All the descendants of Jacob were seventy persons; Joseph was already in Egypt.6Then Joseph died, and all his brothers and all that generation. 7But the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them.[Exodus 1:5-7]
Israel migrated into Egypt as a family, and as the LORD had promised Abraham, Israel multiplied greatly in Egypt for 400 years and became a distinct ethnic people group. Known as the children of Israel or the Hebrews, God’s covenant people prospered in Egypt until a wicked Pharaoh arose in power and subjugated Israel into slavery.
By the time of Moses and the Exodus, Israel had grown to 600,000 men plus women and children, which means that their numbers far exceeded one million at the end of their sojourn in Egypt [see Exodus 12:37-38]. It is just like God to work His perfect will and bless His people through adverse, even hopeless, circumstances. Consider what the LORD told Abraham some 400 years earlier.
Then the LORD said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. 14But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions” … On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates”[Exodus 15:13-14,18]
Little is known about Israel during this 400 year sojourn in Egypt. All that we are told from the Biblical record is that after Joseph and his generation died, a new king arose in Egypt who despised the Hebrews and initiated what would become a vicious cycle of suffering followed by divine deliverance. If there has been one common thread that has run continuously throughout Israel’s history, it is the thread of rebellion, oppression, and divine chastisement, leading to repentance and restoration.
Many times the ethnic people of Israel brought oppression and judgment upon themselves as the consequences of unbelief and rebellion against the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Others times Israel was the exclusive target of satanic hostility and opposition, as the seed war of Genesis 3:15 developed and progressed in real time. As the chosen covenant people group of God, Israel was the conduit through which God had resolved to work His will and ultimately bring forth the Messiah to crush the head of the Serpent and bless all nations.
God’s Chosen Portion
When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance,
when he divided mankind,
he fixed the borders of the peoples
according to the number of the sons of God.
9But the LORD’s portion is his people,
Jacob his allotted heritage.
10He found him in a desert land,[Deuteronomy 32:8-10]
and in the howling waste of the wilderness;
he encircled him, he cared for him,
he kept him as the apple of his eye.
After the flood the LORD came down to judge the rebellion at Babel led by Nimrod. In His divine judgment, the LORD confused the languages of mankind, creating natural barriers that would lead to the birth of the original 70 nations [see Genesis 10-11]. It was at this time that the LORD divided up the nations and their boundaries according to the number of the sons of God [see Deuteronomy 32:8-9], but the LORD reserved for Himself one people group — one ethnos — as His own allotted inheritance, namely Israel.
From that moment, the nations of the earth — or Gentiles — were considered profane and alienated from God and the commonwealth of Israel. Gentiles have been oppressed and deceived by the evil, heathen “gods” of the nations, who led them into gross immorality and idolatry. Israel, on the other hand, wold be set apart as holy unto the LORD — the Most High and God of gods.
This hard ethnic distinction runs throughout the Scriptures, until the mystery of God was revealed in Christ, who came to reclaim and redeem a people for God’s possession from all the nations of the earth and gather them into Israel. As Paul reminds us in Romans 9, “As indeed he says in Hosea, ‘Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved. And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’
there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’” [Romans 9:25-26]
In Christ, the ethnic barrier was brought down and God united all people in Christ — not so that we all would lose our ethnic identity but rather so that we could all reflect the immense diversity of the kingdom and represent the manifold beauty of God’s saving grace.
When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. 6This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.[Ephesians 3:4-6]
Although Christ has brought down the dividing wall of hostility and redeemed people from every tribe and language and nation into His kingdom, that is not to say that God’s covenant promises to the ethnic people of Israel (aka the Jews) have become obsolete. God’s promises and purposes remain for the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the “flesh,” which means that the ethnic distinction of Israel in these last days is on of the greatest prophetic phenomena of redemptive history.
The fact that an ethnic, national, and territorial Israel still exists today, some 3,500 years since the Exodus, is profound in and of itself. The fact that Israel remains at the center of the geopolitical and religious controversy of the Middle East is one of the most substantial prophetic signs of the last days.
In my next post, I will deal exclusively with Israel in captivity — God’s people in bondage.