So, why do we make a distinction if circumcision (the sign of God’s covenant with Abraham’s descendants through Jacob) makes no difference? The best reason I can think of is because God does.
- In the Old Covenant (Testament) God divides the world’s peoples into two groups: the Nation (Israel) and the nations (everyone else). In Deuteronomy 7:6-9 God tells us why He selected Israel from all other nations: His purposeful love and His promises to the patriarchs.
- In Genesis 12:1-3 those promises include:
- the land (boundaries are delineated and the territory promised unconditionally in Genesis 15)
- a great nation (singular, though “peoples” also come through Hagar and Keturah, the line of promise was through Isaac, then Jacob/Israel)
- a blessing (both personal to Abraham – a great name), and global (all the families of the earth)
- God associates His name with the Jewish people.
- “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob”
- “the God of Israel” appears 101 times in Scripture
- God associates His name with His action in Jewish history: “I am the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt”
- God introduces Himself to the Hebrew people at Sinai with this description (Exodus 20:2)
- The phrase is found repeatedly in the Torah (Leviticus 19:36; 25:38; 26:13; Numbers 15:41; Deuteronomy 5:6; 8:14; 13:5; 20:1)
- God chose Israel
- “Out of all the peoples on the face of the earth” (Deuteronomy 7:6-8)
- To be His unique people (129 of the 130 times “ami“ [“My people”] is found in the Old Testament and it refers to Jewish people/the nation of Israel)
- The promises of Messiah were made to the Jewish people through the Jewish prophets throughout the Tenach (Hebrew Scriptures).
- Those desiring to identify with the true God came to Israel (e.g., Egyptians who left with the Hebrews in the Exodus – the “mixed multitude”; Rahab, Ruth, Naaman the Syrian). Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem had a Court of the Gentiles for God-fearing non-Jews.
In the New Covenant
- In the Gospels and Acts we are introduced to “Gentile God fearers” who attach themselves to Israel (e.g., the Ethiopian eunuch who travels to Jerusalem to worship and reads Isaiah 53 on the journey home).
- Yeshua initially presents Himself as Messiah exclusively to Israel (“His own” in John 1:11).
- The disciples and early followers of Yeshua are Jewish; the 120 gathered in the Upper Room (Acts 2) were observing Shavuot – the Feast of Weeks.
- It is a great surprise to the early believers when Gentiles are added to the faith (see Acts 15 for the first Church council’s ruling on the matter).
In both Old and New Covenants we find a future for Israel. The Jewish people will be restored to the Land, but more importantly to the Lord (His Law will be written on the hearts of His people – Jeremiah 31:33-34). Based on the clear teaching of Scripture, this restoration is not because Israel has earned or deserves it (see Ezekiel 20, e.g.). It has everything to do with God’s reputation (“for My name’s sake” and “in the sight of the nations” are key phrases) and His character (God’s enduring love and integrity in keeping His promises – His very motivation in choosing Israel in the first place [Deuteronomy 7:8]).