Israel and the Promised Land V

December 14, 2010

Forty years ago, soon after I became a Christian, my mother–who had only recently at that point become a serious Bible student herself–gave me a copy of the New Scofield Reference Bible.  I quickly began to devour it, having no idea at that point that I would soon be a student at Dallas Theological Seminary.

I admit that one of the things that I did not “get” at that time was the idea that the three major points of the Abrahamic Covenant–the land, the seed and the blessing–were further developed in three later biblical covenants.  Actually, it made reasonably good sense that the seed aspect was filled out in the Davidic Covenant (see 2 Sam. 7:12-16)) and that the blessings (i.e., including “in you shall all the nations be blessed”) aspect was further developed in the New Covenant (see Jer. 31:31-34).  What did not make sense was the idea that there was a so-called “Palestinian Covenant” at the end of Deuteronomy.

Even a cursory reading of Deuteronomy reveals that chs. 28-30 are not a new covenant, but a covenant renewal with the new generation that would enter the promised land, not a new covenant.  Yes, there some fresh angles that Moses brings out in preaching the Mosaic Law to the younger generation, but it is related to the same covenant that their fathers had willingly undertaken at Mt. Sinai (see Ex. 19), then virtually ignored by their unbelieving, disobedient behavior toward the Lord and His covenant from the point forward.

In Lev. 26, vv. 3-13 tell of the great blessings that will accrue to the people of Israel if theyare obedient to the Lord’s commands.  However, if they are not obedient, the discipline just gets stronger and stronger as they continue in their rebellion. 

Disease, bad crops and defeat at the hands of their enemies is just the first round of curses from the Lord (vv. 16-17), and it gets, so to speak, “seven times” worse (i.e., the completeness of destruction from there.  Pestilence, famine, destruction of their cities and scattering of the people among the nations would come when the Lord “upped the ante” of judgment (vv. 18-33).

But, even though those who survived in foreign lands would “waste away because of their fathers, sins along with their own” (v. 39), there was still hope in the covenant.  If they confessed their sins, and those of their fathers, and “if their uncircumcised heart will be humbled,” God pledged to remember His covenant with Jabob, isaac and Abraham, and, in so doing, “remember the land” (vv. 40-42).

The time spent after God removed them from the land in judgment is referred to “pay(ing) the penalty of their sins” (v. 43).  However, the Lord says of His sinful people, “…while they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject or abhor them so as to destroy them and break the covenant with them… .  For their sake, I will remember the covenant with their fathers…” (v. 44).

Deuteronomy 28 proceeds along much the same lines, but get into more depth in regard to the curses.  It goes so far as to say of the people of Israel in exile: “You will find no peace among those nations, and there will be no resting place for the sole of your foot” (v. 65).

After the warnings of the solemn covenant renewal described in chapter 29, Moses does something that goes beyond the wording of Lev. 26.  His wording changes from “if” to “when.”  In Lev. 26, the tone is if this happens… but it doesn’t have to happen!  In Deut., the tone is when this happens… and it certainly will!

It has always been quite interesting to me that this is the exact point where we read Moses’ amazing words: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God…” (29:29).  In context, we can perhaps take it that we will never be told all that we would want to know about the expulsion of Israel from the Land.  But, everything we have been told should greatly motivate His people to be obedient to what the the Lord has revealed!

At first, the initial wording of ch. 30 sounds like a re-run of the latter part of Lev. 26.  However, upon closer reading, to “return to the Lord your God and obey Him with all your heart and soul” (v. 2) is more than is recorded in any of the post-Exilic books.  And, certainly, it has not happened yet that the Lord has “circumcised [their hearts] and the hearts of [their] desecendants” so that they would “love Him with all [their] heart and soul” (v. 6).  Since His people have not done that–beyond a relatively small group of individual believers, that is–the Lord did not give the Jews true possession of their land (v. 5), unless the modern Jewish state represents what is meant there.

The bottom line here is that, if the covenant aspects at the ends of the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy do, in fact, further develop the land aspect of the Abrahamic Covenant, then my assertion that the land promise, though primarily unconditional in regard to being given the land by the Lord is still highly conditioned on obedience in regard to staying in the land, even to the present day, in my understanding.

Examples of how the Lord responds positively to faith/obedience and negatively to unbelief/disobedience are seen from the very first things that happen upon entering the promised land.  First, the great miracle of the walls of Jericho falling down is directly attributed to faith in Heb. 11:30, although the obedience of the people walking around the walls should not be overlooked.  On the other hand, the greedy unbelief/sin of Achan related to the debacle at Ai in Josh. 7 should be enough to remind everyone reading these words that, with the Lord, “a little leaven leavens the whole loaf.” 

When we arrive at the recurring cycles of the Book of Judges, we must consider how they relate to the blessings and curses in Lev. 26 and Deut. 28-30.  Often, preachers and teachers just focus on the fact that sin, servitude, supplication, salvation and silence occurs time after time after time after the generation that knew Joshua and the leaders who served with him died off (Judg. 2:7).  They don’t look at the “big picture” from a covenant standpoint.

When the various tribal groupings among Israel sinned, the Lord punished them.  But, when they sought Him by prayer–which is attributed to faith in regard to Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah in Heb. 11:32–they were freed from bondage and restored. 

During those cycles in the Book of Judges, there had been considerable disobedience to the covenant.  However, as described there, it only rose to the level of defeat at the hands of their enemies, not to the depth and prolonged point at which the Lord wouldexpel His people from the land (though that very real evantuality still existed for their future!)

In my next post, I will procced on through the periods of the United and Divided Kingdoms with this survey of the land promise.

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