Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Stubborn People

  "Know, therefore, that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people.”(Deu 9:6 ESV) "Furthermore, the LORD said to me, 'I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stubborn people.” (Deu 9:13 ESV)  As God had declared, Israel was a stubborn, rebellious nation. They demonstrated this from the start, even before reaching the promised land(Exod 32,33; Numb 14,21…etc.) Basically Israel’s whole existence as a people continuously shows how much they owned the name ‘stubborn/stiff-necked’. We shall see this illustrated incessantly as we continue our overview of Israel’s history, how rebellious and fickle Israel was and how faithful and unchanging God was/is:

After Moses died, Joshua was given the leadership of the Israelites(Josh 1).  God set him up to lead Israel into the Promised Land. Under Joshua, Israel arrived in the land, lived there for a long time, and God gave rest to Israel from their surrounding enemies(Josh 23:1). After Joshua died, there arose another generation of Israelites, who demonstrated rebelliousness. These Israelites served other gods(Jdg 2:10-12) and therefore God was angry with them, and punished them.  After God punished them, Israel would be in distress, and God continuously showed them mercy by raising up Judges to save them but, once delivered from her oppression, Israel continued her story of rebelliousness. It was a recurring cycle, Israel would rebel, God would punish them, Israel would cry out to Him for help, He would help them and then Israel would rebel again. Judges 2:14-19 is an ample summary of this period of Israel’s history “So the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them. And he sold them into the hand of their surrounding enemies, so that they could no longer withstand their enemies. Whenever they marched out, the hand of the LORD was against them for harm, as the LORD had warned, and as the LORD had sworn to them. And they were in terrible distress. Then the LORD raised up judges, who saved them out of the hand of those who plundered them. Yet they did not listen to their judges, for they whored after other gods and bowed down to them. They soon turned aside from the way in which their fathers had walked, who had obeyed the commandments of the LORD, and they did not do so. Whenever the LORD raised up judges for them, the LORD was with the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge. For the LORD was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them. But whenever the judge died, they turned back and were more corrupt than their fathers, going after other gods, serving them and bowing down to them. They did not drop any of their practices or their stubborn ways. “(Jdg 2:14-19 ESV) God could have applied the full brunt of the curses to Israel right away(removed them from the land and scattered them among the nations), but He had mercy on Israel and did not do so.

After Israel had been ruled by Judges for a while, they asked for a king.  God gave them Saul, who disobeyed God and therefore God set up David as King and his progeny as the royal line instead of Saul and his family.   God chose to make a specific covenant with David and his sons.  L. S. Chafer gives a summary of this covenant, “The covenant made with David (2 Sam. 7:11-16), like the covenant made with Abraham, is unconditional and everlasting in its duration.  It guarantees (1) an unfailing house or line of David’s sons – a king without cessation to sit on David’s throne (The necessity of chastisement may cause the throne itself to be unoccupied; but there shall never lack one whose right it is to sit on that throne – 2 Sam. 7:14-15; Ps. 89:30-33; Jer. 33:17.  The covenant can never – on the oath of Jehovah – be abrogated.)  (2) a throne, the earthly throne of David to continue forever; and (3) a kingdom forever.”[1]   The throne, or reign, is a throne over the house of Israel, the physical descendants of Jacob (Jer 33:17).  This reign over Israel would be forever, and this implies that the earthly people Israel would not completely disappear from the earth, although their numbers may be reduced because of disobedience.  God would not completely wipe out the nation of Israel at any time because His covenant(s) (the Abrahamic and the Davidic)would and could not be nullified, despite disobedience on David’s, his sons’, or Israel’s part. God would fulfill the covenants. 

Solomon’s Prayer

God also chose to bestow a special privilege to David’s son Solomon, allowing him to build a Temple for the Ark of the Covenant(2 Sam 6:13; 1 Kings 8:18-20).  When Solomon finished building the temple, he prayed to God in front of the alter with the people observing him. He prayed that whenever Israel sinned, and the curses were therefore applied to them, that, if Israel repents, God would forgive their sins, remove the curses and bless them.  Solomon, in his prayer,  acknowledged that Israel would inevitably sin, When they sin against You (for there is not a man who does not sin)…”(1Ki 8:46 LITV) and consequently that the curses would certainly come upon them.  Yet Solomon still asked that God would forgive Israel and bless them whenever they would repent.  We should note here that Solomon was not merely praying sentimentally, he was praying in accordance with God’s Word.  In passages we noted in the previous chapter, Lev 26 and Deut 31, God says that if Israel repented after being cursed, He would forgive and bless her.  So, just as Solomon prayed at the beginning of the prayer,  for God to keep His promises to his father David, so he also seemed to be asking God to keep His promises to the people of Israel.  Which God would certainly do.

Israel and Judah Break the Covenant

Continuing with our overview of Israel’s rebellious history: Solomon did not stay faithful to God, he broke the covenant and therefore God tore part of the kingdom from his son and his subsequent descendants(1 Kings 11:9-13).  Hence Israel was split into two parts, ‘Israel’ and ‘Judah’. ‘Judah’ was stilled ruled by the descendants of David but ‘Israel’ had various kings from other lines.  Both Kingdoms continued rebelling just as their fathers had done, both broke the covenant(Hosea 8:1). First, God punished the kingdom of Israel, declaring that they were not His people(Hosea 1:1-6), and that He would punish them for their sins “Do not rejoice, O Israel, with exultation like the nations!  For you have played the harlot forsaking your God….Let Israel know this! The prophet is a fool, the inspired man is demented.  Because of the grossness of your iniquity, and because your hostility is so great….there is only hostility in the house of his God.  They have gone deep in depravity as in the days of Gibeah; He will remember their iniquity, He will punish their sins.” (excerpts from Hosea 9).

 And yet, amazingly, in spite of Israel’s sin and in  the midst of God’s warnings of the judgment that was to come upon the kingdom of Israel, we see that God, through the prophet was prophesying that God was going to be merciful and gracious to Israel:“Yet the number of the sons of Israel will be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered; and it will come about that, in the place where it is said to them, you are not My people,’ It will be said to them, ‘You are the sons of the living God.’  And the sons of Judah and the sons of Israel will be gathered together and they will appoint for themselves and they will go up from the land, For great will be the day of Jezreel.”(Hosea 1:10-11) But this grace and mercy were for when Israel repented.  Israel would at this time be punished for her sins and so judgment came upon Israel just as God had promised, He gave Israel into the hands of Assyria when Hoshea was King over Israel(2 Kings 17), exiling them from the land. “Then the King of Assyria carried Israel away into exile to Assyria…because they did not obey the voice of the LORD their God, but transgressed His covenant, even all that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded; they would neither listen, nor do it.” (2 Kings 18:11-12)

And then God turned to Judah, who was following in the steps of Israel.  To Judah, God sent Jeremiah, and Isaiah before him, “Then the LORD said to me in the days of Josiah the king, ‘have you seen what faithless Israel did?  She went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and she was a harlot there.  And I thought, ‘After she has done all these things, she will return to Me’; but she did not return, and her treacherous sister Judah saw it.  And I saw that for all the adulteries of faithless Israel, I had sent her away and given her a writ of divorce, yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear; but she went and was a harlot also.  And it came about because of the lightness of her harlotry, that she polluted the land and committed adultery with stones and trees.  And yet in spite of all this her treacherous sister Judah did not return to Me with all her heart but rather in deception,’ declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 3:6-10) God would punish Judah, bringing upon them all the curses, promised through Moses, that were to come upon Israel for disobeying God’s law (2 Chron 34:24-25)
“thus says the LORD concerning the sons and daughters born in this place, and concerning their mothers who bear them, and their fathers who beget them in this land:  ‘They will die of deadly diseases, they will not be lamented or buried; they will be as dung on the surface of the ground and come to an end by sword and famine, and their carcasses will become food for the birds of the sky and for the beasts of the earth.  For thus says the LORD, ‘Do not enter a house of mourning; or go to lament or to console them; for I have withdrawn My peace from this people,’ declares the LORD, ‘My lovingkindness and compassion….You have done evil, even more than your forefathers; for behold, you are each one walking according to the stubbornness of his own evil heart, without listening to Me.  So I will hurl you out of this land into the land which you have not known, neither you nor your fathers; and there will you serve other gods day and night for I shall grant you no favor.’”(Jer 16:3-13)

And yet, just as He had with the kingdom of Israel, God promised Judah that He would, in the future, be merciful and gracious to them, still keeping the unconditional Abrahamic covenant “…behold, days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when it will no longer be said, ‘As the LORD lives, who brought up the sons of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ but, ‘As the LORD lives, who brought up the sons of Israel from the land of the north and from all the countries where He had banished them.’ For I will restore them to their own land which I gave to their fathers”.(Jer 16:14-15)

Despite the divided sons of Jacob breaking God’s covenant, ”the house of Israel and the house of Judah have broken My covenant which I made with their fathers.” (Jer 11:10) God still purposed to fulfill the Abrahamic Covenant with them.

The Paradox of the Abrahamic Covenant

One may observe a seeming contradiction in looking at the history of the children of Israel.  The Abrahamic Covenant is presented to the Israelites as a seemingly conditional covenant, conditionally perpetuated, or rather, conditionally confirmed to the descendants of Jacob. Before Israel even entered the promised land God said to them “…If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments so as to carry them out…So I will turn toward you and make you fruitful and multiply you, and I will confirm My covenant with you.”(Lev 26:3-9NASB)   The notes on Zodhiates Hebrew-Greek Key study Bible comment on verse 9 of Lev 26“This was a confirmation of the same promise that God had made to Abraham in Gen. 12:1-3; 13:16;15:5;17:5-6;18:18;22:17,18.”  “You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day. “(Deut 8:18) (See also: Jer 11:2-5) Throughout the Old Testament, God consistently implores Israel to change their stubborn hearts, to repent of their evil ways. when Israel does so He will confirm the covenant with them.  “thus the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, has said, ‘In repentance and rest you shall be saved, in quietness and trust is your strength.  But you were not willing…”(Isaiah 30:15) “But just as all the good things that the LORD your God promised concerning you have been fulfilled for you, so the LORD will bring upon you all the evil things, until he has destroyed you from off this good land that the LORD your God has given you, if you transgress the covenant of the LORD your God, which he commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them. Then the anger of the LORD will be kindled against you, and you shall perish quickly from off the good land that he has given to you." (Jos 23:15-16 ESV) “But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children's children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments. “(Psa 103:17-18 ESV) “…Your sins have withheld good from you.”(Jer 5:25)  “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, ‘Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place… if you truly amend your ways and your deeds…then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers forever and ever.” (Jer 7:3-7) “Your hands are covered with blood.  Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight.  Cease to do evil, Learn to do good; Seek justice, Reprove the ruthless; defend the orphan, plead for the widow…” (Isaiah 1:15-17) “O Jerusalem, wash your heart from evil, that you may be saved. How long shall your wicked thoughts lodge within you? “(Jer 4:14 ESV)

 Not only is Israel to keep God’s law, they are also supposed to circumcise their hearts: “If you will return, O Israel,’ declares the LORD, ‘Then you should return to Me.  And if you will put away your detested things from My presence, and will not waver, and you will swear, ‘As the LORD lives,’ in truth, in justice, and in righteousness; Then the nations will bless themselves in Him, and in Him they will glory.’  For thus says the LORD to the men of Judah and Jerusalem, ‘Break up your fallow ground, and do not sow among thorns.  Circumcise yourselves to the LORD and remove the foreskins of your heart, Men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, Lest My wrath go forth like fire and burn with none to quench it, because of the evil of your deeds…”(Isaiah 4:1-4) If Israel keeps the Mosaic Covenant, and circumcises their hearts to God, then God will confirm the Abrahamic covenant with them. “If only you had paid attention to My commandments!  Then your well-being would have been like a river, and your righteousness like the waves of the sea.  Your descendants would have been like the sand and your offspring like its grains;  their name would never be cut off or destroyed from My presence.”(Isaiah 48:18-19)  “Egypt, Judah, Edom, the sons of Ammon, Moab, and all who dwell in the desert who cut the corners of their hair, for all these nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in heart." (Jer 9:26)  If Israel is to receive the full application of the Covenant made with her fathers she must be righteous before God.  The Abrahamic covenant would only be confirmed with righteous Israelites.  

As dealt with earlier, Israel couldn’t keep the law, the Mosaic Covenant, they couldn’t make themselves righteous, they were guaranteed to fail to meet God’s standards, and therefore they were guaranteed to receive the curses.  As in Jeremiah, God says Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil. I will scatter you like chaff driven by the wind from the desert. This is your lot, the portion I have measured out to you, declares the LORD, because you have forgotten me and trusted in lies.”(Jer 13:23-25 ESV)Now, we know that the Abrahamic Covenant is unconditional, that God would fulfill it was a given.  So how would He do it if He made the full application of it only apply to Israel when in a state of righteousness?

 We find the solution, the resolve of this paradox, in Jeremiah 31, where God says that in the future He would make a new covenant with the sons of Jacob, “I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with your fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband…”(vs.31-32) ).   This New Covenant would not be like the Mosaic covenant, which guaranteed the failure of the Israelites, “ But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more." (Jer 31:31-34 ESV)  Unlike the Mosaic Covenant, the New Covenant fulfills the Abrahamic Covenant. “Instead of the New Covenant being dependent upon Israel’s obedience for it’s fulfillment, it would cause Israel’s obedience”[2]The New Covenant would make Israel righteous before God,  and thus God’s requirement of righteousness would be met in order for Him to confirm the Abrahamic Covenant with Israel.

Like the Abrahamic Covenant, the New Covenant was unconditional to it’s recipients. God alone would fulfill the New Covenant.  Under The Mosaic Covenant, God demanded that Israel be righteous, which they could not do.  Under the New Covenant, God would make Israel righteous, without any help from Israel: Your people shall all be righteous; they shall possess the land forever, the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I might be glorified.”
(Isa 60:21 ESV)  Under the Mosaic Covenant, God not only demanded that Israel follow His commands, His ordinances, but also  that Israel have circumcised hearts, hearts dedicated to Him, which Israel could not produce.   Under the New Covenant, God would give them circumcised hearts, and obedience to His ordinances: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances…” (Ez 36: 26-27) (See also Romans 2: 28-29) “I will give them a heart to know that I am the LORD, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.” (Jer 24:7)

Confirmation of the Abrahamic Covenant

How would God establish, bring about, this New Covenant?  How would He rid Israel of her guilt, and sinful nature, her inherent “stubbornness” and rebellion against Him?  God would do this by sending a Messiah to them.  This Messiah would redeem Israel from her sin (Isaiah 59:20-21; Romans 11:26-27) by taking their guilt upon Himself “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned--every one--to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all...Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors. (Isa 53:4-6;10-12 ESV)  

This Messiah would be a descendant of David, and would establish a Kingdom over Israel, and rule as their eternal King, and thus David’s throne would be established forever(Isaiah 9:7), fulfilling the Davidic Covenant. When the Messiah reigned there would be peace on earth: “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins. The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples--of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.”
(Isa 11:1-10 ESV)Amazingly and fittingly, this Messiah would be God Himself, God in the flesh, born of a Virgin(Isaiah 7:14):“ For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.”(Isa 9:6-7 ESV) He would be the Redeemer, the Savior, of Israel, the descendants of Jacob, “Do not fear, you worm Jacob, you men of Israel; ‘I will help you’ declares the LORD, and your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel’” (Isaiah 41:14)  “But now, thus says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel, ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine!...I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.’” (Isaiah 43:1-3) Their Justifier, “In the LORD all the offspring of Israel will be justified and will glory”( Isaiah 45:25)  Their Righteousness: “…"Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: 'The LORD is our righteousness.' (Jer 23:5-6 ESV) The Messiah would come to confirm the promises made to the Patriarchs, “…Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God's truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs…”(Rom 15:8 ESV)

This was God’s plan, to have an unconditional covenant confirmed, or established, by an unconditional covenant. God would meet His own requirement of righteousness by giving Israel His righteousness and taking their guilt upon Himself.  The Abrahamic Covenant would be confirmed with Israelites who were the recipients of the New Covenant.  When the New Covenant was established with Israel, it would coincide with the confirmation of the Abrahamic Covenant.  It would make Israel righteous before God, and create in them obedience to walk in His statutes, so they would be a righteous, obedient Israel.

  The Abrahamic Covenant promised a permanent possession of a promised land. Under the New Covenant, God having brought Israel back from exile to the Promised Land they would never be expelled from the land again: “Your people shall all be righteous; they shall possess the land forever….”(Isa 60:21 ESV) (See also Psalm 37:29) “then say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will take the people of Israel from the nations among which they have gone, and will gather them from all around, and bring them to their own land. And I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. And one king shall be king over them all, and they shall be no longer two nations, and no longer divided into two kingdoms. They shall not defile themselves anymore with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions. But I will save them from all the backslidings in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God. "My servant David shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd. They shall walk in my rules and be careful to obey my statutes. They shall dwell in the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, where your fathers lived. They and their children and their children's children shall dwell there forever, and David my servant shall be their prince forever. “(Eze 37:21-25 ESV)(See Genesis 15:7-21; 17:8)Under the Abrahamic Covenant God would multiply Israel’s numbers like the sand of the see(See Genesis 22:17), and this is what God would do to Israel under the New Covenant, “I will make a covenant of peace with them. It shall be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will set them in their land and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in their midst forevermore.”(Eze 37:26 ESV) Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered….”(Hos 1:10 ESV)Under the Abrahamic Covenant, Israel would be God’s people(See Genesis 17:7; 17:8; Lev 26:3,12, under the new covenant this would be exactly fulfilled) “My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD who sanctifies Israel, when my sanctuary is in their midst forevermore." (Eze 37:27-28 ESV)And in the place where it was said to them, "You are not my people," it shall be said to them, "Children of the living God." (Hos 1:10 ESV) God promised to Israel:  "an eternal national entity, an eternal land, an eternal King, an eternal kingdom, and an eternal throne." - Feinberg pg. 108 

Not God’s people, but still a (sanctified) people

So, we see that Israel’s blatant wickedness, her rebellion against God, still did not cancel the Abrahamic Covenant.   It was still going to be confirmed with the descendants of Jacob. There was still hope for Israel, she could still look forward to the New Covenant which would initiate the confirmation of the Abrahamic Covenant with them as a people, as a race.  Note that Israel, even in her rebellion, even in her being declared “not My people”, was/is still a sanctified race, set apart from all other peoples before God. Even while under God’s curses, they were to be a distinctive people from all the other peoples. Under the curses, they would become a “horror, a proverb, and a byword among all the peoples where the LORD will lead” them away (Deut 28:37). They would be punished while in the land of their enemies, distinct from the other peoples they would be living among  (Lev 26: 36-39).  

The sanctified race of Israel, under the curses, were not yet sanctified in the righteous, or soteriological sense; the people of Israel were/are sanctified before God racially, as being the physical descendants of Jacob.  Despite her rebellion, Israel was/is always a race of people, a nation before God, she was never the elect of all nations(the church), and never changed to be so. God temporarily ceased to regard them as His people, but still regarded them as a people, distinct from all other peoples. And God would never annihilate, or reduce to non-existence, all of the Israelites for their sin(“Literal Israel would survive all of its God ordained curse[3]”).  He would never ‘unsanctify’ them physically.  He would never remove their racial ‘set-apartness’ from all the other peoples.  “Thus says the LORD, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar-- the LORD of hosts is his name: "If this fixed order departs from before me, declares the LORD, then shall the offspring of Israel cease from being a nation before me forever." Thus says the LORD: "If the heavens above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth below can be explored, then I will cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done, declares the LORD." (Jer 31:35-37 ESV)“Earlier in his prophetic ministry, Jeremiah insisted that the sin of Judah had made judgment by exile certain just as the northern kingdom of Israel had been duly judged. However, he now says that Israel's failure to perform according to expectations cannot upset God's plans. Israel's sin can no more thwart God's future purposes for the nation than can the heavens be measured and all the secrets of the earth be known. Thus it is clear that God will not reject the descendants of Israel because of the nation's unfaithfulness. But there is more: only in the case of the collapse of God's sovereign control over the physical universe would Israel cease to exist as a nation. God makes a similar statement through the prophecy of Malachi, in a context which affirms the immutability of God: "I the LORD do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed"(Malachi 3:6). Thus, though from the time of the patriarchs Israel continually turned away from God's decrees, there is still hope for her future(v.7).......Moreover, it is impressive that in Isaiah 66:22 the permanence of Israel, as a distinct nation, is put in relation to the permanence of the new heavens and new earth.[4]” – - Ronald Diprose

Rebellion continued

Back to the history of Israel’s rebellion:  So, we saw that both Israel and Judah were rebellious against God, and neither Kingdom repented so God scattered both of them. “Yet the LORD warned Israel and Judah, through all His prophets and every seer, saying, ‘Turn from your evil ways and keep My commandments, My statutes according to all the law which I commanded your fathers, and which I sent to you through My servants the prophets.’  However, they did not listen, but stiffened their neck like their fathers, who did not believe in the LORD their God.  And they rejected His statutes and His covenant which He made with their fathers, and His warnings with which He warned them.  And they followed vanity and became vain, and went after the nations which surrounded them, concerning which the LORD had commanded them not to do like them.  And they forsook all the commandments of the LORD their God and made for themselves molten images, even two calves, and made an Asherah and worshiped all the host of heaven and served Baal,…So the LORD was very angry with Israel, and removed them from His sight; none was left except the tribe of Judah,  Also Judah did not keep the commandments of the LORD their God, but walked in the customs which Israel had introduced.  And the LORD rejected all the descendants of Israel and afflicted them and gave them into the hand of plunderers, until He had cast them out of His sight…the LORD removed Israel from His sight, as He spoke through all His servants the prophets So Israel was carried away into exile from their own land to Assyria until this day.” 2 Kings 17: 13-23

After Israel was in exile for a while, Cyrus the King of Persia, as God had fortold (decreed) through Jeremiah, allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple(Ezra 1).  Some of the Jews returned.  Their return, and their rebuilding of the Temple was resisted by their enemies, and the building of the Temple suffered a delay(Ezra 4), but building was resumed under King Darius(Ezra 6).  During these times, Israel was still a sinful people(Ezra 6;See also Daniel’s prayer in Daniel 9; Malachi), But God still promised them the future grace of the New Covenant by the mouth prophet Zechariah(Zec 10:6; chapter13). 

The Messiah Arrives

The Jews continued their stay in Israel, with no descendant of David as their King, instead they were ruled by ‘Priest-Kings’(The Aaronic Priests assuming the Government during Maccabean times), and then Gentiles nations ended up taking over the main government of Israel.  By the time the Messiah arrived, Israel was under Roman rule, and governed by a Gentile ‘King’(Herod) descended from Esau(called Edomites, or Idumeans).   The state of the Jews as a whole remained the same…stubborn, rebellious and unrepentant.

As was prophesied, the Messiah was born of a virgin, named Mary, who was a descendant of David , and the Messiah had the legal right to the throne of David by his stepfather Joseph.  Both Mary and Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist who was the forerunner of the Messiah, recognized that through the Messiah, God would fulfill the Abrahamic Covenant, and the New Covenant: Mary:“He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever." (Luk 1:54-55 ESV) Zechariah: "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace." (Luk 1:67-79 ESV) The Savior of Israel had arrived.

John the Baptist ‘preparing the way’ for the Messiah, declared to Israel that she must “Bear fruits in keeping with repentance.”(Luk 3:8 ESV) When the Messiah arrived , only some of the Jews accepted Him, the others did not, and with their religious rulers taking the lead, they  ultimately ended up having Him put to death on cross. Which event God had decreed, with the Messiah thereby bearing the sins of the elect, including the elect Israel, making them righteous before Him. The Messiah’s death was all according to plan, taking the curse of His peoples iniquities upon Himself, paying the price for their sin.  The Messiah rose again on the third day and appeared to His Jewish disciples. Before He returned to Heaven, He told them to “make disciples of all nations”(Mat 28:19), which ended up being done, all the while the Apostles still heavily evangelized the  Jews . Peter, in speaking to the Israelites, tells them to “repent, and convert, for the blotting out of your sins, so that times of refreshing may come from the face of the Lord, and that He may send forth the One before proclaimed to you, Jesus Christ, whom Heaven truly needs to receive until the times of restoration of all things, of which God spoke through the mouth of all His holy prophets from the age past. “(Act 3:19-21 LITV) But during the times of the ministering of the Apostles, the majority of the Jews still did not repent and accept Jesus as the Messiah, their Redeemer, they persecuted the Christians, and tried to turn the Gentiles against them.  The Jews, for the most part, were still a stubborn unrepentant people.  Neither the New Covenant nor the Abrahamic Covenant had been applied to Israel as a people.  Instead, we find that God’s plan was to curse Israel again.

Israel demolished

Christ had foretold that Jerusalem and the Jews within her would be besieged by her enemies, who would tear it to the ground, and the people inside, because the Jews did not “recognize the time” of their visitation (Luke 19:42-44). 

The stage was set for Israel’s destruction by the Jews getting up a major rebellion against Rome.    Jewish historian, Priest, eyewitness, Commander of the Jewish forces in Galilee and subsequent captive of the Romans: Yosef Ben Matityahu, or Titus Flavius Josephus, in his history of the destruction of Jerusalem acknowledged God’s hand in their destruction. For instance, Josephus says that while the Jews were preparing to war against the Romans their country was being plundered and tyrannized over by various bands of “robbers” of their own race[5].  While the Romans were attacking the city of Gischala in Galilee,  one of the ‘Robbers’, as Josephus styles them, had ‘taken refuge within the city, not allowing the populace who desired to surrender to the Romans do so.  Vespasian(Titus Flavius), who had been appointed by Nero to put down the rebellion in Judea, sent his son Titus(Flavius Vespasianus) to conquer Gischala.  Titus, seeming to know that the populace wanted to surrender but were prevented by the robbers, not wanting them to perish “together with the guilty” tried to get the tyrants to surrender.  The leader of this particular band of robbers, John, replied to Titus saying that he was ready to surrender, but, as it was the Sabbath day, Titus ought to respect Jewish law and let them observe this Sabbath “on which” said John, “it was unlawful not only to remove their arms, but even to treat of peace…[6]”  Amazingly, Titus gave in and delayed their negotiations till the next day.  Of course, John fled the city that night and retreated to Jerusalem.  Josephus comments, “Now this was the work of God, who therefore preserved this John, that he might bring on the destruction of Jerusalem as also it was His work that Titus was prevailed with by his pretense for a delay[7]

While John was in Jerusalem he became a tyrant to the people there…along with other Jewish bands of robbers who were admitted by the populace on account of their being Jews.  The populace, wishing to be freed of John admitted another Tyrant, named Simon, Josephus commenting “Now it was God who turned their opinions to the worst advise….in order to overthrow John they determined to admit…the introduction of a second tyrant[8].”(691)  All of the robbers terrorized the people, murdering and robbing them.

Meanwhile, Vespasian, having overthrown all the places that were near Jerusalem, delayed attacking Jerusalem on account of Nero’s death(suicide) “and stood waiting whither the empire would be transferred after the death of Nero[9]”.  Thence ensued the ‘Year of the Four Emperors’.  The first subsequent Emperor, Galba, was murdered; Otho committed suicide and then Vitellus took his place.  Vespasian’s soldiers, not wanting Vitellus to be Emperor, declared Vespasian ‘Emperor’.  Upon Vitellus being conquered, Vespasian went to Rome as Caesar, and appointed his son Titus to conquer Jerusalem.[10]   

By the time Titus reached Jerusalem, there was civil war in the city amongst the various Jewish tyrants and their men.  In between these factions were the people of the city, plundered and murdered by all factions of the ‘robbers’.  Things were so bad inside Jerusalem that the common people desired to desert to the Romans,  as Titus was often letting those who surrendered to him go free, but the Tyrants wouldn’t let them, killing any whom they caught trying to escape out of the city. “As for the people, they had a great inclination to desert to the Romans…for Titus let a great number of them go away into the country, whither they pleased; and the main reasons why they were so ready to desert were these; that now they should be freed from those miseries which they had endured in that city and yet should not be in slavery to the Romans; however, John and Simon, with their factions, did more carefully watch these men’s going out than they did the coming in of the Romans; and, if any one did but afford the least shadow of suspicion of such an intention” he was killed immediately[11] . The dead were all over the place, not just from being killed by the robbers, but also because of a great famine that was inside the city, as the robbers had, in their civil wars and terrorizing of the people, burnt most of the food supply, which Josephus says would have sustained them for several years[12].  We see evidence that God was bringing the curses upon Israel.  The robbers and eventually the people, were insane, they couldn’t think straight. “The LORD will smite you with madness”(Deut 28:28)People were dying of starvation all over the place, the robbers were stealing whatever food the common-people had, and the common people were so desperate they were  stealing food from each other, husbands from wives, wives from husbands, children from parents, parents from children[13] basically killing them. “…The man who is refined and very delicate among you shall be hostile toward his brother and toward the wife he cherishes and toward the rest of his children who remain…”IDeut 28:54) Josephus gives an account of one woman who went so far as to kill and eat her own child, which shocked even the vicious robbers[14]. “The refined and delicate woman among you…shall be hostile toward the husband she cherishes and toward her son and daughter…and toward her children whom she bears; for she shall eat them secretly for lack of anything else, during the siege…”(Deut 28:56-57) The dead and dying were everywhere, “then did the famine widen its progress, and devoured the people by whole houses and families; the upper rooms were full of women and children that were dying by famine; and the lanes of the city were full of the dead bodies of the aged[15]…… the multitude of carcasses that lay in heaps one upon another was a horrible sight…[16] The Temple, also had been desecrated by the robbers, the faction which controlled the temple having allowing the people(including Gentiles) to come in to offer sacrifices,  the opposing faction without, throwing darts into the temple, slew the common people(including the Priests about their work) along with their rival robbers “insomuch that in any persons who came thither with great zeal from the ends of the earth, to offer sacrifices at this celebrated place, which was esteemed holy by all mankind, fell down before their own sacrifices themselves, and sprinkled that alter which was venerable among all men…with their own blood; till the dead bodies of strangers were mingled together with those of their own country, and those of profane persons with those of the priests, and the blood of all sorts of dead carcasses stood in lakes in the holy courts themselves.[17] “And you shall be left few in number, whereas you were as the stars of the heavens for multitude, because you would not obey the voice of Jehovah your God.”
(Deu 28:62 LITV)

When the Romans finally broke into the city, the robbers took refuge in the temple.  Titus, according to Josephus, wishing to preserve the temple, offered to let the Jews change the fighting grounds,  “I appeal to the gods of my own country, and to every god that ever had any regard to this place (for I do not suppose it to be now regarded by any of them); I also appeal to my own army and to those Jews that are now with me, and even to you yourselves, that I do not force you to defile this your sanctuary; and if you will but change the place whereon you will fight, no Roman shall either come near your sanctuary, or offer any affront to it; nay I will endeavor to preserve you your holy house, whether you will or not[18].”  The tyrants would not yield.  Thus Titus was resolved to storm the temple. And yet, Titus, still wishing to preserve the Temple, rejected the advise of some of his officers who suggested that it be burned[19].  But, as Josephus realized, the Temple was destined, by the will of God, to be demolished.  During one of the sieges of the Romans upon the Jews within the court of the temple, “one of the soldiers(Titus’s), without staying for any orders…being hurried on by a certain divine fury” set fire to the temple.  Titus tried to get his soldiers to quench the fire, but they wouldn’t listen to him “they made as if they did not so much as hear Caesar’s (as Titus was the heir apparent of Vespasian)orders to the contrary; but they encouraged those that were before them to set it on fire……thus the holy house burnt down, without Caesar’s approbation.[20] As Josephus comments “God had for certain long ago doomed it to the fire; and now that fatal day was come…one cannot but wonder at the accuracy of this period thereto relating; for the same month and day were now observed…wherein the holy house was burnt formerly by the Babylonians…29Upon the burning of the Temple, Josephus says “one would have thought that the hill itself, on which the temple stood, was seething hot, as full of fire on every part of it, that the blood was larger in quantity than the fire, and those that were slain more in number than those that slew them; for the ground did nowhere appear visible, for the dead bodies that lay on it…[21]”  Eventually Titus conquered the whole of Jerusalem. Josephus says “now the number of those that were carried captive during this whole war was collected to be ninety-seven thousand; as was the number of those that perished during the whole siege eleven hundred thousand, the greater part of whom were indeed of the same nation(Jews), but not belonging to the city itself; for they were come up from all the country to the feast of unleavened bread, and were on a sudden shut up by an army[22]”Thus was Jerusalem and the Temple within her were destroyed, leveled to the ground, and her people scattered.And it shall be, as Jehovah rejoiced over you to do you good, and to multiply you, so Jehovah shall rejoice over you to destroy you, and to lay you waste. And you shall be plucked from the land you are going to possess. And Jehovah shall scatter you among all people, from one end of the earth even to the other, and you shall serve other gods there, wood and stone, which you have not known, nor your fathers.”(Deu 28:63-64 LITV)

So, we see that the Jews did not repent, they were still a stubborn people, their hearts were not changed. Instead of God establishing the New Covenant with the nation of Israel, changing their hearts and thus initiating the confirmation of the Abrahamic Covenant, He punished them for their sin, their not recognizing the time of their visitation.  And, since 70 a.d., the Jews, as a people, have experienced continual persecution and numerous scatterings from Israel, and from the countries where they had been scattered[23] and they have been a byword among the nations, as was it prophesied in the list of the curses(Deut 28:37).  As we have seen, God knew that they were a “stubborn” people, a rebellious people, and that they couldn’t change their own hearts. So, why didn’t God establish the New Covenant with them? Why didn’t He change their hearts, cleanse them of their sin and make them righteous before Him? The end of Lamentations comes to mind:“Thou, O LORD, dost rule forever; Thy throne is from generation to generation.  Why dost Thou forget us forever; Why dost Thou forsake us so long?  Restore us to Thee, O LORD, that we may be restored;  Renew our days as of old, unless Thou has utterly rejected us, and art exceedingly angry with us.” (Lamentations 5:19-22 NASB)  Or as the New Century Version puts it “But you rule forever, LORD.  You will be King from now on. Why have you forgotten us for so long?  Have you left us forever?  Bring us back to you, LORD, and we will return.  Make our days as they were before, or have you completely rejected us?  Are you so angry with us?”(Lamentations 5:19-22 NCV)

We will study the answers to all of these questions in the next chapter.

[1] Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology V.4 (Grand Rapids, Michigan; Kregel Publications, 1993) 314.
[2] Renald E. Showers, There Really is a Difference: A Comparison of Covenant and Dispensational Theology(Bellmawr, NJ: The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, Ninth Printing 2005), 102.
[3] Renald E. Showers, There Really is a Difference: A Comparison of Covenant and Dispensational Theology(Bellmawr, NJ: The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, Ninth Printing 2005), 81.`    

[4] - Ronald E. Diprose, Israel and the Church: The Origin and Effects of Replacement Theology(Waynesboro, GA; Authentic Media, 2004),11-12.

[5] Titus Flavius Josephus, The Works of Josephus, New Updated Edition-Translated by William Whiston (Peabody, MA; Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., June 2009), 635-638.
[6] Josephus, 668-669.
[7] Josephus, 669.
[8] Josephus, 691.
[9] Josephus, 688.
[10] Josephus 692-696.
[11] Josephus, 718-719.
[12] Josephus, 697-698.
[13] Josephus, 719.
[14] Josephus, 737.
[15] Josephus, 723-724.
[16] Josephus, 727.
[17] Josephus, 697.
[18] Josephus, 733.
[19] Josephus, 739.
[20] Josephus, 740.
[21] Josephus, 741.
[22] Josephus, 749.
[23] See Barry Horner’s book, Future Israel

Scripture quotations marked 'ESV' are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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