Derek Prince - God Decides Who Are His People
Now we’re going to continue with the next section which begins at verse 6 and continues through verse 13. And the heading that I’ve chosen for this section is God’s Choice Determines Who Are His People. Here we are now dealing with the sovereignty of God and the calling of God. Here is where it is brought out more vividly than in any other passage of the Bible. And two examples are given from the early history of Israel to emphasize that it’s not our decision that really matters but it’s God’s decision. Let me put this to your personally in the meanwhile. You are not a Christian because you decided to be a Christian—primarily. You’re a Christian because Jesus chose you. If Jesus had never chosen you, you could never had made the choice. The initiative does not come from you, but from the Lord. You have the privilege of responding but you do not take the initiative.
And this is what Paul is emphasizing. That’s why these lessons are so important for us as Christians today, because the same principles that were worked out with the history of the Jewish people are likewise worked out in our lives. So now let’s look at what Paul says. He takes two examples where God made a choice in the descendants of Abraham and in each case, in a certain sense, it was, let me say, an unnatural choice. But it was God’s choice that determined history. So he says in Romans 9:6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. That is, the word of god that came to Israel. You might say Israel failed. In a certain sense, that’s true, although not totally true. But God’s word didn’t fail. It accomplished His purpose. And then he says: For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel.
That’s very important that we understand that. What he’s saying is not all people who are Israelites by natural birth are accepted as Israel by God. This is an exceptional use of the word Israel. But we have to deal with it because it’s right here. In two cases, in this and the next case, Paul says, God didn’t include all who might have been included, but he separated out sons to whom he gave the title. Rather than try and explain it, we’ll go into the example. neither are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants And then he quotes the words that God spoke to Abraham about the son whom he promised: THROUGH ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS WILL BE NAMED [or your seed will be named]
So what he’s saying is Abraham had two sons, Ishmael and Isaac. Ishmael by Hagar, Isaac by Sarah. But the only one that’s counted as descendants of Abraham in this senseare, other ones descended from Isaac. So, out of the two, God excluded the older and chose the younger. And always in this passage, God is reducing the number, not extending the number. There’s no suggesting here that God gives the name Israel to us as Christians. That’s not even near what God is saying. What God is saying is He reduces the number of people to whom the word Israel applies, who are recognized as Abraham’s descendants. The descendants of Ishmael in that sense are excluded and only the descendants of Isaac are included. Do you see that? I hope you do.
But that’s not the end, because we go to the next generation and we go to Isaac’s wife Rebekah. Rebekah became pregnant with twins that were struggling together in her womb. And when she went to the Lord in prayer, the Lord told her, You’ve got two different kinds of nations in your womb. And, He said, one will be stronger than the other and the younger will serve the older. Again, that’s contrary to the normal tradition of the Middle East where the older is the senior son with the preeminence. But, not so. See, twice God excluded the older and chose the younger. And now we see here’s where Paul does everything he can to emphasize it didn’t depend on anything that Esau or Jacob had done. Because, before they were actually born, while they were still in their mother’s womb, God said, I reject Esau and I choose Jacob.
See what Paul is emphasizing here? Most of you are not used to this emphasis. It is that it really depends on God’s choice. I wish you could see your faces. I knew we were going to be somewhat controversial at this point, but the controversy is not mine, it’s God’s. I raised the question earlier, I want to raise it again. Do you trust God to make the right choice? Do you or don’t you? Lots of people don’t. It’s a personal decision and each of us has to make that decision. I’ve known the Lord almost 50 years and I really have come to see by experience His choices are right. I didn’t always agree with some of them but I do now. He knows what He’s doing.
Let’s read now and you’ll see this. Verse 8: That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants. It isn’t merely fleshly descent by natural inheritance that makes Israel. Let’s keep our fingers in Romans chapter 9 and turn for a moment to 1 Peter chapter 1 1 Peter chapter 1 verse 23: Speaking to us as born again Christians, Peter says: For you have been born again [I hope that’s true of each one of us], you have been born again not of seed which is perishable [not of natural seed], but imperishable; that is, through the living and abiding word of God.
So what is the generative seed that makes us God’s people? What is the seed? God’s word, that’s right. This principle goes back right into the history of the patriarchs. Because, it wasn’t natural descent that determined the ones that were to be accepted by God as His people, but the embracing of the promise of God’s word. You see? What was the seed? It was the word of God. So, to be a true Israelite, you have to first of all be descended from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. That was part of it but it was not sufficient. You also had to have the seed of God’s word received by faith in your heart to make you really part of God’s chosen people. Go back to Romans 9 and read verse 8 with me again: That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God [not by natural descent only], but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants. The promise is the word of God.
And then he says: For this is a word of promise [the word which the Lord spoke to Abraham], AT THIS TIME I WILL COME, AND SARAH SHALL HAVE A SON. So that’s the first example of the promise being the generative seed. So, within all those descended from Abraham, only those are considered the people of God who have received the promise of God by faith in their hearts. That’s what makes them truly God’s people. And then we take this second example which is even more remarkable, verse 10: And not only this, but there was Rebekah also when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac [they both had the same father]; for though the twins were not yet born, and had not done anything good or bad, in order that God’s purpose according to His choice might stand, not because of works, but because of Him who calls, it was said to her, THE OLDER WILL SERVE THE YOUNGER. Esau will serve Jacob.
Look at the way Paul absolutely uses every resource of language to emphasize it was God’s choice that was decisive. I have to say that this is a very difficult truth for people to accept in our contemporary western civilization. Because, everything in our civilization has been permeated by the influence of humanism. Much more has the church been permeated by humanism than most of you realize. And so we really have the attitude, God, if you’re going to do that, you better give an account to me. The Bible says God doesn’t give an account of anything He does. He does'nt. Remember what sovereignty is? God does what He wants, when He wants, the way He wants, and He doesn’t ask our permission.
And so, to demonstrate this with the utmost clarity, God took the case of two twins in a woman’s womb, both had the same father, and before they were born, before they had any opportunity to do anything good or bad, He said, The one I’m choosing is the younger, Jacob. And I’m rejecting the older, Esau. And incidentally, I’d like to say if you follow the life of them for awhile, by contemporary standards, Esau was the good guy, Jacob was the heel. You know what his name means? It means a heel. Because he caught his brother by the heel. that's why. I mean, it just happens that contemporary slang is exactly appropriate. By our contemporary standards, Esau did not nobody any harm. Whereas, Jacob, I mean, he chiseled him. I mean, the things that Jacob did we would frown on today. I’m not saying God endorsed them, I’m saying God doesn’t choose the people we might choose. That’s why some of us got chosen!
Let me say, I mean, if I’d been God, I would have never chosen me. I was away from Cambridge University for about six years, and in the meanwhile I became a born again Christian in the British Army. When I got back I began to tell some of my former associates what had happened to me, their attitude was, Anybody but you. They couldn’t believe it had happened to me. I’m glad the choice wasn’t left to them. I’m glad the choice wasn’t left to me because I’d have to say, if I’d been God, I don’t think I would have ever taken the risk He took when He chose me. I want to ask you, do you really trust God to make the right choice? You’re probably here because God made that choice. But the thing about it is that we tend to believe God made the right choice with me but some other people, well, I wouldn’t have chosen them!
All right, we’re going on here. We’re now in verse 13. Just as it is written, JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED. That’s quoted from the last prophet of the Old Testament, Malachi. And it begins the book of Malachi. God tells Israel, I’ve loved you. He says, Esau, I hate you. That’s another thing to ponder. God is a good hater as well as a good lover. Really, in a way, you can’t love if you’re not also prepared to hate. The Bible says, Ye that love the Lord hate evil. Your capacity to love probably determines your capacity to hate. You’ve got to be sure you’re loving the right thing and hating the wrong thing. Anyhow, God is capable of hatred in certain respects.
Now we’re going to go into an area that is not easy, but it’s essential because you really can’t understand these chapters unless something is cleared up. And that is who in the New Testament is called Israel? And I say this because there’s a very widespread teaching today that Israel is no longer Israel, the church is now Israel. There’s hardly a person here that’s not been exposed to that teaching. Let me say for me the New Testament is the last authoritative word of God. First the Old Testament, then the New. Since that time there have been church traditions, there’s been theology, there’s been many different opinions held, but for me the ultimate, final authoritative deciding factor is what does the New Testament say?
I’m not opposed to church traditions if they’re scriptural, they can be helpful. But if they are contrary to Scripture, I myself do not accept them. And so, we have to face this question: To whom does the New Testament give the title Israel? Has the New Testament withdrawn the title from historical Israel, the Jewish people? And, has the New Testament now given the title to the church? I believe there can be two answers to that question. One is right and one is wrong. The problem for most people is that it demands work. A lot of people would rather take their religion the easy way and live by somebody else’s conclusions and not search the truth out for themselves. You’ve heard the definition of prejudice, I’m sure. Don’t confuse me with the facts, my mind is made up. Well, I’m going to do my best to confuse you with the facts. I’m going to do my best as far as I’m capable to confront you with objective statements from the Bible, and principally from the New Testament.
Now, to do this I worked through the entire New Testament and checked every passage where the words Israel or Israelite are used. And for your benefit, they’re contained in an appendix in your outline, beginning on Page 36. Now, we cannot spend the time involved in going through every reference. But they’re there so you can check on me in your own time if you wish to, and say, Did Brother Prince say the right thing or did he say something wrong? I’ll just give you a sort of summation. The word Israel or Israelite and they’re interchangeable those words are used 74 times in the New Testament. 70 times, to the best of my ability to understand, there is no possibility they could be applied to the church. In fact, in many passages they’re applied in a sense that distinguishes Israel from the church.
Now I’m aware that we’re dealing with a kind of tradition which is hard to unthink. I remember when I first started to study the Bible, I read it in the 16:11 King James Version which is such a beautiful version, I love today. But, the version had a lot of things in it that weren’t the Bible. There were a lot of headings which were not part of the Bible which were put in. And whenever I was reading through the promises of God to Israel in Isaiah the prophet, the heading would say, God’s Gracious Promises to the Church. You see, it was subliminal. I was being brainwashed without realizing what was going on. So you have Many of you have a background like that, you’ve got to be prepared to unthink some things you thought a long while. So, there are 74 occurrences, 70, as I understand it, and you can look through them personally. I hope you’ll do so. 70 out of 74 could not possibly be applied to the church. That leaves about 5 percent that could.
Now, in any case of translating or interpreting, if a certain usage is as small as 5 percent, then you have to have very strong external objective reasons for accepting that usage. Understand what I’m saying? Out of those 70 passages, 9 are direct quotations from the Old Testament and in every one of them Israel has precisely the same meaning in the New Testament as it had in the Old. So, we’re left with about 4 which could possibly be interpreted some other way. I say possibly because I don’t believe any of them should be.
In other words, I want to say categorically I don’t believe that Israel is ever used in the New Testament as a title for the church. I am sure that some of you have probably never heard that statement before. I don’t want you to receive it because I say it, but I advise you to research it for yourself. And I’ve made it possible for you to do that with a minimum of effort because I’ve listed every single case. Where the passage is a quotation from the Old Testament, it’s marked with an asterisk. And where there is some possibility of understanding it another way, I’ve put a question. So, I’ve bent over backwards not to influence you by my thinking.
Now There are two passages, one of which we’ve already looked at. Going back in Romans 9, Paul says in verse 6: They are not all Israel who are descended from Israel. Let me put it around Not all who are descended from Israel are Israel He is not talking about people not descended from Israel. As I already pointed out, what he is saying is some of those who are descended from Israel are not accepted by God as His people. He is not extending the use of Israel, he’s reducing the use of Israel. Did you get that? I want to say it again He is not extending the use of Israel, he’s reducing it. What he’s saying is some people who would be called Israel really don’t qualify. But this is a very rare use, it’s not the normal use. It's not the normal use.
And then in Galatians 6 verse 16 Galatians 6: 16 We have a phrase which has, I think, confused many. Verses 15–16: For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them and upon the Israel of God. There we have the phrase the Israel of God. Most people today in the English section of the world, interpret the Israel of God as the church. I think that’s a mistake. I think Paul is talking about two different categories of people. He’s talking about Gentiles who’ve come into a relationship with God by becoming a new creation, Gentiles who previously had no relationship with God at all. And, he’s talking about Israel, who has a history of 15 centuries at least, who have been completed by their relationship to the Messiah, and have thus become the Israel of God.
In this sense Paul is applying the word Israel only to those Israelites or Jewish people who are not merely Israelite by birth but have also received the seed of the promise of God’s word and experienced new birth in Christ. This is not the normal use of Israel, but it’s Paul’s use here in Galatians 6:16. The Israel of God are those who are both Israelites by natural descent and have received the word of promise of the Messiah, and through their faith have acknowledged and received Jesus as Messiah.
Now the difference is this: That the Gentiles are an unplowed field. God had never dealt with them in this way. So there was a new creation, they simply stepped out of the old into the new. Whereas Israel, or the Jewish people, was a people with whom God had been dealing with 14 or 15 centuries and they already had some kind of a relationship with God which only had to be completed by the acknowledgment of the Messiah. You see, in Isaiah 43:21, Isaiah 43:21 speaking about Israel Isaiah 43:21 The LORD says, This people I formed for myself; they will declare my praise. The word formed is the word that’s used of a potter molding a vessel.
Israel has been molding Israel... I mean, sorry: God had been molding Israel for 15 centuries. It was a people that He had already formed for Himself, they needed to be completed by the acknowledgment of Messiah. On the other hand, if they failed to acknowledge their Messiah, as Paul says in Romans 11, they were broken off. And then in Romans 15, a little further on in Romans but we’ll have to go ahead just for a moment, Romans 15 verse 8 and 9, Paul says: For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision [that’s the Jewish people, you understand] on behalf of the truth of God, to confirm the promises given the fathers.
It was not something new, they had the promises for many centuries. To them Jesus was a servant to confirm the promises they already knew and were expecting to see fulfilled. Then Paul goes on in the next verse, verse 9: And for the Gentiles, to glorify God for His mercy. I hope you can see the difference. The Jewish people had many promises already given to them which had to be fulfilled. The Gentiles had no promises, they didn’t depend on God’s faithfulness to fulfill a promise, they only depended on God’s mercy.
Can you see the difference? That’s why there’s a difference between those who merely come into the new creation out of nothing spiritually and those who’ve been completed because they already had received the promises. I can’t spend more time on that, I don’t really know whether I’ve succeeded but at least I’ve given you something to think about.
Now, there’s another passage that we need to look at in Romans chapter 2 verse 28 and 29. This speaks about the one who is a true Jew. And again, this is extremely controversial. I have read an article by a Christian theologian in which he said we’re all Jews. I thought to myself, Dear Lord, is it possible that anybody can really believe that? But he did. And this passage is what he based his statement on. Romans 2: 28-29. For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, neither is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is that which is in the heart by the Spirit, and not by the letter; and his praise is not from men but from God.
Again, it’s not extending the use of Jew, it’s restricting the use of Jew. What Paul is saying, it’s not sufficient merely to be a Jew, outwardly merely to have natural descent, merely to have physical circumcision. That’s not sufficient, it has to be the circumcision of the heart, it has to be something inside you which receives God’s praise. So again, it’s restrictive, not extensive. Have I communicated that? I hope I have. Some of you will have to think this over. It may come to you... I was teaching about this once years ago, and a young man stood up at the next meeting and he said, I got it at 5 a.m. this morning. He said, I suddenly saw what he was trying to say.
You see, Jesus Himself set the pattern for this in John 1:47 Jesus saw Nathaniel coming to him, and said of him, Behold, a true Israelite in whom is no guile. Nathaniel was a true Israelite because he not merely was an Israelite by natural descent, but he had the inner attitude of heart which God requires. Do you understand? So, the Israel of God, or the true Israelite, is not somebody who is a Gentile that has come to Christ, but it’s a Jew or an Israelite who has been completed out of all his background in the promises of God extending over many centuries. So, I just hope that covers it. We’ll look at one other example rather quickly, 1 Corinthians 10:18. I’m really weakening my hand, in a way, because I’m taking all the difficult cases, you understand, and not looking at the ones that are open and shut, where there’s no possibility of any other interpretation.
1 Corinthians 10:18, Paul says: Look at the nation Israel. Are not those who eat the sacrifices sharers in the altar? Now here is a beautiful example of prejudice. Unintentional prejudice on the part of the translators. Because, in my margin it gives the literal translation. Look at Israel according to the flesh. And this is translated Look at the nation Israel. But you see, that is not an accurate translation. Let me point out that this book was not translated by the man who translated Romans. See what I’m saying? What is Paul saying when he says, Look at Israel according to the flesh? Look at those who are only Israelites by natural descent, but do not fulfill the inner conditions of heart.
And the reason is clear because they've gone into the idolatry. So they were still Israelites by natural descent but they certainly were not accepted by God because of their inner condition of heart. I think we’ll have to pause there because if I go into the next issue, it will take us too long. So, let me just point out to you what I’m saying, that normally, Israel in the New Testament means precisely the same as Israel in the Old Testament. But, there are a few passages, maybe two or three, where Paul uses Israel in a restrictive sense, meaning people who fulfill two qualifications. Number one, they’re Israelites by natural descent. Number two, they fulfill the inner requirements in the heart which God looks for to make them truly his people.