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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Israel

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Israel was the nation to which God’s promises had been given. Generally the idea of privilege is associated with the use of the word, just as ‘Israel’ was originally the name of special privilege given by God to Jacob, the great ancestor of the race (Genesis 32:28; Genesis 35:10). It differs from both ‘Hebrew’ and ‘Jew,’ the former standing, at least in NT times, for Jews of purely national sympathies who spoke the Hebrew or Aramaic dialect (Acts 6:1); the latter, a term originally applied to all who belonged to the province of Judah, and, after the Babylonian captivity, to all of the ancient race wherever located. ‘Israel,’ on the other hand, is pre-eminently the people of privilege, the people who had been chosen by God and received His covenant. Thus frequently a Jewish orator addressed the people as ‘men of Israel’ (Acts 2:22; Acts 3:12; Acts 4:8; Acts 4:10; Acts 5:35; Acts 13:16 etc.).

In the Acts of the Apostles we find the word used historically with reference to the ancestors of the Jews of apostolic times and also applied to these Jews themselves. The past history of Israel as God’s chosen people is referred to in the speeches contained in the Book of Acts, e.g. by St. Stephen (Acts 7:23; Acts 7:37; Acts 7:42), and by St. Paul (Acts 13:17; Acts 28:20). It is usually assumed or suggested in the Acts that the Jews of the time, to whom the gospel was being preached, are the Israel of the day, the people for whom God had a special favour and who might expect special blessings (Acts 5:31; Acts 13:23).

But the refusal of the message of the apostles by many of those who by birth were Jews led to a change in the use of the term, which gives us what we may call the metaphorical or spiritual significance of the word. The Apostle Paul’s contention with the legalistic Jews of his day led him to draw a distinction between the actual historical Israel and the true Israel of God. He speaks on the one hand of ‘Israel after the flesh’ (1 Corinthians 10:18), or of those who belong to the ‘stock of Israel’ (Philippians 3:5), and on the other hand of a ‘commonwealth of Israel’ (Ephesians 2:12), from which many, even Jews by birth, are aliens, and into which the Ephesians have been admitted (v. 13), and also of the ‘Israel of God’ (Galatians 6:18). By this ‘commonwealth of Israel’ or ‘Israel of God’ the Apostle means a true spiritual Israel, practically equivalent to ‘all the faithful.’ It might be defined as ‘the whole number of the elect who have been, are, or shall be gathered into one under Christ,’ or, in other words, the Holy Catholic Church.

This true Israel does not by any means coincide with the nation or the stock of Abraham. ‘They are not all Israel which are of Israel’ (Romans 9:6), i.e. by racial descent. Branches may be broken off from the olive tree of God’s privileged people and wild olive branches may be grafted into the tree (Romans 11:17-21). Sometimes it is difficult to determine the exact application of the term in different passages in the Pauline Epistles. Thus the sentence, ‘All Israel shall be saved’ (Romans 11:26), refers not to the true or spiritual Israel in the sense of an elect people, as has been held by various commentators, e.g. Augustine, Theodoret, Luther, Calvin, and others, nor to an elect remnant, as is held by Bengel and Olshansen. The Apostle is speaking of the actual nation of Israel as a whole, and contrasting it with the fullness of the Gentiles. It is his belief that, when the fullness of the Gentiles is come in, Israel as a nation will also turn to God by confessing Christ. The phrase ‘all Israel’ does not necessarily apply to every member of the race, nor does the passage teach anything as to the fate of the individuals who at the Apostle’s day or since then have composed the nation (cf. Meyer, Kommentar, p. 520; Denney in Expositor’s Greek Testament , ‘Rom.,’ p. 683; H. Olshausen, Rom., p. 373; Calvin, Rom., p. 330).

Just as the ancient historical Israel was the recipient of special privileges and stood in a particular relation to God, so the spiritual Israel of apostolic times is the bearer of special privileges and stands to God in a unique relationship. Ancient Israel had ‘the oracles of God’ (Romans 3:2). They had the sign of circumcision. To them, St. Paul declares, pertained ‘the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the Law, and the service of God, and the promises; whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came’ (Romans 9:4-5). The great essential features of these privileges are transferred to the spiritual Israel, the believing Church which has been grafted into the true olive tree. They have the adoption, they are sons of God (Romans 8:15-17). They have the glory both present and future (Romans 8:18). They are partakers of the new covenant which has been ratified by the death of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 11:25).

The analogy between the first and the second covenant is fully worked out by the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews, who dwells upon the ritual and ceremonial aspect of ancient Israel’s relationship to God, and shows the higher fulfilment of that relationship under the new covenant, where there is direct personal access to God. Here the human priesthood of the sons of Aaron and the sacrifices of bulls and goats are superseded by a Divine Mediator who offered Himself a sacrifice once for all (Hebrews 7:27; Hebrews 10:10). The Mediator of the new covenant has entered not into an earthly temple but into heaven itself, there to make continual intercession for His people (Hebrews 7:25). The writer further emphasizes the superiority of the new covenant relationship of the spiritual Israel as being a fulfilment of the prophecy of Jeremiah 31:31-34, which presupposes that the old covenant had proved ineffective (Hebrews 8:7). The Law is no longer to be written on tables of stone, but in the mind and the heart (Hebrews 8:10).

In the Book of Revelation ancient Israel is referred to historically in connexion with Balaam, ‘who taught Balak to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel’ (Revelation 2:14). On the other hand, the symbolic or metaphorical use of the term applied to the spiritual Israel is found in connexion with the sealing of the servants of God which takes place according to the tribes of the children of Israel (Revelation 7:4), and also in the description of the New Jerusalem, where the names of the twelve tribes are engraven on the twelve gates (Revelation 21:12). The author of the Apocalypse, following the usage of St. Paul and the example of St. Peter (Revelation 1:1) and St. James (James 1:1), applies the passage Revelation 7:1-8, regarding the sealing of the tribes taken from a Jewish source, to the true spiritual Israel, who are to be kept secure in the day of the world’s overthrow. It is the same class which is referred to in Revelation 7:9-17 who appear in heaven clothed in white robes and with palms in their hands (cf. J. Moffatt in Expositor’s Greek Testament , ‘Revelation,’ 1910, p. 395f.).

For the history and religion of Israel in apostolic times see articles Pharisees, Herod.

Literature.-Josephus, Ant., Bellum Judaicum (Josephus) ; H. Ewald, Gesch. des Volkes Israel, Göttingen, 1864-66; E. Schürer, GJV [Note: JV Geschichte des jüdischen Volkes (Schürer).] 4, Leipzig, 1901-11; C. von Weizsäcker, Apostolic Age, Eng. translation , 1894-95. The following Commentaries on the relevant passages may be cited: on Romans: Calvin (1844), Olshausen (1866), Meyer (1872), Denney (Expositor’s Greek Testament , 1900), Sanday-Headlam (International Critical Commentary , 1902); on Hebrews: A. B. Davidson (1882), Westcott (1889). See also the articles ‘Israel, History of,’ in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols) , ‘Israel, Israelite’ in Dict. of Christ and the Gospels , ‘Israel’ in Encyclopaedia Biblica , and ‘Hebrew Religion’ in Encyclopaedia Britannica .

W. F. Boyd.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Israel'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/i/israel.html. 1906-1918.

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