You know that feeling when you’re having a conversation with someone and can’t think of a reply, then the perfect words come to you three days later in the shower? Something similar happened to me a couple weeks ago. I was talking with someone who doesn’t think shofars are necessary in church services, and asked what he thought of Psalm 81 that tells us to blow the shofar “for this is a statute for Israel, a law of the God of Jacob” (Ps. 81:3-4). His response was, “We’re not Israel. We’re spiritual Israel, but we’re not Israel.”
The subject rolled around in my mind for a week before I decided to write about it. Whether or not the Old Testament commands given to physical Israel apply under the New Covenant is a much broader issue than shofars. I think its an important question to answer, because if the answer is “yes” then there are quite a few things most of us Christians have been wrongly ignoring, and that’s a dangerous thing to do.
Welcomed Into Israel
In the Old Testament, Israel was God’s chosen people — the small group He decided to work with and make His own.
Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel. (Ex. 19:5-6)
In much the same way, the New Testament church is a fairly small group of chosen people, called into a special relationship with God.
But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy. (1 Pet. 2:9-10)
At this point in the history of the church, God wasn’t exclusively working with the physical nations of Israel any more. He was calling Gentiles as well. It’s very interesting to see how this calling is described.
Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh — who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands — that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Eph. 2:11-13)
The process by which Jesus Christ welcomes us into His church also makes us part of Israel. In Jesus Christ, we are no longer “aliens from Israel” and “strangers from the covenants” because He “has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation” between physical Israel and the Gentile nations (Eph. 2:14).
It is evident that there are differences between spiritual Israel and physical Israel. Paul addresses this in several epistles. The Old Covenant contained in it the promise of Messiah, and the ones in Israel who recognized Jesus as that Messiah became spiritual Israel as they transitioned to the New Covenant. At that point, God opened up salvation to the non-Israelitish people as well.
that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles? As He says also in Hosea: “I will call them My people, who were not My people, and her beloved, who was not beloved.” “And it shall come to pass in the place where it was said to them, ‘You are not My people,’ there they shall be called sons of the living God.” Isaiah also cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the children of Israel be as the sand of the sea, the remnant will be saved.” (Rom. 9:23-27)
This “remnant” is a small part of the physical nation of Israel, and now includes Gentiles as well “according to the election of grace” (Rom. 11:5). It is what God intended all of Israel to be, and that’s what we are grafted into (Rom. 11:13-24). The rest of Israel is still “beloved for the sake of the fathers” because of the promises God made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Rom. 11:28). Now, though, “God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all” (Rom. 11:32). That indicates He will treat those who’ve ignored Him as if they are outside of Israel so they can eventually be welcomed in as former strangers rather than punished as children who should have known better.
So the question, “Are we Israel?” seems to have answered itself. Paul even tells us quite plainly in Galatians that we are “the Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16). We’re also told that we are under the New Covenant which was promised to Israel.
Because finding fault with them, He says: “Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah — not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” (Heb. 8:8-10)
When Jesus Christ came, He didn’t bring a new religion — He came as the next step in God’s plan. “Christianity” is the name that was given because the rest of the world thought it was just a new sect of Judaism. In reality, though, this is what God intended Israel to become all along. Instead of starting with the idea, “I’m Christian, so how much of this Old Testament stuff do I have to keep?” we should start at the beginning and see how the Old Covenant relates to the New Covenant. Some things did change, and some things did not change. That sounds like a good topic for next week’s blog post.