To the Jew First

Struggling with them and against them

In Psalm 17:8 David prayed that God would shelter him. He wrote, “Keep me as the apple of Your eye”. The apple of the eye is an expression, referring to the centre or pupil of the eye; an area which demands utmost protection from injury, for through that pupil light enters for vision. The apple of God’s eye is a place where Israel has been invited to reside, it is their place of shelter which God guards with utmost care. Israel has a special calling, a special relationship and a special place in God’s plan. She was and still is the apple of God’s eye. Scriptures confirm this in Zech 2:9. He will protect her and guard her, just as He promised.

The name Israel first appeared in Genesis 32:28, awarded to Jacob after his struggle with the Man. “And He[the Man] said, « Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed. » This is the first of the approximate 2400 times the name of Israel is used in the Bible.

Struggling within the name

We cannot be certain of its exact meaning, but some very interesting observations result when we begin analyzing the name, Israel. This Hebrew word is composed of two smaller words, sarah and el. The root word sarah means to fight, to prevail or to have power as a prince : Hosea 12:3 reads “He took his brother by the heel in the womb, And in his strength he struggled (sarah)) with God.  The word el means strength or might. It is the singular form of Elohim, a name attributed to God more than 2200 times in the Bible.

Interestingly, it does not really matter how one interprets the word sara in Gen. 32:28. Whether one reads it as struggling against God or struggling along with God – both situations describe Israel’s relationship with her Creator.

On the one hand when Israel struggles for her survival, she comes alongside God. But in His desire for Israel to recognize her Messiah, she struggles against God. In whichever position Israel finds herself, whether struggling with or against God, the Lord’s perspective of her never changes. While He may appear to be against her at various times throughout history, these actions nonetheless will serve to one day bring this nation into a perfect relationship with Him.

This side by side struggle is well illustrated when both the Jewish nation and her Messiah are called ‘Israel’.

In the Servant Song of Isaiah, the title Israel is given to the Messiah Himself. We read in Isaiah 49:3 « And He said to Me, `You are My Servant, O Israel, In whom I will be glorified.’

Who is the Me that God is addressing here? Our answer is found in verse 5. « And now the LORD says, Who formed Me (the Messiah) from the womb to be His Servant, To bring Jacob back to Him, So that Israel is gathered to Him… The Messiah is the Servant of Jehovah Who has been given the name Israel. Why? The nation of Israel failed to be the righteous servant of God, the servant who was supposed to bring the other nations to the Lord. And so when they failed, the Lord provided the perfect Servant who would not only be the light to the Gentiles, but would even bring wandering Israel back to the Lord. This Servant Messiah came up along side Israel, taking over her responsibility and completing the task for her. What a fascinating and intimate relationship between God and His chosen ones. Since 75% of the Bible devotes itself to the history of the chosen people and her land, we need to give the Jewish nation careful consideration.

Few in number, but far in accomplishments

There are, perhaps, fifteen million Jews in a world of close to seven billion people.

How does less than 1 per cent of the world’s population exert such weight and influence? When historians speak of men who have affected the course of history, famous Jewish names come to mind… such as Albert Einstein, Carl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Carl Sagen, and even Harry Houdini, the greatest escape artist in history. Jewish influence even affects the way we dress with jeans inventor Levi Strauss.

Concerning the Nobel prize awards – 22% of all recipients were Jews.  Because Jewish influence and achievements have been so commendable, jealousy draws some people to conclude that there must be some kind of conspiracy by the Jews to take over the world.

Who is a Jew?

It is easy to define with certain accuracy, who a Jew is if we remain loyal to the law of first mention, that is, if we go by the Bible’s rendering, since it is the earliest book to mention the birth of this people.  The confusion arises when we look elsewhere, into cultural, traditional or secular means to satisfy our own preconceived notions.

Setting the precedence

Even the modern state of Israel had difficulty defining a Jew. In 1950 Israeli citizenship was granted to any Jew under the Law of Return. But the government couldn’t unanimously decide on a definition of who should be considered Jewish. Finally, the Supreme Court of Israel ruled that the Law of Return does not apply to Jews who abandon Judaism for another religion. But it wasn’t that simple. The majority of Jews were atheists, so the government had to draw up a special clause, granting them easy access to citizenship in spite of their departure from a Jewish religious philosophy.

Then in 1970, the Israeli Supreme Court decided that the term, Jew, referred to a nationality and not necessarily to a religion. Because of religious opposition, the government enacted a new law, defining a Jew as either one born of a Jewish mother or one who converted to Judaism. Did the religious opposition forget that the two sons of Joseph, Menasseh and Ephraim had a non Jewish mother, yet they constituted two major tribes of Israel? And concerning conversion: one may convert to another faith, such as Judaism, but one cannot become a Jew, since Scriptures clearly define the Jew as a people, as a nationality, as a physical descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. One cannot change their genetic heritage. A Jew is not defined by the jeans they wear, but rather by the genes they share.

Remaining loyal to the law of first mention would not only help us define who is a Jew, but would help us in matters concerning our eternal future, that is, in defining the Messiah. In Judaism today, you have a multitude of theories concerning the origin, purpose, and person of the Messiah. Again, it would appear that people have neglected to respect the law of first mention. They neglect to fully investigate the Tanach, where the very idea of a Jewish Messiah was first conceived and developed. I don’t know if you think this goes or not.

Israel is a nation that was created by God, named by Him and a nation which plays a key role in bringing out His pre-determined plans. With this, we see God’s purpose in securing her protection. When you touch Israel, you touch the apple of God’s eye.

This is part one of a 3 (4?) part series on “To the Jew First” a presentation given by JI Gabizon at a recent conference in San Antonio, Texas.