The scope of God’s promise to Abraham was universal in its blessing power:
All the families on earth will be blessed through you. (Genesis 12:3b)
This leads us naturally to the question: Was this universal blessing (all families on earth) meant to be contained to Abraham’s physical descendants – temporal Israel – for all eternity? Or does a fulfilled narrative fulfill God’s promise to bless all families?
Our reflection on the nature of seeds last week leads us to a consideration of the two Israels said to be born of the two kinds of seed mentioned. An element of confusion in prophecy is our interpretative inability to see two Israels born of Abraham. In biblical terminology, there is an Israel “after the flesh” (or temporal), and an Israel after the Spirit – which is to say, not limited to locality, but universally accessible (see Jesus’ dialogue with the Samaritan woman in John 4:19-24).
This is clearly illustrated in the allegory of Ishmael and Isaac (Galatians 4:21-31). Both were born into the household of Abraham, but one (Ishmael) is said to be born after the flesh, and of the other (Isaac) born after the Spirit. Inspiration uses these events to advance the concept of a fleshly (temporal) and spiritual (ubiquitous) Israel.
The first Israel, typified by Ishmael, was born of Abraham and Sarah’s human initiative, and was propagated and preserved under the Law of Moses (See Genesis 16). Concerning them Paul said,
For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh,
who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises;
of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen (Romans 9:3-5)
The second Israel, typified by Isaac, was born of Abraham’s promised seed (Christ – see Galatians 3:16), and is constituted of everyone who walks not after “the flesh” (the Law paradigm), but after the Spirit (the faith of Christ, or the good news – see Romans 8:1-3). Concerning the distinctions of Isreal, Paul said,
For they are not all Israel who are of Israel,
nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, “In Isaac your seed shall be called.”
That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed (Romans 9:6-9)
The meaning of this passage is obscure until studied in view of the two Israels as set forth in Ishmael and Isaac. The promised Israel of God in whom Abrahamic promises are fulfilled is constituted of those who trusted in Christ – Jewish and Gentile alike, temporally speaking.
Hoping for a return of Christ to the physical city of Jerusalem at some point in the future to bring literal fulfillment and blessings to a fleshly seed of Abraham is false hope:
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation.
And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God (Galatians 6:15-16).
Instead, the scope of God’s vision is much wider and more generous than that – not excluding the historic Jewish children of the promise in any way, but widening the scope to include Gentiles. The God of temporal Israel is revealed to be the God of spiritual Israel – which is another way of saying “The Lord of Heaven and Earth!”
May we dare to open our hearts to this indiscriminately loving God, thus
…acting as true children of your Father in heaven, [who] gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, sending rain on the just and the unjust alike. (Matthew 5:45)
Join us each Monday as we blog through The Spirit of Prophecy by Max King. (And if you get impatient, of course, you can always get the book inspiring these posts here.) Next week we’ll examine the nature of of Israel’s different dimensions as depicted in biblical prophecy.