The following is an excerpt from Chapter 2 of my book, called “Israel as the Vessel.”
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To properly understand that Bible’s story, the canonical narrative, it is vital to realize something from the beginning. Creation was good, but not yet perfect.4
Sometimes people think God is restoring the world to the way it was before the Fall, before the disobedience of Adam and Eve. Actually, God had something better in mind from the beginning. Adam and Eve needed two things for sure: immortality and knowledge. So God planted two trees to provide them. He allowed them only to partake of immortality, but theologians have long suspected he had a plan to bring them knowledge in the course of time. God walked with Adam. He had some things to teach. There was more, but people were not yet ready.
Before this could happen, and none of this caught God by surprise, Adam and Eve brought the world further from consummation, not closer. The action of the first man and woman brought fundamental changes in Creation, changes rightly called the Fall.
After the Fall, the waywardness of humankind is obvious. Murder, lust, greed, and a desire for power and domination rule the earth. Even a flood only slows it down. Even scattering people and confusing their languages is only a stop-gap measure. God must have another plan.
Is God’s choice the one you or I would have made? Would we have had the wisdom to know that the best way to move into redemption and to consummate the world was to choose one man and create a human-proof plan?
God chose Abraham, a herdsman of some wealth and a pagan. If nothing else, the placement of the Abraham story should tell us that this is not an incidental, but a crucial step in God’s plan. God’s plan was to choose Israel as his vessel.
This may sound narrow, but here on earth, Israel is the vessel of God through which he is bringing redemption and consummation. Obviously, through Israel God already brought the scriptures and the Messiah. But God is not done. He is still using Israel as his vessel. Redemption is available through Israel’s Son, Yeshua, but redemption is not complete. God has more people and more of Creation yet to save. Further, God is not merely redeeming, but he is bringing all things to a world better than at Creation. The World to Come is greater than this world, and even greater than the world before the Fall.
How is God doing all this through Israel? Israel is his vessel. Israel is the priestly people, calling that is shared by Yeshua-followers but which is still not taken away from Israel. And Israel is at the center of all God’s covenants, his great and wise actions that bring redemption and consummation of all things.
God’s first formal covenant was with Noah, encompassing all of humankind. Yet there is nothing salvific in the covenant with Noah. It is with Abraham that redemption and consummation began to be worked out.
Through Abraham, God established a way of looking at humankind that remains to this day: Israel and the nations. In the covenant with Abraham, there are the descendants of Abraham, the blessed line, and all other peoples, blessed through Abraham’s line. God’s blessing comes through Abraham, through Israel, and through no other avenue.
God further advanced his covenant plan to redeem through the Sinai Covenant. The covenant given through Moses was about Israel being a priestly people, a people who showed God to the nations. You see this aspect of God’s plan not only in Exodus 19 but throughout the Psalms and prophets (do a concordance search on “the nations”).
Some people think the Sinai Covenant is over and done with. Israel failed and that covenant is nothing but a fossil. Yet, if you read the Sinai Covenant, you find that failure was built into the plan from the beginning.5
What few Christian readers know is that the next major covenant, the New Covenant, was also made with Israel. Just to be clear, Jeremiah says, “I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.”6 This is why the New Testament goes to great lengths dealing with Gentiles being “grafted in” and included in the promises through Yeshua.
Just in case anyone is unclear, and some in the early Roman church were unclear about this, Paul clarifies: God is still in covenant with Israel, yes, even non-believing Israel. Paul says, “God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew” and though “they are enemies of God for your sake” nonetheless “as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of the fathers.”7
Israel is God’s vessel, the lead actor in the canonical narrative. The canonical narrative is not finished. God has more to do. He has hinted at the future and we know what he has allowed us to glance at, but more of the story remains to be written. We should not be surprised that Israel is still the center of the story (don’t worry, the next chapter will be about the nations).
4 Jeremiah 31:3.
5 Hosea 11:8-9 (ESV).
6 Genesis 12:2.
7 Genesis 12:3 (ESV). There is some debate about whether the verb is passive (be blessed) or reflexive (bless themselves). Since Gen. 22:18 uses the reflexive (hitpa’el form), I presume that the ambiguous form in 12:3 (niphal) is passive.