God Has a Covenant With Israel to be Fulfilled

31. Israel is the chosen nation (Matt. 24.22,24,31), the first nation that God revealed Himself to, which has a covenant with God to be fulfilled to become the center of all nations.

"Who has ever seen or heard of anything as strange as this? Has a nation ever been born in a single day? Has a country ever come forth in a mere moment? But by the time Jerusalem's* birth pains begin, the baby will be born; the nation will come forth" (Is. 66.8). This occurred in 1948. "And shall put my spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I shall place you in your own land: then shall ye know that I the LORD have spoken [it], and performed [it], saith the LORD" (Ez. 37.14; read vv.1-14). "For I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land" (Ez. 36.24).

This Land Belongs to Israel

Do you believe Israel-the elect (Matt. 24.22,24,31)-is the chosen nation (the first nation that God revealed Himself to) in which it has a covenant with God that awaits fulfillment (to be the center of all nations to the Euphrates River-Gen. 15.18), and the new covenant has been given to the Church-the elect (Rom. 8.33, 2 Tim. 2.10, 1 Pet. 1.2)-beforehand? "Whenever the Israelites planted crops, the Midianites, Amalekites, and eastern peoples came and attacked them. They encamped against them and destroyed the produce of the land, even as far as Gaza. They left nothing for Israel to eat, as well as no sheep, ox or donkey. For the Midiantes came with their cattle and their tents like a great swarm of locusts. They and their camels were without number, and they entered the land to waste it" (Judges 6.3-5). "I will drive them out little by little ahead of you until you have become numerous and take possession of the land. I will set your borders from the Red Sea [Gulf of Aqaba], and from the wilderness to the Mediterranean Sea [the Sea of the Philistines], and from the wilderness to the Euphrates River. I will place the inhabitants of the land under your control, and you will drive them out ahead of you. You must not make a covenant with them or their gods. They must not remain in your land, or elese they will make you sin against Me. If you worship their gods it will be a snare for you" (Ex. 23.30-33).

"He [Jacob] dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven; and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it! The LORD stood above it and said, 'I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you are sleeping on I will give to you and your descendants....I will bring you back to this land'....Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, 'Surely the LORD is in this place....This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven'" (Gen. 28.12-22). Jacob said to Joseph, "When I rest with my fathers, carry me...and bury me where they are buried" (Gen. 47.30), for "God Almighty appeared unto me...in the land of Canaan, and blessed me, and said unto me, 'I will give this land to your descendants after you for an everlasting possession'" (Gen. 48.3,4; see Ex. 6.8). "He remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God saw the Israelites, and He took notice" (Ex. 2.24,25). "I have come down to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians and to bring them from the land to a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey-the territory of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites" (Ex. 3.8,17; 24.23,28; Deut. 20.17; Gen. 15.19-21, Deut. 7.1). "The law, which came 430 years later, does not revoke a covenant that was previously ratified with God, so as to cancel the promise" (Gal. 3.17) either to Israel, or to the seed of Abraham, referring to Christ (v.16). "LORD, You have prepared the place for Your dwelling" (Ex. 15.17) in Israel for "the people whom You purchased" (v.16). Israel was "few in number; if they unite against me and attack me, I and my household will be destroyed" (Gen. 34.30) before going to Egypt, but "Jacob said to his family and all who were with him, 'Get rid of the foreign gods that are among you. Purify yourselves..." (Gen. 35.2). Abraham was small in number when "he assembled his 318 trained men born in his household" (Gen. 14.14). "In the fourth generation they [Israel] will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure" (Gen. 15.16).

The Ethical Conquest of Canaan
The prevailing prejudice against Scripture is that the Old Testament portrays a violent God of a violent people and is filled with narratives recounting horrendous events with disreputable people playing major roles. Is the Old Testament ethical? Here are some reasons why it is.

It was ethical enough for Jesus. Jesus accepted the truth and the ethical validity of the OT ("the Scriptures") in His own life, mission and teaching. He noted "you have heard it was said . . . but I tell you" (see Matt 6-7) sayings don't contradict or criticize the OT but either deepen its demands or correct distorted popular inferences "Love your neighbor" meant "Hate your enemy" to many in Jesus' day, even though the OT never says such things. Jesus reminded His hearers that the same chapter (Lev. 19) also says, "Love the alien as yourself," extending this to include "Love your enemy." Jesus thus affirmed and strengthened the OT ethic.

Narratives describe what happened, not what was necessarily approved. We assume wrongly that if a story is in Scripture it must be "what God wanted." But biblical narrators dealt with the real world and described it as it was, with all its corrupt and fallen ambiguity. We shouldn't mistaken realism for ethical approval. Old Testament stories often challenge us to wonder at God's amazing grace and patience in continually working out His purpose through such morally compromised people and to be discerning in evaluating their conduct according to standards the OT itself provides.

The conquest of Canaan must be understood for what it was. This event, rightly, is troubling to sensitive readers. We cannot ignore its horror, but some perspectives can help us evaluate it ethically.

1. It was a limited event. The conquest narratives describe one particular period of Israel's long history. Many of the other wars that occur in the OT narrative had no divine sanction, and some were clearly condemned as the actions of proud, greedy kings or military leaders.

2. We must allow for the exaggerated language of warfare. Israel, like other ancient Near East nations whose documents we possess, had rhetoric of war that often exceeded reality.

3. It was an act of God's justice and punishment on a morally degraded society. The conquest shouldn't be portrayed as random genocide or ethnic cleansing. The wickedness of Canaanite society was anticipated (Gen. 15.16) and described in moral and social terms. "Defile not ye yourselves in any of these things: for in all these the nations are defiled which I cast out before you" (Lev. 18.24; see 20.23; Deut. 9.5, 12.29-31). This interpretation is accepted in the NT (e.g., Heb. 11.31 speaks of the Canaanites as "those who disobeyed," implying awareness of choosing to persist in sin-as the Bible affirms of all human beings). There is a huge moral difference between violence that's arbitrary and violence inflicted with the moral framework of punishment (this is true in human society as much as in divine perspective). It doesn't make it "nice," but it changes the ethical valuation significantly.

4. God threatened to do the same to Israel-and He did. In the conquest God used Israel as the agent of punishment on the Canaanites. God warned Israel that if they behaved like the Canaanites, He would treat them as His enemy the same way and inflict the same punishment on them using other nations (Lev. 26.17; Deut. 28.25-68). In the course of Israel's long history in OT times, God repeatedly did so, demonstrating His moral consistency in international justice. It wasn't a matter of favoritism. If anything, Israel's status as God's chosen people, the OT argues, exposed them more to God's judgment and historical punishment than the Canaanites who experienced the conquest. Those choosing to live as God's enemies eventually face God's judgment.

5. The conquest anticipated the final judgment. Like the stories of Sodom and Gomorrah and the flood, the story of Canaan's conquest stands in Scripture as a prototypical narrative, or one that foreshadows what is to come. Scripture affirms that ultimately, in the final judgment, the wicked will face the awful reality of God's wrath through exclusion, punishment, and destruction. Then God's ethical justice will finally be vindicated. But at certain points in history, such as during the conquest period, God demonstrates the power of His judgment. Rahab's story, set in the midst of the conquest narrative, also demonstrates the power of repentance, faith, and God's willingness to spare His enemies when they choose to identify with God's people. Rahab thus enters the NT hall of fame-and faith (Heb. 11.31; James 2.25).

An eye for an eye is remarkably humane. Unfortunately this phrase sums up for many what OT law and ethics is all about. Even then they misunderstood this expression-almost certainly metaphorical, not literal, wasn't a license for unlimited vengeance but precisely the opposite: it established the fundamental legal principle of proportionality; that is, punishment mustn't exceed the gravity of the offense. The rest of the OT law, when compared to the law codes from contemporary societies (e.g. Babylonian, Assyrian, Hittite), shows a remarkable classic trio of "the widow, the orphan, and the alien"). Israel's laws operated with ethical priorities of human life above material property and human needs over legal rights. Not surprisingly, then, Jesus (who clearly endorsed the same priorities) could affirm that He had no intention of abolishing the Law and Prophets but rather fulfilled them.

The Law Has a Higher Conscience
Does the Bible teach that people should retaliate, or that they should "turn the other cheek" (Matt. 5.38-39; Luke 6.27-29)? In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus contrasted a popular interpretation of the law of Moses with His own teachings. In doing this He was not saying that the OT was wrong, only that his adversaries' way of applying it to situations was wrong; by emphasizing the letter of law they had missed its true intent. The "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth" passage (Ex. 21.24) did not require people to pay someone back for a wrong done to them. Its purpose was to establish limits for retaliation. The most one could do in response to knocking out a tooth was to knock out the other person's tooth; a person could not be killed for injuring someone's eye. As Jesus pointed out, a person who was wronged by another could choose not to retaliate for what had been done to him. Often such a response would be the best way to deal with the problem. In every case, it should be the first option considered.

"Do not commit murder" (Ex. 20.13). Should we never kill people, or simply not commit murder? According to the Bible, death was not part of God's original plan for humanity, but became part of the human experience as a result of humanity's sin (Gen. 2.17, 3.19; Rom. 5.12; Heb. 9.27). All human beings are made in God's image (Gen. 1.26-27) and therefore all human life is sacred and to be treated with special respect. At the same time, the law of Moses sanctions taking of human life as a penalty for certain serious crimes committed against persons or God (Gen. 9.6; Ex. 21.12-17; 31.14-15; 35.2; Lev. 20.2,9-16,27; 24.16-17,21; 27.29; Num. 35.33; Deut. 13.5-9; 21.21; 22.21). The NT implicitly affirms the right of governmental authorities to impose the death penalty (Rom. 13.4). The Bible's prescription of the death penalty in certain circumstances is aimed at preventing greater evils from occurring, and thus preserves the principle of sacredness of human life. Murder, the unauthorized taking of human life, is clearly what this command prohibits.

"Stay away from false accusation. Do not kill the innocent and the just, because I will not justify the guilty" (Ex. 23.7). If the Israelites were not to kill the innocent, why were they ordered to kill Canaanite children (see Deut 7.1-2; 20.16-17)? This verse is part of a larger section that provides guidance to judges when trying cases in Israel: in courts of law the innocent were not to be punished. But the elimination of entire cultural groups as punishment for long-term institutionalized sin was not considered a legal matter. It was an issue of divine judgment following centuries of unacceptable conduct. God ordered the Israelites to eliminate cultures that had institutionalized despicable sin. Canaanite cultures were steeped in a religion that was polytheistic, idolatrous, and highly immoral. As part of their religious corruption, those cultures permitted human sacrifices and practiced cultic prostitution (worship of their "gods" involved intercourse with women attached to their temples). All of this cultural perversity was offensive to God and was to be brought to a complete end when the iniquity of the inhabitants of Canaan was complete (Gen. 15.16).

SUMMARY: "And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel" (Ex. 19.6). This simply means God will usher in the Messiah through Israel, for God needs a holy nation to enter in through. It does not mean Israel is going to rule the world or even receive the reward of reigning with Christ during the 1000 years; though it does mean the promise is for Israel to be the center of all nations from which Christ will reign in Jerusalem in the Temple. The kings and priests in Rev. 20.4,6 are overcomer believers from all dispensations.