Friday, June 30, 2017

Covenant in the Wilderness

In the previous chapter, Order and Structure in the Wilderness, several questions were posed. Rephrased they may sound something like this:
Can Elohim speak through unexpected or unusual agents or means? If so, He is He perhaps highlighting the fact that at times we rely too much on existing mindsets and preconceived ideas and expectations?
Is it incumbent upon us, as present day Ephraim, to formulate some organizational structures by way of preparing ourselves to live and act as a cohesive company, looking to the unknown day when we will become a nation again in the land?
And, is the Father expecting us to respond to Him by displaying our faith and sincerity regarding our eventual ingathering? 
But let us now move on to the next phase in the wilderness journey.
The Wilderness Nation has now arrived at one of the most significant sites and moments in their entire history (past and future).   They were encamped in front of the Mountain of Yah in Sinai.  Did they have any idea what this was really going to be all about, or were they like sheep being led by the Almighty to a divinely ordained process and experience?  In the diary of the Exodus we read about Moses exiting the camp and climbing the mountain.  Perhaps what he had in mind was that YHVH would speak from a burning bush again.  But instead YHVH spoke to him from the mountain.    "Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel, ‘you have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to Myself’” (Exodus 19:3-4). The first thing that the Divine Deliverer reminded Israel of, was what He had done to the Egyptians, their taskmasters.  One would think that after a mere couple of months they wouldn’t have to be reminded, but because their basic needs and present conditions loomed large in their minds and what with having a rebellious nature, the great testimony quickly diminished and drowned in their fears. 
That particular generation had been subjected to life-threatening slavery and bondage, so much so that they were totally unable to leave Egypt on their own accord, let alone survive three months in the harsh desert conditions.  The Egyptians had in mind to kill off this prolific people group hence they subjected them to extreme oppression.  The spiritual, mental, and physical   state of the Israelites was so bad that back in Egypt they could not even respond to Moses’ message. Additionally, their moral standards had also declined, that they had even taken out their frustrations on one another (e.g. Exodus 2:13-14).  And yet, in spite of this impossible situation the unseen and unknown Elohim of their forefathers brought these slaves out by His Spirit (“on eagle wings”).  But where was He taking them to? From YHVH’s prospective it was to Himself!  It was not about the Mountain, it was not even about the Promised Land. It was about a loving Father who is covenant-keeping and watches over His Word to perform it. 
In all of this, there is an important lesson for us to learn and remember, as we equate ourselves to our ancestors and to YHVH’s relationship to them. We too were slaves in this world - to sin and death - and the only way we could come out of bondage was by the mercy and love that the Elohim of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had for them (i.e. these patriarchs). Being in their loins and of the same seed/life, as were our predecessors, we also benefit from this eternal love.  This is why in every generation YHVH could make this statement: “When I brought you out of the land of Egypt”.  Thus, in a manner of speaking, we were also in the wilderness with our ancestors.  This holds true for coming under the covenant at Mount Sinai, just as YHVH declared to our forefathers: "I make this covenant and this oath, not with you alone, but with him who stands here with us today before YHVH our Elohim, as well as with him who is not here with us today” (Deuteronomy 29:14-15).  We may conclude then that, the great and awesome occasion was not designed only for the “Israelites of old”, but also for those who were far off in the generations to come, even though they were destined to lose their identity.  This is why one of the most important aspects of the New Covenant is to restore our identity as YHVH’s people who came under the Law of Elohim at Mount Sinai.  With this restored identity we can understand when Scripture says:  “But when the fullness of the time had come, Elohim sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4-5 emphasis added).
Yeshua specifically was sent as a Kinsman Redeemer to those whose forefathers agreed to the Sinai Covenant.  Hence, as we saw above, in our generation we too are the beneficiaries of this bond. YHVH intervened in our lives and is carrying us by His Spirit to our next corporate divinely ordained destiny as His people and nation.  
But YHVH had more to say to Moses and to His people regarding His relationship to them:  “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine” (Exodus 19:5 emphasis added).  Knowing the state of the human heart, YHVH obviously took into consideration that His addressees would not be able to obey His voice and keep this conditional covenant.  So why did He make it in the first place?  Without this agreement between Israel and Elohim, it would not have been judicially possible for another covenant - that was part of His plan of redemption - to be revealed at a later time. 
And so, with their “I do” the people of Israel entered a marriage-like relationship with the Spirit of the Word, ratified by an agreement in the form of statutes, laws, and ordinances. Even though this agreement was doomed to fail from the ‘get-go’, it was going to be used by the Almighty to bring to light the hidden darkness of the heart. “Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good” (Romans 7:12).  Israel was going to be the bearer and witness to the rest of humanity of the reality of “sin” and its consequences. But in time, the same nation will become Elohim’s witnesses of the path leading back to the Garden of YHVH’s Delight and His kingdom.  The true reason for this official act at Sinai was going to stay hidden until a future time in YHVH’s overall plan of restoration which He is accomplishing according to His divine protocol through His chosen people, His special treasure, the “segullah” which is His possession or property.
At Sinai He signed His name to a deed of ownership, therefore the House of Jacob and the children of Israel had become “a people for His Name’s Sake”.  This title deed, or scroll of redemption, is what we see in the hand of the One sitting on the throne in the book of Revelation (Revelation 5:1). 
But when Israel failed to keep their end of the covenant, did that mean divorce? Such a severance could only take place if one of the parties would have died, or if YHVH’s Word was to declare it explicitly.   The annals of the Tanach record such a statement, specifically issued to the House of Israel/Joseph by the mouth of Hosea the prophet: Then Elohim said: ‘Call his name Lo-Ammi, for you are not My people, and I will not be your Elohim” (Hosea 1:9).  But although YHVH cast them off and rejected them He did not abandon Israel’s northern house completely, as is evidenced by declarations that He would sow and multiply them in the earth: Then I will sow her for Myself in the earth, and I will have mercy on her who had not obtained mercy; then I will say to those who were not My people, 'You are My people!' And they shall say, 'You are my Elohim!' "(Hosea 2:23).  It is important to note here the words “the earth”, which call to mind YHVH’s words at the mountain:  “All the earth is Mine” (see above, Exodus 19:5).  In other words, the world was going to be the “field” in which He would sow the seed of Israel
Let us now take a quick look at the House of Judah.  They were preserved strictly by YHVH’s mercy, as He said: “Yet I will have mercy on the house of Judah, will save them by YHVH their Elohim, and will not save them by bow, nor by sword or battle, by horses or horsemen"  (Hosea 1:7). YHVH gave that house a mandate to take the Torah to the nations, as they had been given the scepter or rod - “shevet” (see Genesis 49:10) of authority to execute YHVH’s purposes for the Torah.  Moreover, Elohim also gave them leadership which was realized in and by the House of David, and then by the person of the Messiah.  Once we understand the reason for YHVH giving the Law at Mount Sinai, we will appreciate the task that the tribe of Judah was given, even though they too were not able to keep that covenant.
So what was YHVH’s purpose in giving all those commandments in the first place?
To answer this question we have to rely on the New Covenant writings.  Firstly we have to see that that Covenant was spiritual in nature:  “For we know that the law is spiritual…” (Romans 7:14a). That is a no-brainer; anything that comes from YHVH’s Word is spiritual!  When Moses came down from Yah’s presence he was aglow from only seeing the back of Elohim.  What will it be like when “on the third day He will raise us up, that we may live in His sight [literally, before His face]” (Hosea 6:2)?
Setting that aside, let us look now at the reason why the commandments were given:  “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before Elohim.  Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin(Romans 3:19-20 emphases added).  This seemingly brief statement is telling us something very significant about the conditions contained in the Sinai Covenant. YHVH did not only have Israel in mind; He was taking into consideration the original act of rebellion in the Garden and the partaking of the Tree of Knowledge of “good and evil”.   It was at that point that sin entered the heart/life of man, and another spiritual kingdom had legal access to rule humanity.  In spite of Israel’s calling and status before a Holy and Righteous Elohim, their heart was no different than anyone else from among the human race. This became evident all along the wilderness journey and beyond.  
Israel was called to be the prime example of Man having lost his identity as a son of Elohim, becoming the son of disobedience, but conversely Israel will also become YHVH’s prime example of the redemption of mankind’s first fruits (see James 1:18).  For Israel to have this dual function, it had to come under YHVH’s law of strict obedience to His commandments for life and righteousness. But then because of the power of Sin, it would prove to be impossible. A very revealing statement is found in Romans 5:20a: “Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound” (emphasis added). The Greek word for “entered” in this context is “pareiserchomai”, which literally means to “come in alongside”.  This raises the question: alongside what? It would have to be alongside something that was already there, meaning “Sin”. It is the “same” Sin which had entered Man’s heart shortly after his creation. This is why the Law/Torah is spiritual, as its operation will also be a spiritual one, but not for the purpose of achieving YHVH’s righteousness or justification, and quite obviously only Israel was subject to this judicial order.

With this understanding as a backdrop, it may be stated that the tribe of Judah was given a ‘spiritual anointing’ to carry the scepter or rod of this Covenant of Sinai. The House of Judah actually has in hand the greatest evangelistic tool of all times, given to all Israel as a school master in order to bring them to the Messiah of the New Covenant (see Galatians 3:24).  The Torah also contains the best of any instructions for righteous living, and if lived out perfectly the promise of righteousness would have come via the keeping of its every letter (see Galatians 3:21).  “Therefore the Torah is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good” (Romans 7:12). Hence, for the redeemed ones of Israel, the Torah is still a practical tool and guidance for expressing YHVH’s kingdom life and righteousness. After all, it is His Word that became flesh, dwelling in us by faith.