Israel, a Light to the Nations

Theme: ICEJ Feast of Tabernacles 2011

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Publish Date: 
Fri, 09/23/2011
Israel, a Light to the Nations

“Indeed He says, ‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, that You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.’” Isaiah 49:6

The Feast theme this year, “Israel: Light to the Nations” is based on Isaiah 49:6, a prophetic passage rich with meaning, as it touches upon God’s calling and purpose over Israel.

This verse has been used in many different contexts. For instance, many today allude to it in reference to modern Israel’s many amazing medical and technological advances. Yet the focus of the passage is on God’s “salvation”.

In context, the passage speaks of a Servant of the Lord whose task would be to not only restore the descendants of Jacob, the Jewish people, but also to embrace a broader mission among the Gentiles by taking God’s salvation to the ends of the earth. So Isaiah is speaking about a person of “light” – undoubtedly the promised Messiah – who is a restorer of Israel, rather than about the nation of Israel itself.

This is how the passage is treated in the New Testament. In Luke 2:32, it is used to refer to Jesus at his birth, describing his dual role as “a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel”. In Acts 13:47, the Apostle Paul cites the same verse to validate his resolve to take the Gospel to the nations. Then in Acts 26:23, Paul again refers to Jesus as that favoured son of Israel who was sent to “proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles”.

Yet that is not the end of the story. Jesus did not just arrive out of nowhere, but came according to the promises which God made to the “fathers”, meaning the Hebrew patriarchs (Romans 9:4-5, 11:28, 15:8; Galatians 3). He indeed was the “Light of the world” (John 8:12), but he arose out of the light of Messianic hope already given to Israel. Even Jesus himself said: “Salvation is of the Jews.” That is, the very concept of world redemption came through Israel.

Among its many uses in the Bible, light is presented as a metaphor for truth. Divine light reveals eternal realities, the way things really are, since our spiritual understanding is often veiled (Psalm 43:3; 2 Corinthians 4:6). This is especially relevant to Israel’s central role as a “light to the nations”, revealing to the world the true nature and character of God.

In His covenants with Israel, God reveals His personality. We see His grace and faithfulness, as well as His holiness and justice. This is summed up in one powerful passage in Exodus in which God describes His own attributes to Moses on Mt. Sinai.

“And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.’” Exodus 34:5-7

Thus it was through Israel that God revealed His personality traits to the world – what He is like and what pleases and displeases Him. Through the revelation at Sinai, we understand He is the awesome Creator, and yet He does not want to stay out there in eternity forever. Rather, He loves Creation and actually wants to come down and “dwell” with us (Exodus 29:43-46; Revelation 21:3).

But He also is a holy God and cannot abide sin. He lashes out at it, even visiting iniquities on succeeding generations. Thus we know there are consequences for sin! One day, this Creator God will require that everyone give account for their lives (Ecclesiastes 3:15; Matthew 12:36; Romans 14:12; Hebrews 4:13).

This revelation at Sinai gave rise to “ethical monotheism” – belief in the one true God and Creator of all, who is ultimately good and holy and engaged with the world, and to whom we will all give answer some day, thereby encouraging us to live uprightly. This revelation remains an incredible “light” delivered thru Israel to the world, which was groping in darkness. For man’s image of God had become perverted, as we brought Him down to our level (Romans 1:18-23).

Man’s highest wisdom in ancient times gave us the Greek pantheon of gods, who were selfish and temperamental, and taken up in revelry. But Israel insisted the Creator is not like that; He is merciful, holy, slow to anger, and ever open to the repentant soul. This was a precious light shining forth into darkness. And the Israelites were made custodians of this light for all peoples.

MenorahWe see this uniquely manifested by the visible symbols of light which God placed in the Wilderness Tabernacle, and later at the Temple – the Menorah and the holy fire which fell upon the altar. The light of God’s glory was also seen in the pillar of fire that accompanied Israel in the desert, and in the glory reflected on the face of Moses.

Israel has carried this magnificent light for generations, and indeed the Apostle Paul lists “the glory” as one of the great redemptive gifts which “belong” to Israel (Romans 9:4). Thus, Christians should be forever grateful for this divine light which came to us through Israel.

Find out more about the ICEJ's Christian celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles »


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