Judaism; The Covenant Between God and Israel
The term “covenant” is derived from Hebrew word b’rith and the Greek diatheke. According to scholars there are two kinds of covenant; the covenant grant and the covenant treaty. The covenant grant is derived from what is known as free royal decree which presents irrevocable unconditional divine gift. A good example is the covenant between God and Noah in Genesis which also applies to Noah’s descendants in the bible.
In this, God made an everlasting promise not to destroy once again all creatures through flood as the one just experienced. The other examples include the covenant between God and Abraham where He promised to make him the father of many nations, the promise to David where God assured him of an everlasting kingship to his son. These covenants were unconditional and could not be erased whatsoever (Bailey and Bailey).
The covenant at Mt. Sinai presents one of the prime examples of conditional covenant. This is because it proclaimed blessings on those who submitted to its conditions and at the same time curses on those who chose to disobey. The covenant was almost broken at the point Israelites resorted to worship the golden calf, but God had mercy on them after they repented hence were re-established.
The teachings in the book of Jeremiah shows that Israel had broken the Sinai covenant though God granted them what is known as “new covenant”, which ensures that his law is upon their hearts as well as making the nation Israel his people (Bailey and Bailey).
The New Covenant
There is a historical consideration amongst scholars that the case of Islamic religion is mythological. This is because compared to Islam; Christian history is better founded and clarified. The historical claim of the New Testament that Jesus Christ raised from the dead as a fulfillment of God’s covenant with His people is well proved, contrary to what is usually known a bout the life of Muhammad which is at times considered factual (Aslan).
New covenant has since raised many questions with the New Testament authors interpreting it as a prediction of the new dispensation which would emerge with the church and the coming of Christ. The New Testament in some instances shows some indication that the Old covenant has since been replaced.
The argument is that the old covenant carved on stone, has since lost its original splendor and hence replaced by New Covenant, which is written on human hearts by the Spirit. The book of Galatians reveals some contrast between the covenant God gave Abraham and that which He gave through Moses. The two covenants being represented by the two sons of Abraham, Ishmael and Isaac. The coming of Christ fulfilled the promises given to Abraham hence brought to an end the Old Law.
The Bible in the book of Romans asserts that the Jews though do not accept Christ as the Messiah, have only stumbled. They are likened with branches broken off from the good olive tree, but still there’s possibility of being grafted again since the love of God upon them remains for the sake of their forefathers whose gift and call cannot be erased. The implication is that the Jews irrespective of their belief are still in some covenant relationship with God.
The ancient Israelites never regarded salvation as means to heaven. It was believed to be a way of transformation and experiencing the kingdom of God on earth (Borg 173). However, the New Covenant with the new life in salvation has got its benefits which include perpetual peace, love and joy. “To know God in the present is to experience the life of the age to come” (Borg 175). This means that God’s covenant with His people had within it eternity is not only experienced in the present life but even after death.
The life of exile and wilderness experienced by the nation Israel was as a result of breaching the covenant between them and God. Their nature of disobedience was punctuated by insecurity, discouragement, loneliness as a form of separation from one’s true roots. The only possible solution out of such bondage was adopting the ways of God, reconnecting their lives with the heavenly father who guaranteed them total liberation of spirit, soul and body.
As the author asserts “ the story of salvation is a story of reconnection with the one in whom we live and move and have our being, the one who has always been here even though we have been estranged” (Borg 176). This means that those who have been redeemed from sinful life ultimately form a community of transformed people who believe in God as the central authority over their lives.
Judaism belief claims and maintains that God is omnipresent (Neusner). Indeed the existence of the Jews in the contemporary society is characterized by universalism whereby they consider themselves to have attained status of equality within the society.
They are as well indulged in secularism which they consider as the source of their freedom, a great contradiction to their past tradition which was purely laid on religious foundation (Armstrong). The nature of the belief allows them to participate in political and social processes within the society which is a contradiction to the moral traditions. They consider themselves no longer bound by God’s covenants as well as Biblical principles (Emil 292).
Since the Shoah, there have been numerous questions in Jewish-Christian dialogues concerning the present status of God’s covenant with Israel. The Shoah led to total breakdown within the circles of secular absolutes where Jews consider secularism as one of the alternatives to religion since it provides freedom of choice on the kind of faith they require (Neusner) .
The source of such philosophy is considered to be philosophy and science amongst other contributors. The value system has so far provided Jews and Christians with favorable ideologies focusing more so to the Lord of Science and Humanism rather than the covenantal God of History. The belief in moral urgency have also led to mass decamping from divine presence of God, making people to resist absolute authority from cultural regimes (Greenberg 320-322).
The belief is that while other races like Arab, Russians and Indians have the right to exist, on the contrary the Jews are expected to earn their right to live. Other states have been advised to avoid what is referred to us war of aggression, while the nation of Israel is referred to as ‘aggressor’ for the purposes of fighting for their rights.
The Jewish are expected to follow other people’s beliefs in order to survive, however it is important to realize that it is their belief in Religion and the covenant God had with their forefathers which has brought them this far (Bailey and Bailey).
The culture of dominance evaded every sphere of life and brought about inequality, social, spiritual injustice and poverty. In view of God’s covenant with his people life is intrinsically sacred, meaning that within the web of life where we live, every creature has got its own level of intrinsic beauty and value. The occurrence of holocaust was crucial since it provided humanity with opportunity of learning important lessons on the great covenant between God and the nation Israel.
It was a clear reminder that God’s chosen nation should not give up since morality has got religious origin, and the answers concerning life have got their origin in the creator of the universe. God purposed that Israelites should live at peace with one another and environment as a whole. Only deep love that God instilled in his people could stop them from straying from his presence hence guarantees them eternal peace (Bailey and Bailey).
The teaching on contemptuous issues seems to have been ignored amongst Christians and Jews. This could be revealed from the nature of response of the Jewish clergy, considered hostile, amongst Christians in Germany. According to German society the Jews became major force contributing towards destruction of biblical truth like the rock of Peter i.e. the Catholic Church; they were seen as sole causes of the evils of capitalism as well as communism.
The church claimed to posses the only way through which people could be forgiven, the only sure grace and salvation. However, such claims were not considerate of humility in regard to the covenant between God and mankind through the nation Israel. This since led to the emergence of both true and false believers leading to denial of basic human principles, hence leading to vices such as racism and anti-Semitism. Such beliefs brought about widespread denial of equality within human circles (Eckardt 32).
God making covenant with Israel and delivering them meant setting them free from any human oppression thus guaranteeing better lifestyles. This was an ultimate revealer that every human being should live in accordance to the realization that God made some irrevocable covenants with the nation Israel. Hence considering Israel with some sense of value and therefore ensures their redemption from evil bondage (Greenberg 305).
However, historical events described in the bible made Christians believe so much in eternity paying less attention to contemporary lifestyles. Lack of moral absolutes within the society was experienced during the Holocaust where six million Jews were exterminated. The event was quite harsh towards human existence placing lots of questions on the truth about God’s existence and effectiveness of His covenants with the Jews. Christians have taken these issues normally and continued their lifestyles as if nothing happened.
Failure of both Christianity and Judaism to confront such like matter of heavy magnitude towards human existence rendered their teachings of less importance compared to other religions of the world (Greenberg 306-307). The killing of the Jews attracted many controversies about religious beliefs to the extent that talking about a god who loves and cares was seen as an absolute mockery.
God’s Justice through the covenant
Because of His covenant with Israel God delivered them out of bondage. Deliverance the children of Israel got from Egyptian’s bondage presents a good example of liberation from the political and religious bondage.
This encounter led to the rise of kingdoms within Israel, some which were wicked and some good. The rise in monarchy type of leadership led to creation of unjust systems which ultimately imposes suffering on Israel. God spoke through His prophets condemning such like oppressions but assured Israel of ultimate redemption.
The New Covenant characterized by the life of Jesus Christ, explains justice on the basis of God’s Kingdom. The political kingdom referred to during the time of Jesus was not that which was under the rule of elite few, as one scholar John Dominic says, “ For Jesus, it is never kingdom without God, and it is never God without kingdom” (Borg 132).
The Kingdom of God revealed through His covenant and promises are ruled based on justice which is ultimately contrary to the leadership within worldly kingdoms. It is a kingdom of super abundance for all where the poor and the hungry are fed and people are forgiven of their sins.
It presents a kingdom full of blessings and happiness (Borg 135). The issues within current political systems revolve around the struggle between the rich and the poor. However, reality should dawn each one of us that the earth and its fullness belongs to God and not individuals, we only manage what is God’s (Borg 143).
The kind of oppression that the children of Israel were subjected by their oppressors, Egyptians, was aimed at destroying the Hebrews owing to their alarming fruitfulness and multiplication. The descendant of Abraham were doomed to a temporary slavery in a strange land but at the same time were already singled out as the chosen nation whose deliverance was already promised by God.
Amongst all the nations of the world at present and before, there is none whose career could be compared to that of the people of Israel. They have indeed escaped every persecution of the centuries and at the same time outlived every other people, revealing that Israel is under the protection and shield of the Almighty God. The covenant made with the patriarchs was to follow their descendants unto all generations.
All creation should depend on their creator’s principles for survival. People should realise that God is all we need to discover ourselves and to shape up our destinies. Through the breaching of covenant as Israelites deed, we learn that God is omnipresent and hence cannot be confined as an idol; His presence through Jesus Christ is beyond comprehension (Highton 49).
Lack of knowledge about who God is in our lives prevents us from enjoying and accessing the divine glory. The way of the cross though seem unpleasant, is the only avenue in which our hearts can grow to accommodate the fullness of God. We should live a life of total radical surrender to God.
The study of the covenant relationship between God and Israel reveals that Christian life can only find peace after being inhabited by the word of God. Covenants through scriptures do not in anyway grants us away of escape from the world but shows us how to relate with it. There is hope for redemption hence Christians should strive to live meaningful lives in the world. The journey towards perfection is long and tedious but rewarding in the long run (Highton 98).
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Aslan, Reza. No God but God. Random House, 2005
Bailey, Betty Jane, & Martin, Bailey. Who Are the Christians in the Middle East? Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans, 2010.
Borg, Marcus. The Heart of Christianity. San Franciscco: HarperCollins, 2003.
Christ, Carol. Rethinking Theology and Nature. NY: Harper and Row, 1987.
Eckardt, Alice. The Holocaust, Church struggle and some Christian Reflections. Great Britain: Pergamon press, 1987
Emil, Fackenheim. The commanding Voice of Auschwitz. NY: New York University Press, 1970
Greenberg, Irving. Cloud of smoke, Pillar of Fire. New York: City College
Highton, Mike. Difficult Gospel: The Theology of Rowan Williams. New York, NY: Church Publishing Incorporated, 2004.
Kaufman, Gordon. The Theological Imagination: Constructing the Concept of God. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1981.
Neusner, Jacob. Judaism: The Basics. Routledge Press, 2006