Who Is Israel? Episodes 1-4
There is a lot of confusion and many competing theories today about the place of Gentiles who have come to believe in Israel’s Messiah. Are we Israel? Are we Ephraim? Are we something else entirely? In my Who Is Israel video series, I attempt to answer these questions as well as closely related questions about the Jews.
This is episode 1. I posted a transcript below the video, but don’t expect it to read like a polished text article. It’s awkward, repetitious, and simplistic. In part, that’s the nature of video transcripts. It’s also an artifact of my lack of experience in creating videos. I expect the video, sound quality, and transcripts will improve as I get more practice.
Christians of all denominations, whether Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, or Messianic, all love God and want to do what’s right and obey him, but I’m afraid that we’ve forgotten our roots. Most of us have.
The New Testament writings are rooted in the Old Testament and can’t be understood without it. Almost every teaching of Jesus, John, and all the New Testament writers are straight from the Old Testament. Paul’s letters, for example, are primarily commentary on the Old Testament for Gentiles who are new to the faith.
Hi, my name is Jay Carper from American Torah, and my mission is to highlight the deep roots of New Testament theology in the Old Testament. I want to make all of the Bible relevant for Americans today.
Since I write a lot about Torah and keeping God’s law, people frequently ask me if I’m Jewish. I’m not, but it’s a reasonable question. I also see a lot of discussion on social media about the technical meaning of the word Jew.
Who is a Jew? Are the Jews the same as Israel? Are the Jews of today the same as the Jews of Jesus’ day? Is the church Israel? Did God reject the Jews in favor of the church? Where did the Ten Lost Tribes go? Where they lost at all?
These can be sensitive questions even when asked completely without any rancor. I understand why some people get defensive and angry when they hear them, but I don’t think it’s wrong to ask honest questions. I can’t think of anything that shouldn’t be questioned to some extent. Sincere and thoughtful questions deserve sincere and thoughtful answers.
There are four questions related to Jews and Israel that I want to answer in this video:
- First, who are the Jews?
- Second, who is Israel?
- Third, who or what is the Synagogue of Satan, and
- Fourth, what does this have to do with you and me?
In order to answer those questions, I’m going to trace the history of Israel and the Jews from ancient Mesopotamia all the way through to the 21st century. I’ll touch on their origins in Abraham, their migrations, the invasions, all the spiritual revolutions that happen to Israel over the centuries, what happened to the northern ten tribes after the Assyrian invasion, how yesterday’s Israel became today’s Jews, how the Jews became scattered around the world, who the Jews are today, Israel and prophecy, and what the relationship of the Chris Church is to Israel.
Sometime between 2000 and 1500 BC God began a process of division. He began dividing covenant people from non covenant people.
Abraham was born in Mesopotamia, probably somewhere in modern Iraq. He is widely considered to be the first Hebrew. The word Hebrew comes from an ancient word meaning one who crosses over, and this applies to Abraham in two ways. First, Abraham crossed over from paganism to faith in the true God, and second, he crossed over from his home in Mesopotamia east of the Jordan into the Promised Land.
During his travels, God made covenants with Abraham, including several promises. First, to make him into a great nation and, second, to bless all peoples of the earth through him.
Abraham had a son through his wife’s servant, Hagar. His name was Ishmael. He was born after God made the covenant to make Abraham into a nation,
but Ishmael would not be the vehicle of God’s promises, so he was not counted in the Covenant. God blessed Ishmael, but he did not inherit the Covenant from Abraham.
Later, when Abraham was 99 years old, God promised him a son by his wife Sarah. That sons name was Isaac. Isaac was born when Abraham was 100 and Sarah was 90. He’s called the son of promise, and he is the inheritor of the covenant.
Abraham also married a woman named Keturah. He had more sons, but these sons also weren’t part of the Covenant. Only one son inherited that covenant from Abraham, and that was Isaac.
Isaac also had two sons. His first son was Esau. Esau despised his covenant birthright, so God despised him too and cut him off from the covenant people. Isaac’s second son was Jacob. Jacob wanted the Covenant and so he inherited it from Isaac. As with the previous generation, the Covenant went to one son and not the other.
Ishmael, the sons of Keturah, and Esau were all descendants of Abraham, but they would not become part of Israel. Over two generations God split each family into two camps. One inherited the Covenant and one didn’t. But something changed with Jacob. Instead of subtracting people from the covenant, God began adding them.
Jacob married two women, creating a divided house. Leah, with her servant girl and their sons, became one house. Rachel, with her servant girl and their sons, became another. So Jacobs children formed two sub houses, but, unlike Isaac and Ishmael and Jacob and Esau, the sons of all four women inherited as part of the Covenant. None of his sons were skipped over or cut off from the covenant. Jacob, whom God later renamed to Israel, had twelve sons, and they all inherited it alike.
Abraham and Isaac had many servants in their lifetimes and those servants benefited from being part of their houses, but just like Ishmael and Keturah, they didn’t inherit the Covenant with Isaac and Jacob.
Jacob also acquired servants throughout his journeys, and his sons acquired many more, but the Bible says they entered Egypt as 70 people. These are only only the literal sons of Jacob because the servants aren’t formally counted with Israel. Servants still counted as members of the households and the Egyptians made no distinction. They treated them all as a single people.
The Bible only enumerates the literal sons of Jacob, but we know that many more people than this had been assimilated into Israel and entered Egypt with them. They spent 200 years in Egypt, and there were probably many other people enslaved there with them. Many of them merged with the Hebrews during that time. Jacob’s 70 became a multitude, not just through the growth of their own families, but by the absorption of other people.
At each stage God divided Israel from not Israel. With Abraham and Isaac God subtracted but with Jacob God added.
The Hebrews spent 200 years in Egypt after Jacob’s family of 70 left Canaan and all during this time God continued his refining process of adding and subtracting people from Israel. The Hebrews were persecuted and enslaved in Egypt, but as always God had a plan of salvation.
More than 2 million people left Egypt with Moses into the wilderness, and during those 2 centuries in Egypt if every Hebrew family had 10 children who survived into adulthood, and each of those children had ten more of their own, the Hebrews alone could have accounted for all of the people who left in the exodus, but it doesn’t seem likely.
The Hebrews had a very harsh life in Egypt. They endured hard manual labor of slavery. They worked in farming, fishing, and building construction, all of which could be dangerous occupations. Some people, even 3500 years ago, never even had children and many others, like Isaac and Rebecca, only had a few. Some who did have large families unfortunately lose some of their children at a young age through disease or violence, such as when Pharaoh ordered the infant Hebrew boys to be thrown into the Nile. If that weren’t enough some Israelites probably assimilated into Egyptian and other foreign cultures. They got tired of waiting for God’s Redemption and stopped being Hebrews altogether.
The people who left Egypt with Moses were probably mostly descendants of Jacob, but also would have included many people from other nations, including other descendants of Abraham, such as the Midianites and completely foreign people such as Kushites. The Bible calls these people a mixed multitude.
The people who entered the Promised Land were a mixed group of Hebrews, Egyptians, Edomites, Kushites, and others, but God still called them all Israel. In the wilderness Israel lost many people through several rebellions. There was the incident of the golden calf at Sinai, Korah’s rebellion, the faithlessness of the ten spies, and several incidents of the people complaining against God. They had conflicts with Moabites, Midianites, and others. Many people died. They weren’t separated or exiled from the rest of the nation, but they were culled by death.
At the time that Israel entered the promised land, God had told them that they were to conquer all of the peoples across the Jordan. Not immediately, but in time and without compromise. Eventually all of the Canaanites were to be entirely destroyed or dispossessed. They started strong under Joshua’s leadership, but never finished the job. They left Philistines, Moabites, and Midianites in the south. They left Canaanites, Hittites, and others in the north.
During the time of the judges intermarriage and assimilation worked both ways. The Israelites assimilated into Canaanite people and ceased being Israelites at all, while Canaanites assimilated into Israel and became Hebrews. Each group remained a separate people, but the lines between them blurred over the next 400 years.
By the time Samuel anointed Saul king of Israel there was a significant amount of admixture in Israel, yet God still called all of those who are descended from Jacob along with all of those who joined the Hebrews in worshiping Him “Israel”, and treated the whole as a single people.
King Saul was from the tribe of Benjamin, but he began a process of uniting the divided tribes of Israel. They were essentially twelve loosely allied tribes each with their own leadership. Saul mostly united the people and defeated many of Israel’s enemies, but he didn’t destroy all of the Canaanites and Philistines.
King David completed the process of the unification that Saul had begun, but he too failed to purge the land of Canaanites and Philistines. He conquered numerous neighboring kingdoms, subjugated many foreign people, bringing foreign slaves into Israel as laborers and as war captives. History tells us that war almost inevitably brings intermarriage and at least a partial merging of cultures.
David’s son, Solomon, established wide-ranging trade networks. He sent Israelites with Phoenician ships all across the Mediterranean, probably much of the Indian Ocean as well, and through these trade networks, many foreigners immigrated to Israel, including many of Sullivan’s wives. Trade, like war, also brings intermarriage. Solomon married many non-Hebrews and his officials likely did the same.
Israel absorbed many people from the surrounding kingdoms during this time, and many Israelites emigrated to foreign lands and stayed there. Despite all this movement of people, and the assimilation of many foreigners into Israel, in time, there was no real distinction made between the descendants of those people and the descendants of Jacob. God treated them all as Israel.
In this episode, we talked about the origins of Israel in God’s covenant with Abraham, the refining of the Covenant people until Jacob, Israel’s time in Egypt, and Israel as a nation up until King Solomon. In Episode two will begin at Solomon’s death and the division of Israel into two kingdoms.
Don’t forget to check out the blog at AmericanTorah.com.
This is Jay Carper for the kingdom of God and a stronger America. Be blessed.