This story of the Jewish people is an old, old story – a thousand years before Christ – and you may have heard it very many times over too. It is also a very long story. In summary, it is the story of how God patiently tried to teach His ways to the people He had chosen, in the land He had brought them and given to them. But the people failed to live up to the laws, stipulations and decrees He commanded them to observe in the land. So after 800 years, He had to exile them. It was a tremendous wake-up call. In the concluding part of this presentation, I would like just to pose a couple of questions for us to think about, on this whole story, before we embark on a detailed study of it in our Sunday school.
The first question is: what does the story tell us? Is it just history?
I think you know the answer is no. But even as a historical account, it helps us understand the other books of the bible better. For example, knowing Solomon was unsurpassed in his wisdom, fame, riches and access to earthly pleasures, including a huge harem – when he said in Ecclesiastes that all that was vanity and chasing after the wind, we know he spoke with experience and credibility.
Another example – knowing what the people had been through, we can understand why after the restoration, in the time between the Testaments, there was a new determination to obey the Law in all the details. Scribes not only copied the law with great care, they also taught the law to the people. And the Pharisees extended and applied the law to extremes. But back to the question: what does the story tells us? Some people say it contains the blueprints for blessings and condemnation. Is that right? Yes and no. When the Israelites were given the law, they were told: In future, when your son asks you, ‘What is the meaning of the stipulations, decrees and laws the Lord our God has commanded you?’ tell him: “..The Lord commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the Lord our God, so that we might always prosper and be kept alive, as is the case today. And if we are careful to obey all this law before the Lord our God, as he commanded us, that will be our righteousness.” – (Dt 6:20-25). Thus Israel pursued the law for righteousness, but did not attain it. Why not? It’s because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were works – (Rm 9:32). Many of the stipulations actually require faith in observing them. For example, in observing the Sabbath, the Day of Atonement, the offering of first fruits, and tithing. Of course we now may have righteousness apart from the law. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe – (Rm3:21-22).
So, second question is: Then are the law and the covenant relevant now? Why should we spend time studying the story in details?
Well, there are certain mysteries in and of the story that we shouldn’t be ignorant of. In view of the time, I would just list a few points here for us to look more into later if you want to pursue them, perhaps in the Sunday school classes.
First, this long, long story of the Jews hasn’t ended yet! God has not rejected his people. He has reserved for himself even at the present time, a remnant chosen by grace – (Rm 11:4). According to apostle Paul, Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of Gentiles has come in. Then all Israel will be saved – (Rm 11:25-26).
Second, the law was only a shadow of the good things to come – (Heb 10:1). Thus the sacrifices, for example, were an annual reminder that it was impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins and make perfect those who would draw near to God. And Sabbath was really a promise to those who would trust and believe in God’s ways, to enter God’s rest by faith.
Third, God’s new covenant with us is a remake of His first covenant with the Jewish people. It has reference to the first covenant. So although the old covenant has gone wrong and is obsolete, it’s not irrelevant. God declared that He would make a new one. In the new covenant, He would put His laws in the people’s mind and write them in their hearts, and He will be their God and they will be His people – (Heb 8:10).
Fourth, the prophets Elijah and Elisha performed many miracles and did many things which helped paved the way for the identification of Messiah and his ministry 800(?) years later.
With this, we end our presentation. I hope we have provided you with enough of helpful information and questions with which to approach the study of the story of Israel.