Dispensationalism and the Two lsraels
by Rev. R. C. Harbach
The Holy Scripture provides for a very clear and plain interpretation of itself. Difficulty, however, will arise if we do not observe that there are words and terms employed in Scripture which have variant shades of meaning. It may not therefore be insisted that each word in every instance of its occurrence has the same single meaning. Such a method of interpretation could easily produce false doctrine. Error would obtain, for example, if we invariably referred the word “flesh” to the physical body. Objectionable it would be also to translate the N.T. word “baptize” in every one of its instances in such a way as to express any mode of baptism. More than one false doctrine, but’especially a false view of the atonement, will be the result of translating the word “world” in every place it is found as meaning the whole human race of all men without exception. One must certainly see that the word “repentance” does not always mean a true saving repentance (cp. Mt. 27:3). Modern mass “evangelism” is worse than superficial in not marking the difference between the natural “believing” of John 12:42, 43 and the spiritual believing of Rom. 10:l0. It is therefore of the greatest importance to maintain the biblical distinction between the carnal “seed” and the spiritual seed, between the natural or national “Israel” and the true Israel.
If a man insists that he interprets the Bible not only strictly “literally,” but always with the same uniform meaning throughout for each oft-appearing word, he cannot possibly understand the seven terms noted above. The entire Bible will never make sense to him, nor anything else he may read. Atheists, almost to a man self-styled “intellectuals,” have come up with some of the most puerile allegations that the Bible contradicts itself. Believing that the Bible is the infallible Word of God, inerrant, verbally inspired, accurate and absolutely trustworthy, we unhesitatingly maintain that there are no contradictions in the Bible, real or apparent. Nor will the following references give any trouble to anyone believing the self-consistency of Scripture. We do read that “Saul inquired of the Lord” (I Sam. 28:6) and we also read that Saul died because “he inquired not of the Lord” (I Chron. 10: 13, 14). But both statements are true! It is said that “the Lord is far from the wicked” (Prov. 15:29) and also that the Lord “is not far from every one of us.” (Acts 17:27) But if this causes the reader any difficulty, he, as to knowledge of Scripture, must be a novice. In Rom. lo:13 the apostle wrote, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved,” while in Prov. 1:28 it is stated, “Then shall they call upon Me, but I will not answer; they shall seek Me early, but they shall not find Me.” “The pure in heart shall see God.” (Mt. 5:8) How does this compare with “whom no man hath seen nor can see”? (I Tim. 6:16) We point out these differences in order to emphasize the need for a little careful distinguishing thought in interpreting Scripture.
Now to further illustrate the biblical distinction of the scriptural term “Israel,” we have the injunction, “Behold Israel after the flesh.” (I Cor. 10:18) Is it not rather obvious, even without your checking on the context of this passage, that to speak of “Israel after the flesh” is to distinguish them from Israel after the Spirit, that is, the spiritual and regenerated Israel? The “Israel after the flesh” were “Jews by nature,” (Gal. 2:15) the natural Israel, the natural seed of Abraham. They are in contrast to the spiritual Israel, the Israel of God.. (Gal. 6:16) The latter are believers, those born from above, whether from Jews or Gentiles, and in this dispensation at least are Christians! Therefore “Israel” in Scripture will be identified by the context, so that it must be observed how Scripture qualifies the term. Then Scripture distinguishes the spiritual Israel and a mere natural Israel, not a “heavenly” as over against a mere “earthly” people.
The term Israel then is not limited exclusively to natural Jews, neither the phrase “the children of Abraham.” Who are the latter? “Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham!” (Gal. 3:7) The children of a person resemble that person, so that “the children of God” are like God, the “children of the wicked one” are in the image of the devil in character and conduct, while “the children of Abraham” resemble him and imitate his faith. Included under the designation “the children of Abraham” are therefore all true Christians. Mere Jews never were “Abraham’s children,” as Jesus firmly maintained. (Jn. 8:39) For true, spiritual children of Abraham “walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham.” (Rom. 4:12) But the Jews Jesus reprimanded neither did the works of Abraham nor walked in the steps of his faith. According to Jesus, they only ipso facto proved themselves not the children of Abraham. But whether Jew or Gentile, anyone belonging to Christ is “Abraham’s seed.” (Gal. 3:29) The error that the Galatian church bad to resist was that of the Judaizers, false teachers, who taught that only Jews or proselyted, circumcized Gentiles were “children of Abraham.” These alone could expect to partake of his blessing. But “they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham,” (3:9) none else!
The superficial and false distinction that the Jews were an “earthly” people, while the church is a “heavenly” people is supposed to be based on texts like Gen. 13:16 and 15:5. Because it is said that Abraham’s seed should be multiplied “as the dust of the earth,” therefore the earthly seed of natural Jews is meant, whereas where it is said his seed should be in number as the stars of heaven, the church is meant. “Dust” denotes an earthly people, but “stars” denotes a heavenly. The descriptions “dust” and “stars” are said to connote quite a difference. What then would be the difference between “dust” and “sand”? For in I Kings 4:20, “Judah and Israel were many as the sand which is by the sea in multitude.” If the “stars” indicate a heavenly seed, especially denoting the church in contradistinction to natural Jews, then why do the “stars” refer to earthly Israel in Deut. 1:l0; 10:22; 28:62? Why doesn’t the writer of I Chronicles maintain this “distinction”? For he says that “the Lord had said He would increase Israel (the nation of Israel) like to the stars of the heavens,” (27:23) which is here said to have been accomplished in David’s reign. From this it may be seen that the term “stars” does not necessarily indicate a keavenly seed. When we then read, “I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the seashore,” (Gen. 22:17) two different seeds, a spiritual and a natural, are not in view. For “stars” denote Jews as much as “dust” or “sand”.
“For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel.” (Rom. 9:6) What Paul is plainly saying here is that they are not all spiritual Israel who are of natural Israel. The apostle at this point is discussing God’s sovereign rejection of the Jews and His calling of the Gentiles-this in keeping with His predetermination to cast off the- Jewish nation as such (so long before foretold, Isa. 65:15; and again by Christ, Mt. 21:43) and to preserve a spiritual remnant, particularly from out of the Gentiles. This was a very sore spot with the Jews, since they mistakenly supposed that God’s promises of the old covenant were made to all the natural seed of Israel, exclusively to those circumcized and made a visible part of the nation. Their attitude was, “We have Abraham to our father,” (Mt. 3:9) although by John they had been strictly warned not to assume that. Paul refutes this error. Dispensationalism reveals how Judaistic it is in putting it back into circulation.
What Paul teaches, in fact, all Scripture teaches, is that the promises of God were never made to mere natural men, men in the flesh, but rather men in the spirit - regenerated men. The distinction of the Word of God is not that of two kinds of people, an earthly people and a heavenly people both of which shall be saved and share in the kingdom of Christ, but of two kinds of Israelites, a carnal Israel, born after the flesh, and a spiritual Israel, born by promise, the latter alone “the children of the promise.” (Rom. 9:8; Gal. 4:23) Many mere Jews are not God’s children at all, (Jn. 8:42,44) whereas many Gentiles by nature have been made fellow-citizens with the saints - what saints? Old Testament saints! for they are “blessed with faithful Abraham.” (Gal. 3~9)
When Paul maintains “We are the Circumcision, which worship God in the spirit and rejoice in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:3) he means that mere natural Israel was only a carnal circumcision, was not, never was the spiritual circumcision. Those of the mere natural circumcision Paul warns against, in the words, “Beware of the concision.” That is what they, mere natural Jews are, the concision, the Mutilation. The contrast is between the carnal Israel, the Mutilation, and the Circumcision, the Israel of God.
Circumcision was the sign of the old covenant, the meaning of which was regeneration. “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiffnecked.” (Dt. 10:16) That is a command, but if the Lord will only promise, He may command what He will and it shall be done! For every command there is a promise. “The Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God.” (Dt. 30:6) The true meaning of circumcision is the purifying of the heart, i.e., regeneration. It signifies a work accomplished objectively in the crucifixion of Christ, in which all Christians are involved and identified with Christ, and subjectively a work of grace in the heart of the Christian in which he is given a new heart. (Col. 2:ll; Gal. 5:24; Ezek. 36:26)