Yom Shishi, 27 Tammuz 5777 — יוֹם שִׁשִּׁי כז תַּמּוּז ה' תשעז Friday, 21 July 2017
Has God Finished With Israel?

1The LORD had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you.

2 "I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you."

4 So Abram left, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran. 5 He took his wife Sarai, his nephew Lot, all the possessions they had accumulated and the people they had acquired in Haran, and they set out for the land of Canaan, and they arrived there. 6 Abram traveled through the land as far as the site of the great tree of Moreh at Shechem. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7 The LORD appeared to Abram and said, "To your offspring I will give this land." So he built an altar there to the LORD , who had appeared to him. (Genesis 12:1-7 NIV).

(Let us pray ...)

A topical issue at the moment. What is going on with Israel? Has God finished with Israel? Why is there so much tzurus? It must mean we haven't got it right. Our orthodox brethren would say it's because we all are not keeping the mitzvot as we should. In part there is an element of truth to this, although their interpretation of mitzvot is vastly different than the Bible's more simple definition. If we could all keep the commandments in the Mosaic covenant we would be in a much better state. In fact we'd all still be in Israel and wouldn't have ever been exiled.

However, the fact that we were exiled, and the fact that even the orthodox don't keep the Torah today, but selected bits only, leaves us with a quandary. Has God finished with us as a people? Has God really got any future plan for a nation of Israel, or did that belong to a period leading up to the fulfilment of His plan for salvation in Y'shua, creating one new man out of Jew and Gentile?

In a messianic congregation, we often have a knee-jerk response - "of course God hasn't finished with Israel!" But when we are asked to substantiate, our arguments can lose ground. For example, if God hasn't finished with Israel, then how does that go together with the clear passages in the New Testament that say that both Jew and Gentile are the same under God's sight - sinners in need of repentance and the atoning sacrifice of Y'shua, and both with the same right of access. Furthermore, if Y'shua says turn the other cheek, what right have we got to go back to a land we mostly left for close on 2000 years and claim a right to live there. (I know the propaganda from the Palestinian side, that there were millions of Palestinians there from the year dot. And we know that is bogus. However, we really can't get around the fact that there were some people living in this area, and some of them, for whatever political reason have been dispossessed and/or treated as second class citizens).

Questions like this are resounding in the church at large at the moment, and if you read the papers you'll see that even Jewish opinion is vastly divided on what the stance should be toward the nation of Israel. The evident agenda of the Palestinian terror organisations to defeat peace at any cost is not helping any, but leading to feelings of revenge and helplessness or purposelessness.

So it's this subject I want us to look at today, as we take this important passage of the Torah that talks about the very origin of the Jewish people. I think it's a good time to be reminded what God's intention was, and to try to understand it and apply it to ourselves as best we can.

The passage starts in verse 1. Avram, a Chaldean (Iraqi) pagan, had somehow developed a relationship with the one true God of the universe, later revealed to us as "The God of Israel". And God shows His desire once again for two things: 1) Just to communicate with His creation, 2) The purpose and calling He has in life for those who listen to Him and who are willing to be obedient.

The command is "go to yourself/for yourself". There is an inference that Avram needs to tell himself to do something difficult, but that it will be for his advantage. What does he need to do? Get out of his pagan surroundings, even though they are comfortable and all he knows. He has to make a complete and utter break from his land, the place of his birth, and the house of his father. Right here starts the call to be radically separate and everything about being Jewish starts with this call. "Say to yourself and for yourself, separate yourself from everything that is not of God, even if it is loved and familiar."

But God doesn't leave Avram just to deal with a sense of directionless loss. Instead He follows up with the phrase, "and go to the land I will show you." (Heb 11:8-10). This is a very geographical promise. There are some today who like to spiritualise everything. And there is a place for spiritual application of physical facts and promises in the Bible. But it is very clear from the text, Avram was not commanded to find a "spiritual home" but a geographic piece of land God would show him.

Along with this obedience to move to this land would come three promises which are the basis and raison d'¬ątre of being Jewish today. A rule of understanding the Bible is to understand what it's saying to those to whom it's speaking. Here God is evidently speaking to Avram, and therefore we need to take seriously Avram's understanding of what God is saying before any attempts to spiritualise things. And if we do find spiritual lessons, we need to make sure it's not at the expense of the original meaning of the text. Here is the first promise: Ve'esecha legoy gadol. And I will make of you a great nation. God goes on to say, "and I will bless you and I will make your name great/famous and there is blessing (in that) (with the inference to self and others).

Let's think about this promise. God tells Avram He will make out of him a great and famous nation. Out of him obviously means from his flesh, yet Sarai his wife has not yet born Avram any children. Avram is 75 and Sarai 65, so the track record is not looking at all good. This is quite a leap of faith God is asking of Avram, not just to leave all that is familiar and go to a place where he is soon to learn others live, but he's supposed to believe God will do the impossible through him and Sarai and give them a son.

The second promise considers relationship with other nations. It starts with a well-known and sometimes misused phrase, "I will bless those from whom blessing comes to you, and I will bitterly curse those from whom cursing comes." And then we read, "and all the families of the earth will be blessed in you." (Gal. 3:8)

So the next step in the promise is, if Avram in obedience and faith leaves his familiar pagan surroundings to follow the One true God into a dangerous land he doesn't know, God will make a great nation from him, and he will miraculously have a son. Furthermore, this is not the end of the story. Things are going to be set up in such a way that all the families of the earth will realise that in blessing God's chosen there will be blessing for themselves. What does that mean? Does it mean, give Avram's descendents some good things so you can get some good things? That is not the point. The point is that in following the God Avram is following, coming alongside his path and offering support, God will also take you under His wing and protection. Of course, the reverse is true. Fighting with God and His chosen will bring no happiness to anyone. Look at history. Despite Israel's near total disobedience to God over many centuries, look what's happened to those who tried to destroy Israel. The Babylonian, Greek, Roman Turkish, and other empires have fallen. Germany was divided in two for over 40 years at the end of the second world war. Poland, Russia and the other nations that carried out such vicious pogroms had to endure terrible things themselves. And now the terrorists against Israel succeed not only in making life stressful and dangerous for Israeli Jews, but for worsening conditions, and reducing any hope and security for their own people.

Next we see how Avram and his family depart and go to Canaan - the land God has shown them. Why? We don't know exactly, although we are told in Gen.15:16 that after a sojourn in Egypt Avram's descendents will come back again, when the sin of the Amorites/Canaanites is complete. It seems as if they are on an irrevocable track to being the worst of the worst and God wants to redeem His land, His creation and turn it into a testimony for Himself to the world.

We see Avram arrives at Shechem, and there God makes His third promise. Firstly, we see "the Lord appeared to, or saw Avram". It was necessary for him to have obeyed and moved to this point in order for the final promise to be given "To your seed I will give this land." Avram's response is to build an altar - to memorialise what has happened and to give the Lord His due worship, and then he carries on looking God-ward until a slip in Egypt, which we won't talk about now, but even then God was faithful to redeem him out of that situation. Why, because of His promise. His promise that was so solemn to God he cut a covenant with Avram. A covenant is the most solemn agreement that can ever be entered into between two individuals, two nations or two families. [Explain covenant, cut meat and sign of circumcision].

Now once again I've heard more than one respected Christian teacher spiritualise this promise, saying it's really talking about the growth of the Body of believers in Y'shua and not about the land. But this is obviously a fundamentally different understanding of the text than either Avram or more importantly God had at this time. You can see again in chapter 15:18-21 how God reiterates this geographic aspect of the Covenant.

So looking at the background, we still need to work out today how this applies to us and what our position should be with all that is going on. I'd like to take this three covenant promises and deal with them one by one, including their spiritual fulfilment, because these promises do also truly point forward to someone and something yet to come.

1. Let's first look at the prerequisite - separation from all that is familiar yet pagan, or not of the Lord. How are we doing in this regard? If you're like me, you're probably struggling in a few grey areas. We need accountability with one another to help us with that. "Do you think I should be seeing these kinds of films, playing these kinds of games, reading these kinds of books, acting in this kind of way, spending time with these kind of friends doing the things they do etc?" If we can follow Avram's example, not only does a new calling and name await us, which will reflect our true character, but we will be blessed and we will see fruit from our walk. Y'shua says in John 15, if you abide in me you will bear much fruit. (or words to that effect). Can we see this? Who is being affected by our life? How is our "nation/family/circle of acquaintances" growing for the Lord?

2. Our national calling. We only have one. The first part of the verse shows us clearly that those from the nations who come alongside will receive blessing and those who fight against God will reap His judgement. Through us all the families of the earth must be blessed. Now we know in one way, this was dramatically fulfilled in the person of Y'shua who came from the seed of Avram to bring the possibility of salvation to the world, and Paul talks about that in the New Covenant. However, there is a more literal and immediate meaning from us too. This is our calling - to be those through whom all the families of the earth are blessed. In other words we have one reason to be on this earth. There is one purpose in being a son or daughter of Avram - to bring the world to know our God, the God of Israel. This is one of the most important themes in the Bible, and is carried on in Ex 19:6, Dt. 4:6ff), and even Paul again makes reference to this in Romans 15:16. Why are we here in [Congregation] Sar Shalom? It's not just to worship our God in song. It's not just to pray for our needs. It's not just to listen to His word. It's to faithfully pursue the calling He has given us to bring the world to know Him. What have we done this week to try to live up to this calling? It can be risky, but the world is full of surprises - people - God is preparing to meet us. [Give example of Alain].

3. The Land of Israel. You know this is one of the most complex issues of all to do with God's covenant with Avram. Should we be pro-this or pro-that. Is Israel totally right, partially right, rarely right? What should our position as believers be? I'd like to suggest this as a biblical perspective in keeping with the first two promises. Firstly for ourselves we need to define what we mean by the land of Israel. God gives a definition in Genesis 15, but Israel never occupied all of that land to this day. Some right-wing proponents therefore encouraged fighting to expand to that size of territory. David and Solomon reigned over the most land that Israel has ever possessed, and we know the history after that of division, exile, return, occupation, exile and then the small land of present day Israel being established in 1948. Whose land is it? How much land should it be? Well the answer to the question might surprise some of us. The land actually never belonged to Israel in the first place. God says, he will give the land to Avram's descendents, but what does He mean by give? Expansion on this theme can be read in Leviticus 25:23 "The land shall not be sold into perpetual ownership, for the land is Mine; you are only strangers and temporary residents with me." Makes more sense of the parables of the vineyard and tenants now doesn't it? ... Isaiah 5 and Y'shua's parables in the New Testament. The Land is God's and He's going to do with it what He wants. He has called us to be tenants, but under the conditions of the covenant - to be a witness to the nations, who will come and say, "what other nation has a God like yours, who is near them when they call, and what other nation has such just and right statutes." We're also called to be a nation of priests - intercessors for the people, and for the peoples - yes for the Palestinians, Saudis, and all those committed to our destruction. The Lord has called us to be a royal priesthood.

What about our attitude to what's happening? Islam will never tolerate a Jewish government in the region. That's a fact, but does that mean we need to kill our enemies, like Joshua. Is that God's call for us regarding the Land? Some try to justify this approach. The Torah elaborates even this situation. When giving the instructions to utterly destroy the paganism and its terrifying consequences in the land of Canaan, it was no blind, merciless destruction of people, just for not being Jewish. God wanted to put an end to the insecurity, barbarity and terror of the idol-worship there, but remember, He had called Israel to be His instrument to show the nations that He alone is God, and relationship with Him alone brings freedom. Egypt was shown this in Passover. Exodus 14:4 "I will harden the heart of Pharaoh and I will get me glory and honour over all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord." Just before this though, God has given also a command for those who are not native Israelites. In chapter 12, He says, a stranger living among you can keep the Passover and fall under this covenant if he is circumcised and circumcises all his males, "and he shall be as one that is born in the land." (Vs.48). You see provision is made for non-native Jews to come into a covenant relationship with God. In fact, it is His intent. The Torah expounds on this even more in Leviticus 19:33-34, "And if an alien sojourns with you in your land, you will not suppress and mistreat him. But the alien who dwells with you shall be to you as one born among you; and you shall love him as yourself for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God."

And moreover, as if that isn't enough, we're not automatically OK in God's sight by being Israel, or by being Jewish. In Deuteronomy 13, we read that the same absolute destruction that was to befall the pagan nations will befall any of Israel who follow the same path of godlessness and debauchery.

"If you hear it said in one of your cities, which the Lord your God has given you in which to dwell, that certain base fellows have come out from your midst, and have enticed away the inhabitants of their city, saying, 'Let us go and serve other gods, which you have not known.' Then you shall inquire and make search and ask diligently and behold if it be true and certain that such an abominable thing has been done among you, You shall surely smite the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword, destroying it utterly and all who are in it, and its beasts, with the edge of the sword." (Dt. 13:12-15)

So, in conclusion, what should our response be regarding the land? Firstly, we need to recognise it isn't ours - it's God's, and we are but tenants. Along with being tenants comes the responsibility to act according to God's original covenant purpose. Remember, a covenant is the most solemn agreement that can ever be entered into by two individuals, two families or two nations. There are consequences for disobedience and there is only one source of security and protection - God. Battles were virtually never won in the Tenach unless God had called them. The other cases were just because of His grace and patience. Islam will never give up. We are in a perilous state, and looking to human solutions alone - diplomacy or fighting, is not going to help us. Looking to get rid of the problem by destroying all the Arab areas, is not only not going to help us, it's against God's call to be a light to the nations and to treat the foreigner well so that he wants to be part of the covenant relationship with God. Ceding everything is also not going to be a solution because as we know the end goal of some of these groups is our total destruction - which God will not allow.

How do we go forward? In Israel, by praying for the peace of Jerusalem and sending missionaries to Jews and Arabs so they can know the Prince of Peace - the only One who can change hearts. The One, whose new covenant with us, cut in His own blood, can bring life from the dead.

But here, in Boston, we still have our part to play. Does God have a purpose for Israel today? He certainly does - we're to be His ambassadors so others come to Him. Are we living up to our calling? When's the last time we invited people here? When's the last time we actively prayed for witnessing opportunities at work? When's the last time we actively prayed for opportunities with family? The message is so important, God sent His only Son to die to cut that covenant with us to empower us beyond ourselves to fulfil His calling. Do we still really recognise this is a message literally of eternal life or death?

[Go on to evangelistic invitation and call to step up to the plate.]