Israel: Between Promises and Reality 2

Western-Wall-Jerusalem-Day-3

By David Zadok

Presented in Germany, October, 2015

 

Session 2: The Pattern of God in Old Testament

Introduction

The long history of Israel from Abraham to the last prophet of the Old Testament, namely Malachi, is a long history that expands over centuries. That long history is filled with events that shape not only the people and place of Israel in the history of mankind, but particularly God’s redemptive history. While some may argue about the future role Israel would or even should play in the redemptive plan of God, none would argue about the place of Israel in the past. The evidence of the Old Testament is very clear.

 

The Place of Israel in History

It may not be a gross exaggeration if I will say that most Christians acknowledge the role of Israel in history. God’s call to Abraham out of the land of Haran to the a land that He would show him, begins in many ways the story of the Jews, the wandering Jew as often we are called. God not only calls Abraham, but makes promises to him in a covenant.

 

God’s promised he would give Abraham a land, make him a great nation, bless him, and make his name a great one. Furthermore, he also promised him that he would bless those who bless him and curse those who dishonor him, but also that he would be a blessing to all the families of the earth (Gen. 12:1-3). Though Abraham did not have the patience to wait for God to fulfill his promise in his way and timing, God miraculously gave him and Sara a son, Isaac. While Ishmael, son of Hagar, was the first born to Abraham, God made Isaac the son of the heir of the promise and part of the seed of the woman. Through the story of Ishmael and Isaac, God revealed himself as the Sovereign God who is above all customs, cultures and manmade roles. We see the same pattern again with the sons of Isaac. The younger one, Jacob, was appointed as the heir, rather than the older son, Esau, even if only minutes separated their births. And as we survey the life and actions of Jacob, we wonder why would God make him the heir? He tricked his brother into selling his birth right, something that is not for sale. Then, he lied to his father and acted deceitfully by taking advantage of his old age and dimmed eyesight and stole the blessing that was reserved for Esau. And while Laban was not exactly the most honest person – ironically his name in Hebrew means white, Jacob still took advantage of him as well. But, and this is an important but, God protected him from Esau and Laban and brought him back to the land that was promised to his father and grandfather, who lived there and were buried there as well. Jacob was buried in that same land, with a kingly procession and funeral. Here we see again a pattern in which God is not only above and beyond any human customs, but fulfills His promise mainly to the undeserved!  That is why the “but” is important. God dealt with Jacob not according to what he deserved.

 

The twelve sons of Jacob, who became the progenitors of the twelve tribes, were the ones who ended up in Egypt through unusual circumstances that God alone could plan. There, from princes they eventually turned into slaves, like Joseph. But also with them we see the same pattern. It was not the first born, Reuben, who became the son of promise, but rather Judah. And also Joseph, the second youngest, (Benjamin was the youngest) received much of the attention in the history of Israel, and in the book of Genesis. In fact, Chapters 39 through 50, the last chapter of the book of Genesis, is dedicated to the story of Joseph. This is, of course, an indication of the important role that Joseph had and played in the history of the people of Israel and beyond. Without him, we may not have been sitting here now! Joseph literally became not only the savior of his father, brothers and their families, but also the savior of the Egyptians. In this and many other ways he became a type of Messiah. He suffered unjustly and through his sufferings he became a blessing and a savior to many, not only to his own people.

 

After four centuries, and just as God told Abraham in Genesis 15:13, [1] he brought the people of Israel, abused slaves, out of Egypt through another savior, this time called Moses. God, with his mighty hand and outstretched arm, brought them out of Egypt, set them free to worship him and called them his people. It is interesting to note that the first time God calls Israel my people is in Exodus 3: 7- 8 while they are slaves in Egypt. Speaking to Moses God says these words: Then the LORD said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. (Exod. 3:7-8 ESV). In these words God reveals himself as a God of mercy and compassion, and also a God that is active. He saw the affliction of his people, he heard their cry and he knew their suffering. It is amazing that the creator of universe would be so busy with his people – seeing, hearing and knowing. And then in verse eight he says that he has come down to bring them up. Just like in the Hebrew you can hear the play on words in this verse. After seeing and hearing the cry of his people and after knowing their sufferings, he came down to deliver them and bring them up. He comes down so he can bring them up. That is so characteristic of God to do all that is needed to deliver and save us. And of course a day would come, when Jesus, the son, the living God would come down in flesh and deliver us, and he will bring us up to himself. He had to go down to Sheol so we can go up to heaven with him.

 

The Pass-Over

The last of the ten plagues that God brought on the Egyptians was the death of the first born. The people of Israel were not the only rebellious and stiff- necked people. Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, saw the hand of God as the plagues came down from heaven, and there was nothing that his magicians or wise men could do to stop or reverse them, but he did not let the people go to worship God. And this was despite the fact that the plagues landed only on the Egyptians, and the Israelites in Goshen were safe and unhurt. It was only after the tenth plague and the loss of his own first born child that he agreed to let them go, but he soon ran after them. He then not only saw the miracles of God again, but witnessed how his mighty army drown in the depth of the very sea that his slaves passed on dry land.

 

The night when God sent his angle of death to Egypt to kill every first born of Egyptians became an unforgettable night for the Israelites. It provided a great pillar in the history of the people of Israel, one that impacted many generations even to this day. It was on that very night that the angel of death passed over every single home of the Israelites that had blood on its doorposts. The Israelites were to put the blood of the lamb that they sacrificed with a brush of hyssop, on all their doorposts. In Exodus 12:22 we read Take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basinIt is interesting to think that they had to touch the beam and the two doorposts on the side –making a symbol similar to the cross. Blood of course represents life, and God requires it for atonement as we read in  Leviticus 17:11  For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life. The blood of the lamb became a symbol of their salvation. The first Passover and the lamb that was sacrificed, together with the deliverance from the Egyptian slavery, became the first Passover. A festival that is celebrated by the Jews today and has significance for the Christian church as well, or at least should have!

 

In God’s redemptive plan, the Passover story because of its historical redemptive significance, has a thread that crosses through the whole of the scriptures and finds its ultimate fulfillment in Christ becoming our Passover (I Cor. 5:7), and goes even beyond this world all the way into the new heaven and earth. We find the significance of this story and act throughout the pages of the scriptures. It forms the basis of the Law given to the people through Moses in Ex. 20:1-2  And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. It also became a basis for praising God for his deliverance as we read in Psalm 78 and other psalms. It is a reminder of God’s faithfulness and his redemption throughout the ages for the people of Israel and even the whole world. The Exodus motif is found all over the pages of the Old Testament as well as the New Testament, where the Lamb of God once and for all through his own blood sprinkled on the doorposts, not of our homes but of our hearts, has saved us from the curse and the hands of the angel of death. “He is Risen!” is pronounced. The slain lamb has conquered death, and accomplished our delivery.

 

The Reason

In light of who God is, we can certainly understand why he did what he did. After all, God had made promise to preserve the seed of the woman in Genesis 3:15 (as we have seen), and he has entered into a covenant relationship. He had chosen them from among all the peoples and nations of the earth, and he would not allow them to perish as slaves. In order to help ourselves not to think too highly of Israel or ourselves, we must acknowledge what the Word of God tells us regarding his reason for choosing the people of Israel. It was not because of their number, wisdom or wealth, but because of his love, as we read in Deut. 7:6-9. For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations (Deut. 7:7-9 ESV). There was nothing of merit in the people of Israel that caused God to choose them. The choice was totally independent of them, only dependent on God and his love. This again is so very important for us to comprehend as we speak about the reality and future of Israel.

 

Though God, the faithful God, brought Israel out of Egypt by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm (Deut. 4:34), they almost immediately rebelled against him. While Moses was on Mount Sinai in communion with the living God and about to bring them the Law, they made a golden calf and said, Ex. 32:4 These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt! Their rebellion was immediate and not confined to this single act of idolatry. It continued even though the Lord provided them with the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire to guide and protect them. He provided them manna from heaven daily. And because of their murmuring and rebellion, God kept them in the wilderness for forty years before bringing them into the Promised Land. In this way, he allowed the older generation who came out of Egypt to perish. Only the younger generation who had seen and experienced the provision and kindness of God daily, entered the land. Even when Moses grew tired of the sojourners, God patiently and lovingly led them into his presence through the tabernacle and into the Promised Land.

 

The Conquering

We read about the conquering of the land in the book of Joshua, the new leader and savior of the people. The book is roughly divided into two parts. In the first twelve chapters we read about the conquering of the land and in the remaining twelve chapters we learn about dividing the land between the tribes. Each tribe, except the Levites, received their share with well-defined borders. The crossing of the Jordan river under Joshua’s leadership, and the parting of the Jordan was a sign of assurance for the people of Israel. In order to show to the new generation his faithfulness, and in order for them to  trust their new leader, Joshua, God accomplished yet another miracle to help them trust in God and Joshua. In Chapter Three beginning with verse seven, we read these words: The LORD said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. What a great encouragement these words of the Lord must have been to Joshua! And then in verses 9 -13, we continue to read: And Joshua said to the people of Israel, Come here and listen to the words of the LORD your God.” And Joshua said, “Here is how you shall know that the living God is among you and that he will without fail drive out from before you the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Hivites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, and the Jebusites. Behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth is passing over before you into the Jordan. Now therefore take twelve men from the tribes of Israel, from each tribe a man. And when the soles of the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the LORD, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off one heap. God, in his goodness, provided a mini duplication of holding back the sea from flowing, and the waters coming down from above shall stand. A sign that he was with them, and Joshua was his man, their new leader. Such is our God!    

 

God indeed conquered the fortified cities and the giant peoples of the land. Israel fought for the land, but the battle and the victory belonged to God. The Lord fought for them, conquered the land, and gave the tribes their inheritance, something they did not have to purchase. The people settled in the Promised Land, the very same land with the same borders God had promised to their forefathers.

 

As we flip the pages of history, we see a pattern emerging, concerning the people of Israel. A pattern that is all too apparent in the book of Judges. Israel rebels, the Lord brings upon them an enemy to trouble them, then the people cry out to God, and he raises a judge to deliver them. After a time of peace and quietness, they rebel again against God, and this pattern repeats itself. It is repeated over and over again, but with time each judge was more wicked than the one before him. The unfaithfulness of the people and their rebellion against God is not limited to the era of the judges alone, but reoccurs throughout the pages of the history of the people of Israel as related in the Old Testament.

 

The people sinned boldly against their Creator and Savior. They worshipped idols made by human hands. Can you imagine what an insult that was to God? Yet God remained faithful in forgiving, saving, leading and guiding his people. Again and again he sent them prophets to show them their desperate need for repentance and to call them back to him. We hear the cries of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea and other prophets, pleading with God’s people to repent, to change their ways and to follow the God of the covenant. But despite the pleading of the prophets, the people of Israel continued to do evil in the sight of the Lord. Their hearts followed idols, worshipping objects made by their hands, rather than the Creator. However, in spite of their treachery and their rejection of God and his ways, God remained faithful to them. Yes, he exiled them from the land. Yes, he held back the rain, and yes, he brought terrible enemies upon them. But these acts of judgment were actually a testimony of his love for them because he did not reject them and did not forsake them. The people of Israel were his possession, and he loved them as a father. As we read in Proverbs 3:12: For the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights. God acted towards them as a father who at times, for the benefit of his child, punishes him. This is God’s way, and this is the true meaning of his love and his grace to the people of Israel and to us. This is the pattern that we see again and again.

 

Kingdom Era

From the establishment of the Kingdom of Israel by the first King, Saul, and throughout the northern and southern kingdoms, God’s people remained disobedient to God. When we read about the kings of Israel and Judah the most common description of them was that He did what was evil in the sight of the Lord. They did not give heed to the warnings of God and of his coming judgment as to the result of their disobedience to his commandments. Finally, the time of God’s judgment came with exile to both the northern and then the southern kingdom, the kingdom of Judah. That was the darkest period in the history of the people of Israel. The people were humiliated, exiled, their cities conquered, and Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed. The book of Lamentation describes the tragedy, the pain and the suffering in a very realistic way. And yet God through his faithfulness and according to his promises, brought them back from exile and allowed them once again to build their cities and the temple.

 

In all their rebellion and sin, God remained faithful to his people, even though they went after idols and followed the gods of other nations. But the amazing thing to see in the Old Testament and in God’s dealing with his people, is the grace and mercy of God. Time after time, God in his grace would not destroy the people, and would not give them what they deserve, but as a father gently, and lovingly would discipline them. When they cried out, he graciously forgave them. He heard their cries, even though they were in complete rebellion against him. The Old Testament contains not just his law and judgments, but is a great source of evidence for God’s grace and faithfulness.

 

His faithfulness and grace is seen ultimately in the fact that Christ was given to that same rebellious, idolatrous nation. According to prophecy and at the exact time, he was born to Mary and her husband, Joseph, from the tribe of Judah. When Jacob blessed his sons before his death, he blessed Judah with the words: Genesis 49:10 The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. Just like David, Jesus was from the tribe of Judah, and he is the king that is ruling now and forever, in the fulfillment of the words of Jacob to his son Judah. Despite Israel’s rejection of God’s ways and commands, God faithfully executed his plan of salvation for them and through them, in His son Jesus Christ. He came to his own, but they did not recognize him. He came first and foremost to the Jewish nation, but they rejected him. This, my dear brothers and sisters is the Grace of God, this is the faithfulness of God. And this is a wonderful example for us even today to know that it is not about us, but about God and his faithfulness. The people rejected their God, they whored after other gods, they acted unjustly to others and to one another, they trampled his holy commandments, and desecrated his temple – but God sent them a savior, he came to them. Paul talked about the gospel as the power of salvation, to the Jew first and also to the Greek (Rom. 1:16). God gave them a special place in his redemptive historical plan, and though we as a people were disobedient to him, he remained faithful – to the point of sending his Son through the tribe of Judah, as fulfillment of his promises. Our New Testament begins with the words: The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Christ is right between the two giants, the two pillars, of the Old and New Testament.

 

Conclusion

We do not have more time to survey all the books of the Old Testament. But from what little we saw, we recognize a pattern – God’s faithfulness and Israel unfaithfulness. Throughout the history of the people of Israel, from Abraham to Malachi, we see again and again the love and the patience of God toward the people of Israel. We see how God continued to show mercy and lovingkindness to rebellious Israel. And we see a pattern of the people of Israel, not a positive one, but one that we can sympathize with. They continued in their rebellion against God again and again, particularly when they saw how he delivered them from their enemies. Many experienced the miracles of the ten plagues and the parting the sea. They saw how for forty years in the wilderness he provided for their every need, more than just food and water, but also protection through the pillar of cloud and fire. And later through the era of judges and prophets and kings, the same behavior.

 

In many ways our behavior is like the people of Israel because we are not faithful to God either. We see that in our personal lives, and we see it in the church of Christ today. The same God, in the same pattern is dealing with us as well, and this is what gives us great hope. His love is not dependent on our behavior!

 

 

[1]  Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. (Gen. 15:13 ESV)

 

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