The Israelites have finally reached the Promised Land. Well, to be exact, they are camped just outside it. It has now been well over forty years since the Israelites set out from Egypt with the Pharaoh at their heels. Forty years of wandering, waiting, warring. One generation has grown up in the desert while another has died there.
Before they cross over the Jordan River, a few significant things take place. Moses appoints Joshua as Israel’s new leader and gives a farewell speech. Then God gives a reminder of the covenant that they are entering the Promised Land under:
Drive out all the inhabitants of the land before you. Destroy all their carved images and their cast idols, and demolish all their high places…But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live. And then I will do to you what I plan to do to them.
— Deuteronomy 33:52, 55-56
Some people feel God is unnecessarily harsh on the Israelites when they read the Old Testament, but at no point does he ever leave them in the dark about his intentions. Repeatedly throughout the Old Testament the Israelites are reminded of their covenant with God, repeatedly they say “All this we will do!”, and repeatedly they break that covenant—often heinously.
This is the beauty of the Gospel. The writer of Hebrews calls it a better covenant made on better promises. Not because the first one was a bad covenant, but because it depended on two parties, God and Israel.
And here is the scandal of the good news of Jesus Christ. It is a gift. Not works. It is grace. Not merit. This covenant doesn’t fall apart when we are unfaithful, it is based on the understanding that all of us—just like the Jews—are unfaithful!
Do you feel it? Do you feel the weight lift at the reminder that we are under a better covenant than the Jews? Do you feel the evangelistic joy that stirs up at the reality of this message? How might you respond to that today?
1. You’ve been reading the Old Testament now for fifty days. Can you identify with Israel’s approach to the Promised Land saying to yourself “Finally!”? What might be going through the minds of this new generation of Israelites as they approach the Promised Land?
2. Have you ever felt God is harsh in how he deals with the Israelites? Why or why not? Israel was a theocracy, a people ruled and governed directly by God. How might this information cause certain events to be understood in a different light?
3. Is it offensive hearing that the assumption of our sinfulness and helplessness is part of the beauty of the Gospel? Why or why not? In what ways do you identify with the Jewish people thus far in what you’ve read?