Introduction to the Bible: An Introduction to the Bible
by Rev. Ralph A. Smith
The Restoration Covenant
The seventy years in captivity were God's discipline for Israel's neglect of His law, particularly their neglect of the sabbath year (2 Chr. 36:21). This was precisely the judgment He had forewarned of in the Mosaic law:
And if ye will not for all this hearken unto me, but walk contrary unto me; Then I will walk contrary unto you also in fury; and I, even I, will chastise you seven times for your sins.
And I will bring the land into desolation: and your enemies which dwell therein shall be astonished at it. And I will scatter you among the heathen, and will draw out a sword after you: and your land shall be desolate, and your cities waste. Then shall the land enjoy her sabbaths, as long as it lieth desolate, and ye [be] in your enemies' land; [even] then shall the land rest, and enjoy her sabbaths. As long as it lieth desolate it shall rest; because it did not rest in your sabbaths, when ye dwelt upon it. (Lev. 26:27-28, 32-35)
The transgression of the sabbath command apparently began from the time of the building of Solomon's temple, indicating Israel's failure to follow the law from the beginning of the kingdom era. But again, where sin abounded, God's grace abounded still more. At the end of the seventy years of captivity prophesied by Jeremiah (Jer. 25:11-12; 29:10), God raised up a Gentile Messiah, as He had promised in Isaiah (Isa. 44:28-45:4). Cyrus the Persian defeated Babylon and pronounced the decree that restored Israel to her land (Ezr. 1:1-4).
The restoration period is the last era of Israel's history as the people of God and the climactic period of old covenant. The kingdom of God has grown beyond Israel and spread to the nations, who are the God-appointed protectors of His priestly people. Israel's loss of independence and submis-sion to Gentile powers was not a backward movement in the kingdom program of God. Abraham had been chosen by God so that through him all the nations of the world could be blessed (Gen. 12:3). In the restoration era, this was fulfilled more than at any other time in Israel's history. Through the dispersion Jews had spread all over the world and the brought with them the knowledge of the true God.
Though Daniel spent most of his life serving the king of Babylon during the time of captivity, he is still a good picture of what the restoration era is about, for he served "Darius the Mede" also. Daniel's job was that of an advisor, the supreme advisor, to the king of Babylon and then head over the satraps and presidents in the kingdom of Persia (Dan. 6:1-3). Essentially the king intended to designate Daniel as the actual ruler in Persia, as Joseph had been in Egypt: "the king planned to appoint him over the whole kingdom" (Dan. 6:3). This was not a "secular" calling. To advise the king and aid him and the daily affairs of rule was one of the functions of a prophet, as, for example, the prophet Nathan did for David (cf. 2 Sam. 7).
In other words, during the restoration era, Israel as a nation would no longer have civil power, but she was appointed by God to serve as a prophetic witness to the world. It was Israel's prophetic task to give godly counsel to the leaders of the Babylonian, Persian, Greek, and Roman empires who protected her and, through her position in the empire, spread the knowledge of the true God. The final era of Israel's history, thus, was a prophetic era in which the word of God went forth more broadly than at any time in Israel' history.
Her new temple in Jerusalem lacked the glory of the temple of Solomon (cf. Hag. 2:3), but, as was appropriate for a prophetic people in an international age, her real new temple was the "heavenly" temple that was revealed to Ezekiel (40-48). Jews in this era were given a glorious vision of Israel's worship and its global significance that made explicit the purpose of the tabernacle and temple. Through the worship of the true God, the priestly nation was to bring blessing to all men.
The Five Points of the Covenant
1) Transcendence: God's sovereign control over the nations was revealed in this period of the old covenant more than any other. Daniel foresaw the whole history of the world from the time of Babylon to the time of establishment of the kingdom of the Messiah (Dan. 2:27ff.; 7:1ff.). Clearly the kingdoms of this world were in His hand and He was guiding history where He willed. For the Jews as a nation, this greater revelation of God's Kingship was important for they would be apparently in the hands of unbelieving rulers through much of this period, but the fact that God had predicted the history of the entire era from the beginning put all of this in a different light. The Jews learned anew that "The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: He turneth it whithersoever He will" (Prv. 21:1).
2) Hierarchy: Civil rule had been taken from the Jews and given to the Gentile empires, but the Gentiles were appointed as protectors, not persecutors. So long as the Jews were faithful to God they would find Gentile rulers favored them above the other nations, as, for example, the king of Persia favored the Jews in the days of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther and Mordecai. The temple had a new priesthood examined and approved by Ezra (Ezr. 2:62). Jerusalem was rebuilt no longer as a civil power, but, what was far more important, the world center for the worship of the true God. Also, sometime near the beginning of this era, the scribes and the Pharisees apparently developed as a "prophetic" ministry of law experts to teach the people God's word. In the beginning, they were, no doubt, faithful to God.
3) Ethics: The civil law given to Israel through Moses could no longer be applied in its literal fulness, for the Jews would have to conform to the civil ordinances of the ruling empire. The most obvious example of laws that had to change are the Mosaic regulations concerning the king, but other laws were affected, too. In some cases, this might include the definition of a crime, in other cases it may mean the imposition of a punishment different from that specified in the Mosaic law. We know, for example, that Jews under the Romans were not allowed to execute criminals and the sin idolatry would not have been defined as a crime against the State. Land laws, too, had to be modified, for after the return from the Exile not all families could prove their identity and, no doubt, many of the original families no longer existed. Add to that different boundaries, and clearly the division of the land in the days of Joshua would no longer be relevant. In sum, various modifications of the civil and social laws were required, but the essence of the law -- the righteous requirement of the law -- remained unchanged.
4) Oath: During this era the most conspicuous leaders of the nation were the prophets and teachers of Scripture -- the scribes and pharisees. If these men were faithful to God, they would lead the nation in righteousness and the Gentile kingdom would show favor to the Jews, which is what we see, for example in the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther -- God sovereignly led the kings of Persia to show special kindness to the Jewish people. The Jews would be blessed by God so long as they kept His law and submitted to the Gentile authorities He placed over them. During much of this era, however, the Jews were oppressed, not because of the Gentile empires' wickedness, but because of their own unfaithfulness to God.
5) Succession: The Abrahamic promise of global blessing was not in any way hindered, but actually facilitated by the fact that the Jews were under the rule of Gentile empires. More than any other time in their history, Jews had opportunities for trade and travel, which spread the knowledge of God into Gentile lands. It is no coincidence that the reforms of world religions took place during this period. Changes in the religions of Greece, India, and other nations may well have been due, at least in part, to the influence of ambassadors sent by Daniel from Babylon's court, traders from the Persian empire, and other Jews who brought the knowledge of the true God with them wherever they went.
But Paul complains that the Jews failed their mission as ambassadors for God's kingdom: "Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God . . . Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God? For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written" (Rm. 2:17, 23-24). By the end of this era, the Jews, rather than inheriting the world, had won for themselves ignominy because of their hypocrisy.
Man's Covenantal Response
The Jews rejected God's covenant grace in this era as they had done in previous eras. As in every era of the old covenant, the children of Adam imitate their father in the flesh. By the time of the Roman empire, they were again suffering in bondage to a foreign power. But the sinfulness of man reached a climactic high in the restoration era, for at the end of this age, the Messiah appeared. Jesus Christ, the incarnation of God, who came to saved them, lived among the Jews for 30 years and ministered to them for 3 years. Their response to God's grace was clear -- they hated the Savior with a passion. And the most enthusiastic opponents of Christ were the leaders of the people -- the scribes and pharisees in particular, but also the priests -- for He exposed their hypocrisy and ungodliness.
Jesus' basic charge against the pharisees and scribes was that they had departed from the Bible and substituted man's traditions in its place. They claimed the authority of God for traditions that had been added to God's word. They claimed to be the true interpreters of God's word, but they distorted its meaning for their own profit: "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess" (Mt. 23:25).
When the Jews delivered Christ to the Romans that He might be put to death, even Pilate knew that they hated Jesus because of envy and not because of any misdeed that He had done (cf. Mt. 27:18). Therefore, given the choice between Barabus, a criminal, and Christ, they preferred Barabus (Mt. 27:20-22) -- a decision that perfectly manifested the nation's spiritual standards. In the end it was all the people, not just the leaders who took upon themselves responsibility for Jesus' death: "Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children" (Mt. 27:25). Here was the final rejection of God's grace and the full manifestation of man's sin. Nothing in the entire history of the world so clearly exhibited the truth that the essence of man's sin is the hatred of God Himself (cf. Rm. 8:7).
God's Covenantal Judgment
The judgment of God against the sin of the Jews began with the resurrection of Christ, for the resurrection pits God's evaluation of Christ against that of the Jews. Death could not hold Jesus because He was the sinless Son of God. By the resurrection it was made clear to the world that Jesus had been approved of God and had gained the victory over sin and death. God's judgment, then, began with vindication. He raised Jesus from the dead and seated Him at His own right hand, granting to the despised and rejected Jesus all power in heaven and on earth.
The man who was crucified as king of the Jews was exalted to become King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Rev. 19:16).
God's blessing on the ministry of the apostles, doing miracles through them and vindicating their claims as spokesmen for the true God and Messiah, is another aspect of God's covenant judgment, for this was the beginning of the creation of a new Israel, a new seed of Abraham that would be born of the Spirit, not the flesh. This also meant a new law, a new priesthood and a new temple.
But before the Church could be fully established, God's covenantal judgment on those who were responsible for the rejection of the Messiah had to be completed. That judgment would be fulfilled in the destruction of Jerusalem which Jesus had predicted would take place with one generation of His own death (Mt. 24:34). Within forty years, in A.D. 70, God brought the Roman army to Jerusalem, just as He had brought the Babylonians in 605 B.C. and later in 597 and 587 B.C.. The Romans destroyed the old Jerusalem and its temple, bringing about a final judgment on the old covenant people and bringing the final end to the old covenant era.
Ever since that judgment, the physical descendents of Abraham have not offered the blood sacrifices required in the law. Nor do they observe the great feasts of the Jewish calender according to the law. The destruction of the temple in A.D. 70 brought about the final end of the nation of Israel as God's special people. God had chosen a new nation, descended from Abraham according to a spiritual birth by faith (Gal. 3:26-29). The new nation included a remnant of Jews and Gentiles from every land and tribe. But what makes this new nation fundamentally different from the ancient people of God is the new head, the Last Adam, who as the representative for His people fully satisfied the wrath of God against sin and brought the blessing of life eternal. For the first time in the history of the world since the fall, the human race is set free from the dominion of sin and evil. The way of life and blessing was opened up. It is only a matter of time and the work of the Spirit before the world will be saved and the knowledge of God will fill the world as the waters cover the sea.
The Covenantal Structure of the Bible: Introduction to
Berith.org is dedicated to applying the covenantal worldview to modern-day issues. It is a ministry of the Covenant Worldview Institute and the Mitaka Evangelical Church of Tokyo, Japan. The essays and books at Berith.org are (mostly?) written by Reverend Ralph Allan Smith, who has laboured as a teacher, pastor, and missionary in Tokyo since 1981, and as the director of the Covenant Worldview Institute since 1988. All feedback is welcome. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.