoy benefits alongside Israel; they are the substance by which the nation grows.

    Chapter 10, Verses 17-23

    We find here a definite element of time-sequence in the prophetic expectation for Israel. The nation will be cast off, and subsequently will return. However, the subjects of the prophecy of return are narrowed down to include a mere remnant who are righteous. Israel will indeed be exiled and then restored; but even in this circumstance we see that the essence of restored Israel will be unlike that of exiled Israel. Israel of the restoration will be an Israel of internal genuineness.

    Chapter 10, Verse 33 through Chapter 11

    The prophecies included in this portion of the book are as explicit as any we have encountered thus far. Prefatory to the prophetic picture of joy, peace, and righteousness in Zion is the image, once again, of Jehovah lopping off branches and cutting down thickets, until almost all is destroyed. In fact, only one root is left, and only one shoot remains to come forth from the holy stump. This one last shoot, growing from the stump of Jesse and designated the "Branch," is none other than Christ himself. God will cast off his wicked people so thoroughly that, in reality, the righteous remnant is coterminous with Christ alone. This is vital for what follows. Immediately after this prophecy of the Shoot's springing from the stump of Jesse, we see him beginning to exercise a dominion of righteousness and peace all over the earth. He judges from Zion, and all the nations come to seek his blessing. In this manner, Christ recovers his remnant from the entire world (Isaiah 11:11). In what way are we to understand this, except that the circumstance of the nations coming to Christ is identical with the remnant of Israel being restored? So then, the remnant will be restored, they will be internally righteous, and they will be from all the nations of the world. Hence, we read in verse 11 that the remnant will come "from Assyria and from Egypt, and from Pathros, and from Ethiopia, and from Persia, and from Shinar, and from Hamath, and from the coasts of the sea." The restored remnant of Israel is a multi-national body. That this intends those who are by ethnicity Assyrians, etc., and not merely those who are ethnic Israelites dwelling in Assyria is suggested by the juxtaposition in the following verse of the phrases, "He shall lift up a banner for the nations," and "[he] shall gather the outcasts of Israel," and "[he shall] gather together the scattered ones of Judah from the four corners of the earth." Lifting up a banner around which the nations might gather is thereby equated with gathering together the dispersed of Israel. The true restored Israel must, therefore, be comprised of persons from all nations. How this may technically be the case is suggested in verse one of chapter eleven, where we learn that, in actuality, the righteous remnant of Israel is Christ alone, the only righteous seed of David. Therefore, all those who are in Christ, and only those who are in Christ, qualify as the righteous remnant. And those who will come to Christ in the last days will arise from every nation on earth.

    Chapter 66, Verses 18 through 24

    Although we could profitably continue throughout the rest of the book in the same manner, finding prophecies ever more clear and explicit (particularly in chapters 48-66), time now forbids us; therefore, we will advance to the last prophecy of the book, at the end of chapter sixty-six. Here we read of Isaiah speaking to the people of Israel (cf. verses 10 and following), and prophesying that the Lord will draw Gentiles from every nation to be their brothers (Isaiah 66:18-20); and that of these Gentiles-turned-brothers-to-the-Israelites, God will choose some to be priests and Levites (verse 21). In this manner Israel's seed and name will remain; but not the old Israel: a recreated Israel (Isaiah 66:22; cf. Isaiah 65:18), an Israel who is composed of various ethnicities. At the conclusion of Isaiah, therefore, it is patently clear that a Levite is no longer one physically descended from Levi, even as Israel is no longer physically descended from Jacob. Instead there is a newly created Israel, circumcised in heart, but composed of persons from every nation. Apart from this foundational understanding of the various significations with which Isaiah employs the term "Israel," his whole prophetic corpus must remain an obscure mass of contradictions.


    In Isaiah, as indeed throughout the rest of the prophetic writings, we are initially struck with a multitude of apparently contradictory prophecies related to eschatological Israel. In certain of these instances, a difference in time frame is contextually ruled out as a means whereby to reconcile the apparent contradiction. However, many of these prophetic interplays give contextual reasons for understanding a reconciliation of the ostensible contradiction by means of a difference in the signification of the term "Israel". Some of these contextual reasons are very explicit, as, for instance, in the latter part of chapter sixty-six. Furthermore, this understanding accords very well with clear New Testament teaching on the subject. A recognition of this basic principle will go far in enabling the interpreter to piece together the scriptural message by means of scripturally-derived canons of interpretation. God grant us a Spirit-led sensitivity to the richness and complexity of "Israel" terminology in the prophets, and resultantly, the deeply-satisfying product of a thoroughly Christ-centered understanding of scriptures, for which we must all be laboring.

    Posted by Nathan on June 29, 2007 05:19 AM



    This may be the article that convinces me of the full reformation position on Israel.

    Still reading and studying - thank you!

    "Still reading and studying" -- as am I.

    God bless,

    I grew up in Isael and have been a christian since I was 13. My father was a Baptist mIssionary in Israel. I have held this position for a long time but have many people that cannot divorce Israel from Israel. Thanks for the article.

    Hi Nathan,

    The two parts of Israel in Romans 11:25, which are analogized as the two parts of the cultivated olive tree in 11:16-24, are the two Israels in Romans 9:6-8 and in Romans 9:31-32 and 11:7-11. The Israel in 9:6-8 is the part of Israel that accepts God's New Covenant with the house of Israel by believing in Christ, the Mediator of the New Covenant, and the Israel in 9:31-32 and 11:7-11 is the part of Israel that refuses God's New Covenant by not believing in Christ. As Paul says in 11:16-24 / 11:25, once the Gentiles have entered into the part of the tree / Israel that believes in Christ, then the part of the tree / Israel that had not believed in Christ will likewise believe in Him and will likewise enter into the part of the tree / Israel that believes in Him, at which point all Israel (both parts) will have been saved (will have believed in Christ). So it isn't that the Ekklhsia replaces Israel, but that the New Covenant replaces the Old Covenant, as predicted by Jeremiah, and that the Ekklhsia IS the part of Israel that accepts the New Covenant by believing in Christ, the Mediator of the New Covenant. So there are not actually any contradictions in any of this. Before the cross, there was one covenant and therefore one Israel (Old Covenant Israel [the Jews]). Ever since the cross, there have been two covenants and therefore two parts of Israel, and thus two Israels (New Covenant Israel [the saints, both Greek and Jew] and Old Covenant Israel [the Jews (non-saints)]). Once the Gentiles have entered into New Covenant Israel as fellow saints and fellow citizens and fellow heirs and fellow partakers of the promise, then the part of Israel that had not believed in Christ will likewise believe in Him and will likewise enter into New Covenant Israel. Once that has happened, then there will once again be one covenant and therefore one Israel (New Covenant Israel [the saints, both Greek and Jew]). Thus, Israel's transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant will be complete. I don't see any contradictions in this.



    I think I more or less agree with you, if I understand correctly -- but I would just add the caveat that the Israel which rejected Christ (the branches which were broken off, in the CH. 11 analogy), cannot be called "Old Covenant Israel" in a sense that distinguishes them from the rest of the world. The Old Covenant has passed away, and non-believing Israel has been cast off from being God's people, and are hence like the rest of the world, until they believe and are grafted back into their own tree (i.e. New Covenant Israel) -- For these premises, I'm relying largely on Hebrews 8-9, and Paul's quoting and explaining Hosea 1-2 at the end of Romans 9.

    Hi Nathan,

    I understand what you’re saying. Since the New Covenant replaced the Old Covenant at the cross, both covenants did not coexist after the cross. However, using that same logic, one could say that since Israel transitioned into the New Covenant at the cross, two Israels did not coexist after the cross, but that as a result of the cross, unbelieving Jews were simply excluded from Israel, which was now New Covenant Israel. But the issue here is how Paul speaks of it, and the fact remains that he speaks of two covenants and of two parts of Israel, and thus of two Israels, as a result of the cross, and he predicts that this division would not resolve until the fullness of the Gentiles had entered into the New Covenant part of Israel. Paul speaks this way not only in Romans 9:6-8, 9:31-32, 11:7-11 and 11:16-24 / 11:25-27, but also in Galatians 4:21-31, where he says that the people of the Old Covenant Israel (the Jews [non-saints]) persecute the people of the New Covenant Israel (the saints, both Greek and Jew), which describes a coexistence of the two. In Hebrews 8:13, although the First Covenant had already been made Old by the New Covenant and had already become obsolete, it nevertheless had not yet disappeared, because unbelieving Jews continued to practice it, albeit in futility.


    PS: I'm posting this a second time, since it didn't seem to go through the first time; I received a cannot-display page the first time. If I receive the same page this time, then I'll just assume that it went through anyway.

    Ok, I see your point. The Jews can still be characterized by the Old Covenant, since they're still clinging to it. But that characterization does not make them God's people any more than the rest of the nations. The Covenant is now powerless. Ultimately, every elect ethnic Jew will be constituted a true Jew, just as elect Gentiles have been constituted true children of Abraham by faith. But they alone will be the people of God. I guess I'm just trying to say, there are not three classes of people, those who are truly God's people, those who are physically, nationally, externally (whatever term you want to use) God's people, and those who are not God's people in any sense.

    Hi Nathan,

    Nathan: ... The Jews can still be characterized by the Old Covenant ... that characterization does not make them God's people ... every elect ethnic Jew ... just as elect Gentiles ... true children of Abraham ... they alone will be the people of God. ... there are not three classes of people, those who are truly God's people, those who are physically ... God's people, and those who are not God's people ...

    Jim: Agreed. In Exodus 19:1-6, at the inception of the Old Covenant, Israel can become a “special people” and a “holy nation” and a “kingly priesthood” only IF they keep the Old Covenant. In Deuteronomy 31:16-30, it is understood from the outset that they would NOT keep the Old Covenant. In fact, the entire Old Testament is a diary of how Israel does NOT keep the Old Covenant. In Jeremiah 31:31-34 (38:31-34 LXX), it is because Israel does NOT keep the Old Covenant that God makes a New Covenant in which the house Israel becomes what it could not become in the Old Covenant through the law of Moses, namely, God’s people. In Matthew 21:42-43, Christ says that the Stone (Christ) which the builders (the Jews) reject becomes the Cornerstone of the building (Israel), and that the kingdom of God is taken from the Jews who do not believe in Him and given to a nation (the [New Covenant] building [Israel] whose Cornerstone is Christ) that produces the fruits of that kingdom. In 1 Peter 2:1-10, Peter says that the ones believing in Christ comprise the building whose Cornerstone is Christ, and that it is they who have become in the New Covenant through belief in Christ what the Jews (unbelievers) could not become in the Old Covenant through the law of Moses, namely, a “kingly priesthood” and a “holy nation” and “God’s people.” The belief that Israel continues indefinitely in its Old Covenant form and that it has a glorious future in that Old Covenant form is a denial of the New Covenant predicted by Jeremiah and explained in the New Testament. As Paul explains in Romans 11, part of Israel now refuses the New Covenant by not believing in Christ, choosing to continue to try to reach God in the Old Covenant through the law of Moses, until Gentile believers enter into the part of Israel that accepts the New Covenant by believing in Christ, after which the part of Israel that had not believed in Him will likewise believe in Him and will likewise enter into the part of Israel that accepts the New Covenant by believing in Him, at which point all Israel (both parts) will have become New Covenant Israel by believing in Christ, the Cornerstone of this New Covenant Israel being Christ, and its citizens being the saints (the Ekklhsia), both Greek and Jew. There is no glorious future for the Old Covenant or for its people. As Paul says in Galatians 4:21-31, the Old Covenant and its people are thrown out as non-heirs. As Christ says in Matthew 8:10-13 and in Luke 13:23-30, Gentile believers come from east and west and north and south to sit with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of God, whereas the sons of the kingdom (Jewish unbelievers) are thrown out of the kingdom of God and into the outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. As Christ says in John 8:21-24 and 8:37-47, the Jews who do not believe in Him die in their sins. Although they are Abraham’s seed, they are not Abraham’s children. Neither are they God’s children. They are not of God. As Christ says in John 10:7-16 and 10:24-28, Jewish unbelievers do not believe in Him because they are not His sheep. He dies for His sheep and saves them and gives them eternal life. And He has two flocks of sheep (both Greek and Jew), which are united as one Flock (the Ekklhsia) under one Shepherd. It isn’t that the Ekklhsia has replaced Israel, but that the New Covenant has replaced the Old Covenant, and that the Ekklhsia IS the part of Israel that accepts God’s New Covenant with the house of Israel by believing in Christ, the Mediator of the New Covenant, the Cornerstone of the New Covenant building (Israel). As Paul says in Ephesians 2:11-21, the Gentile saints at Ephesus used to be, but are no longer, without Christ and excluded from the citizenship of Israel (New Covenant Israel, whose Cornerstone is Christ and whose citizens are the saints, both Greek and Jew) and strangers from the covenants of the promise (the promise of the Abrahamic Covenant being realized in the New Covenant). Now, as believers, they are in Christ (no longer without Christ) and the saints’ fellow citizens (no longer excluded from the citizenship of Israel) and no longer strangers (from the covenants of the promise), having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, the Cornerstone being Christ Jesus Himself, in whom all the building is growing into a holy temple in the Lord.



    Thanks for the elaboration. I agree.

    Blessings in him,

    Thanks so much for the article, it is so biblical and convincing. Do you know of any books besides, O Parmer Roberson's "The Israel of God" that would help someone get a greater grasp on this subject of who the true Israel is under the New Covenant. Thanks Royce

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