The Nation of Israel vs. the State of Israel
We undoubtedly live in an exciting age in history. Things are happening at breakneck speeds. Change is the norm, and trying to keep up with all that is happening leads to a world of information overload.
But this is new, relatively speaking. For more than 98% of human history, things moved a lot slower. Communication and travel were far more difficult. People generally were born, raised, and spent their entire lives in the same small areas.
But you know all this and are right about now wondering, "What does this have to do with the Nation of Israel versus the State of Israel?" The point is that all these things have affected our perception and understanding of what connects people to a nation and their name.
In today’s world, where travel has become so much easier, migration from one area of the world to another can literally happen overnight. Many of the largest nations in the world have become melting pots of diverse cultures and peoples from around the world. This causes confusion at times because we see many people from various ethnic backgrounds consider themselves as part of a nation which is not connected to their homeland or ethnicity. They are what the Scriptures call sojourners. In the last few hundred years, entire nations, such as the United States, have been established this way. Effectively everyone who lives in America is considered to be an American, no matter where they are originally from. That is the goal and ideal of America.
But at the same time we see a resistance to that idea developing as people realize that they do not want to lose their cultural identity. So we have established a hyphenated identity. Americans have now taken to the practice of calling themselves Asian-American, African-American, Mexican-American, etc. Even though we want to identify with each other nationally--that is, as a political nation state--that does not satisfy our underlying commitment to our origins. Why is that? Because the world was not this way for the great majority of history.
From the earliest times up to a few centuries ago, the ethnic and national identities of the majority of people on the earth were tied directly to the place and people they came from, because they were one and the same.
Even misnomers were due to such a means of identifying people. For example, the American Indians were labeled Indians because those who first met them assumed they were related to the place and people of India.
As we look back at the origins of nations and people groups in the Bible, we see that this is how things worked from the beginning. People groups were formed and separated according to lineage.
In Genesis chapter 10, we are told that all the original nations were formed by separating the descendants of Shem, Ham, and Japheth “into their lands, every one according to his language, according to their families, into their nations.”
And so it was that, for the most part, people were separated and grouped by a common ancestry and language, and most importantly occupied a specific land area. The name of the root patriarch became the name of the nation and the area of land on which they lived.
For example, the Caananites were so-called because they were the descendants of Caanan, a son of Ham. Likewise, Mizraim was also a son of Ham. We call his people Egyptians, but the Hebrew word for Egypt is Mizraim. Moab was named for the descendants of Moab, the son of Abraham’s nephew Lot. The people of Moab were called Moabites. Our English Bibles are filled with references to nations by names ending with "ites." These nations were formed from lineages associated with their name, and one usually just needs to go back to Genesis to see whose descendants they were to know their origin.
And so it was with the Israelites. They were the descendants of Israel, the name God gave to Jacob. They were known to occupy a specific land area. Of course, just as the rest of the nations, the land area they occupied changed throughout time. But for all nations, the center, or core, of that land was almost constant. In the great majority of cases, if the capital or core land area disappeared, the identity of the people was essentially lost.
All this points out two things we need to remember when considering what the Nation of Israel is in comparison to the State of Israel.
1 The land and the people were identified together. They went hand in hand. The name of a nation was generally the same as the name of the people of that nation. We still do the same thing today. We call people from France "French." We call people from the land and nation of Russia "Russians." What has changed is that most of the origins are either lost, or not related to any particular ancestry. For example, Americans are not the descendants of Amerigo Vespucci, for whom America is named. It was this principal which inspired the Romans to purposely change the name of Jerusalem to Ailia Capitolina and the land of Israel to Syria Palaestina, what many today call Palestine.
2. The name of the people and their nation was generally tied to their physical ancestry or bloodline. Israelites were the sons of Israel, that is, Jacob. Ammonites were the sons of Ammon. Cushites descend from Cush, etc.
Many peoples have mixed together over the last several hundred years so that the ancestral identification has become much more muddied lately. Through migration and intermarriage, many of the original identities are lost. Many were completely destroyed, as some of the Caananites were by the Israelites. It is hard to identify the origins of many nations today, though some are easier than others.
However, in this regard, the people of Israel are quite unique in all history; for they had occupied a land which bore their name for more than 1,500 years before they were ultimately dispersed throughout the earth by the Lord. While almost every other people group who lost their land lost their identity, the people of Israel did not.
And here is where the confusion lies. The people of Israel, though they had no land anymore, were still a people group. They were, in fact, a national ethnic people. They simply did not have their own land to which their name could be associated. But by God’s grace and divine preservation, they have maintained themselves as a distinct people group. No matter where they are, they are still the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
This is truly a miraculous thing and one of the clear signs that the Lord is not through with them. He never blotted their name out as He did to others. The Nation of Israel has, in fact, continually existed for some 3,500 years, ever since the time that the Lord brought them out of Egypt and made them a nation. But they have not been continually associated with their own land, such that they could have an ongoing political state. They were a nation adrift. That is until the late 19th century when a significant number of Jewish people began the first of several waves of aliyah, return.
It should be clear to anyone who has read the prophets that this was not only foretold, but it was God’s plan and nothing could stop it. But then something happened in 1948. War had changed the political landscape of the Middle East, resulting in political boundaries and borders which were ordained and established by men, most of whom rejected the God of Israel. After being attacked by all the surrounding nations and miraculously not only surviving, but prevailing, the people of Israel began to rely on the permission and recognition of these sinful men for their status as a legitimate state. The Nation of Israel entered the political arena of the world and became recognized by the world as one of them, as a world political state. Of course, some even refused to recognize Israel as a political state, but notice that even they cannot deny that Israel is a national people?
But is this God’s will for the Nation of Israel, that they would be one of the nations? And if it is not God’s will, should we be encouraging such behavior? When we read the prophet Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones, we can see that Israel’s full restoration takes place in stages and over time. First the bones come to life, and then they take on sinews and flesh, and only after all this does the Ruach (Spirit) come back to them. So we can certainly understand that the Nation of Israel must pass through these stages, and in so doing will not be fully walking in the Spirit of the Lord until the flesh and bones are ready. Therefore, we do not fault them for the absence of the Spirit. But as the Nation of Israel is headed toward full Spirit-filled restoration, should we not encourage them all the more to walk with the Lord?
Shouldn’t we, being filled with the same Spirit, be encouraging the people of Israel to draw closer to the Spirit? Shouldn’t we, as Ruth the Moabitess did for Naomi’s sake, come to the feet of the Lord on His throne to intercede for her redemption? Should we not be lifting up, supporting, encouraging, and partnering with those in the Nation of Israel who already walk in the Spirit, instead of spending our time and energy in the political arena? Do we really think that sinful men of the nations can thwart God’s plans and destroy the Nation of Israel? Is that why we need to stand with State of Israel?
Not understanding that there is a difference between the Nation of Israel and the State of Israel, and that our role should be to encourage the Nation and intercede for their full restoration, leads to much confusion. As the people of Israel (the ethnic nation) continue to return to the land which had been called by their name, many see the preservation of the Jewish State as the end goal. But God has until today preserved the Nation of Israel. He will continue to do so, with or without a world recognized political state.
Membership in the Nation of Israel does not rest on an identity card, passport, or approval of man. Even Hitler knew that. The Nation of Israel was born from God and in Him has its promises and security.
And so whether Israelites live in the land of Israel, or in the diaspora, they are still part of the nation that God is restoring. God has promised to bring them back to the land, but it is a process. One does not become an Israelite when one becomes a citizen of the State of Israel. One comes home to his ancestors’ land, the land that was named for their father Jacob, the land that was promised by God.
And so it is that we (Yeshua’s Harvest) purposely make a distinction between the Nation of Israel (that is, the people who are the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) and the State of Israel, which is the current world-recognized political entity that controls the land of Israel.
God’s promises are to the Nation of Israel, the people of Israel. His promises include the restoration of the people to the land and the restoration of the land itself, but He has not promised to establish a particular political enterprise that seeks its legitimacy from godless men of the world. Peace and restoration will not come by concessions to or from neighbors, or clever political maneuvering, or man-centered negotiations, or world opinion. Peace and full restoration will only come through national repentance and a national invitation welcoming the Prince of Peace. We therefore need to be careful that we do not put our focus on, and blindly support, the political State of Israel. Doing so is not a blessing to the people of Israel.
We should most sincerely pray for and support the Nation of Israel, the people. We should pray for the leaders of the Nation of Israel and the State of Israel, who are not necessarily one and same.
Most of all, we should support those who are bringing The Light to the Nation of Israel. We should bless Israel, the people, with the greatest gift of all, the gift of salvation. For in so doing, the people of Israel who run the State of Israel will, by God’s grace, turn to their God, call upon His Name, and help lead the Nation of Israel to be Spirit filled and fully restored, as God promised they would be one day.