Kingdom and Covenant, Part 6

I have been unpacking the biblical story that I summarized in one sentence here. Today I continue with Part 6: The Covenant with David and the Exile…

The Covenant with David: The King Promises to Send the True King

A. David

king-davidDavid was a good and wise king, a ‘man after my own heart.’ God made a covenant with David that was intended to continue the previous covenant promises. God promised that someone from David’s family would reign as king forever. This covenant has many similarities to the covenant God made with Abraham and shows that the promised seed of Abraham would also come from the family of David. This seed of David would be the one to restore God’s blessing, God’s family, and give face to God’s people.While David was a great king, his reign also has the stain of sin. His sin would lead to problems in Israel that eventually led to the division of the kingdom after the reign of David’s son Solomon.

Therefore, after Solomon died, the one kingdom of Israel became the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah, each with their own kings. These kings were judged by God according to their faithfulness. Most of the kings were unfaithful. Yet, God remained faithful and continued to give his word to his people through his prophets.

B. Exile

Destruction_of_JerusalemBecause Israel and Judah were unfaithful to the covenant God made with them and
because they failed to fulfill their mission, God judged them through exile. Foreigners again invaded Israel, this time destroying the temple and taking the people away from their land. The land represented more than simply a place to live. It was the promised land, the land of safety and rest. In the exile, it was a land of destruction and punishment.

Despite all of this, God still remained faithful. He continued to send prophets to the people to proclaim his word. The prophet word normally contained two aspects: judgment and hope. The prophets made it very clear that the exile was a result of sin. God had not only allowed it to happen, but had order it as judgment against his people. Just like Adam and Eve, Israel was driven from their special place in shame because of their sin.

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Kingdom and Covenant, Part 5

In the last few posts, I have been unpacking the biblical story that I summarized in one sentence here. In this post, I continue with part 5 of the story – the exodus, Sinai, and the conquering of the land…

The Covenant with Israel: The King Creates a People

A. Exodus

While the growth of the nation of Israel was a result of God’s blessings, it also caused problems with the Egyptians. The King of Egypt enslaved them and began killing their babies. They were completely helpless to change their situation.

moses-and-the-burning-bush-deana-harveyGod called Moses to lead the rescue of his people. Through Moses, God demanded the King of Egypt to ‘Let my son go that he may worship me.’ The son is the nation of Israel.

Pharaoh refused to listen to God, challenging God’s power to rescue his people. Therefore, the rescue of Israel would come through the judgment of Egypt. God sent 10 plagues upon the Egyptians to demonstrate his power, the last of which was plague of death. God decreed that the firstborn in every Egyptian home would die. However, distinguished his people by commanding them to kill a lamb and spread its blood on the doorposts of their homes. When God went through the land of Egypt to destroy the firstborn sons, he passed over the homes that had blood on the doors.

Following this plague, Pharaoh let the people of Israel God. God rescued his people in great power.

B. Covenant

After leaving Egypt and crossing the sea, God led the Israelites to Mt. Sinai where he made a covenant with them. At first, the covenant was to be much like the covenant God made with Abraham. They were to love and obey God, just like the patriarchs were called to do. In fact, God said that the people of Israel were to be his treasured possession, a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation.

They were to worship and obey, like God demanded of Adam. They were to be priests to the world so that others would be blessed through them. They were to be holy – different, set apart for God’s special purposes.sinai painting

The problem, like before, was sin. Israel, the corporate son of God, refused to listen and obey. Therefore, God added law to the covenant. The law was given as a standard of God’s holiness in all areas of life. In addition, the law established Israel as a nation, setting them apart as the people of God.

Following the making of the covenant, God led Israel into the wilderness where he protected them and provided for their needs. He commanded them to build the tabernacle, a tent that symbolized God’s presence with them. Despite all this, the people rebelled in the wilderness. They, like Adam, rebelled against their loving father and brought shame on themselves. They broke their covenant relationship with God and lost his blessings. Therefore, God punished them by not allowing any of the first generation of Israelites to enter the promised land.

Nevertheless, God was gracious. He continued giving them his word and promised that the second generation would enter the land that God promised to give Abraham and his descendants.

Despite the failure of Israel, God’s promises remained. Throughout the story of the wilderness wonderings, God reminded the people of the coming one – the seed of the woman who would be a prophet and king. He represented hope. God also promised that a new Moses would come – a prophet like Moses who would perfectly speak God’s word.

C. In the Land

rh-fallofjericho3After the death of the first generation, including Moses, God was ready to fulfill another part of his promise to Abraham. God chose Joshua to lead the people of Israel into the land that God promised to give them. Joshua courageously led the people into Canaan where God gave them the land. The conquest of the land included many miraculous victories that demonstrated God’s presence and power with his people.

However, Israel quickly forgot God’s mighty acts for them and demanded a king so that they could be like the other nations. God gave them a king, Saul. At first, Saul seemed to be a strong leader, but soon his heart turned from trusting God to trusting himself. God removed his Spirit from Saul and chose another, David.

Sinai and Mission

The Sinai Covenant was about God’s Mission. 

sinai painting

In Exodus 19, we encounter the story of God’s covenant-making with Israel. There is much that could be said (and indeed has been said) about this central chapter, but I want to focus on just a few reflections on the covenant, the mission of God, and a couple of application points.

The Covenant

Exodus 19 follows the great events that led to the rescue of Israel and their first few months of time in the wilderness. The point of the chapter is the covenant. This is the purpose for which God rescued Israel: for them to be his covenant people. Notice a couple of things:

1. The People

In verse 3, Yahweh announces that Moses is to speak to ‘the house of Jacob’ and ‘the people of Israel.’ The repetition in identifying the people draws our attention to the their identity as the seed of Abraham. In other words, the covenant God is making with these people is closely related to God’s covenant with Abraham. In fact, the Sinai Covenant is supposed to fulfill the covenant promises given to Abraham.

2. The Covenant Terms

Much could be said here, but the basic terms of the covenant are simple: Israel was supposed to ‘obey my voice and keep my covenant’ (Ex. 19.5). In this regard, the covenant is closely linked to be Adam and Abraham – they were to live in covenant obedience to God.

Of course, this is predicated on the fact of God’s rescue of Israel from Egypt (Ex. 19.4). He redeemed Israel to be his special people. If they will obey, they will

  • be God’s treasured possession
  • be a kingdom of priests
  • be a holy nation

Thus, God made Israel his covenant people for mission – they were to be priests to the world. Again, there are clear links to Adam and Abraham here. Adam functioned as a priest in the Garden (Gen. 2.15 – see J. Sailhamer, The Pentateuch as Narrative). He was tasked with expanding the Garden to fill the earth with God’s glory (Gen. 1.26-28).

God called Abraham so that through him, all the families of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 12.1-3). In other words, God planned to restore the blessings of creation through Abraham’s family. Israel is that family.

3. The Covenant Scene

Finally, the scene is incredible. The people of Israel saw the thick cloud, the lightning, and hear the thunder and trumpets. They were rightly afraid. The terrifying scene along with the reminder of what God had done to the Egyptians (verse 4) served to each Israel to fear the Lord and obey him.

It seems that their fear overcame them and they did not go up on the mountain (see Ex. 20.18-21 and Deut. 5.4-5). Nevertheless, they stood in awe of the Lord.

Missional Thoughts

1. The basis of mission is the awe-inspiring vision of God and his mighty works.

awePart of Israel’s problem throughout history was that they forgot the awesome vision of God they beheld at Sinai. Of course, the real problem was that they needed the change of heart promised in the new covenant (Deut. 30.6; Jer. 31; Ezek. 36). But, had they remembered the great vision of God’s power and majesty, it would have provided motivation for obedience.

Too often we lose the vision of God’s greatness. And, we have a greater vision this side of the cross. Perhaps we need to remind ourselves of God’s glory and let this spur us to mission.

2. God is determined to fulfill his original intentions for creation.

Though his people fail, God is faithful. We go forward in mission knowing that God has bound himself covenantally to fulfill his original intentions. The privilege of mission is that we get to participate in his mission.

3. God is patient with his people.

Though believers have entered the new covenant and have renewed hearts, we will continue to fail. Yet, as he was patient with Israel, God is patient with us. His faithfulness is not based on our performance, but on his covenant love for us.

4. Holiness and mission are inseparable.

The story of Israel (and Adam for that matter) clearly shows the link between holiness and mission. If Israel failed to be holy (which they did), their mission would also fail (which it did). Cross-cultural servants must be as passionate about holiness as they are about evangelism.

Great Quote from N.T. Wright

From Paul and the Faithfulness of God, page 911:

Here, then, is Paul’s vision of how the Messiah, particularly in his death and resurrection, had redefined around himself the very grammar of election, looking all the way back to Abraham. The patriarch believed, and was declared for ever ‘in the right.’ His seed would be enslaved within a land not theirs; God’s faithfulness would guarantee both Passover and promise: inheritance, and blessing for the world. They waited. Psalms and prophets sang of peace, a covenant of justice. And, instead: exile; hope lost; the rise of bestial empires. Then, which the times and tears had overflowed, God sent his only son, the strangest king, to be for Israel what they could not be: obedient; faithful; Passover in person. He was the seed, the servant, and the son; the chosen; the beloved; the victory won.

Exodus 14 as Missional Motivation

“Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward.” (Exodus 14:15)

crossing the sea paintingThe exodus is a central event in the Bible and has clear goal – for God to plant his covenant people in their land and to dwell with them. While the goal is central, the process of achieving the goal is important and, in many ways, directly applicable to the work of mission.

Exodus 14 is a clear example. This is the familiar story of the Israelites escape through the sea on dry ground. Perhaps the story is so familiar that we miss some of the details. I’d like to draw attention to a few of these and apply some biblical-theological thinking to mission.

1. God’s ways are not always the easiest or most pleasant. 

In verse 1, the Lord tells Moses to lead the people to turn back. Remember the context – they had only just escaped from Egypt and likely had the feeling of ‘run for your life’ within their hearts. Yet, instead of continuing to run, God calls them to turn back toward the enemy. This was an angry enemy coming with a powerful army. The situation is less than comfortable. Why does God do this?

2. God’s ways are for his glory and our good

Repeated throughout the passage is the clear statement of God’s purpose – “that I may gain glory over Pharaoh” and so that “the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.” God does all things for the glory of his name. In his grace, the achievement of glory and honor also results in the rescue of his people. While sometimes strange, God’s glorious acts are also our greatest good.

3. God’s ways are always consistent

Throughout the first 13 chapters of Exodus, there have been constant reminders that the events taking place are in keeping with God’s covenant promises to Abraham. He promises to make Abraham into a great nation and to bless the world through his family. What if Abraham’s family dies at the hands of Pharoah or in the sea? God’s promises would fail, which is impossible. Thus, the rescue of Israel is a certainty.

But, there’s more. The escape through the sea is depicted in creational terms. Notice the following:

Light and Darkness (Ex. 14:20-21)
Separation of waters (Ex. 14:21)
Dry land emerges from the sea (Ex. 14:21)
Wind – same word as Spirit (Ex. 14:21)

Of course, like the creation account, everything in this chapter takes place by the word of God.

The point of this seems to be 1) to demonstrate the consistent character of God in keeping his creational and covenant promises and 2) to remind the Israelites that their God is the God of creation. Therefore, they need not fear. He is creating his covenant people in fulfillment of his original purposes for creation. The Sinai covenant will fill out the details, but the connections with creation make clear that God is at work for his glory and the good of his people. They need only to trust him and move forward.

How might this apply to mission?world map

The work of mission will always include suffering and the temptation to quit or complain. In those times, our motivation to continue is in the character and faithfulness of God. The exodus event served as a constant reminder of identity of Israel’s God and thus as motivation for faithfulness to the task to which they were called.

Biblical theology helps us see the faithfulness of our God to rescue his people, keep his promises, and glorify his own name. The call of mission is to join him in this work, resting in his power to complete the task.

Sometimes God takes us down the less than pleasant path, but this is for his glory and our good. The question is whether we will cry out or move forward.

Israel’s Story and the Gospel

Is the story of Israel integral to the gospel?important part

This is an important question, particularly as it relates to the biblical gospel and to evangelism. Fortunately, biblical theology gives us a very clear answer to the question. In short, YES!

Israel’s story is essential to the biblical gospel. Nevertheless, this answer is perhaps less than self-evident to many people if judged by the place (or absence) of Israel’s story in most tracts and gospel presentations.

For example, the C2C Story is a popular evangelism tool used by many cross-cultural workers. While the approach makes use of a storying method, there are serious problems with the story, especially concerning the role of Israel in the biblical storyline. C2C makes no mention of the nation of Israel and implies that the 10 commandments and the OT sacrifices were given to humanity in general rather than Israel in particular. The story has room for the fall of evil angels, but omits the exodus.

More could be said about other omissions in C2C (no mention of Abraham, the covenants, or David; only a passing reference to the resurrection, etc.), but this post is focusing only on Israel’s story. And C2C is but one example among many in which Israel is either neglected or ignored.

This brings us back to the main question – is Israel’s story important to the gospel? There are no less than fours reasons why the answer must be in the affirmative.

1. The story of Israel is important in the Bible.

book with no middleFirst, the story of Israel is central to the biblical message. Proportionately speaking, Israel’s story makes up the bulk of the Christian canon. If we hold to a high view of Scripture, we must affirm that God inspired the biblical authors to pen a vast amount of material concerning the story of Israel.

If God saw this story as important, we must also hold it as important. Ignoring Israel’s story is like cutting out the main part of a book’s plot. We dare not do so with God’s book.

2. Jesus’s story is incomprehensible without Israel’s story.

Second, and related to the first point, the story of Jesus cannot be rightly understood apart from the story of Israel. Jesus’s story is Israel’s story. Failure to rightly appreciate the role of Israel’s story within the biblical narrative results in a deficient view of Jesus and his significance.

3. The story of Israel makes the gospel real.

By real, I mean that Israel’s story puts the gospel story in real life. The gospel message is not an abstract set of propositions, but a story, the story of the world’s true King, Israel’s Messiah, who sets the world right again. The story of Israel is the story of God’s people and his mission of restoration in and through his people. Israel’s story demonstrates God’s work in the real world, in history, with real people.

4. Israel’s story shows the corporate nature of the gospel.

Finally, Israel’s story helps us to avoid the individualistic bent of many gospel presentations. Much gospelizing involves telling people God is angry with them and that they are going to hell if they don’t believe in Jesus. Believing results in assurance that they will go to heaven when they die. The result of this is often viewing salvation as a ticket to heaven with nothing further needed.slide-10-people-of-the-church

Indeed, if the gospel is just “me and my personal relationship with Jesus”, there is little, if any, need for the church. The story of Israel helps correct this misunderstanding by showing God’s actions to rescue and restore his people. Just as the rescue from Egypt was the rescue of a nation, so redemption in Christ is the restoration of King Jesus’s people.

More could be said, but these brief points clearly show that Israel’s story is ignored to the detriment of biblical gospelizing. In future posts, we will look at some specific examples of Israel’s story in the NT gospel.