At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God and that you are turning their hearts back again.” (1 Kings 18:36-37)
Elohim simply means god – or more accurately, gods. It’ s a plural word in Hebrew because our God is a complex unity. In Genesis, God speaks in the first-person plural “Let US make man in OUR own image” (Genesis 1:26). This can be bewildering but makes perfect sense when you know that Father God was there with the Spirit hovering over the waters and his Son was right beside him at the dawn of time, the First and the Last. So that’ s why he’ s Elohim as opposed to El, although he does appear as El sometimes – El Shaddai for example. Elohim is how God introduces himself for the most part at the beginning of the Bible until he switches to ???? (Yehovah) but there were lots of gods (elohim) around at the time of the patriarchs. How is the Creator distinguished from all his competitors? These false elohim, these imposters.
God identifies himself over and over as the God of Israel. Israel is God’ s name for Jacob, after the wrestling incident. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel. Jacob, of course, had twelve sons who produced the twelve tribes of Israel. But Elohim is identifying himself as a personal God, a portable God. He was not god of this mountain or that valley. He was an everywhere God, known by his friends. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The God of Israel is a relational God.
Perhaps you are known as someone’ s husband, someone’ s wife… someone’ s brother, sister, father, mother… you are identified by your relationship with that person. Moreover, that person can say a lot about who you really are! And that is what God chose to tie himself into. He bound himself inextricably to the nation of Israel: the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Try as we might separate Israel from God, God has stuck himself to that nation like a limpet. God chooses to make himself known by this name. And he has done it on purpose.
God is telling us to watch and wait. Watch Israel closely, because you will learn a lot about your God if you do.
You will learn what he loves.
You will learn what he hates.
You will see when he draws a line in the sand.
You will see him give hope even as he punishes.
You will be amazed at the extent of his grace.
You will see faithfulness in its perfection.
You will see unconditional love.
You will see forgiveness 70 x 7.
You will see that God does not use and discard His people.
You will see a God who keeps His promises. NO MATTER WHAT.
You will see God’ s purposes are always accomplished in the end.
This is the God we are talking to. If He promises a thing, He will do it. You can count on that. We can look at His track record with Israel, and we have the great privilege of being in a generation that is watching it live on tv: humanity’ s sin and God’ s grace in technicolour. No matter how horrified a person might be with Israel, the Bible tells us in many places that a time is coming when all Israel will be saved (Zechariah 12:10, Ezekiel 20:40, Romans 11:26). Redemption and restoration are coming for Israel as sure as eggs are eggs.
Israel is like a huge fuzzy-felt illustration for the rest of the world to see what God is like. Watch how Israel rebels in the Bible – and even today. Watch how it pains and angers God. Watch how he is faithful to His covenant ANYWAY. This is good news for us, seeing as we are known to be less than perfect ourselves every now and then. The truth is we’ re all sinful and as easy as it might be to point the accusing finger at Israel, no nation can cast the first stone.
But look how God responds. Watch what he promises and watch how he fulfils his word… and watch how he takes far longer to do so than anyone could have imagined when the prophets uttered these words:
Jeremiah 30:3 The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will bring my people Israel and Judah back from captivity and restore them to the land I gave their ancestors to possess,’ says the Lord.”
Jeremiah 23:7-8 “So then, the days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when people will no longer say, ‘As surely as the Lord lives, who brought the Israelites up out of Egypt,’ but they will say, ‘As surely as the Lord lives, who brought the descendants of Israel up out of the land of the north and out of all the countries where he had banished them.’ Then they will live in their own land.”
Just as God has tied himself to Israel, Israel is tied to God. Much anti-Semitism comes from the overflow of an unregenerate heart, rebelling with hatred against God and venting at the people linked to him. The Bible promises much trouble and tribulation will come, particularly around the spiritual epicentre of the world – Israel. But the prophets also give us a heads up of hope. Micah prophesies on behalf of his people:
“Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light. Because I have sinned against him, I will bear the Lord’ s wrath, until he pleads my case and upholds my cause. He will bring me out into the light; I will see his righteousness… The day for building your walls will come, the day for extending your boundaries. In that day people will come to you from Assyria and the cities of Egypt, even from Egypt to the Euphrates and from sea to sea and from mountain to mountain.” (Micah 7:8-9,11-12)
Clearly this day has not yet come. But it will.
“Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. You will be faithful to Jacob, and show love to Abraham, as you pledged on oath to our ancestors in days long ago.” (vv18-20)
“Not one of all the Lord’ s good promises to Israel failed; every one was fulfilled” (Joshua 21:45)
Watch what God does in his ongoing relationship with Israel because we also rebel and fail God. But God is a covenant-keeping God, which is good news for all of us. Watch and learn who your God really is.
Jo Blower is a writer and works for Agape with communications.