One of these days, the people of God will be amazed to learn that any power Satan retains is only that which God allows him to have, or that God’s people themselves give to him. That is the testimony of Scripture (Job 1:6-12, 2:1-10; Isaiah 14:12-20, Colossians 2:8-15; Ephesians 4:7-10; Psalm 68:18-19). It is a testimony lived out in recent centuries as Christians and Jews of all denominations and sects cling tightly to their own unique perspective of the Creator’s work, while questioning the inclusion of others with them in that work. The result is a terminal fragmentation, evident in the declining effectiveness of the church (at least in the West), and a Judaism split between an assimilated Diaspora and an internally focused observant segment largely concentrated in Israel.
The stumbling block, of course, is the Messiah – the one Christians call Jesus Christ, but whom Jews for the most part disregard. Even those who fall in between these two major elements of God’s people have their issues. Although Messianic Jews and non-Jewish Hebrew Roots adherents agree that Jesus (whom they call by his Hebrew name, Yeshua) is the Messiah, and that the Torah (teaching, instruction, direction, law) of God are still applicable to Yeshua’s followers, the agreement tends to stop at that point. Thus the terminal fragmentation persists even in this expanding space that is filling the gap between Judaism and Christianity.
Where is the remedy for this sad state of affairs? Batya Ruth Wootten offers an answer in Redeemed Israel – Reunited and Restored. Her answer rests squarely on the question of identity, a question that leads her to ask, “If our God is the God of Israel, and the Jewish people are Israel, then who is the Church?”
Batya Wootten has been investigating this fundamental question of identity for nearly half a century. In this work, she distills her findings to present them in a well-organized fashion that the reader will find easy to follow and digest. Through 30 short chapters, Wootten begins with Abraham, father of the faith shared by nearly half the world’s population. She then examines the establishment of the redemptive nation of Israel descended from Abraham, and investigates the work of the two portions of that nation who have served as witnesses of the Almighty for the last 3,000 years. Along the way, she provides hundreds of references from the Bible documenting this massive story of Divine redemption in a way that resolves the fundamental question of identity.
The answer comes through an adjustment of our understanding about the identity of Israel. Wootten explains that Israel consists not only of the Jewish people, whom she connects with the southern kingdom of ancient Israel, known as Judah, but also millions of non-Jewish Israelites connected to the northern kingdom, known variously in Scripture as Israel, Joseph, and Ephraim.
There is a biological element at work here, and Wootten tackles that expeditiously. The House of Judah (the Jewish people of today) can trace their lineage back to ancient Israel. Specifically, to that portion of the nation ruled by the tribe of Judah, the tribe both of King David and of Messiah Yeshua. Many from other Israelite tribes and from among the nations have joined with the Jewish people through the ages, and they, too, are part of the House of Judah. The House of Joseph, or Ephraim, however, lost their identity after being scattered into the nations. Even though there is no way to trace Ephraimite lineage, they are not be lost to the Almighty. Wootten tells us:
[Once] swallowed up by the Nations, the Ephraimites became part of the Gentiles. Their Ephraimite identity would vanish. They would become LoAmmi (Not My People), their hallmark being that they were not identifiable as Yah’s people. Yet, to these wayward ones He made an awesome promise: “I will shake the house of Israel among all nations as grain is shaken in a sieve, but not a kernel will fall to the ground.” (Amos 9:9) (p. 42)
This is part of God’s plan. The Two Houses of Israel have related, but distinct and separate, roles in testifying to the truth of the Creator. Wootten traces the career of the Two Witnesses from the days of Joshua and Caleb, the only two men who brought a good report about the Promised Land and of God’s willingness and ability to bring Israel into it safely. Not surprisingly, Joshua was of the tribe of Ephraim, and Caleb of Judah. The witness of those two tribes, and the Houses of Israel they led, has continued through the ages. Wootten explains this both in literal and spiritual ways, noting that the promises of God have fulfillment on both levels. In bringing this testimony to the present, she says:
Metaphorically, the two witnesses are two anointed olive trees who speak for the God of Israel, and Judaism and Christianity are the only two religions on Earth that give testimony about Him. (p. 164)
A major issue regarding this testimony is that the witnesses have tended to fight against rather than support one another. Wootten investigates, and handily dismantles, many of the arguments Christians and Jews have used against each other. These arguments have two common elements: first, they aim at disqualifying the other as part of God’s redemptive, covenant people of Israel; and second, they restrict full membership in Israel only to those who are putting forth the argument. These “defective doctrines,” as Wootten calls them, include:
- Replacement Theology (the Church has replaced the Jewish people)
- Separate Entities – Separate Covenants (the belief that the Church and Israel are separate entities, each holding distinct covenants with God)
- Physical and Spiritual Israel (the idea that Jews are physical Israel, descended from Abraham, and Christians are Abraham’s spiritual heirs)
- The Adopted, Grafted-in Gentile (that non-Jewish believers in Yeshua remain Gentiles, even though Scripture calls them former Gentiles and testifies to their full membership in the nation of Israel)
- The Jewish People Represent All Israel (a belief that excludes all non-Jews from full membership in the nation of Israel)
In presenting her analysis of these “tattered theories,” Wootten makes use of the extensive record of Scripture that Israel consists of far more than the Jewish people. Her reasoning includes such logic as:
If we say that the children of first century rabbinical Jews are Abraham’s heirs because they are Jews, but the children of First Century Jewish Believers are no longer heirs, we are claiming that these Believers were disinherited because they did not follow Rabbinic Judaism. If so, what then is to be our standard for inclusion in Israel? Genetics? Observance of Rabbinic Jewish customs? Or shall we instead trust in the standard of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation? (pp. 96-97)
In building her case, she succeeds in explaining where all elements of the covenant nation of Israel have a place in this grand scheme of redemptive history and prophecy. Whether Jewish, Ephraimite, or foreigners from the nations, all who attach themselves to the God of Israel become full members of His covenant nation. To say anything less is to deny the identity, inheritance, and purpose of a portion of God’s people and, by extension, hinder the plans of God Himself. In another example of her straightforward reasoning, Wootten notes:
Those who would follow the God of Israel should walk in His truth regarding Israel. They should not use the name of Israel as a misnomer. This means, if non-Jewish Believers in Messiah are not part of Israel, then they should not use Scriptures pertaining to Israel when referring to themselves. On the other hand, if they are part of Israel, then a clear definition of the exact basis on which they may lay claim to the title must be developed and embraced. If the Jewish people also are Israel, then their right to the title must not be demeaned nor denied, but instead should be encouraged. (p.50)
These are fundamental questions. How we answer them determines how we approach the Bible, the God of the Bible, and the world God intends to redeem. Again, Wootten places the issue in context by saying:
We need to know [who is Israel] because the way we define Israel determines how we interpret Scripture and who we believe are YHVH’s chosen people. It sets the course for what we envision to be the life-call of those people, as well as what we believe to be Messiah Yeshua’s Kingdom purposes. (p. 59)
In Redeemed Israel – Reunited and Restored, Batya Wootten provides the answers we need, and the solution to the age-old conflict God’s people have waged against themselves.