How did a Gentile become a part of Israel? It was all a matter of the Covenant. Anyone who was willing to embrace the covenant in full could become a part of Israel, and it had nothing to do with DNA. That was God’s Word: You became a “child of Israel” — and by implication a full vested claimant in the promises of God to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It was supposed to be a matter of faith, of full personal commitment to embracing an identity of personal loyalty to God. You were actually become part of God’s family. He willingly adopted anyone who became loyal to Him personally.
But we know how quickly the bulk of Israeli people kept forgetting that. They kept slipping into the mindset about DNA and being a “true Israelite.” They kept trying to make it a matter of objective fact, not a question of moral commitment. This is behind Jesus’ comment that God could make stones into more valid “Children of Abraham” than someone with dubious claims to customary inheritance through DNA. The stones would have been more faithful to God’s purpose.
Look at the academic study of the Ancient Near East in terms of history, culture and literature. We have no ideas about an ethnic identity for terms like “Aramaic” or “Akkadian.” We already know those folks were all about the language and culture, and were most certainly of mixed DNA from any number of nations and tribes roaming and mixing across that region of the world. What held those people together was a language and a moral outlook that manifested in common intellectual assumptions. And for all we can tell, they would have asserted such themselves. They were bound together by anthropological affinity, not some objective immutable fact. In their own minds it was never a question of being or doing, but a matter of who you were in your soul.
Think about the actual meaning of the terms often abused today. As noted above, “Israeli” was supposed to be a matter of covenant identity. If you weren’t faithful to the Covenant, your identity as a Child of Israel was on soft ground (sand as opposed to bedrock). Covenant identity would presumably include a necessity of learning the Hebrew language, because the Hebrew culture was contained in, and transmitted by, the spoken language. The whole meaning of the Israeli Covenant was in the narrative; it was the centerpiece of meaning itself. Only incidentally was it about writing things down. Hebrew was a narrative language and the mystical truth was not in the words, but the living experience implied by a dramatic rendering in narrative words. Hebrew language was indicative, not descriptive; it pointed to a meaning that was beyond words. The language itself was supposed to help you trust less in some imaginary “objective reality” and to put your trust in moral truth.
So today we have people slinging around terms like “anti-Semite.” The academic meaning of that term is actually a matter of hating a group of languages. The term “Semite” refers to a linguistic group, not a race or ethnic group. Semitic languages today include Hebrew, Arabic, and a smattering of related tongues used by small groups of people in the Middle East. In other words, you cannot reduce “anti-Semite” to some objective fact. While the term is used that way for the sake of propaganda, it’s sheer nonsense.
This is why I keep reminding folks that the name “Israel” is not properly a geographic term, nor a racial or ethnic identity, but a name used by God to denote a moral commitment to His revelation. It’s a name denoting people who have joined into the faith commitment by a man God called “Israel.” Today, the proper use of “Israel” according to God’s Word is anyone who follows Jesus. But it excludes folks who call themselves “Christian” if they are Westernized and cling to a religion based on Enlightenment assumptions about reality. In other words, if you have not adopted a Hebrew mystical approach to thinking, you cannot rightly call yourself “Christian” because you would not be actually following Jesus and His teachings. You may well still be struggling to learn what that means, but by faith you should have embraced it already.