Israel: Between Promises and Reality 1

Western-Wall-Jerusalem-Day-3

By David Zadok

Presented in Germany, October, 2015

 

Session 1: The Pattern and the Ways of God

Introduction

Our triune, sovereign God is a God of revelation who reveals himself to us in various ways. One of the main means he uses to reveal himself to us, is, of course, his written Word. In the Old and the New Testament, we learn much about God, his character and his plans for the world he has created. We learn much about him also through the promises and covenants he has made with us – his supreme creatures. And yet, God in his kindness and goodness has given us pattern and order in his created world, our universe. We see it first in the six days of creation, and then we see it throughout the Scriptures, but also in created nature. When God created the world there was order and logic on the reasons and the timing of each created element. The light was the first element God created because the world was formless and dark, and the light was needed to support life. Man, on the other hand, was created on the sixth day, and by then the created world was such that Adam and Eve could live and survive. So, we can see order and the logic in creation, already from the beginning.

But of course, after creation, God maintained order in the world. The fact that every day the sun rises in the morning from the east and sets in the evening in the west, and then the moon takes over, provides us with a pattern and a rhythm. The seasons of the year that come in an orderly manner help us to manage our lives, and particularly enables the farmers to raise their crops. Also, the growth process of human beings, other creatures, and vegetation all provide a pattern and rhythm that makes life more sensible and workable for us. All of this helps us immensely to live our lives in an organized and planned way. God is not a God of chaos, but of order and pattern. As human beings we need stability, and God in his creation provides us with that.

God’s Revelation

In his great wisdom and from eternity passed, God determined to reveal himself to us. Without this revelation, we would not know who God is. His revelation is what enables us to know and better understand him. It helps us to comprehend something about the eternal and infinite God with our limited and finite minds. All that we know about God is due to the fact that he has revealed himself to us through his Word and nature, his creation. At the same time, his revelation is also progressive. As time passed he revealed more and more of his character and his redemptive plans for mankind. When we read the Scriptures from Genesis to Revelation, we see the progression of that revelation very clearly. The writer of Hebrews puts it in this way: Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world (Heb. 1:1-2 ESV).[1] In the past, referring to the Old Testament era, God spoke to us by the prophets, who were his mouthpiece. In these last days, referring to the New Testament, he has spoken to us through his Son, through whom he created the world. John, in referring to Jesus as the Word (ὁ λόγος), shows us the climax of that revelation. Jesus himself said, “he who has seen Me has seen the Father.”[2] In Christ, we see the embodiment of the very God Himself. In Colossians Chapter One, Paul speaks about Christ being the image of the invisible God (V. 15), and that in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell (V. 19). And later in the same epistle, Paul writes about the mystery that has been revealed in the New Testament. A mystery that was hidden in the past for ages, namely from creation until the coming of the Messiah, but now in Christ, has been revealed. Furthermore, Paul became a minister to make the Word of God fully known. A few verses later in Col 2:2 he explains the purpose of his call by writing that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ. So we see how with time, God revealed more of himself. What the people in the Old Testament saw as in shadow, we can now see the realized in Christ. One of the things I keep reminding our children and church members is the privilege we have not only to live at this time in history after the coming of Christ and his resurrection but also after the canon of  Scripture has been sealed. We now have the complete revelation of God, and there is no mystery that we need to know, that has not been revealed. We can see God’s plan clearly.

Covenants and Promises

But God in his goodness not only has determined that his revelation would be progressive, but that he would deal with his supreme creatures, man, by covenants. In the beginning, he created one man and made a covenant with him. That covenant was a covenant that required obedience from Adam and Eve. He commanded that they could eat of the fruit of any tree in the Garden of Eden, except the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Only God would determine what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is evil. God, and not a man, has to be the compass by which morality is determined. But Adam in his free will chose to believe the lie of the serpent rather than the firm warning of God – “you shall surely die.”[3] It is vital at this very beginning stage of God’s dealing with man, to understand his grace and kindness, as they will become a pattern for us to follow.

Genesis Chapter Three is the most horrible chapter in Scripture and the darkest page in the written history of mankind. The result of the disobedience of Adam and Eve was so devastating that it literally changed the course of the history of mankind, and not for better, but for worse. And yet, despite the promise of God that they would surely die, the physical aspect of that promise was delayed, though spiritually they certainly died instantly as we can see in the changed behavior of both Adam and Eve. Sin corrupted their minds, hearts and also their will. They first tried to hide from God, and then blamed each other, with no ability to take responsibility for their actions or power to seek forgiveness from God. They tried to cover their shame with a fig leaf and complained to God about each other. But God in his mercy allowed them to live and not to die immediately. Yes, God brought the curse of sin upon both of them and also the serpent, and God exiled them from the Garden of Eden, but not before he covered them with the skin of an animal. Blood was needed in order to provide the animal skin, a pointer to the sacrificial system and eventually the blood of the Lamb of God that would take away the sins of the world. In this account, we see the progressive aspect of God’s revelation. More than that, as God guarded the tree of life from Adam and Eve, we can see yet another act of God’s mercy, providing undeserved merit. By protecting the tree of life, God’s mercy was seen in that he did not keep us in our state of sin forever. Can you imagine what a horrible life we would have on earth if we lived eternally in our state of sin! But as it is now, death is our only hope of escape from the sinful world offering entrance to the presence of God where there is no sin, tears, fear or pain.

In the midst of that tragic act of these two representatives of humanity, we see the promise of hope. In 3:15 God speaks these words: I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel. This promise is often called by theologians the “Protoevangelium“, which means the first gospel. I remember very clearly the first time Christians shared the gospel with me, they asked me if I was familiar with Genesis 3, and I sarcastically told them, of course, I am a Jew. Then, they read this verse and asked me if I knew what it meant. To my shame, I didn’t. After sharing some of the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah, which I was somewhat more familiar with, they moved to the pages of the New Testament and shared about Jesus being the promised Messiah. That, of course, made me nervous and mad, but at the end, they said that Jesus is the seed of the woman, that we read about in Genesis 3:15! That was the initial work of the Lord in my life which brought me to himself.

But in the curse to the serpent, there is a great point of hope for Adam and the whole world, and it is this cord that continues from here to the last chapter of the book of Revelation. The Scriptures from this point on, show the depth of the enmity between the powers of darkness and the forces of light. But they also clearly show the faithfulness of God in what he has promised. God keeps and protects the seed of the woman throughout the ages to accomplish his promise in Genesis 3:15. Eventually, the seed of the woman who survived through Seth, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, and David brings forth the Messiah. The very first words of the New Testament tells us that Jesus Christ is the son of David, and son of Abraham (Matt 1:1).

All 66 books of the scriptures point in one way or another to the way God throughout history would not only preserve and protect the seed of the woman, but he would defeat or bruise the seed of the serpent. The seed of the woman, in his active and passive obedience, would turn around the curse of sin to the blessing of salvation for the sons of man and the whole creation. Such is the faithfulness of God to his promises.

As the corruption of man increased to an intolerable level, God destroyed all things, except one man – Noah, and his family. Through them he re-established the world, so to speak. Further down in the book of Genesis we read how God revealed himself to Abraham and made a covenant with him and gave him many promises, and a new name. He called Abraham to leave his homeland (Genesis 12), Haran, to go to the land God would show him. This was the beginning of the story of the Jewish people – the wandering Jews as we are often called. God, again and again, reassured Abraham of his promise to him. And in order to help Abraham believe those promises and trust him, God made a ceremonial covenant with him. In that ceremony, which we read about in Genesis 15, God not only made promises to Abraham but asked him to bring some animals. He tells him to bring a heifer, a ram, and a goat and to cut them in half, as was the custom of those days in the ancient Near East. Normally in ceremonies of this type, when a covenant was cut[4] (established), both parties would pass between the cut animal parts. And as they passed they would say “may it be unto me like these animals if I do not keep my promise.” Today, we just sign a piece of paper as a pledge of our commitment to keep the contract! But in the establishing of the covenant with Abraham, only one party walked through the dead animal parts, and it wasn’t Abraham. God alone passed between the cut parts in form of a torch, declaring as it were, “May it be done to me as has been done to these animals if I do not keep my promises to you.” In this act of God, we see clearly that the fulfillment of the promise and covenant made to Abraham was not dependent on Abraham, but solely on God. He alone walked between the cut animals. In the “cutting” of that covenant, there were many promises that were made to Abraham, and we will learn about them in the next session.

Pattern and Way of God’s Dealings

In these two events in Genesis, the fall and the “cutting” of the covenant with Abraham, we see a pattern that is repeated again and again in Scripture. It is the faithfulness of God to his promises that is not dependent on the performance of man, but God alone. God is the covenant keeper while we are the covenant breaker – that is what we observe in Scripture. This pattern continues throughout the Old and the New Testament. God always keeps his promises; we too often break our promises because either we don’t want to keep them or we are unable to keep them. This is evidenced throughout the pages of the Scriptures from Genesis 3 to Revelation 22. The pages of biblical history are filled with accounts of God’s faithfulness and our lack of it. He is a faithful God and a trustworthy one. He is such, because first of all his Word tells us, and secondly all the evidences in Scripture point to his faithfulness. Unlike us, God keeps his promises!

When I was writing this paper it was just a few days before the advent of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, the Jewish New year and the Day of Atonement. Yom Kippur is the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. According to Jewish tradition that was developed in the Middle Ages by Jewish sages, the days from the first of the month of Tishri (the first Jewish month of the year) till the tenth of the month, the Day of Atonement, are called the Days of Awe (Yamim Noraim) or days of repentance. These days are supposed to be times of reflection on the sins of the previous year and the repenting of those sins before the Day of Atonement. According to tradition God opens the book on the New Year and begins writing the names of the people and their destiny, who lives and dies, and who will have a “good” life in the coming year. During the ten days of Awe, a Jewish person has a chance to change the decree of God by his good actions. It is at the end of the Day of Atonement that God seals the book until the next year when he reopens it again. That is why you are supposed to be repentant of your sins and be nice to others during those days!

But according to the Talmud, Yom Kippur can atone for the sins between man and God alone. To seek reconciliation with another person, you must seek it directly from that person and make right the wrongs that you have done against them, if possible. For these and other reasons on the Day of Atonement many Jewish people who never go to the synagogue or don’t believe in the living God will attend services. Israel is a secular country, though Jewish tradition plays an important part in the life and culture of the people. One of the first prayers recited in the synagogue at the beginning of the evening of Yom Kippur is called Kol Nedari. It is a prayer in which people unbind all the promises and vows they have made and have not been able to fulfill! This is a kind of general prayer when one asks forgiveness for all the promises he has made to people but has not been able to keep. The prayer is supposed to make everything right for the person who did not fulfill his obligations to others and unbind him from them. It is not only Jewish people who try to so easily get out of fulfilling their promises. We all do that all the time. We think that as easy as it is to make promises or sign an agreement, in the same easy way we can also get out of it. But not so with God. He will do all that he has to do to fulfill his promises, no matter what the price.

The promise of hope that God made to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:15, was kept throughout the history of the people of Israel. God in many ways and for as long as needed, protected the seed of the woman from destruction, until the Messiah came from the seed of the woman and crushed or bruised the head of the serpent. The story of the people of Israel as seen in the Old Testament is not the story of survival against all odds or battling the enemy in order to conquer the Promised Land. But the story is rather how God in his love and patience, despite the many shortcomings of the people of Israel, fulfilled his promises. It was through the seed of Abraham and that of Jacob, later named Israel, that the Messiah was born. Throughout that long history, we repeatedly see that God is not afraid to make promises and more than that, will pay the highest possible price to keep those promises.

The climax of God’s faithfulness to his promises is seen on the cross at Calvary. It was on the cross that the Son of God paid the total and final price for fulfilling the promises made thousands of years earlier. Humanly speaking it is utterly amazing to think that the living God who made all things out of nothing and sustains both the seen and unseen world would remain faithful to his promises to us, the dust of the earth! Such love and sacrifice seen from the very beginning of creation and throughout the history of the Old and the New Testament and climaxed in the coming of the Son of God and his atonement on the cross is unprecedented. The depth and width of his love and grace for us is incomprehensible. Indeed, what really kept Jesus on the cross wasn’t the nails that the Roman soldiers hammered into his hands and feet, but rather it was the love and faithfulness of God to his promises that kept him hanging on the cross till the end!

Beyond the cross and the closure of the Canon of the Scriptures, we continue to see the faithfulness of God. He has not abandoned his church, has not cast it out, although too often the church has abandoned him. We see today how churches have become nothing more than a social club, where the Word of God and the preaching of it is old-fashioned nostalgia. We see churches that have ordained homosexuals in the sacred call of the ministry. We see how ministers fall away from the grace in which they have been called and abuse their position and authority for personal gain. They act just like the sons of Eli the Priest, Hophni and Phinehas, who were priests in Shiloh, as we read in I Samuel.[5] And yet, just as Jesus has promised in Matthew on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it,[6] he is continuing to build his church, despite its many shortcomings. And this is again the same pattern that we see in the scriptures.

God’s way with Israel today is still the same pattern of God’s faithfulness and man’s unfaithfulness. Just as God made promises and covenants to and with the people of Israel in the Old Testament, so later in Romans 9, 10 and 11 he promised that all Israel would be saved, a continuation of his old promises. And despite the fact that the people of Israel did not recognize or acknowledge the Messiah at the time of his coming, and even after his death and resurrection and rejected him as a nation, yet God did not reject Israel. He is not done with Israel. Today, in the land of Israel and among Jewish people all over the world, we see how God is drawing them to himself, one soul at a time! Not in great numbers yet, but it is happening more and more. And we are seeing an openness towards the gospel that was not there even five or ten years ago. Just in the last month in our congregation, Grace and Truth, we had three people who were baptized and four more who have repented and asked to be baptized. And we are not the only congregation that has baptismal events.  As we look at Israel today, and we will have a deeper look later on in the conference, we see that the nation and its people are far away from God. They are not seeking him, and they are living immoral lives, and yet God is on the move among Jewish people. He is acting independently of their response to Him.

Conclusion

We have seen a pattern in the scriptures that began in the creation and ended with the cross. God is the faithful One, who keeps his promises and covenants with us, despite our shortcomings. He is the covenant keeper, while we are the covenant breaker. And this pattern is seen not only through biblical history, but also beyond, and it is seen also in Israel today.

Such is God and such is his faithfulness to his promises. Unlike us, we cannot or don’t want to keep our promises, God will keep his promises at any price. This particular characteristic of God provides us as his church under the New Testament, a great hope which helps us live our lives with great expectation for now and also for the future. Tomorrow we will continue to look at the patterns of God in the Old and the New Testament and on Sunday, the reality of those promises and how they play out today in Israel.

[1]  All Bible quotations are from English Standard Version (ESV), unless written otherwise.

[2] John 14:9.

[3] In Hebrew –    מוֹת תָּמֽוּת it is a compound structure, which literally translated means die you shall die.

[4] The Hebrew term is  כָּרַ֧ת which literally means to cut.

[5] They would take the best of the meat from the people who brought it to sacrifice and often by force (I Samuel 2: 13 -17). And they would lay with the woman who was serving at the entrance to the tent of the meeting (I Samuel 2: 22)

[6]  Matt 16:18 ESV.

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