The question “what about the Jew” is frighteningly important in it’s historic context. Paul immediately impresses upon the reader how important his kinsmen according to the flesh are since it directly impacts God’s good word.
Paul’s not referring to only blood relatives although he makes the blood relation with his countrymen that important. These are the Israelites who were formed as a nation by the very word of God. This group finds its origins in Abram, who was called out from the Gentiles, crossed over the river into Canaan and traveled up and down throughout the land. God gave irrefutable promises to Abraham and eventually to his sons…setting them apart children of promise.
To them was given the glory…not a position of pride, but that radiant glory that shone in the wilderness—by night a column of fire and by day a column of smoke. In that day, says God to Solomon, when God Himself walked with the children of Israel throughout the wilderness: the glory!
To them was given the pacts and covenants. Abraham was the recipient of those promises regarding a seed numbering the stars, a land, and blessing for the nations. These promises were similarly repeated to Jacob in his waning years as he traveled to see his living son Joseph in Egypt. God made a covenant with David when the young man sought to build a house to God and God refused him pointing out how he would have David’s son build an eternal house and sit on an eternal throne. God made a covenant that he would one day take the stiff heart of these stubborn people and make them anew where the then broken Law would be kept pure and holy and out of love—the way it was meant to be kept.
To them was given the very Law of God. The Israelites shuddering before the creaking Sinai as this little planet shook with the weight of her Creator coming down upon that mountain. There, God spoke and made blessings or curses in the Land hinge upon their keeping of the Law. But it’s not as if the Law was a bad thing—not at all. For it was by the Law that these Israelites were told how to approach God and how to come to Him on His own terms. By obeying God and keeping His word, the promises He gave would be a blessing indeed.
This people who were formed from the fathers: Abraham then Isaac then Jacob (Israel) then the twelve (or thirteen if you’re counting the adoption of Joseph’s sons). It was by God’s very word that this nation was formed and continued to exist and by whom the Christ would eventually come. Not of some unknown Gentile nation but, as promised, through the people He formed and specified of His own sovereign will. The Christ would come of the tribe of Judah, from whom the scepter would not depart, as the promised Son of David according to the flesh and therein be over all.
It is no wonder that Paul can say “What advantage has the Jew, then? Much in every way!”
So in context of all this, what makes a true Israelite? Is it simply someone born in Israel? After all, this special people were called to be more than simply nationals—they were called to be a “royal kingdom; a nation of priests”. And here this nation is, open unbelievers in God’s promised Messiah as a whole (note that I am not referring to some individuals here or there, I am referring to the nation of Israel, Paul’s countrymen). Are they Israelites?
We referenced this already: it is God’s word. God called Abram from among the Gentiles to become a Hebrew. God promised Abraham a son by whom Abraham’s seed would be propagated.
But…Abraham had two sons: one, older and conceived in a moment of ingenuity and the other born of a barren woman. One a smart way out of a conundrum that God found Himself in (perish the thought) and the other as planned exactly by God. One based on the wisdom of Sarah the other such an absurd impossibility that Sarah laughed. One named God Hears (Ishmael) and the other named He Laughs (Isaac: I wonder who had the last laugh).
For God’s word to stand it must remain His word without perversion. So when we get to “Son of Abraham” we must look at whom God is specifying as the son He promised Abraham. This is moreso interesting that when God tells Abraham to sacrifice Isaac He tells him to sacrifice his son, his only son. God didn’t forget Ishmael, not by a longshot. In fact, He tells Abraham that He will greatly bless Ishmael and make a great nation of Him but His word will stand in Isaac and not Ishmael.
Ishmael, though greatly blessed, was a plan made in the flesh. Isaac, coming straight from God’s promise, is by whom the descendents of Abraham would come. For God’s word was “Sarah shall have a son” and not “Sarah by means of her handmaiden will have a son”.
God is completely sovereign in deciding how His promises would come to be, it’s His words after all. So if He says Sarah will have a Son he means Sarah and not any other. The promise of a people would be established on His word and His faithfulness.
Before we go any further note what the text is not saying. It is not saying that God and Sarah chose the means of God’s promise. It is not saying that the promise meant that their son Isaac would be saved—or even a good person. It is not saying that Ishmael was damned to hell. The point here is God’s word standing.
Now, if His word is this important that question of “what about the Jew” becomes even more pressing…