B-THE MYSTERY OF THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL

CHAPTER III

ISRAEL'S CALL AND TASK

"In Abraham-the gracious, creative rule of God, who calls the non-existing as if it were already there (Rom. 4: 17);

"In Isaac-Iife from the dead (Rom. 4: 1-24; Heb. 1l: 19);

"In Jacob-undeserved, free grace and final glorious outcome; the man of God appears, who from being an intriguer becomes a hero for God 1-this is Israel's origin."

1Gen. 32:28-30, Jacob means "heel-holder," outwitter; Israel signifies wrestler with God.

Everything in Israel's history is aiming at and bound up with its call and commission.

i. Israel's Task.

Israel has a double task. It was to be the receiver of the Divine revelation and the lodging-place for the World-Redeemer and thus the birthplace for the Christian church (John 4:2,, comp. Rom. 1l:16-24). But it should also prepare the way among the nations of the world, and, as God's witness and missionary, be the channel to the nations of the revelation of salvation, so as to prepare for the evangelization of the world.

"At the first glance these two tasks contradict each other and appear irreconcilable; and yet in Israel they are completely reconciled. So as to be the homeland of the Messiah and the birthplace of Christianity Israel must be a self-contained people, separated from all the Gentiles, set indeed in sharp contrast to the Gentiles as the people of the revelation, who alone knew the living God, because to them He had made known His will in the law. On the other hand this people must be spread abroad among the Gentiles, dwell among them and have constant intercourse with them, so as to prepare the way for Christianity."

The recognition of this two-fold harmonious contrast of separation and world-wide contact, of concentration and expansion, of centripetal and centrifugal forces, is the only key for understanding the history of Israel. It may be otherwise expressed as the polarity between particularism and universalism, exclusivism and inclusivism. Without this key all remains obscure. This contrast shows itself most sharply in the culminating point of Israel's call, the promise of the Redeemer.

ii. Israel's Messianic Expectation.

Here is absolute expansion, a breaking through of all limitation and restriction: the Messiah is Saviour of the world (Mal.1:51; John 4: 42). Mankind is one family, with only one origin and one goal. Consider the genealogical tree of Gen.10. The historian J. von Muller says rightly: "The whole universal history must begin from this chapter"; and Michael Baumgarten adds with equal right: "And with this chapter, as its final outcome, will it end. All peoples of the earth, with Israel, are sharers in the redemption. And as Israel in the history of revelation is God's " firstborn" son (Exod. 4:22), so at last will they all become "sons" of God (Psa. 87: 4-6; Isa. 25: 6-8; 19:25). With these thoughts Israelitic prophecy spanned the most world-embracing range that antiquity ever knew.

And yet at this very point there appears the most absolute concentration. For this Redeemer of the world is one man (I Tim. 2:5), one descendant of David, one Saviour (Acts 4: 12). (See Note at end of this section). And the mightiest fact is that world history has spoken its "Yea" to this expectation! Jesus of Nazareth, the One, the Son of God, has been extolled by millions of men as Lord and Redeemer, and His spiritual wealth has been acknowledged by the leading peoples of human civilization as their guiding ideal for character and morality. But why is this expectation not found among the Romans and Greeks also, but only in the revelation to the least" of the peoples? (Deut. 7: 7). Was it perhaps just a chance product of a high political instinct, or of a mere morbidly developed nationalism? Why, then, has He as a fact appeared precisely as the fulfilment of this prophecy, and, in reality, as the Saviour of the world, become "the banner of the peoples," [the standard, rallying point, leader]? (Isa. 11:10; Rom. 15:12). Perhaps by chance? Nay; here there is but one intelligent answer: the Bible is true. World history is its witness. The fulfilment is the conifirmation of the prophecy. Unbelief must believe things yet more unbelievable than faith accepts. But we are not credulous enough to be incredulous.

To arrive at this double-centred condition of highest concentration and world-wide extension was the meanmg of all Israel's history. Therefore all things connected with this people have been planned with regard to these two associated yet opposed requirements.

Note

That Jesus was an Aryan will, so long at any rate as historical science exists, be reckoned, even from a purely human standpoint, as simply fanciful. For

(i) Jesus' Israelitish descent is established unequivocally and unanimously in the historical records of the Bible (e. . Luke 1: 32; Rom. 1:3; II Tim.2:8; etc.), and historical knowledge must start with historical records.

(ii) Jesus' brother after the flesh, James, was one of the leading Christians in the church at Jerusalem which certainly consisted of Jewish Christians (Gal.1:19).

(iii) Jesus' Israelitish descent was never called in question by His Jewish enemies, and yet it was they who, in the most violent manner, sought to refute before the rulers and the people His Messiahship. But had they only the slightest ground to surmise that Jesus was only half-Jewish, or of wholly Gentile descent, this would have been for them the most illuminating evidence to produce in court before the eyes of all contemporaries to show that it was impossible for Him to be the predicted Messiah. That they did not do this proves that they could not do it. Also the later Jewish historians who, with the wildest hate in the most vulgar manner have abused Jesus, have at no time called in question His connexion by birth with the people of Israel; and thus the very enemies of the Lord become the most unchallengeable witnesses to His Israelitish descent.

But on the other hand Jesus was not purely Jewish, in the common sense of the term; for, although born "after the flesh," through Mary,"of theseed of David"(Rom.1:3; II Tim.2:8), yet through His supernatural birth He was infinitely more than the highest recapitulation and flower of the human possibilities of His earthly people. For precisely the activity and dynamic of the man which, in the racial life, is the real formative energy of people, State, and nation, was excluded in the birth of Christ (Matt.1:20). Thus He was indeed born in the Jewish people, but without, in the purely human meaning: of the word, being a "Jew." As "God manifest in the flesh" (I Tim. 3: 16) He is super-racial, super-national, to all sinners alien by nature, and, at the same time, as Redeemer of the world, for all races the Saviour and Lord. Thus His virgin birth (Isa. 7:14) has to do not only with His holiness (freedom from inherited sin), but also with His work as the Saviour (freedom from racial limitation). It is the indispensable presupposition for His Person and His work, the centre and the circumference of the circle for Him as both the Holy One and the Saviour.

iii. Israel's Aptitude.

No people is so capable as the Jew of keeping separate and yet being so widespread. No other is so national and yet at the same time so universal. "No other preserves so tenaciously its individuality and also remains in the midst of other peoples so self-contained and secluded. Yet again, no other so understands how to attach himself to all places and accommodate himself to all circumstances, as does the Jew. The Jew settles down in all places, is able to make room for himself everywhere, and yet everywhere remains a Jew!"

The land of Palestine also corresponds to this two-fold bridging of opposites, of world-separation and world-association.

iv. Israel's Land.

Palestine is a secluded land, situate like an island, like a garden, hedged around by mountains, deserts, and water (Isa. 5:1,2). Its coast is without [a natural] port; no river leads to its interi, and the sea which elsewhere so unites the peoples is to it a separatingwall. Hostile neighbours surround it and isolate it on all sides, and the centres of world civilization are distant.

And yet it is the "centre of the earth" (Ezek. 38, 1), the bridge between the ruling nations of the ancient oriental world, placed where three continents most nearly touch, where the two national groups of ancient history, the Western and the Eastern, most needy meet. From here roads lead in all directtons and it is easy to reach the chief Gentile lands. It is therefore no wonder that the Babylonian-Assyrians and thc Egyptians fought again and again for possession of this bridge. Before the children of Israel took possession of the land the following powers had owned it or exercised supremacy there:

before 2100B.C. :the pre-Canaanitish original inhabitants;

before 2000 :the Hamitic Canaanites (Gen.10: 15-20);

about 2000 :the Elamites (Gen. 14: 1-4);

about 1900 :the Babylonians (Hammurabi);

about 1500 :the Egyptians (the period of Moses and

Amarna).

Compare in the third and second centuries before Christ the conflicts for Palestine between the Egyptian Ptolemies ("king of the south") and the Syrian Seleucids ("king of the north");

Dan. II.

Above all, it was therefore no wonder that this situation was most favourable when the question arose of carrying the gospel out into all the world. "This is Jerusalem. I have set her in the midst of the peoples and lands round about her" (Ezek. 5:5). Thus the land completely answered to the vocation of its inhabitants. The contrast between separation and universality shows itself in its case as geographical seclusion and central situation. Israel's position among the nations, according to Divine revelation for its history, was "separate from the peoples and yet for them."

Note

The name "Hebrew" is derived from the name "Eber" (the opposite, on the other side; Gen. 10:21, 24; 1l:14,15),and rests, apparently upon a family migration, unknown to us, of the forbears of Abraham from "beyond" the Jordan; and because Eber, as the seventh before Abraham, was the prime ancestor of other Semites also (e.g. Ophir and Havilah, Gen.10: 25-30), the word "Hebrew" is at first the description of pre-Abrahamitic-Semitic family groups (see Gen. 14: 13; 39: 14, 17; 43: 32). In the prophecy of Balaam (Num. 24:24) Eber is named in the same sentence with Asshur. Only later did the name become the national description of the Old Testament covenant people as a political and ethnic unit, in contrast to other though related peoples (Exod. 5: 3; I Sam. 4: 6; 13:19; Jonah 1: 9).

The name Judah comes from the name of the fourth son of Jacob (Gen.29: 35, Judah, Praise), and as the name of a people it refers first to the tribe of Judah only. Not till after the division of the kingdoms (about 950 B.C.) does it indicate the whole southern kingdom of Benjamin-Judah (II Kings 16: 6; Jer. 32:12); and finally, after the return from the Babylonian captivity (538 B.C.), the entire nation, the twelve tribes in general (e.g. Matt. 27: 29, 37)

The name "Israelite" is derived from Israel, the second name of the patriarch Jacob, given to him after his conflict with God at Peniel (Gen. 32:28, "wrestler with God"), the properly theocratic name of the Patriarch.

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