“They are not all Israel who are descended from Israel.”
How can a person not be of Israel who is born of Jewish parents? The answer depends on what the term, Israel, means. When it comes to the human race, we are a melting pot of nations stirred up in a cauldron of condemnation. Our only way out of the pot is the ladle of God’s mercy and grace. But is this mercy mostly limited to the children of one nation, Israel? The Jewish believers in the Roman Church struggled with the greater involvement of Gentiles in God’s program of salvation, after all, salvation is of the Jews (Romans 2:17-20a; 3:1-2; John 4:22). How had centuries of work centered around the Jewish people now so suddenly become Gentile focused? Has the Word of God failed because “Israel” was becoming more inclusive and, therefore, broader than its bloodline (9:6a)? No! Are the children of God known only by their ancestry? No! They are known by meeting God’s conditions, by their compliance to His will and in accordance with His promises (9:8). God’s children are not identified by bloodline. They are defined by a common faith and God alone decides the name by which they are called—Jew (Israel) or Christian.
God chose Abraham. Why not choose someone else from the city of Ur or maybe from another city—what was so special about Ur? Nothing! God decided that Sarah would give birth to a son and that through his bloodline Messiah would come. Well, why couldn’t He have simply chosen Ishmael and saved Sarah the trouble of going through a post-primetime pregnancy? Then God goes and messes with the customary inheritance rights and chooses Jacob rather than his older brother Esau to be the Father of Israel. Choosing Esau would have saved the family a lot of interpersonal friction (Romans 9:9-13). When human beings are unable to understand the reasons behind God making one choice over another, shouldn’t it be incumbent on the Lord to reconsider his options in the event He overlooked something that His beloved creatures noticed? Really! Could you really picture an all-knowing and all-powerful God ruling the world by committee? What a waste of time!
Ishmael and Esau were Abraham’s descendants, but they were not of “Israel.” The line of promise went through Abraham to Isaac. Why? Because God decided it would, pure and simple! Since the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the responsibility for the spreading of the Gospel has passed from the nation of Israel to the Church—a compilation of peoples from all nations set apart by God into all nations. God decides who He will use and how He will use them to bring about salvation and eternal life. Into the pot of condemned humanity, God dips the ladle of His mercy and grace to choose whom He will for whatever purpose He deems best for humanity (9:15-16, 18, 21-26). Being a child of God is not dependent upon ancestry; it is dependent upon God’s mercy and grace!
The Apostle Paul was not of “spiritual” Israel until he gave his life to Christ. “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit; not by the letter, and his praise is not from men, but from God” (Romans 2:28-29). Jews who reject the Gospel are not and cannot be members of the family of God, i.e., true Israel. The term “Israel,” in this context, is a metonymy which refers to the Church of Christ—membership is given to anyone who chooses to trust in Christ, which was God’s intention since the days of Abraham (Genesis 22:15-18). Remember—all things, good and bad, work together for good! Leave the motion picture’s production to God; be faithful in your supporting role!
Metonymy is a NOUN. The substitution of the name of an attribute or adjunct for that of the thing meant, for example, suit for a business executive, or the turf for horse racing.
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