God’s Covenant: with
Israel or the Church?
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Has God permanently rejected Israel and, instead, embraced the Church of believers in Jesus Christ (Yeshua HaMashiach) as His chosen people?  There are many Christians who feel this way, supposing that Christendom has “superseded” or “replaced” Israel as the chosen people of God.  This point of view is known as “replacement theology” or “supersessionism.”

Generally speaking, here is their thinking about this; the highlighted portions are correct:

  • God made a covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the latter also known as Israel.

  • The descendants of Israel disobeyed God’s laws, breaking the covenant He had established with them at Mount Sinai.

  • Thus, God “put on hold” His covenant with Israel, and God was the only one who could reinstate that covenant.

  • Yeshua/Jesus, a Jew (from the tribe of Judah), was a descendant, offspring, or “seed” of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  He atoned for Israel’s sin of spiritual infidelity against God and offered Israel the means by which their broken covenant with God could be reinstated.

  • The majority of Jews at the time of Jesus (Yeshua or Yahshua in Hebrew) did not believe that He was their Messiah (Christ), nor did they accept His blood sacrifice as atonement for their sin of breaking the covenant with God.

  • As a result, since Gentile Christians have embraced Jesus as Messiah and Savior, and have accepted His shed blood as the permanent atonement for their sins, then God has established a brand new covenant  with Christians.  Furthermore, God has abandoned non-believing Israel and the Jews altogether.
All of the points above are valid except  for the last one.  We will go through each valid point and then see what logical conclusions can be reached.


covenant with Abraham

It is a fact that God made a covenant with Abraham, who initially was named Abram (Genesis 17:1-4, 22:15-17).  Furthermore, God made it clear that this would be an everlasting covenant  and that it would be established with Abraham’s second-born son Isaac, not with his first-born son Ishmael (17:18-21).

Isaac had twin sons, Esau and Jacob.  God Himself foretold to their mother, Rachel, that two nations would come from them and that the older would serve the younger (Genesis 25:23).  The elder brother, Esau, forfeited his birthright by selling it to the younger brother, Jacob, for some bread and lentil stew (25:29-34).  So the birthright, along with God’s covenant, went to Jacob, who was renamed Israel  by God (32:28).

For centuries, the fact that God’s covenant was not  established with Ishmael or with Esau, understandably, has been problematic for Arabs in that region of the world, most of whom embrace Islam.  Many of them are descendants of either Ishmael (Abraham’s firstborn), and they have desired the eradication of Isaac’s and Jacob’s descendants from the land of Israel, up to this day.

Nevertheless, God twice referred to Isaac as Abraham’s “only son” (Genesis 22:2,16), which is from a spiritual perspective.  Isaac was the son of promise and covenant, while Ishmael was not.  Moreover, when Isaac’s son Esau forfeited his birthright, he relinquished possession of the land of Israel by his descendants.


covenant with Israel

At a later time, Israel entered into a covenant with God by agreeing to do everything the Lord had commanded them to do in the Book of the Covenant (Exodus 24:3,7).  The latter, which includes the Ten Commandments, consists of all the laws and regulations that God had spoken to Moses and to the people at Mount Sinai (Exodus 20–23).  The covenant into which they had entered with God was, in essence, a covenant of marriage (Isaiah 54:5,6).  It was an obligation that both sides had vowed to keep, forever.

The Book of the Covenant consisted of the basic directives, decrees, and regulations of the Torah or Law—the commandments on how to interact with God, Israel’s spiritual “husband,” and with each other.  It is worthy of note that no sin offerings were included in the Book of the Covenant (Exodus 20–23).  It simply contained the rules, regulations and social responsibilities that people were (and are) to follow when living together in their communities.

After receiving the Lord’s words and laws, Moses told them to the people, who said that they would do everything the Lord had said (Exodus 24:3).  Moses then had young men offer burnt  offerings and fellowship (peace) offerings to the Lord, and then he sprinkled the blood on the people saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words” (24:5,8).  (Note that these were not sin offerings, even though they involved blood.  Even Noah offered burnt offerings of sacrificed animals as a pleasing aroma to God: Genesis 8:20,21.)

So God made a covenant with the Israelites and sealed it with blood.  However, they broke this covenant through disobedience and by spiritual unfaithfulness in following other gods (Judges 2:11-13; Jeremiah 11:10-13).  The “last straw” of this was when the great King Solomon of Israel turned his back on God to follow the gods of his foreign wives, which displeased God greatly (1 Kings 11:9-11).  Once a covenant is broken by one party, the covenant becomes null and void—unless someone, somehow, makes amends or compensation for the failure of one side to commit to the covenant.

After Israel broke the covenant, God issued her a “certificate of divorce” (Jeremiah 3:8), as a husband would do to an unfaithful wife.  There was nothing the Israelites could do, nor any ransom they could pay, that would enable them to redeem themselves from their acts of infidelity toward God.  They had committed “adultery” by worshiping other gods and idols made of wood and stone (3:9), which is what had caused the covenant to be broken.  As such, God Himself  had to become Israel’s Redeemer (Isaiah 44:6).  He alone would have to pay the price for their disobedience and unfaithfulness.


tribes of Jacob/Israel

There is a differentiation, historically, between Israelites and Jews, and also between Ephraim (son of Joseph) and Judah.  Jacob/Israel had 12 sons, by four different mothers (Genesis 35:22b-26), and their descendants are known as the “twelve tribes of Israel.”  Leah and Rachel were sisters, and Zilpah and Bilhah were their respective handmaidens.

Twelve Sons of Jacob
Original Tribes of Israel


1) LReuben 4) LJudah 7) ZGad 10) LZebulun
2) LSimeon 5) BDan 8) ZAsher 11) RJoseph
3) LLevi 6) BNaphtali 9) LIssachar 12) RBenjamin
Lmother: Leah  |  Bmother: Bilhah  |  Zmother: Zilpah  |  Rmother: Rachel

Israel includes all  the descendants of Jacob within the twelve tribes.  Jews, however, are a more limited group.  Specifically, Jews are from the tribe of Judah, although there are exceptions.  For instance, in ancient Israel, King Zedekiah told those in Jerusalem to release their their Hebrew slaves and not to hold a fellow Jew in bondage (Jeremiah 34:8,9).  Thus, Hebrews as a whole can be considered to be “Jews.”

Mordecai of the tribe of Benjamin was considered to be a Jew (Esther 2:5).  Paul also was a Benjamite and a “Hebrew of Hebrews” (Philippians 3:4,5), and he even stated that he was a Jew (Acts 22:2,3).  So it is common to refer to any descendants of Jacob as “Jews,” even if they are within the eleven tribes other than Judah.


birthrights

The legal inheritance of Jacob naturally went to Reuben, the first son of Jacob’s first  wife, Leah.  However, Reuben slept with Jacob’s concubine, Bilhah (Genesis 35:22).  This sin disqualified him to be the family’s legal heir; so Reuben’s firstborn rights passed to Joseph, the first son of Jacob’s second  wife, Rachel (1 Chronicles 5:1,2), whom Jacob loved more than Leah (Genesis 29:18,30).

God had appeared to Jacob/Israel and had promised him the land of Canaan as an everlasting possession to his descendants (Genesis 48:3,4).  That phrase “everlasting possession” lets us know that God has not permanently abandoned His covenant with and promises to Israel.  Before Jacob died, he declared Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, to be his own sons (48:5), bestowing the blessings of Abraham and Isaac upon them (48:16).  In doing this, Jacob conferred upon Joseph a double blessing.

More importantly, Jacob imparted the blessing of the firstborn upon Ephraim, Joseph’s younger son, thus putting him ahead of Manasseh, the older son (Genesis 48:13,17-20).  Interestingly, this continued the blessing of the spiritual birthright to the “second born,” just as it had been conferred upon Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph (see The Second Greater Than the First).

Furthermore, when prophesying about his son Judah (Genesis 49:8-12), Jacob affirmed that the scepter of rulership would continue from Judah to the One to whom the nations would give their obedience (49:10).  This was a reference to the Messiah, Yeshua/Jesus, whose genealogy shows that he descended from Judah (Matthew 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-33).  Yeshua/Jesus will “rule with an iron scepter” over all the nations (Psalm 2:8,9; Revelation 2:27, 19:15) during the Millennium.


northern and southern kingdoms

Twelve Tribes of IsraelAs noted before, God was greatly displeased with Israel’s King Solomon when he was led astray by his foreign wives and worshiped their false gods, thus falling out of covenant with God (1 Kings 11:9-11).  As a result, after Solomon died, God stripped away all but two of the tribes, Judah and Benjamin, from Solomon’s son, King Rehoboam (12:21-24).

An Ephraimite, Jeroboam, became king over the house of Israel (1 Kings 12:20), which also came to be called Ephraim.  From that point forward, the house of Judah (also known as the house of David) and the house of Israel/Ephraim were separated from each other.

Around 722 B.C., during the reign of Hoshea (the last king of Israel), the Assyrians took Israel into captivity and deported the people of the Northern Kingdom to Assyria (2 Kings 17:5,6).  In about 586 B.C., during the reign of Zedekiah (the last king of Judah), the Babylonians burned down most of Jerusalem and exiled the people of the Southern Kingdom, mostly Judah, to Babylon (2 Kings 25:1-11; Jeremiah 52:28-30).

It should be pointed out that there were not absolute, exclusive divisions between the Northern Kingdom of Israel and the Southern Kingdom of Judah, prior to their respective banishments and exiles to Assyria and Babylon.  There was some overlapping of tribes in both places, due to marriage, migration, and location.

For instance, Levites sided with Rehoboam (king of Judah) and came to Judah because Jeroboam (king of Israel) had rejected them (2 Chronicles 11:13,14).  Many from every tribe of Israel followed the Levites to Jerusalem, supporting Rehoboam after they got there (11:16,17).  Some members of Ephraim, Manasseh and Simeon settled in Judah (15:9).  The whole territory of Simeon was located within the territory of Judah (Joshua 19:1,9).

Most of the Israelites, after being taken captive by the Assyrians, did not return to the land of Israel, though.  They fled, migrated, and were exiled to other places, eventually being scattered among the nations of the world, where they remain today.

Many exiles from the Babylonian captivity returned to Jerusalem and Judah (Nehemiah 7:6).  This was in accordance with a prophecy made by Jeremiah to the exiles in Babylon (Jeremiah 29:1-13), in which he stated that after seventy years, the people would return to Jerusalem (29:10).  However, not all of Judah returned; many of their descendants were scattered all over the earth.  These, along with those scattered by the Romans in 70 A.D., were part of the Jewish diaspora.

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 God’s Covenant: with Israel or the Church? 
 Part 1 
 
 
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