There are two common errors made when people think about modern Israel. Each of these errors is significant because they can cause us to not recognize God’s purposes for Israel nor relate to His purposes properly. Both of these errors can also cause us to misinterpret God’s dealings with Israel. In Ezekiel 11 God addresses both of these common errors. Ezekiel’s oracle is based on God’s covenant with Israel and this oracle helps us not only understand God’s relationship with ancient Israel, but also his relationship with modern Israel as well. The two errors that Ezekiel addresses can be described as unbiblical mercy and as gentile arrogance.
Error One – Unbiblical Mercy
The first error Ezekiel addresses is the one of “unbiblical mercy.” Unbiblical mercy is a problem anytime we extend mercy to someone on any terms other than God’s terms. God gives mercy freely, but it must be given on His terms. When we extend mercy on any other terms than God’s we are extending unbiblical mercy and when we do this we can obscure the biblical requirements for receiving genuine mercy.
Ezekiel addresses this error in Ezekiel 11:12.
12And you shall know that I am the Lord; for you have not walked in My statutes nor executed My judgments, but have done according to the customs of the Gentiles which are all around you. Ezekiel 11:12 NKJV
The phrase “and you shall know that I am the Lord” occurs repeatedly in Ezekiel when he is describing God’s judgments. In verse 12, God reminds Israel that they are going to know that He is the Lord when He responds in judgment to Israel’s sin. What God is communicating to Israel is that He cares, He is involved, and their decisions really do matter. God also identifies the reasons for His judgments. He will judge Israel because they have not walked in His statutes, meaning His commands, and because they have followed the ways of the gentiles.
Ezekiel reminds Israel that God is involved and that He cares about Israel’s condition. God’s complaint with Israel was not only that Israel had disobeyed – something common to all men – but also that Israel had followed the ways of other nations, or the ways of the gentiles. God rebuked Israel anytime she walked in the ways of the gentiles because of His high purpose for Israel.
For God’s purpose on the earth to succeed, Israel must be a light to the nations and a host for the glory of God. This is why Israel cannot go the way of the gentile nations. It is normal for gentile nations to operate in darkness, but God will not allow Israel to do so. Israel must be a light to the nations calling them to something higher by hosting the presence of God for the nations and calling the nations to repentance.
God’s complaint to ancient Israel was that Israel had followed the way of the nations, and God makes the same complaint to modern Israel. While He loves Israel, and is still working through her, God’s charge against Israel remains because, as a nation, modern Israel has patterned itself after the “customs of the gentiles.” The modern state is patterned after a western, secular democracy who does not see itself as a nation whose laws must flow from right relationship with God. This is following the ways of other nations and God has the same issue with Israel now that He did in Ezekiel’s because of His ultimate purpose for the nation. Right now Israel wants to be like the other nations, but God is not content with that. His unique covenant with Israel demands He respond whenever Israel seeks to go the way of the nations.
It is God’s desire to extend mercy to Israel, but it must be on His terms. We are extending unbiblical mercy to Israel anytime we assure Israel of God’s unconditional favor before Israel meets the necessary terms for God’s favor. God is longsuffering, and frequently extends temporary mercy to Israel, just as He does to all mankind, but it is unbiblical to assure any people of God’s mercy when they are not meeting His terms.
The only way the modern state of Israel can be assured of God’s mercy and protection is to obtain it on God’s terms and that is through repentance and faith in Jesus as Israel’s Messiah and only hope. While God has made an unconditional promise to save and glorify Israel in the future, those unconditional promises do not justify a premature offer of unbiblical mercy to a nation that has not yet met His terms. Biblically, we are to call Israel to repentance through Jesus while understanding the remind her of the certainly to God’s ultimate promise to bring the entire nation to salvation on His terms. The error of offering Israel unbiblical mercy is a serious one, but it is not the most common error made when relating to Israel. There is another error that affects far more of Christianity right now.
Error Two – Gentile Arrogance
The biggest error made by believers when dealing with the subject of Israel is the error of gentile arrogance. God also addresses this error in Ezekiel 11.
16Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Although I have cast them far off among the Gentiles, and although I have scattered them among the countries, yet I shall be a little sanctuary for them in the countries where they have gone.” ’ 17Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “I will gather you from the peoples, assemble you from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel.” ’…19Then I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within them, and take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh, 20that they may walk in My statutes and keep My judgments and do them; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God. (Ezekiel 11:16-17, 19–20 NKJV)
Ezekiel 11 begins with God’s warning of judgment for Israel’s sin, but it finishes with God’s assurance of Israel’s future salvation. Even though the nation will suffer the effects of God’s judgments until the nation receives God’s mercy on God’s terms, God still reaffirms His ultimate commitment to Israel. While its unbiblical to offer Israel national mercy before she fulfills God’s terms, it is also unbiblical, and serious, to overlook God’s unwavering commitment to the promises He has made.
Many people assume that Israel lost her promises because of disobedience, but this kind of thinking is a serious error, and it is not what the Bible teaches. Israel’s promises were never secured by her own righteousness or obedience (Deuteronomy 7:7-8) – they were secured by God’s commitment (Genesis 15). If Israel’s promises were not received because of her own righteousness, then it also means they cannot be lost by her unrighteousness. Individuals can lose their individual access to God’s promises through their refusal to meet His terms, but the nation cannot lose by disobedience something that was never gained by obedience.
God’s promises to Israel are unconditional because no people, Jew or gentile, are capable of meeting the standards of God’s righteousness. When we take a position that Israel’s promises are lost or forfeit due to her own disobedience, we are striking at the very heart of the gospel, because the gospel tells us that no one is righteous. All have fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:10-12). If Israel’s promises, the ones that were given to Abraham, are in jeopardy because of the sin of Israel, then the promises associate with our salvation are in jeopardy as well because Paul tells us that we have received the promise of salvation in the same way that Abraham did (Romans 4).
Paul anticipated that this would be an issue in the church and that is why he warned the believers in Rome to not become arrogant when they received the gospel, but Israel as a people seemed to be rejecting it.
25For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: “The Deliverer will come out of Zion, And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; (Romans 11:25–26 NKJV)
Paul warned the gentiles to not be “wise in your own opinions” because he knew what would happen when many gentiles began receiving the gospel while most of Israel seemed to be rejecting it. Paul tells us that this is actually part of God’s sovereign plan to bring a vast multitude of gentiles to salvation (Revelation 7:9) while also bringing to entire nation of Israel to salvation at the conclusion of His great plan. Israel was tempted to believe that God cared only about them and that He did not have a plan for the gentiles. However, after Jesus’ first coming resulted in such a dramatic salvation of gentiles, the gentiles have been tempted to believe that God no longer has a plan for Israel. Paul reminds us that God intends to do both: save a great multitude of gentiles and fulfill the promises made specifically to Israel.
In our generation, we continue to see the kind of arrogance in the nations that Paul warned us about. Some times that arrogance is a result of an overreaction to a small number of believers who love Israel in a way that is unbiblical. Many times it is due to a system of theology that does not expect God to fulfill His promises literally. Now that we have a Jewish state again on the earth – an unparalleled historical miracle – we can no longer afford to be ignorance or arrogant of God’s promises towards Israel because the central place the Jewish people have played in the history of the 20th century reveals that God is not finished with this people yet.
The modern state of Israel poses challenges for many believers. Many believers have been told that God no longer has any special purpose for Israel and the Jewish people. This caused most of the church throughout history to be ignorant of what the apostle Paul clearly taught – a day will come when Israel receives the gospel and that day will be like a resurrection from the dead for the earth (Romans 11:15).
While many believers throughout church history have assumed God is finished with Israel, the last 60 years of history have challenged the idea that the people of Israel no longer have any significance among the nations. The emergence of the modern state of Israel caused many believers to go back to their Bibles to look again and see what the Bible predicted about Israel’s future. They found that God has made specific promises to Israel that began before the law at Sinai and therefore were not forfeited by Israel’s disobedience as a nation.
The challenge that they faced was that, while God was obviously emphasizing His plan for Israel, modern Israel is not yet a saved people and they cannot enter the fullness of their promises without receiving the divine Messiah. Because of zeal for God’s purposes, some referred to Israel as though she were already a saved people which caused confusion. The answer to that confusion is to recognize that a historical work is happening among the Jewish people and many are embracing Jesus, but that Israel as a nation is not yet saved and cannot yet be embraced as such.
The historical challenges of Israel’s disappearance from the world stage and sudden reappearance as a secular nation have led many believers to fall into one of these two common errors concerning Israel. To avoid these errors, we must stick with what the Scripture says about Israel:
- The promises made to Israel in Genesis 12 and 15 are permanent and based on God’s righteousness, not Israel’s. God has secured them and will bring them to pass. He has a unique purpose for this people group and He will save the entire nation as the great finale to His missions enterprise in the earth.
- While we affirm the certainty of Israel’s salvation, we must be faithful to the Scriptures meaning Israel’s salvation must come God’s way. The present state of Israel, while part of God’s redemptive plan for Israel, is not yet a saved nation. Anytime we assure them of God’s unqualified favor in their present condition, we are offering unbiblical mercy.
Our calling is to maintain a witness of biblical mercy to the modern state of Israel. This means we recognize and speak up for Israel’s unique and permanent promises while also reminding Israel that they must come into the fullness of those promises on God’s terms. Until they do so, they cannot find present security in those promises. However, the saved remnant in Israel can find future security in the fact that God has promised to bring Israel to an ultimate day of salvation.
Understanding this allows us to both recognize God’s righteous purpose for Israel and the Jewish people while also acknowledging that Israel presently falls short of God’s purposes for her. Israel is called, but Israel must also be saved. If we keep these two things clear, we can better understand Israel’s place among the nations, God’s dealings with Israel, and God’s ultimate purpose for Israel.