Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Sabbath School Insights No. 9, Qtr 1-07

Special Insights No. 9

First Quarter 2007 Adult Sabbath School Lessons


(Produced by the Editorial Board of the 1888 Message Study Committee)

Seeing Through a Glass Darkly


One verse in this week’s chapter piqued my curiosity: “I counsel thee to keep the king’s commandment, and that in regard of the oath of God.” (vs. 2). What is the “oath of God”? Using my Bible program, I discovered that there are only eleven verses in which the two words “oath” and “God” appear, and only one of them as “oath of God” (Eccl. 8:2).


In the first two verses of the search we find man’s promises to man (see Gen. 50:25 and 1 Kings. 18:10). A third verse tells us that the children of Israel “entered into a curse and an oath” that they would “walk in God’s law” (Neh.10:29). In other words, they promised to obey God under the pain of a curse if they failed. This echoes back to Deut. 29:12-20 where Moses rehearsed the covenant of God before the children of Israel. The larger context here is the prophecy of Israel’s yet future failure to keep their promise and their resulting captivity in Babylon (29:25-30:3). Upon Israel’s return from Babylonian captivity, they repeated their promise to obey by entering into a “curse and an oath” that they would “walk in God’s law” (compare Ex. 19:8). Seventy years captivity had not taught them the futility of man’s promises to obey.


Four hundred years of Biblical silence follow the reestablishment of Israel as a political nation and the events recounted by Nehemiah. By the time the Messiah arrived on the scene the people of Israel had become quite adept at “law-keeping.” They determined to do all that was in their power to avoid the curse for disobedience, and as a result developed a complex system of legalism that effectively hedged them in from their pagan neighbors. Falling into the worship of pagan gods was no longer a serious concern for them. But there still was a grievous problem which led to the rejection of the Messiah and His faith-based message.


Before we explore this point further, another section of Scripture is worthy of our attention. Ezekiel presented a riddle or parable to Zedekiah and his courtiers in which God denounced them for failing to keep the covenant-oath made with Nebuchadnezzar (chapter 17).


As a part of his treaty policy with conquered nations, Nebuchadnezzar insisted that the subdued king sign what is known as a “suzerain contract.” Suzerain contracts were first implemented by the Hittites nearly a thousand years before Nebuchadnezzar rose to power. The contract was an effective means for keeping the conquered nation under control, and typically contained both “blessings” and “curses” to the vassal.


Under the suzerain contract, or covenant, the conquered king pledged himself to specified stipulations, which included (among other things) political allegiance to the conquering king (no alliances with other nations), agreement to pay taxes, and the promise to explicitly obey all laws and edicts handed down from the suzerain lord. If the vassal would adhere to the stipulations, then he and his people could live in relative peace. Thus the suzerain covenant was a two-way contract. The suzerain promised protection and peace to the vassal in return for the vassal’s submission to him and his gods. Each party pledged to the other in a mutual agreement that they would hold up their end of the bargain.


Zedekiah had made such a promise to Nebuchadnezzar, but he failed to abide by the first stipulation: full allegiance to Nebuchadnezzar. “He rebelled against him in sending his ambassadors into Egypt that they might give him horses and much people” (Eze. 17:12-15). Just as Solomon warned, if you make a promise to a king, it is “wisdom” to “keep the king’s commandment” that by doing so, you should “feel no evil thing.” The nation of Israel suffered the prophesied captivity because Jehoiakim and Zedekiah rebelled against both the Lord of heaven and earth, and against Nebuchadnezzar (see Prophets and Kings, pp. 422-447).


“Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, As I live, surely Mine oath that he [Zedekiah] hath despised, and My covenant that he hath broken, even it will I recompense upon his own head” (Eze. 17:19). Please notice that in this verse God states that it is His oath and covenant that have been despised. This takes us back to our original question: what is the oath of God? There are two more significant Bible references to consider as we answer this question.


In Peter’s first sermon at Pentecost, he stated that “God had sworn with an oath” to David that the Messiah would be his direct descendent (Acts. 2:30). While it is David that Peter is here referring to, the promise of redemption and restoration through the Messiah was first given to Adam and Eve in the Garden (Gen. 3:15), and restated to Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3; and chapter 15). This promise is the everlasting promise of God to redeem and restore His people; it is His everlasting covenant of salvation from sin and restoration in the new earth (The Glad Tidings, pp. 70-71).


Paul made the statement that is our last source found in Heb. 6:13-19. Referring to the covenant promise made to Abraham in Gen. 15, Paul stated that God swore His oath “by Himself” because there was no greater power by which to swear. Please note: in contrast to the suzerain agreement, God’s everlasting covenant is a one-sided promise from God to man; He asks man for no promises in return. God’s promise is eternal and immutable because “it is impossible for God to lie.” What amazing comfort is found in the “refuge” and “anchor” of God’s everlasting covenant! What more could any of us ask than that God has dedicated His life to save us from our sin? “It was the oath of God that ratified the covenant made to Abraham. That promise and that oath to Abraham become our ground of hope, our strong consolation” (op. cit., p. 72).


Blindness or neglect of history has caused this sinful world to be prolonged many more years than God intended (see Evangelism, p. 696). In 1888 through two young men, A. T. Jones and E. J. Waggoner, God sent His “most precious message” of Christ and His righteousness. It is a message of faith in the Redeemer that will bring God’s people into conformity to His will (see Testimonies to Ministers, pp. 91-92). But like the Pharisees of old, because of unbelief we chose not to heed the Messiah’s faith-based message.


At that Minneapolis conference, “had Christ been before them, they would have treated Him in a manner similar to that in which the Jews treated Christ.” “The course that had been pursued at Minneapolis was cruelty to the Spirit of God.” (The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials, pp. 1477 and 360). As Zedekiah discovered, despising, distorting, and rejecting the covenant promise of God is high-handed rebellion and insubordination.


What is the remedy for this long delay? As Moses stated to the children of Israel as they stood on the verge of the promised land, God wants a “circumcision of the heart” that indicates a love-based commitment and total allegiance to our Creator and Redeemer (Deut. 30:6-7). God is still patiently waiting for this response from His people. He is not interested in our pious self-assured promises to obey (see The Desire of Ages, p. 300). Only a correct understanding of what it cost God to save us from sin will break the heart hardened in sin and rebellion against Him. If we would cease to resist, God would write His laws upon our hearts, transform our minds and characters to reflect His perfect law of love, and thus prepare us as His bride adorned for the wedding feast.


Solomon summed it all up in one short phrase: “Where the word of the King is, there is power!”

Ann Walper


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