Posts Tagged ‘Israel’

How the Promise Plays Out in Scripture

August 21, 2013 Leave a comment

I’ve been working on self-guided lessons for my church designed to walk people through some of the seminal moments in Scripture to help others acquire a stronger understanding of the big story of the Bible. I started the process of writing some lessons on the promise of God to Abraham and His descendants, then realized I didn’t really have much of a grasp on how that played itself out from Genesis 12 through Malachi.

God’s promise to Abraham, which is the promise God is still fulfilling through us, is as follows:

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and youth father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who curse you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

With this promise in mind, I skimmed through the Bible from Genesis 12-Malachi, looking for reiterations of this promise, examples of this theme, and how this promise plays out in Scripture. I skipped Job because it predates the promise. I skipped Psalms because I suspected it had more variations on God revealing Himself to nations and Israel being a blessing than I wanted  to write down. One assumption I brought to the text is that revealing God to other nations is in itself a blessing to those nations. I’m sure I missed many examples of the playing out of the promise in Scripture, but here are some things I saw along the way.

Outsiders to Israel recognize YHWH and his power because of His blessing of Israel. Abimelech recognizes God’s blessing of Abraham and his son Isaac, becoming afraid of both, asking for treaties and asking them to leave the area because God’s blessing has made them a potential threat. Jethro sees Israel has been freed from Egypt and declares YHWH is greater than all gods and sacrifices to Him. Deuteronomy mentions that Israel is blessed beyond all nations and that other nations will see this blessing by God. The Queen of Sheba sees the kingdom of Israel God blessed Solomon with and blesses YHWH the Lord of Israel.

Sometimes God’s people put on display God’s power over creation in a way that outsiders see God. The Egyptian magicians, when they see what God does through Moses say that it must be the finger of God. Elijah blesses a widow with food that doesn’t run out and the saving of her son and the widow discovers YHWH is God. Naaman the Syrian is healed of leprosy and states that YHWH is God.

One way other nations recognize the power of Israel’s God is through YHWH’s destruction of Israel for their disobedience. I only found one reference to this in Jeremiah 22.8-9. I suspect there are more I didn’t see in my skim-through, but one is enough.

After Israel’s destruction, Isaiah makes the point multiple times that other nations will recognize YHWH as Lord when He restores Israel. They will see God’s holiness by bringing back the kingdom of His people. Both the destruction and the restoration are a part of God’s covenant keeping. His covenant faithfulness put on display will be His vindication to the outsiders of Israel. Moses’ makes two appeals to God to keep His promise to Israel in order that other nations might see God’s covenant keeping.

In Exodus 19 Israel is consecrated as a kingdom of priests. I don’t recall seeing this language used to describe Israel after this point. Thinking through it, a priest is a person who does the work of God to bring others to God. Israel had separate priests to bring them to God. Presumably, for Israel to function as a kingdom of priests they would be bringing people to God who were not priests – other nations. The way Israel was to do this includes, at least: worshipping YHWH alone, following their law which was distinct from other laws and so reflecting YHWH, inviting foreigners to participate in their worship of their God, proclaiming God’s freedom, and by putting God’s blessing on display.

There are a lot of stories in Scripture about Israel and people of Israel blessing other nations and people from other nations. I already mentioned a few of these above. Joseph blesses Potiphar of Egypt and the Pharoah with a dream interpretation. Joseph then goes on to bless many nations surrounding Egypt by storing up food and keeping them from starvation during a time of famine. Daniel interprets a dream to Nebuchadnezzar, saves the wise men in doing so, and the result is Nebuchadnezzar’s blessing of YHWH.

One part of the original promise is that those who bless Israel will themselves be blessed. We see this in the story of the widow and Elijah, the widow blesses Elijah with a meal and the widow is blessed with food and the life of her son. Ruth blesses her mother in  law with her presence and so is blessed with husband, child, and becoming a full member of the people of God. Rahab blesses Israel by keeping its spies secret and is blessed with being saved from death and integration into Israelite nation. Ebed-Malech the Ethiopian saves the prophet Jeremiah and is himself saved from the coming destruction of Jerusalem.

The ESV phrasing of the promise is interesting, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” I don’t know Hebrew, so I don’t know whether it should be translated “in” or “through” or something else. Regardless, one way the descendants of Abraham bless the families of the earth is by integrating them into their community. Stories of people who became a part of Israel pop up all over the Old Testament (Ruth, Uriah, Moses’ wife). Many of the commands to read the Law together and share in the Passover supper include a clause about foreigners in Israel participating in the reading of the Law and the meal. In doing so, these foreigners are integrated into the community and become a part of the nation God is blessing. People from all families of the earth become an Israelite and so are blessed by being “in” Israel.

The prophets contain one of the strongest discussions of how all the families of the earth will be blessed through Israel. This is the message of the future kingdom of Israel. These men speak about how: all flesh will know God, all nations will see salvation, ends of earth will bow before God, the proclamation of God’s freedom to the ends of the earth, all flesh will know God as savior, righteousness and praise sprouting among nations, etc. Truly the greatest way Israel could bless other nations is by bringing them salvation into a worshipful relationship with the one true God. As we know, this blessing to all nations is fulfilled in and is being fulfilled in Jesus.

If you’re interested in glancing at my list, that can be found here.


Jeremiah 27: Seeking Those Who Lie

July 12, 2013 Leave a comment

“But if any nation or kingdom will not serve this Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and put its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, I will punish that nation with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence, declares the Lord, until I have consumed it by his hand. So do not listen to your prophets, your diviners, your dreamers, your fortune-tellers, or your sorcerers, who are saying to you, ‘You shall not serve the king of Babylon.’ For it is a lie that they are prophesying to you, with the result that you will be removed far from your land, and I will drive you out, and you will perish. But any nation that will bring its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon and serve him, I will leave on its own land, to work it and dwell there, declares the Lord.”

Even as Israel insists upon its own rebellion and the armies of Babylon loom outside the gates, YHWH gives Israel a way out. YHWH pleads with Israel to take the way out. There’s no need to die. There’s no need to suffer the destruction of the city and the the destruction of people. Bend to Babylon and live. Certainly this isn’t a pleasant way out. Submitting to a foreign ruler isn’t a great way to live, but it is the way to live. Israel refuses to accept it.

They don’t have to accept, because everyone else they look to, prophets, diviners, dreamers, fortune-tellers, and sorcerers, tells them its not true. They seek for another opinion from a different presumed authority on the matter, and they find people willing to tell them what they want to hear. The truth of impending destruction is too distasteful, so they look for others to tell them lies which are more palatable. Their refusal to trust YHWH’s difficult truth is their undoing.

Telling people unpleasant truth is neither a fun business nor a profitable one. It’s not fun hearing it either. Telling people lies they want to hear is a much more enjoyable experience and lots of people, even in churches, are willing to pay to hear it. People want to hear lies when the truth is irksome and will look for others to confirm their sweet deception.

The problem is lies don’t do any good. Living in a pleasant false reality is fine for a moment but will bring destruction in the end. Surround yourself with those who speak the truth, even, maybe especially, the truths that are tough to swallow. Those who telling you only what you want to hear are leading you into darkness and destruction. Those who speak truth will guide you into light and life.

Oooh Jeremiah: Protecting God’s Blessings

April 27, 2013 Leave a comment

“Like these good figs, so I will regard the exiles from Judah… I will set my eyes on them for good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up, and not tear them down; I will plant them, and not uproot them. I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.
But… Like the bag figs that are so bad they cannot be eaten, so will I treat Zedekiah the king of Judah, his officials, and the remnant of Jerusalem who remain in this land, and those who dwell in the land of Egypt. I will make them a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth, to be a reproach, a byword, a taunt, and a curse in all the places where I shall drive them. And I will send sword, famine, and a pestilence upon them, until they shall be utterly destroyed from the land that I gave to them and their fathers.”
Jeremiah 24:4-10

There are a lot of interesting things going on in this passage.* One thing that stuck out to me is who YHWH says will have the land He promised to Israel. It is not the ones I would naturally expect to inherit the land. Those who stay in Jerusalem and try to keep it are those very people who will lose it. Those who voluntarily depart from Jerusalem into exile are the people God promises will have the land and God’s blessing. The people who abandon the land are the people who will keep the land.
To be fair, this isn’t some arbitrary decision by God to bless those who leave and let those who stay die, He already warned very clearly that destruction was coming upon the city and that the way out was to surrender to the attackers (Jer 21). Those who believed God’s words are those who are saved. It’s pretty fitting in light of the rest of Scripture. Still, it’s an odd circumstance to think about. Israel is in the land of the promise, but in order to inherit the land of the promise later, they have to abandon it now.
Their abandonment of the land YHWH promised them is actually an act of obedience to Him. Those who left the land are those who cling to God’s words in the presence and not the blessings of the past. Those who choose to remain in Jerusalem are protecting their city, their homes, their families, their lifestyles – God’s blessings. In protecting these blessings from YHWH they are abandoning YHWH. Those who are willing to abandon YHWH’s blessings are protecting their relationship with Him.
What are you protecting? What are you clinging to?

*References to other parts of the book abound in this little section: This passage directly references uprooting, planting, tearing, and building which are all a part of the section on the first chapter in Jeremiah we discussed. Told you it was one of the “broader themes of the book.” The prophet warned Israel not to go to Egypt and told them they would be safe if they left the city in peace of their own free will. The two groups who didn’t listen to this are specifically singled out as bad figs due to their insistence on rejecting God’s words spoken through this sections. The true people of God are those who hear and obey, and thus even amongst the Israelites YHWH distinguishes between his people and those who have rejected Him. Like so many other parts of this prophecy, we see God through Jeremiah talking about the increased culpability of those who have power.

A Few Stories About Water: Salvation

November 1, 2011 1 comment

God’s covenant people, the people who were the promised descendants of Abraham, are stuck in Egypt. Enslaved in Egypt. Through a series of acts of warning, YHWH convinced Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go. So, taking everything they could get their hands on, Israel left. But Pharaoh had seller’s remorse, so he took his army and went after Israel. When he and his army caught up with the Hebrew men, women, and children, they were by the side of the Red Sea. Israel had two options, die or go back to Egypt as slaves.

There was no hope. There was no way humanly possible for Israel to cross the massive body of water. God we would have to intervene. Moses spread his arms over the sea and YHWH divided the waters. Land appeared. The water that would have brought them death was now their way into a new life. The overwhelming and deadly sea was rendered impotent because God did something he had done before. He gathered the waters together so there was dry land for humanity. By the hand of the Creator, through these divided waters Israel walked. From the deadness of a life in slavery, they walked to new life.

I don’t think we’re supposed to read the Red Sea story and think “hey, this is just like creation!” It’s not. But we are supposed to see the parallels. Israel surely did. There aren’t that many points in Scripture where we have this same imagery of the water dividing. The imagery of God’s manner of salvation is the same in the story of the Red Sea as it is in the story of Noah. Dry land appears where once there was only a world of water. The entire world isn’t being remade when Israel walks across dry land, but Israel is walking from slavery into a new life in a new world. It is a magnificent act of God that preserves his image in His creation. As we saw in the Noah story, a part of this preservation of God’s image is eliminating those things on earth that are distorting his image and destroying his image.

After Israel had crossed through the Red Sea on dry land, they still had a serious problem. Pharaoh and his armies were still pursuing them. Pharaoh was still set on taking them back to Egypt into slavery. While the Egyptians were between the waters, Moses spread his arms again and YHWH closed the waters over the Egyptian armies and they died in the water. God was saving His image from the distorters and enslavers of His image. And He used water to do it.

Flood anyone? It’s not the same. God isn’t flooding the whole world. He isn’t getting rid of everyone. But it’s very similar. In both stories God uses water to destroy those people who were ruining Creation. He got rid of those people who were messing up the world in order to make the world better. He eliminated those who were destroying the innocent. In both stories the people of God come out of the same water that God used to destroy others. In both stories, God’s image in humanity is being repressed, controlled, ruled over, ruined, and distorted and through Creator acts, God preserves what makes humanity human.

The tale of the Red Sea is about more than just its parallels with the previous stories. This story is about God’s final magnificent act of saving the Hebrew people and judging Pharaoh. The crossing of the Red Sea is about God keeping His covenant with Abraham, preserving the children of the promise and continuing the process of bringing them into the land YHWH promised to Abraham’s descendants a long time previous. The crossing of the Red Sea is an entering into freedom. Israel was now free from the evil that oppressed them so that now they are free to live as the covenant people of God. Israel’s freedom gives them the ability to reflect the image of God as a nation, proclaim His power through their story, and live in right relationship to YHWH, that they would be blessed and would be a blessing to all nations.

Calling, Crying, and Cleaving

November 10, 2008 Leave a comment

I was reading through 2 Kings and something interesting struck me at 2 Kings 22:8.  The verse says, Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, ‘I have found the Book of the Law in the temple of the Lord.’ He gave it to Shaphan, who read it. This finding was during the reign of king Josiah, who began his reign at 8 years old.  He then repented for all the sins of his fathers because the way that they lived was so opposite of what the Word of YHWH said.

Although Josiah was not the one that had begun the moral, ethical, and spiritual decline of the Israelites, he tore his robes (2 Kings 22:11), humbled [himself], inquired of the Lord (verse 13), and wept in [YHWH’s] presence (verse 19).  He recognized that God had been displeased.  The resurfacing of the Scriptures made it clear that the actions of the Israelites were disdainful and angering to God.  The very people God chose to worship Him and show the rest of the world who their marvelous and powerful God was were the people that were actively putting up temples and high places dedicated to new, more trendy, more physiologically pleasing gods.  The anger of YHWH and His actions of destruction is merely God being faithful to His side of the covenant – which is to bless obedience and punish disobedience, that Israel might not be ruined forever by her sin, but might repent and again live in the love of her Creator.  Josiah saw the promises of God in Scripture.  He heard and understood the covenantal relationship God chose to begin with the sons and daughters of Abraham.  It seems that it was clear to Josiah that the only natural response  of this good, just, loving, wonderful God to the sin of his sons was to remove his hand of blessing from Judah and allow destruction to come upon them.

Josiah’s response is telling of what he believes about reality and YHWH.  It shows us that he believes the Lord to be holy to the utmost degree, demonstrated by his unbridled humility and mourning.  He believes that God is keeping His covenant even when the Israelites.  He believes sin is damaging to both the generation of those that sinned and  to subsequent generations.  Most importantly, Josiah believed in a God that was forgiving and in a dynamic relationship with us.  Josiah believed that God might choose to stay his forthcoming wrath if Josiah made it clear that he was sorry for the sins of his forefathers and was repentant in both heart and action for his own continuing propagation of the sins of his father.  I think this belief in YHWH’s variability in responses toward us is key for any act of genuine repentance, pleading with sincerity, acts of humility.  I’ll probably have to write another blog post about that in the near future.

I think our hearts should break over the sins our fathers perpetrated and perpetuated through us.  I think our hearts should be broken over our own ignorance as we discover a new what living in obedience to God should look like and how our predecessors have handed down patterns of living that are oppositional to the way of Christ.   My soul aches over the ways the ancestors of our church have handed down theologies and ways of living that result in the formation of exclusivist groups that are about keeping people out instead of inviting people in.  I cry over the judgmentalism, hypocrisy, pride, consumeris, exclusivism, politicism, and selfishness that has been deeply rooted in the American church.  My familial predecessors have left a legacy of alcoholism, gossip, abuse, emotional ineptitude, arrogance, and soul concealment.  These sins that those before us have committed are worth weeping over because of the way they have dishonored our communal covenant with God.  The sin is worth repenting over because of the way it now manifests itself in us – in me.  As we come into more truth about who God is and how we are to respond, our ignorance of those that went before us begins to evaporate and we see their actions more clearly.  As we see our forefathers and mothers in a more clear light, our own souls are elucidated and we see that those things we might once have called personality traits or just the way we do things are actually sinful behaviors, attitudes, and mindsets passed onto us.

Let us repentantly correct the sinful legacy of those that went before us, careful to pass on to those that come after us a legacy of holy love.

Coming Up Next:
A Review of Max Lucado’s Cast of Characters

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