In the Scriptures many of protagonists’ names have meanings that either determine or are congruent with the given person’s identity. Our identity, naturally, plays a major role in our lives; gender, family, community, ethnicity, nationality and profession. In our day and age one can also be known or identified by one’s association with a political or religious grouping, or other types of ideologies, or even by varying interests.
At the very beginning the Creator made Man in His image and likeness; He made them male and female. This was humanity’s initial identity and had they continued to “walk” with Elohim they would have come to know themselves accordingly and would have given expression to this “image and likeness”. They truly would have been the Creator’s children, sons and daughters (‘like father - like son/daughter’). However, having given up their original nature, our progenitors bequeathed to their seed a distorted identity which has taken on manifold expressions all through history. So much so, that the rebellion has morphed to the point of the current frightening gender confusion, attempts at cloning and other technological efforts that at times almost dehumanize what Elohim created in His image. Darwin’s theory relegated the human species to an animalistic identity and this has evolved into a behavior and a mindset to match. Animals in many cases have been and are domesticated or trained, and are then harnessed to tasks that serve their master. Such is the condition we face in the world of humanity today.
A dictionary definition of identity is: ”The state or fact of remaining the same one or ones, as under varying aspects or conditions… the condition of being oneself or itself, and not another…condition or character as to who a person or what a thing is; the qualities, beliefs, etc., that distinguish or identify a person or thing.”
Elohim had given man his name, and then man named the woman. Humanity continues, likewise, to name their offspring. The Creator asked Adam to name the animals, and thus involved him with their identity-definition. The book of Genesis sets in motion a history of identification markers. Our “father Abraham” is but one example. Many today, even four thousand years after the fact, continue to identify themselves as people groups descended from him. To follow the identity pattern in Genesis, as mentioned above, there are individuals whose names describe or determine their identity and who have thus been differentiated into families, tribal groupings, or nations yet all originating with Abraham, such as Ishmael, Isaac, or the tribes of Israel. Then there are more Abrahamic relatives with national identities, such as the Midianites, Sheba and Edom.
In the writings of the New Covenant there are many references to “nationality”, simply by the usage of the term “ethnos”, which means exactly that, a “nation” or a “people group”. In English that neutral term has been translated into “Gentile” or “Gentiles”. The usage of the term Gentile, rather than people or nation, has become synonymous with being non-Jewish, as mentioned in the last article, while Jewish equals to being a descendent of the forefathers - Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. As a matter of fact, these Patriarchs are often called Jews. So where does this leave us, who claim Israelite identity?
In his letter to the Ephesians Paul describes the “Gentiles”: “Living in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness” (Ephesians 4:17-19). Peter adds more to the identity of a “Gentle”: “For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles -- when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries” (1 Peter 4:3). Is this who we are, as redeemed Israelites in Messiah? Or is this why the apostle says “formally you were [identified as] Gentiles” (and I might add “behaved like them”)? But now “having been brought back into covenant”, do we still identify ourselves as Gentiles, or are we truly the Israel of YHVH that manifests His nature?
In the Israeli news this week there was a report about 50 Gypsies from France and other locations that convened for a conference in Jerusalem proclaiming Israelite identity. Their gypsy ethnicity and their claims sparked here unfavorable comments regarding their ultimate intentions.
Very recently I received a letter from a Jewish Messianic believer, commenting on the Israelite (two house) Movement. Here are just a few of his “jabs”: I viewed it as one of the many new winds that blow regularly through the Body of Messiah in these days of delusion… a rather convoluted reasoning process… Remembering the words of Thomas Paine, “To argue with someone who has abandoned reason is to administer medicine to a dead man,”… This is coveting of [identity] the first order. This appears to be nothing more than a new twist on replacement theology.
Because more and more groups around the world are claiming an Israelite identity of some sort we, along with the Jewish nation, are faced with a real dilemma. We, for example, believe in Yeshua as Messiah and claim the New Covenant writings as central to our identity and cultural expression, while the Jewish nation is guarded and protective of their identity. To many Israeli Jews, whether religious or secular, the idea of “non-Jewish lost tribes” poses a threat to their identity and uniqueness. With all the ones that are coming to the fore as “Israelites”, it remains up to YHVH to sift out the ones who are merely jumping on the band wagon. Yet we do need to be mindful that there is more happening out there in regards to Israelite identity, although at times to the point of “competition”. To all that we say, let the real Israelites rise up!