How Does Israel Stand with God?
“And now if you will strictly obey my voice and will indeed keep my covenant, then you will certainly become my special property out of all other peoples, because the whole earth belongs to me. And you yourselves will become to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”—Ex. 19:5, 6.
1. Why were the people who gathered around Mount Sinai a privileged people?
THE more than two million people who assembled around the base of Mount Sinai one morning in 1513 B.C. were a privileged people. Not only did they see God’s presence visually manifested in an awesome manner, but they heard how they, out of all peoples on earth, had been chosen by God to be his people, a special possession. They would bear his name, uphold his worship on earth and be governed by his laws. This people, the people of Israel, would thus become a holy nation. This privilege would be theirs on the provision that they obeyed all the commands and instructions the Almighty God, Jehovah, gave them.
2-4. (a) Upon what provision would the Israelites become God’s people, and how did they respond to God’s offer? (b) What were they given as a result?
2 The agreement or covenant made there at Mount Sinai was a bilateral covenant, since something was required by both parties. For God’s part he would make these people his people and would bless them provided they would keep their part of the agreement, and that was to be obedient to him. If they failed to keep their part, he was not obligated to keep his.
3 When Moses came down from the top of Mount Sinai and informed the people of Jehovah’s commands, they expressed willingness to do all that He required of them. “So Moses came and called the older men of the people and set before them all these words that Jehovah had commanded him. After that all the people answered unanimously and said: ‘All that Jehovah has spoken we are willing to do.’ Immediately Moses took back the words of the people to Jehovah.”—Ex. 19:7, 8.
4 Since they agreed to be obedient, Jehovah proceeded to give them a righteous law by which they were to conduct themselves. It was the famous law covenant or Mosaic law.
5, 6. How was the law covenant validated?
5 After the people heard the Law and agreed to do all that it required of them, Moses wrote the words down and sprinkled the written document with the blood of animals. (Ex. 24:3-8) This procedure validated the covenant, that is, put it into force and made it legally binding. “For where there is a covenant, the death of the human covenanter needs to be furnished. For a covenant is valid over dead victims, since it is not in force at any time while the human covenanter is living. Consequently neither was the former covenant inaugurated without blood. For when every commandment according to the Law had been spoken by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of the young bulls and of the goats with water and scarlet wool and hyssop and sprinkled the book itself and all the people, saying: ‘This is the blood of the covenant which God has laid as a charge upon you.’”—Heb. 9:16-20.
6 The animal victims took the place of Moses, the mediator of this covenant. Thus their blood substituted for his in legalizing the law covenant and making it operative.
THE BIRTH OF A NATION
7. How did the law covenant make the Israelites a unique people?
7 By means of this agreement or covenant the Israelites became a nation with Jehovah God as their King. His commandments made up their body of laws. This made them a unique people, entirely different from all other nations. No other nation on earth had this close relationship with mankind’s Creator. “Here I am concluding a covenant: Before all your people I shall do wonderful things that have never been created in all the earth or among all the nations, and all the people in the midst of whom you are will indeed see the work of Jehovah, because it is a fear-inspiring thing that I am doing with you.”—Ex. 34:10.
8, 9. What were some of the marvelous things God did for them, and how did this prove them to be his chosen people?
8 During the years that followed this memorable assembly at Mount Sinai Jehovah God performed many miracles in behalf of these people. Not only did their shoes and clothing not wear out during their forty years of traveling in the wilderness but their food was miraculously provided in the form of manna. (Deut. 29:5; Ps. 78:24) When they were confronted with the armies of enemy nations, God fought for them, giving them the victory. He led them into a desirable land and gave it to them as their territory. He kept in contact with them by means of prophets and gave them knowledge of future events. These and many other marvelous things were done in their behalf.
9 For hundreds of years he recognized the Israelites as his chosen people. No other people during this time enjoyed this singular distinction. None had the wonders performed before their eyes that the nation of Israel had or heard the things that nation did. “Has any other people heard the voice of God speaking out of the middle of the fire the way you yourself have heard it, and kept on living? Or did God attempt to come to take a nation to himself out of the midst of another nation with provings, with signs and with wonders and with war and with a strong hand and with an outstretched arm and with great awesomeness like all that Jehovah your God has done for you in Egypt before your eyes?” “You only have I known of all the families of the earth.”—Deut. 4:33, 34; Amos 3:2, AV.
10. What do many people in Christendom conclude because of the favor shown the nation of Israel?
10 Because of this history of divine favor many people in Christendom believe God is behind the present-day return of Jews to Palestine. They believe the establishment of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948, was of God’s doing. They also believe that in the last days the Jews would return to their homeland in unbelief of Christ and then be converted by his appearance. Support for this view cannot be found in the Bible. Jesus himself said that the Jews would be given no sign but that of Jonah, who was in a tomblike condition for parts of three days. They had their sign when Jesus went into the grave and was then resurrected on the third day. Since this was the only sign that was to be given them and it did not convert them, how can it be said that they will be given another sign which will do what this first one did not do?
11. Do the prophecies about a return of the Jews find their fulfillment in the modern-day return to Palestine? Explain.
11 There are many prophecies that do speak about a return of the Jews to their homeland, however, but these prophecies do not find their fulfillment in the modern State of Israel. They were fulfilled over five hundred years before Christ, when a Jewish remnant returned from Babylon to reoccupy the desolated site of Jerusalem. That was in 537 B.C., seventy years after Jerusalem was made a heap of ruins by the mighty Babylonian armies.
12, 13. Why was the Promised Land desolated?
12 It should be mentioned that their land would not have been desolated by pagan invaders if they had kept their part of the agreement made at Mount Sinai. They had failed to keep their promise to do all that Jehovah had spoken. Time and again they violated the divine laws that governed them. But even though they were frequently punished by being turned over to their enemies, they failed to maintain clean and undefiled worship.
13 The disaster that swept them into seventy years of Babylonian desolation of Jerusalem and Judah was foretold long in advance by the prophet Jeremiah, who said: “And the LORD hath sent unto you all his servants the prophets, rising early and sending them; but ye have not hearkened, nor inclined your ear to hear. They said, Turn ye again now every one from his evil way, and from the evil of your doings, and dwell in the land that the LORD hath given unto you and to your fathers for ever and ever: and go not after other gods to serve them, and to worship them, and provoke me not to anger with the works of your hands; and I will do you no hurt. Yet ye have not hearkened unto me, saith the LORD; that ye might provoke me to anger with the works of your hands to your own hurt. Behold, I will send and take all the families of the north, saith the LORD, and Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and will bring them against this land, and against the inhabitants thereof, and against all these nations round about, and will utterly destroy them, and make them an astonishment, and an hissing, and perpetual desolations. And this whole land shall be a desolation, and an astonishment; and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years.”—Jer. 25:4-7, 9, 11, AV.
14. What are the differences between the return from Babylon and the modern-day return?
14 When this period of desolation ended, a remnant of the Jews returned to their homeland to rebuild it. Since God had kept the land empty of human inhabitants and domesticated beasts, they returned to an uninhabited territory. But this has not been the case with the modern-day movement of Jews to Palestine. Neither is there any parallel in their motive for returning. The remnant from Babylon did not return in unbelief, but rather in faith. They were devoted to Jehovah’s worship and wanted to re-establish it in their desolated homeland. Not so, however, with the modern-day repatriates. These do not go to Palestine to revive Jehovah’s undefiled worship there or to rebuild his temple.
15. Why cannot the temple be rebuilt and the priestly duties of the Law be carried out?
15 Even if they wanted to rebuild the temple on its divinely appointed site they could not do so, because a Mohammedan mosque sits on the spot. They are also missing a certified priesthood. The destruction of the genealogical records A.D. 70 makes it impossible for modern-day Jews to re-establish the Aaronic priesthood in order to carry on the priestly duties required by the Mosaic law.
16, 17. To whom does the republic of Israel look for recognition and help, and how is this contrary to divine instructions?
16 The republic of Israel received its existence from the powers of this world, and it has sought recognition from those powers. It has become part of the worldly system of things. This is contrary to the instructions God gave to their ancestors. He told them not to seek help from Egypt, which is a symbol of the world. “Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help, and rely on horses, and trust in chariots because they are many, and in horsemen because they are very strong, but they look not unto the Holy One of Israel, neither seek Jehovah!”—Isa. 31:1, AS.
17 Instead of chariots and horsemen, the modern State of Israel is trusting in tanks, jet planes, motorized columns and the like. It ignores God’s purposes to rule this earth by his own government and by the King he has chosen. As that King was rejected for Caesar by Israel in the first century, so he is rejected by Israel in this twentieth century. It is therefore a mistake to think the present-day return of Jews to Palestine has God’s backing.
FLESHLY ISRAEL CAST OFF
18, 19. Why did God reject the nation of Israel?
18 When the nation of Israel failed to accept the final opportunity that God gave it to gain his approval and become a kingdom of priests, he rejected it. No longer could Israelites claim favor as God’s chosen people. They had failed to keep the national agreement made at Mount Sinai. They had failed to maintain undefiled worship of God, but permitted human traditions and human philosophy to corrupt it. They failed to receive the One whom God had promised to send, but rejected him for Caesar and instigated his violent death. For these reasons they were cut off from being God’s holy nation. Their material house of worship was abandoned by God, just as Jesus said:
19 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the killer of the prophets and stoner of those sent forth to her,—how often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks together under her wings! But you people did not want it. Look! your house is abandoned to you.”—Matt. 23:37, 38.
20. What is one visible proof of Israel’s abandonment by God?
20 Proof of this abandonment came with the destruction of Jerusalem A.D. 70, at which time the temple was destroyed for the last time. No longer could Jehovah’s worship be carried on at the place he had chosen and in the manner specified in the law covenant. A.D. 136 the Roman emperor Hadrian dedicated a temple to Jupiter Capitolinus on the temple site, and then A.D. 691 ‘Abd-al-Malik built a Mohammedan mosque on the spot. This mosque, the Dome of the Rock, is still standing there.
21, 22. (a) Why has God placed his favor upon a new nation, and what does the nation consist of? (b) Why cannot Jews point to fleshly connections with Abraham as proof that they are Abraham’s seed?
21 God has placed his favor upon a new nation consisting, not of fleshly Israelites, but of spiritual Israelites. They manifest the faith of Abraham, which fleshly Israel failed to show. They are the real “children of Abraham” and have a higher claim to the promises made to Abraham than men have who point to fleshly ties with that patriarch. “However, it is not as though the word of God had failed. For not all who spring from Israel are really ‘Israel’. Neither because they are Abraham’s seed are they all children, but, ‘What will be called “your seed” will be through Isaac.’ That is, the children in the flesh are not really the children of God, but the children by the promise are counted as the seed.” (Rom. 9:6-8) This means natural Jews cannot point to fleshly connections with Abraham as proof that they are Abraham’s seed. Remember that Ishmael was a son of Abraham according to the flesh, yet he was rejected. Thus more than fleshly ties and fleshly circumcision is required. There must be faith and a circumcision of the heart.
22 Moses made this fact clear when he said: “And you must circumcise the foreskin of your hearts and not harden your necks any longer.” (Deut. 10:16) The apostle Paul commented on this same point: “For he is not a Jew that is one on the outside, nor is circumcision that which is on the outside upon the flesh. But he is a Jew that is one on the inside, and his circumcision is that of the heart by spirit, and not by a written code.”—Rom. 2:28, 29.
23. Why are the members of the new nation Jews in the real sense of the word?
23 The new nation that bears Jehovah’s name has this kind of circumcision. Its people are Jews in the real sense of the word, because they bring praise to God by their faith and obedience. They are a direct contrast to fleshly Israel, which followed a course of disobedience and stubbornness from the time it left Mount Sinai.
24. How was fleshly Israel shown special favor after A.D. 29, and for how long?
24 God began choosing men for this new nation A.D. 29. Today only a remnant of the nation is still living on earth. For seven years after Christ began the Christian ministry, the invitation to become members of this nation of spiritual Israelites was extended exclusively to fleshly Jews. Out of respect for his name that was upon the natural Jews and his promises to their forefathers God gave them first opportunity to become spiritual sons of Abraham.—Deut. 7:6-8.
25. How was the faith of fleshly Israel put to the test?
25 Since the invitation was extended to them through Christ, their faith was put under test. If they had faith in God’s promises given through Moses and the prophets, they would accept Christ for what he was. They would acknowledge him as the great prophet God said would come when he promised Moses: “A prophet I shall raise up for them from the midst of their brothers, like you, and I shall indeed put my words in his mouth and he will certainly speak to them all that I shall command him.” (Deut. 18:18) Christ plainly told them: “In fact, if you believed Moses you would believe me, for that one wrote about me.” (John 5:46) But the Jewish nation failed to exercise the necessary faith.
26. What brings justification, and how did fleshly Israel fail to see this?
26 They self-righteously felt that they could earn God’s favor and blessings by works of law. Their self-righteousness blinded them to the fact that Abraham received God’s approval because of his faith. It is faith that brings justification in God’s eyes, not works of law. “Moreover, that by law no one is declared righteous with God is evident, because ‘the righteous one will live by reason of faith’. Why, then, the Law? It was added to make transgressions manifest, until the seed should arrive to whom the promise had been made.” (Gal. 3:11, 19) But when the promised Seed did present himself the nation would not receive him, in spite of the wonders he performed before their eyes and the words of wisdom he spoke.
27. (a) Did all in fleshly Israel fail to show faith? (b) How is the new covenant different, and what effect did its inauguration have on the law covenant?
27 A remnant of the nation, however, did exercise faith. These were the first to become spiritual Israelites and to be brought into a new covenant or agreement with Jehovah God. It was a covenant that replaced the one made at Mount Sinai, which was given as a guide for the Israelites until the promised Seed arrived. Jeremiah foretold this new covenant and said it would be a different covenant. Instead of being put on stone tablets it would be put on hearts.—Jer. 31:31-33, AS.
28. What did the Jewish remnant experience?
28 The remnant of the Jewish nation that exercised faith were taken into this new covenant. They experienced circumcision of the heart. Their heart’s desire was to obey God in all he required of them. They had an inward motivation to do what was right in his eyes. With the accurate knowledge they had gained of God’s written Word and with this desire to do God’s will they did not need a law of many negative commandments telling them what not to do. Thus when the new covenant was inaugurated at Pentecost, A.D. 33, the old law covenant given at Mount Sinai was no longer binding on them. It had been abolished. Christ had brought it to an end by fulfilling its purpose.
29. How was the new covenant validated, and why is it superior to the law covenant?
29 As with the old covenant, so with the new covenant: a sacrifice was necessary to validate it. It was validated with something better than the blood of animals, however. It was validated with the perfect life-blood of Christ. This made the new covenant superior to the old covenant. It was also superior by having a better priesthood, a perfect mediator and better promises. “But now Jesus has obtained a more excellent public service, so that he is also the mediator of a correspondingly better covenant, which has been legally established upon better promises.”—Heb. 8:6.
30, 31. Who are the true seed of Abraham, and why could they be likened to sand on the seashore?
30 Now those persons brought into this covenant are the true Israel of God, the true seed of Abraham. The promise given to Abraham, which is recorded at Genesis 22:17, 18, applies to them and not to the fleshly descendants of Abraham, who, as a nation, have not listened to God and have not shown the faith and obedience of that patriarch. The promise foretells how they would be associated with the chief Seed of Abraham, Christ Jesus, as a royal family.
31 Since it was not God’s will to make known in Abraham’s day the number of persons who would form spiritual Israel, he left it as an indefinite number. It was undisclosed. He said: “I shall surely multiply your seed like the stars of the heavens and like the grains of sand that are on the seashore.” As the stars and sands are uncountable, so spiritual Israel was uncountable because God had not as yet disclosed their number.
32. Where is the number of spiritual Israel indicated in the Bible?
32 It was not until after the new covenant was inaugurated that this secret was made known. The number is recorded for us at Revelation 14:1. The spiritual Israelites are described there as being with the chief Seed, Christ Jesus, on heavenly Mount Zion. “And I saw, and look! the Lamb standing upon the mount Zion, and with him a hundred and forty-four thousand having his name and the name of his Father written on their foreheads.” Thus spiritual Israel is formed by no more than 144,000 members under the High Priest, Christ Jesus. Only these are brought into the new covenant and form a new nation bearing Jehovah’s name.
33. Does the casting off of the Jewish national house of worship mean individual Jews cannot gain God’s favor? Why?
33 God’s favor now rests upon this new nation and not upon natural Israel. But the casting off of the Jewish national house of worship does not mean that individual Jews cannot come into God’s favor. The rejecting of that nation did not mean the rejecting of every individual in it, for a remnant of the nation exercised faith and was brought into the new covenant. (Rom. 9:27) As this remnant gained God’s favor by exercising faith in him and his Son, so individual Jews today can gain it by the same means. They must acknowledge that God has replaced the old law covenant with a new and better covenant. They must recognize its better sacrifice, Christ’s humanity, and how inherited sin from Adam is permanently cleansed by means of his blood. They must recognize Christ as God’s appointed King, and they must recognize spiritual Israel as the true Israel of God. In other words, individual Jews can gain God’s favor in the same manner that non-Jews can.
34. What conclusion must we draw regarding fleshly Israel?
34 In view of what we have considered it is evident that fleshly Israel does not have a favorable standing with God. Instead of being his holy nation it has been cast off, abandoned by him, because of its stubbornness, disobedience and rejection of his acts of loving-kindness. The Israel that does have a good standing with him is spiritual Israel. Because those chosen to make up spiritual Israel have shown the faith and obedience of Abraham, they are the true sons of Abraham. It is, therefore, not fleshly Israel but all spiritual Israel that will be saved. They are the ones who receive the blessing of being God’s special property, a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation.