The blessing of the nations is rooted in God's faithfulness to Israel.


For the week of February 21, 2015 / 2 Adar 5775
Torah: Shemot/Exodus 25:1 - 27:19
Haftarah: 1 Melachim/1 Kings 5:26 - 6:13 (English: 5:12 - 6:13)

God's Dilemma

God's Dilemma

Now the word of the LORD came to Solomon, "Concerning this house that you are building, if you will walk in my statutes and obey my rules and keep all my commandments and walk in them, then I will establish my word with you, which I spoke to David your father. And I will dwell among the children of Israel and will not forsake my people Israel." (1 Melachim/1 Kings 6:11-13)

When discussing the topic of the people of Israel's relationship to the Land of Israel, it is often mentioned that Israel's right to the land was contingent upon their adherence to the covenant given to them through Moses at Mt. Sinai. Doesn't God reiterate this to King Solomon in this week's Haftarah portion (Haftarah is the weekly reading selection from the Prophets section of the Hebrew Scriptures, which includes most of the books of the writing prophets and the historical books Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings). Solomon was in the process of building the Temple, the permanent structure modelled after the Mishkan (English: Tabernacle), which was to act as the worship center of the nation, where the sacrifices were to be performed.

The land isn't explicitly mentioned to Solomon, but it is certainly included. For through Moses the people were warned again and again that lack of adherence to the covenant would undermine their identity and function as God's chosen people, with loss of the land as God's final word of judgment.

The New Testament is often understood through this lens. Israel, having returned from exile a few hundred years earlier, was given a second chance to make good, yet failed again. The destruction of the Temple by the Romans, and the resultant almost two thousand years of exile, is viewed as God's final word regarding their once-upon-a-time choseness. The Gospel's extension to all nations and the supposed shift from Old Testament religion to the New's apparently more refined spirituality is leveraged to undermine any vestiges of God's particular promises to Israel as a specific national entity. Ongoing concern for ethnic Israel, especially in terms of a divine claim to its ancient homeland, is seen to be archaic, redundant, and counterproductive.

This, Christendom's majority view, fails to come to grips with the reality that ethnic Israel was operating under two intimately related covenants. The first was the one originally given to Abraham and was passed on to what became known as the nation of Israel via his son Isaac and grandson Jacob. The benefits of this covenant were significant peoplehood, the everlasting inheritance of ancient Canaan, and being a blessing to the nations (see Bereshit/Genesis 12:1-3, 7). Some refer to this covenant as unconditional, which isn't entirely true. It was conditional upon Abraham's faithfulness, a condition that he fulfilled. That there are no longer any other conditions is what makes it unconditional henceforth.

The second, we have already referred to, was the one given through Moses at Mt. Sinai. It connects with the earlier Abrahamic covenant in that Israel's rescue from slavery in Egypt was due to God's prior commitment to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (see Shemot/Exodus 6:2-5). Having promised peoplehood, land, and blessing, God was duty bound to deliver them. The Sinai covenant was then established upon this deliverance. Its expectations were of a high moral and spiritual standard, which no nation could ever attain. That, according to Romans 3:19, Israel's inevitable failure functions as an object lesson so that all nations should become aware of their own desperate need for God is disregarded by most. Leaving that aside for now, while Israel's judgment through foreign oppression and exile is a clear consequence of the stipulations of the Sinai Covenant, failure to sufficiently keep it cannot undermine the earlier covenant made with the forefathers.

The judgments that arose from Israel's inability to fully satisfy the Sinai covenant created what we might call a dilemma for God. On one hand he solemnly swore ongoing relationship with ethnic Israel including granting them the land as an eternal possession (e.g. Bereshit/Genesis 24:7; Shemot/Exodus 32:13), yet according to God's word to Solomon, the breaking of the Sinai covenant demanded alienation: not only from their land, but from God himself.

God made a way to resolve that dilemma by sending the Messiah as the perfect sacrifice. Christians are keenly aware of how the blood of the New Covenant through Yeshua makes a way for all people to be reconciled with God through faith. But few understand how it is that the Abrahamic blessing extends to the nations - how it is firmly rooted in God's faithfulness to his promise to Abraham for ethnic Israel. Are not the vast majority of messianic promises in the Hebrew Prophets primarily concerned with the restoration of literal Israel to God and to their land (e.g. Isaiah 11:1-10; 61:1-11; Jeremiah 31:31-33, 33:14-16)? If Yeshua's sacrifice doesn't first satisfy messianic prophesy's original intent, then there is no basis of restoration for anyone else.

Unless otherwise noted, scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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