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Israel's Covenant of Love (part 1 of 4)

Post Title: Divine Election

 

You can't read the Bible and be neutral about Israel. In this new blog series, based on a transcript of his recorded message, Dwight seeks to clarify what is a challenging issue for many. Using tools of language and culture, he offers a more Hebraic reading of biblical texts. The result? A better understanding of God, his story, and your place in it!

 

Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations. - Deuteronomy 7:9 (vv. 6-11)

We have recently come through the season of Passover and Pentecost. God gave Israel a uniquely beautiful sense of rhythm to daily life punctuated by a weekly cycle of Sabbath, and an annual cycle of appointed times, festivals. The three major festivals are called pilgrim feasts because on these occasions God commanded all the able-bodied of Israel to come up to Jerusalem and be there with the Lord in his house of habitation, known as the Temple. It is a time to join with others in the community and come up to Jerusalem.

The psalmist recorded his feelings about it in this way, I was glad when they said to me, "Let us go to the house of the LORD!"

The second of these three pilgrim feasts, in the tongue of Jesus, is Shavu’ot (Pentecost). It comes fifty days after Passover and reminds us that Yahweh is:

  • the in-breaking God. He intervenes in human history to accomplish his aims and purposes. On behalf of his kingship, he actively enters in (reaches in) and delivers his people.

  • the in-dwelling God. He is eager to come and dwell with his people. At Mt. Sinai he says, make me a sanctuary that I may dwell in your midst (Ex 25:8).

  • the in-powering God. It was exactly on this festival that Jesus’ disciples, as observant Jews and according to his direction, went up to Jerusalem. And it was on Mt. Zion he filled-full his promises by pouring out his Spirit.

They gathered together as God had ordained and ordered. They waited there, counting the final 10 days between Passover and Pentecost just as the priests waved the sheaf offering before the LORD in the Temple (23:15-16). What had happened nearly 1500 years before at Mt. Sinai is now being fulfilled on Mount Zion.

As we walk in the light of these great truths, I feel impressed to share some insights that impact us deeply though many of us take them for granted. My sense is the theme of this message is going to become increasingly important in the days and years ahead. I want to talk about Israel's Covenant of Love.

Israel’s beginning was long before the events these feasts memorialize. They began as a family, the offspring of Abraham and Sarah. But the children of Israel were formed as a nation in the Exodus. There, Israel was forged in purpose and redeemed in love.

When Israel was brought to Sinai, in effect one could say she received her constitution.


In it, God specifies the nature, the obligations, and the terms of the covenant that he was cutting (making) with himself and this elect group of people. Elect not in the sense they were special, but in the fact that God called them to special service—in the earth—on his behalf.

And so he gives them the Torah: a composition of his will and wisdom, his decrees and guidelines, his directions and instructions for living. He makes a covenant with Israel that is an extension, an expansion, and a renewal of the earlier covenant he has made with Abraham.

In this election, this covenant, God's purpose was to forge for himself a people that would be distinct and unique, reflecting the character of the Holy One of Israel who is uncommon, unique, and exceptional in every way. So he takes these people and sets them apart from all other nations and says, "Now you are going to serve me as priests. You, in accord with the earliest commission I gave to Abraham, will be a blessing to all the nations on my behalf. I am covenanting myself with you."

God did this at his own initiative. It was not based on the merit or the good works of Israel. Nor was it some legalistic obligation imposed upon God that forced him to act this way. No, make no mistake about it, this was a sovereign, free choice. He could have chosen someone else, anyone else. But he chose Israel.

By his initiative he redeemed them and then, in his great love, he brought Israel to himself and taught her how he wanted her to live so as to walk in the fullness of life, to experience the full expression of shalom—his presence providing protection, security, well-being, prosperity, and peace. Why? So she could live up to her high calling as a separate nation and a kingdom of ministers (servants) unto the Most High God.

It is important for the church to hear the giving of his Torah (what we call the Pentateuch, the Law) in this context. Giving his Word was (and is) an act of love; it was a gracious gift from a loving Father who wanted the best for his children.

This is more than a shift in thinking towards the Torah itself, it is a mental reformation of the image of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the One Jesus taught us to call Our Father.

Why did God choose Israel? Or even before that, why did God choose Abraham of all the men on earth? Why him through which to forge a new nation? The Bible does not give us an answer! Nowhere in Scripture does it say why Abraham was chosen. We see certain characteristics in him that God admires, but there is never an explanation of why he chose this man.

I suggest to you that the reason there is no explanation is because love cannot be explained. The love of God is not subject to rational explanation. God has a compelling, passionate, even jealous love for his people Israel. The covenant he chose to make was a covenant of grace and love. In Deut 7:6-9 we see this:

Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations. - Deut 7:9

That being the case, I want you to understand why God’s covenant with Israel stands even today.

Contrary to church teaching for centuries, God is not a fickle lover who bolts when his beloved turns fickle and faithless. He established an eternal covenant with Israel and the reason it is eternal is because it is a covenant, not a contract. It is because God has taken the initiative and says, "In grace and love I am connecting myself to you."

Scholars believe the word for covenant relates to an Akkadian word which means "to bind." God says, in effect, "I am binding myself to you." Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands (Is 49:16). And he did it out of love. He did not elect saints, he chose the seed of Abraham. The issue at stake with God was not theological, it was biological.

Now, you and I would not operate that way; we would go find somebody more or less worthy of being in covenant with us. Not so God. He took the least of all people. And for reasons mysterious and impenetrable, he loved them. Because it is a covenant of love, it is a covenant that shall not be broken—because the God who loves is faithful.

As we shall see, all this has considerable bearing on you and me, and our relationship with God through the new covenant in Jesus’ blood.



 

Want to go deeper? Click here to explore audio seminars by Dwight A. Pryor.


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This study is from a professionally produced transcription of the audio recording. It was edited for readability by the team at JC Studies.


Dwight A. Pryor (1945-2011) was a gifted Bible teacher of exceptional clarity and depth who earned the friendship and admiration of both Christian and Jewish scholars—in the United States and Israel—as well as the respect and appreciation of followers of Jesus around the world. His expertise in the language, literature, and culture of Israel during the life and time of Jesus and the early church yield insights that nourish every area of faith and practice.


Dwight founded JC Studies in 1984 to edify the people of God. Click here to explore over fifty of his audio and video seminars.

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