By believing in Christ Jesus and obeying the voice of God, the birthright has passed from the genetic sons of Abraham to those who are the sons with the Faith and Works of Abraham.
Who are the Children of Israel? Who are the heirs to the promises of God? Are the genetic descendants of Jacob the only chosen people?
Beware. This starts off a little confusing. But it quickly gets better. Paul asks the same question:
“Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came…?” Romans 9:4-5
Is Paul’s answer helpful?
“… For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel. Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children…. That is, they which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed.” Romans 9:6-8
What is the difference between the “children of the flesh” and the “children of the promise?” Do we believe the Pharisees when they said, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved?” (Acts 15:1) What does it mean to be “justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law?” (Galatians 2:16) What is this concept of “Spiritual Israel?”
The Second Son
A Brother noticed many instances in which the second son is shown to receive the inheritance in place of the elder. The most profound place this story is told is in the story of Jacob and Esau.
“But Jacob said, ‘Sell me your birthright as of this day.’ And Esau said, ‘Look, I am about to die; so what is this birthright to me?’ Then Jacob said, ‘Swear to me as of this day.’ So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. And Jacob gave Esau bread and stew of lentils; then he ate and drank, arose, and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright.” Genesis 25:31-34
My brother then asked the question, “What is the meaning and purpose behind the many stories in the Bible where the younger brother becomes the true heir?” And he asked for help in understanding why so many similar stories appear in the Bible. These are all parables, or analogies of a larger picture. Let’s take a look at that bigger picture.
I reminded my brother of the instance of Adam. God gave him dominion over all the earth but Adam rebelled against God and gave away that birthright to Lucifer. And so it was Lucifer who represented Earth in those heavenly meetings in Job 1 & 2 where he was accusing us before God. (Revelation 12:10). But Jesus, the second Adam, bought back the earth and the people under the rights of redemption, as Scripture says,
“If one of your brethren becomes poor, and has sold some of his possession, and if his redeeming relative comes to redeem it, then he may redeem what his brother sold.” Lev. 25:25
We find Jesus, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, as the elder brother who came to buy back our estate. Heaven announces, “You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God.…” Revelation 5:9-10
This story shows that Jesus, as the younger brother of Adam, becomes the one who inherits the birthright. By His humanity, Jesus became the brother of every human on the earth and earned back our right to govern ourselves through the right of redemption. Because He came through the bloodline of Judah, He has also taken the scepter of rule that was promised to David and to Judah, saying, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah,” and “Your throne shall be established forever.” (Genesis 49:10; 2 Sam 7:16)
So, we have seen
- Adam gave away our estate through sin but Jesus bought it back.
- The right of redemption through a close relative can restore our estate.
- The birthright was transferred away Judah because of their lack of interest, like Esau.
- The humanity of Jesus allowed Him to transfer the inheritance to all of mankind.
- God kept His promise to Judah and to David to establish their throne forever by giving that throne to the eternal Christ, The Lion of the Tribe of Judah.
But this is only part of the story. The other half of the picture is God’s covenant with Abraham. This will show us how God is going to find and reward the second son. This will be seen as we look at how the Nation of Israel was the first son who despised the birthright and how God has reached out to call the second son, the Christians, to claim the inheritance. But Christianity has its own spirit of rebellion. Will God finally have a son who will “call upon the name of the Lord?” (Genesis 4:26)
Abram’s Covenant with God
God made a covenant with Abram, promising that he would become the father of many nations with children numbering more than the sand of the sea. To seal this covenant, God instituted the act of circumcision as an outward sign that would be worn by all the physical male descendants of Abram. Then God changed Abram’s name to Abraham,
“As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, [meaning ‘Exalted Father’] but your name shall be Abraham [Father of a Multitude]; for I have made you a father of many nations.” Genesis 17:4-5
God went on to explain how His covenant with Abraham would become an everlasting covenant:
“And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and your descendants after you.” verse 7
No matter what happens, in the end it will be seen that God keeps this promise to Abraham, even if the first son rejects the birthright and God needs to raise up sons of Abraham from the stones.
God built this covenant with Abraham because of the faith that he had in God. Even the act of circumcision was symbolic of faith in that it symbolized circumcising the foreskin of their hearts and removing their coldness. (Deut. 10:16) But what happens is that the Hebrew nation turned away from God until God lost patience with them. It turned out that the Children of Israel had the heart of Esau, instead of the heart of Jacob who had cherished the birthright. And so that birthright passed to another people.
The first son, who was offered the inheritance, were the Children of Israel. But because of their uncircumcised hearts, they slayed the Heir who linked them to the inheritance. They killed Jesus, their own promised Messiah. So God went in search of a second son to receive both the birthright and also the promise, “I will make you a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:5-6) He went searching for people who have the same faith that Abraham had instead of his bloodline. Here is where the circumcision of the heart becomes more telling of our love for God than the circumcision of the flesh. Jehovah can still keep His promise to Abram to make him the father of a multitude, but this time through the second son, the children of the faith of Abraham.
This transition from the first son to the second brings up a fundamental Bible truth that can help us overcome some of the devil’s deceptions in the end of time as he tries to insist that the flesh of Israel still has a right to claim the inheritance.
We know that God rejected the 10 tribes that were given to King Jeroboam because of Jeroboam’s sin. (1 Kings 14:16) And then in Daniel 9 we see God giving the remaining tribe of Judah probation for 490 years before they reached the full measure of their own rebellion. (Daniel 9:24) When Christ came at the end of that 490 years, what did the tribe of Judah do? Were they ready for Him? Did they accept Him? Or rather, did they prove to the whole world their utter and complete rejection of God by killing His Son, the heir? This was a final decision that the nation could not take back.
So why is it that we read so many times in the Bible that “all Israel will be saved?” Or that God’s 144,000 end-time army is composed of 12,000 from each of the 12 tribes of Israel?
Many people over the years have held onto the belief that the genetic descendants of Abraham hold some special power with God. They believe to their dying breath that the Jews are still, to this day, the chosen people. Some think that only those who are true Israelites will be saved. Others, that God will bring all Israel out from around the world to be saved. And still others are sure that everyone who believes in God must have some hidden Israeli blood in their veins. A friend of mine is sure that this genetic pool will someday stand up as the ones who deeply desire God within their heart of hearts.
How can it be that the people who rejected God over and over again will suddenly hearken back to some inner DNA profile and find that they really have a love for God that they never showed before? They rejected God before He brought them out of Egypt. Again in the wilderness. Again at the rebellion of Korah. Again with the sin of Jeroboam. Again after their captivity in Babylon. Again at the coming of God’s Son. They rejected His Law. They rejected His voice. They rejected His Spirit. Again and again they have shown nothing but disdain for God and His covenant. But suddenly, will they show some inner calling to respond to God?
This mistake can be made by a superficial reading of Scripture which repeats that the children of Israel will inherit the kingdom. Combine this belief that the Jews are still God’s chosen people with the error that God will come to reign as King in an earthly temple in Jerusalem. Then add to this a somewhat mystical belief that there is some special magic in the location of Jerusalem itself. And you have all the ingredients whipped up and ready to add to the final deception of Satan as the Antichrist coming to the temple in Jerusalem.
These errors worked for the devil in Christ’s day. The disciples were greatly disappointed at Jesus’ death because they believed that He would be a temporal king reigning in Jerusalem. If the error worked once for Satan, why shouldn’t he try it again?
The Righteousness of Abraham
But the Bible is telling an entirely different story. Was it the DNA of Abraham that drew God to make a covenant with him? Or was there something else about Abram that made him special in God’s eyes—special enough to bring them together in an everlasting bond? The Bible tells us that Abraham had the full and complete package of true faith combined with works of righteousness. We read:
“And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.” Genesis 15:6
“Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.” Genesis 26:5
Abraham believed in God. And this faith caused him to bring forth works of righteousness. As James said, “Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.” “I will show you my faith by my works.” (James 1:22, 2:18)
Abraham Obeyed My Voice
These “works” of righteousness that Abraham displayed were not works as we understand them today. They were not acts of witnessing door to door, going into mission fields or selling religious books. One of the ways the church presents “works” is by telling us to do something, we should give our money or our time to God. Well, it is good to do these things as the Lord inspires you. But this is not an accurate picture of works of righteousness. Look at the works that Abraham’s faith brought out:
- He obeyed God’s voice. Shama qol Yehovah.
- He kept God’s charge. He was a faithful steward of everything that God gave him.
- He kept God’s commandments (mitsvah).
- He kept God’s statutes (chuqqah).
- He kept God’s Law (Torah).
Abraham believed God. And he obeyed God. And he loved God. He had a faith in God that was strong enough to lead him to keep all of God’s Laws with a righteous character. Did the descendants of Abraham carry on this legacy? Did they show this same faith in God? When God carried the descendants of Abraham out of Egypt on Eagle’s Wings, He said to them:
“You have seen what I did to the Egyptians and how I bore you on Eagle’s Wings and carried you unto Myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a peculiar treasure to Me above all peoples, for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Exodus 19:4-6
Notice first that God makes the same request to the Children of Israel that Abraham obeyed. This verse says, “If you will indeed obey My voice.” In Hebrew this is shama qol shama and it means to hear with your understanding and obey God’s voice. Qol, pronounced like “coal,” is “voice.” The word shama, meaning “obey,” is repeated here, giving the strong emphasis shown by the word indeed. In Genesis 26 the exact same words are repeated. Abraham shama qol—Abraham obeyed My voice.
Notice next that this passage in Exodus is subjective. It says, If…. If you will obey My voice and keep My covenant, you shall be My people. Did the Israelites ever obey God? Did they love Him? Did they keep His covenant? Or rather were they constantly going off after other gods? If they obeyed His voice, then why did God repeatedly call them to: “Hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God.” Which is shama qol Yehovah. Or, “Obey My voice and keep My Commandments, My statutes and My Laws.” Again shama qol Yehovah. Or, “Hear the word of the Lord…” which is also, shama qol Yehovah.
Even in the New Testament we again hear these same words spoken by Jesus when He asks the Pharisees, “Why do you not understand My speech? Because you are not able to listen to My word.” “Why do you not shama qol?” “I know that you are Abraham’s descendants, but you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you…. If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham.” (John 8:43, 37-39) How many times throughout Scripture is God begging and pleading with this people to do the basic things that Abraham had done? To obey His voice and keep His commandments?
The birthright blessing pronounced on Abraham’s descendants was offered to the genetic children of Abraham.
“In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.” Genesis 22:18
But the descendants of Abraham scorned the blessing and refused the inheritance. And so, in similar fashion to Jacob and Esau, Abraham’s inheritance is given to the second son who are his children by faith. “Know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham.” (Gal. 3:7)
Likewise, Adam did not esteem his birthright and Jesus, the second son, came in humanity to buy back the earth. And through His humanity, He has adopted Abraham’s second “son” into the inheritance. This second son of Abraham consists of the people who exhibit the same characteristics of Abraham by showing the same faith and works that he had.
Here we find the difference between the “children of the flesh” and the “children of the promise.” Those people born of the flesh of Abraham are not automatically inheritors of the promises of God. It is those who truly believe in God’s promises who are the heirs of Abraham.
God’s promises are all accomplished through His Son by whom we receive our adoption into the family of God. Once we are adopted, we no longer concern ourselves with being sons of Abraham. But with Jesus as our brother, we look heavenward into the loving eyes of our Father in Heaven and cry, “Abba, Father!”
Circumcision—The “Law” in Galatians
This message of the inheritance by faith constitutes a huge portion of the writings of Paul. The entire book of Galatians is about how those who were the circumcised, genetic descendants of Abraham were not justified by the act of circumcision—“the works of the law.” It is those descendants of Abraham who have believed in God and obeyed God, those who are justified by the same faith that Abraham had, who will find salvation.
“A man is not justified by the works of the law [circumcision] but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law [by circumcision] no flesh shall be justified.…” Galatians 2:16
“Know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, ‘In you all the nations shall be blessed.’ So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham.” Galatians 3:7-9.
So many times these words, “Justified by faith, and not by the works of the law,” have been misused to tear down a portion of the Law of God. But these “works of the law” are the acts of circumcision that were a sign of the covenant between God and Abraham. Thinking that circumcision defined them as the chosen people who would be saved, the Jewish believers in Galatia were trying to enforce this act upon the new Gentile converts. Being “justified by faith” and not by “works” means that the children with Abraham’s same faith are the ones who will be saved, not the ones who perform some outward act while leaving their hearts uncircumcised.
These verses are misinterpreted because we look at them with two erroneous presumptions.
- First, that the Law of God ended at the Cross, and
- Second, that Paul is talking about the Torah Law instead of the statute of circumcision.
If we could see the truth of these words, we would begin to see how often Paul uses the term “law” in Galatians to speak of the circumcision of the genetic descendants of Abraham. It is through our belief in God and His Son—our faith—and obedience to His Law that we become the second son of Abraham—the inheritors of the birthright.
“But the Scripture has confined all under sin that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.… For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.… There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise.” Galatians 3:22-29 excerpts
Paul calls “circumcision” a “yoke” when he says,
“Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing.” Galatians 5:1-2
The law of circumcision was that “schoolmaster” (Gal. 3:24-25) that would teach us that there would be a special people who would belong to God. Once Christ came in the fashion of a man, “We might receive the adoption as sons.” (Gal. 4:5) Once a people were found who had a faith in Jesus, this “schoolmaster” was not needed because the inheritors would be those who believed God like Abraham did.
And so we see the reason Paul says, “They are not all Israel who are of Israel.” Circumcision never meant that the Hebrew nation was that people. God had called them to love Him, which they did not. He asked for their unadulterated worship of Him, which they never gave. He asked them to obey Him, which they refused to do. He asked that they would not worship other gods. But even when their worship looked the most perfect, when they were all alone in the wilderness with Moses and Aaron and the perfect little portable tabernacle, God still declared that their hearts went after their idols and their gods. He said,
“Have ye offered unto Me sacrifices and offerings in the wilderness forty years, O house of Israel? But ye have borne the tabernacle of your Moloch and Chiun your images, the star of your god, which ye made to yourselves.” Amos 5:25-26; Acts 7:42-43
On the outside they appeared as the perfect people. But God knew their hearts were after their gods and their idols. They were circumcised in their flesh, but not in their hearts. The people who will inherit the blessings and birthright God offers are those who have the same belief, obedience and love that Abraham had toward God. Through our obedience, we show our faith in God and our love for Him. Through obedience to His Law and through the exclusive worship of the one true God, we enter into the new covenant relationship with Him.
This is where we find another answer to our questions. Are all Christians “Spiritual Israel” because they believe in Christ? Abraham’s belief was strong enough that it led him to a life of obedience to all of God’s laws. “Abraham obeyed My voice….” If Christians believe in Christ, but fail to obtain the Christian virtues of a righteous character, they too are not exhibiting the faith of Abraham.
It is not sufficient to say, “I believe” while repeating the same sins and having the same rebellious heart as Israel. Do we have false gods erected in our lives? Do we continue in Baal worship by mixing the Holy with the profane as in Christmas celebrations? Do we stop our ears from hearing the voice of God while we say with our lips, “All that the Lord has said we will do?” Here is where we are reminded not to continue in the same sins of Israel that caused them to be separated from God:
“All these things happened unto them as examples, and they are written for our admonition upon whom the ends of the world have come.” 1 Cor. 10:11
“While it is said, ‘Today if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation.’” Hebrews 4:8-19
Problems within the Early Christian Churches
Many misuse the words of Paul in the book of Galatians to take away God’s Law because they do not realize that Paul is referring to the “law of circumcision.” To say that Justification by Faith means that we no longer need to obey God’s Law would be a complete misrepresentation of the book of Galatians. Paul is calling the church to turn away from those Jews who think that the law of circumcision is the act that will save. It is not the circumcision of Abraham, but his faith in God that gives him the right to the inheritance.
“But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, ‘If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews? We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law [by circumcision] but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.’” Gal 2:14-16
We have to step back and look at the overall context of this letter to the church in Galatia. We need to remember that Paul’s letters to the churches are one-sided conversations. It takes a little wisdom to be able to fill in the other half of the conversation. For the most part, Paul is correcting errors within the churches by his epistles. And most of these errors stem from Jewish believers or unbelievers who are not accustomed to Gentiles coming into their synagogues. They have been hardened in their views toward the Gentiles from many centuries, millennia in fact, of looking at outsiders as taboo. When they see Gentiles now coming into the church of Judaism, they feel that these new converts need to follow in all the practices that have made Jews, Jews. They need to be circumcised. They need to keep the ceremonial washings of the Talmud. They need to keep the traditions of the Rabbis. This controversy between the Jews and Gentiles is a constant theme within Paul and Peter. Peter said to the Jewish believers,
“So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.” Acts 15:9-11
Peter says that the Gentiles have been accepted by God even when they have not been circumcised. God shows this approbation by giving them the Holy Spirit as well as to the Jewish believers. Then Peter explains that it is their “faith” that has purified their hearts. Isn’t this the same counsel that we read about in Deuteronomy: “Circumcise the foreskin of your hearts and be stiff-necked no longer?” (Deut. 10:16)
This “yoke” that Peter is speaking of is the burden of the Talmudic laws that the Jews were trying to enforce on the new Gentile converts. A little earlier in the chapter we read that the believing Pharisees were trying to compel the new converts to keep all these Jewish traditions which they erroneously called the “law of Moses.” Even circumcision was not a custom of Moses, but of Abraham.
“And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’” Acts 15:1
“But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.’” Acts 15:5
They call the Talmudic laws the “law of Moses” because the Oral Law that constituted the Talmud and the tradition of the Jews was claimed as having been handed down orally since the time of Moses. And yet, when the Jerusalem council concludes the controversy in Acts 15, the only laws that they require for the new converts are those statutes that truly are contained in the Torah: not eating foods sacrificed to idols or strangled, abstaining from blood and from sexual immorality. (verse 29)
Will and Testament
Here is the difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament. A “testament” is a Will. The Old Testament was the unsigned draft of God’s covenant giving the kingdom to His people. Once Jesus came and signed that Will and Testament with His blood, then it became a binding contract between God and man. The New Testament tells of those who are to inherit under this fully signed, ratified, Will. And the people who are the inheritors are those who have the same faith and works that Abraham had—the ones who believe in Jesus Christ as their Saviour and do the works of Abraham. These are the second sons of Abraham—the ones who want the birthright enough to fight for it.
The Hebrew nation never desired this birthright. They never entered into a covenant with God. And though individually they can be grafted back into the family, as a whole, as a nation, as a people, they will never be the chosen race.
Children of the Prince of God
Christ came in the form of humanity in order to redeem fallen man. Because of this humanity, He is called “Immanuel” which means “God with us.” He is now our brother in the truest sense of the word and has redeemed the people of all nationalities. (Rev. 5:9) By inheriting the birthright from His Father, and through His humanity, He is able to pass this inheritance on to those who believe and obey God. (Gal. 4:4-7) He told us this on the early morning of His resurrection when He said to Mary, “Go to My brethren and say to them, I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.” John 20:17
When the New Testament speaks of the Children of Israel as the people of God, we should look to the true meaning of this term. These are not the children of Jacob. When Jacob wrestled with God over the birthright that he had stolen, God gave him a new name: Israel. This new name means, Prince of God—or “He will rule as God.” (Genesis 32:28) “Children of Israel” means, “Children of the Prince of God.” You may or may not be a genetic descendant of Jacob. But if you are the Children of the Prince of God, you are the children of Jesus Christ who is the Prince of the Highest.
“He was taken from prison and from judgment, and who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgressions of My people He was stricken.” Isaiah 53:8
“Here am I and the children whom the Lord has given me! We are for signs and wonders in Israel from the Lord of hosts, who dwells in Mount Zion.” Isaiah 8:18
It is unto the Righteous that Christ will say,
“Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Matthew 25:34