What Does the Bible Say About Israel?

The Bible describes the people of Israel as God’s special covenant people. Israel’s purpose as God’s covenant representatives on earth is ultimately fulfilled in the Church of the New Testament.

What Does the Bible Say About Israel

Israel is center stage in the Old Testament narrative. As the offspring of Abraham (through Isaac and then Jacob), God narrows his blessing to all the earth through the people of Israel specifically, giving them the Law at Mount Sinai and the purpose to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). As such, the nation and people of Israel play a centrally important role in the story of the Bible and the history of God’s salvation.

What Does the Bible Say About Israel (KJV)?

The Lord is often called the God of Israel. Israel is described as God’s special possession and the people through whom he would bring salvation to the ends of the earth. In the New Testament, Jesus is said to be the promised Savior, the King of Israel and the true Israel, who brings salvation to both Jews and Gentiles (non-Jews).

“And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.”Genesis 32:28
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.”Deuteronomy 6:4
“And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.”Matthew 2:6
“Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.”Acts 5:31
“Esaias also crieth concerning Israel, Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, a remnant shall be saved”Romans 9:27
“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people”Hebrews 8:10

Significance of Israel and Jerusalem in the Bible

Israel: the People of God

The significance of the people of Israel in the Bible is described in terms of the special covenantal relationship Israel as a people shared with the Lord. This relationship stands at the center of Israel’s identity and calling:

“You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel” (ESV). ”Exodus 19:4-6
  • Covenant. Israel is called God’s treasured possession. As such, they were the special recipients of God’s gracious blessing, an extension of God’s covenant relationship with their forefather Abraham. The holy nation of Israel would be set apart from all of the other nations on the earth.

  • Missional Calling. As a kingdom of priests, the people were to teach the ways of the Lord to the nations, serving as their go-between so that salvation would extend to non-Jews. Related to them actually being God’s treasured possession was their missional purpose: to be a light to the nations (Isaiah 49:6; 60:3), an extension of God’s word to Abraham to bring God’s blessing to all the peoples of the earth (Genesis 12:1-3).

In the New Testament, the entire people of God who have faith in Christ (Jews and Gentiles alike) are said to be the children of Abraham (Romans 9:7, 25-26), and as such are identified as the grafted-in, spiritual people of Israel (Galatians 6:16). In this way, the God of Israel is said to be the God of all who inherit the promise of Abraham through faith in Jesus (Romans 3:29; Luke 1:16-17).

Jerusalem: the Dwelling Place of God

In the Bible, the significance of Jerusalem is primarily tied to the dwelling place of God on earth and the place of true worship of God. As such, Jerusalem becomes a sort of symbol for Israel’s entire religious system (the proper location of the temple and its sacrifices, the place for the removal of sin and God’s wrath against sin), as well as the source of salvation for all the people of earth.

In the New Testament, Jerusalem continues to stand at the center of God’s plans of bringing salvation to the ends of the earth.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (ESV). Acts 1:8

The New Testament also envisions a time when the “dwelling place of God” will be with his people (Revelation 21:3), a place which is called “the holy city, new Jerusalem” (Revelation 21:2). In this way, the biblical image of “Jerusalem” continues to function as God’s dwelling place and source of life for his people, though the geographical reference that was once tied to a particular spot on the map is no longer the focus. Instead, Jerusalem is seen as the place where the people of God can dwell in eternal rest with God.

What Does the Bible Say About Israel

What Does the Bible Say About Going Against Israel?

Nations That Oppose Israel in the Old Testament

In Ezekiel 38-39, the prophet speaks about nations that are gathered against Israel. Although many of the prophecies against the nations are more clearly located in the history of Israel, other interpreters of the Bible think this is referring to a future event. In either case, the prophecies declare the power of God over all nations and peoples, such that God will render the final verdict of justice to punish sin and save his people (Ezekiel 38:18 – 39:5). With the dawn of the New Testament, the idea of the “people of God” is expanded to include both Jews and Gentiles, and not the physical nation of Israel exclusively.

When God Opposes Israel’s Sin

Second to their own sin, Israel’s most prominent “opposition” in the Bible is God himself. When Israel’s sin and corruption becomes so great, the Lord himself is said to be against Israel:

“Take a scroll and write on it all the words that I have spoken to you against Israel and Judah and all the nations, from the day I spoke to you, from the days of Josiah until today” (ESV). Jeremiah 36:2

Although God uses other nations to bring the curses of covenant disobedience on the people of Israel (Daniel 9:11), he nonetheless holds idolatrous nations accountable for their own sin, even punishing the nations for carrying out ruthlessness against Israel when serving as God’s means of punishment (Isaiah 34:2; Nahum 1:6-3:19).

God Preserves a Remnant

Despite twarts against the people of God, the Lord assures us that he has preserved a remnant for himself from among the people of Israel specifically (Romans 11:2-11).

What Does the Bible Say About Supporting Israel?

Although some interpreters of the Bible see many verses in Scripture about supporting the physical nation of Israel today, it is important to remember who these texts were originally written to and what they were meant to do in the hearts and lives of the people of God.

For example, 2 Chronicles 6:5-6 speaks to the physical land of Jerusalem as the place of God’s presence. In relation to audience and intent, it was likely written to stir the hearts of the post-exiled community to proper worship and covenant obedience. With the coming of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament, it is clear that God’s presence inhabits the Church, which functions as the temple (John 4:21; 1 Corinthians 6:19; Hebrew 9:11-14).

The reference to “land” in Chronicles and elsewhere (Psalm 85:1-2; Isaiah 9:1) should not be taken as an indiscriminate reference to perpetual geography. Rather, the land of Israel was to serve the missional purposes of God, to bring the light of his salvation to the ends of the earth. In reality, Jerusalem did in fact serve as the epicenter of the expansion of the gospel, and the New Testament focus is on the spread of the gospel to all the nations through the fulfillment of the Messiah, Jesus (Acts 13:47). Believers in Christ should support the spread of the gospel to reach all who are without faith, including those of the nation of Israel as we know it today. 

What Does the Bible Say About Israel’s Enemies?

The Bible pictures the Lord as the One who fights against Israel’s enemies (Exodus 14:31; Deuteronomy 3:22; 20:4; Joshua 10:42; Nehemiah 4:20; Zechariah 9).

Yet because of their faithlessness concerning the old covenant, Israel’s enemies were permitted by God to destroy Israel and carry them off into exile because of their covenant disobedience (2 Kings 17:21-23). In the midst of declaring God’s judgment against Israel’s enemies, the prophet Zechariah speaks of the day when Israel’s savior will come to his people and make peace with the nations (Zechariah 9:9-10), which the New Testament sees as being fulfilled in Christ (Luke 2:14).

What Does the Bible Say About Israel and Gaza?

“Thus says the LORD: “For three transgressions of Gaza, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment, because they carried into exile a whole people to deliver them up to Edom. So I will send a fire upon the wall of Gaza, and it shall devour her strongholds” (ESV). Amos 1:6

Gaza’s sin against neighboring peoples led to the prophet Amos’ pronouncement of their impending judgment by the Lord, which came in 734 BC when it fell to the kingdom of Assyria. Because this prophecy was originally directed to the northern kingdom of Israel, it was meant to stir them to repentance and rejection of illegitimate worship practices. Two years later, however, in 732 BC, the northern kingdom of Israel also fell to the same Assyrian force.

What Does the Bible Say About Cursing Israel?

Numbers 23 tells an interesting story of a non-Israelite prophet named Balaam who tries to curse Israel but instead can speak only blessings (see also Nehemiah 13:2). Balaam’s inability to curse Israel was bound to the Lord’s provision over his people.

Israel was to obey the Lord and remain faithful to the covenant God had established with them at Mount Sinai. Moses declares to the people:

“But if you will not obey the voice of the LORD your God or be careful to do all his commandments and his statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you” (ESV). Deuteronomy 28:15

Ignoring the prophets’ warnings, the nation of Israel experienced God’s covenant curses to the full, eventually being exiled by pagan nations (2 Chronicles 36:20-21). Yet God redeemed his people and restored their fortunes (as Dueteronomy 30:3; Jeremiah 29:14), bringing them back from exile and, ultimately, sending them a savior and king in Jesus (Luke 4:18-21).

Much more generally, however, believers under the new covenant, who are to shine as lights in the darkness, are commanded to bless rather than curse (Luke 6:28; Romans 12:14; James 3:9-10).

Stephen D

Stephen Dillard serves as a Bible Scholar with Wycliffe Associates and is a contributing writer on Revelations.org. He is a graduate of Covenant Theological Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri. He and his wife, Madison, have four children and make their home in Indiana.

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