Who Is the True Israel?

Look at the Book Live Seminar | Houston, Texas

Okay, let’s read Romans 9:6–8. Here’s the reason the word of God has not fallen:

For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means [so now he’s interpreting what he said] that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.

That’s his argument. Now, he’s going to give some foundation for it in Romans 9:9–13 from the Old Testament. But let’s see if we can figure out his argument here first.

Flesh vs. Promise

Why hasn’t the word of God to Israel — the promises, the covenants — why haven’t they failed? And his answer at the end of Romans 9:6 is, it would be a mistake to say the word is God has failed because those who have descended from Israel are perishing, because not all those who have descended are Israel. That’s his argument.

Not all Israel is Israel, which means the promise has never been that all ethnic Israel will be saved, that there can’t be lost ones. Let me put it like this. There’s never been a necessary connection between being born Jewish and being a child of the promise. Isn’t that what he’s saying? Not all who are of Israel from Israel physically belong to Israel.

So he’s clearly distinguishing two kinds of the use of the word Israel, right? This use right here, and this use right here are different. If you are born of Israel, this one, you say, “Well, of course, I belong to Israel. I’m born a Jew.” And Paul says, “Not all of you are Israel.” You can’t scratch your head. It’s not clear right away. How can that be? What do you mean?

But that’s his point. And we got to nail that because the reason the promises haven’t failed is because there’s no necessary correlation in God’s original intention between every person who has Jewishness in their blood to be in this thing called Israel, whatever that is different from that.

All right, so let’s keep going. And by the way, Lord-willing, there may be some time for questions in our last session. So, be jotting down like if something’s not making sense and I don’t get it clarified and you want to ask, I hope we’ll have some time for that.

And now he’s going to say the same thing again, I think, just in a different way. “And not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring” (Romans 9:7). So you’ve got this offspring here corresponds to all who are descended from Israel, and this children of Abraham here corresponds to this, what should we call it? I’m going to call it true Israel, something like that. So you see the parallels between Romans 9:6–7. Just because you were descended from Israel doesn’t mean you belong to Israel. Just because you are his offspring doesn’t mean you’re his children. Just because you’re his seed doesn’t mean you’re his children. So he’s setting up a distinction between physicality or flesh or ethnicity over here where you could depend upon “I’m born.” “I’m a Hebrew of Hebrews.” That’s the way Paul talked.

Remember: “I’m of the people of Israel, of the tribe, of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews. I’ve got the pedigree” (Philippians 3:4). And he’s going to say in Philippians 3:8, “I count it as rubbish.” “I’ve got the pedigree,” and Paul’s saying the pedigree is not the issue here. Something else is the issue. And he hasn’t said what it is yet. He’s just making the distinction between there are people who have the pedigree and then the people who are really Israel and the people who are offspring and people who are really children.

Ishmael vs. Isaac

And you scratch your head and you wonder what distinction are you making? What’s the difference? What does God mean when he said that these promises apply to the children of Abraham if it doesn’t mean every last ethnic Jewish person? And here’s Romans 9:8. Well, before we get to Romans 9:8, he tips us off where he’s getting. This is Genesis 21:12 right here. But alternatively, “through Isaac, shall your offspring be named.”

And the contrast there is Ishmael. Remember how that happened? Abraham and Sarah are the chosen pear from which Israel is to come, the promised people. And Sarah is barren. She can’t have children, never could. Abraham is getting very old. He knows I need seed, I need offspring, I need an heir for any of the promises to come true. So what does he do? He does like many church leaders: instead of trusting God for a miracle, he takes matters into his own hands and he finds Hagar. Hagar is not barren. She’s a handmaid. Legally that might work. Sarah’s handmaid.

And so Sarah says, “Okay, to get our heir, take Hagar and have sex with Hagar and we’ll have maybe a baby.” And they do. His name is Ishmael. And the point of Genesis 21 right here in Romans 9:7 is no. “No, we’re not going to do it that way. Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” And Abraham says, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!” (Genesis 17:18). He pleads.

God doesn’t like the way they did that doesn’t like human reliance, self-reliance, making babies happen that are supposed to be babies of promise, making them another way. Something’s wrong there and it’s going to be really big the way these verses develop. Okay?

So having said not all your offspring are children of Abraham. What I mean is through Isaac — not Israel, through Isaac — your offspring will be named. And then he says this means that he is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of promise are counted as offspring. So “children of flesh” right here are the same as those who are descended from Israel but not true Israel. And they’re the same as these offspring here that are not really children of Abraham.

So he’s got this cleavage between physical Israel, true Israel, children of Abraham in Romans 9:7. Offspring, children of the flesh in Romans 9:8. Children of God or children of promise counted as offspring and probably there’s a lot of weight in this word counted as offspring. It opens the possibility and we’ll see it later, okay? These children are being counted as part of true Israel by God’s sovereign decision. He’s just saying, “This one, not this one.” That’s where he’s going. So what’s the problem here with what Abraham and Sarah did?

Children of the Flesh vs. Children of Promise

This phrase, “children of the flesh,” very significant because it’s used again in Galatians when Hagar and Sarah are contrasted in Galatians 4. Here’s Genesis 17:17: “Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, ‘Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?’”

Genesis 18:11: “Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years. The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah.” So not only was she barren, she was post-menopausal. She can’t have babies like Mary can’t have a baby, and that’s the way God wants it to be. And a child of the flesh, therefore, we begin to see doesn’t just mean a child born by natural procreation, but a child brought into being by powers resident within human beings. We can do this.

And a child of promise — “child of promise” there in Romans 9:7 — is a child born by God’s intervention into the impossibilities of human life. You’re too old. She’s barren. She’s menopausal. “That’s my couple. That’s how I make my children.” This is the lesson. Now, this is absolutely profound as to what’s being set up here. Paul is saying true Israel here in Romans 9:6, “not all those who are of Israel are Israel” — the true Israel is a work of the sovereign God creating children out of what no human being can do.

So Hagar and Abraham’s affair is an illustration of human resourcefulness. We don’t need a miracle here. “I have a handmaid. I’m virulent virul. I can do this.” And he did it. And God says, “Isaac, not Ishmael.” So that’s what’s happening here in distinguishing between Israel and true Israel, children of Abraham and offspring.

And then it gets real specific in Romans 9:8: “It is not children of the flesh who are the children of God. It is the children of promise who are counted as offspring.” So even the fact that Isaac is born of Abraham and Sarah and thus has Jewish blood in his veins is not the essence of the matter. He’s counted, reckoned, decreed to be offspring. Because why? Because he has a Jewish mom and dad?

No, because he’s a child of promise. “I will do this. I will make this baby.” And that’s what constitutes him as a child of God, child of God, and a child, a true child of Abraham, a true Israelite. So we’re going to see how Paul unpacks this now from the Old Testament, but get this, that Paul is going to argue my solution to how the word of God has not fallen is not coming out of my head. It’s rooted in how God acted at the very beginning with Israel. That’s the way he’s arguing here.

Now the question is, how does he support this from the Old Testament? What’s the connection between Romans 9:8–9? So let’s see Romans 9:8–9 again: “This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. For this is what the promise said: ‘About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.’”

So Isaac is a child of promise because God says, “I’m showing up to make this happen. I’m showing up to make this happen.”