2.9 Covenant & Curse: Good vs. Evil
Volume 2: Studies in Contrast—Chapter 9
Covenant & Curse: Good vs. Evil
We all know it as Newton’s third law of motion. Simply stated, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” You don’t have to be a physicist to understand it—you just have to get out of bed in the morning. It’s wrapped up in such words as “because,” “consequently,” and “therefore.” If X…then Y. Cause and effect. Reward and punishment. Carrot and stick. If we do one thing, one set of possibilities will result; if we do another, something entirely different will happen. The variables are nearly infinite and the outcomes impossible to flawlessly predict, of course (something called “the butterfly effect”) but we all live our lives on the basis of calculated results, if only subconsciously.
Every effect has a cause—or multiple causes—which were in turn effects of previous or more fundamental causes. Tracking it all back to the beginning (if such a thing were possible) would reveal that Yahweh is the “first cause” of everything that exists. But He Himself has no cause: “the buck stops here,” so to speak. So in a very real sense, Yahweh is “responsible” for all of it—the good and the bad—or He would be, if He hadn’t at some point introduced something that was, like Himself, creative in nature, able to make decisions independent of the “causes” in its past. Inanimate entities like heavenly bodies, weather, and the electrons that course through your espresso machine have no choice in the matter: they must obey the forces that are brought to bear upon them—gravity, electromagnetism, thermodynamics, time, etc. But mankind has been designed by his Creator with free will: though we are still affected by external forces, we are also to some extent free to manipulate our own destinies; that is, we can make choices. And having the ability to choose presupposes the ability to choose badly—to make mistakes, to act stupidly.
Thus in a world Yahweh created to be “very good,” we now find both good and evil existing side by side in a perennial struggle for dominance. If we can sort out why God allowed this ostensibly imperfect state of affairs, we’ll be very close to answering that most fundamental of questions: “Why are we here?” Consider the alternative: if God had created us without free will, we wouldn’t have been able to sin against Him, and evil never would have entered the world. A good thing? Not exactly. Many of us act as if we think enforcing goodness in the world is Yahweh’s primary objective. But if that were so, He could have created us like angels—or amoebas—without permission to make up our own minds about things. That way, the world would have been tidy and well-behaved. But it would also have been more like a prison than a family. There could have been no real relationship—and no love—between God and man. And I’m pretty sure Yahweh would have found that rather pointless—certainly not worth the effort.
God instead chose to deal with the evil that we—against His will but with His permission—introduced into the world. He gave Adam a choice, in the form of a command: “Yahweh, God, took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And Yahweh, God, commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’” (Genesis 2:15-17) This is the first of many covenants recorded in scripture. As they often do, it contained instruction, a blessing for obedience, and a curse for non-compliance. Yahweh had already delivered on the blessing: all Adam had to do to continue freely enjoying access to everything the Garden had to offer was to refrain from eating from one particular tree that God pointed out to him. I am of the opinion that there was nothing special about this tree—until Yahweh invested it with symbolic significance by prohibiting its fruit for food. The “death” that Adam would die would be defined by his disobedience; it would not occur because there was something physically harmful about the fruit. In fact, the death of which He spoke wasn’t wasn’t the universal physical phenomenon we all suffer, for Adam lived on for another 930 years—hardly “in the day” that he ate the fruit of the forbidden tree (although, come to think of it, “with Yahweh, a thousand years is as one day….”) No, this “death” was spiritual: with that first little nibble, God’s Spirit would be separated from Adam’s soul, for Yahweh is holy—He and sin are incompatible. Like matter and antimatter (or so I’m told), they cannot dwell together.
Being God, Yahweh knew that Adam would fail, and He had a remedy for his failure prepared—a way the guilty man and his race could be reconciled with God, recovering what had been lost through sin. But first, Yahweh explained the “fine print” of the covenant to each of the participants of the fall—the results, the consequences, the “equal and opposite reaction” to the thing they had done in defiance of His stated will. He began with the serpent, the dragon, Satan’s physical vehicle in this case: “Yahweh, God, said to the serpent, ‘Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.’” This is the first Messianic prophecy in the Bible. As non-specific and as esoteric as it is, it still establishes the general course of events to come: Satan and his followers would henceforth be adversaries and enemies of the human race, but one Human in particular would, after suffering an injurious assault Himself, achieve victory over the slithering satanic menace. Virtually all of subsequent scripture conspires to explain how this was to be achieved.
“To the woman He said, ‘I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you….’”At the risk of oversimplifying this, the woman’s sin was to desire the evil as well as the good. After all, all she really knew about the forbidden tree was that it was called “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” In other words, she unilaterally decided that what Yahweh had provided (which was “very good”) was not enough. Not knowing what evil was, she desired to experience it in order to obtain a kind of “wisdom” Yahweh hadn’t granted. Her “punishment” was to get precisely what she had asked for. Oops.
“And to Adam He said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, “You shall not eat of it,” cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.’” (Genesis 3:14-19) The nature of Adam’s sin was a little different (though he did exactly the same thing Eve had). He is chastised for having listened to his wife instead of to God—of choosing to trust the creature rather than the Creator. In doing so, Adam separated himself from God: he turned his back on Yahweh. So his “punishment,” like that of his wife, was to be granted that very thing which he had said (by his actions) that he wanted. Be careful what you wish for, my friends.
Now that sin had entered the human race, now that spiritual death had been introduced, it was no longer in man’s nature to be at peace with God. We were all subsequently born with a “sin nature.” That is, it was natural for everyone born of Adam and Eve to miss the target of perfection before Yahweh, for we were no longer “living souls” in the sense of having Yahweh’s Spirit breathing life into our neshamah, as was the case with Adam and Eve before the fall (see Genesis 2:7) As Paul puts it, since we have now received reconciliation through Yahshua the Messiah, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…. Death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam.” (Romans 5:12-14) In other words, not everyone was guilty of the same sinful act that got Adam in trouble—eating the fruit of the no-no tree. As we’ve seen, not even Eve was charged with Adam’s sin, though she did precisely the same thing. Her guilt—and the precise nature of her punishment—lay elsewhere.
Thus as a proximate cause for the curse under which we live, the Law (the Torah) introduced under Moses, is a red herring. We are not condemned only for having broken the conditions of the Torah (though doing so will certainly do the trick): we were all condemned before the Torah even showed up—“Death reigned from Adam to Moses.” We are all born spiritually lifeless: we must be born again, born from above in God’s Spirit. That’s why Yahshua told Nicodemus, “Whoever believes in Him [the Son of God] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”(John 3:18) That spiritual life, then, begins when we trust in “the name of the only Son of God.” The name?Yes: Yahshua—which means “Yahweh is Salvation.” This—Yahshua—was the remedy for Adam’s sin, and ours, that Yahweh had already prepared before the fall even took place. It reverses what Adam had done to earn the curse: trusting something other than Yahweh.
The flood of Noah, a huge speed bump we encountered between Adam and Moses, demonstrated in rather dramatic fashion that “death reigned.” And yet no one who died in the flood was guilty of the particular sin of which Adam had been instructed: none of them had eaten of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. But they all died, nevertheless. Why? It’s because they all ran afoul of the fundamental sin of Adam: failure to trust and honor Yahweh their God. This separation from God inevitably led to a mindset and lifestyle that was in direct contradiction to Yahweh’s character, love.
The historical record says, “Yahweh saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. (Genesis 6:5) Yet, “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God.” (Genesis 6:9) But Yahweh hadn’t defined “evil” at this point in time: man was operating on conscience alone. The words “wickedness” and “evil” in this passage are related. The root verb is the Hebrew ra‘a: to be bad or evil. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament notes, “The essential meaning of the root can be seen in its frequent juxtaposition with the root tob. Thus Moses concluded, ‘See, I set before you today life and what is good [tob], death and what is evil/bad [ra‘]’…. Since the decision that something is bad depends subjectively on one’s taste, the root frequently occurs with the formula ‘in the eyes of.’ Thus Isaiah threatens those whose moral judgments are distorted: ‘Woe to those who call evil good and good evil.’ Because the Lord’s judgment stands as a moral absolute, however, one can speak of objective evil, of sin…. Ra‘a designates experiences which entail physical or emotional pain. In the moral and religious realm of meaning, the verb denotes activity that is contrary to God’s will…. The range of activity associated with ra‘a begins with rejection of God, particularly in the practice of idolatry. Abuse of people and exploitation of their property is common. This includes causing physical pain, harsh slavery, dishonesty, verbal abuse, and efforts to kill.” The fatal sin of the people of Noah’s wicked generation seems to be echoed in the words of Isaiah: “Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, children who deal corruptly! They have forsaken Yahweh, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged.”(Isaiah 1:4) Man’s purposeful abandonment of Yahweh is the essence and source of iniquity. It always has been.
After the flood had swept them all away, “Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, ‘Behold, I establish My covenant with you and your offspring after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. I establish My covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.’” This time, the covenant was unilateral. Nothing was required of Noah but to take note of Yahweh’s promise. The onus of the covenant was entirely on God: if the worldwide watery cataclysm ever repeated itself, Yahweh would be proved a liar, not worthy of our worship. Making such a covenant would have been a risky move, were it not for the fact that Yahweh is omnipotent—thus able to keep His promises. “And God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I make between Me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set My bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and the earth.’” (Genesis 9:8-13) God’s promise of protection will remain in force as long as man walks the earth, for the sign He instituted verifying the covenant, the rainbow, shows up associated with the reigning Yahshua in John’s final vision: “A throne stood in heaven, with One seated on the throne. And He who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian, and around the throne was a rainbow that had the appearance of an emerald.” (Revelation 4:2-3)
The third covenant between God and man was made with Abram, though his name under the terms of the covenant was changed to Abraham. “And God said to him, ‘Behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you.’” That is, it was changed from “exalted father” to “father of a multitude,” a hint that he would, under the covenant, become more than just the “father” of his own biological descendants, but also the spiritual progenitor of all who would follow him in faith. The focus however, was to be on his physical descendants, the people later known as Israel, or the Jews: “And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you….” Not to be picky, but you can’t have an “everlasting covenant” unless both parties are still there. Not a problem with God, of course, but this means that Israel must exist as a distinct people as long as mortal man walks the earth; not to mention the concept that Abraham’s spiritual descendants—faithful believers who, like me, would someday call him father—must be granted eternal life if the covenant is to be truly “everlasting.”
This covenant had terrestrial ramifications for Abraham’s physical descendants as well: “And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God….” One might contend that Yahweh has dropped the ball here. Yes, they displaced the Canaanites under Joshua and remained in the land (off and on) for fifteen hundred years, but the next two millennia saw Israel scattered to the four winds. But we shall see in a bit that their occupancy of the Land would be contingent on keeping the terms of another covenant (that delivered through Moses), but their legal ownership of Canaan was never revoked. (It’s like getting locked out of your own house because it’s a crime scene.) And what about Yahweh being their God? In this regard, it takes two to tango, so to speak: to be their God, Yahweh would have to be worshipped, revered, and obeyed by Israel—and not just a few faithful individuals, but the nation as a whole. That has been the case for only a few hundred years total in their entire four thousand year history. On the other hand, by far the most prevalent theme in Old Testament prophecy is that Israel will, in the end, be regathered—in the Land—under the banner of Yahweh. Just because it hasn’t happened yet, don’t assume it won’t.
Like Noah’s covenant, this one was sealed with a sign, but this time the sign was to be enacted by the beneficiary of the covenant. “And God said to Abraham, ‘As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you.” (Genesis 17:3-11) I’m planning on covering the symbolic aspects of circumcision in detail in a future chapter, but for now, notice a few salient points: The sign was to be carried out among Abraham’s offspring (a fact that was reinforced later in the Torah). Circumcision (the surgical removal of the tip of the foreskin of the penis) could only be performed on males, one of several clues that this was not a condition for God’s compliance with His part of the covenant (which would benefit both men and women), but was rather an act that signified that the covenant was already in force. The heart of the covenant had been given to Abram decades before the sign was instituted (see Genesis 12).
We would logically expect to see some symbolic link between the covenant and its sign. The promise was that Abraham would be the father of multitudes, that his offspring would inherit the Land, and (as it’s stated in Genesis 12:3) “I [Yahweh] will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Admittedly, you have to look hard for the connection, and in the end, you have to understand how the covenant would play out in history: Abraham’s male Descendant, Yahshua, would be the vehicle through which “all the families of the earth” would be blessed. How? Through the complete and permanent removal of our sins from us—a process that, like the sign of circumcision, involved blood, pain, and obedience to Yahweh. Yahshua’s sacrifice on our behalf achieved everything the covenant of Abraham required. And, as with circumcision, once our sins are removed from us through this process, they’re gone forever.
It was inevitable, I suppose, that a raging controversy would arise pitting those who focused only on the sign against those who comprehended only what it signified. Think of it this way: in order to come to Yahweh, we have to get off the world’s broad highway leading to destruction, making a “right turn” (so to speak) onto the narrow path that leads to life. Circumcision is like the turn indicator signal in our car. Just as we are supposed to flip on our blinkers to alert those sharing the road of our intentions, so Israel, following Abraham, was instructed to circumcise their male children, making their intention to turn toward Yahweh clear to the gentiles following them.
But—and this is important—the signal is not the same thing as the turn. It does no good to click on your blinker if you never actually change direction; it’s confusing, misleading, and sometimes even dangerous. It is, in fact, a lie. In the end, it’s the turn itself that’s essential. To get to our intended destination, we must choose to follow Yahweh’s path. So Yahweh begs Israel to follow through on the signal, the symbol of circumcision: “Circumcise yourselves to Yahweh; remove the foreskin of your hearts, O 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.” (Jeremiah 4:4) Circumcision of the flesh is not really the point, He says. What’s critical is what it means—the separation of the sin from the soul.
But what if we “turn right” without signaling first? That’s the scenario being discussed in Acts 15, where it was determined by the Jewish Christians that gentile believers need not be physically circumcised in order to be saved. Consider this: although the traffic laws require you to signal before you make a turn, using your turn indicator is theoretically pointless if you’re the last vehicle in line—if there is no one behind you to see it. It is a good thing to follow the letter of the law, of course. We should do so, since the regulations are there for our benefit and safety. But what’s critically important is reaching our destination, not the flawless adherence to the rules of the road while we’re on our journey. Making the turn is what’s needful.
The same basic concept—that the reality outweighs its shadow—applies to the entire Law of Moses, the man to whom the next covenant in scripture was made. Yahweh had repeated the covenant promises to Abraham’s son Isaac and his son Jacob/Israel—effectively removing Abraham’s other descendants from the list: Ishmael, the sons of Abe’s second wife Keturah (not to mention those of his concubines—see Genesis 25:6), and Isaac’s son Esau. Yahweh’s subsequent covenant with Moses was built upon that of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. “God spoke to Moses and said to him, ‘I am Yahweh. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name, Yahweh, I did not make Myself known to them.’” It had been only shortly before this, at the burning bush, that Yahweh had first revealed the name by which He wished to be known. “I also established My covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they lived as sojourners.”This, you’ll recall, was a component of the covenant as revealed to all three patriarchs. “Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the people of Israel whom the Egyptians hold as slaves, and I have remembered My covenant….” It wasn’t that Yahweh had forgotten His covenant with Israel during their centuries of captivity, but rather that He had chosen to wait until this time—when their circumstances looked impossibly bleak—to bring its promise of a homeland to fruition.
“Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am Yahweh, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment.” If you’ll recall, slavery was listed as a manifestation or example of ra‘a, evil, sin, that which is contrary to God’s will. “I will take you to be My people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am Yahweh your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am Yahweh.’” (Exodus 6:2-8) Remember what Yahweh’s original two-part promise to Abraham had been: (1) He would be given the land of Canaan as a possession, and (2) Yahweh would be his God. Israel’s four hundred years of slavery in Egypt had been a necessary evil, designed to force them to connect these two things in their minds. In other words, if they had never left the Land, it would have been extremely hard to see the link between their temporal blessings and the God who was providing them. As I said, contrast can be an invaluable teaching tool.
This time, the terms of the covenant were written in stone—literally. God’s part was to make good on the two conditions listed above, just as He had promised Abraham. But now, the people were told what their end of the bargain would entail. “And Yahweh said to Moses, ‘Write these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel.’ So he was there with Yahweh forty days and forty nights. He neither ate bread nor drank water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.”(Exodus 34:27-28) A generation later, Moses repeated the story: “And He declared to you His covenant, which He commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments, and He wrote them on two tablets of stone. And Yahweh commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and rules, that you might do them in the land that you are going over to possess.” (Deuteronomy 4:13-14) The Ten Commandments are thereby defined as “the words of the covenant.”
Taken together, the Ten Commandments link the Yahweh-Israel relationship to their possession of the Promised Land. And on a symbolic level, they promise all of us something quite similar—they connect life in God’s grace to our mortal existence in the world. Paraphrased for our ears, they are as follows: “Yahweh alone is God, so don’t worship or serve anything else. Don’t make visual representations of what you think He may be like, for He will provide His own image for you. Revere the name of Yahweh, and don’t associate with it anything that is worthless, empty, or deceptive. Observe the Sabbath, for it explains both God’s redemptive program and the timeline He has ordained to bring it about. Honor your maker. And don’t murder, cheat, steal, lie, or covet what others have, for in doing so, you show disrespect for God and lack of trust in Him.” Looking at them in this light, they don’t really seem so tough. But upon reflection, it becomes apparent that in order to “keep” these precepts, we must maintain Yahweh in the forefront of our thoughts at all times. The minute we start “looking out for number one” (ourselves, that is), we relegate Yahweh to second place—or worse. That doesn’t harm Him, of course, but it does place us at a distinct disadvantage, for it means we’ve put a comparative idiot in charge of our affairs.
A subset of sorts to the Mosaic covenant (in the broader sense—the whole Torah) is this promise God made concerning the Priesthood. “And Yahweh said to Moses, ‘Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, has turned back My wrath from the people of Israel, in that he was jealous with My jealousy among them, so that I did not consume the people of Israel in My jealousy. Therefore say, “Behold, I give to him My covenant of peace, and it shall be to him and to his descendants after him the covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God and made atonement for the people of Israel.”’” (Numbers 25:10-13) Aaron’s grandson Phinehas single-handedly put an end to the seduction of Israel in the wake of Balaam’s treacherous counsel. The moral of the story is that the natural reward for service to Yahweh is the opportunity to perform even more significant service. (So if you’re not interested in serving God forever, you needn’t bother doing so now.) In this case, it was the promise of “a perpetual priesthood.” Looking forward to the Millennial reign of Christ, note which sub-family of the Aaronic priesthood will be serving exclusively in the temple: “But the Levitical priests, the sons of Zadok, who kept the charge of My sanctuary when the people of Israel went astray from Me, shall come near to Me to minister to Me. And they shall stand before Me to offer me the fat and the blood, declares the Sovereign Yahweh. They shall enter My sanctuary, and they shall approach My table, to minister to Me, and they shall keep My charge.” (Ezekiel 44:15-16) And who was Zadok’s ancestor? That’s right: it was Phinehas—see I Chronicles 6. Yahweh never forgets, and He never breaks His word.
That fact would take on eternal significance in the terms of the next covenant, the one Yahweh made with David. “Thus says Yahweh of hosts, ‘I took you [David] from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over My people Israel. And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you.”First, Yahweh reminds David of what He had already done for him. For his part, David was under no illusions: he knew that his unexpected rise to the throne of Israel had been due to Yahweh working through him, not his own abilities. So God now begins to describe what He would do in the future: “And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth….” There is a vast difference between being king of a smallish bronze age nation like David’s Israel and being the undying legend that he would become. No amount of human effort can guarantee anything like that.
The promises to David extended to the nation as well, an echo of the original Abrahamic covenant: “And I will appoint a place for My people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over My people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies.’” In case you haven’t noticed, that part of the Davidic covenant is yet to be fully realized: yes, they’re back in the Land after their long hiatus, but violent men and relentless enemies still abound. In the final permutation of the Kingdom of David however, with his Descendant Yahshua on the throne, these promises will become a blissful reality. God now describes how He will bring this about: “Moreover, Yahweh declares to you that Yahweh will make you a house [that is, a royal dynasty]. ‘When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish His kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of His kingdom forever. I will be to Him a father, and He shall be to Me a son.”He’s not talking about Solomon here, no matter what it looks like at first glance. Solomon is merely a “type,” a near-term object of partial fulfillment. He’s actually referring to David’s ultimate offspring, Yahshua.
But this is where things go haywire, in English anyway. “When He commits iniquity, I will discipline Him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men.” Huh? Yahshua committed no iniquity, though He certainly bore the “rod of men” for our transgressions. Solomon, on the other hand, did commit iniquity in his later years, but for David’s sake he was spared the discipline of God (at least in his own lifetime). What’s going on here? The problem lies in the word translated “when.” The Hebrew ’asher’ is a primitive relative pronoun or particle that can mean almost anything that shows a connection: when, who, which, what, if, how, because, in order that, etc. The key is that it’s a marker of linkage, of comparison, cause, or result. So when Yahshua was linked or associated with iniquity (ours, in point of fact), He would be afflicted “with the stripes of the sons of men,”—“wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities,” as Isaiah phrased it. “But My steadfast love will not depart from Him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before Me. Your throne shall be established forever." (II Samuel 7:8-16) David’s “house and kingdom” would be “established forever” but not through Solomon (who was merely Yahshua’s legal ancestor through His adoptive father, Joseph). The covenant would be realized through another of David’s sons, Nathan, who was Mary’s forebear. Yahshua, the son of God, was also the physical descendant of David, just as the covenant required.
Of course, all of this prophecy is moot (in fact, it’s a big lie) if the risen Yahshua never returns to earth in to reign in glory on Israel’s throne, fulfilling the terms of Yahweh’s covenant with David. Although He already “bore our griefs and carried our sorrows” by taking upon Himself “the chastisement that brought us peace” (again, prophetic phrases from Isaiah 53), Yahshua has never physically reigned as King in Jerusalem. Yahweh must therefore either put up or shut up. There’s no question in my mind that He will fulfill these things; the only question is when (and I am convinced that He’s told us this as well, though in somewhat more subtle terms). If the signs are as they appear to be, we are very, very close.
God’s covenant with David mentioned a son that could have been Solomon (if he had remained faithful), so Yahweh had a promise for Solomon as well. But knowing what Sol would do, God couched this covenant in very different terms: his choices would determine his own legacy, whether blessing or cursing. Solomon began well, asking God for wisdom in lieu of riches or power. And Yahweh was pleased to give him all the rope he needed—to either bind Israel to their God in spirit and truth, or to hang himself in vanity and self-deception. “Yahweh appeared to Solomon in the night and said to him: I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for Myself as a house of sacrifice….” Solomon was given the privilege of fulfilling David’s fondest desire, building a “permanent” temple to replace the centuries-old tabernacle. The location had actually been selected a thousand years previously, when Abraham had been instructed to sacrifice his son Isaac on a mountain in the Land of Moriah—that is, in what would someday be known as Jerusalem.
The purpose of the new temple would be the same as the old tabernacle had been: it was a place where man could meet God, learn His ways, contemplate His plan, and find atonement for his sins. Although I’m positive Yahweh would have preferred His people to be perfect, He knew they wouldn’t be—He expected them to sin, to miss the mark of perfection in judgment, behavior, and holiness. So the temple—or more correctly, what it represented—was to be the specified venue for reconciliation with Yahweh. First, He promised to discipline Israel for their wickedness, but in the same breath He told them how to return to Him. “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if My people who are called by My name humble themselves, and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land….” Remember what I said about the Ten Commandments a few pages back? Yahweh’s little “repentance seminar” here is, if you think about it, nothing more or less than returning to the principles of the Mosaic Covenant, expressed in the Ten Commandments. And to do that, we have to keep Yahweh our God at the forefront of our consciousness. We must filter everything we do through the lens of our relationship with Him—unless you like drought, locusts, and pestilence, that is.
Note that Yahweh said that He would hear “from heaven.” The temple was not for His benefit, but ours. His attention, however, would be directed here, for this place, like the tabernacle preceding it, was to be the focal point of God’s communication with mankind, the very picture of His plan of redemption. “Now My eyes will be open and My ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place. For now I have chosen and consecrated this house that My name may be there forever. My eyes and My heart will be there for all time….” Not in the building, of course, but in what it represented. You would think that if God was so single-mindedly focused on what it would take to reconcile us to Himself, we would pay a little closer attention ourselves.
Lest we forget, this was Yahweh’s covenant with Solomon, so He now gets personal: “And as for you, if you will walk before Me as David your father walked, doing according to all that I have commanded you and keeping My statutes and My rules, then I will establish your royal throne, as I covenanted with David your father, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man to rule Israel.’” (II Chronicles 7:12-18) Wait a minute! Though it’s pretty clear that David was Yahweh’s favorite human, and that the shepherd-King was indeed a “man after God’s own heart,” the fact remains that David did not actually “do according to all that Yahweh commanded,” or “keep His statutes and His rules.” Solomon was living proof of this: his own mother was the woman with whom David had committed adultery (that’s Commandment No. 7) after voyeuristically lusting after her (Commandment No. 10). Upon discovering that Bathsheba was pregnant, David tried to cover up his sin (Commandment No. 9) by bringing the woman’s husband home from the war for a little R&R. When the honorable Uriah didn’t bite, the King conspired to have him killed in battle (Commandment No. 6), leaving David “free” to marry the widow, even though he already had seven wives and a harem full of concubines. Later, he violated Commandment No. 2 (sort of) by numbering the military strength of Israel instead of relying on Yahweh regardless of the odds.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not trying to drag David’s reputation through the mud. I too am a sinner. But scripture paints him as he was—as Cromwell would have put it, “warts and all.” That’s the only way we could have seen what Yahweh was really thinking about “good vs. evil.” How could a man who behaved this badly be counted as righteous? How could a man who willfully violated some of God’s rules be held up as an example of someone who kept them all? There can be only one explanation. It’s grace. Because of his unshakable love for Yahweh, because of his trust in the promises of God, David’s sins were covered, atoned, forgiven, removed from his “rap sheet.”
David himself explains: “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom Yahweh counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. I acknowledged my sin to You [yeah, after the prophet Nathan dragged him to it, kicking and screaming], and I did not cover my iniquity [well, better late than never, both for David and for us]; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to Yahweh,’ and You forgave the iniquity of my sin.” The key to forgiveness, he says, is to acknowledge one’s sin, to admit one’s transgressions before Yahweh. We are all guilty. That’s why the Torah specified sacrifices and offerings—all of which were signs pointing toward the ultimate sacrifice, Yahshua. But the only way for us to receive God’s grace, this unmerited favor that covers our sins—is to ask for it. “Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to You at a time when You may be found; surely in the rush of great waters [a metaphor for judgment], they shall not reach him. You are a hiding place for me; You preserve me from trouble; You surround me with shouts of deliverance.” (Psalm 32:1-7)
This can come as a horrible shock for those who think that strict adherence to the Torah’s literal precepts is what Yahweh requires of us—or worse, that keeping some man-made code of conduct (read: religion), however well intentioned, is necessary for our salvation. For one thing, flawlessly keeping God’s law can’t be done—or at least, no one ever has. Those who claim to be “Torah observant” today are actually following an extremely truncated list of rules—a mere caricature of the Law of Moses. It’s like insisting you’ve “kept the traffic laws” just because you didn’t exceed the speed limit. What about that lane change you made, after failing to signal? Do you realize you have a tendency to follow a bit too closely? Have you really checked to verify that your taillights can be clearly seen 500 feet behind your vehicle? See what I mean? It’s not as easy as it looks. I’m not saying you shouldn’t keep the law (whether Torah or traffic). I’m merely saying you can’t, and you don’t.
There’s far, far more to “Torah observance” than meeting for worship on Saturdays, not eating pork, taking care of the circumcision thing, and maybe wearing a tsitzit. And since the sack of Jerusalem in 70 AD, the problem with trying to keep God’s Law is even worse (actually, it’s impossible), for without a temple and a priesthood we can’t invoke the picture of Yahweh’s redemption (i.e., perform the Levitical sacrifices) as the Law requires—I haven’t actually done the survey, but it seems to me that about eighty percent of the Torah depends on having a sanctuary and priesthood. And the other stuff? Deal with murder, adultery, or homosexuality as the Torah prescribes, and you’ll find yourself in jail. You can’t even tithe properly, for the tithes were to go to the Levites, who were in turn directed to tithe from these tithes to the priests: but nobody knows who these guys are anymore! Bottom line: if Yahweh’s grace—the forgiveness and atonement counted upon by David—is insufficient to achieve reconciliation with God, then we are lost, every one of us.
So putting the shoe on the other foot, Yahweh warned Solomon of what not to do, and what the consequences would be if he did: “But if you turn aside and forsake [Hebrew: azab, a concept we’ll explore more deeply in a bit] My statutes and My commandments that I have set before you, and go and serve other gods and worship them, then I will pluck you up from My land that I have given you, and this house that I have consecrated for My name, I will cast out of My sight, and I will make it a proverb and a byword among all peoples.” (II Chronicles 7:19-20) Worded this way, it sounds kind of like a laundry list—don’t (1) turn aside, (2) forsake My statutes, (3) forsake My commandments, (4) serve other gods, and (5) worship other gods—but I don’t think it is. It seems, rather, to be a multifaceted way of describing just one thing: abandoning Yahweh. Solomon’s father David may have violated Yahweh’s commandments on occasion (as do all of us) but he never forsook them; he never declared them invalid, replacing them in his heart and mind with a code more to his own liking. He always—even in the depths of debauchery and denial—embraced Yahweh as the ultimate authority. Weakness is not the same thing as rebellion, it appears.
To put this in perspective, compare David’s outlook to that of the typical American today. When he seduced Bathsheba, he knew that it was contrary to God’s law—a law with which he agreed because it was Yahweh’s word—but he let his flesh overrule his mind: he scratched the itch. We Americans, on the other hand, refuse to make adultery illegal, and in doing so, we declare our own authority to be higher than Yahweh’s. It’s not just sexual sin, either: the principle could be repeated ad infinitum. Thus someone who agrees with our laws that say “sex between any two consenting adults is lawful,” even if he or she never actually engages in adultery, is guilty of rebellion against Yahweh. But someone who recognizes and accepts Yahweh’s absolute authority and yet succumbs to the lust of the flesh, is not a rebel, but “only” a sinner in need of atonement and cleansing. The distinction is critical to our understanding of grace. It’s what Yahshua meant when He said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” (Matthew 9:12) Declaring ourselves to be “well” merely demonstrates that we think our opinions carry more weight than God’s.
So Yahweh tells Solomon what to expect if he and his nation forsake their God: “And at this house, which was exalted, everyone passing by will be astonished and say, ‘Why has Yahweh done thus to this land and to this house?’ Then they will say, ‘Because they abandoned [azab] Yahweh, the God of their fathers who brought them out of the land of Egypt and laid hold on other gods and worshiped them and served them. Therefore He has brought all this disaster on them.’” (II Chronicles 7:21-22) There’s the bottom line: God’s wrath is promised for those who abandon Him. The Hebrew verb azab denotes, to leave, to forsake, depart from, leave behind, abandon, neglect, or put aside. Abandoning Yahweh is defined as “worshiping other gods and serving them,” in other words, placing something—anything—other than Yahweh in the position of ultimate authority in one’s life and thought. However, it needn’t be another “god” in the traditional sense, like Allah or Shiva. It could just as easily be one’s philosophy, political position, religion, or any passionate interest. It needn’t even be something “bad.” For many patriotic Americans, the Constitution takes precedence over the Torah.
This explains why Yahweh allowed His temple to be ransacked and desecrated, dismantled stone by stone—twice. The temple (and the tabernacle that preceded it) was a complex and comprehensive symbol of Yahweh’s plan for our redemption. And it was absolutely essential for the literal observance of most of the Torah’s precepts. As long as we were counting upon Him for reconciling us to Himself—as long as we recognized no authority higher than Yahweh—then the everlasting covenant had not been breached, no matter how many “mistakes” we made. Remember, the Ten Commandments were said to have comprised “the words of the covenant,” (Exodus 34:38) and the very first of these commandments admonished us to have no other gods before Yahweh. But when Israel “abandoned Yahweh” in favor of “other gods,” Solomon’s temple, the “house that Yahweh had consecrated for His name,” became meaningless to Israel, a mockery of God’s love and provision. David had said, “Delight yourself in Yahweh, and He will give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4) As long as Israel’s delight was for Yahweh, the “desires of their hearts” were illustrated by the temple—which in turn was to be personified by the Messiah. What David didn’t say, but often proves true anyway, is that when we delight ourselves in something other than Yahweh, we still might get what we wish for. But whatever that might be, it’s vastly inferior to what Yahweh had in mind.
We aren’t done thinking about God’s covenants. But let us take a moment to delve a bit deeper into this whole concept of “forsaking,” or “abandonment.” As we saw above, the Hebrew verb azab means “to leave, to forsake, depart from, leave behind, abandon, neglect, or put aside.” In a way, this concept is the direct converse of the covenant (Hebrew: berit or beriyth), an alliance, treaty, compact, agreement, or pledge. A berit is a formal promise, one with terms and obligations, that exists between two parties—individuals, governments, or God. Although the terms of the covenant vary, there are always consequences (whether implied or specified) for the breaking of such an agreement, and this is where the idea of azab comes in. If we forsake Yahweh—if we put aside the terms of His covenant—then He will in turn abandon us to the fate we have chosen.
Moses spent forty years trying to teach this simple truth to Israel. How disappointing it must have been to learn that his admonitions would not prevent Israel from eventually forsaking their God: “And Yahweh said to Moses, ‘Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers. Then this people will rise and whore after the foreign gods among them in the land that they are entering, and they will forsake [azab] Me and break My covenant that I have made with them. Then my anger will be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake [azab] them and hide my face from them, and they will be devoured.” Note that although our forsaking—our departure from the covenant—will surely be reciprocated, God Himself will not instigate the breach: any such violation will be the result of our choice alone. “And many evils and troubles will come upon them, so that they will say in that day, ‘Have not these evils come upon us because our God is not among us?’ And I will surely hide My face in that day because of all the evil that they have done, because they have turned to other gods.” (Deuteronomy 31:16-18) What we see depends upon what direction we’re facing. If we have turned away from God, we shouldn’t be surprised to find ourselves face to face with evil.
The generation that entered the promised land had the best of intentions, of course. They remembered Yahweh’s provision in the wilderness and witnessed His power and preservation as they did battle with the pagans. “Then the people answered [Joshua], ‘Far be it from us that we should forsake [azab] Yahweh to serve other gods, for it is Yahweh our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed. And Yahweh drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve Yahweh, for He is our God.’” So far, so good. After fifteen years or so of cleansing the Land, their focus was still on Yahweh. But they had not driven out everyone they were supposed to. Notably, the Philistines along the southern coast and the Sidonians in Lebanon remained entrenched—and would prove to be persistent thorns in the side of Israel for generations to come, both militarily and spiritually. If we read between the lines, though, it appears that Joshua could already perceive a looming problem—and it wasn’t with the pagans; it was with Israel’s less-than-total dedication to Yahweh: “But Joshua said to the people, ‘You are not able to serve Yahweh, for He is a holy God. He is a jealous God; He will not forgive your transgressions or your sins.” Yes, they were generally following Yahweh’s directions, but not exclusively. A few verses later, Joshua would tell them to “put away the foreign gods among them.” It’s clear that something was already amiss. We will not be able to serve Yahweh if we are not holy as He is holy. We cannot serve two masters, both God and the world. “If you forsake [azab] Yahweh and serve foreign gods, then He will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good.’ And the people said to Joshua, ‘No, but we will serve Yahweh.’” (Joshua 24:16-21)
Really? They meant well, but within a generation, this was happening: “And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of Yahweh and served the Baals. And they abandoned [azab] Yahweh, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them. And they provoked Yahweh to anger. They abandoned [azab] Yahweh and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. So the anger of Yahweh 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.” (Judges 2:11-14) We tend to read these passages and assume that everybody in Israel all of a sudden decided to ditch their God and His Torah in favor of these ridiculous Babylonian derivatives. But I don’t think that’s the case at all. I think, rather, that what happened to Israel is the same thing that happens over and over again to the Christian Church: they gradually became comfortable, get settled in the world, and wax broadminded concerning the falsehood they had failed to root out of their environment. They—and we—forget that about which Joshua had warned them: Yahweh is a holy God. He has no peers or serious rivals, but is absolutely unique. Furthermore, He is “jealous,” that is, zealous for what belongs to Him (and remember, He had claimed and redeemed Israel to be His own special possession).
You don’t just wake up one morning and decide to sacrifice your child to Molech. Not if you’re a nominally Torah-observant Israelite, anyway. No, in order to “abandon Yahweh,” there’s invariably a long and gradual process that sneaks up on an unsuspecting believer before he even knows what’s even going on. It begins when we forget (or ignore) the fundamentals: worship Yahweh alone; don’t reinvent Him in your own image; don’t associate anything false or deceptive with His name. (In case you missed it, those are the first three of the Ten Commandments.) Be holy—set apart from the world—for Yahweh is holy. Love Yahweh with your whole heart, and love your fellow man as you do yourself. When we lose sight of these basic tenets of the faith, we lay ourselves open to error.
The path to perdition begins with a single, seemingly innocent step: we become tolerant—not of sinners, for we all fall into that category, but tolerant of alternatives to Yahweh’s revealed truth. We substitute Yahweh’s glory with other things—not “bad” things per se, just other things. Religion is probably the most insidious of these: it’s far easier to “go to church” than it is to worship God in spirit and truth. It’s relatively easy to be “circumcised in the flesh,” but incredibly hard to be “circumcised of heart”—impossible, in fact, in our own efforts. Charity—the giving of alms—is easy; loving your neighbor as you do yourself takes real dedication. It’s in our nature to turn good intentions into habits, then into traditions, and then into laws; but only Yahweh’s actual instructions mean anything. Once we’ve decided that our traditions carry the same (or greater) weight than God’s word, we’re in trouble. The problem is, we seldom even realize we’ve done it.
One rather silly example: Christians, through what I am convinced is a misinterpretation of Paul’s writings, have over the centuries come to the conclusion that the Torah has been abrogated, that it is no longer of value. But although it was never intended to be God’s vehicle for our salvation (which was Paul’s point) it’s not a worthless, outdated document, either. It was given for our benefit, our edification, and our knowledge of Yahweh’s redemptive plan. It is still the word of God: at the very least, the Torah offers flawless advice for living in our world. But show up at any church pot-luck, and you’re sure to find the obligatory ham. Our traditions have thus superseded God’s clear Leviticus 11 instructions. We have put ourselves in authority over Yahweh, and we don’t even realize it!
When David was instructing his son Solomon in how to be Israel’s king, he offered this admonition: “And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve Him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for Yahweh searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought. If you seek Him, He will be found by you, but if you forsake [azab] Him, He will cast you off forever.” (I Chronicles 28:9) And the prophet Azariah had virtually the same advice for King Asa: “Yahweh is with you while you are with Him. If you seek Him, He will be found by you, but if you forsake [azab] Him, He will forsake you.” (II Chronicles 15:2) Both kings achieved great things for their people while they remembered this admonition, and both grew complacent and careless in their later years. Time can change us; as I grow older, I’m all too aware of this. Solomon’s old age was characterized by compromise, and Asa’s with human solutions instead of reliance on Yahweh alone. Both men forgot the terms of the covenant: “If you forsake Yahweh, He will forsake you.” It is my intention to seek Yahweh until the day I die. These passages offer somber warning concerning the pitfalls I face: it is all too easy to substitute the expedient for the essential, to mistake the journey for the destination.
As King David got older, he too made some observations about maintaining focus upon Yahweh: “I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken [azab] or his children begging for bread…. For Yahweh loves justice; He will not forsake [azab] His saints. They are preserved forever, but the children of the wicked shall be cut off.” (Psalm 37:25, 28) Interesting that in both verses, he pointed out that our children—and not just ourselves—can bear the brunt of our poor choices in this life. We leave a legacy behind us, whether we intend to or not. In the broader sense, our “children” are all of those who follow in our footsteps—those we influence, whether for good or ill. We are responsible, to some extent, for those who hear our words or witness our behavior.
There’s a land mine buried in David’s statement, however. He says, “Yahweh loves justice; He will not forsake His saints.” Actually, in order to be truly just, Yahweh should logically be required to forsake us all, for we have all fallen short of his standard of holiness. We have all broken His everlasting covenant, one way or another, even if we didn’t intend to. No one reading this, of course, will fail to instantly recognize God’s solution to the problem: in order to transform us into “saints,” people who can stand “righteous” before Him, Yahweh took upon Himself the form of a mortal man for the purpose of personally paying the debt we incurred through our sins. Though we have all “forsaken” Yahweh, He has redeemed us—bought us back—by becoming “forsaken” Himself on our behalf. Thus we hear the words of David on the lips of Christ: “My God, my God, why have You forsaken [azab] Me?” (Psalm 22:1; Matthew 27:46) It’s a rhetorical question, but one with eternal consequences for all of us.
Of course, because Yahshua was actually God (though cloaked in human flesh), the grave couldn’t hold Him. This too was seen by David, though he doubtless didn’t realize the full import of what he’d said: “For You will not abandon [azab] my soul to Sheol, or let Your Holy One see corruption.” That this refers to Christ is made clear in Acts 2:31-32. “You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:10-11) Because our Messiah was not abandoned in the grave, neither shall we be. As David says in the previous verse, “My flesh also will rest in hope.”
The first Mosaic covenant, given at Mount Horeb (a.k.a. Sinai), was, as we have seen, defined by the Ten Commandments. In very brief and fundamental terms, this covenant laid out Israel’s responsibilities before God—and subsequently, ours as well. (A plethora of laws, rules, and precepts—both symbolic and practical—were handed down at roughly the same time, but the covenant proper was said to consist of these specific Ten Commandments, listed in Exodus 20.) At that time, Moses delineated (in Leviticus 26) what good things would happen if the people adhered to these precepts, and what bad things would happen if they did not. The list of blessings and curses (a covenant in its own right) makes it clear that they were primarily meant to apply to life within the Land—it speaks of crops, cities, and the possibility of being evicted for their disobedience. (And remember: living in the Promised Land is metaphorical of life for mortal believers in this world, where our choices are made. There are still battles to be fought and work to be done here.) But alas, Israel’s reluctance to trust Yahweh (because of the discouraging report of the ten spies) prevented that entire generation from entering the Land. Out of perhaps two million souls, all of them but two (Joshua and Caleb, the “Minority Report,” as it were) left their corpses rotting in the wilderness.
So almost four decades later, as the children of the exodus generation were about to enter the promised land, Moses restated the blessings that would result from their adherence to Yahweh’s instructions, and the cursings that would befall them if they abandoned God’s law. It’s a long list—Moses rambles on for several pages, presumably so nobody could later whine, “Nobody warned me!” The bottom line is this: “These are the words of the covenant that Yahweh commanded Moses to make with the people of Israel in the land of Moab [where they were camped as they prepared to cross the Jordan], besides the covenant that He had made with them at Horeb.” (Deuteronomy 29:1) Lest we should mistake this as mere “suggestion” or “good advice,” we are reminded that these warnings are a covenant—a contract between God and Israel, an agreement or pledge with binding terms and consequences. In other words, if Yahweh failed to follow through on His end of the bargain (whether for good or ill), then He would be proven untrustworthy—no better (and no more real) than the “gods” of the surrounding nations. Therefore, if someone really trusted Yahweh to be who He said He was—Almighty God, something He had proven a thousand times over in the previous forty years—he would naturally do everything in his power to comply with what the covenant required of him.
And what was that? There are actually no new instructions here. What is being “commanded” is merely that the Israelites do what Yahweh had already commanded. Stated in positive terms, “If you faithfully obey the voice of Yahweh your God, being careful to do all His commandments that I command you today, Yahweh your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of Yahweh your God.” (Deuteronomy 28:1-2) There is only one significant difference between the Leviticus 26 list and the one in Deuteronomy, and it shows up right here in the introduction. At first, only “peace” was promised: “I will give peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid…and the sword shall not go through your land.” (Leviticus 26:6) That would have been good enough for me. But here, worldwide political ascendancy is guaranteed to Israel if they will only obey the voice of Yahweh. As ludicrous as this proposition may seem in today’s geopolitical climate, it will literally come to pass under the terms of the “New Covenant,” something we’ll explore in a moment. As we shall see, “obeying the voice of Yahweh your God” is tantamount to recognizing and accepting Yahshua as Yahweh’s Messiah, for the entire Torah conspires to establish this one essential thing. If Israel is not “set high above all the nations of the earth,” then one of two things is true: either Yahweh is a fraud (and He’s not), or Israel has not yet obeyed His voice. The key word is “yet.” They will receive their Messiah. It’s a prophetic fait accompli.
The blessings for compliance with God’s Law, boiled down to their essentials, also included material prosperity, numerous and healthy children, victory in battle, and best of all, close fellowship with Yahweh. Israel would enjoy a harmonious relationship with nature, whether positive (good weather, predictable rain, etc.), or negative (no predators killing off their flocks). I hasten to reiterate that although this conversation, this covenant, was being made with the children of Israel—who were thereby assigned to be the exclusive keepers of the Torah’s symbols—the promises (both the blessing and the cursing) can be legitimately applied to gentile believers as well, at least in a general sense. This is because Israel is a microcosm of the gentile world. Although our roles are different, truth is still truth: what’s true for Israel is also true for the nations. It also bears mentioning—again—that we’re talking about national blessing or cursing, not some method whereby we can engineer a predictable positive outcome on an individual basis. God reserves the right to teach us through trial: it’s what develops character, perseverance, and empathy in us—attributes Yahweh values far more highly than our comfort, prosperity, and ease.
The curses for non-compliance should also be heeded by everyone: “But if you will not obey the voice of Yahweh your God or be careful to do all His commandments and His statutes that I command you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you.” (Deuteronomy 28:15) The list is, once again, geared more toward the nation as a whole than for individuals within it—although of course, consensus among faithful individuals defines a faithful nation. The curses are pretty much the converse of the blessings, but the list is much longer and more detailed. Poor physical and mental health, disastrous weather (resulting in compromised agriculture, leading in turn to hunger), irrational fear, defeat in battle, invasion by enemies, frustration of hopes and dreams, incompetent (or just plain evil) leadership, natural plagues, desperation so dire it results in cannibalism, and finally, slavery in exile—these things are all promised to Israel in response to their continued disobedience to Yahweh’s precepts.
In the midst of the list, the root of the problem is revealed. It’s the same thing we learned previously: “Yahweh will send on you curses, confusion, and frustration in all that you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and perish quickly on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken [azab] Me.” (Deuteronomy 28:20) That’s right: abandonment of Yahweh by Israel would lead to the removal of His hand of blessing upon their nation—and worse: He would actually work against them. What part of “If you seek Him, He will be found by you, but if you forsake Him, He will forsake you” didn’t they understand? What part don’t we understand?
We note a prophesied progression of judgment, getting worse by stages in response to Israel’s stubborn refusal to repent. It moves steadily from mere lack of success to overwhelming purposeful defeat; it escalates from bad luck to tragedy to catastrophe to utter annihilation, or so it would seem. If they didn’t reverse course, the only thing that would prevent Israel from going the way of the Hittites and Amorites was Yahweh’s ultimate promise of national redemption, the one first made to Abraham. But in case you’re historically challenged, the curses for disobedience described in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 have come about precisely as Yahweh predicted. Interspersed between all-too-brief episodes of spiritual compliance, Israel’s history is primarily one of rebellion and apostasy—so much so that Yahweh has had to evict them from their own Promised Land—twice. Their temple has been totally destroyed—twice. For almost nineteen centuries, any Israelite within Israel was considered a foreigner in his own land. Jews today who assume that their religious traditions are in compliance with the Torah need to deal with these inconvenient facts. If they are right, then Yahweh is either a liar or is completely incompetent, for everything that has happened to Israel—especially since the crucifixion of Yahshua—was promised as a curse, the inevitable, predictable result of having forsaken God.
It has been said that, “Promises are like crying babies in a theater; they should be carried out at once.” That’s true enough for us humans, I suppose. But Yahweh’s promises are being carried out in His own sweet time, according to His own foreknowledge and pre-ordained schedule. He can only promise an everlasting nation to Abraham and an eternal throne to David—and at the same time promise these curses for disobedience through Moses—because He knows that in the end, Israel will finally come to their senses and seek His face. It’s only a matter of time.
Yahweh, then, has instituted any number of covenants with the human race, the nation of Israel, or individuals within that nation. Although He has kept His end of each successive bargain, mankind has never failed to fail in keeping ours. Oh, we’ve had our bright spots, our moments of spiritual clarity, but they’ve been few and far between. The most comprehensive covenant by far—and the one requiring the greatest degree of human participation—was the Mosaic covenant, the Law, the Torah. And we (primarily through Israel) have proven mankind’s inability or unwillingness to follow God’s instructions—instructions that would have brought us life and blessing, had we followed them.
My point is not that we should try harder—that perhaps with redoubled effort, we can somehow reconnect with God under our own steam. No, my point is that the Torah was never intended to be our salvation at all; it was merely designed to reveal what (or Who) our salvation is. To revisit a simile I’ve used in the past, the Torah is like the script to a play. It’s Author is Yahweh, and the actors are Israel. We gentiles are the intended audience. Up until now, the actors—those whose responsibility it is to recite their lines so that the audience can understand and appreciate the plot—have proven woefully inadequate. They’ve been rehearsing this thing for thousands of years now, learning their lines by rote memorization. But it’s as if the play is written in a foreign language: they’re sounding out the words, syllable by syllable, with only limited comprehension of what they mean (sort of like me reading something in Spanish). At some point, figuring they knew what the play was about, they set the script aside and began adlibbing their lines. The Author was not amused. And the audience? We’ve stopped paying attention to what these actors are saying, because it’s mostly gibberish. But some of us have come to recognize what the Torah’s symbols—the language in which the script is written—mean, and we’re reading it for ourselves. In the process, we’re learning how awesome the Playwright is, and we’ve fallen in love with His Leading Man, Yahshua the Messiah.
That’s how things stand at the moment, during the age of the ekklesia. Israel has the script, though they don’t know what it means. But the Author has revealed how He plans to remedy the situation. “Behold, the days are coming, declares Yahweh, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares Yahweh….” Yahweh readily admits that the Torah isn’t being performed as intended. Israel has broken the covenant—or as my metaphor puts it, they’ve misread the script, saying it means something the Author never wrote, substituting their own traditions in place of His truth.
So what is He planning to do? “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares Yahweh: 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 Yahweh,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares Yahweh. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34) Right now, the Law is on Israel. It is a burden they bear, or would, if they could. As a practical matter, the majority of Jews in the world today have recognized the impossibility of keeping the Torah, and have either given up altogether or have retreated to the deceptive comfort of religious tradition. Yahweh’s plan, however, it to put His Law within them. Instead of “sounding out the words” of a language they don’t know, they will finally understand what their Torah really means. It will be like the tower of Babel in reverse.
The “New Covenant” isn’t really new. It still describes, as it always has, the means through which Yahweh draws mankind unto Himself. What’s “new” about it is the ability and willingness of Israel to recognize and receive God’s truth. Why can’t they (as a nation) see it? It’s because they (as a nation) rejected their Messiah, saying, “His blood be on us and on our children!” (Matthew 27:25) It has been nearly two thousand years since this disastrous prayer was uttered by the Jewish leadership, and Yahweh is still answering, “Okay, if that’s what you want.” But this state of affairs won’t last forever: Hosea prophesied, “Come, let us return to Yahweh; for He has torn us, that He may heal us; He has struck us down, and He will bind us up. After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will raise us up, that we may live before Him.” (Hosea 6:1-2) As both Moses and Peter have informed us, one day in God’s sight is as a thousand years. Yahweh’s “tearing” will therefore be at an end after two thousand years, and His healing will commence. Two thousand years after what? After the rejection and crucifixion of Christ, in 33 AD. You do the math.
The fact (not to mention the ramifications) of Israel’s rejection of their Messiah was a central theme of Isaiah’s prophetic commission. Yahweh told him, “Go, and say to this people: ‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’ Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed….” Because of their unbelief, Yahweh says, Israel will not perceive the truth, even if it is standing right in front of them. They will hear the word of God in their ears, but they won’t understand it.
And like Hosea, Isaiah addresses the time issue. How long would God’s stubborn child have to remain in “time out”? Yahweh describes Israel’s period of spiritual exile to him, not in terms of years, but through the events that would transpire: “Then I said, ‘How long, O Lord?’ And He said: ‘Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is a desolate waste, and Yahweh removes people far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land.” The first part of that would happen in Isaiah’s lifetime, with the Assyrian conquest of Israel’s northern kingdom. But that would only be the beginning. “And though a tenth remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak, whose stump remains when it is felled. The holy seed is its stump.’” (Isaiah 6:9-13) You know the history: Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon finished what Assyria’s Sennacherib had begun, sending the idolatrous Judah into exile for seventy years. Half a millennium later, and back in the Land under Roman rule, the Israelite remnant rejected Yahshua as their Messiah, prompting the one-two punch of Titus (in 70 AD) and Hadrian (in 135), “burning” Israel to the ground and scattering her ashes among the nations. Only now is their “stump” once again showing signs of life. The day is not far off when Yahweh will fulfill the New Covenant in Israel: “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."
A casual glace at some statements defining the “New Covenant” might lead one to assume that literal adherence to the precepts of the Torah is what Yahweh has in mind. When He says, “I will put My law within them, and I will write it on their hearts,” what, precisely, does He mean? We are given clarification elsewhere: “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. But like Adam they transgressed the covenant; there they dealt faithlessly with me.” (Hosea 6:6-7) Whatever “covenant” Yahweh is looking forward to restoring is far more fundamental than the Torah’s instructions, for even Adam (who by all accounts didn’t receive much direction at all) is said to have breached it. Micah asks, “With what shall I come before Yahweh, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?...” That’s what the Torah had demanded, but it’s clear that its requirements were symbolic: they would all be fulfilled in the life and mission of Yahshua our Messiah. So what does He really want from us? In a nutshell, it’s to be as much like Christ as is humanly possible: “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does Yahweh require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:6, 8)
So when Christ referred to the New Covenant, it wasn’t to the Torah per se, but to what the Torah revealed: Himself. “And when the hour came, He reclined at table, and the apostles with Him. And He said to them, ‘I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.’ And He took a cup, and when He had given thanks he said, ‘Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ And He took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is My body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.’ And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.’” (Luke 22:14-20) Here, the New Covenant is specifically tied to the Torah’s symbology of wine and blood, and is presented in the context of bread and the Passover Lamb. These elements, of course, all figure heavily in Levitical ritual. Luke’s account stresses the admonition that we remember. The bread and the wine were symbols of Christ’s sacrifice. We must never forget about that.
Matthew shows us the same scene from a slightly different angle: “Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body.’ And He took a cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you, for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.’” (Matthew 26:26-29) Here, a specific connection is made between the wine (representing Yahshua’s blood) and the forgiveness of sins—the basis and raison d’être of every blood sacrifice specified in the Torah.
To get to the bottom of this, we really need to look at what the Torah had to say about the drink offering. It was called the nesek, described (for example) in Numbers 15:2-10 and 28:7. Wine was to be offered up in conjunction with every animal sacrifice, whether the burnt offering (olah), trespass offering (asham), sin offering (chata’t), or peace offering (the selem). The nesek would accompany the grain component that was mixed with oil, and there was always to be the same amount of wine as there was oil, a hint that God intended us to see the connection—the equivalence—between Christ’s sacrifice and the work of the Holy Spirit. The amount of wine (and oil) varied with the size of the sacrificial animal, about a quart for a lamb or goat, up to twice that amount for a bull. As with most offerings, the worshipper would supply the wine and the priest would attend to its ritual. The wine was to be poured out at the time of the sacrifice, presumably upon the altar, for the libation was described as a “sweet aroma to Yahweh.” Although the Torah itself says nothing about what the pouring out of wine might mean, all four Gospels tie it directly to the blood of Yahshua that was “poured out” for us at Calvary. You don’t have to be a Torah scholar to see what this means. In retrospect, it’s patently obvious—unless, of course, you think you have a vested interest in continuing to deny the deity and Messianic credentials of Yahshua.
It is fairly clear that, though they emphasize different aspects of our relationship with Yahweh, all these various covenants of God are ultimately meant to be viewed as one composite entity. When considered together as a comprehensive whole, they (or should I say, it) summarizes and encapsulates man’s connection with His Maker, as Yahweh intended it to be. It is the bottom line, the lowest common denominator of our relationship. The scriptures call it “the everlasting covenant.”
The bad news is that mankind has, for the most part, purposely chosen to live in defiance of God’s revealed will. Speaking of a time yet future (though apparently not by much), when the apostasy, idolatry, and rebellion of man will have reached “critical mass,” Isaiah paints this grim picture: “The earth lies defiled under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse devours the earth, and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt; therefore the inhabitants of the earth are scorched, and few men are left.” (Isaiah 24:5-6) Since we have already established that the everlasting covenant was established long before the Torah was instituted, the “laws and statutes” spoken of here must encompass more than just the instructions of Moses, but must also include man’s intuitive knowledge of right and wrong—the “law” of his own conscience. All of it has been violated.
We understand the logic behind “suffering for our guilt,” of course, but what about this reference to being “scorched” (or “burned,” as in some translations)? This refers to a literal future event (the first trumpet judgment of Revelation 8) but it’s also symbolic. The Torah lists only two offenses that are to be punished by fire, and both of them are sexual perversions. In fact, every single mention of execution by fire in the entire Bible (whether advocated by Yahweh or not) is associated in some way with either sexual sin, the worship of false gods, or both. That makes sense: in God’s economy, one is a picture of the other. Seeing things through the lens of the Torah therefore, Isaiah is reporting that “breaking the everlasting covenant” is tantamount to forsaking Yahweh in order to join oneself to “other gods.” Basically, it’s a systematic worldwide violation of the First Commandment: “You shall have no other gods before Me.”
The good news is that for us who “have no other gods before Yahweh,” the Everlasting Covenant allows us to stand guiltless before Him. The Hebrew scriptures predict it, and the New Testament explains how the covenant was to be implemented. Although it’s the essence of the entire New Testament, this eternal covenant is mentioned by name only once there, in the closing benediction to the Book of Hebrews: “Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Hebrews 13:20-21) If we sort out the convoluted English here, we may discover several things about the “eternal covenant.” (1) This, like the “new” covenant in Christ (because they’re really the same thing), is said to be brought about through the shedding of His blood; (2) God’s intention through the covenant is to equip us to do His will; (3) When God works in and through us, it is pleasing to Him (which implies, if I may extrapolate, that good works done in our own strength are not automatically pleasing to God); and (4) Our good works, if done through the power of the risen Messiah, glorify Him—and will continue to do so for eternity. This in turn necessitates that not only God, but we who are glorifying Him through our works, will live forever, one way or another.
The vast majority of “eternal covenant” references are found in the Hebrew scriptures. Not surprisingly, then, many of these refer specifically to Israel’s part in the unfolding of Yahweh’s plan of redemption. We should bear in mind that although Israel’s role is literal, it is also symbolic: Israel is a prophetic harbinger of the kind of blessings that can be enjoyed by all mankind. A quick survey reveals that the Everlasting Covenant is specifically linked to, or confirmed through, each of these things: (1) Noah’s rainbow sign; (2) Abraham’s descendants—whether physical or spiritual; (3) the sign of circumcision; (4) the institution of the Sabbath day; (5) the showbread in the sanctuary, indicative of Yahweh’s provision; (6) the offerings received by the priests of Israel; (7) the throne of David; (8) Israel’s geographical inheritance, the land of Canaan; and (9) repentant and purified Israel under Yahshua’s Millennial reign—a people described in Isaiah 61 as “those who mourn in Zion.”
Bearing in mind that “Israel,” the literal, biological descendants of Jacob, is also the symbolic spiritual forerunner of all of Abraham’s “descendants-in-faith,” let us review what Yahweh has to say about the everlasting covenant as revealed through the future history of this people. “Behold, I will gather them [Israel] from all the countries to which I drove them in My anger and My wrath and in great indignation.” Not to belabor the point, but Israel cannot (as some believe) be simply replaced by the church, for Yahweh has never driven us anywhere in His wrath (no matter how much we deserved it). Nor can we logically expect the believing population of the entire earth to be relocated and squeezed into Israel’s tiny homeland: “I will bring them back to this place, and I will make them dwell in safety. And they shall be My people, and I will be their God. I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of Me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all My heart and all My soul.” (Jeremiah 32:37-41) It has been two and a half millennia since Jeremiah wrote these words, and they still haven’t come to pass, though the everlasting covenant God desires to make with the children of Israel is being enjoyed by millions of (mostly) gentile believers. Will biological Israel—as a nation—ever fulfill their part of the covenant? I wouldn’t bet against it: Yahweh has staked His very reputation on it, time after time after time…
“In those days and in that time, declares Yahweh, the people of Israel and the people of Judah shall come together, weeping as they come, and they shall seek Yahweh their God.” This, in case you missed it, is a poignant picture of the ultimate Day of Atonement, in which the primary instruction is to “afflict” (Hebrew: anah) one’s soul. Why is Israel seen weeping? Because they have finally realized the disastrous error of their fathers—the rejection of Yahshua the Messiah. The verb anah also means to answer or respond, something “seeking Yahweh their God” addresses. “They shall ask the way to Zion, with faces turned toward it, saying, ‘Come, let us join ourselves to Yahweh in an everlasting covenant that will never be forgotten.’” (Jeremiah 50:4-5) The point here is that it’s not enough for Yahweh to offer the blessings of the eternal covenant. Israel (not to mention us) also needs to receive it—we need to “join ourselves to Yahweh.” To be in force, any covenant needs to be embraced by all of the interested parties. That is, the terms of the covenant must be accepted and voluntarily fulfilled by everyone involved. (Thus getting your driver’s license is a covenant, while paying Federal income taxes is not.) Yahweh has been known (e.g. Genesis 15:12-21) to make unilateral covenants, wherein nothing is required of the recipient of the promise. But normally, it’s a case of “If you do this, I will do that.” Yahweh fulfilled His end of the bargain when He appeared in flesh to offer Himself up as a sacrifice to atone for our sins. Israel’s part of the covenant (and ours) is to humbly receive Yahweh’s gift—one that is symbolically defined through every line of the Torah. Jeremiah has described that very thing: Israel must ultimately say, “Come, let us join ourselves to Yahweh in an everlasting covenant.”
Ezekiel reminds Israel that although their historical unwillingness to honor Yahweh has led inexorably to the curses promised in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28—rather than the blessings that could have been theirs—the long-term picture hasn’t changed. “For thus says the Lord Yahweh: I will deal with you as you have done, you who have despised the oath in breaking the covenant, yet I will remember My covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish for you an everlasting covenant….” The “days of their youth” was when Abraham was given God’s unilateral promise that in him, all the nations of the earth would be blessed. That promise was fulfilled with the advent of Yahshua the Messiah, but Israel has yet to embrace that fact. But when they do, “I will establish My covenant with you, and you shall know that I am Yahweh, that you may remember and be confounded, and never open your mouth again because of your shame, when I atone for you for all that you have done, declares the Lord Yahweh.” (Ezekiel 16:59-63)
“When I atone for you?” The atonement sacrifice was achieved on Passover, 33AD. It is finished. But the everlasting covenant is not yet in force because Israel has not yet accepted this atonement. Have you ever wondered why the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippurim) is the next-to-last convocation on Yahweh’s schedule? It’s a rather alarming statistic: if its definitive fulfillment falls in the same year as the last “feast” in the series, the Feast of Tabernacles (and having studied the prophetic implications, I am convinced that this is indeed the case), then only five days separate the two dates. This means that Israel will at last recognize and receive their Messiah on the definitive Day of Atonement, completing their part in the everlasting covenant. What finally persuades them? Why this particular day? Because it marks the second coming, the return of Christ, His visible descent to the Mount of Olives. The prophet Zechariah describes the scene: “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on Me, on Him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over Him, as one weeps over a firstborn.” (Zechariah 12:10) The Day of Atonement is Israel’s great awakening, complete with anah—both “affliction of soul” and a positive (though belated) response to Yahweh’s everlasting covenant.
Concluding a pair of remarkable prophecies concerning the miraculous rebirth of Israel, Ezekiel reports the bottom line: “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. 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 Yahweh who sanctifies Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forevermore.” (Ezekiel 37:26-28) He’s describing the Millennial kingdom of Yahshua. Notice that although Israel is finally reunited with their God (in the person of His Messiah), the nations—the gentiles—are still part of the picture. The cart is finally behind the horse, where it belongs. The God-King reigns in Israel, the people of Israel are at last partakers of His everlasting covenant, and the gentiles are witnesses to (and beneficiaries of) this relationship.
Who are these “nations?” We’re talking about mortal populations here, not the resurrected now-immortal ekklesia. They are the offspring of the “sheep” (see Matthew 25:31-46) to whom the conquering Messiah-King said, upon assessing their spiritual status as neo-believers at the end of the Tribulation, “Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Matthew 25:34) They are therefore not part of the church of Philadelphia, who were “kept out of the hour of trial” (Revelation 3:10)—i.e., raptured out of the world before the Tribulation even began—but rather those of the final prophetic church, that of Laodicea. These had not yet come to faith at the time of the rapture harvest, but they did subsequently take Yahshua’s advice: “I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined by fire [symbolic of immutable purity], so that you may be rich, and white garments [imputed righteousness] so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see [Yahshua alone opens the eyes of the blind]. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with Me.” (Revelation 3:18-20) Those who escaped martyrdom (or death in the general mayhem of the times) will enter the Kingdom age as mortal believers, with the mandate of rebuilding and repopulating the ruined world under Yahshua’s guidance for the next thousand years.
Isaiah has the same objective (and apparently the same ultimate timeframe) in view: “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to Me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, My steadfast, sure love for David.” (Isaiah 55:1-3) Follow the train of thought here: mortal man needs food and drink to maintain life. But our mortal existence is only a temporary metaphor for the eternal spiritual life we can enjoy as Yahweh’s children. It follows, then, that our souls need spiritual food—the word of God—to grow and thrive. The Torah’s dietary laws taught us to be discerning about what we put into our bodies. This principle is even more significant in the spiritual realm: falsehood is expensive, unsatisfying, and unable to sustain us—in other words, pointless. It’s empty calories, or worse, poison. But real food and drink—the “rich food” of the everlasting covenant—gives life to our souls. It’s equated here to the love Yahweh showed to (and through) David. So just as we taste and assimilate food so our bodies can live, we are to “listen diligently, incline our ears, and hear” Yahweh, so that our souls may live as well.
Isaiah stressed the fact that this spiritual food and drink is given freely to us. We need not pay for it; in fact, we couldn’t buy it if we tried: it’s a gift, both priceless and without price. John’s final invitation emphasizes the same thing: “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.” (Revelation 22:17) To insist on “paying” for the benefits of the everlasting covenant is not only foolish, but also insulting to Yahweh—who voluntarily made the greatest sacrifice imaginable to buy our lives back. To contend that we can purchase our own “heaven” with charitable works, by behaving a bit better than our neighbor, by pleasing an imaginary God we have invented in our own minds, or by feeling guilty from breakfast to bedtime every day is not only irrational, it’s dishonoring and belittling to the God who revealed Himself and His plan in excruciating detail through scripture and history.
We’re closing in on the heart of the matter—how we may participate in the Everlasting Covenant. And it’s turning out to be absurdly simple. Two words: Honor Yahweh. In the end, it has nothing to do with behavior or doctrine or faith or knowledge, at least in any fundamental, causal sense. It simply boils down to one choice we all must make: either honor God or forsake Him. Everything else—the instructions, the symbols, the rites, the stories, the prophecies, the miracles, and the theology—they’re all just means to an end, ways to help us understand. If we truly honor the Living God, the tiniest ray of light will be enough to see by, yet the unfiltered brilliance of His glory will not overwhelm us. But if we do not revere Him, all the scholarship, compliance, piety, and penance in the world will fail to illuminate our hearts or satisfy our thirsty souls. Only one thing is needful: to honor Yahweh.