The question might well be asked here; 'Is this really necessary?' Having already written, in several articles, somewhat on this subject, that is a valid question! The question as to 'who is Israel' seems to be a fairly prevalent one though, with some rather concerning ramifications! if most, or all of Scripture was written concerning national, physical Israel ( which we are obviously not ), where does that leave us? If the promises of Scripture were meant only for national, physical Israel ( and no one else? ), then what truths can we glean from their pages? If the blessings of the New Covenant were for national, physical Israel alone, what comforting reality can we find in passages like Jeremiah 31:31-34? Lord willing, this study will be a bit more in-depth, informative, and comprehensive than it's companion!
A look first, at who Israel was formed as might be helpful. What and where were its roots? We know from Scripture that Israel was the name given to the younger of Isaac's sons ( Genesis 32:22-32 ). We know that, racially speaking, Israelites were of the same descent as most everyone else living in that part of the world. In Ezekiel 16, for instance, we read, concerning Israel ( after the flesh ); 'Your birth and your nativity are from the land of Canaan; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite.' There is no real question whether or not most of the people who read this article would be able to trace their physical lineage back to Israelite descent, they can't! There are however, plenty of people of Middle Eastern and Arabic descent still living and multiplying on the earth today, and some of my readers could doubtless trace their lineage, somehow to them.
So, who is Israel, according to these findings? Well, logically, Israel ( according to the flesh ) would be the physical descendants of one man, that younger son of Isaac, grandson of Abraham, Jacob the deceiver. If you were not a physical descendant of this man, you were not a true Israelite, even though you lived as one. as the story goes, a mixed multitude came out of Egypt in that first symbolic Exodus, and were thus assimilated into the congregation, though some fell in the wilderness. As the foreigners who inhabited the captive lands to the north, though, were not native to the land, nor physical descendants of Abraham's, they never held quite the same favored status as the southern tribes, at least in the eyes of those southern tribes themselves! The Jews of Jesus' day seem to have forgotten their own slightly colorful heritage when they told Him, 'We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone.'
According to Paul's teaching in places like Romans 2:28&29, 9:6, and Galatians 3:7, it was not according to physical descent that the Remnant, or the Israel of God was called, but according to spiritual birth. Just because you were born of the physical seed of Abraham did not mean that you were a part of Israel, even according to the flesh! We must remember that Esau, also known as Edom ( of whom came the line of the Herodian kings ) was technically a son of Abraham, and also that Abraham had sons ( children ) by another wife. As the son of the concubine/wife of Abraham before Isaac was born, Ishmael was technically a son of Abraham, though not by promise.
Who, then, were/are these spiritual descendants of Abraham? Scripture tells us that 'those who are of faith are sons of Abraham'. How are we to understand Paul's words today? Are we, who are unquestionably of the same Faith today as those spiritual sons of Abraham, thus sons of Abraham, and through him, of Israel? If we are not, and thus do not partake in the New Covenant as did that Remnant of national, physical Israel, then maybe certain people are right; the Scriptures have nothing to say to us today, and we should eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!
If, however, we are spiritual descendants of Abraham, and part of the Never-ending Story, and having received the adoption of sons, are children of our Heavenly Father, then we do have a part in that New Covenant prophesied in Jeremiah 31:31-34!
As part of the Redemption Story, we thus partake in the blessings of the Covenant, as children, sons, brothers and sisters, as the Wife and New Temple of God, the Body of His Son, the Church! Let us live the Story, learning the lessons that our fore-runners and progenitors taught us, communing with each other, and with those long gone, as the Israel of God!
Charles Haddon Shank