Fellowship at Cross Creek
The Story of Sin…
Part VIII…The Covenant…Blessings and Curses…
By Joseph M. Cross
In the previous chapters, I have alluded to the fact that I suspect there was something much more going on within: 1) Zacharias’ prophetic utterance of his son John’s future role in preparing the way for the LORD (Luke 1:77), 2) the angel’s command to Joseph to name the son his betrothed Mary is about to bear–YAH-Saves because he will save the people from their sins (Matt. 1:21), 3) thirty years afterwards, John’s preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4), 4) both gospel-writers Matthew and Mark’s explicit and implicit identification of John as both the OT prophets Malachi and Isaiah’s messenger, Elijah and voice (Mal. 3:1; 4:5-6; Is. 40:3ff) who will prepare the way for the LORD’s coming and deliverance via the people’s forgiveness of their sins and finally, 5) Isaiah’s future prophecy of comfort to Jerusalem to begin with…
“Comfort, O comfort My people,” says your God.
“Speak kindly to Jerusalem;
And call out to her, that her warfare has ended,
That her iniquity has been removed
That she has received of the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.”
So what do I think extra is going on here? What were Jerusalem’s sins, and why had she paid double for all her sins? Well to answer these questions and more, we have to go back further in time, further back than Jesus’ day 2,000 years ago and further back than Isaiah’s day, 2,700 plus years ago. In fact, we need to momentarily go back to the beginning…to the time of Israel’s early fathers or patriarchs, 4,000 years ago plus…
After Creation, the sin or disobedience of Adam and Eve, their ensuing protective banishment from Eden’s paradise and Cain’s jealous murder of his brother Able, mankind’s exponential population growth was only matched by his descent into the depths of sin and its violence. Moses describes man’s utter depravity…
“Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence. God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth…the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great…and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually, (thus) the Lord was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.” Gen. 6:5ff.
Thus the LORD’s intent was to blot out all of creation, including man…that is all but one. Moses writes…”But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.”(Gen. 6:8).
After the great Flood, followed by God’s dispersing of what once again becomes a rapidly growing, concentrated and sinful human population, God once again chooses one man through which to inaugurate his long-term plan for mankind’s redemption from sin. That man’s name was Abram. God calls Abram out from the eastern, and later northern, side of the Middle East’s Fertile Crescent (present-day Iraq and Turkey) to the more western side of the Fertile Crescent, closer to Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea. God will change Abram’s name to Abraham which means the father of many nations, and by means of a what scholars describe as an ancient Royal Grant treaty (which means the monarch unilaterally–with no conditions or strings attached–chooses to bless or grant his servant or vassal with certain rights, titles or landholdings) promises to bless the childless Abraham and his wife Sarai with three blessings: 1) As many descendants as there were stars in the heavens; 2) lots and lots of land…the best land of the Middle East and 3) to make Abraham through his descendants a blessing to the entire world. Though none of these promises were fulfilled even to the slightest when they were made to Abraham, the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, are very clear concerning Abraham’s very simple response to these promises, gifts, grants or blessings. It says, Abraham trusted in the LORD, and the LORD accounted this as righteousness (Gen. 15:6; Romans 4; Gal. 3; James 2).
Eventually, God does bless Abraham with two sons, one of which, Isaac, is also promised the same things God promised Abraham. Isaac also has two sons, Esau and Jacob, with the younger Jacob becoming the son of promise and thus receiving the same blessings that his father and grandfather had received before him.
After an all-night wrestling match on the edge of a portion of Israel’s future promised lands, God will change Jacob’s name to Israel…which essentially means one who contends with God and man and survives. Israel will be blessed with 12 sons. One of those sons, Jacob’s favorite, Joseph, will be sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. But by God’s grace, Joseph is taken to Egypt, where, through his many travails, and by the authority of Egypt’s ruler-god, the mighty pharaoh, he becomes a sort of vice-ruler of Egypt. When severe famine strikes the world, again, by God’s providence, Joseph will save his father and his brothers. To survive the severe famine, under the protection of his influential son, Israel moves the entire family to Egypt, where they live out their lives in peace and safety.
Four hundred years and now many pharaohs later…around the mid-fifteenth century B.C. (or 700 years before Isaiah utters his now famous prophecy in Isaiah 40…Comfort, Comfort my people… and almost 1500 years before the Christ or Yah-Saves’ birth and appearing)… Israel’s now many descendants will have become an enslaved people or nation, numbering in the millions. Once again, God raises up one—one of their–own to lead them—and via a series of devastating plagues, God makes for them an exodus or way out of Egypt. That leader’s name is Moses.
After Israel’s incredible and dramatic escape from Egypt, God appears to her in the Sinai Desert, and together, much like a marriage covenant of sorts, Israel and Yahweh God, via the treaty’s mediator, Moses, enters into another covenant—the Mosaic Covenant or Law, which includes the Ten Commandments. But unlike the royal grant covenant that God made with their forefathers centuries before promising them a people, land and blessing, this suzerain-vassal covenant or treaty that they are entering into with God WILL have conditions or stipulations—including blessings for being faithful to the Law’s contractual stipulations, as well as, curses or judgments, for failure to carry out these stipulations, with some of these judgments being extremely severe, including for a time, banishment from the land.
And while most would have considered what Israel had received from God in the form of: 1) the blessings of both the Abrahamic and 2) Mosaic Covenants, as well as, 3) their meteoric growth under Egypt’s protection, 4) their incredible exodus from a much later repressive Egypt, 5) their forty-year wanderings and survival within the oppressive Sinai desert and 6) their retaking of their fathers’ Promised Lands, both west and east of the Jordan River, despite those lands being occupied by other people groups or nations, a story for the ages and nothing short of amazing, and therefore, deserving of an incredible fidelity, from the very beginning, it becomes apparent, that Israel’s descendants are a very stubborn, Spiritually unfaithful, very-often fickle and hard-hearted people, unable to keep their end of their great Spiritual bargain.
In fact, because of Israel’s initial fear and refusal to reclaim her ancestral inheritance (Numbers 13), she is cursed by God to forty years of desert wanderings—until two faithless generations have completely died out, finally arriving on the east side of the Jordan River, just across from their divinely-promised ancestral lands… Canaan. Now, just before the children of Israel–or the surviving grandchildren of those who had left Egypt during the exodus–crossover the Jordan under the capable leadership of Moses’ lieutenant, Joshua, and conquer their first city, Jericho, Moses, before he dies, both recounts the story of Israel’s amazing exodus, as well as, re-presents God’s critical covenant stipulations, including blessing and curses, for remaining in this Promise Land and blessed by God… in a second law…Deuteronomy (note: the story of the first law begins in Exodus 19 and 20…with the Ten Commandments…and continues on through books of Leviticus and Numbers).
Near the end of the second law, Moses said:
Deut. 30:1 “So it shall be when all of these things have come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call them to mind in all nations where the Lord your God has banished you…”
(Banished you? Yes, banished you. Two chapters before, Moses warned the nation that if they were disobedient to their treaty, among other curses would be banishment from the Land.)
Deut. 28:63 It shall come about that as the Lord delighted over you to prosper you, and multiply you, so the Lord will delight over you to make you perish and destroy you; and you will be torn from the land where you are entering to possess it. 64 Moreover, the Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other end of the earth; and there you shall serve other gods, wood and stone, which you or your fathers have not known. 65 Among those nations you shall find no rest, and there will be no resting place for the sole of your foot; but there the Lord will give you a trembling heart, failing of eyes, and despair of soul.
(In other words, Israel, for failure to remain faithful to her moral treaty obligations, would be mercilessly ripped from the Land that God had not only promised her via her forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but the Land Moses had brought them to centuries later. Reading on in Deut. 30…)
Deut. 30:2 and you return to the Lord your God and obey Him with all your heart and soul according to all that I command you today, you and your sons, 3 then the Lord your God will restore you from captivity, and have compassion on you, and will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you.
(In other words, according to Israel’s divine constitution, the Mosaic Law, if while in exile, Israel repented and returned to worshiping Yahweh God, then, despite her past transgressions, God would once again be merciful and would…by His own Law…regather the scattered peoples and restore them to their Land once again. Now this is huge! Huge, 1) that God places this provision within their constitution to begin with, 2) that God knows before hand that indeed they will be unfaithful and be banished from their Land and 3) that God, in his nature, is a forgiving God that upon genuine repentance will forgive his people of their sins, release them from their foreign servitude and restore them back within their Land. I mean, do you get this? What does this say about the Creator of the Universe? That he expects failure–even in the midst of extraordinary grace–but then after his harsh or severe discipline produces its intended repentance and humiliation, the Creator of the Universe heals and forgives. This is Christ’s story of the prodigal son in Luke 15. God is a God of redemption and second chances. Is he just? Yes, but he is also gracious and forgives. In other words, because of his fallen, wicked nature, Man needs both harsh judgment and tender grace. God’s story with man is every parent’s story with their child.)
Deut 30:4 If your outcasts are at the ends of the earth, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you back. 5 The Lord your God will bring you into the land, which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it; and He will prosper you and multiply you more than your fathers.
6 Moreover the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live…9 Then the Lord your God will prosper you abundantly in all the work of your hand, in the offspring of your body and in the offspring of your cattle and in the produce of your ground, for the Lord will again rejoice over you for good, just as He rejoiced over your fathers; 10 if you obey the Lord your God to keep His commandments and His statutes which are written in this book of the law, if you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and soul.
Bottom line: EVEN WITH the second law…Deuteronomy, written in about 1400 BC and thousands of years before Israel as a nation did divide and fall, God was saying to Israel, I know you will rebel and disobey, thus not only will I rip you out of your inheritance, but upon your repentance, I will re-gather you and place you once again within your safe borders.