One of the most egregious and oft-repeated myths, and one which has serious repercussions and leads to dislocations at many levels of comprehension, is the confusion between Jews and Israelites. I see this repeated so often, and yet it is an inexplicable garbling of the Word that can only really be explained by a failure to have read the Old Testament, made all the worse by the modern day conflation of the re-invented Kingdom of Judea with the historical Nation of Israel. The modern state of Israel was created as a land for the Jews, and therefore should rightfully return to its first Century appellation of Judea. By taking the name Israel, the Jews have misappropriated the name of the Church, and thereby thrown the Church, or parts of it, into great confusion.
To better understand this mess, we probably would do best to go back through the Old Testament.
The name Israel was first given to Jacob, after he fought with the angel, (Genesis 32:28). It really means someone who prevails, or overcomes, as Jacob had won his fights, both earthly and heavenly. The name Israel really describes the offspring of Jacob. So obviously Jacob sired 12 sons, who became the tribes of Israel, and thereafter, the 12 tribes retained the collective identity, as sons of the patriarch Jacob, of being Israel. Although it later came to denote the land where the tribes lived, its primary meaning is as a group of people.
In Exodus 1 we are told:
1 These are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt with Jacob, each with his household: 2 Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, 3 Issachar, Zebulun, and Benjamin, 4 Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher. 5 The total number of people born to Jacob was seventy. Joseph was already in Egypt. 6 Then Joseph died, and all his brothers, and that whole generation. 7 But the Israelites were fruitful and prolific; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them.
So we see that before Israel was ever a land, the Israelites were a people.
In Genesis 35, God tells Jacob that his offspring will be many:
9 God appeared to Jacob again when he came from Paddan-aram, and he blessed him. 10God said to him, “Your name is Jacob; no longer shall you be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So he was called Israel. 11God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall spring from you.
The actual Hebrew here is ‘gowy qahal gowy’ which literally means ‘a people and a congregation of people’. That is exactly how we should understand Israel. If we stick to this formula presented by God at its very inception, we will understand Israel perfectly.
Israel was a group of people whose common identity was their genetic ancestry, and in addition to this, they would be a congregation of people, or in simple terms, The Church.
So it really is very simple. Israel had a physical identity as the sons of Jacob, and a spiritual identity as the congregation of God.
(to be continued)