Who’s who and where’s where

17 03 2011

There are a few problems with terminology in the Bible – who is Israel? or should it be where is Israel?  Does Israel equal the Promised Land? If so – then or now?  What about Palestine? Jesus lived in Palestine didn’t he?  So is it part of the Promised Land?

Then there are God’s chosen people – are they Jews, Gentiles, Christians?

I’m going to have a go at untangling all this.


So “who’s” first. 

The patriarch Jacob in the book of Genesis  has a spectacular wrestling match that results in God changing his name from Jacob – the deceiver,  to Israel – he struggles with God.  The people of Israel got their name from their ancestral father Israel; his twelve sons became known as the twelves tribes of Israel, the Israelites, or simply Israel.  They were called Jews after their exile in Babylon.  Strand One.

To understand about the people of Israel we need go back a couple of generations to Abraham, Jacob’s grandfather.  God promised that Abraham’s descendants would be a great nation and also that they would have a special land  to live in.  This was initially called Canaan (The Promised Land) and only later, after a sojourn in Egypt, forty years wandering in the desert, and battles for possession was it divided amongst the twelve tribes Israel, and ruled by King David as the Kingdom of Israel.  Strand Two.

There was a checkered history of division of the kingdom, exile and return, until around the time of Jesus’ birth, by which time Israel had become an occupied territory under control of the Romans. The nation of Israel had become the Roman province of Palestine and was divided into a number of administrative regions.  These are the setting for the Gospel narratives – Galilee, Judea, Samaria.  Strand Three.

The modern State of Israel dates back to 1948 and the government chose the term “Israeli” to denote a citizen of Israel.  The Palestinians are still holding out for their own state. Strand Four.

What about the relationship between the ancient Israelites and the other peoples of the Bible?  Well, there is a clear separation – the Israelites are the people of God; they are distinct from “the nations”.  So they are a chosen people, but chosen for a purpose – to model what it means to live God’s way so that the nations will come to know God too.  This is bourne out by Jesus who reaches out to Jews and Gentiles alike, and clearly indicates that his love is for all.  Strand Five.

So who are the people of God?  This is one of the questions that Paul deals with in his letter to the Romans.  Jews and Gentiles are equally sinful, and equally loved.   Here’s how Paul explained the issue to the church in Ephesus“Both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children. Both are part of the same body, and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus.”  Just as the Old Testament Israelites were people with a purpose – to bring light to the nations (Isaiah 49:6 as an example), so Christians are people with a purpose – to bring light and hope to the people around them (Matthew 5:14-16).  Strand Six.

I’ve tried to tease out and untangle these six strands and I’m beginning to see a clearer multi coloured picture.  I hope I haven’t tied you in knots.




2 responses

2 04 2011
The depths and the heights « moses supposes

[…] worth an aside here.  Nineveh was not in Israel, so the people were not Israelites but Gentiles. So the question raised is, “Should God’s mercy extend to […]

15 08 2011
In or out? « moses supposes

[…] this up with the story of Abraham – Genesis 12:1-3, 15:5-6, 17:4-8 and link back to the previous post  Who’s who and where’s where? for more on this topic. Share this:ShareLike this:LikeBe […]

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