WAS ABRAHAM A JEW OR AN ISRAELITE?
In the Old Testament we find the word “Jew” or “Jews” occurs 82 times. The word is found in the Book of Esther 53 times. It is in this Book that the word “Jew”, in the singular, is used, for the first time in the Bible, in the year 519 B.C. So the word “Jew”, in the singular, occurs for the first time 1400 years after the call of Abram.
The plural, “Jews”, occurs for the first time in II Kings 16:6 in the year 739 B.C., or nearly 1200 years after the call of Abram. The Hebrew word is “Yehuwdiy”. The name “Jew” is not applied to the ten tribes. Concerning them we read in II Kings 23:27, “I have removed Israel.” Originally the word “Jew” meant a descendant of Judah who was the son of Israel. So the Hebrew word means a Judahite.
It is interesting to note that although Isaiah was Jehovah’s prophet to Judah he mentioned Israel 92 times. He did not use the word “Jew” even once, except as he referred to their language in Isaiah 36:11 and 13. It is also interesting to note that although David was of the Tribe of Judah, he never used the word “Jew” in the Psalms that he wrote. The word “Israel” is found 62 times in the Psalms.
It is also interesting to note in Esther 2:5 that Mordecai is called a Jew; although in that same verse it is recorded that he descended from Benjamin. This same information is given us concerning Saul of Tarsus or Paul the Apostle. In Acts 21:39 and 22:3 Paul said, “I am a Jew”. In Philippians 3:5 he said, “of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews.” In Romans 11:1 and II Corinthians 11:22 he says, “I am an Israelite”. So then we learn that Saul of Tarsus was of the tribe of Benjamin; that he was a Hebrew; that he was a Jew; that he was an Israelite. Benjamin was associated with Judah after the Kingdom of Israel was divided.
As we turn to the New Testament Scriptures we learn that the word “Jew” in the singular and in the plural is used 193 times. It is very interesting to note that in the synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke, the word is used only 16 times; while in John’s Gospel the word “Jew” occurs 70 times. In the Book of Acts the word occurs 79 times. The word “Israel” occurs in the Old Testament Scriptures 2494 times. In the New Testament Scriptures the word “Israel” occurs 74 times; “Israelite” 4 times. The first occurrence of the expression “children of Israel” is found in Genesis 36:31 and there referred to the first descendants of Jacob, rather than to the Nation Israel. We have more of the history of the birth of that Nation in the Book of Exodus. In that Book, as well as in other Books that make up the Pentateuch, God’s people are not called “Jews”. In the Book of Exodus, before the Law was given, they are called “the children of Israel” 62 times. After the Law was given, 39 times. After the Book of Exodus they were called by that name for many centuries.
In the New Testament Scriptures we learn that “Israel” and “Jews” are used interchangeably. Nicodemus was a ruler of the Jews. John 3:1. Christ called Nicodemus “A master of Israel”. John 3:10. We learn that Christ was called “the King of Israel”, in Matthew 27:42, Mark 15:32, John 1:49 and John 12:13. According to Matthew 2:2, Christ was born King of the Jews; and in that same chapter, the sixth verse, he had come to rule Israel. When He was crucified, the superscription placed above His head was “King of the Jews”.
According to Luke 1:16, John the Baptist was to turn many of the children of Israel to Christ. At that time Simeon was waiting for the consolation of Israel. Luke 2:25. Associated with him in the religion of the Jews was a woman of the tribe of Asher. Luke 1:36. Christ was a Jew but He was sent to Israel. Matthew 15:24.
After the resurrection of Christ, His own disciples trusted that He would have redeemed Israel; and several days later asked the question, “Wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” Luke 24:21 to 24. Acts 1:6. They did not ask if He would restore the kingdom to the Jews; although according to Acts 10:28 and Galatians 2:14, Peter was a Jew. On the Day of Pentecost Peter addressed the Jews first, as “ye men of Judea”; and then, as “ye men of Israel”. Acts 2:5, Acts 2:14 and Acts 2:22. Peter and his associates were Galileans. Acts 2:7. Compare Acts 2:36 with I Thessalonians 2:15.
In Paul’s ministry, recorded in the Book of Acts, we learn of the opposition from the Jews and the judgments which he pronounced upon them. But when we turn to Romans 11:7, he referred to them as “Israel”, and declares in Romans 11:26, “all Israel shall be saved”. This is to be because the gifts and calling of God are without repentance and for the fathers’ sakes. Romans 11:28 and 29. God’s gifts and calling to the fathers was for the whole house of Israel, the twelve tribes. According to Matthew 19:28, the twelve apostles in the coming Kingdom age are to judge the twelve tribes. According to Hebrews 8:9 to 11, the whole house of Israel is to be saved under the New Covenant. Read Acts 26:7.
In Romans 9:4 the question is, “Who are Israelites?” To them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the law, the fathers, and Christ. The same thought is expressed; in Romans 3:1 in the question, “What advantage then hath the Jews?” The oracles of God were committed to them. The oracles of God were committed to all Israel. So we see that Israel and the Jew are used interchangeably. The “land of the Jews” us also called the “land of Israel”. Matthew 2:20 and Acts 10:39. Paul was sent to the children of Israel. Acts 9:25. But he became a Jew to the Jews. I Corinthians 9:20.
Thus we see the word, “Jew” refers not only to the descendants of Judah, but to the Israelites and proselytes who practiced the Jews’ religion. Even the Persian Gentiles in the days of Esther became Jews. Esther 8:17. And the proselytes of Acts 2:10 were devout Jews. Acts 2:5. This age is divided into “Jews, Gentiles and the Church of God.” I Corinthians 10:32. After the birth of the Nation Israel and until Pentecost, there were Jews and Gentiles. Before the birth of the Nation Israel and until Pentecost, there were Jews and Gentiles. Before the birth of the Nation Israel there was neither the Jew nor the Church of God. The Hebrew word translated “Gentile” is also translated “heathen” and “nation”.
Abram was a Hebrew according to Genesis 14:13. His grandson was Israel. His great grandson was Judah. Judah came from Israel. Both Judah and Israel came from Abraham. It is in this sense only that Abraham could be called either a Jew or an Israelite. Therefore strictly speaking, Abraham was not a Jew. Jacob was not a Jew. If we say that Judah was a Jew we could not say that his eleven brothers were Jews.
THE NATION ISRAEL
Abraham was 75 years old when God made His gracious promises to him. Genesis 12:4. In II Chronicles 20:7, Isaiah 41:8 and James 2:23 Abraham is called “the friend of God.”
“BY FAITH ABRAHAM, WHEN HE WAS CALLED TO GO OUT INTO A PLACE WHICH HE SHOULD AFTER RECEIVE FOR AN INHERITANCE OBEYED; AND HE WENT OUT, NOT KNOWING WHITHER HE WENT.” Hebrews 11:8.
“FOR WHEN GOD MADE PROMISE TO ABRAHAM, BECAUSE HE COULD SWEAR BY NO GREATER, HE SWEAR BY HIMSELF.” Hebrews 6:13. “BUT WHEN THE TIME OF THE PROMISE DREW NIGH, WHICH GOD HAD SWORN TO ABRAHAM, THE PEOPLE GREW AND MULTIPLIED IN EGYPT.” Acts 7:17.
Because of the oath which God “sware to our father Abraham” Israel shall be “saved from our enemies,” and from the “hand of all that hate us.” Luke 1:71 to 73.
“ART THOU OUR GOD, WHO DIDST DRIVE OUT THE INHABITANTS OF THIS LAND BEFORE THY PEOPLE ISRAEL, AND GAVEST IT TO THE SEED OF ABRAHAM THY FRIEND FOREVER?” II Chronicles 20:7.
Read also Isaiah 41:8 to 14.
God made His covenant with Abraham 430 years before He made His Law covenant with Israel, through Moses, at Sinai. Galatians 3:17. The Law contract was made about 1490 B.C. The promises were made to Abram about 1920 B.C. or about 2080 A.H.
The Seed promised to Abraham was Christ, of whom Isaac was the type. Galatians 3:16. Isaac was the child of promise and a type of the child of God saved by grace. Galatians 4:28 and 31.
The record of God’s covenant with Abram, restated after his name was changed; to Abraham, when he was circumcised at the age of 99, is in Genesis 12 to 21. The record of the oath confirming the covenant is in Genesis 22:1 to 15. It was to that oath that James referred when he wrote that Abraham was justified by works. James 2:21. In Romans 4:1 to 6, Paul referred to the covenant of promise. When Abram believed God, he was reckoned righteous. Genesis 15:6. Romans 4:3. Galatians 3:6. Abraham was just as righteous before God during the 40 years before he had offered Isaac as “when he had offered Isaac.” He showed his faith by his works.
Now, we turn to Genesis and gather some information concerning God’s dealings with Abram and His promise which He confirmed with an oath.
THE ABRAHAMIC COVENANT
“Now the Lords has said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will show thee;
“And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing:
“And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse them that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” Genesis 12:1 to 3.
“And the Lord appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto thee Lord, Who appeared unto him.” Genesis 12:7.
“For all the land which thou seest to thee will I give it, and to thy seed forever. “And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth; so that If a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered.” Genesis 13:14 to 16.
“And he brought him forth abroad, and said Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and He said unto him, So shall thy seed be.” Genesis 15:1 and 5 “Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee.
“And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee.
“And I will establish My covenant between Me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee” Genesis 17:1 to 7.
“AND I WILL GIVE UNTO THEE, AND TO THY SEED AFTER THEE, THE LAND WHEREIN THOU ART A STRANGER, ALL THE LAND OF CANAAN; FOR AN EVERLASTING POSSESSION; AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD.” Genesis 17:8.
“And Abraham was ninety years old and nine, when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin.” Genesis 17:24.
“And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac being eight days old, as God had commanded him.” Genesis 21:4.
“And Abraham was an hundred years old, when his son Isaac was born unto him.” Genesis 21:5.
“By Myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son:
“That in blessing, I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies;
“And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed My voice.” Genesis 22:16 to 18.
God made several promises in His covenant with Abraham
1—I will show thee the land.
2—I will bless.
3—I will curse.
4—I will make of thee a great nation.
5—I will give to thy seed, the land of Canaan.
6—In thy seed shall all families of the earth be blessed.
Four hundred and thirty years before Moses, under the hand of Jehovah, led Israel up out of Egypt God said:
“AND HE SAID UNTO ABRAM, KNOW OF A SURETY THAT THY SEED SHALL BE A STRANGER IN A LAND THAT IS NOT THEIRS, AND SHALL SERVE THEM; AND THEY SHALL AFFLICT THEM FOUR HUNDRED YEARS;
“AND ALSO THAT NATION, WHOM THEY SHALL SERVE, WILL I JUDGE; AND AFTERWARD SHALL THEY COME OUT WITH GREAT SUBSTANCE.” Geneses 15:13 and 14.
Abram was 86 years old when Hagar bare Ishmael to Abram. Genesis 16:16. In Genesis 17:20, God promised to Ishmael a great nation; that twelve princes would come from him. Ishmael means “The Lord will hear”. He was born after the flesh, of the bondwoman. Galatians 4:23. Hagar and Ishmael, in the allegory, stand for the old covenant.
ISAAC AND ISRAEL
Isaac, the son of the free woman, was by promise. Galatians 4:23. Isaac means “laughter”. He was born about 2183 A.H. In Genesis 24 and 25 we have the record of Isaac’s marriage to Rebecca and the birth of Jacob and Esau. Jacob means “Cheater” or “Supplanter”. Jacob’s brother was Esau, also Edom, which means “Red”.
In Genesis 29 and 30, we have the record, of Jacob’s marriage to Rachel and Leah, the daughters of Laban, whom Jacob served. In addition to the children born unto Jacob, by Rachel and Leah, other sons were born unto him by Bilhah and Zilpah. The names of Jacob’s twelve sons were as follows Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Benjamin, Joseph, Dan, Naphtali, Gad and Asher. Exodus 1:2.
“AND ALL THE SOULS THAT CAME OUT OF THE LOINS OF JACOB WERE SEVENTY SOULS, FOR JQSEPH WAS IN EGYPT ALREADY.” Exodus 1:5.
The name “Jacob” occurs 346 times in the Old Testament and 25 times in the New Testament Scriptures.
The record of God’s dealing with Jacob at Bethel, which means “the house of God”, is recorded in Genesis 28:12 to 22; a very interesting and significant story. The ladder of the vision was a type of the Son of man. John 1:51. It was at Bethel that God renewed the Covenant He had made with Abraham and Isaac. The dealings of God with Jacob at Peniel are recorded in Genesis 32:24 to 32. Peniel means “the face of God”. It was there that God changed the name of Jacob to Israel; meaning “power with God”. After the wrestling which took place there the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was touched in the sinew that shrank.
In Genesis 46:2 to 27 we find the record of Jacob and his sons locating in Egypt. “All the souls that came into Egypt were seventy.”
There are few stories in the Bible as interesting as the story of Joseph, the favored son of Israel, who was sold by his brethren and who was carried away to Egypt, to become the saviour of the world. Surely Joseph was a type of the Lord Jesus, Israel’s Messiah.
The final words and death of Jacob are recorded in Genesis 47:27 to 31. He died at the age of 147 years. Joseph died at the age of 110 years. Genesis 50:26.
Now we turn to Exodus 12:37 and learn that about 600,000 Israelites came up out of Egypt about 1490 B.C. This was beside children and women.
According to God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 15:13 and 14, these Israelites spoiled the Egyptians. Exodus 12:36. And, “the sojourneying of the children of Israel who dwelt in Egypt was 430 years.” Exodus 12:40 to 41. They were delivered from Egypt and Pharaoh, because of God’s covenant with Abraham, Isaac and; Jacob. Exodus 2:24 and 25. The children of Israel were saved from destruction in the wilderness because of God’s covenant with these fathers. Exodus 32:13 and 14. References are made to this Covenant in Leviticus 26:42, Deuteronomy 9:27, Deuteronomy 30:20, II Kings 13:23, Psalm 105:9 and 42, Isaiah 41:5 to 12, Isaiah 51:2 and 3, Isaiah 63:15 and 16, Micah 7:20.
Because of God’s oath-supported covenant given to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob we behold, today His miraculous preservation of the Jews. They number about 17,000,000, or a little more than one per cent of the inhabitants of the world. We still speak of the Jews as a nation, although they are now scattered among several hundred nations. And the land which God gave to them is being trodden down of the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled. Luke 21:24. Then all Israel shall be saved and their land and the kingdom restored to them; for the fathers’ sake. And this is to be in accordance with another covenant which God made with David. II Samuel 7:12 to 20, Romans 11:25 to 30.
The story is told in Ezekiel 36, 37 and 38.
For more articles by Pastor J. C. O'Hair, visit the J. C. O'Hair Online Library.