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God's Way - Chapter Five

"THE NATION OF GOD"

Early History
A process of selection is shown in the Bible narrative, and the divine purpose beginning with Abraham continues through Isaac and Jacob. Jacob had twelve sons. In a time of famine the whole family went down into Egypt where Joseph was overlord, and for a time were greatly favoured. Joseph had been sold as a slave by his brethren and taken into Egypt, and the story of his experiences and rise to power occupies about one third of the book of Genesis. The reason for Joseph's experiences is to be found in the purpose of God: as he himself said: "God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance". (Gen. 45:7). Later, when Joseph was dead, Jacob's descendants were oppressed and served as slaves in Egypt. The common suffering gave them a strong sense of kinship and was part of the process that welded the tribes into a nation. Their sharing of a deliverance, accompanied by miracles, wonders and signs, consolidated the process and prepared the twelve tribes of Israel for being incorporated as God's nation. The memory of that deliverance has never been eradicated from the national consciousness. That indeed was God's intention. The institution of the Passover, by observing which they were saved from the death of the firstborn in the last plague upon Egypt, is remembered to this day by the annual festival which the Jews keep in the springtime. The other events connected with the earliest weeks of their emancipation have always been remembered and are enshrined in Psalms which recapitulate their experiences.

The people of Israel were brought to Sinai where the terms of a covenant were made known by which they became God's nation. "And Moses went up unto God, and the Lord called unto him, out of the mountain, saying, Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel; Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself. Know therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine (Exod. 19:5, 6). To this the people responded, "All that the Lord hath spoken we will do (verse 8).

The announcement was followed by the proclamation of the Ten Commandments, and sundry other laws, and then the covenant was ratified by the sprinkling of blood. The people confirmed their previous decision: "All that the Lord hath said will we do and be obedient and Moses said "Behold the blood of the covenant, which the Lord hath made with you concerning these words" (Exod. 24:6-8). The nation was given a code of laws which touched life in every aspect -- religious, social and agricultural. An elaborate ritual embodied certain deeply important principles which govern the relationship between God and man. These laws, we are told in the New Testament, were "a shadow of things to come, but the body is of Christ" (Col. 2:17, see also Heb. 10:1), and their significance is worked out in some detail in the Letter to the Hebrews, and in scattered allusions in other epistles. Some of the teaching of Jesus himself can only be understood in the light of the typical teaching of the Mosaic law. An examination of the New Testament explanations of the inner meaning of the Law will convince a student of the divine origin of the Law of Moses.

In the review of Israel's experiences of forty years, Moses said "Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the Lord my God commanded me, that ye should do so in the land whither ye go to possess it. Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. For what nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them, as the Lord our God is in all things that we call upon him for? And what nation is there so great, that hath statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day?" (Deut. 4:5-8).

God showed "his word unto Jacob, his statutes and his judgments unto Israel. He hath not dealt so with any nation and as for his judgments they have not known them" (Psa. 147:19, 20).

This was the view of Jesus who referred to what "Moses said" as "the commandment of God" (Mark 7:9, 10, 13); and who appealed in every temptation to the book of Deuteronomy as an authoritative expression of God's will (Matt. 4: 4, 7, 10)

A Covenant People
The covenant at Sinai gave the nation of Israel a unique relationship to God, as the following citations show: "And ye shall be holy unto me: for I the Lord am holy, and have severed you from other people, that ye should be mine" (Lev. 20:26); "For thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth" (Deut. 7:6); "And the Lord hath avouched thee this day to be his peculiar people, as he hath promised thee, and that thou shouldest keep all his commandments; and to make thee high above all nations which he hath made, in praise, and in name, and in honour; and that thou mayest be an holy people unto the Lord thy God, as he hath spoken" (Deut. 26:18, 19).

Israel occupied the land of Canaan under conditions without parallel in the history of any other nation. The promises to Abraham, as we have seen, had shown the foremost place which this land holds in God's purpose, destined, as it is, to be the center for Christ's rule of the world in the future. In the past under the Law given at Sinai the land was occupied by Israel as tenants of God, and not as freehold owners. God owned the land, and regulations concerning the sale of land embodied arrangements preventing on the one hand the accumulation of vast estates in the hands of the few, and on the other the absolute destitution of the unfortunates among them. Land could only be transferred to another owner until the fiftieth year, and the price to be paid was based upon the produce of the years still to come before the jubilee year, when it reverted to the original occupiers. The reason given is important: "The land shall not be sold for ever for the land is mine; for ye are strangers and sojourners with me" (Lev. 25:23).

In agreement with this is the further declaration of Moses that the country which they should possess was a land which the Lord thy God careth for: the eyes of the Lord thy God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year even unto the end of the year" (Deut. 11:12).

When the Jews dwelt in Canaan from the days of Joshua, under whom they entered into occupation of the land, to the days of their last king some six hundred years before Christ, a kingdom existed different from all other kingdoms that have been. The people were God's people; the land was His; they were governed by His laws; the judges, and later the kings, ruled as God's representatives. The Kingdom of Israel was therefore the Kingdom of God: a fact stated in the following words of David: "And of all my sons . . . he hath chosen Solomon my son to sit upon the throne of the kingdom of the Lord over Israel" (1 Chron. 28:5); and in the record: "Then Solomon sat on the throne of the Lord as king instead of David his father, and prospered; and all Israel obeyed him" (1 Chron. 29:23).

Such exceptional privileges inevitably carried equally great responsibilities. Where much is given, much is required. While many blessings were promised for obedience, penalties were to follow disobedience. Some of these have been mentioned in Chapter 1, as illustrations of the truth of the Bible to be seen in fulfilled prophecy. God said that if the Israelites proved disobedient He would avenge the quarrel of (His) covenant (Lev. 26:25); the people would be scattered among all nations and the once fruitful land would become desolate (Lev. 26:31-33). God also said, "And yet for all that, when they be in the land of their enemies, I will not cast them away, neither will I abhor them, to destroy them utterly, and to break my covenant with them: for I am the Lord their God (verse 44). In the last addresses that Moses gave to the nation he said that for their disobedience "ye shall be plucked from off the land whither thou goest to possess it, and the Lord shall scatter thee among all people, from the one end of the earth even unto the other . . . And among these nations shalt thou find no ease, neither shall the sole of thy foot have rest: but the Lord shall give thee there a trembling heart, and failing of eyes, and sorrow of mind" (Deut. 28:63-65). But in chapter 30 Moses foretold that after scattering there would come regathering (verses 3-5).

Degeneration
After the occupation of the land under the leadership of Joshua, the successor to Moses, came the rule of judges then the people wanted a king. Their desire was granted, although God declared that this was a rejection of Him as their king (1 Sam. 8:7). In the reign of the fourth king, the kingdom was divided into two; the northern kingdom of Israel consisting of ten tribes and the southern kingdom of Judah of two tribes (1 Kings 12). The history of the divided kingdom is given in Kings and Chronicles. Rarely free from rivalry, the two sections were frequently at war with each other. The northern kingdom very quickly degenerated; a process doubtless accelerated by a steady drift of the most religious of the northern tribes to the southern kingdom, to worship at Jerusalem. The end of the northern kingdom came in the eighth century B.C. when the Assyrians removed Israel into captivity. Troubles multiplied for the southern kingdom of Judah, until at the close of the seventh century the Babylonians removed the king and carried the people into exile.

Throughout all the history of Israel there was a ministry of prophets; but during the closing period the prophets not only communicated their messages in speech, but committed them to writing. Hosea, Amos, Isaiah and Micah lived in the days of the last kings of Israel, and of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. A reason for the written message can be found in the rapid decline of the kingdom at this time. The prophets had to testify against corruption and to warn of impending calamities and also to testify of a future restoration -- a testimony required for the instruction of later generations. God declared. "You only have I known of all the families of the earth therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities", (Amos 3:2). The result of God's warnings is given in a mournful summary: "Moreover all the chief of the priests, and the people, transgressed very much after all the abominations of the heathen; and polluted the house of the Lord which he had hallowed in Jerusalem. And the Lord God of their fathers sent to them by his messengers, rising up betimes, and sending; because he had compassion on his people, and on his dwelling place: but they mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and misused his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against his people, till there was no remedy" (2 Chron. 36:14-16).

A separate people
The prophets repeated the testimony of Moses that despite the overthrow of the kingdom and the scattering of the people, they would survive as a distinct people, never assimilated, always separate, always different; persecuted and oppressed, reduced in numbers, but never destroyed. The survival of the Jew is involved in a great number of passages in the Scriptures which predict a future for the people in the land where they formerly dwelt. In the message to Zedekiah, the last king on the throne of Judah, God through Ezekiel said: "And thou, profane wicked prince of Israel, whose day is come, when iniquity shall have an end, Thus saith the Lord God; Remove the diadem, and take off the crown: this shall not be the same: exalt him that is low, and abase him that is high. I will overturn, overturn, overturn, it: and it shall be no more, until he come whose right it is and I will give it him" (Ezek. 21:25-27).

Hosea declared "For the children of Israel shall abide many days without a king, and without a prince, and without a sacrifice, and without an image, and without an ephod, and without teraphim: afterward shall the children of Israel return, and seek the Lord their God, and David their king; and shall fear the Lord and his goodness in the latter days" (3:4,5).

Jewish Restoration
Isaiah foretold the Assyrian depopulation of Israel, and the judgment that would come upon Assyria; he also foretold the overthrow of Judah by the Babylonians but his message also contains prophecies of the regathering of the whole nation: "And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious . . . And he shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth" (11:10,12). "For the Lord will have mercy on Jacob, and will yet choose Israel, and set them in their own land" (14:1). "Arise, shine; for thy light is come (O Zion) . . . Lift up thine eyes round about, and see: all they gather themselves together, they come to thee: thy sons shall come from far, and thy daughters shall be nursed at thy side . . . Surely the isles shall wait for me, and the ships of Tarshish first, to bring thy sons from far, their silver and their gold with them, unto the name of the Lord thy God, and to the Holy One of Israel, because he hath glorified thee" (60:1, 4, 9).

In the prophecy of Jeremiah is the following: "For, lo, the days come, Saith the Lord, that I will bring again the captivity of my people Israel and Judah, saith the Lord and I will cause them to return to the land that I gave to their fathers, and they shall possess it . . . For I am with thee, saith the Lord, to save thee though I make a full end of all nations whither I have scattered thee, yet will I not make a full end of thee; but I will correct thee in measure, and will not leave thee altogether unpunished . . . Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will bring again the captivity of Jacob's tents, and have mercy on his dwelling places; and the city shall be builded upon her own heap, and the palace shall remain after the manner thereof" (Jer. 30:3, 11, 18). "And it shall come to pass, that like as I have watched over them, to pluck up, and to break down, and to throw down, and to destroy, and to afflict; so will I watch over them, to build, and to plant, saith the Lord" (31:28).

Ezekiel was given the message: "Prophesy therefore concerning the land of Israel, and say unto the mountains, and to the hills, to the rivers, and to the valleys, Thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I have spoken in my jealousy and in my fury, because ye have borne the shame of the heathen . . . But ye, O mountains of Israel, ye shall shoot forth your branches, and yield your fruit to my people of Israel for they are at hand to come . . . And I will multiply men upon you, all the house of Israel, even all of it: and the cities shall be inhabited, and the wastes shall be builded . . . Yea, I will cause men to walk upon you, even my people Israel; and they shall possess thee, and thou shalt be their inheritance, and thou shalt no more henceforth bereave them of men . . . And I scattered them among the heathen (Gentiles), and they were dispersed through the countries: according to their way and according to their doings I judged them . . . For I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land" (36:6, 8, 10, 12, 19, 24). It will be observed that several of the prophecies quoted refer to the gathering of the whole of the twelve tribes from a scattered condition. Ezekiel specifically mentions the reunion of the divided kingdom under the one King, the Messiah. After enacting a parable by taking two sticks and joining them together, the prophet had to declare: " Thus saith the Lord God Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen, whither they be gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land: and I will make them one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king to them all: and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all" (37:19-22).

The future foremost nation
Amos foretold the revival of the house of David " In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old" (9:11). Micah declared that when Jerusalem becomes the capital of the whole world, Israel will be regathered in their own land: "In that day, saith the Lord, will I assemble her that halteth, and I will gather her that is driven out, and her that I have afflicted; and I will make her that halted a remnant, and her that was cast far off a strong nation: and the Lord shall reign over them in mount Zion from henceforth, even for ever. And thou, O tower of the flock, the strong hold of the daughter of Zion, unto thee shall it come, even the first dominion: the kingdom shall come to the daughter of Jerusalem" (4:6-8).

Zephaniah employs similar language: "Behold, at that time I will undo all that afflict thee: and I will save her that halteth, and gather her that was driven out and I will get them praise and fame in every land where they have been put to shame. At that time will I bring you again, even in the time that I gather you: for I will make you a name and a praise among all people of the earth, when I turn back your captivity before your eyes, saith the Lord" (3:19, 20).

This pre-eminence of the Jews in the future is also indicated in the words of Zechariah: "Thus saith the Lord of hosts; it shall yet come to pass that there shall come people, and the inhabitants of many cities and the inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, Let us go speedily to pray before the Lord, and to seek the Lord of hosts . . . Yea, many people and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the Lord. Thus saith the Lord of hosts; In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you for we have heard that God is with you" (8:20-23).

In the light of the many promises of Jewish restoration and of the coming of the Messiah, it is not surprising that in all the days of their subjection to Gentile rulers, now upwards of two thousand five hundred years, Jewish thoughts have turned to the prospect of becoming an in-dependent nation again. "Next year in Jerusalem" has been their cry. What they have failed to recognize is that the same prophets who foretold their overthrow and ultimate regathering also foretold that their king must come first as a preacher of righteousness, be rejected by the nation, and would lay down his life for men's salvation. The prophets also foretold that the rejected king would be raised from the dead and ascend to God's right hand, before entering upon his kingship.

Jesus -- the Messiah
The New Testament fills in the picture outlined by Old Testament prophets. Jesus is identified as the Messiah, as, for example, in the words of the Angel to Mary, his mother "He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end" (Luke 1:32, 33). His people refused him as their king, and he was crucified; but he rose again and ascended to God; he will yet return as the Messiah of Israel, when his title will be acknowledged and his rule accepted.

When Israel are regathered it will not be under the old covenant of Sinai, which served its purpose in the national occupation of the land in the past. The law and the covenant of Sinai were "added (to the promise of Abraham) . . . till the seed should come to whom the promise was made" (Gal. 3:19). With the destruction of the temple about forty years after Christ's crucifixion the sacrifices of the law could no longer be offered: they had served their purpose during the time the law was in operation, foreshadowing the coming of the sinless one who would offer himself as a sacrifice for sins. The letter to the Hebrews (written not long before the destruction of Jerusalem) refers to the Mosaic system as something which "decayeth and waxeth old and is ready to vanish away (Heb. 8:13).

The new covenant into which Israel will be inducted when regathered is revealed in the prophecy of Jeremiah "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt: which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord: but this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more (31:31-34).

Israel under the new covenant
In all their past history Israel displayed a waywardness and disobedience to God which was the subject of constant rebuke through His prophets. The future will see a change: those Israelites who become citizens of the restored kingdom in the land of Palestine will exhibit love and obedience to God. "Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God" (Ezek. 36:25-28).

It is important to notice that this new covenant has already been ratified by the death of Jesus Christ, through whom alone is the forgiveness of sins spoken of by Jeremiah. This is asserted by Jesus himself. On the eve of his betrayal he inaugurated a memorial to be kept by his followers in partaking of bread and wine "in remembrance of him" they were to recall his broken body and shed blood. Speaking of the wine Jesus said: "This is the blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins" (Matt. 26:28). Of this new covenant Jesus is the mediator: "He is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises" (Heb. 8:6). In the context of this statement from Hebrews the passage from Jer. 31 given above is quoted (see verses 8-12).

The new covenant to-day
The preaching of the gospel at the present time invites men to become heirs of the promises God has made, and to be introduced into this new covenant which provides the forgiveness of sins. "God hath made us", said Paul, "able ministers of the new covenant" (2 Cor. 3:6), and in preaching the gospel of the glory of Christ Jesus the Lord, the apostles invited men to that reconciliation which will be enjoyed also by a converted nation of Israel in the coming age when all the world acknowledges the rule of their Messiah, Jesus Christ.

The present unbelief of Israel is the opportunity of the Gentiles. Paul declares that as unfruitful branches of an olive tree they have been broken off and Gentile branches have been grafted in; but that God will yet "graft in again" the Jewish branches, and the whole nation of Israel will join in service to God. "Blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob for this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins. As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers' sakes" (Rom. 11:25-28). "For God hath concluded them all in unbelief that he might have mercy upon all" (verse 32).