It has been a while since I have posted any of my homework. The assignment asked me to write about the lessons among the people of Israel God did from Joshua to Maccabees and what was revealed about his character. I welcome any comments or questions.
The people then nation of Israel had a recurring pattern of gaining and losing ground in proportion to their faithfulness to the successive covenants of God through the Old Testament. Particular foci discussed in this paper will be right worship and fidelity of worship to God. Through the events of the latter part of the Old Testament God prepared his people through miraculous signs, discipline, prophecy and restoration in respective eras.
Period of Conquest and Judges
From Joshua through the Judges period God was showing of His character that he was purposeful in covenant by kinship. They had kinship with God through his covenant with Abraham which included the land of Canaan. His character is displayed by going before them in helping make the victories happen. Just as we see how God “sevens” himself when he swore by himself to Abraham, he has them circle Jericho seven times before the victory blast of trumpets happen and the walls that stood against covenant blessings came down. God shows in here as a shadow of things to come that his kingdom is to be advancing and not be static.
A misconception that could be made regarding this period would be that things were alright with God in not having a central authority since this period went on for a long time. In a western, individualistic society where the “personal” of faith or “spiritual but not religious” is overemphasized then the societal structure here would seem to be a good norm. However, if one reads the recurring phrase in Judges “everyone did right in their own eyes” then one sees it is in the context of many kinds of sins.
Period of the Jewish Monarchy
In this period God is preparing the kingdom for the ultimate King of Kings in Jesus. The essential elements of God’s character here of intimacy and holiness with an elevated liturgical worship. Through the temple of Solomon his presence in the cloud inaugurates with those of holy orders and laity present.
In how God is preparing Israel for latter parts to salvation history it is in how the temple that stands as a witness to the nations. There is both an outer court instituted for the gentiles as well as a partnership with kings like Hiram so that they are a part of what God was doing.
A misconception that could happen for this period is kingship as central authority is a great end in itself for a nation and especially one appointed by God. But in the actual text with Saul and Solomon there was much exploitation of workers and oppressive taxation. Power can corrupt and for that God chooses Jereboam to split off with a northern kingdom.
Period of the Divided Kingdom
Right worship with true fidelity is an important other feature of God’s character and preparation. The spiritual revivals that happen with the kings of Judah who come back to God had at least some levels of repentance in refurbishing the temple and/or demolishing the Ashtoreth poles in the high places. God’s zeal for worship was a virtue
towards his preparatory ways for the New Covenant when the true worshipers would “worship in spirit and truth” (John 4) in Christ.
But the lessons along that way would be discipline, true to the boundaries he expressed in Deuteronomy 28, as part of the curses of the covenant. God has healthy boundaries as a character and discipline through the increasing incursions by the gentiles not despite his hesed, covenant love, but because of it.
A misconception could be that any breaking from the standards of right worship is inherently good. Though Israel, as the northern kingdom was called, broke from oppression they did not carry on right worship with a valid priesthood and were more vulnerable to infidelity with other gods. They were the first of the kingdoms of the promised land to be conquered.
Period of the Exile
This period was a rebuilding time for God’s people spiritually so they would later be ready for a return to their land. In this period a major means of preparing his people was through the prophecies of reversing the exile back to their land and also for coming Messiah which built on that which was prophesied by the pre-exilic prophets.
God’s character that was unveiled was largely a combination of his jealousy for being betrayed by Israel like an unfaithful wife (e.g. Ezekiel 23) but also his compassion and promise to restore them, again, due to his covenant to their fathers.
A misconception would be that salvation history was paused since they were not in their land. This can be countered by the fact that the prophetic words were spoken to give hope but also in miracles like the three faithful Jews in the fire and Daniel in the lion’s den being preserved. In a sense, contrary to a pause, it was another means of discipline and edification for Israel as a people of faith.
Period of the Return
This period was a time for restoration and perseverance. In this way God is showing something of his character that is a balance between thankfulness for what one has but holding on to hope and “hunkering down” (Ryan, personal conversation, 2015) while under persecution like with the Maccabean era.
Holiness as a part of God’s character is also depicted here in the return where the non-Jewish wives had to be put aside because the covenantal faithfulness of the Jewish husbands was compromised. In this there is a preparation to be in the world but not of it since they would not see a Davidic line king ruling their land again.
A misconception could be that God was not faithful to his covenant to Abraham since the Jewish people did not reclaim complete autonomy. This can be countered with the fact that God’s promise to Abraham was that all the nations would be blessed through his seed giving the promise an international fulfillment.
An anchoring point of this blessing starts in Maccabees with the alliance the Jews made with Rome. We see the beginnings of their next oppressor: The Roman Empire. But if one can see how pivotal a role this future oppressor has in salvation history we see again that God does indeed “write straight through crooked lines” and prepares Israel and the world for the “one, holy, Catholic and apostolic church” in Rome which is the new Israel.
The pattern in the scriptures as described above is one with a recurrent tension of grace, free will of man that God respects and natural consequences in a covenantal context. Particularly the emphasis of right and fidelity of worship to God has merit for Christian application because this issue is a tie that binds God in relationship with his people throughout salvation history. This can be seen from Abraham to the new Israel of the Body of Christ today.