Home > Hermeneutics > The term Israel has a two-fold meaning

The term Israel has a two-fold meaning

“Is He the God of the Jews only? is He not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also: seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and the uncircumcision through faith” (Romans 3:29, 30).

What has just been noticed leads us to point out that the terms “Israel,” “Jew,” and “seed of Abraham” all have a twofold allusion. The expression “Israel after the flesh” (1 Corinthians 10:18) is obviously a discriminating one, and would be meaningless were there no Israel after the spirit, that is regenerated Israel, “the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16). The “Israel after the flesh” were the natural descendants of Abraham, whereas the spiritual Israel, whether Jews or Gentiles, are those who are born again and worship God in spirit and in truth. When the Psalmist declared

“Truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart” (Psalm 73:1),

he certainly did not refer to the fleshly descendants of Jacob, for the greater part of them lacked “a clean heart”! When our Lord said of Nathanael,

“Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile” (John 1:47),

He obviously meant very much more than one who proceeded naturally from Jacob. His language was as distinguishing as when He said,

“If ye continue in My word, then are ye My disciples indeed” (John 8:31).

“An Israelite indeed” connoted a genuine son of the spiritual Israel, a man of faith and prayer, holy and honest. “In whom is no guile” supplies further confirmation that a saved character was there in view (compare Psalm 32:1).

When Christ said,

“I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24),

He could not intend the fleshly descendants of Jacob, for, as many Scriptures plainly show (Isaiah 42:6; Romans 15:8, 9), He was sent unto the Gentiles also. No, the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” there imported the whole election of grace.

“And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16)

could not possibly refer to the nation, for God’s wrath was on that—it is on the Israel chosen by the Father, redeemed by the Son and regenerated by the Spirit that Divine peace and mercy rest.

“Not as though the word of God had taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel” (Romans 9:6).

The Jews erroneously imagined that the promises which God had made to Abraham and his seed pertained only to his natural descendants: hence their claim “we have Abraham to our father” (Matthew 3:9). But those promises were not made to men after the flesh, but to men after the spirit, the regenerate, they alone being the “children of the promise” (Romans 9:8). God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were given to them as believers, and they are the spiritual property and food of believers, and none else (Romans 4:13, 16). Until that fact be grasped, we shall be all at sea with the Old Testament promises (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:20, and 7:1; 2 Peter 1:4).

“Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham” (Galatians 3:7).

The children of Abraham are of two kinds, physical and spiritual: those who are his by nature, and those who are connected with him by grace.

“To be the children of a person in a figurative sense is equivalent to ‘resemble him and to be involved in his fate,’ good or bad. To be ‘the children of God’ is to be like God, and also, as the apostle states, it is to be ‘heirs of God.’ To be ‘the children of Abraham’ is to resemble Abraham, to imitate his conduct and to share his blessedness” (John Brown).

So to be “the children of the wicked one” (Matthew 13:38) is to be conformed to his vile image, both in character and in conduct (John 8:44), and to share his doom (Matthew 15:41). Christ said to the carnal Jews of His day,

“If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham” (John 8:39).

It is his spiritual children who “walk in the steps of that faith which he had” (Romans 4:12) and who are “blessed with faithful Abraham” (Galatians 3:9). We must be united to Christ, who is “the Son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1), in order to enter into the blessings which God covenanted unto the patriarch. The double significance of the expression “children” or “seed of Abraham” was plainly intimated at the beginning, when God likened his seed to the stars of the heavens and the sand which is upon the sea shore (Genesis 22:17).

Arthur W. Pink-Interpretation of the Scriptures

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