Q&A: Israel's Fate

Israel's Fate

Question

What was Israel's fate in the Old Testament?

Answer

Since people often have many different things in mind when they use the word "fate" (e.g. purpose, destiny, or result), we're going to look at the intentions God had in creating the nation of Israel, and what became of those intentions. I'm hoping this will address what you're asking about.

First, it helps to get an idea of the "big picture" behind the writing of the Bible. What is the main point of the book? While some might answer "redemption" or "Jesus Christ," in my opinion the best way to understand the Bible is to see it as the unfolding account of the coming of the Kingdom of God. Seeing this overarching "royal" motif explains, for instance, why God is portrayed as walking in his garden "in the cool of the day" in Genesis 3:8 (Ancient kings had elaborate gardens that they enjoyed strolling through). Many, many other incidents, descriptions and declarations in the Old Testament can be best understood in seeing God reigning as a heavenly monarch, and ruling his people through divine covenants, covenants that not only involve great blessings, but also promise curses in nature and war should Israel forsake her responsibilities.

If this is true, then, the main point of the Gospel is not an individual's personal reconciliation to God (although that is certainly an essential element) but that God is in the process of preparing the Earth to become fit for him to dwell here with his people. So how did he plan to get to that point?

God's intentions along these lines can be seen from the very beginning, in Genesis. There, God plants a "garden" (the entire Earth at that time was not a "paradise") and places the first man and woman there, creating them in God's "image." Although the meaning is often obscured to a modern reader, the original audience of Moses would have understood that ancient monarchs filled their kingdoms with images of themselves, to indicate their dominion of that particular region. God's command to the man and woman to "be fruitful and increase in number" (Gen. 1:28) is to be understood in these terms.

As we all know, the sin of Adam and Eve resulted in their expulsion from the Garden, but God was not to be thwarted by humanity's failure. Moses' account in Genesis of Adam and Eve, and later, Abraham, was to instruct his audience (Israel) that God was preparing them to resume the project of establishing God's Kingdom on Earth. As the boundaries of the land promised to Israel make clear (Josh. 1:1-4), God was sending his chosen people to take back the original Eden of Genesis. Joshua's encounter with an angel with "a drawn sword in his hand" in Joshua 5:13-15 was probably intended to remind the readers of the angel that was left to guard the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve were expelled (Gen. 3:24). In other words, the nation of Israel was returning to reclaim what had been lost.

As was the case with Adam, Israel was to establish a "beachhead" in the Promised Land, fill it with his images, and eventually expand the Kingdom to encompass the world (Rom. 4:13). But as you probably know, Israel was not to succeed in doing so. Repeated acts of disobedience and disregard of their God led to warnings (examples of these are to be found in books of the Old Testament such as Isaiah and Ezekiel) and eventually, removal of the Israelite nation from their land, and exile in Babylon.

The possibility of restoration to the land, and renewal of the nation to fulfill God's plan to establish his kingdom, was held out to Israel (again, in books such as Isaiah and Ezekiel, among others) and there is a noteworthy offer made to King Zerubbabel toward the end of the book of Haggai (2:21-23) in which God says,
Tell Zerubbabel governor of Judah that I will shake the heavens and the earth. I will overturn royal thrones and shatter the power of the foreign kingdoms. I will overthrow chariots and their drivers, horses and their riders will fall, each by the word of his brother. "On that day," declares the LORD almighty, "I will take you, my servant Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel," declares the LORD, "and I will make you like my signet ring, for I have chosen you," declares the LORD Almighty.
It's clear that God was offering Zerubbabel an opportunity to fulfill a "destiny" of filling the earth with the image of God, and bringing God's kingdom to earth.

God's "offer" was just that, an "offer," and not a prediction of what was to come, for Zerubbabel disappears from history and is never heard from again. But this does not mean that God's intentions have been thwarted. As he made clear during his ministry, Jesus had come to inaugurate God's kingdom on earth, and this time the "signet ring" of God performed his duties perfectly. In Romans 4:9-17, the apostle Paul makes the amazing assertion that "Israel" has only consisted of people of faith all along, Jew AND Gentile.

So Israel's "fate," though delayed by disobedience, is to fill the earth with God's "images" (today's Church) and eventually to consummate the coming of God's kingdom when the king of Israel (Christ) returns in glory. The Old Testament ends with Israel under the covenant curse of foreign domination, and waiting for God to rescue them, restore them to the land, and accomplish his kingdom goals through them.

Answer by Larry Gwaltney

Larry Gwaltney is Vice President of New Production Initiatives at Third Millennium Ministries.