Goodnews Christian Ministry
"To Babylon you must go and there you will be rescued; There God will ransom you out of the power of your enemies." ---Micah 4:10
"If you do not keep and observe all the words of this Law...You will be torn from the land which you are entering. God will scatter you among all the peoples,
from one end of the earth to the other."
Six hundred years before Jesus was born, the prophet Jeremiah warned the Jewish people that their nation (Judah) was going to be overrun by the nations of the Babylonian North.
Because they had abandoned the religious reforms which would have led the country back to God, and had embarked, instead, on a deteriorating course of militancy and social corruption, Jeremiah was commissioned by God to announce the fulfillment of the Mosaic warning.
The curse which Moses had prescribed in the Torah's Book of Deuteronomy was about to be unleashed on Jerusalem. The whole country of Judah, Jeremiah declared, was destined to be devastated and reduced to a desert in the aftermath of this attack.
It's citizen's were to be uprooted from the Promised Land and exiled into slavery -- a slavery that would last seventy years.
And during this fateful seven decades, Jeremiah continued, many devastations would overtake Jerusalem and the people of Israel. "But when the seventy years are over, I will punish the king of Babylon and his nation for the wrong they have done and make their land a desert forever." (Jr.25:12).
Underscoring the length of this captivity, Jeremiah ordered his people, when they got to Babylon, to "Build houses, settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce...for the Lord says this: Only when the seventy years granted to Babylon are over, will I visit you and fulfill my promise in your favor by bringing you back to this place." (Jer.29:10).
Now that we have the perspective of history to help enlighten his words, we can see that Jeremiah was delivering two messages. One, concerned the immediate citizenry of Judea who were leaving Jerusalem bound in the chains of Nebuchadnezzar.
The greater part of his prophecies, however, focused on the 2000 year Jewish diaspora which would later follow the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
The people of Judah had no idea that Jeremiah's warning held a metaphoric significance that would bridge dozens of centuries and dwarf the actions of Nebuchadnezzar.
Brought to fulfillment by Christ, the scattering predicted by Jeremiah has turned out to be one of the most momentous events in history. Formed under the terms of a treaty of peace that Jesus made with Babylon from the cross, the seventy years has turned into a nearly doubled millenium.
The scattering of the people of God to Babylon was predicted by Moses even while he was leading them out of the captivity of Egypt. During the journey across Sinai, Moses sternly warned the Israelites that they were required to keep God's law of peaceful holiness.
The covenant which the Holy Spirit had Moses structure between the House of Israel and God was not unconditional. It bound the twelve tribes to righteousness: "If you obey my voice and hold fast to my covenant, you, of all the nations on earth, shall be my very own nation...I will count you as a kingdom of priests, a consecrated nation." (Exodus 19:5).
Failing that obedience, Moses warned, the Hebrew tribes would be removed from the Holy Land and scattered into an exile that would spread across the planet. "See, I set before you a blessing and a curse: a blessing if you obey the commandments of God...but a curse if you disobey and leave the way marked out for you." (Dt.:11:26+).
"I will destroy your high places and your altars...I will scatter you among the nations. I will unsheathe the sword against you to make your land a waste and your towns a ruin. Then the land will observe its sabbaths indeed, lying desolate there, while you are in the land of your enemies." (Lv.26:30-34).
This scattering of the twelve tribes of Israel out of the Promised Land, then, was to be the great sign of the truth of the whole Bible. When it occurred it would be a signal that the two covenants had been exchanged. (Jer.31:31+).
Instead of listening to Moses, the leaders of Israel corrupted the Law of God, writing into it rules of anger and vengeance -- an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Instead of mercy, they pursued sacrifice. Instead of peace, they pursued war. And just as God had promised, war came their way.
Everything that Moses and the prophets had foretold concerning the House of Israel came true -- not only spiritually, but physically as well.
About 700 years before the birth of Christ, the ten tribes of the north were conquered by Assyria and taken away into captivity. Quietly, they were assimilated into the genetics of the pagan world and, to most eyes, disappeared completely from sight.
The other two tribes (the tribes of Judah and Benjamin) were taken captive about a hundred years later. These two southern tribes were marched to Babylon.
Although some of these Jews were able to return to Jerusalem after 70 calendar years had passed, the prophecy calling for the dispersion of the twelve tribes to Babylon was still evolving even as this one tribe made its journey back. The return, then, was only temporary.
The Holy Spirit brought this small handful -- this Jewish remnant -- back from the banks of the Euphrates to prepare Jerusalem for the Messiah's appearance there.
While a sturdy contingent of Jewish pioneers made the journey back to Jerusalem. Aa great many of the captives stayed in Babylon where they had built homes, bought property and had jobs.
Thus, when Jesus was born, only a small part of one or two of the original twelve tribes still lived in Palestine. All the rest had been dispersed throughout the world. This fulfilled Moses' prophecy that, because of sinfulness, only a small number of Israelites would be left.
And once Jesus appeared before them, even this remnant was forced to leave again, proving beyond doubt the metaphoric elements of Jeremiah's prophecy.
The Jewish rejection of the Messiah's call to righteousness was the final confirmation of the degenerating wickedness and rebelliousness of the House of Israel against God, and it brought the final culmination of Moses' warnings against them:
"For failing to serve God, you will submit to the enemies that God will send against you. They will come as a far-off nation from the ends of the earth, speaking a language you do not understand and they will besiege you in all of the towns that God gave to you. There will be only a handful of you left. You will be torn from the land which you are entering, and God will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to another." (Dt.28).
Had they listened to God, none of this would have happened. The Israelites would have ruled the earth. "Listen, Israel, to commands that bring life; hear, and learn what knowledge means. Why, Israel, why are you in the country of your enemies, growing older and older in an alien land...? Because you have forsaken the fountain of wisdom. Had you walked in the way of God, you would have lived in peace forever." (Baruch.3:9-13).
Because the tribe of Judah still remained in Palestine after the other eleven tribes had been exiled, they mistakenly thought that they were God's favorite tribe and the sole beneficiaries of scripture's promise. But this proved not to be true. They were simply the last of the twelve tribes to be exiled.
This was demonstrated just a few years after Jesus was crucified when the Romans destroyed Judea and abolished the Jewish presence in Palestine. The exile that followed has lasted almost two thousand years. The signal, then, was obvious to everyone except to the Jews.
Instead of listening to God's rules, the leaders of Israel decided to make their own.
They applied the admonition of Moses, not to the righteous covenant of God (i.e., to the Ten Commandments), but to their own traditions -- all the regulations which they had developed over the years to act as exceptions to the commandments, and which Jesus said were designed to make the word of God null and void.
Assiduously they kept the latter, but paid little heed to the former. As a result they placed themselves in direct opposition to God. "Because they have rejected the Law of God and failed to keep his precepts, because the false gods which their ancestors followed have led them astray, I am going to hurl fire on Judah to burn up the palaces of Jerusalem." (Amos 2:4-5).
By abandoning the Commandments which God had personally given them, the House of Israel locked itself into the scattering that scripture had decreed.
"On that day I will call heaven and earth to witness against you; and at once you will vanish from the land which you are crossing the Jordan to possess. You shall not live there long; you shall be utterly destroyed. God will scatter you among the peoples, and only a small number of you will remain among the nations where God will have driven you. There you will pay service to gods that human hands have made..." (Dt.4:26-28).
God turned the nation over to its own idols. Thus, despite the fact that the Hebrew people remained intensely religious, their behavior condemned them to Babylon's exile.
The fact that all these events actually happened historically, and in such momentous proporations (i.e., lasting two thousand years), bears stark witness to the reality of the foundering spiritual conditions these warnings were meant to address in the land of Israel.
The twelve tribes were convinced that it was because they were God's chosen people that God had given them the land of Palestine for a heritage, but this was not true. Moses told them that the Canaanites were being dispossessed for their own wickedness; it had nothing to do with Israel's goodness.
He said, "It is not for any goodness or sincerity of yours that you are entering their land to possess it; no, it is for the wickedness of these nations that the Lord your God is dispossessing them for you..." (Dt.9:5).
This was a significant difference. It was a clear warning that they too could be replaced -- something that Moses and the prophets had persistantly announced. But it was a warning the Israelites did not take seriously. They kept seeing themselves as better than their neighbors and, therefore, as somehow above the law of God.
For this reason, the Lord sent Jeremiah to announce what was about to occur: "Now go to my place in Shiloh where at first I gave my name a home; see what I have done to it because of the wickedness of my people Israel! "
"And now, since you have committed all these sins -- it is God who speaks -- and have refused to listen when I spoke so urgently, or to answer when I called you, I will treat this Temple (in Jerusalem) that bears my name, and in which you put your trust, and the place I have given to you and your ancestors (the Promised Land), just as I treated Shiloh. I will drive you out of my sight, just as I drove all your kinsmen, the entire race of Ephraim." (Jer.7:12-15).
Jesus made it clear that the Law which was being ignored, and around which the curse of Moses revolved, was the Ten Commandments -- the way that God Himself had marked out for the House of Israel to follow -- it had nothing to do with all the traditions these tribes had built up to circumvent that Law.
This brings us to the Ark of the Covenant -- the holy chest Moses built to house the word of God.
When we speak about the word of God today, we think of the Bible, but Moses was not permitted by God to put the Bible in the Ark of the Covenant -- just the Ten Commandments.
This fact points out the two different natures of what we call 'the word of God'. There is inspired word where God moves men to speak in His name, and then there is direct dialogue from heaven where God speaks to us Himself in person.
The inspired portion of the Bible is called the 'Law and the Prophets'. The dialogue of heaven is called the 'Testimony'.
While both were contained in the Bible, only one was sufficiently holy to be reposited in the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark was a sacred container constructed to house only God's own personal words -- the Ten Commandments.
Because this acacia chest was the holiest object in the Hebrew religion, the Ten Commandments were shown by their presence in it to be greater than all other writings of scripture.
The rest of the Bible (the Torah, the prophets and all the other books of scripture) had to be stored outside the ark. By commanding this separation, God made clear the difference between His own Testimony and the writings of the Law.
He did this in preparation for the Testimony of Jesus Christ -- the unfinished Testimony of God that would come down from heaven to complete the Commandments whose delivery had been interrupted at Sinai.
The Ark of the Covenant, then, defined the covenant. And in that definition, it made the Ten Commandments greater than anything else that surrounded it in the Hebrew religion. So when Moses commanded the Israelites to "hold fast to God's covenant", he was ordering them to obey the ten sacred articles of God housed in the Ark.
According to scripture, a relationship exists between the Ten Commandments and the Gospel of Jesus. In the New Testament, the Book of Hebrews says that the 'Good News' (the Gospel) was first preached during the time of Moses at Sinai. (Heb.4:6).
This revelation ties the Ten Commandments of Sinai to the commandments of Jesus Christ. In both cases it was God in person who issued the directives.
Because the Israelites had diluted the Testimony of God with so many of their own rules -- the traditions of the elders -- God commanded a new covenant -- one founded only on the Testimony of Christ.
It was not 'religion' that God wanted the people to have, but salvation. So in the place of the guardian's reflected light, God sent His own. In that new covenant, all the shepherds and all their laws were replaced by one true Shepherd and one true Law. (Ez.34:10-16). This exchange of covenants was one of the major points in Jeremiah's preaching. (Jer.31:31-34).
The only way that this concept can really be understood is to briefly examine the history of the Ten Commandments.
Having led the Israelites out of Egypt, Moses was instructed to stop at the foot of a mountain in the Sinai desert. There he was told to gather all the tribes of Israel together in a single body so that God could come before them personally and give them His laws face to face.
This was an extraordinary event, and it crystallized the Hebrew religion. At first the Israelites were excited at the thought of God's appearance before them and their hearts swelled with anticipation.
But as God began to approach the people, this expectancy gave way to grave apprehension, and soon a feeling of terror overwhelmed them all. The mountain erupted in fire, the earth began to quake violently and the sky blackened with intense clouds like smoke from a furnace.
Out of the clouds great flashes of lightning spewed. Peals of thunder rolled across the desert together with the sound of a great trumpet whose blast grew louder and louder the closer God came to the terrified Israelites. (Ex.19:16-20).
Suddenly realizing that many of them were going to die during God's visitation the Israelites ran to Moses and begged him to have God send an intermediary in His place. (Ex.20:18-20). God agreed to their request and it is this event which structured Jesus Christ into the Law.
The reason why the Israelite religion demands a Messianic intermediary stems from this legal compromise at Sinai.
At first the people thought that Moses was to be the intermediary (Ex.20:19), but he said no, explaining that the intercessor was to be someone else. (Dt.18:14-16).
Moses told them: "The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like myself, from among yourselves -- from your own brothers; To him you must listen."
"This is what you yourselves asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the Assembly. 'Do not let me hear again' you said, 'the voice of the Lord my God, nor look any longer on this great fire, or I shall die'; and God said to me, 'All they have spoken is well said. I will raise up a prophet like yourself for them from their own brothers; I will put my words into his mouth and he shall tell them all I command him to say." (Dt.18:15-19).
The compromise at Sinai not only deferred God's visit, it left a void as far as the Testimony of heaven was concerned. Most of the Lord's commandments remained unstated.
There were always meant to be more than ten, but the balance of God's commandments had to await the voice of heaven's intercessor.
The proof that the Israelites fully understood all of this was revealed by their consuming expectation ever afterward of the coming Messiah. The entire Hebrew religion was built on the promise of this holy Intermediary defined at Sinai.
That is why the people of Jesus' time were so astir -- they were waiting in fervent expectation of the Christ predicted by Moses.
When Moses said, "God will raise up for you a prophet like myself, from among yourselves...to him you must listen." (Dt.18:15), he bound the Israelites to the obedience of Jesus, who was the prophet of God that these words were written for.
But when he appeared, Jesus turned out to be more than a prophet and more than an intermediary. He came as Divinity. He came as God Himself, clothed in flesh. This was the meaning of the Trinity, and it freed the world from the Law's stipulation for an intermediary because the moment Jesus was glorified in heaven, the intermediary became our ruling God.
At that instant of glorification, the master of the Law of Moses became the Master and Lord of all creation. This meant that Jesus' words were far more than mortal inspiration; they were, in fact, the direct Testimony of God.
This put his Gospel on the same level as the Ten Commandments. "He who comes from above is above all others. He who is born of the earth is earthly himself and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven...speaks God's own words." (Jn.3:31-34). Jesus brought the missing Testimony which the compromise had blocked at Sinai.
Jesus brought a peaceful visitation by God. There was no theophany associated with His appearance. The sky did not cloud over. The earth did not heave and roll. There was no lightning; no thunder. He did not bring words of judgment. Instead He brought an offer of peace and salvation -- an olive branch.
Accompanying this offer of reconciliation Jesus issued a stern warning of what would happen if that peace was rejected. The theophany of God, He said, would return in a world display that would bring Judgment.
We can see in the great event at Sinai all the overtones of that final day at the end of the world when, again, because of God's personal appearance, dark clouds will cover the land and terrifying signs will signal the termination of all who have not obeyed God's Messiah and broken with sin in His name.
When Moses led the twelve tribes of Israel out of Egypt and took them to the land of Palestine, each tribe was given a share of the country. The tribe of Judah (the Jews) received the land within which lay the city of Jerusalem.
At first the Jews had no special place among the Israelites because, in the beginning, the Ark of the Covenant -- the shrine housing the Ten Commandments -- was situated at Shiloh, not Jerusalem. The town of Shiloh was located in land administered by the tribe of Ephraim.
This meant that the Ephraimites were the initial focal point of Hebrew worship, not the Jews. Because of this, Jerusalem had little religious significance in the early years of Hebrew history when the Israelites first came out of Egypt and entered the Promised Land.
God later abandoned Shiloh and moved the temple to Jerusalem because of the wickedness of Ephraim's religious leadership.
By moving the temple from Shiloh to Jerusalem, God showed again that He had the power to move the city of God, it's temple and the people of Israel wherever He wanted them to go, whether it was out of Egypt, across Sinai, out of Shiloh, out of Jerusalem, or into or out of Babylon.
That is why God instructed Jeremiah to tell the Jews that the Jerusalem temple was going to end up just like the one at Shiloh. (Jer.7:12-15).
In putting His words into action, God proved that He had the power to blind anyone He wanted ("Tell this people, 'Any jug can be filled with wine'." -- Jer.13:12-14), or to place the rule of the House of Israel into the hands of whomever He chose.
"Put no trust in delusive words like these: 'This is the sanctuary of the Lord, the sanctuary of the Lord, the sanctuary of the Lord!' Yet here you are, trusting in delusive words, to no purpose! "
"Steal, would you, murder, commit adultery, perjure yourselves, burn incense to Baal, follow alien gods that you do not know? -- and then come presenting yourselves in his temple saying: Now we are safe -- safe to go on committing all these abominations! Do you take this temple that bears my name for a robbers' den? I, at any rate, am not blind -- it is God who speaks. " (Jr.7:4-11).
God was not speaking these words to atheists. The Jews at the time of Jesus believed in God. In fact, almost everything they did seemed to be an expression of deep faith. Yet, according to Jesus, this belief counted for nothing because it was insincere.
"This people honors me only with lip-service, while their hearts are far from me. The worship they offer me is worthless; the doctrines they teach are only human regulations." (Is.29:13). Their faith was defined by the Law and not by the Ten Commandments, and because of this, it had little to do with God's own will.
The Jews could not accept this because as far as they were concerned, they really believed in God and therefore saw their worship as intensely sincere.
Looking at the planet today, we might easily concur. In a world gone out of control where very few people even bother to acknowledge the existence of God, the religious fervor of the Jews at the time of Jesus now seems profoundly holy.
What this shows is that the faith of salvation is different from believing in God -- no matter how intense and heartfelt that belief is.
Even though they were God's own people, the Jews could not simply slap the name 'God' over their system and be saved. They had to make a deep and heartfelt conversion into righteousness -- and so do we.
According to Jesus, the love of God has far more to do with the ethics of God's personal commandments than it does with bowing in prostration to the artifacts of the temple or giving lip service to the Father.
Faith, therefore, relates to faithfulness to God -- not to personal perception. Jesus stated this over and over again. "Why do you call me "Lord, Lord" and not do what I say?" (Lk.6:46).
We cannot be saved by simply accepting the reality of God -- or even by accepting that that reality is Jesus. We are saved when we change our behavior -- when we come into union with the nature of Jesus Christ. "If you wish to enter into life, you must keep the commandments." (Mt.19:17).
It is this change of behavior into the commandments of Jesus that brings us into the forgiveness of God. "It is not those who say to me, 'Lord, Lord' who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the person who does the will of my Father in heaven."
"When the day comes many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, cast out demons in your name, work many miracles in your name? Then I shall tell them to their faces: I have never known you; away from me, you evil men!"
"Therefore, everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on a rock...but everyone who listens to these words of mine and does not act on them, will be like a stupid man who built his house on sand." (Mt.7:21-27).
These words reveal that Jesus was not giving us suggestions when he spoke, but commandments. He was completing the missing Testimony on the tablets God gave to Moses.
Eternal life, then, is part and parcel of Christ's words. "We can be sure that we know God only by keeping his commandments. Anyone who says, 'I know him', and does not keep his commandments, is a liar, refusing to admit the truth. But when anyone does obey what he has said, God's love comes to perfection in him." (1 Jn.2:3-5).
This proves that the word of Jesus is divine Law. A Law tempered by grace, but not destroyed by grace.
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