I recently had a friend visit from Colorado, and we decided to attempt to go through Hosea while she stayed here. These are the sessions… the Hosea files.
I recently had a friend visit from Colorado, and we decided to attempt to go through Hosea while she stayed here. These are the sessions… the Hosea files.
With the discussion of the two trees in the Garden, we’re again discussing the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness. These are two different cultures at enmity with each other. Within the first two chapters of Genesis, we have the Kingdom of God expressed. In Genesis 1:16-8, we have the darkness being “ruled” over by the sun and moon. In Genesis 1:26-27, we have humanity being made in God’s image, that it might “rule”, or “have dominion”, over the creation. This ruling is described in further detail with the wording of Genesis 2.
The words of our English Bibles tell us that God God commanded the man that he would “tend and keep” the Garden. The Hebrew words denote something slightly different than what commonly comes to mind. In my mind, I always read that Adam was to “tend” the Garden, and I assumed that meant working. But God isn’t talking about work. He isn’t talking about labor. Rather, God is talking about a certain kind of building up, a certain kind of servanthood that takes into consideration what the creation needs, and then becomes that foundation that tends to the needs of the Garden. This describes nothing short of what it means to be apostolic or prophetic. Apostles and prophets are called the foundation, the very thing that holds up the building, and gets walked on without any thought or consideration.
Our word “keep” doesn’t work well anymore. It used to be that to “keep” something was to guard and cherish it, but it has now become simply possessing. For God to tell Adam to keep the Garden, He was telling Adam to cherish and guard it. This is also the word used for the commandments of God. We’re to keep the commands, which we’ve interpreted as flawlessly adhering to their demands. While it might be true that God expects we’ll live in obedience to Him, the word that he used was the same as here in the Garden. The Hebrew word shamyir means to guard, or to cherish. If you tell someone who loves God to guard His commands, they would gladly risk their lives to make sure that they do so. In fact, many of the traditions of the Jews come from this very thing. They want to guard the commands, and so they must rigorously ask the question of what exactly it means to covet, or to steal, or to bear false witness.
God’s Kingdom is expressed fully in the Garden of Eden. His rule is one of service, giving itself over to the needs of others. Indeed, just as Jesus taught, we should not be rulers in the sense of the Gentiles, who lord over one another. Rather, anyone who wants to be great must become the least, and anyone who wants to “rule” must serve. This idea of being a servant is scattered throughout the parables of Jesus. At one time He minces no words in telling us that some are made eunuchs out of their own volition, for the sake of the Kingdom of God.
To be a eunuch for the Kingdom is to strip away your own rights, your own thoughts, your own needs, and your own reputation. Eunuchs are servants who have no regard for their own households. Their only regard is for building up the house of their master. Just like the apostles wrote themselves as being “bondslaves” and “servants” of the Lord Jesus Christ, the apostle is one who fundamentally stands in adherence to the word of God. Every waking moment is a pulsation of desiring and coveting that God be served and get the glory in all things. Our life is no longer our own. “I must decrease so that He might increase.” Just as the prodigal son desired to come to the Father no longer deserving to be a son, but now coveting to be a servant, for the servants have bread and enough to spare, the apostolic man and Body does not seek their own fame and reputation, but rather seeks to train the sons in maturity and fullness, that they might become heirs.
What strikes me is that Scripture doesn’t say anything negative of the eunuchs, other than that in Leviticus they are told not to come near the altar. Every other mention, and certainly the concept of that lifetime devotion unto your master, is blatantly held in high regard. Isaiah claims that these eunuchs shall indeed come near the House of God, and shall even be given names better than sons and daughters. It is said of Elijah that he comes at the end of the age to restore the sons unto the fathers, and to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the sons. This heart is one that bleeds of that eunuch-type servanthood. It has laid down everything so that it might raise up heirs who will inherit the glorious City. As Paul said to the Corinthians, they have been prepared for one Husband.
The Elijah people are they who have given up everything of their own, they who see the Bridegroom and rejoice, preparing the Bride for but one Husband, decreasing so that He might increase, and jealously seeking to build up His house alone. For this reason, because they have no desire to build up their own name and household, they are entrusted with the secret things of God, and they are men of authority. These apostolic and prophetic men are they who God has created from the beginning. Adam was the first foundational man, expressing what it means to rule in the Kingdom of God, and was therefore the steward of the great mystery. This mystery is God revealed. Adam reflecting God outward to all creation, and bringing even the creation into fullness and maturity, that the way may be prepared for the coming of its King.
When we examine the two trees of the Garden, we must bear in mind that they are given as symbols as much as they’re real things. Yes, Adam ate a tangible fruit. Yes, there was a real and lasting death that took place. However, the two trees represent heavenly realities as well. To the tree of life we have full expression of overcoming and ruling in the Kingdom of God. To the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, we have full expression of dwelling in death, choosing death moment by moment rather than life, and thus becoming the antithesis of “seek first the Kingdom of God…”
Genealogies are possibly the most boring (am I allowed to say that?), and yet sometimes also the most insightful pieces of Scripture. When you are able to trace the names through the Bible, you begin to put pieces together that you would have never noticed before. One of my favorite examples, because it brings such a massive perspective change, is to trace Nimrod and the cities that he established. You find Nimrod in Genesis 10:10-12, where he is the one who builds Nineveh (capitol of Assyria, who will later be a hostile enemy of Israel). Yet, it is also Nimrod who builds the tower of Babel, in the plains of Shinar, which is the exact location that the future Babylon would be built (the city, before it was a super-nation). Babylon was not only a hostile enemy of Israel, but is the prophetic kingdom of darkness upon the face of the earth (which is why Babylon shows up in Revelation 17, even though its been in ruins for centuries by that point).
Here in Exodus 6, we have the heads of the families mentioned. At the last, you have Levi, and you have from Levi the priestly family (Aaron). So, here is my question: Why is it that Levi is chosen instead of Reuben, Issachar, Judah, or some other tribe? What does Levi have that others don’t? Or, is there nothing that Levi brings to the table, and it is all God’s prerogative and Divine choosing?
First off, let us address one thing. When you begin to read the passage, you find Reuben first mentioned (see Genesis 29:30-32). He is the first born, and therefore the first genealogy. Then, we find Simeon, who is the second born to Israel (see Genesis 29:33). Then, when we turn to Levi, we find the genealogy all the way down to Moses and Aaron, but we don’t have a continuation of the genealogies of the other tribes. Obviously the point of this genealogy is not to show the heads of all the tribes, but to come unto Levi. But, then we can ask why Reuben and Simeon are even mentioned…
My best guess to why they are mentioned is to point out that Levi is not the eldest son, but it is who God chose to be the priesthood (which is the leadership until the kingship is established). We all know according to history, and according to Levitical/Deuteronomic Law, that the eldest is the one to get the birthright. Yet, in Genesis, over and over again it isn’t the firstborn, but some later son. You have Seth rather than Cain getting the blessing. You have Shem rather than Ham or Japheth. You have Abraham rather than Nahor. You have Isaac instead of Ishmael. You have Jacob instead of Esau. You have Joseph and Benjamin being loved more highly than the other twelve sons. You have Ephraim being blessed over Manasseh. And here in Exodus, you also have Levi instead of Reuben or Simeon getting the blessing of the firstborn.
This seems to be the way that God works (even with David being the youngest of his brothers). Traditionally, the first name is the firstborn. And so, with the sons of Levi, you have Gershon, the eldest, Kohath, and Merari. Then, you have the genealogy traced through Kohath. Kohath’s eldest is Amram, and it is Amram who was the father of Aaron (the eldest) and Moses. Now, in regard to Korah, I want to kill this bird here and now. When you read the Psalms, you find that certain psalms are either dedicated to or sung by the Korahites. We then think this means that Korah, who rebelled against Moses and Aaron (Num 16), had children who repented. That isn’t so. We have here in Exodus 6:21 that the second son of Kohath, Izhar, bore Korah, Nepheg, and Zichri. The Korah mentioned in the Psalms would be of this genealogy, and not the rebellious Korah of Numbers. You find that they even had the honor of working along with the priests under David (1 Chron 6:31-38), but so did the other sons of Levi.
This genealogy ends with Eleazar, Aaron’s son, taking for himself one of the daughters of Putiel (only place name mentioned in Bible) as wife, and she bore him Phinehas. Phinehas is later going to be the one who steadies God’s wrath by throwing a spear through a Midianite woman and an elder of Israel who are weeping before the Tabernacle, and before Moses (Numbers 25:6-9). This elder so desperately wants to continue to commit idolatry with his wife that he will weep outside of the Tabernacle with her – right in the very face of God.
The place of this genealogy seems strange, unless you comprehend the Hebrew mind. In the Hebrew mind, you focus upon stories instead of chronology. So, for example, the book of Exodus opens up with the genealogy to connect from Genesis to the current time. Then, we move from there to finding the great oppression of Israel, the birth of Moses, the life events that led to Moses’ fleeing Egypt, Moses’ life in the wilderness, and then God calling Moses back unto Pharaoh. Wouldn’t it seem a good place to put this genealogy back in chapter 2 with the introduction of Moses? Yet, that isn’t the place that we find this genealogy. Instead, we find the whole of the backstory given, all the way through to Moses going unto Pharaoh, the oppression worsening, and God reassuring Moses of what is about to happen.
The Gospels also have this. Why does Matthew conflict so heavily with Mark, Luke, and John as far as chronology? Why do all of the Gospels have the same teachings and stories (save John being 92% original), and yet not a one of them have the same chronology of those stories or teachings? It is because each Gospel is being written with a certain intent in mind. There is a purpose behind the story, and a purpose behind the teaching, that while the story/teaching gives us great understanding by itself, when coupled with the events before and afterward, we find there is a larger reason why it is placed where it is. This is why John has stories that the other Gospels don’t, and why certain Gospels have certain stories or teachings, while the others seem totally oblivious to such events. They aren’t oblivious to the event, nor the chronology, but are desiring to put forth a certain argument beyond just the stories and teachings.
Here in Exodus, we have the opening scene of the book, which might be longer than most television shows or movies, but is nonetheless the opening scene to give us all of the background information necessary. From there, we transition to the credits, which is this genealogy of Aaron and Moses. From there, we transition back to the story, picking up where we left off, that Moses and Aaron go back unto Pharaoh and demand that he let the people go. Whether this encounter we’re going to go into in chapter 7 is a reiteration of chapter 5, I’m not sure. It certainly could be, but there are also some distinguishing marks. Either way, the passage at hand is not something to simply skip past because we find the genealogies boring or uninteresting. Within it we find the heritage of the priesthood, of which we are called.
In the Old Testament, you have even within the book of Exodus a priestly nation (Israel – Exodus 19:6), and then a priesthood within that priestly nation. So it is today, that you have the priesthood (Church) within the priestly nation. In Exodus, the priesthood is quite tangible, with certain duties that surround the Tabernacle/Temple. In modern times, with the Temple destroyed, the priesthood is spiritual. The whole understanding of what it means to be Israel is spiritual. Jacob wrestled with God and with man, and yet overcame. That is why he inherited the name Israel. It is no less true today. Just because natural Israel doesn’t fit the bill doesn’t mean it isn’t their call, for “the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable”. I could make the same argument that in many ways the Church hasn’t fit that bill either.
What does it mean for us to be priestly, even in the New Covenant? One thing it must certainly mean is that we know our heritage. We might not be of the priesthood of Aaron, but that doesn’t nullify its significance. The Melchizedek of Genesis has no heritage, and that is the point, but we must realize that our heritage is found in Hebrews 11, and that we do have roots that go back to “Adam, the son of God” (Lk 3:38). That priestly heritage is everything that it means to be Levitical (of Levi).
Malachi 2:1-6 gives us that perspective. I’ve actually heard this quoted (the first half) to ‘prove’ that Israel is no longer God’s people, but it is now about the Church. It’s incredibly ironic that the very passages that these supersessionists choose are the very passages that will demand Israel’s chosenness if you keep reading.
“And now, O priests, this commandment is for you. If you will not hear, and if you will not take it to heart, to give glory to my name, says the LORD of hosts, I will send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings. Yes, I have cursed them already, because you do not take it to heart. Behold, I will rebuke your descendants and spread refuse on your faces, the refuse of your solemn feasts; and one will take you away with it. Then you shall know that I have sent this commandment to you, that my covenant with Levi will continue, says the LORD of hosts. My covenant was with him, one of life and peace, and I gave them to him that he might fear me; so he feared me and was reverent before my name. The law of truth was in his mouth, and injustice was not found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and equity, and turned many away from iniquity.”
Can you follow that? Let me repeat, for it bears repetition: They who are priestly are they who 1) give glory to God’s name, 2) fear God, 3) revere His name, 4) have the law of truth in their mouth, 5) keep injustice far away from their lips, 6) walk with God in peace and equity, and 7) turn many away from iniquity. You know what this sounds like? It sounds like the very Davidic heart and character. The Kingdom of God is eternally a Davidic Kingdom. The heart of David is the heart of God, and the heart of God is the heart of David. The character of David is the character of God, and the character of God is the character of David. What David represents is the quintessential Jesus, and visa versa. If you want to know what it means to be priestly, you must know what it means to be Davidic. If you want to know what it means to be Davidic, you must immerse yourself in the Psalms, and within the books of Samuel and 1 Chronicles.
David was a priestly king, and a prophet as well. Jesus was also prophet, priest, and King. This is our heritage. This is our mandate. Unto this glory have we been called, whether we know it or not, and whether we know how to communicate it or not. We have fallen far short of this glory, but that doesn’t then negate our purpose. Let us run the race, casting off all restraint to come unto the beauty of holiness, seeing Jesus as our High Priest and the author of our confession, and seeing the great cloud of witnesses, who are our heritage, both enduring along with us, and not made perfect without us. Let this be the greatest motivation necessary, that the eternal covenant (known in the New Testament as the “new covenant”) is sufficient to save to the uttermost, because Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient.
As we saw last time, Galatians 3 is tracing the story of Abraham in Genesis 12-17. That will come in handy in Galatians 4 as well. Here at the end of Galatians 3, the point is about how we’ve been adopted in Christ Jesus. Here is where many of you were probably asking questions in my last post. I emphasized Israel and the Kingdom of God through Israel, but then the tendency that I’ve noticed from Gentile Christians is to ask, “What about me?”
Here it is, folks. This is the answer to the question “what about me”. You and I, as Gentiles, were outside of the promises and covenant with God. Yet, even the Jewish people are living in a manner contrary to that covenant (as we’ve seen in Paul’s point regarding the law). So, the question is now formed into, “How can anyone enter the Kingdom of God?”
The answer to that is adoption.
Adoption is one of the most fundamental and important words of the New Testament. In a sense, we’ve all be outsiders. We’ve all gone our own way. We’ve all been led down a path that is not God’s intention. Therefore, we’ve all received an adoption of sorts. For the Gentile, it is to be grafted in as a wild olive branch. For the Jew, it is to be grafted in as the natural branch. (This is the whole point of Romans 11, by the way.) There is a “spiritual Israel”, by which the word Israel actually defines the term (see Gen 32:28), that has ever and always existed. There have been both Israelites and Gentiles who have been a part of that “spiritual Israel”. Yet, what is important to remember from Romans 11 is that Paul never says the spiritual Israel supersedes, or replaces, natural Israel.
The issue of being “spiritual Israel” is the issue of adoption. This is where it gets interesting. In Galatians 3:24, Paul made the statement that the law was a “tutor” until the “seed” (Jesus) should come. In Galatians 4:2-5, the same point is being made. Here is the point:
Israel in its infancy, coming out of Egypt, could not bear the eternal covenant in maturity, and was therefore placed under “tutors” (namely, the law and the ‘elements of the world’) until there would come a time (indeed, the fullness of time) when God could send His Son as redeemer, and we might be taken together with Him into that eternal covenant.
It isn’t as though there were none in the Old Testament to be a part of that eternal covenant. This has been Paul’s whole argument from the beginning. When you see Noah finding grace in the eyes of the Lord, is that because Noah did something special? Did Abraham receive the call and the promise because of some merit within Abraham? Do we believe that Moses was called deliverer and mediator because of something intrinsic within Moses?
Yes, we do, but no we don’t.
There is something intrinsic within these saints that gives credence to God’s call, but it isn’t because of the individual. Rather, it is because the eternal covenant has ever and always been something that brings forth this kind of redemption that Paul is speaking (which, once again, is his whole point). So, no there is nothing within the person themselves, for it is of faith and not of works. Yet, we can’t just throw away the whole point that God chose them for a reason.
Anyway, the scripture at hand is explaining to us that these “tutors” had been placed in charge over Israel, which remain to this day, until there would be the time that God would give a means of redemption, a means of coming out from and into. Here is the difficulty of Old Testament revelation. If we believe that Jesus is the messiah, and that redemption only comes through Him, then how were the saints in the Old Testament redeemed, and how is it that we do find attributes of new covenant resurrection/regeneration in the Old Testament? The answer is that we’re not looking at a covenant contained within time, but a covenant that is “eternal”, and therefore beyond time. Jesus was the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, and that isn’t a rhetoric and fancy use of wording. This is the eternal covenant, the Lamb slain on the heavenly altar, the covenant that stems back to the Garden of Eden and Adam being a son of God.
Here is the point.
We find in Colossians 2:8 and 20 the same discussion regarding these “elements”. Here Paul calls them “tutors”. There he leaves no question when claiming the law to be tied together with the principalities and powers. In Psalm 82, we read of these “judges” (sometimes translated kings) who rule wickedly, and shall be held accountable. They are told that though they are greater than men, they shall be judged like men. The chapter ends, then, with all of the nations coming to worship the Lord. Does anything seem bizarre to you about that?
These judges of Psalm 82 are actually the principalities. They are demons in the place of influence and authority over nations, who have used their influence and authority to manipulate, deceive, usurp, and oppress. Therefore, they shall be judged as men (meaning, they shall ‘die’, though they are not subject to life and death as we know it), and the judgment of those powers results in the nations coming to God. Compare this with Isaiah 25:7, where God says “upon this mountain (Zion) He will destroy the veil that is spread over all nations.” The context of the statement is redemption for the nations.
Again, we ask ourselves how this has anything to do with “tutors” being set up over Israel. And, again we must conclude that the law was given through a mediator (Moses), that God was marrying Israel, but that Israel desired a mediator rather than God Himself. Therefore, because we read in Exodus 20:19 that the people took Moses rather than God, it was allowed that Israel would for a time be ruled over by “elements” (whether judges, kings, or priests who were under the influence of demons and not God), not the least of these elements being the simple “do this; don’t do that” mentality of the law.
To try to tie together some of the loose ends and make sense of what I’m saying, then, I think we can consult Ephesians 2:1-7. There was a time in yours and my past where we were not in Christ. We lived according to a different mindset, a different wisdom. That wisdom was not a wisdom from God, but rather of demons. They had an influence over us, a way of causing us to think, that promoted righteousness via works and “doing or not doing”. Because I haven’t killed anyone, I must not be as bad as the murderer, right? Such a mindset is blatant error, as Jesus points out, because murder doesn’t start with the act. It starts with the heart that would think someone so worthless that the world would be a better place without that person. That I am guilty of, and therefore I am indeed guilty of murder.
It was to that kingdom, the darkened kingdom, that I subscribed, and therefore lived and breathed and had my being in the demonic perspective. Even while being an atheist and not believing in demons, I still gained my understanding and worldview from the wisdom of demons. However, there came a point in time – a divinely orchestrated point in time – when God sent His Son so that Israel might indeed be heirs and receive the inheritance due her. They who have been promised the eternal covenant, and the inheritance of that eternal covenant all died without receiving that inheritance (Heb 11:39). Notice that the statement does not then go, “but to you…” No, we also have not inherited, because we’re told quite plainly that we shall receive our inheritance with them at the end of the age (Ephesians 1:13-14, 3:1-6).
Our adoption has been one of coming out from being under that darkened kingdom and into the Kingdom of Light. Adoption in the New Testament doesn’t necessitate that we were outside of Israel. In fact, even the Jews had to receive an adoption of sorts, or else Paul wouldn’t make the point that Jesus redeemed “those who were under the law, that we might receive adoption as sons”. Who was it that was “under the law”? Was the law given to Gentiles or to Israel? But now, in Christ, we have all been redeemed, so there is neither Jew nor Greek in Christ, and made to be sons instead of children, inheriting the eternal covenant rather than being under the supervision of “stewards”.
Sonship is the issue of covenant. It is the issue of maturity. It is the issue of adoption. All of these things go hand-in-glove, because all of these things are essentially defining the same thing. The same issue is behind it all. Though they be different from one another, the issue behind the issue for all three of these things is the Kingdom of God, the rulership of God, the eternal purpose of man (to rule), and all of these things being made manifest on the earth. This was the purpose of the covenant made with Abraham (to be God’s nation among the nations), and it continues to be God’s prerogative.
Now that we have identified the pharaoh of Exodus, and we have seen some of the extravagance that God would perform on behalf of Israel, we can begin to assess the statement “Israel is My firstborn son”. Because Pharaoh refuses to allow Israel to leave, God will kill Pharaoh’s firstborn son. It is an eye for an eye, a firstborn for a firstborn. Don’t be misled. God isn’t seeking revenge, and therefore bringing larger recompense than the sin deserves. Pharaoh has already killed Israel, especially in that they are no longer people, but only objects of torment, torture, and tools for building up his empire. That kind of mentality reveals all too well the heart of pharaoh.
To what degree do we believe Israel to be God’s firstborn? This question is comes in a multifaceted way. What about Jesus? Did God birth Israel? Aren’t all people ‘children of God’ in some sense? These questions are legitimate, though some of them being off-based.
Let us start with the first implications. To say that Israel is God’s firstborn is not a declaration of Israel being birthed by divinity (in a strict sense). Rather, the statement is a statement of Divine choosing. When we read in the New Testament things that suggest that God has chosen us from the foundations of the world, that choosing is not simply “predestination” in the classical Calvinist conception. There is something else happening in that statement that we are neglecting. Our neglect is upon Israel, because most Christians have an anti-Semitic bent, whether the recognize it or not.
We can start with something easy to swallow, and then get into the more mystical. God calls Abram out of nations to be established as God’s nation. His descendants are promised a very specific land, a very specific covenant, and to be a very specific people (i.e. God’s people). From Abram comes Ishmael and Isaac. It is not the son of the slave that is chosen, but the son of promise through Sarah that is chosen. Therefore, through Isaac comes Jacob and Esau. It is not through Esau that God chooses, but through Jacob, who shall later be known as Israel.
Jacob’s twelve sons are the patriarchs of twelve tribes, all of whom form “Israel”. Israel is both the man and the entirety of the people. God, in Obadiah, makes claims about Edom that demand they follow the example of their patriarch Esau. This is the way that God perceives. You cannot separate the patriarch and why God had established that man to become a people/nation with the nation itself. Thus, Israel is the people who descend from Jacob.
Now, from that simple understanding, we can ask again why Israel is called the firstborn of God. The answer is simple. It wasn’t Eber who received the call to come out of nations and be made into God’s nation. It wasn’t the Amalekites, or the Hivites, or the Arkites, or the descendants of Mizraim (Egypt), or the people of Cush, or the Dodanim, or the descendants of Kittim that were chosen. We find the lineage traced through Abraham’s offspring to come unto the man Israel, and so in that sense it is through Abraham that God’s nation is established. Therefore, the other nations, the Gentiles, who come to God are not the “firstborn”, but rather adopted children.
This is where it gets sticky, because many have separated Israel and the Church. Some have separated them in replacement theology, to say Israel means nothing anymore, and others have separated Israel from the Church in that Israel is put on the backburner until the end of the age, when we (as the Church) will be “raptured away”, and Jacob will suffer through the Tribulation (known in Jeremiah 30:5-7 as Jacob’s Trouble). The attitude is very much “Jacob’s Trouble, Jacob’s problem”.
Both of these views are based out of anti-Semitism. It places we, as a Gentile Church, as being greater than Israel, strictly based on the New Covenant, and therefore saved from “wrath”. However, this view, whether through replacement or rapture, degrades Israel, calls them “less than”, and declares that they who are better fit as the people of God are the Gentiles, who get it right and never get it wrong enough to suffer being cast away permanently or “Great Tribulation”.
Here is the point, and it gets back to Israel being the firstborn. It is not through the adopted children, nor through the second or third or fourth son that patriarchy continues. The laws of patriarchy, which God establishes in the Torah, is that the firstborn is the one who gets the double portion, who carries the family name, and in the time of Abraham through much of the Old Testament, it was the patriarch (the oldest son) who took care of the family.
Let me explain how patriarchy works. Lets say that my father was our patriarch. He was the one who stepped out from his father’s house, and became his own tribe. My father’s youngest brother, and his cousin, also left and joined themselves unto our father. Now, you, as the reader, are somehow a part of this. Maybe you’re my younger brother, or maybe your a descendant of my uncle. That doesn’t matter too much. It was my father’s duty as the patriarch to own everything, and to use his wealth to take care of your every need. You then do the daily chores that you’re assigned, continue to watch out for those who are a part of our “family”, and when there is trouble, you consult my father so that he will then take any necessary action to annul the trouble.
My father grows old, and he is about to die. So, my father calls me in, and he lays his hand upon me, as the oldest son, and he blesses me. In this blessing, there is a prophecy of what God will do through me for our family. There is also the inheritance proclaimed to me. I now own everything. I am now the patriarch. Instead of consulting my father, you now consult me. If someone is injured, then it is my responsibility to go out to the field, to get them back to the camp, and to take care of them to nourish them back to health. If someone is captured by bandits and taken to Egypt to be sold, it is my responsibility to go after those bandits, to find my lost relative in Egypt, and to either buy him back, or to wage war and spend all and be expended to get back the lost sheep who has been marginalized. That is my responsibility as the patriarch.
So, for Israel to be the firstborn, it is their responsibility – as the first nation to call upon the LORD – to go out to all the other nations and bring them back into the family of God. It is Israel’s responsibility – and not Ruben’s or Simeon’s or Joseph’s responsibility – because when you read Genesis, Jacob never gave the blessing to his eldest son. Rather, he blessed every single one of his sons, giving them all an inheritance and the patriarchal responsibility.
Now, let us examine the more mystical understanding. This is important because of the handful of verses in the New Testament that I’m sure you’re thinking. One of them is “Not all Israel is Israel”.
The name Israel means “He who wrestles with God”. Read Genesis 32:18 carefully. What is it that is missing from our statements? The angel tells Jacob that he has wrestled with God and man, and has prevailed. The word “prevailed” has great significance, because it is used in the New Testament as “overcome”. So, what is Israel? Israel is the overcomer. It is what Adam was intended to be from the beginning, who was supposed to overcome the darkness with the creation, thus taking all things (humanity and the cosmos itself) into a state of resurrection. To overcome is to resurrect. It is to pass from perishable to imperishable. It is to pass from potentially corruptible to incorruptible. It is more than passing from death to life (please read 1 Corinthians 15 carefully).
So, when we come to the question of Israel being the firstborn, we need to understand that Israel itself is one that overcomes. The name itself represents a struggle, and a prevailing. They who are truly part of Israel are not simply the ones who are genealogically descendants of Israel. You and I, who are overcomers in Christ, are also a part of Israel. We have been grafted in. We are not something altogether different, but rather one and the same. There has ever and always been a ‘spiritual Israel’, known as the saints of God – they who have overcome through the eternal covenant. There has always been they who exercise the same faith as Abraham, and therefore been more than descendants of Abraham, but have come to the place of truly being what God intended for humanity to be from the beginning.
This is what it means for Israel to be the firstborn. They, as the physical people, are the first nation to be considered “under God”. All other nations have their own pagan deities. Yet, there is a mystical aspect to it, where when Ruth declared, “Your people shall be my people, and your God shall be my God”, she was not simply saying that she no longer shall be Canaanite. She has now become Israelite, part of the firstborn, adopted into the family of God. She is no longer a Gentile. She is no longer far off, separated from God and alienated from the promises. Now Ruth has an inheritance in God, which she gets through Boaz being the redeemer (redeemer going back to what it means to be the patriarch and to bring the marginalized back into the family of God). For Ruth to gain that inheritance, which ultimately becomes King David’s inheritance, it took a redeemer named Boaz.
For you and I to have a part of the inheritance with Israel (Eph 1:13-14), it takes a redeemer as well (which is what the first chapter of Ephesians is actually about). Our redeemer is Christ Jesus, who didn’t simply pay with money, but with His own blood to redeem us from our nations that we might be adopted children, gaining an inheritance alongside of the natural children. This is what the prophecy over Ephraim means, when Jacob says that he shall be a “fullness of Gentiles” (Gen 48:19, Rom 11:25). It is what God meant when He told Abraham that he shall be the father of “many nations”, and what He meant when He said the same thing to Isaac.
Israel is the firstborn. Why? Because they are the patriarch by which all nations shall come unto God. In this age, it is by being grafted into Israel that we are able to become a part of the family of God. In the age to come, it will be that by Israel’s light – the light of the New Jerusalem – that the nations will walk. This is the incredibly deep significance of Jesus being the firstborn. You see, Isaiah 42:6, 49:6, and 51:4 all speak of this “servant” who brings light to the Gentiles. In Isaiah 42, we read that this “servant” must be distinct from Israel, because He is ultimately the redeemer of Israel, yet in Isaiah 51, the servant that brings light to the Gentiles is Israel itself.
How can there be such a contradiction?
There isn’t. Just as in the Olympics, when a man wins a medal the announcer will proclaim “America won the gold”, or “Israel won the gold”, so too is the messiah a representative of the whole nation. The whole nation didn’t run the race to win the gold, and yet it is America who won it, and not that one man or woman. As with Israel, so with Messiah; as with Messiah, so with Israel. The who are one, and cannot be distinguished from one another. You cannot have a King of the Jews without Him being the King of the Jews. You can’t separate God’s Kingdom from Israel any more than you can separate the president of the United States of America from America.
In conclusion, then, we see Israel as the firstborn has a lot of facets to it. We also see the claims of Jesus being “the only begotten son”, and in other places “the firstborn from the dead” and “the first fruit”, can go hand-in-glove with Israel being the firstborn. Our misconceptions of, and ultimately our stumbling over, this verse comes from preconceived biases that are based out of solely reading the New Testament text, severed almost completely from the Old Testament. Ephesians doesn’t say that we’re predestined from the foundations of the world to be saved, and therefore others are not. Romans 9:6 doesn’t say that “not all Israel are Israel”, and therefore it is only spiritual Israel that matters. These are things that we’ve made up completely, simply because we don’t know the Law or the Prophets, which ultimately means we don’t understand Jesus or the apostles either.