Saturday, January 21, 2012

Why is Israel So Important?

We are alive in a time when one of the primary focal points across the globe for nearly a century has been the nation of Israel. Everything from the nightly news to international politics is influenced by this one tiny nation. This nation that is roughly the size of the state of New Jersey occupies more attention across the world than other nations many times its size. Why is this? Why is Israel so important? Why have so many people throughout history wanted to destroy this nation? Why is understanding his or her foreign policy toward Israel so important when choosing a candidate for President here in America? Why is so much of the Bible written to and about the people of this nation?

These are questions that many have pondered and even debated, but many people still do not understand the current, historic and futuristic significance of Israel and the Jewish people. To best answer these questions, we need to start by going back in time about 4,000 years. The Jewish people descended directly from Abraham, and to truly understand Abraham, we need to consult the pages of the Bible. Abraham is first mentioned in Genesis 11, and he is continually discussed throughout much of Scripture. He was a citizen of the the land of Ur of the Chaldeans, and the Lord called him to leave that land and follow him to a land that would be for him and his descendants. Genesis 12:1-3 says:

     The LORD had said to Abram, "Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father's family, and go to a land that I will show you.
     I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others.
     I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you." (NLT)

A few chapters later, in Genesis 15:5, the Lord told Abram (the Lord would later change his name to Abraham):

     "... Look up into the sky and count the stars if you can. That's how many descendants you will have!" (NLT)

The Lord promised Abraham a son who would be the first of these descendants, and in Genesis 21, this son, Isaac, was born. As time passed, Isaac grew and married Rebekah, and together they had two sons: Esau and Jacob. Esau became the father of a nation called the Edomites, and Jacob also became the father of a great nation. In Genesis 28 Isaac blesses Jacob and says to him:

     "May God Almighty bless you and give you many children. And may your descendants multiply and become many nations. May God pass on to you and your descendants the blessings He promised to Abraham. May you own this land where you are now living as a foreigner, for God gave this land to Abraham." (NLT)

Later in the same chapter, the Lord visited Jacob in a dream and confirmed the words of Isaac. Let us read verses 13-15. The Lord says:

     ..."I am the LORD, the God of your grandfather Abraham, and the God of your father, Isaac. The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I am giving it to you and your descendants. 
     Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth! They will spread out in all directions - to the west and east, to the north and south. And all the families of earth will be blessed through you and your descendants.
     What's more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I promised you." (NLT)

Later in his life, Jacob, like his grandfather, had an encounter with the Lord that resulted in his name being changed. In Genesis 35:10-12 the Lord visits Jacob and says to him:

     "Your name is Jacob, but you will not be called Jacob any longer. From now on your name will be Israel." So God renamed him Israel.
     Then God said "I am El-Shaddai - 'God Almighty." Be fruitful and multiply. You will become a great nation, even many nations. Kings will be among your descendants! 
     And I will give you the land I once gave to Abraham and Isaac. Yes, I will give it to you and you descendants after you."

Just as Isaac told Jacob, and the Lord later confirmed, Jacob became the father of many nations, and through his son, Judah, his descendants carried on the name "Israel." Through this bloodline King David was born, and through this bloodline, the Messiah, Jesus, was born. There is much in the nation of Israel's history that we obviously cannot cover in the post. However, let us fast forward to the year 1948. Prior to this, the people of Israel were scattered all over the world and there were numerous attempts to annihilate them. Not least of which was the horrendous attempt of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime to exterminate the Jewish people through the Holocaust. However, in 1948, Israel declared their sovereignty and settled in part of the land the Lord promised Abraham and Jacob about 4,000 years ago. In spite of the efforts to destroy the Jewish people, after thousands of years, they actually became a recognized nation. The Lord has kept His promise to protect and preserve the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Since that time, the nation of Israel has dominated much of the world's attention. As I have already mentioned, in terms of land size, Israel is relatively small, but their role in the world is immensely important. The promises the Lord made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are still true today. The Lord has promised to bless those that bless Israel and curse those who treat her with contempt. That applies to every nation of the world, including the United States, China and the powerful Arab nations that neighbor Israel. For the most part, the United States has treated Israel favorably, and history proves that America has experienced blessing because of it. If America begins to treat Israel unfavorably, the blessing that is tied to that favor will begin to diminish. Again, this is true of every nation of the world. That is how seriously the Lord takes the promise He made to a friend of his 4,000 years ago.

Along these same lines, the land that the Lord promised Israel will play a major part in the future of our world. The actual land that the current nation of Israel occupies in only a part of the land the Lord promised Abraham and Jacob. We read in Genesis 28:15:

     What's more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I promised you." (NLT)

We know that God is not a man that He should lie (see Numbers 23:19, I Samuel 15:29), and He is not slack about any of His promises (see II Peter 3:9), so He is still going to give the Jewish people everything He promised Abraham and Jacob. This includes the land that He originally promised them. Modern day Israel is bordered by Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan. The land they were originally promised includes part of present day Egypt, Syria and Iraq, and it includes all of Jordan and Lebanon. This being the case, Israel will obviously play a major role on the future international political scene.

These are some of the reasons Israel is so important. The Lord made some clear promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and He is going to fulfill them. Although much of the world either isn't aware of them, or they may have lost sight of them, these promises are still a reality. Because of these promises, Israel occupies so much of the world's attention. Israel is extremely important to the Lord, but let me clarify what this does not mean. Even though the Lord made irrevocable promises to Abraham and his descendants, this does not give Israel a "free pass" in terms of salvation or international politics. In regard to salvation, Jesus is the only way to the Father. Salvation is totally tied to Jesus' death, burial and resurrection and whether or not we as individuals receive Him as our Lord and Savior. This is true for Jew and Gentile (see Galatians 3:28), and no one, whether Jew or Gentile comes to the Father unless they recognize that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life (see John 14:6). In regard to international politics, the Lord requires justice, mercy and humility (see Micah 6:8). Whether Jew or Gentile, the Lord's standards are the same. The Lord does not grade on a curve, and His standard has always been Jesus. Again, there are no free passes, but Israel is very dear to the heart of the Lord because Abraham and his descendants are very dear to the heart of the Lord.

As we move closer to the end of this age, the intensity surrounding the nation of Israel will increase, and we need to understand the important role Israel will play as we move forward. Israel is important because of the promises the Lord made to His friends 4,000 years ago. The Lord will bless those who bless Israel, and He will curse those who treat her with contempt. The Lord made specific promises to Abraham and Jacob in regard to the Land He had reserved for them, and He will fulfill that promise. Israel holds a special place in God's heart, and that is why Israel is so important.

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