Throughout the scriptures, Israel is referred to as God’s people because of the covenant God made with them through Moses.
The term “MY PEOPLE” doesn’t always mean God’s true people in the sense of being faithful to Him. For example, in Isaiah 1:3 God says, “the ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel doth not know, MY PEOPLE doth not consider.”
In the very next verse, God says, “Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward (v.4).
A few verses later, Isaiah says, “Except the Lord of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah” (v.9).
When God judged ancient Israel God said to Jeremiah, “Even if Moses and Samuel stood before me pleading for these people, I wouldn’t help them. Away with them! Get them out of my sight!” (Jeremiah 15:1).
God also said to Ezekiel regarding the expulsion the people from the land of Israel, “Though these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they should deliver but their own souls by their righteousness, saith the Lord God”…”Though these three men were in it, as I live, saith the Lord God, they shall deliver neither sons nor daughters; they only shall be delivered, but the land shall be desolate” (Ezekiel 14:14,16).
The distinction between the rebellious within the nation of Israel and the faithful remnant among them is detailed often throughout the scriptures.
In the Old Testament God did not destroy the nation of Israel completely even though they were often times a very rebellious nation and contrary to God. God remained faithful to them for the remnant’s sake – those who were His true servants within Israel.
I am sought of them that asked not for me; I am found of them that sought me not: I said, Behold me, behold me, unto a nation that was not called by my name. I have spread out my hands all the day unto a rebellious people, which walketh in a way that was not good, after their own thoughts; A people that provoketh me to anger continually to my face; that sacrificeth in gardens, and burneth incense upon altars of brick; Which remain among the graves, and lodge in the monuments, which eat swine’s flesh, and broth of abominable things is in their vessels; Which say, Stand by thyself, come not near to me; for I am holier than thou. These are a smoke in my nose, a fire that burneth all the day. Behold, it is written before me: I will not keep silence, but will recompense, even recompense into their bosom, Your iniquities, and the iniquities of your fathers together, saith the Lord, which have burned incense upon the mountains, and blasphemed me upon the hills: therefore will I measure their former work into their bosom. Thus saith the Lord, AS THE NEW WINE IS FOUND IN THE CLUSTER, AND ONE SAITH, DESTROY IT NOT; FOR A BLESSING IS IN IT: SO WILL I DO FOR MY SERVANTS’ SAKES, THAT I MAY NOT DESTROY THEM ALL. And I will bring forth a seed out of Jacob, and out of Judah an inheritor of my mountains: and mine elect shall inherit it, and my servants shall dwell there (Isaiah 65:1-9).
As a nation, they were God’s people because of the Mosaic Covenant, as individuals they were not all His people because they did not all serve Him from the heart. This is a foundation truth and the precedence for Paul’s statement in the New Testament; Nevertheless the foundation of God stands sure, having this seal, The Lord knows them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity (2 Timothy 2:19).
In ancient Israel there was King Saul and there was his successor, King David. Saul was as much an Israelite as David was, but there was a big difference in the two. Saul did not have a heart to please God, and David was a man after God’s own heart. In the end, God rejected Saul from being King and He chose David and blessed him as the King of Israel.
There are many examples in scripture of both unrighteous Jews who did evil in the sight of God and righteous Jews who did well in the sight of God. There were those who were rejected and judged by God and those who were accepted and pleasing to Him.
In Matthew 13:17 Jesus said to his disciples, “many prophets and RIGHTEOUS men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them”.
On the other hand, we read in Matthew 23 how Jesus confronted the UNRIGHTEOUS Scribes and Pharisees with declarations of God’s judgment against them.
The Scribes and Pharisees were just as much “Jews in the flesh” as those righteous men whom Jesus referred to in Matthew 13, but there was a difference. Those mentioned in chapter 13 were righteous and those in chapter 23 were unrighteous and God made a distinction between them.
In John 1, Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him and Jesus said, “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile”! The Amplified Bible says, “Here is an Israelite indeed [a true descendant of Jacob], in whom there is no guile nor deceit nor falsehood nor duplicity” !
Yet in John 8 Jesus said to some Jews opposing Him, “you are of your father the devil” and in John 10 Jesus told some Jews “you are not My sheep” and “you are not of God”. Those Jews in John 8 and 10 were as much “Jews in the flesh” as Nathanael was, yet they were not praised as “true Jews” as Nathaniel was. Nathaniel was pure in heart and followed Jesus, those Jews in John 8 and 10 had hearts against Jesus.
Jesus made a distinction between Nathanael and them.
Clearly, if we would take into account the Biblical narrative, we would see examples like these over and over again. There were righteous Jews and unrighteous Jews and God always separated between the two and it was always those who were righteous and whose hearts were after God who were His true servants, His true people, and the true Israel in His sight.