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The name Israel is the Birthright Name. The angel gave Jacob this name when he was 98 years old as he was returning to Canaan. Jacob was not born an Israelite. Though he was probably a believer from childhood, he was not an overcomer until his wrestling match with the angel (Gen. 32:28).
It is the same with us today. Being an overcomer is not a matter of genealogy today, any more than it was with Jacob. Jacob's first two Jubilees (49 x 2 years) were spent as a believer that did not really comprehend the sovereignty of God. He thought God needed help in obtaining the promise and blessing from his father, who had intended to give it to Esau. When he fled to Haran to work for his uncle Laban for 20 years, he thought God needed some help again and thought up new and better ways to outwit Laban.
Finally, he wrestled with the angel, representing God's presence (face), and lost the match. He then learned the paradox that it is by capitulating to the sovereignty of God that one actually WINS, or "prevails." As long as our flesh has any confidence in its ability to outwit God or to manipulate Him into doing things for us, we will not be overcomers. Jacob finally learned that God Rules. That is what Israel means. When Jacob learned this, and became a living testimony to the truth which that name expressed, then and only then did God give him the name Israel.
His descendants retained that name to identify them as his descendants. Jacob-Israel gave the name to Joseph's sons in Gen. 48:16, saying, "The angel who has redeemed me from all evil bless the lads; and may my name [Israel] live on in them."
The other sons of Jacob-Israel could lawfully call themselves Israel only as long as they were united with the lawful holders of that name. As long as the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh were united with the others, they too could be called Israelites. But when the kingdom was divided after the death of Solomon, the southern house of Judah could not lawfully call itself Israel. That name remained with the northern kingdom, because Ephraim and Manasseh were among them.
That northern house of Israel, of course, was later given a bill of divorce and sent out of the house, never to return to the place of the Old Covenant (the land of Canaan). They were stripped of their Birthright Name, Israel, and came to be known by many alternate names, as I have already shown. This, however, did not give Judah the lawful right to call itself Israel.
The prophets speak of their "return," but that word is an indicator of repentance, not a physical return to Canaan. It is about returning to God, this time under a New Covenant with a better set of promises, according to the book of Hebrews. The "land" to be inherited under the New Covenant is our body. Paul calls it "the redemption of our body" (Rom. 8:23).
The physical descendants of those tribes of Israel are EX-Israelites of the dispersion. The question is how to regain Israelite status with God. It is given to men of character, not of genealogy. It will be conferred upon those who attain to the first resurrection and those who are "changed" at His second coming. In other words, the manifested Sons of God are the ones who will be given the name Israel. Not all ex-Israelites of the dispersion have been or will be overcomers. And many "others" (Isaiah 56:8) who are gathered with them will be manifested as Sons.
The advantage in being an ex-Israelite of the dispersion is the same advantage as in being a Judahite in Paul's day. Insofar as salvation is concerned, Paul says in Rom. 10:12, "there is no distinction between Jew and Greek." It is NOT the case that Jews are saved by their works (doing lawful things), while the non-Jews are saved by grace. There are not two methods of salvation given to men, nor can one set of people be saved by the mediation of Moses through an Old Covenant, while others by the mediation of Jesus through a New Covenant. That idea may be politically correct, but it is biblically unsound. Paul and Peter and all in the upper room at Pentecost were saved only by the New Covenant and obtained salvation by faith alone.
The advantage to being a Judahite or an Israelite (either by nationality or by genealogy) is found in Rom. 3:1 and 2,
" (1) Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? (2) Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God."
They were given the law under Moses, correction through the prophets, and finally Jesus Christ came to them with the oracles of the New Covenant. Is that beneficial? Did not this give them an advantage over others? Most certainly, for they had the greatest opportunity to come to know God. Those who never heard of Jesus Christ have little opportunity to believe in Him. And though human reason can take people quite far in their ability to love their neighbors as themselves, Israel and Judah was given specific laws and statutes by which the people could determine more specifically how not to sin against their neighbors.
Paul then says in Rom. 3:3 and 4,
" (3) What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it? (4) May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written . . ."
There are some who read this and say, "See, those Israelites are all saved whether they believe or not." No, God is faithful, but that is not what Paul said. God was "true" to His word, even though the Israelites were not. In fact, that is precisely why God judged Israel and cast them out. He had told them in Lev. 26 and Deut. 28 that He would cast them out of the land if they were disobedient through unbelief.
Being an Israelite does not give anyone immunity from judgment when he sins. In fact, he is judged in a greater way, precisely because of his advantage. The principle of law is that men are held more accountable when they know God's will and refuse to do it (Luke 12:47; John 9:41). Israel's advantage, then, was cause for greater judgment than that upon other nations.
This advantage is also seen in the fact that the Gospel was first given to Judea, then Samaria, and then to the uttermost parts of the earth (Acts 1:8). It was a matter of priority, not exclusiveness. The Judean had the first advantage, even over the ex-Israelites of the dispersion. Over the centuries, the Gospel found root in the West, where those ex-Israelites resided. Why? Because even those ex-Israelites were given an advantage over other people. Those in the Congo or China would have to wait for many centuries to hear the first principles of the Gospel of Christ.
So the advantage of genealogy is seen clearly in the spread of the Gospel. In fact, this would be quite unfair if God intended to torture all non-believers in hell forever. Fortunately, that is not His intention, for the purpose of the second resurrection is to bring back all who have ever lived in order that they might learn the righteousness of God in the following Age. That is the nature of "the lake of fire," as I have shown. Isaiah 26:9 says, "When the earth experiences Thy judgments, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness."
The advantage of genealogy, then, is that they receive the first opportunity to hear the Word. The secondary blessing is that they are first to experience economic, judicial, and political peace and prosperity. Living in a nation of law-abiding believers is much better than living where might makes right.
That brings us to our final point.