“O Israel, I will not forget you”

IMG_0175It is very striking to read in the Book of Isaiah of God’s love for the people of Israel. From chapter 40 onwards, the prophet Isaiah looks far ahead to the time when he knows the Israelites will be exiled to Babylon. He addresses those future exiled Israelites. His aim is to persuade them to keep trusting in their God despite the catastrophic events they have experienced. The three main points he makes are that God is powerful to save them (40:25-31), he has plans to save them (44:23-28; 53:1-12), and he is passionate about saving them (44:21; 49:15-16). This last point is expressed in the most emotional language possible:

O Israel, I will not forget you. … Can a mother forget the baby at her breast, or have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.

In that quotation God is speaking to rebellious Jewish exiles. It’s impossible to read it without asking whether God still feels the same about unsaved Jewish people today. We need to be careful before jumping to that conclusion. For a start, we’re not in the same period of salvation history. Added to that, the Bible does not always use the term “Israel” in the same way. But having taken those caveats into account, I see no reason why the quotation above shouldn’t apply to unsaved Jewish people now. As the Apostle Paul says, “I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! … They are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable (Romans 11:1; 28-29).”

This means that as God sees Jewish people eating challah bread on a Friday evening, and filling synagogues the following day, his heart cries out, “I will not forget you! I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.”

Someone might think that it’s unfair for God to have a particularly passionate concern for one race of people. But it’s rather like a Christian mother who desperately longs for her unbelieving son at college to hear the gospel. She would still be eager for all the other non-Christian students to hear the gospel, but without the same level of relational passion.

God’s special longing for the Jews to be reached with the gospel can be seen in Paul’s statement that the gospel is “first for the Jew, then for the Gentile” (Romans 1:16). I once heard a preacher interpret that verse as nothing more than a historical observation. He said that Paul was simply noting that the gospel came to the Jews first historically via Jesus. But that interpretation can’t be right. In Acts 13:46 we see Paul putting Romans 1:16 into practice as a missionary principle with ongoing application. He tells a group of hostile Jews, “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it … we now turn to the Gentiles.”

Most of the people reading this post will be Gentile believers. Praise God for extending his grace to all nations! How should you respond to God’s passionate love for the Jewish people? I have three suggestions. Share it. Christians should desire to be like God in every way. We should ask God to give us his heart towards Jewish people. Support the work. Hudson Taylor found the time, despite his focus on evangelizing China, to send an annual check to the Mildmay Mission to the Jews. He sent a note with the check saying, “To the Jew first.” I can warmly recommend Jews for Jesus, Chosen People Ministries, and Christian Witness to Israel, among other organizations. They are faithfully seeking to reach Jewish people with the gospel. Why not google them today? You could call one of them up and find out how you might support it. Step out boldly in faith and make contact with Jewish people. There may be some living in your area. You could find out by checking on the web to see where the nearest synagogue is. Perhaps you could arrange a debate about Jesus the Jew between your pastor and a local rabbi. There are great riches to be found in this endeavor—see Romans 11:12, 15, and 24.

2 Comments

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2 responses to ““O Israel, I will not forget you”

  1. Suzy Andrews

    Dear Bernard….I’ve just read your article (2015) “From Liberal Judaism to Faith in Jesus” & had to smile at your penultimate sentence “Jonathan, the man who preached the good news to me, has beautiful feet.” That’s because I once wrote to him, too: “has anyone told you recently you have beautiful feet?” – because he was also the one who led me to Jesus!

    From there I came to your blog; and from there to this article.

    That’s along preamble to my question – something I can’t quite follow – and need some help! Where you dismiss “that the gospel came to the Jews first historically via Jesus. But that interpretation can’t be right. In Acts 13:46 we see Paul putting Romans 1:16 into practice as a missionary principle with ongoing application. He tells a group of hostile Jews, “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it … we now turn to the Gentiles.”

    When I read the above it seems as though Acts 13:46 does indeed put Ro 1:16 into practice – Paul went first to the Jews, and then to the Gentiles – but it doesn’t meant that he never goes to other Jews – as he indeed was living proof that Jewish people are so loved by God that whoever believes in Jesus has eternal life……But it doesn’t, at least to me, say that God has a SPECIAL longing for the Jewish people….maybe if I were Jewish I would feel differently? I found your analogy helpful: “But it’s rather like a Christian mother who desperately longs for her unbelieving son at college to hear the gospel. She would still be eager for all the other non-Christian students to hear the gospel, but without the same level of relational passion” – but then am wrestling with the analogy of ‘sonship’ – are we not children of God only when we are adopted (Eph 1:5)? Another question: does the mother’s love for her son mean that she will not accept him as a son unless he turns to Jesus? And does a mother love the adopted son who has accepted Jesus more than her own son who has not [yet] accepted Jesus? Or are these questions not my concern?

    “33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgements and how inscrutable his ways!

    34 “For who has known the mind of the Lord,
    or who has been his counsellor?” [Ro 11]

    Thank you, in advance – Suzy

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    • Dear Suzy,

      Thank you very much for engaging with my blog post.

      I think God’s special love for the Jewish people can be seen most clearly in Romans 11:28, which says they are “loved on account of the patriarchs [i.e. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob].” That’s not something that is said (or could be said) of the Gentiles. It’s a love that flows from God’s faithfulness.

      The analogy of a mother’s love for her child is found in Isaiah 49:15: “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast, or have no compassion on the child she has borne?” In context, that is God’s own illustration of the strength of his love for Israel. As always with analogies, it doesn’t match up in every way to the reality being illustrated. You’re right to say that someone (whether Jewish or Gentile) is only a child of God in the fullest sense when adopted into his family through faith in Jesus.

      It’s good to meet someone else who heard the gospel thanks to the same pair of beautiful feet!

      Warmly yours in our Messiah,
      Bernard

      Like

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