Sunday, July 1, 2012

The role of law in the blessing and purpose of Ancient Israel

This post adds to the discussion on Israel touched briefly, on July 11, 2011.  I review some of the concepts here and add to them, as well as adding more Bible verses.

Many think that ancient Israel, or the Jews as we call them now, were set apart by God for no apparent reason other than to show God's special favor to a group of undeserving people.  They believe that the Jews were to be isolated from the rest of the world only in order to especially bless them and prosper them - a type of "prosperity" religion that we hear so much about these days.  I'd like to show you from the Bible that in fact, God "set them apart" only in order to develop their nation into something that would broadcast God's love and His gospel of salvation to the rest of the world. 

Genesis 12:1-3.  God called Abram to the land of Canaan and told him he'd make him a great nation, would bless him and make his name great and that he would be a blessing: "In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed".  It was not to be a selfish blessing, but one that would bless all families of the earth.

Isa 61:9  -  "And their seed shall be known among the Gentiles, and their offspring among the people:  all that see them shall acknowledge them, that they are the seed which the Lord hath blessed."

God continued to reiterate and reinforce this message throughout Abram/Abraham's life and on into the next generations.

In Jacob's time, the whole family (consisting of 70 odd people) all moved to Egypt during a famine.  They lived there for several generations, multiplying into hundreds of thousands.   You know the story of Moses and how he led the now 'nation' out of Egypt and to the borders of Canaan.  (Joshua led them the rest of the way, across the Jordan and into Canaan itself).

It was during this time of travel and in the wilderness experience (of 40 years) that God molded this nation into a cohesive people of one identity.  He gave them a constitution, leadership and protection. He had to "re-teach" them principles they had forgotten as a slave group in a heathen country.  He gave them every advantage as a people.  Why did God do this?  That's what we'll look at next.

In the beginning when Adam and Eve sinned, bringing the curse of separation from God upon the whole earth, God came down and explained to them that He would be providing a Saviour.  It was to point the whole world to this Saviour that this nation was called into being;  to be God's "servant".

We read this in Isaiah 41:8-10. "But thou, Israel, art my servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the seed of Abraham my friend.  Thou whom I have taken from the ends of the earth, and called thee from the chief men thereof, and said unto thee, Thou art my servant;  I have chosen thee, and not cast thee away.  Fear thou not; for I am with thee:  be not dismayed; for I am thy God:  I will strengthen thee;  yea, I will help thee;  I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness."

In what way was Israel a servant, of all things?!

Many people think that there is no difference between the 10 commandments (which is a moral law for all people for all time) and the civil and ceremonial laws given to the Israelites in the wilderness.  I contend that the three laws were totally different because they had different purposes, and are related to Israel being called a servant.

The 10 commandments, written by the very FINGER of GOD and preserved in the ark of the covenant (not Noah's ark!) were 10 precepts of a universal nature and were for all mankind, not only the Jews. {These principles had been in effect from Creation otherwise, for one, it wouldn't have been morally wrong for Cain to kill Abel and many other examples - without the law there is no sin.}

The Jews were the "keepers" of the law - preserving/protecting it, and demonstrating it in their own lives as a living witness of the character of God.  By their beautiful, kind, faithful and loving lives, the Jews were supposed to attract "Gentiles" (non-Jews) to God for the purpose of their salvation in the coming Christ (Son of God).  To point them to the Messiah still to come.  They were to understand and use the many prophecies of Jesus to draw all men to Him as their Saviour.

When they failed to fulfill their commission, they were sadly and reluctantly (remember how Jesus wept over Jerusalem) rejected as the group relegated to represent God, and the commission was passed on to another group - Christians - "Spiritual Israel".  (This doesn't mean individual Jews cannot be converted and commissioned by God the Son as I've mentioned in previous blogs). Thus, Christians, by living out the 10 commandments, are representing the character to God to others and bringing their attention to the Saviour who brings them salvation, and to His second coming (along with the judgment).

If they do not keep the 10 commandments, they are misrepresenting the character of God to the world and the world will not know God or be attracted to Him, and they will fail in their commission, just as the Jews did before Christ's first coming.  1 John 2:3 "And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments" and 1 John 5:3 "For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous".   So why do people equate these 10 commandments with the civil and ceremonial laws?  Because they don't want to obey them - bottom line.

Let's look at the civil laws now.

The civil law was given to civilize them!  After being slaves for generations, they needed guidance and "rules" for daily life and order in society.  They were to be set apart in their laws and statutes that others might see the wisdom, order and peace in the nation of Israel.  It was sort of like a "constitution" for their fledgling nation.  This was specific to the Jews (not that we couldn't learn from them still).  These specifically did not apply to Gentile nations and those around them.  If specific Gentiles wanted to become part of the chosen nation, they were welcome and encouraged to do so, but only if they swore off their idols, false gods and other heathen customs so as not to negatively influence the Jews.  Fair enough!  (Though they DID cause a lot of trouble anyway because they weren't made to drop their heathen ways).   The Jews were warned against marrying the heathen because of exactly these influences!  Makes sense, doesn't it?

Many thus think that isolationism was the reason the civil laws were given.  No, it was for  their protection from/prevention of apostasy!  We could discuss this more but I must move on...

The ceremonial law is the next one I'll discuss.  These laws were the shadows we love to talk about.   They all foreshadowed Christ's work of salvation.   They centered mostly around the Sanctuary service

which was modeled on the tabernacle built by Moses,

which was ultimately based on the pattern given him by God on Mt. Sinai.  These rituals were all fulfilled in Christ - I've touched on a few of these in previous blogs.  Not only were the rituals fulfilled, but Christ himself was the lamb - the sacrifice.  He was represented by the lamb, He was represented by the priest, He was represented by the furniture in the sanctuary.  These items all explained the work and life of Christ in His work of Salvation for lost sinners - you and me!  Thus people could still sacrifice a lamb now, if they wanted to, but it wouldn't mean a thing!  Christ, our High Priest, is now in the heavenly sanctuary, interceding and working on our behalf. (This might be a new thought to many).

All the ceremonies were to help the Jews AND other nations understand the work and role of Christ for our salvation.  Unfortunately, the Jews ritualized the Sanctuary service, misunderstood its purpose, and the world wasn't prepared for the incarnation of their Saviour - Jesus Christ.

I've had people pooh-poohing this whole concept and that's fine.  Here are some Bible verses to show how Israel had a commission to the world. (there are plenty more....)

The land of "Canaan"

1 Kings 8:41-43 - "Moreover concerning a stranger, that is not of thy people Israel, but cometh out of a far country for thy name's sake; (For they shall hear of thy great name and of thy strong hand, and of thy stretched out arm;) when he shall come and pray toward this house;  Hear thou in heaven thy dwelling place, and do according to all that the stranger calleth to thee for: that all people of the earth may know thy name, to fear thee, as do thy people Israel; and that they may know that this house, which I have builded, is called by thy name..."

1 Kings 8:60,61 -  "That all the people of the earth may know that the Lord is God, and that there is none else.  Let your heart therefore be perfect with the Lord our God, to walk in his statutes, and to keep his commandments, as at this day."

Isaiah has a lot of verses.  Here are some of them.

Isa 37:20  -   "Now therefore, O Lord our God, save us from his (king of Assyria's) hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that thou art the Lord, even thou only."

Isa 43:6-12  -   "I will say to the north, Give up; and to the south, Keep not back:  bring my sons from far, and my daughters from the ends of the earth;  Even every one that is called by my name:  for I have created him for my glory, I have formed him;  yea, I have made him.  Bring forth the blind people that have eyes, and the deaf that have ears.  Let all the nations be gathered together, and let the people be assembled:  who among them can declare this, and shew us former things?  let them bring forth their witnesses, that they may be justified: or let them hear, and say, It is truth.  Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen:  that ye may know and believe me and understand that I am he:  before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me.  I, even I, am the Lord;  and beside me there is no saviour.  I have declared, and have saved, and I have shewed, when there was no strange god among you:  therefore ye are my witnesses saith the Lord, that I am God..."

Isa 45: 6, 14, 22-24  -   "That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me.  I am the Lord, and there is none else...", "Thus saith the Lord, The labour of Egypt, and merchandise of Ethiopia and of the Sabeans, men of stature, shall come over unto thee, and they shall be thine:  they shall come after thee;  in chains they shall come over, and they shall fall down unto thee, they shall make supplication unto thee, saying, Surely God is in thee;  and there is none else, there is no (other) God...", "Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth:  for I am God and there is none else.  I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.  Surely, shall one say, in the Lord have I righteousness and strength:  even to him shall men come;  and all that are incensed against him shall be ashamed."

Isa 49: 3,  6  - "And he said unto me, Thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified....And he said, It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel:  I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth."  

Isa 49:26  -  "...and all flesh shall know that I the Lord am thy Saviour and thy Redeemer, the mighty One of Jacob."

Isa 55:5  -  "Behold, thou shalt call a nation that thou knowest not, and nations that knew not thee shall run unto thee because of the Lord thy God, and for the Holy One of Israel;  for he hath glorified me."

Isa 56: 6, 7b, 8  -   "Also the sons of the stranger, that join themselves to the Lord, to serve him, and to love the name of the Lord, to be his servants, every one that keepeth the sabbath from polluting it, and taketh hold of my covenant... for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people...The Lord God which gathereth the outcasts of Israel saith, Yet will I gather others to him, beside those that are gathered unto him."

Isa 61:9  -  "And their seed shall be known among the Gentiles, and their offspring among the people:  all that see them shall acknowledge them, that they are the seed which the Lord hath blessed."

Isa 62:2  -  "And the Gentiles shall see thy righteousness, and all kings thy glory:  and thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the Lord shall name."

Isa 63:14  - "As a beast goeth down into the valley, the Spirit of the Lord caused him to rest:  so didst thou lead the people, to make thyself a glorious name."

Isa 64:2  - "As when the melting fire burneth, the fire causeth the waters to boil, to make thy name known to thine adversaries, that the nations may tremble at thy presence!"

And now some from Ezekiel.  Many times God withheld judgment and punishment of the Jews for His name's sake among the heathen.

Ez  20:14  - "But I wrought for my name's sake that it should not be polluted before the heathen, in whose sight I brought them out."

Ez 36: 23, 36  -  "And I will sanctify my great name, which was profaned among the heathen, which ye have profaned in the midst of them;  and the heathen shall know that I am the Lord, saith the Lord God, when I shall be sanctified in you before their eyes.",..."Then the heathen that are left round about you shall know that I the Lord build the ruined places, and plant that that was desolate:  I the Lord have spoken it, and I will do it."

Ez 37: 28.  -  "And the heathen shall know that I the Lord do sanctify Israel, when my sanctuary shall be in the midst of them for evermore."

Ez 38:23  -  "Thus will I magnify myself, and sanctify myself;  and I will be known in the eyes of many nations, and they shall know that I am the Lord."

Ez 39:7  - "So will I make my holy name known in the midst of my people Israel;  and I will not let them pollute my holy name any more:  and the heathen shall know that I am the Lord, the Holy One in Israel."

Ez 39: 21, 27  - "And I will set my glory among the heathen, and all the heathen shall see my judgment that I have executed, and my hand that I have laid upon them....When I have brought them again from the people, and gathered them out of their enemies' lands, and am sanctified in them in the sight of many nations...."

I have many more verses showing the purpose of Israel.  We mustn't limit their blessing to the prosperity gospel!

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