Israel and the Promised Land IX

December 22, 2010

Since I last posted, I have had a number of ideas flying around in my mind, which I need to get down in writing.  As a result, I am going to take this post in a slightly different direction than I originally intended.  Thank you for your understanding!  I hope the detour will prove beneficial in better grasping the material in this study of Israel and how the Lord has dealt with His Old Covenant people in regard to the promised land.

What has hit me with great force–which I had noticed previously, but not with the importance I am beginning to attach to it–is the differences between Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28-30 and the significance which should be attached to Israel’s exile from, then return to, the “holy land.”  I have previously tended to view the two passages, dealing with the same issues not quite 40 years apart (i.e., Lev. given to the original exodus generation, Deut. to the children of the unbelieving generation who died in the wilderness), as a sort of 2 + 2 = 4 approach to Israel’s exile and return.  However, I have just come to the point of questioning that perspective because of something I have realized about some things that happened in the last part of the history of the southern kingdom of Judah, then in the exile.  See what you think as I lay this out. 

As I noted last time, the way back from exile for Israel laid out in Lev. 27 is to confess their sins and the sins of their fathers and humble their uncircumcised hearts.  The payment for their sins (i.e., the length of the exile) was also necessary, given that the passage requires the keeping of the sabbatical years by the land lying desolate.

However, that’s not the way things are laid out in Deut. 30.  There the way of responding to the Lord is to “return to the Lord and obey Him with all your heart and all your soul” (v. 2).  Later in that passage, though, the people’s spiritual responsibility shifts to describing the Lord’s promise of His activity related to the return: “[I] will circumcise your heart and the hearts of your descendants, and you will love [Me] with all your heart and all your soul so that you will live.”

Now, these observations might not seem that meaningful except for three things: 1) in Deut. 29:15, the renewal of the covenant is said to be with “with those who are standing here with us in the presence of the Lord our God and with those who are not here today” (i.e., all the unborn generations of Israel); 2) what we see Daniel (see his prayer in 9:4ff.) and Nehemiah (see his prayer in 1:5ff.) follows what Lev. 27 says to do, but not what Deut. 30 calls for; and 3) in the last few years between God telling faithful Josiah in 2 Chron. 34 that Judah would be judged with destruction after his death, God effectively “called an audible”–you football fans know what that means by giving the New Covenant. 

To clarify that last point, it was about 597 BC when Jeremiah was given the New Covenant prophecy (31:31-34).  About five or six years years later, the Shekinah glory left the temple (see Ezek. 10).  Then, about 585 BC, shortly after the destruction of the temple, we read Ezekiel’s version of the New Covenant (ch. 36), followed by the “valley of dry bones” prophecy (ch. 37).

Jeremiah’s version says that, unlike the previous covenant which Israel broke (31:32), the new covenant He will make with the house of Israel after those days” (i.e., in the future), will be “written on their hearts” (31:33) and will include the fogiveness of their sins and not holding their sins against them (31:34).  Ezekiel’s version clarifies that the agency by which hard hearts will be softened is the Holy Spirit (36:26-27).  And, most significant for this ongoing study, Ezekiel says, “Then (i.e., when the Holy Spirit God  places within them softens their hearts) you will live in the land that I gave your fathers and you will be My people, and I will be your God” (36:28).

Since Daniel would have known about Jeremiah’s New Covenant prophecy, as well as Ezekiel’s progressive clarification of it, he would have known that the New Covenant was not in effect yet.  And, since both New Covenant passages–Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36-37–sound much more like what is prophecied in Deuteronomy 30 than in Leviticus 27, it appears that Daniel and Nehemiah deduced that their responsibility in preparing to go back to the land was to fulfill the requirements of Leviticus 27, but not Deuteronomy 30.  The reason was that they concluded that the requirements of Dueteronomy 30 had to do with the New Covenant, which was still future.

Interestingly, another difference in Leviticus 27 and Deuteronomy 28-30 is the way that Leviticus 27 requires the “paying back” of the unkept sabbatical years while Deuteronomy 28-30 says nothing about it.  The implication is that, while the sabbatical years are a major factor in the Babylonian captivity (see 2 Chron. 36:21), it may not be at all in future deportations/ captivities (i.e., of “those who are not here today” [see Deut. 29:15]).

What have I learned from all this?  Quite a bit, but the most interesting aspect has to do with the fact that, while the Lord continues to stick by the bedrock unconditional aspect of the Abrahamic Covenant in regard to the land promise, He continues to “call audibles” in regard to the conditional aspect.  It continues to change from the conditionality of Genesis 22 and 26 to the conditionality of Lev. 27 in the original statement of the Mosaic Law, then in the covenant renewal of the next generation in Deut. 28-30, then in the making of the Davidic Covenant–at least in regard to David and Solomon, then how the kings that followed them were evalulate spiritually, then in the prediction of the New Covenant.  The godly remnant of Judah apparently understood that the Lord was dealing with them according to the stipulations in Lev. 27, in terms of their return to the promised land.  But, they also apparently understood that any future expulsions from the land would be handled according to Deut. 28-30, as expounded further in Jer. 31 and Ezek. 36-37.

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