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Saturday, October 31, 2015

For Our Instruction: The Past, Present and Future of Israel

Promise, conquest and comfort, environment and military, unfaithfulness, and restoration are all part of the history of Israel. Although we do think or associate famine, drought, pestilence and infestation with Israel these too were a part of Israel’s history. Of course, present day Jews look at Israel in the scriptures and draw a straight line, rightly so, to connect themselves between then and now. My purpose here is neither to affirm or deny that connection. The title of this article is not about what it probably conjures up in your mind. This article will not delve into Israel as it exists today or the popular speculations of some Christians concerning OT prophecies in Israel today. It is not a expose or a thrashing of Israel as a people or a sovereign nation. Rather, it is a view of ancient Israel from the time it was a mere promise which God made to one man all the way through a brief period until the fulfillment of that promise, and then, to what befell Israel when it forsook the covenant which God had made with Israel on the basis of that promise and the eventual restoration of Israel. The focus of this article is taken from Romans 15:4 in the New Testament (NT) where the apostle Paul wrote to a young church in Rome about the value of the ancient scriptures.


For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.


This verse is commonly parroted by Christians on the value of the ancient scriptures, but the truth is most Christians are familiar with Old Testament (OT, Tanakh) verses mostly as they might hear them in a sermon. Generally, they do not read the OT on the basis that it is not binding on them. This is true. A view of Israel or any part of what has been written for our instructions that does not include a purpose is truly shortsighted especially when limited to believers only.


Is it possible that what was written about Israel in ancient times is a showcase display instruction model for the peoples and nations to teach/learn throughout history even until today?


Presidential campaign politics in America tend to stir Americans and Christians to the notion that the solution to the problems of immorality and environment which affect the country is to get their particular party candidate in office. There is a loud cry chorus to “stand with Israel” almost as though this just might result in a blessing or good luck for America. However, the impact of ancient Israel’s moral conduct and its immoral conduct later in its history reveals for our learning that Israel’s conduct was not limited to the injustices, bribes, attacks and murder alone. The conduct of the people resulted in an impact which affected the land with droughts as well as the rise of the wildlife to attack and kill the people. Ancient Israel was no more lucky when it prospered with abundant blessings anymore than the people were unlucky when they suffered under the consequences of their own immorality. These different experiences in Israel were as God had told them would happen if were ever unfaithful and disobedient to him.


Israel represents, whether or not one believes in God, a showcase display for us to learn and to judge for ourselves if very similar things as in the matter of Israel do not happen to the peoples and nations of the world today. The account of Israel presents a perspective on a nation in the context of the OT scriptures. It is this perspective which I believe relates and reveals Israel’s past, present and future for our learning.


I contend that truth is a perspective; the relationship of parts to one another with the parts in this instance being the past, present and future. Regardless of the vantage point from which we look at the past, present and future it does not change. This is the truth. It is not merely an academic debate or exchange of opinions for the best or catchiest label to apply to truth such as objective, subjective, empirical, inclusive, exclusive, or the much touted trump of them all; absolute. Truth is a perspective and when one acquires that understanding by which one can view and assess one’s past, present and future, Jesus said, one will know the truth and the truth will make you free.


Basically, this view of Israel will focus on 1) the promise as being  in the past, 2) the fulfillment of that promise as being in the conquest and comfort, environment and military and unfaithfulness period in the present, and 3) the restoration of Israel as being when it returned to its land after it turned away from God and was taken captive by Assyria and Babylon in the future. The past, present and future in this view are not in the today of the twenty first century. The past is in the days of Abraham. The present is during the time of the judges, King David, King Solomon and the succession of kings who following the division of the kingdom after the death of King Solomon. The future is during the time of Israel’s captivity and the restoration of Israel back to their homeland.


There does not appear to be much to which we can point to observe, accuse or to condemn or commend in the nations of the world today which Israel did not experience many centuries ago. Today the afflictions of human suffering in these nations, and America is not excluded, brought on by war, poverty, famine, drought and more are ostensibly, and as science and naturalists would tell it, all tragic, but, alas, natural. Is it really? Even if we remove drought as arguably the only one of these which is not, like war, caused by humans is there anything for our instruction from the history of Israel?


promise


What the OT reveals is that Abraham received the promise of God that God would make of Abraham a father of many nations. First and foremost among those nations were to be those descendants of Abraham according to the flesh. Yes, Abraham was the recipient of those promises because of his faith. It is significant to note that this was a promise God made concerning Israel at a time when Egypt and Syria were predecessors which were in existence even long before Israel itself became a people and much less a nation. Israel’s neighbors were present to see the birth of a people which God would raise up against them at a later time in their future. Their experiences with Israel as victims of Israel and victors over Israel are part of their history. God’s promise to Abraham concerning his descendants began to unfold through his son Isaac who became the father of Jacob whose name was changed to Israel. It was in Jacob through whom the promise of a great nation that was to become Israel was fulfilled. It is Jacob who is the father of the twelve tribes of Israel. (His son Joseph, who was sold into slavery to the Egyptians by his own brothers, was himself not numbered among the twelve but it was his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim who took the place of their father Joseph among the twelve. The reason it took both of Joseph’s sons to take that place was because the tribe of Levi, the tribe from which came the priests had God himself as their inheritance, was never numbered among the twelve tribes.)


conquest and comfort


There were four hundred forty years which transpired from the time Israel, the twelve sons of Jacob and their families, went voluntarily into Egypt at the invitation of the brother Joseph who had ascended to the highest rank in Egypt; he was second only to Pharaoh, until the time that Israel finally entered the land of Canaan. This is the land which God had promised through Abraham as their inheritance. They entered and conquered the land under the leadership of Joshua who had succeeded Moses. After Joshua Israel was ruled by judges. Israel came to experience its greatest period of peace and comfort in the land during the reign of King Solomon.


environment, military and unfaithfulness


It was after the death of King Solomon that the tribes of Israel divided into the kingdom of Israel in the north, and the kingdom of Judah in the south. Slowy but certainly everything which God had foretold Israel would come upon them began to unfold. There as a span of as much as two centuries from the time the northern kingdom of Israel was first attacked by Assyria to the time when the next major power, Babylon, attacked and finally captured Jerusalem and took those who remained captive into Babylon. The city and temple were burned to the ground despite all false reassurances from false prophets and the false confidence and hope of the city’s inhabitants.


The long period of degeneration saw an occasional king who would do what was right in the sight of the God, but they were the exception. King Uzziah is one king who initially did what was pleasing to the Lord. He was an environmentalist who loved the soil as much as he delighted in creating and building war machines. (Do these references to environmentalist and war machines bring to mind political parties and their respective candidates today?) However, King Uzziah became proud. He did what was not right for him to do, namely, he entered the temple of God to offer incense. Subsequently, he was hurriedly rushed out of the temple, but not before God struck him with leprosy. Uzziah lived the rest of his days as a leper in isolation. Such is what befell Israel because of his unfaithfulness to God. Although they had full knowledge of what God expected from them in terms of worship, they turned to the creation and worship of wooden and stones idols.


restoration


The prophets, which included Isaiah, Jeremiah and several other prophets cried out the call of God for Israel to return from his unfaithfulness. Some of these prophets proclaimed the word of the Lord during the downfall of Israel and Judah. Others proclaimed to the people during their time of captivity in Babylon. Still others proclaimed the word of the Lord as Israel slowly made their way back from captivity to the land God had promised and given to them when King Cyrus of Persia was moved by the Spirit of God to release the Jews. He not only released them but provided for whatever they wanted or needed to return to Jerusalem, but he also attributed his actions to God.. As much as the prophets proclaimed doom they also proclaimed hope and the restoration of the sinful and rebellious nation of Israel. Israel did return and was restored in the land God had given them.


conclusion


Long before the ancient nation of Israel became a nation it was a family of a band of twelve heads of family. They became a nation just as God had promised to Abraham. Although Israel was told centuries in advance what would happen to them if they ever forsook God and their covenant with God they fell away into idolatry and suffered the serious consequences of their decisions.


Ancient Israel in the scriptures represents a model for people and nations of the world to learn what happens when they turn away from God. It speaks just as loudly, even if they fail to hear or listen anymore than did Israel, to those who do not know God and those who deny God. The reality of suffering, war, poverty, droughts, floods, infestations, injustices, bribes, greed, murder and more are not limited to America anymore than they are limited to third world countries. They are telltale indicators which mirror what happened to ancient Israel the purpose and effect of these indicators is as sobering agents in order we just might began to learn from an ancient instruction.

Even in the days of her downfall and despite the message of the prophets of God Israel and Judah; the kingdom divided, professed the Lord as their God, but their deeds testified something very different. They continued to trust in their own wisdom and their own alliances with other nations to deliver them from what God had already declared would come upon them -- unless they repented. Neither the kingdom of Israel nor the kingdom of Judah repented. They were subsequently taken captive until the Lord of mercies delivered them from their captivity and restored them to the land which he had promised to them. Those nations, Assyria and Babylon, which had taken the children of Israel captive were themselves subjected to the judgment and punishment of God, again, just as the prophets had declared would happen. peace to all.

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