Thursday, December 6, 2012

"Still watching Israel ..."

"I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you" (Genesis 12:2-3).

These were God's words to Abraham as God called him to leave his country and his people and his father's household and go to the land God would show him.  That land was the land of Canaan, now known as Israel.  The promises of God were passed on from Abraham to his son, Isaac, and then to Isaac's son, Jacob.  Why is this significant for today?  Because part of God's promise to Abraham and his descendants regarded the land that God gave to them.  God said to Abram (before his name was changed to "Abraham"), "Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, east and west.  All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring, forever" (Genesis 13:15).

In Genesis 15 God confirmed His covenant with Abraham and said, "The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God" (Genesis 17:8).  Because Abraham and his wife Sarah did not have any children, in spite of God's promise that he would have a son, Abraham bore a child through Sarah's handmaid, Hagar.  His name was Ishmael.  But in due time, according to God's promise, Sarah conceived and gave birth to a son - Isaac.  When Sarah became concerned about Hagar's son, Ishmael, fearing that he would inherit Abraham's possessions, Sarah wanted Abraham to send Ishmael away.  When Abraham hesitated, God spoke to him again, saying, "Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned" (Genesis 21:12).

After Abraham died, God spoke to Isaac and said, "Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you.  For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham" (Genesis 26:3).  Later, God spoke to Isaac's son, Jacob, and said, "I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac.  I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying"  (Genesis 28:13).  God promised to multiply their descendants and to be their God.  God changed Jacob's name to Israel, and when he was about to die, Jacob said to his son, Judah, "The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until HE comes to whom it belongs, and the obedience of the nations is His" (Genesis 49:10).

God promised to raise up a ruler for His people from the tribe of Judah, who would rule over His people and over all the nations of the earth.  Some 2,000 years later Jesus was born;  the promised "Seed of Abraham," who would rule over God's people.  For centuries, following the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., and the dispersion of many of the Jews through persecution in the centuries that followed, people believed that the promises of God to Abraham concerning the land were long forgotten.  Many in the church "spiritualized" those promises to mean that those who believed in Jesus, who were the spiritual children of Abraham, would inherit the whole earth.  But in 1948 all of that changed as God miraculously ordered events that led to the establishment of the Jewish state of Israel in the precise place that God had promised to Abraham some 4,000 years earlier!!

Israel's ambassador to the United Nations referred to these promises last week as he spoke to the assembly and said that the people of Israel had been in this land for more than 3,000 years, contrary to the claims of the Palestinians and others.  Prime Minister Netanyahu said that the present debate is not about the land, but about Israel's existence.  He is right, but the two cannot ultimately be separated.  The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob entered into covenant with Abraham and his descendants; a covenant that cannot and will not be broken.

Many in the church today believe that because Israel turned away from God and worshiped idols, they broke the covenant and God's plan now revolves around the Church.  God says differently!  While it is true that the Church, made up of Jews and Gentiles, is the center of God's plan in the world today, God has promised throughout His Word that the time will come when He will deal specifically with the descendants of Abraham again.  In Romans 11 the Apostle Paul writes that those who believe in Jesus Christ from the nations of the world are "grafted into the root".  God says through Paul, "I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited:  Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. ... As far as the gospel is concerned, they are (now) enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God's gifts and His call are irrevocable" (Romans 11:25, 28-29).

While more Jewish people than ever have put their faith in Jesus Christ as the Messiah, the Savior whom God promised, the "Seed of Abraham," most are still blinded.  But God says the time is coming when He "will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication.  They will look on me (Jesus), the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for Him as one mourns for an only child ... on that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity" (Zechariah 12:10, 13:1).

Everything that is taking place in Israel is part of God's plan to establish the throne of David in Jerusalem during the Millennium, following the return of Jesus Christ to earth.  When Prime Minister Netanyahu says that this is about Israel's existence, he is right, but the meaning is much deeper than even he realizes.  Israel, meaning the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, exists for God's purposes, for His glory.  For the past 64 years God has watched over this land and has gathered hundreds of thousands from the nations of the world, just as He said He would:  "I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land.  I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land" (Ezekiel 34:13).  God repeats the promise in Ezekiel 37:21-22:  "I will take the Israelites out of the nations where they have gone.  I will gather them from all around and bring them back into their own land.  I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of israel.  There will be one King over all of them and they will never again be two nations or be divided into two kingdoms."

What has gone on in recent years is Satan's attempt to destroy these people and this nation.  But the promise of God given through the prophet, Zechariah, was written for today:  "When all the nations of the earth are gathered against her (as at the United Nations last week?), I will make Jerusalem an immovable rock for the nations.  All who try to move it will injure themselves" (Zechariah 12:3).  So it has been for the past 64 years!  There will come a time when the nations are gathered against Jerusalem and they will plunder the city (Zechariah 14:1-3), immediately before the return of Jesus Christ, and then Jesus Himself will return and will go out to defeat the Antichrist and his followers.  But until then, God is at work to accomplish His eternal purposes, for His glory.

"I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse," says the LORD, the God of Israel.  The nations of the world will not heed that warning and will ultimately suffer the consequences. There are many things yet to happen between now and then, and the Bible reveals many of them.  We are extremely close to what the prophet Daniel prophesies will be the last seven years before Jesus comes.  We will be presenting a 12-part series of messages concerning these things beginning in January, 2013, revealing what the Bible says about the events leading up to the return of Jesus and their impact on Israel and the nations of the world, including the United States.  These messages will be available on our website, along with timelines.

Until then, we will continue to watch ... and wait!

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