Archive for April 12th, 2011
“Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the LORD, “Israel is My son, My firstborn.” Exodus 4:22 NASB
My son – We have a tendency to believe that God often spoke of Israel as His son, but this isn’t the case. In fact, there are only two places in the Tanakh where God refers to Israel as “My son.” The first is here in this verse and the next. The second is in Hosea 11:1. Our mistaken conclusion about the frequency of God’s description of Israel as His son probably comes from the fact that Matthew uses the Hosea passage as a Messianic prophecy (Matthew 2:15). But the truth is that this expression is quite rare. It is used in Exodus because YHWH is confronting another being who also claims to be a god, namely Pharaoh, and as we soon find out, the issue of the firstborn son becomes a critical battle line in YHWH’s war against the Egyptian deities.
The Hebrew phrase, beni Yisra’el, tells us something crucial about Israel’s place in God’s creation. First, it tells us God considers Israel as the elected heir of His purposes. Second, this phrase clearly places Israel in an exclusive relationship with God as a part of God’s family. In conjunction with God’s declaration that Israel is His “firstborn,” we realize that no other people or nation can ever occupy this place in God’s heart. Many may be adopted but none except Israel can be “firstborn.” When God established His covenant with Israel at Sinai, the implications stretched across the entire history of humanity. The promise to Abraham was to be fulfilled in the nation of Israel and in all those who attached themselves to that nation. That promise is still being fulfilled today.
The New Testament authors adopt this same language in reference to Yeshua. This is particularly important since the expression is used so infrequently in the Tanakh. As the New Testament authors report, Yeshua steps into the place of Israel and fulfills the commission originally intended for God’s chosen people. He becomes what they refused to become – a royal priest to the nations. His mission was rehabilitation. He came to bring Israel back to the assignment God gave them. That’s why He says He has come to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. They are lost because they don’t know who they are as the ones called to open the door to the nations. They have forgotten what they were supposed to be doing. They aren’t lost due to wandering away from their commitment to YHWH. Since Babylon they never went back to idolatry. They are lost because they have wandered away from their identity as priests to the nations. Yeshua restores this missing perspective. Peter acknowledges this restoration when he proclaims that the event on the temple mount (Acts 2) is a sign of God’s spirit poured out on all nations. The door has been opened – again.
What does this mean for Gentiles, people like most of us? It means that Israel is still the firstborn son. There is no justification for saying that Israel has been replaced with some other “firstborn.” That would be impossible. It also means that those who are adopted become sons with the same covenant and commission as the firstborn. The firstborn son is the model we follow – the model of Israel and subsequently, the model of Israel renewed in Yeshua. Just as Israel was commissioned to be a royal priesthood to the nations, so are all adopted sons. A priest is the intercessor between God and men, instructing men what God demands of them in order to join in fellowship at His table. And that’s what we are supposed to be doing now. In fact, if we do that according to the original commission, we Gentiles will spur those born from Abraham’s lineage to recognize that the door is really open. Our actions will induce Israel to look at our claim to follow Yeshua HaMashiach as valid because we will be doing what God assigned to His son.
Topical Index: my son, beni, firstborn, Israel, priest, Exodus 4:22, Hosea 11:1, Matthew 2:15