In a quote that is usually attributed to 4th century Christian leader Augustine, it was said about the Bible,
“In the Old Testament the New is concealed, in the New the Old is revealed.”
When you sit down to read a novel, you wouldn’t start reading from the back to find out how it ends. In fact, without knowing the beginning, the end probably wouldn’t make any sense to you. If we take Augustine literally, I think that’s sort of like reading a book starting at the back.
Perhaps Augustine can be construed to be advocating for a common belief, which is widely held today that the New Testament is all you need. In the New Testament God expresses His love through Jesus’ ministry and death. The Old Testament with its harsh laws and commandments can be left for the Jews some think. One prominent Christian leader went as far as to say,
“Peter, James, and Paul elected to unhitch the Christian faith from their Jewish scriptures, and my friends, we must as well.”
This sounds similar to the heresy propagated by a 2nd century teacher, Marcion of Sinope. He created a doctrine named after himself which falsely taught that the Old Testament must be done away with by Christians. He taught that the God of Old Testament was not even the same God who brought Jesus into the world. He regarded the God of the New Testament to be different from the cruel God of Israel depicted in the Old Testament.
We know that God does not change. We will see in this short study that, regarding Israel, there’s a seamless flow of understanding from the Old Testament and the New Testament. However, most theologians have no problem seeing Israel as God’s Covenant people in the Old Testament but with the New Testament that changed. With the death of Jesus that stopped and now it’s the Church. In fact, for centuries “Christians” persecuted Jews thinking they were doing God’s work in punishing them for murdering Jesus. Most Jews are familiar with this aspect of Christian history. It’s something with which Christians should acquaint themselves as well!
In Romans chapters 9 – 11 Paul is writing to Gentile followers of Jesus in Rome specifically about Israel and the Jewish people. In 11:28-29 we see three reasons why Christians should support Israel.
“Concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.”
Israel still matters to God right now in the Church age. Earlier in Romans we read: “What advantage then has the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision? Much in every way! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God.” Romans 3:1-2
This is not the Old Testament we are reading; this is the New Testament!
This is foundational. The Gospel, the entire word of God rests on God’s call upon Abraham. Without this calling Moses would not have appeared on the scene. David would never have become king. And Jesus never would have been born and never would’ve had the momentous impact that he has had on the entire human race!
We all know that God made certain promises to Abraham that he said were everlasting. God reiterated those promises to Abraham’s son, Isaac and to Abrahams grandson, Jacob. The Jewish people are God’s covenant people. This is what Paul is affirming here.
Do these words sound familiar? Perhaps we’ve heard them before in Deuteronomy.
“For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth. The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because the Lord loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers, the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed
you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.” Deuteronomy 7:6-8
Our God, Israel’s God is a promise keeping God! Aren’t you thankful that God does not love us because of our perfection?! No God loves us in spite of our imperfections. And so it is with Israel. God entered into a covenant with Abraham and his descendants and He, after so many centuries, is still working through the covenant in achieving His will because his promises never fail.
I’ve had the pleasure of visiting many major landmarks that represent the pinnacle of human achievement. I’ve been to Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome, the Parthenon in Athens, the Eiffel. tower in Paris, the Capitol in Washington and many others. I’ve also been to the Kotel, the western wall of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. In as far as grandeur or spectacle honestly I must confess that the Kotel doesn’t quite measure up!
It reminds me a bit of the scene from the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Near the end of the movie Indiana must pick the holy grail – the cup that Jesus drank from during his final evening with his disciples. On display were hundreds of ornate chalices but ultimately Indiana selects a humble wooden cup. The crusader knight affirms “you chose wisely.”
That’s almost how Moses is describing Israel in these verses from Deuteronomy. The Jewish people were small numbers compared to the nations around them. They are surprisingly small in numbers even today. God didn’t select them because they were the worlds greatest architects. They were not selected because they were the most righteous. No, they were chosen by the Grace of God to be a special unique people and to bring a special unique message to the human race. They are the people of the book. THE BOOK.
The most precious thing that a human can possess is the Bible. The Bible was penned by Jewish hands. We, as Christians, must trust that God knew what he was doing! As Christians, we must express our thanks, not only to God but to the Jewish people as well.
Okay, so why did God select Israel?
“It is not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart that you go in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord your God drives them out from before you, and that He may fulfill the word which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Deuteronomy 9:5
It is God’s reputation that is at stake. Is he a promise keeping God? Does he show mercy and grace? As far as Moses and Paul were concerned the election of Israel was based solely on the grace of God. There is nothing that Israel could do, there is nothing that we can do as Gentile believers, to experience that grace.
Paul in the New Testament is reaching back here in Romans thousands of years back to Moses and he affirms that God’s promises have not changed. They are still in effect.
“…but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers.” Romans 11:28
Paul asks rhetorically: “I say then, has God cast away His people?”
His answer: “Certainly not!” Romans 11:1
God told Abraham in Genesis chapter 12:2-3 “I’ll make you a great nation, I will bless you and I will make your name great, and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, I will curse those who curse you, and through you all of the families of the earth shall be blessed.“
We see that the ultimate blessing that the Jewish people have been to mankind is Jesus. But we also see through history right up to the present day that the Jewish people collectively have been a blessing to the human race. Their contributions to the arts, science medicine have been incalculable. Is this an expression of God’s love to the Jewish people? Is this an expression of God’s love to all of mankind?
In speaking to the gentile believers in the city of Rome, Paul is affirming that God has not abrogated his covenants with the Jewish people. Is he saying that God is faithful to keep his promises? He is saying you as Gentile followers of Jesus can absolutely trust God and his fidelity to his covenants because all you have to do is look at Israel. You can see that God is faithful to the Jewish people.
Earlier in Romans Paul says: “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38
It is important to realize that God is acting out of his own will. When we look back in a little bit more detail at God’s original covenant with Abraham there’s an important aspect we should consider. You may have heard of the expression “cut a covenant“. It originates in the book of Genesis chapter 15.
God instructs him to bring a few animals. So He said to him, “Bring Me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” v9.
He instructs Abraham to cut them down the middle and to separate the parts. As the sun was about to set a deep sleep fell upon Abraham.
Then “And it came to pass, when the sun went down and it was dark, that behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces. On the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram.” v 17-18
This was a common custom in ancient times when two people entered into an agreement, or a covenant. They would cut an animal in two and stand between the two halves and reach an agreement. In Genesis 15, the scene that we’re looking at, where is Abraham? Only God is there in the form of a burning torch that passes between the animal parts. God is unilaterally making this covenant.
This covenant can be trusted because it is solely based on the character of God. He answers Abraham’s question regarding how he can trust the covenant God is making with him and his descendants.
That’s what the author of the book of Hebrews meant when he said: “For when God made a promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself.” Hebrews 6:13
Israel still matters to God today. As Christians, we can look at His relationship with Israel and the Jewish people and be assured that nothing can separate us from God’s love and promises!
Join us next week as we continue to explore the reasons why God has commanded us as Christians to support the jewish people.