Why might it be necessary renew a promise previously made?
Israel’s redemption from Egyptian slavery presents the quintessential “mighty act of God” the is referred to throughout the prophets and the Psalms. God brings His newly freed people to Mt. Sinai and there proclaims His covenant to them. But it’s really a reiteration of the covenant to Abraham. This covenant is based in God being their God and they as His people.
The lesson notes the idea of Israel being redeemed or ransomed. This concept is used by Jesus as well in the gospels (see Mat 20:28 and Mar 10:45), that He gives his own life as a ransom for many. This theology brings up multiple issues and questions. Typically, someone is ransomed from a criminal who holds hostage. The price buys the freedom of the hostage. For God and Israel, the answers to the questions below may seem obvious; they are more difficult when we consider Jesus’ ransoming us.
Who or what held Israel captive? What about in Jesus’ time?
Who or what demanded a price for Israel? What about in Jesus’ time? What was the price paid for Israel? What was the price paid by Jesus? Why was Israel ransomed? Why were we ransomed?
Alden Thompson’s book “Who’s Afraid of the Old Testament God” takes on the difficult passages of the Old Testament, and few are more frightening than the scenes at Sinai when, on what would become the original “Pentecost” (50 days after the Passover), God gave His law(s) to Moses and the newly redeemed Israelites. The law is given in the context of covenant, and God’s desire to be with His people.
As the quarterly walks through the covenant process, it notes the people receiving God’s covenant, but they respond “all that the Lord has said, we will do.” They haven’t even heard the covenant stipulations yet. When the law is given, they cannot conceive of it’s being beyond their ability to keep.
This process loses it’s impact if we fail to read the rest of Exodus, and see the building of the sanctuary, and God’s desire to dwell among the people. The law would be a hinderance to unity between God and Israel, because He knew ahead of time that they wouldn’t be able to obey completely. Paul, in Romans 5:20 and Galatians 3:17-29, makes a clear case that the law was only given to increase sin, not provide true life. It’s role was to show Israel’s sin, and then point to the redeeming/ransoming Lamb of God. The sanctuary service becomes of vital importance for Israel, then, in contrast to the Law of God in the Sinai Covenant.
The sanctuary has played a significant role in Adventist theology and eschatology (last-day events). Has that role been overdrawn, or is the sanctuary as important today as it was in the early formation of the Adventist congregations?
A Holy People
It appears there are two primary theological errors concerning salvation that are easy to fall into. The first says that Salvation and the gospel is equal to God declaring sinners as holy, though they are not. The other error is that Salvation and the gospel is equal to sinful people, through keeping of the law, becoming holy. Both of these exist in Adventism, and other Christian faiths as well (though the first error is more prominent in other groups, and the second in Adventism). But Exodus 19:5, 6 reveals the truth about God’s plan and purpose: God saves Israel while they are still helpless, declares them His people while they are learning to trust Him, so that He could make them holy. This means that salvation is a process whereby God delivers His sinful people, declares them saints, but does so in order that He might make them “a holy nation, a peculiar treasure, a kingdom of priests.” Peter’s quotation of this passage in 1 Peter 2:9ff is applied to both Jewish and Gentile believers, revealing the cross-ethnic ramifications of God’s purposes.
Which of the above errors do you find easier to fall into? How do we escape from the seductive lure of a cheap-grace “justification-only” salvation, or enticements of a “works-righteousness” salvation?
God’s covenant with Israel is beautiful because it takes a helpless, powerless people in slavery and redeems them. They are given an opportunity to know the holiness and lovingkindness of God, as depicted in His law. But their self-confidence in their ability to keep His covenant misunderstood the vast gulf sin created between them and their redeemer. Israel’s history (and our own) show the human tendency to trust our own goodness far too much, and trust in God’s ability to transform His people far too little. His desire is that we become holy, as He is holy; the good news and at the same time, most difficult part to accept, is that this is God’s work in us. We must trust that He will do this that we might become the people He desires us to be.