Posts Tagged ‘Israel’

To The Barn or Not

John the Baptist said, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me … will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3:11-12)

Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. He will winnow wheat to the barn and chaff to the fire. The baptism with fire in this verse is not a blessing but judgement. Israel must be winnowed, believers and unbelievers must be separated not in preparation for the coming of the Lord (i.e. Jesus) but by the Lord. John is the one calling out in the desert to make ready the way of the Lord (2:3) but he is not the one who makes rough places plain. That is the Lord’s role. This is why John protested when Jesus came to be baptized. John, along with the rest of the nation, needed to be winnowed by Jesus but Jesus needed no winnowing. When Jesus was baptized it wasn’t for repentance or judgement, but so that God’s favor on Jesus might be shown. (2:17)

After Jesus’ temptation in chapter 4, his righteousness is established and the rest of his ministry is winnowing. The nation is divided between true Israel to whom the Gentiles will be joined and “Israel who is not Israel” or hardened Israel who will be judged.

The Israel of God

Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children…But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman. (Galatians 4:21-25, 30-31)

Paul is saying here, via allegory, that Jerusalem as it was in his day was cast out. He said that Jerusalem was Hagar and then cites scripture that says Hagar and Ishmael were rejected.

And if you consider the context of the quote from Genesis 21 what God told Abraham to do was follow the wishes of his wife Sarah “for through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This promise of offspring, according to Galatians 3, is the promise of Jesus and the promise was given in the form of a covenant. The blessings of the covenant would come through Isaac, not Ishmael therefore Ishmael was to be cut off and sent away. So what Paul is saying in chapter 4 through this allegory is that Jerusalem was cut off from the blessings of Abraham’s covenant. That doesn’t mean that God is going to completely ignore Israel any more than he was abandoning Ishmael. God promised Abraham “As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation. But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this time next year.” (Genesis 17:20-21)

The covenant doesn’t belong to national Israel because they rejected the promised Offspring and choose instead to remain under the law. God may still bless them, indeed history seems to show that he is still watching over them, but the covenant is with Sarah and her children. This is why at the end of the letter to the Galatians when Paul picks up the pen himself, he says “And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.” (Galatians 6:16) The rule is a rejection of circumcision and blessing is upon those who agree with that and the Israel of God, that is, the offspring of the free woman, the church.

This is really just a fragment of a larger discussion on the covenant and the place of Israel in it. This little post doesn’t say all that is to be said on that subject. Consult a theologian before using this post.

God’s Purposes and the Nations

For the chastisement of the daughter of my people has been greater
than the punishment of Sodom,
which was overthrown in a moment,
and no hands were wrung for her. (Lamentations 4:6)

Sodom, for all her wickedness, got wiped out in a flash but Israel, for her unfaithfulness, suffered long under siege and exile and foreign rule. God directly eliminated Sodom but used the instrument of Babylon to punish Israel. God didn’t have the covenant relationship with Sodom that he had with Israel; he had not given his oracles to Sodom, he had not promised to raise up Eve’s seed from Sodom, his promise would flow through Abraham’s seed, not through Sodom’s gates. When Sodom’s wickedness was full their time was over. When Israel’s wickedness was full it was time for their exile till the land had its rest. As far as the nation goes, what purpose does God have to bring Israel back? What promise is he yet to deliver if Jesus has come and they rejected and killed him?

Well, there is still hope. God didn’t punish Israel after Jesus’ death and resurrection they way he’d punished Sodom; that is, fire didn’t fall from heaven and consume Jerusalem. Instead God, as he had done in the first exile, used the instrumentality of a nation, this time Rome, to scatter the Jews and level Jerusalem. So if the pattern noticed above holds, then there is still a future for Israel and Egypt and Assyria and Rome and the rest of the nations since he didn’t wipe them out after Jesus’ death and resurrection.

While it is true that God doesn’t change, it is also true that his purposes for different nations and people are not uniform. At the same time, he doesn’t pretend he didn’t see sin. Jesus died for his people and their sins are atoned for, but when entire nations act wickedly he deals with them as well. Just like in Israel, those who trust him are saved but the nation may be doomed to fall even if it doesn’t involve fireballs from the sky. The promise of Revelation 5:9-10 shows this to be so. There were people “from every tribe and language and people and nation” but there weren’t nations standing there.