The Children of Israel

Monday, April 16, 2012

“And he said, Thy name shall be no more Jacob, but Israel…” (Genesis 32:28a KJV).

The King James Bible uses the term “the children of Israel” 616 times. Why is this expression important?

In Genesis 12:1-3, the Abrahamic Covenant, the LORD promised Abram that he would father the nation Israel, the seed-line of the Messiah (Jesus Christ). In Genesis 15:4, God promised Abram a son, Isaac, through his wife Sarai. After years of waiting for Sarai to conceive, Abram grew impatient. Finally, he hearkened unto Sarai’s voice and had a son, Ishmael, by her handmaid Hagar (Genesis 16:1-16).

However, God did not promise Ishmael; that was Abraham’s doing (Galatians 4:22,23). God responded, “But my covenant will I establish with Isaac…” (Genesis 17:21; cf. Romans 9:6; Hebrews 11:18). The Abrahamic Covenant was transferred to Isaac, not Ishmael, for Isaac was the son God promised.

Now, Isaac had two twin sons, Esau and Jacob (Genesis 25:21-26). Esau was an ungodly (faithless) man who ignored God’s Word (Genesis 25:31-34; Hebrews 12:16). Jacob, however, was a man of faith (Hebrews 11:21); thus, the Abrahamic Covenant was transferred to Jacob, not Esau (Esau fathered the Arabs [Genesis 25:22,23; Romans 9:11-13]).

Interestingly, the first time “the children of Israel” appears in the Bible is Genesis 32:32, the context of today’s Scripture, when God changed Jacob’s name to “Israel,” meaning “prince of God” (verse 28).

The Bible uses the term “the children of Israel” to remind us that the Abrahamic Covenant belongs to Abraham’s son Isaac and his son Jacob: the Jews are “the children of Israel [Jacob].”  To wit, “the children of Israel” does not refer to literal kids; it designates that the race of people God promised to Abraham, which is the seed-line of Isaac (not Ishmael), and of Isaac’s son Jacob (not Esau).

Why is this significant? Christ’s lineage goes through Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham (Luke 3:23,34), thus fulfilling God’s original goal in creating Israel: to have a bloodline through which the Messiah-Redeemer would be born. Furthermore, the only rightful heirs to Israel’s covenants are the descendants of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the grandson of Abraham (Romans 15:8).