The crowd wondered when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled healthy, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they glorified the God of Israel. (Matthew 15:31)
The only God in heaven, the only God that created all we know, the only God that saves sinners, the only God that will judge the living and the dead, the only God is the God of Israel. All throughout the Old Testament (more than two hundred times), God is called the “God of Israel,” a name we rarely hear or use now.
And the name does not totally disappear in the New Testament, thought it appears just twice: once in Zechariah’s great prophecy after the birth of his son, John the Baptist (Luke 1:68), and then once more as Jesus heals the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, “and many others” in Matthew 15. “The crowd wondered when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled healthy, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they glorified the God of Israel” (Matthew 15:31).
Why the God of Israel? Because this inbreaking of healing, they knew, must be the work of only one God, the God who chose Israel, who delivered Israel, who strengthened and sustained Israel, who guarded Israel from all her enemies, who had promised Israel a Savior King — the good and faithful God of Israel we see working all throughout the Old Testament.
The God of Israel
The first time we hear that name “God of Israel,” it comes at an especially vulnerable and powerful (and appropriate) moment in Israel’s story:
Afterward Moses and Aaron went and said to Pharaoh, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘Let my people go, that they may hold a feast to me in the wilderness.’” (Exodus 5:1)
For hundreds of years, when the people of God heard “God of Israel,” they likely thought first of how he delivered them from slavery and oppression. They thought of long, hard work days, with little rest. They thought of Pharaoh, and his stubborn refusal to let them go. They thought of the plagues. They thought of the Egyptian army hunting them down, and then the sea opening wide as they walked through unscathed. They thought of their enemies drowning in their wake. They thought of safety and freedom and rest. They thought of the exodus.
But not only of the exodus. They thought of Joshua conquering kings and lands, “because the Lord God of Israel fought for Israel” (Joshua 10:42). They thought of God answering Hannah’s prayer for a son, when the priest said, “Go in peace, and the God of Israel grant your petition that you have made to him” (1 Samuel 1:17). They thought of the Lord calling them back from exile: “Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel” (Ezra 1:3).
In and through it all — triumph and loss, prosperity and poverty, blessing and even curse — the anthem could have been King Solomon’s prayer: “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you, in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and showing steadfast love to your servants who walk before you with all their heart” (1 Kings 8:23). There is no God like this God. And what sets him apart here? His faithfulness.
The Israel of God
And that faithfulness extends to all who have faith in him, because the true Israel is not a people bound by flesh and blood, but a people bound by promise (Romans 9:6–8). In the days of ancient Israel, God promised through Jeremiah,
Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. . . . I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (Jeremiah 31:31–33).
The new Israel would be a people who have God’s law written on their hearts, who have God himself living within them. And this new covenant was purchased for us when the Holy One of Israel died on the cross in our place. “This cup that is poured out for you,” Jesus says to his disciples at the Last Supper, “is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). With the thorns, the nails, the spear in his side, he bought us for the God of Israel.
That means every page of the Old Testament, story after story of this God of Israel, was ultimately written for us: “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).