Herbert W. Armstrong made a point that most students of the Bible probably never realized until he wrote about it: that other individuals and nations are only mentioned in the Bible when they come into contact with Israel. This fact is revealed throughout the Bible, from the stunningly accurate historical record to the dozens of bold, specific prophecies that comprise a third of the Bible.
Why would God put so much focus on Israel? Is Israel His favorite, or somehow superior to all other nations?
Israel was God’s chosen people, but not because God plays favorites. The reason God chose Israel is relevant not just to Israel, but to every human who has ever lived!
It’s time to get a pencil and paper to write out the following scripture study. Discover the astounding vision of your future in the history and prophecy of Israel.
One Man’s Obedience
1. What did Abram do when God commanded him to leave his home? Genesis 12:1, 4.
The nation of Israel started with one obedient man: Abraham. What a contrast to Satan’s world starting with one rebellious man: Adam. Abraham, known as Abram until his conversion, simply obeyed without hesitation when God told him to uproot his entire life. God was testing Abram to see if he would be willing to leave Mesopotamia, the prosperous hub of civilization at the time. Abram proved to God that he could be used as the patriarch of God’s chosen nation.
2. What was the dual promise that God made to Abram, conditional upon his obedience? Verses 2-3.
In Chapter 5 of Mystery of the Ages, titled “Mystery of Israel,” Mr. Armstrong called this two-pronged promise one of race and grace. The race portion is in verse 2: “And I will make of thee a great nation ….” The grace portion is in verse 3: “… and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” Race is physical; grace is spiritual.
The promise of grace refers to Abraham’s line of descendants leading directly to the birth of Jesus Christ and eventually to the salvation of all mankind through Him. But the promise of race is the subject of this study.
3. When God said He would cause a great nation to grow from Abraham, was He actually talking about many nations? Genesis 17:2-5.
This passage is referencing the promise of race, not the promise of grace, as shown by the phrase “multiply thee exceedingly” in verse 2. In other words, Abraham would have many physical descendants as part of God’s promise of race.
4. Did this promise also include nations and kings? Verse 6.
This passage also calls Abraham “a father of many nations.” It says Abraham’s physical line would produce kings. As Mr. Armstrong pointed out, the promise of race foretells the future of great nations—all of them descended from the one nation of ancient Israel, to which God gave the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai 430 years after God confirmed the covenant with Abraham.
Again, the promise of race is physical—it is not about salvation and eternal life (although there is a parallel). The most blessed nations of all time are descended from Abraham. They are blessed only because of one man’s obedience, and God fulfilling this promise He made to him.
But why? If the promise of race is separate from the ultimate spiritual aim of eternal life in God’s Family, then why did God make this promise at all? And what does this promise have to do with you?
Tracking the Tribes
1. Abraham’s son Isaac had a son named Jacob. What was his name changed to? Genesis 32:24-28.
After an all-night wrestling match with the God Being who later became Jesus Christ, Jacob’s name was changed to Israel. Israel had 12 sons. Because of his firstborn Reuben’s sin, the birthright instead passed through the line of Jacob’s second wife, Rachel (1 Chronicles 5:1-2). Jacob, then called Israel, gave the birthright blessing to Ephraim and Manasseh, the sons of Joseph, who was Rachel’s firstborn.
2. Though Manasseh was the eldest, God guided Israel to give the greater blessing to Ephraim. How was Ephraim’s blessing greater? Genesis 48:19.
The descendants of Manasseh would eventually become the greatest nation in world history, but Ephraim’s descendants would grow into the most dominant empire ever, a conglomerate of many nations under one throne. Primarily, God’s promise of race to Abraham extended to Manasseh and Ephraim. However, all the other sons of Israel were also uniquely blessed (see Genesis 49).
3. During his lifetime, Joseph ascended from slave and prisoner to second-in-command over all Egypt. Because of that, what honor was given at his death? Genesis 50:26.
After his honorable burial, Joseph’s descendants multiplied rapidly.
4. After a while, did a new pharaoh come on the scene who did not know or respect Joseph? Exodus 1:8. What did he do to Joseph’s descendants? Verses 9-14.
After several generations of enslavement, God led Israel out of Egypt under Moses, then into the Promised Land under Joshua. In the Promised Land, God allotted exact plots of land to each of the Israelite tribes: Reuben, Simeon, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Issachar, Zebulun, Manasseh, Ephraim and Benjamin—10 sons and two grandsons of Israel. The Levites didn’t receive their own land because they served God and were provided for by the other 12 tribes.
5. Eventually, the nation of Israel became a kingdom. Whom did God raise up to be king after the rebellious Saul? 1 Samuel 16:11-13.
6. Which of David’s sons received the kingdom when he died? 1 Kings 1:30. When Solomon rebelled, did God give all but Judah and Benjamin to Jeroboam? 1 Kings 11:31-32.
Because of the sins of David’s son Solomon, the kingdom was fractured in two after Solomon died.
Ten tribes broke away from David’s throne and formed the new northern kingdom of Israel. Only Judah and Benjamin, along with some of the Levites, remained behind as the new southern kingdom of Judah.
7. Where is the first use of the word “Jews” in the Bible? 2 Kings 16:6.
Many people use the words “Israelites” and “Jews” interchangeably. But the first time the term “Jews” is ever used, the Israelites and the Jews are at war against each other!
For hundreds of years, these brotherly rivals lived side by side. Both Israel and Judah came from the original nation of Israel, so both peoples were considered Israelites. However, only citizens of Judah were ever referred to as Jews. All Jews are Israelites in the broader sense, but not all Israelites are Jews.
This is where most of the world is dreadfully deceived regarding the modern identities of ancient Israel and Judah. The Jews’ national homeland today is called Israel, even though the more accurate term would be Judah. The 10 tribes of Israel are lost—at least to most people in the world.
National Blessings Delayed
Remember, the race-related promises apply primarily to the descendants of Manasseh and Ephraim. To see these promises being fulfilled today, we must know where the lost 10 tribes of Israel went after being taken captive by Assyria from 721 to 718 b.c. Unlike the Jews, the Israelites never returned to the Promised Land after captivity.
In Leviticus 26, God qualified the promise of race He had made to Abraham. Abraham’s descendants absolutely would receive tremendous national blessings, but these blessings would be delayed for a specific amount of time if two particular conditions were not met.
1. Which two of the Ten Commandments served as a test to determine whether the Israelites could receive the blessings of Abraham in their lifetime? Leviticus 26:1-2.
God commanded the Israelites to avoid idolatry (Second Commandment) and to keep the Sabbath day holy (Fourth Commandment). Leviticus 26 is often dubbed the “blessings and curses” chapter. Part of the curses the Israelites would face if they failed God’s test was a delay in the receipt of the blessings of Abraham.
2. How long would the Israelites have to wait? Verse 18.
Mr. Armstrong described the day-for-a-year prophetic principle, which is applicable to this verse. God promised to punish Israel “seven times more for your sins.” Seven prophetic times means seven years. Historically, a year is counted as 360 days, so seven 360-day years adds up to 2,520 days. Converting each day into a year, 2,520 days becomes 2,520 years.
Since Israel was extracted from its land in fulfillment of this promised punishment in the years 721 b.c. to 718 b.c., add 2,520 years to those dates. From 721 b.c. to 1 b.c. is 720 years, so we need another 1,800 years to reach 2,520. Since there is no year zero between 1 b.c. and a.d. 1, 1,800 years from 1 b.c. is actually just the year 1800. The year 718 b.c. is three years after 721 b.c., so the new dates are 1800 to 1803.
Beginning in 1800 to 1803, the modern descendants of Manasseh and Ephraim suddenly became the recipients of the bountiful blessings of Abraham: land, wealth, innovation and resources. Mr. Armstrong explained these blessings in detail in his epic book The United States and Britain in Prophecy.
As you might have guessed from that title, the United States is Manasseh, a great nation, and Britain is Ephraim, a great company of nations. God kept His promises to Abraham, but national sins ensured these blessings only arrived 2,520 years after Israel was removed from its land—the exact amount of time God prophesied in Leviticus 26.
Imagine having that kind of God-level power—to not only boldly make a massive promise like this one, but to meticulously orchestrate world events to fulfill your promise at the exact time you had guaranteed!
Again, the question must be asked: What does all this have to do with you?
The world as a whole was cut off from God when Adam chose Satan’s way over God’s in the Garden of Eden. However, humans found some success at acquiring physical knowledge and understanding of the world around them. The dominant mentality of mankind was that they could solve all problems with the proper knowledge and resources. This self-reliant mindset completely excluded the possibility of looking to God for guidance and help. And this is exactly why God chose Israel.
God gave Israel every advantage of heredity and environment. This nation had a long line of forefathers who feared God, plus the inheritance of the blessings of Abraham. The environment was inspiring: Newly freed from Egyptian slavery, the Israelites witnessed daily miracles from God and received God’s perfect spiritual law at Mt. Sinai.
1. At Mt. Sinai, God made a marriage covenant with Israel. Did Israel pledge to uphold this binding agreement? Exodus 24:3, 7-8.
2. Despite saying they would obey God, how did the Israelites actually behave? Jeremiah 3:20.
Israel—and Judah, once the nation split in two—totally failed God. How could a nation so blessed and with so many advantages fail to follow God? The Israelites received God’s commandments, statutes and judgments. They were equipped with all the physical and spiritual knowledge necessary to succeed. If they couldn’t adequately obey God, who could?
As Mr. Armstrong wrote: “God let many generations of ancient Israel and Judah prove by hundreds of years of human experience, that the best of humanity, without God’s Holy Spirit cannot solve human problems and evils!” (Mystery of the Ages). Clearly, the Israelites still lacked a vital component to aid them in becoming truly obedient.
3. What is missing from the vast majority of human minds? 1 Corinthians 2:11.
Mr. Armstrong continued: “God could say: ‘I am God. Take my word for it.’ But God gave proof, through Israel, that without the Holy Spirit, man is helpless! They even had God to appeal to. But they did not have His Spirit within them.”
World problems and evils are spiritual in nature, meaning you can’t solve them without God’s help. For 6,000 years, humans have devised all kinds of plans to deal with war, violence, poverty, famine, weather disasters, abuse, addiction, mental illness, disease and the like, only to fail every time. A carnal mind can’t grasp the spiritual dimension of these problems.
4. As a young person in the Philadelphia Church of God, do you feel helpless without God’s Holy Spirit? You shouldn’t! Why? 1 Corinthians 7:14.
Baptized members of God’s one true Church are in one category; everyone in the world is in the other category. Actually, there’s just one more category, a special category, for you. You don’t possess God’s Holy Spirit yet, but God is still working with you. Jesus Christ doesn’t live in you, but He is with you.
Think about the world though. They are truly lost and helpless because they are separate from God! Even ancient Israel as a whole had no chance to fully obey God because the people didn’t have the Holy Spirit. Even if they had kept the letter of the law perfectly, which they didn’t, they couldn’t have kept the spirit of the law—surrendering every thought, word and desire to God’s will (2 Corinthians 10:5).
The Next Step
1. Why are so many stories about ancient Israel recorded in your Bible? 1 Corinthians 10:11.
Israel’s failure is a sobering example to anyone who will heed it. We need God’s Holy Spirit to succeed! And in the next step of God’s master plan, He has made this power available to His chosen people: His one true Church. What Israel lacked, we now possess (or will soon).
2. But what about the biblical heroes God used before the establishment of His Church? Ephesians 2:20.
How could the “prophets” and other men of God in the Old Testament have performed miracles and accomplished God’s Work without the power of God’s Holy Spirit? Certainly, God gave access to His Spirit to a select few special servants, whose contributions to God’s plan and written records in the Bible mean so much to us today. The legendary spiritual warriors of the Old Testament form part of the foundation of God’s one true Church!