Romans 9:4a

The Israelites

Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall

Romans 9:4a (Holman) They are Israelites,. . .They are descendants of Israel, a man who wrestled with God and had his name changed from Jacob to Israel. They are more commonly referred to as Jews, a name derived from the son of Israel whose tribe achieved utmost prominence, Judah. We examine this special family under three headings.

One, privilege. No other ethnic group has a heritage even close to comparing to that of the Jews. Greece boasts Socrates and Alexander, France Joan of Arc and John Calvin, Italy Galileo and Leonardo da Vinci, England Cromwell and Churchill, Indians Squanto and Massasoit, Americans Washington and Lincoln, Scotland David Livingstone and Eric Liddell.

But what are these compared to people like Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Elijah, Elisha, Daniel, John the Baptist, the Apostle Paul, and the Twelve? If this is not sufficient to squelch efforts at comparison, we add to the Jewish list the name that is above every other name, Jesus of Nazareth.

With but one exception, Jews wrote the Bible. They gave the world monotheism, and promoted ideas of human dignity and worth. Every tribe of earth must humbly bow when their heritage is compared to that of the Jews.

Jewish contributions to world history seem almost limitless. And yet, these people of privilege have also been a people intensely mistreated.

Two, persecution. The Jews have been the most persecuted people in history. Rome destroyed Jerusalem in 70 A.D., leaving the Jews without a homeland for 19 centuries. They lived in Egypt, Greece, Rome, France, Germany, England, Poland, Russia, and elsewhere. In 1492 Ferdinand and Isabella expelled all Jews from Spain. In the 1600s they suffered in Poland. In the 1800s they were persecuted in Russia. In the 1900s Hitler killed six million men, women, and children of the ten million Jews in Europe.

Sadly, much of this persecution has been carried out in the name of Christian zeal. In the precious name of Jesus, unspeakable atrocities have been committed against the Jews. Our guide in Israel told us not to speak to Orthodox Jews of “Jesus” because His name is linked with the Holocaust.

God forbid that the most precious name ever spoken should be so vulgarized. To our shame, the Christian world did little at first to stop the horrors of Hitler and his henchmen. We are thankful for people like Corrie Ten Boom, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and many others who showed the true spirit of Christ. We wish there would have been thousands more just like them.

The Jews feel they have received more hurt and humiliation from Christians than love. Our Christian forbearers in general committed many wrongs with regard to the Jews, just as our Southern Baptist predecessors were wrong in the matter of slavery. In light of these grievous mistakes I want to say, “We were wrong. We are sorry for the mistakes of the past.”

The first “hard and fast” division between Christians and Jews came only after both groups had met together in the synagogues for a generation.

When Rome besieged Jerusalem, Christians obeyed Jesus’ command. They refused to fight in defense of Jerusalem, and fled to Pella. The Jews deemed this as unforgiveable and renounced any connection with Christians.

Our Baptist emphasis on religious freedom has tended to help us have a good relationship with Jews. Good dialogue for sure opened up between Jews and Baptist in my earlier years in the ministry. Jerry Falwell traveled often to Israel and met with its leaders. Remarks made by Bailey Smith when President of the Southern Baptist Convention were received negatively at first by Jews. However, he asked to discuss his views with Jewish leaders and the result was an “era of good feeling” between Baptists and Jews.

Because of our desire for religious freedom, we Baptists long to see the day when Israel will be more tolerant of those within their ranks who become Christians. Jews who become Christians often remain proud of their Jewish heritage, and retain their cultural distinctions. For instance, they sometimes continue to celebrate the Old Testament feasts and festivals.

However, the Jewish religious community in Israel and elsewhere occasionally renounces these converts. Sometimes, as in the case of Baptist evangelist Hyman Appelman, the family members consider them dead.

Under the Law of Return, to emigrate and become a citizen of Israel, one must have one of his or her four grandparents, or one of two parents be Jewish (narrow Orthodox interpretation requires the mother to be a Jew).

Excluded in the Law of Return are those who “have willfully changed religions”. This exclusion is most commonly, although not exclusively, applied to Messianic Jews. In essence, a Messianic Jew is not considered a Jew. This discrimination against Messianic Jews stems from many centuries of Christian persecution of Jews, including the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the Holocaust. (Hitler loved to quote Martin Luther.) (This info was provided in an email from Calev Myers, a lawyer in Jerusalem.)

Israel will count an atheist as a Jew; but a Messianic Jew is counted as “cut off” from Israel. This grieves believers. It seems to say it is better for a Jew to be an atheist than to be a Christ-follower. This is a painful thought to us. Paul’s heart would have ruptured had he known the Christians-versus-Jews enmity looming ahead. This sad thought brings us to our third heading.

Three, pathos. Sorrow continues to be a way of life for many Jews. They are oppressed in Russia; hostile neighbors surround Israel. There has been “bad blood” between Jews and Arabs ever since Isaac and Ishmael. The Jews see themselves as living in an unfriendly world, with one exception.

While in Israel, my guide said Orthodox Jews sometimes become disenchanted with Israel and leave the country. I asked, “Where do they go?” He said, “Brooklyn.” I then asked, “Does this mean Israel considers America her best friend?” He said, “America is our only friend.”

It should make us feel proud to be citizens of a nation that is counted a haven by the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It makes me want to stand up beside Kate Smith and sing “God Bless America.”

One of world history’s most ironic events occurred on the morning of August 3, 1492. As the last boatload of Jews left Spain, they passed by the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria, which were on their way to discover America. None of those sad Jews would ever have guessed that those three ships were heading for a land that would someday provide their people a haven of rest.

We Baptists are proud of the role we played in helping America enjoy religious liberty. We still advocate freedom of conscience for all. We cry out against any group that feeds its hatred on anti-Semitism. Whether it be Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, or any other such organization, without hesitation we publicly avow our disdain for any thing that even hints at anti-Semitism.

Our approach to Jews must never be one of anger, but rather one of brokenhearted compassion. Paul viewed them not as people to be lashed at with anger, but as people to be wooed with love. The tragedy, the ultimate pathos, is that Israel was called of God to provide a family in which the Messiah would be nurtured; but when Jesus did come, the nation in the main rejected Him. All the blessings and benefits of God were frustrated in them.

God gave the Jews great honor, and chose them as His people. Yet most of them have not known His only begotten Son. Despite their benefits, they rejected Jesus. The same must also be said of most Gentiles. God has been good to them too, but a majority of them have also rejected Jesus.

Baptists, being Biblicists, say people’s ethnic and religious background has no bearing on their salvation. Whether Jew or Gentile, the sole criteria for salvation is faith in Jesus. The issue is not one’s heritage, but rather one’s faith. There are saved Jews and lost Jews, saved Gentiles and lost Gentiles, saved Baptists and lost Baptists.

Only one question needs to be considered. Do we know Jesus? He died for all sinners, and lovingly yearns for them to come to Him.