History of Israel: The Descendants of Abraham
The history of Israel commences with God's covenant with Abraham in approximately 2000 B.C., "I will make you into a great nation" (Genesis 12:2). The name "Israel" (meaning either "one who fights victoriously with God" or "a prevailing prince with God") comes from the new name God gave Abraham's grandson Jacob, after Jacob withstood a spiritual struggle at Jabbok (Genesis 32:28). It is at this point that the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are often referred to as the "Children of Israel."
History of Israel: Its Selection as a Special Nation
The history of Israel goes back even further than 2000 BC. In fact, the selection of Israel as a special nation was part of God's plan from the beginning of time. God's choice of Israel as His "chosen people" did not lie in any special size, nature or attraction. Actually, the nation of Israel was the least in number among all the nations (Deuteronomy 7:6-8). Rather, God chose these people because of His love for them and His unconditional covenant with Abraham. This doesn't mean that God loved Israel more than other people, it was just that He intended to use Israel as His means to love and bless everyone. It was God's plan from the beginning to bring forth the Messiah through Israel to act as the savior for the entire world.
History of Israel: The Biblical Record
The history of Israel as detailed in the Bible encompasses around 1800 years. It proclaims a dynamic account of God's miracles, judgments, promises, and blessings. Israel begins as a unilateral promise to one man, Abraham. For more than 400 years, Abraham and his descendants rely on that promise, even during a significant period of slavery in Egypt. Then, by means of an amazing series of miraculous events, God delivers the Israelites of out Egypt in the Exodus (Hebrew: "a going out"). The Exodus is the occasion that most Jews look to as the foundation of the nation of Israel. The Exodus is the act of deliverance which Israelites dwell on as the demonstration of God's love and protection of Israel. Once the Exodus was completed, God established a conditional covenant with the Israelites at the Mountain of Sinai. It is there that God proclaimed His Law (the Ten Commandments). It is there that God promises blessings for adherence to His Law and curses for noncompliance. The rest of Israel's history as recorded in the Bible is a continuing cycle of blessing and punishment for Israel's obedience and disobedience to God's Law. Throughout times of victory and defeat, king and judges, priests and prophets, restoration and exile - the Israelites are blessed when they obey God and disciplined when they do not. As a nation, Israel was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. At that time, the Jews scattered throughout the whole world, keeping the hope based on prophetic promises of an eventual regathering to the chosen land God gave to Israel. In 1948, after almost 1900 years had passed, Israel was again declared a sovereign nation and officially reestablished in the promised land. Through a series of miraculous events, including the Jews retaking of Jerusalem in 1967, this generation is witnessing the fulfillment of prophecy with respect to God's special nation.
History of Israel: God's Ultimate Purpose
Why is so much of the Bible focused on the history of Israel and the future of its people? Why was one nation called out as "God's chosen people"? These questions are answered when we examine God's ultimate purpose for Israel. When God made His unconditional promise to Abraham that He would make his descendants a great nation, God also promised to bless all people through that nation (Genesis 12:1-3). Therefore, Israel was never considered a sole recipient of God's blessings, but rather, a channel for God's blessings to all mankind. God's miracles for Israel, such as their dramatic deliverance from Egypt, were intended not only for the Israelites themselves, but as evidence of God's absolute power and uniqueness for a watching polytheistic world (Exodus 7:5; 14:18; Joshua 2:9-11). The Messiah that would come through the nation of Israel was always intended to be the Savior for all mankind (Isaiah 49:6). The Old Testament also contains many invitations to the entire world to come and worship the one living God in Israel (Psalm 2:10-12; 117:1).
Based on recent events in the Holy Land, it is clear that God's promise to Abraham is still being fulfilled. Accordingly, God's promise to bless all peoples through Israel is still absolutely apparent. The teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the growth and influence of His church, were made possible through God's choice of Israel as His people. All people who accept Jesus as their Messiah, whether Jew or Gentile, receive the great blessings of God channeled through His chosen people, the nation of Israel.