God’s Love for Israel

Johan Malan, University of the North, South Africa

Abstract: God’s love for Israel, and His irrevocable covenant with them, guarantees the complete restoration of this nation.

In the Old Testament, the wonderful characteristics of God’s love were in a very clear way revealed to Israel. This nation owes its entire existence to the love of God. However, it was always meant to be a reciprocating love in which the obligation rested on Israel to respond to God’s love by living in the right relationship with Him. Moses said to his people:

“The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because the Lord loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers, the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Therefore know that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love Him and keep His commandments; and He repays those who hate Him to their face, to destroy them. He will not be slack with him who hates Him; He will repay him to his face” (Deut. 7:7-10).

Every member of the nation who did not love the Lord and turn his back upon Him, would pierce himself through with many sorrows. He would be the sufferer. On the other hand, those who love the Lord will be richly blessed:

“And He will love you and bless you and multiply you; He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your land… the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flock, in the land of which He swore to your fathers to give you. You shall be blessed above all peoples” (Deut. 7:13-14).

To qualify for these blessings, there is only the demand of true love which must also manifest in works of charity:

“And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the Lord and His statutes which I command you today for your good?” (Deut. 10:12-13).

Many good things would come over Israel if they truly loved and served the Lord. He would also protect them against the plots and attacks of their enemies, of which there were many. Balak, the king of Moab, hired Balaam to curse Israel:

“Nevertheless the Lord your God would not listen to Balaam, but the Lord your God turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the Lord your God loves you” (Deut. 23:5).

Balaam advised Balak not to curse Israel or to fight against them because the Lord fights for them. He counselled Balak to befriend himself with Israel and invite them to the feasts of Moab’s gods. Should Israel agree to social and religious compromise with Moab, they would become untrue to God, despise His love and worship other gods.

The doctrine of Balaam is the doctrine of compromise with an apostate world, against which the New Testament church is also warned in Rev. 2:14. This self-destructing compromise caused a big disaster in Israel. They accepted an invitation to a Baal feast, participated in the sacrifices, and many Israeli men also took heathen wives in Moab. In doing so, Israel didn’t honour their relationship of love towards God but instead committed treason against Him. As a result, the wrath of God was kindled against Israel and He sent a plague over them in which 24 000 people died (Num. 25:1-3, 9).

In spite of incidents of this nature, in which Israel often in their history invited the anger of God, the love of God for Israel never changed. Many individuals died as a result of their sins and rebellion, but that did not destroy God’s covenant with Israel. His love for them is comprehensive and all-embracing. It doesn’t only include promises about their spiritual revival and physical restoration in their land, but also the promise of His daily care to save them from all dangers and anxieties:

“But now, thus says the Lord who created you, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel: Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour, I gave Egypt for your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in your place. Since you were precious in My sight, you have been honoured, and I have loved you; therefore I will give men for you, and people for your life. Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your descendants from the east, and gather you from the west. I will say to the north, Give them up! And to the south, Do not keep them back! Bring My sons from afar and My daughters from the ends of the earth – everyone who is called by My name, whom I have created for My glory; I have formed him, yes, I have made him” (Is. 43:1-7).

The question may be asked: Why does the Lord have to gather this people from the four corners of the earth and bring the dispersed ones back to their land? Why did they become unfaithful to the Lord and forfeited His blessings? It is because of the hardening of their hearts. Instead of worshipping the God of Israel they were deceived by Satan to live a life of licentiousness in which they also worshipped the Baals:

“But you have not called upon Me, O Jacob; and you have been weary of Me, O Israel. You have not brought Me the sheep of your burnt offerings, nor have you honoured Me with your sacrifices… but you have burdened Me with your sins, you have wearied Me with your iniquities” (Is. 43:22-24).

To this licentiousness and lack of love Israel often committed themselves. They were warned that it would ultimately lead to great calamities and disaster, including the international dispersion of the nation:

“If you do not carefully observe all the words of this law that are written in this book, that you may fear this glorious and awesome name, THE LORD YOUR GOD, then the Lord will bring upon you and your descendants extraordinary plagues… And it shall be, that just as the Lord rejoiced over you to do you good and multiply you, so the Lord will rejoice over you to destroy you and bring you to nothing; and you shall be plucked from off the land which you go to possess. Then the Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other… And among those nations you shall find no rest, nor shall the sole of your foot have a resting place; but there the Lord will give you a trembling heart, failing eyes, and anguish of soul. Your life shall hang in doubt before you” (Deut. 28:58-66).

Eventually Israel also rejected and turned their backs upon their Messiah, the Lord Jesus, who is the personification of God’s love for them. That was the final sin that filled the cup of their iniquities and gave rise to the international dispersion against which Moses warned them. Jesus said:

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate; for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, Blessed is He who come in the name of the Lord!” (Mt. 23:37-39).

Of the international dispersion of Israel that would follow after they rejected the Messiah and would endure until they finally accept Him, Jesus said:

“And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Lk. 21:24).

Although the destruction of Jerusalem and the diaspora of Israel constitute divine judgements, it was never meant to be an absolute rejection of Israel and the abrogation of God’s covenant with them. The God of Israel says:

“Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not cast them away, nor shall I abhor them, to utterly destroy them and break My covenant with them; For I am the Lord their God. But for their sake I will remember the covenant of their ancestors, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God: I am the Lord” (Lev. 26:44-45).

Paul also confirms the fact that the Lord didn’t reject His people Israel. At the end of the times of the Gentiles, which is the end of the Church dispensation, the trampling of Jerusalem will be terminated and the people be restored physically and spiritually:

“I say then, has God cast away His people? Certainly not! For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew… hardening in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: The Deliverer will come out of Zion, and He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; for this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins” (Rom. 11:1-2, 25-27).

What we now see in Israel, as well as in the salvation of an increasing number of Messianic Jews who return to the God of their fathers through Jesus Christ, is confirmation of sure promises that God will never abandon Israel. His love for Israel is eternal and unchangeable. Listen to what He says through the prophet Hosea about this forsaken woman, Israel, who wandered away from Him:

“I will punish her for the days of the Baals to which she burned incense… Therefore, behold, I will allure her, will bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfort to her. I will give her her vineyards from there, and the Valley of Achor as a door of hope; she shall sing there, as in the days of her youth, as in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt… I will take from her mouth the name of the Baals, and they shall be remembered by their name no more” (Hos. 2:13-17).

The prophets Isaiah also confirms the restored relationship of love between Israel and God:

“Do not fear, for you will not be ashamed; nor be disgraced, for you will not be put to shame; for you will forget the shame of your youth, and will not remember the reproach of your widowhood anymore. For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is His name; and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel; He is called the God of the whole earth. For the Lord has called you like a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit, like a youthful wife when you were refused, says your God. For a mere moment I have forsaken you, but with great mercies I will gather you. With a little wrath I hid My face from you for a moment; but with everlasting kindness I will have mercy on you, says the Lord your Redeemer” (Is. 54:4-8).

To Hosea this wonderful prospect was also revealed, and he concludes his writings with a prophecy on the restored relationship between Israel and their God:

“I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely, for My anger has turned away from him. I will be like the dew to Israel; he shall grow like the lily, and lengthen his roots like Lebanon. His branches shall spread; his beauty shall be like an olive tree, and his fragrance like Lebanon. Those who dwell under his shadow shall return; they shall be revived like grain, and grow like the vine” (Hos. 14:4-7)

The prophet Jeremiah emphasises the eternal love that God has for Israel:

“Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love, therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you. Again I will build you, and you shall be rebuilt, O virgin of Israel! You shall again be adorned with your tamborines, and shall go forth in the dances of those who rejoice. You shall yet plant vines on the mountains of Samaria… He who scattered Israel will gather him, and keep him as a shepherd does his flock. For the Lord has redeemed Jacob, and ransomed him from the hand of one stronger than he. Therefore they shall come and sing in the height of Zion, streaming to the goodness of the Lord… their souls shall be like a well watered garden, and they shall sorrow no more at all… for I will turn their mourning to joy, will comfort them, and make them rejoice rather than sorrow… Is Ephraim My dear son? Is he a pleasant child? For though I spoke against him, I earnestly remember him still; therefore My heart yearns for him; I will surely have mercy on him, says the Lord“ (Jer. 31:3-20).

It is evident from God’s dealing with Israel that His love has a clear element of chastening. This love is so pure that it can’t allow people who have accepted it to compromise with a sinful world, or to be licentious and permissive as is the case in the humanistic love of fallen man. A wayward child who persists with his uncharitable conduct must be reprimanded, disciplined, and chastised. However, these disciplinary actions are instituted with the best interests of the person(s) involved. The chastising of Israel is an act of love as it is aimed at their conversion and return to the Lord. Those who have sorrow over their sins and truly repent from it will be met by a forgiving Father. He will also completely restore a repentant Israel:

“For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you… I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgements and do them. Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people and I will be your God” (Ezek. 36:24-28).

The day of Israel’s national conversion will be when the Messiah, Jesus, sets feet on the Mount of Olives at the end of the great tribulation. He will then judge the nations and save the remnant of His people, Israel. Under strong conviction of sin, worked by the Holy Spirit, they will grieve over their terrible sins, pray for pardon and mercy, and accept Jesus as Messiah and Saviour:

“And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they have pierced; they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn… They will call on My name, and I will answer them. I will say, This is My people, and each one will say, the Lord is my God” (Zech. 12:10 and 13:9).

The bond of love that was broken by Israel because of their sins, will be fully restored:

“O Israel, return to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity… Say to Him, Take away all iniquity; receive us graciously… [To these word of repentance God will say]: I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely” (Hos. 14:1-4).

Isaiah says: “In that day the Lord of hosts will be for a crown of glory and a diadem or beauty to the remnant of His people” (Is. 28:5). All the nations will know about the spiritual revival of Israel and gladly associate with them to share in the blessings:

“In those days ten men from every language of the nations shall grasp the sleeve of a Jewish man, saying, Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you” (Zech. 8:23).

The saved remnant of Israel will be united in their love for God and serve Him with their whole heart. There won’t be a single unsaved Jew. God says:

“This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord, for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jer. 31:33-34).

The dedication of Israel as a people will then be like that small group of exemplary men of God in the Old Testament. The Lord will take pleasure in them like He took pleasure in David, who was a man after God’s heart. David declared his love for God by saying: “I will love You, O Lord my strength” (Ps. 18:1). Another psalmist expressed his love for the Word of God:

“I love Your commandments more than gold, yes, than fine gold!… Your word is very pure; therefore Your servant loves it… My soul keeps Your testimonies, and I love them exceedingly” (Ps. 119:127, 140, 167).

Is your delight also in the word of God and do you meditate on it day and night? Are your footsteps anchored in the word of God, and have you hidden His words in your heart that you might not sin against Him? Then the blessings of the Lord will surround you and the Holy One of Israel will protect you. God’s love for Israel will also be poured out in your heart. You will pray for them and earnestly desire their salvation. God says:

“For Zion’s sake I will not hold My peace, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her righteousness goes forth as brightness, and her salvation as a lamp that burns… I have set watchmen on your walls, O Jerusalem, who shall never hold their peace day or night. You who make mention of the Lord, do not keep silent, and give Him no rest till He establishes and till He makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth” (Is. 62:1, 6-7).

Before this can happen, a passionate love must be awakened in the hearts of Jews for the land of their fathers and the city of Jerusalem. These convictions and feelings must induce them to return to Israel, rebuild the land, and prepare Jerusalem and its inhabitants for the soon coming of the Messiah!