Shout, O Israel! God Loves You!

They are a minority. They always have been a minority. Moses, their first national leader, described them as “the least of all peoples” (Dt. 7:7); and that assessment remains true today, more than 3,500 years later. Among the world’s population of approximately 7 billion, they are a mere handful: 14 million to 15 million, a scant one-fifth of one percent.

In fact, they are so few in number that some cities have greater populations than there are Jewish people in the entire world.

Yet Jewish people have made an enormous impact on the world because of a legacy that began more than 4,000 years ago when God entered into a unique relationship with Abraham in Ur of the Chaldeans. Though circumstances have changed, God does not change. He loved the Jewish people in ancient days, and He loves them today.

Unsolicited Love
Abraham’s relationship with God was not a modification or evolution of anything else around him. It was distinct from everything. When Abram (later called Abraham) obeyed God’s call, he not only walked away from a sophisticated, cosmopolitan city, but he also turned his back on the prevailing worldview and entered into a unique relationship with the one true God.

The apostle James in the New Testament recognized this relationship: “‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’ And he was called the friend of God” (Jas. 2:23). No one else in Scripture can claim this title, and God’s enduring relationship with Israel is founded on His unsolicited friendship with Abraham.

On the basis of that friendship, God confirmed an unconditional, unilateral covenant with Abraham that would be reiterated to Abraham’s son Isaac and his grandson Jacob, the father of the 12 tribes of Israel. Confirmation of the covenant followed the cultural protocol of the day.

At God’s request, Abraham brought a three-year-old heifer, a she-goat, and a ram, along with a turtledove and a young pigeon. As prescribed, he cut the offerings into halves and laid them in a line with each half opposite the other (Gen. 15:9–10). The ceremony, referred to as “cutting a covenant,” required the responsible parties to walk the line between the halves of the animals spread before them.

After causing a deep sleep to fall on Abraham, God alone walked the line. The Bible says God “appeared [as] a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces” (v. 17). God thereby established Himself as the sole party responsible for keeping the covenant with Abraham and subsequently with the nation of Israel.

Unending Love
The psalmist encapsulated the magnitude of the covenant: “He remembers His covenant forever…the covenant which He made with Abraham, and His oath to Isaac, and confirmed it to Jacob for a statute, to Israel as an everlasting covenant” (Ps. 105:8–10). The Hebrew word for “remembers” is in the perfect tense, signifying a “practically pledged certainty.”1 It is a covenant validated by God’s eternality.

Later Moses, Israel’s first national leader, emphasized God’s covenant relationship with the nation and highlighted an overlooked essential. As the nation gathered at the banks of the Jordan River, preparing to enter the land God promised Abraham and his offspring through Jacob, Moses reminded the Israelites,

The Lᴏʀᴅ did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because the Lᴏʀᴅ loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers (Dt. 7:7–8).

God’s ongoing relationship with Israel is based on more than a covenantal requirement; God voluntarily chose to love the Jewish people in perpetuity:

“For the mountains shall depart and the hills be removed, but My kindness shall not depart from you, nor shall My covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lᴏʀᴅ, who has mercy on you (Isa. 54:10).

Unconditional Love
The Bible gives an honest account of Israel’s history—failures and all. Yet despite the nation’s waywardness, the Bible teaches that God’s love has remained constant. The prophetic book of Hosea, a chronicle of Israel’s infidelity, concludes with God’s plea, “O Israel, you are destroyed, but your help is from Me. O Israel, return to the Lord your God” (13:9; 14:1). God pledges, “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely” (v. 4).

Both the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities were a consequence of national disobedience. Yet even while the Israelites were exiled in Babylon, God reassured them through the earlier ministry of the prophet Isaiah, “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” (Isa. 41:10).

Through the prophet Jeremiah, God told them, “yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you” (Jer. 31:3).

The message of God’s love for Israel runs consistently throughout the Bible. He has vowed to fulfill His covenant to Abraham in the last days and initiate a new covenant: “I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (v. 34).

Quoting God’s message to Israel through the prophet Amos, the apostle Paul declared, “The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; for this is My covenant with them [Israel], when I take away their sins” (Rom. 11:26–27).

Love was at the heart of God’s attitude toward Israel in the past, and it is at the heart of His attitude toward it today: “Whenever I have turned against him [Israel], my thoughts would dwell on him still, that is why my heart yearns for him; I will receive him back in love declares the Lᴏʀᴅ” (Jer. 31:20, JPS).

God’s love will continue to characterize His dealings with Israel in the future. Looking forward to that reality in the Messianic Kingdom, the prophet Zephaniah declared,

Sing, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O Israel! Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem! The Lᴏʀᴅ has taken away your judgments….You shall see disaster no more. The Lᴏʀᴅ your God in your midst, the Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing (Zeph. 3:14–15, 17).

A few years ago I had an awkward conversation with a pastor. The tension was palpable as I shared about the ministry of The Friends of Israel in the shade of his front porch. Finally, when he stopped examining his shoelaces, he squinted, looked me in the eye, and asked, “Why are you wasting your time on Jews? God gave up on them a long time ago.”

When I told him the modern State of Israel clearly demonstrates God is not finished with Israel, he snapped, “They’re all atheists over there! How could God care about a country like that?”

God cares so much about unsaved people—Jewish and Gentile—that He sent Jesus to die for them, that they might be forgiven and have everlasting life. People who think like this pastor tend to forget about God’s redeeming love. The fact that God is in the redemption business is the main message of Christianity. And it is why Israel’s past has not negated its future.

God explains the driving force in His dealings with Israel: “But you, Israel, are My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the descendants of Abraham My friend” (Isa. 41:8).

Down through the centuries of Israel’s existence, regardless of the circumstances, God’s message to the Jewish people has been consistent. He tells them now—and will tell them forever—I love you.

ENDNOTE
  1. David Baron, Israel in the Plan of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1983), 143.

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