Friday, November 28, 2014

THE SEARCH FOR THE TEN LOST TRIBES OF ISRAEL (7)

(Please scroll down to read parts 1-6)

THREE COVENANTS OF GOD

Traditions and claims regarding the ten lost tribes of Israel abound, but the question that concerns us here is whether the promises of God really do depend upon the actual and present-day existence of the Ten Tribes.

The Covenant with Abraham

The search for our answer begins with some words that God spoke to the patriarch, Abraham (then called “Abram”), who was the grandfather of Jacob – the father of the twelve sons.  It was from these twelve sons of Jacob that the twelve original tribes of Israel began. 

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go forth from your country, and from your relatives and from your father’s house, to the land which I will show you;

And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing;

And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3 NAS). 

With these words, God enters into a covenant with Abraham, one which God later confirms in the Ceremony of the Smoking Oven and the Flaming Torch (Genesis 15:12-21).  The ceremony that normally accompanied this covenant involved the two parties who where entering into the agreement passing together through a path formed by the divided halves of certain animals that had been sacrificed for this purpose. These animals were meant to signify the binding responsibility that each party of the covenant was setting upon himself, thus the sealing the agreement. Both parties were bound to adhere to the conditions of the covenant.

However, when God entered into this covenant with Abraham, God did not require Abraham to pass through on the path, but instead there appeared a “smoking oven and a flaming torch” which passed alone between the pieces.  This was God’s manner of demonstrating that this covenant was an unconditional promise, meaning God bound Himself to its fulfillment, regardless of any compliance on the part of Abraham.

The vow of God was basically three-fold.  God promised Abraham a land to which Abraham was to go. We generally consider the Palestine region of that day to be this land of promise, but in the reading of the passage concerning this covenant, we see that God told Abraham that this land would be  the entire world known to Abraham at that time. I will refer to this in the next post.

God also assured that Abraham would become a great nation. In fact, God told Abraham to look into the night sky to see if he could count the stars, which of course, are beyond count. “So shall your descendants be,” God told him (Genesis 15:5).

Lastly, God promised that Abraham would be blessed. This blessing was also to have an extended meaning, which we shall see in the subsequent post.

It was the presence of the descendants of Abraham later living in the land that gave the initial evidence of the fulfillment of the blessing. This was especially true in the days of King David, as David ruled over the land of promise and the Israelite people experienced the blessing of God.

Abraham himself, however, never saw this literal, earthly fulfillment. In fact, he was told by God that his descendants would first be “enslaved and oppressed four hundred years” in a foreign land before they would return to live in the Promised Land (Genesis 15:13-16).  However, despite the fact that Abraham never saw the physical fulfillment of the promise, the covenant is later reaffirmed to him (Genesis 17:4-21, 22:15-18); to Isaac (Genesis 26:3-5,24); and to Jacob (Genesis 28:13-15; 35:9-12). 

The Covenant with David

Skipping ahead now to the time after the four hundred year oppression in the land of Egypt, to the days when King David sat on the throne in Jerusalem, we see that God again reaffirms this covenant with this king of the nation of Israel.  David says, “…For He has made an everlasting covenant with me” (2 Samuel 23:5).  The content of this covenant is found in 2 Samuel 7:8-16, relayed to David by Nathan the prophet: 

Now then, tell my servant David, “This is what the LORD Almighty says: I took you from the pasture and from following the flock to be ruler over my people Israel.  I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men of the earth.  And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed…” 

“The LORD declares to you that the LORD himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom…I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men.  But my love will never be taken away from him…Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever” (NIV). 

The principle points of this covenant are as they were to Abraham. They consist first of God telling David that He will make David great and establish his family as a dynasty.  (“Now I will make your name great…Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.”).

There was also to be a land for the kingdom (“And I will provide a place for my people Israel.”)  God’s words to David also spoke of blessing and of a father and son relationship that demonstrated God’s familial love for His people.

David, along with his son Solomon saw beginnings of the fulfillment of this covenant from God, but as we have already seen in a previous post (the very first post of this series), this united kingdom did not last.  The Davidic Kingdom, under David’s grandson Rehoboam, underwent civil strife and the ten northern tribes broke away from the dynastic line.  They later were invaded by the Assyrians and deported, never to be heard from again.

But we must remember that God’s covenant through Abraham was unconditional. This covenant extended to the descendants of Abraham, whom God called in this covenant with David, “My people Israel”. Even though the Israelites had broken faith in the covenant that God made with David, God reaffirmed His own faithfulness not only to the throne of David, but also to the people of God. 

The New Covenant 

The Scriptural passages we read earlier (post #2) from the book of Jeremiah are some of these affirmations that God made with His people.  In this passage of Jeremiah’s message, God speaks of a New Covenant, which He means to make with His people. The prophet Jeremiah lived at the time when it seemed as if the reign of the Davidic kingly line was at an end. The nation of Judah had largely abandoned the ways of the Lord and the nation was overtaken by the Neo-Babylonian empire.

It must have seemed to Jeremiah that God was abandoning his people, but that was far from the truth. God again confirms His promise to Jeremiah:

“Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.” 

The conditionality of this covenant did not change, for God still bound Himself to it with an oath.  This covenant was called “new” however, because through it, God means to make a change within the hearts of His people. Despite the current conditions that Jeremiah saw concerning the people of God, in speaking of this new covenant, God does not diminish His intentions. Rather, He enlarges them! The Lord spoke in terms that must have been difficult for Jeremiah to grasp. 

“Not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them…But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days… “I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people” (Jeremiah 31:31-33 NAS). 

Another part of this covenant which is of utmost importance and which was not addressed in the earlier covenants was the manner in which God means to make a lasting change in His people. 

“For I will forgive their iniquity,” God told them “and their sin I will remember no more” (Jeremiah 31:34 NAS). 

There is no overstating the importance of this declaration by God.  The earlier covenants, if we remember, spoke of blessings and of lands and descendants, but they did not speak of forgiveness.  In the covenant with David, God said that when his son did wrong God would “punish him with the rod of men” but that God would not remove His love from him.  (2 Samuel 7:14-15).

However, it is in the New Covenant that we find for the first time in any of these covenants that God actually states that His intention is to forgive.  “Their sin I will remember no more,” He says.

Forgiveness is more of a New Testament concept.  It is not that forgiveness was unknown in the Old Testament, but we see it almost exclusively in the Old Testament in the form of the people crying out to God for forgiveness (the present passage in Jeremiah and the well known verse of 2 Chronicles 7:14 excluded).

It is also true that King David did receive forgiveness for his sin with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah (2 Samuel 12:13).  It was probably because of this that he could write so eloquently “Bless the Lord, O my soul…Who pardons all of your iniquities.  As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:1,3,12 NAS).

However, the Old Testament sacrifices did not bring forgiveness. They were instead instituted and intended to provide a covering for sin.  True forgiveness could not come until the ultimate sacrifice in the Person of Jesus Christ was accomplished.  In this New Covenant, of which God is speaking to Jeremiah, He is looking ahead to the time “after those days” when true forgiveness would be possible.
********
(Next time we shall see who are the recipients of these promises)

No comments:

Post a Comment