Israel - It's Past, Present and Future - Dr. H.M. Ohmann (1928-2006) 

An Introduction

What follows here is an elaboration of a speech which I held in the spring and summer of this year for some of the combined meetings of our societies here in Ontario.

The subject of the speech we may call up to date. It has been topical since the proclamation of the independent Jewish State on May 14th, 1948, shortly after the second World War, during which the Jewish people had gone through such a terrible time. That it continues to be topical we realize from time to time as often as the world is startled by a new war in the Middle East; the last time in the Yom-Kippur war, named after the great day of atonement on which it broke out, now over a year ago. So there was every reason for our societies to give this matter due consideration and to discuss it during their meetings or to have somebody come to speak on the topic.

In preparing my speech, pondering how to come to grips with my subject, I saw a problem arise, a problem that was implied in the very title: "Israel, its past, present, . . . and future". We were expected to speak on Israel, in three successive stages of its history. Let me consider its present and - the Lord willing - its future, though it is to take place yet, as history, that is, as a succession of events in which a continuous thread and pattern can be discovered. The point at issue is however: In doing so are we dealing with one and the same people? That they call themselves Israelites does not settle the matter. It may be a mere pretension concerning a past that has been forfeited and a descent that remains to be seen. More mistakes of that sort have been made in history, either by peoples themselves - I just mention the Germans under the Nazis who deemed themselves to be Aryans, whereas only the Persians and Indo-European Indians are entitled to bear the name - or by others - I mention the case of the Redskins or North American Indians, who got this designation erroneously.

So the first thing that comes up is: Are the Israelites who are at present living in "their own" (I emphatically put quotation marks here) country over there in the south-eastern corner of the Mediterranean the legitimate successors of the Israelites who lived there in olden days under completely different circumstances? You will notice that I do not speak of descendants now, though this factor plays a part as well; however, I am not going to make the matter dependent upon that. Nor do I speak of the language, culture, state, or even religion, much as those are factors to be taken into consideration when it comes to the point what a people, a nation, is. According to the dictionary it is:--a historically grown community of hereditary, cognate people, sharing the same language, traditions, customs". But returning to Israel, I would put the question: Are they entitled to bear the name, that wonderful name? With an allusion to the well-known text, Romans 9:6, we may wonder: Are they all Israel who are of Israel?

Maybe some reader will think: --That is not my concern. Now that they have adopted the name, let us take it for granted. Didn't you already do so yourself in accepting an invitation to speak on this topic?" Well, in doing so I admitted that somehow or other there is a connection between the Israel of the past and the Israelites of the present, but throughout a series of articles we should examine the matter over and over; we are to assume a critical attitude. If there is a relation, of what kind is it? Otherwise we are talking at random for lack of a clear distinction and finally we are at a loss what to say.

To what sorts of misrepresentations you may come can be shown by an example. It refers to an interview of the former premier of Israel, Mrs. Golda Meir. Asked if the Jewish people were the smartest of them all, she was reported to have said in reply (I quote from memory): "When Moses brought the people of Israel out of Egypt, he fed them in a land without oil! Is that smart?"

We smile and say: "It is a joke. She is only kidding.---I will not deny that, though it is going beyond a joke, since it is the problem of the existence of the Jewish people in its all-embracing, comprehensive significance that is touched upon and - I am sorry to say - incorrectly stated.

For the esteemed Mrs. Meir goes back from Israel's present - in which is implied its future, the LORD willing, and it is the Church which ought to be interested in this future more than anyone else! - to the past, the long, long ago. And in her joke she is coordinating things which are not related at all; anyway, not in this way!

Maybe some of my readers will say: "Do not go further into that subject please. It is just a joke. And you can take it, can't you?" I answer: Sure I can. But I cannot help hearing a serious undertone in Mrs. Meir's words. For if Israel happened to have oil wells within its boundaries, it wouldn't be so dependent upon the assistance of other countries as it is today. Its economy would not be so vulnerable. It would be more favourably placed amidst other peoples, of which we mention first of all those of the surrounding Arab countries, who are at Israel's throat time and again.

However, and now I take what is a joke in all seriousness, is Moses to blame for it? Moses, who lived some 3400 years ago?

Well, someone replies, Moses led the people of Israel to Canaan, didn't he?

Over against this statement I can put other questions, and I should. And I am not splitting hairs now.

First: Did Moses lead the present day Jews to the Palestine as we know it today; a Palestine where for centuries Arabs have lived (!) and have a place, lawful or not (?), and where since the latter decades of the previous century have the Jewish people found a national home? Has Moses, somewhere in his books, written with a view to such a future or given any hint concerning it?

Seemingly it is absurd to put such questions. I freely admit it. Nevertheless they are inevitable. Within a space of time of about 3400 years quite a lot may come to pass and has happened. And not only that, things can take a turn. A turn - that may refer to times or circumstances that have altered, but also to the people itself, which can change to such a degree that one may wonder with good reason: Is it still the same people?

The Jews have come back to Palestine after having been away for centuries - for more centuries to be exact (from 100 A.D. to 1900 A.D.) than they had a home there before (from 1400 B.C. to 70 A.D.). Can their entry into Palestine now be put on one level with the entry under Joshua, as described in the Bible? I do not think so. Between the latter and the former we meet a turning point in history. So, what do I mean by a turn? And consequently, which one do I mean? As for the Jews, they will point to what happened in the year 70 A.D.: the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. That is to them the turning point in their history, the poignant incision in the body of the people, who were forced to leave the land of their fathers a second time. It was a turn; there is no denying that. But I for one think there was another turn, a change which was far more radical, it being an incision affecting or detecting the attitude, the character, of this people. I mean, as my readers will infer already, what came to pass in the year 33, when the Greatest Son of the Jewish people was excommunicated and crucified by His very people. JESUS CHRIST was His name. And He was an Israelite, a Jew, Son of David and Son of GOD. The GOD of the Old Testament. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And of Moses! The God whom they believed, though I had better say here: served, or rather, to whom they thought they were offering a service. But they did not act as they should have, according to the Scriptures bearing witness to Jesus. At the most they acted as they had to in the framework of God's providence (Acts 2:23, 3:17, and elsewhere). It was belief in this GOD that had made the Jews what they had been originally, and continued to be down the centuries up till the time that GOD was pleased to reveal Himself in His Son. It was the constitutive factor in their being a people, generally speaking; the more so in being the separate people that they were. Both are inextricably interwoven.

Second: I go on-and go back -in putting my second question: Was it actually Moses who during his lifetime led those who were then Israelites to Canaan? Again I must answer in the negative. To be exact, it was not Moses, but the GOD of Moses, YAHWEH, who brought them out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage. No, I am not splitting hairs now. Maybe you wonder: Does it make such a difference? Sure, it was not something undertaken by Moses on his own initiative, of his own accord. According to Exodus 2 he may have had some aspirations in his earlier years - I refer to Acts 7:25 - but the time had not yet come. When the time had come, it was the LORD who was pleased to enlist him in His service, after he had been fully prepared for it. But it was only on GOD's order and under GOD's continuous guidance that the saints marched out of Egypt through the wilderness (Numbers 9) and into Canaan. Moses and later on Joshua were mere instruments. If it had been dependent upon Moses or Joshua, it would have come to nothing. They would have given up on the whole thing. With such an unmanageable people!

Third: I ask the question: Would Moses ever have hit upon the idea that Canaan was a choice land to live in? We are taught otherwise in Holy Writ. For the Bible does not lead off the history of the people with Exodus but with Genesis, which contains the history of the patriarchs for the major part. Was it the first of the patriarchs to whom the idea occurred: "Let me be an immigrant. Let me go to Canaan"? No, being called by the LORD, he was led to the land that the LORD was to show him. Abraham was the very first one in a long time to whom the LORD revealed Himself. GOD made a demand upon him to go, to leave his land, and so on, which departure was to be evidence of his faith, and that demand was accompanied by a manifold promise: (1) I will make you a great nation. (2) I will bless you. (3) I will make your name great, so that you will be a blessing to all the peoples of the earth.

The history is well-known, but do we realize that we stand here at the cradle of the people of Israel, whose birth hour then struck? This very hour we see appear before us in Abram and Sarai the first Jews. But as soon as we see them, problems arise. It is a childless couple which is given such promises We realize: Any child is a gift of the LORD. So, if Abram had already had children, they would have been given them by the LORD as well. But now that they don't have any and are past the age, the LORD's wondrous work in giving children and making the impotent man and the barren wife parents of children will be the more conspicuous. Now it stands out clearly: "It is I who will make of you a great nation-, and ail the subsequent chapters underline that. For we learn there first that Abram himself is put to the test for twenty-five years before the son is born: Isaac, child of the promise. And later on in the case of Isaac, the test is repeated by GOD, as far as we can speak of a repetition here, for in the history of revelation there is no mere repetition but also progress. So Isaac and Rebeccah's case is not exactly the same as that of Abraham and Sarah. Rather, we may say that the LORD points out to them that not only the beginning, but also henceforth and in the future the making of this people, this nation, is dependent upon His miraculous power. And not only that. Now that there are two children, twins born under exactly the same circumstances, it pleases the LORD to show that His good pleasure, His election, will be decisive in the life of the twins, the older of which is to serve the younger one. The older was a child of the covenant as well, a child prayed for and born by way of a wonder. Both wonder and election refer back to what the LORD did to the father of the nation: Abraham, who once had been called and elected by Him out of mere grace.

And there we stand at the very source of the nation: GOD's good pleasure to make this man, this Semite nomad, this member of an Amorite tribe, speaking an old Aramean dialect, roaming about with his herd in the vicinity of the famous city of Ur, a great nation. Humanly speaking it was impossible for Abraham to procreate children. And if he had had some, and the LORD had not intervened, they would have merged into the large multitude of Amorite or Aramean nomad tribes that nobody would have heard about afterwards. This people consequently was called into being by the LORD Yahweh's miraculous power, to be and to remain his chosen people. And what is more: the posterity of the blessed Abraham, of whom they would be reminded ever since, i.e., as their ancestor who walked in belief, in order that they should follow in his steps. And not only they, but all the peoples would be blessed and would bless themselves in this very man. The Jews are there not for themselves but in behalf of other peoples.

For there were already many peoples in that time and there had been many from days of old. Genesis 10 tells about it. Israel was not, for instance, the oldest or first one; Amalek is designated as such (Numbers 24:20). Israel was not the mightiest. Abraham's family had witnessed the rise and decline of world empires in Mesopotamia. Each of those nations was led by the LORD in its particular ways. It was He who had called them into existence by means of natural factors. So we come at the end of this article back to the question that was touched upon already: What is a nation? What makes people a nation?

Various factors may be mentioned. First of all we think of descent. In a nation you meet with people tracing their descent back to one ancestor. However, is there any nation whose members are all purebred? Can it be checked? Impossible. On the contrary, even the Arab Bedouins, proud as they are of their pure descent, always left open the possibility for outsiders to join their tribes. How did the Dutch people come into existence: Prior to Batavians and Frisians, "aborigines" like the "Hunebedbouwers" lived in the low countries. And as for the English people, everyone knows that it is made up of at least three successive layers: a Celtic one, an Anglo-Saxon one, and, after the year 1000, a Norman one. To say nothing of Canada. Immigration is as old as the world.

A second factor is the language; however, a language may be borrowed from another people, and so Israel borrowed its language from the Canaanites. Or more than one language may be spoken within the boundaries of one nation (cp. Belgium).

Third, it may be the place, which knits people together as a nation, but often we face the situation that kindred people, speaking almost the same tongue, living under similar conditions, are separated by artificial boundaries. And on the other hand, peoples of different stock, may be compelled to live as one nation.

Fourth, it may be a government, and oftentimes it is, that fixes the boundaries making the people within them a nation. But those borders are changeable. Cp. the expansionism of world empires.

Fifth, it may be a culture, a type of society, or, in the same vein, a religion that constitutes a nation. I think of India and Pakistan. Wasn't this the case with Israel also, you ask. I am touching upon a delicate point now. Often you can hear that it is their religion that is forging Jews together all over the earth. Is that right? What about modernism and orthodoxy within Jewry? On this point I can easily break the Jewish state into pieces without being able to say of one of the pieces: This is true Israel. For in speaking of their religion I purposely made a mistake. That is to say: at present it is indeed their religion. But from the beginning it was not so. It was faith, only faith to which Abram was called, that gave rise to THE RELIGION of the Old Testament era.



In the first article we pointed out that the people of Israel has come into being by faith only. For such a people it was the only way. Cp. Hebr. 11:8. By accepting God's promise in faith Abram became the first Israelite. A special emphasis is laid on FAITH, I realize. But is that a drawback? I don't think so. In faith you see God's work in man come to light. And that is necessary, now that a people is called into existence. A real people, a nation, visible as the others, distinguishable by faith. I know that from here we can go back further to the Lord's calling and still further to God's election in order to bring out God's work clearly. But of Abram's faith, which is his answer to God's calling, it holds good: "This is not your own doing, it is the gift of God; not because of works lest any man should boast" (Eph. 2:8, 9). It was by faith that Abram, Isaac, and Jacob became and continued to be ancestors of this people. The more so since it is the Covenant-people. Whereas in all covenants there are contained two parts, there is every reason to have the wonderful word "faith" brought out in full relief, in which promise and requirement, God's and man's share, appear to full advantage. How the roads of Christians and Jews part when it comes to this basic question, appears whenever the question "Why did God choose this people?" is answered by the latter: "Because of the merits of their ancestors, chiefly Abraham, who as a heathen accepted the One God and broke with idolatry their comparative virtue,- their humility and their faithfulness. The first reason, the argument based on the merit of Abraham, recurs everywhere in Jewish literature, and especially in the liturgy." [1]

It is for this reason that the Jewish people was to be and has indeed been different from all the other peoples and nations, whatever the factor uniting their members into a whole: descent, language, land, government, culture, up to and including religion. Extending this line we conclude that it was to be a church rather than a nation; first and foremost a church and subsequently a nation. The Church of Lord's Day 21 in the form of a nation. Abram was to be a father in the Church. That is why he is portrayed in the first verses of Gen. 12 as the father-to-be of that one nation and of a multitude of nations simultaneously. With a view to that, this posterity was united by the ties of the covenant. So we learn here that we should not attach too much importance to the existence of a Jewish people as such, as a nation among all the others. It is indeed an outstanding nation, a conspicuous nation, the world owes to it more than to any other, sure, but according to those who speak of it in such terms that is the reason why it is so much the more entitled to share the privileges of all the others, especially to lead their own life in their own land, according to their own ideas. Presentday Israel is putting itself on one level with all the others.

That is what you can read in most of the popular books on our subject. That is the note struck there. I just mention now two titles of books by Max I. Dimont, to be found in the average bookstore. First: Jews, God and History (sixteenth printing!), New York. And: The Indestructible Jews, in which Jewish history is given the form of a drama, with acts and scenes. Very entertaining, yet the praises of the Jewish nation are sung instead of those of Yahweh, the God of the Jews. It is first: the Jews - then: God. In the introductory chapter ("it happened only once in history.") the achievements of the Jewish people are summed up. Here are a few quotations: "There are approximately three billion people on this earth, of whom, twelve million less than one half of one percent are classified as Jews. Statistically, they should hardly be heard of, like the Ainu tucked away in a comer of Asia, bystanders of history. But the Jews are heard of totally out of proportion to their small numbers. No less than 12 percent of all the Nobel prizes in physics, chemistry and medicine have gone to the Jews. The Jewish contribution to the world's list of great names in religion, science, literature, music, finance and philosophy is staggering. "

"The period of greatness of ancient Greece lasted five hundred years. Not so with the Jews. Their creative period extends through their entire fourthousand-year history."

"From this people sprang Jesus Christ, acclaimed Son of God by more than 850 million Christians . . . The religion of the Jews influenced the Mohammedan faith, second largest religious organization in the world ... Another Jew is venerated by more than one billion people. He is Karl Marx, whose book "Das Kapital'' is the secular gospel of Communists the world over . . . Albert Einstein, the Jewish mathematician, ushered in the atomic age ... A Jewish psychiatrist, Sigmund Freud, lifted the lid off man's mind."

"Through the ages, the Jews successively introduced such concepts as prayer, church, redemption, universal education, charity - and did so hundreds of years before the rest of the world was ready to accept them. And yet, up until 1946, for close to three thousand years, the Jews did not even have a country of their own .

(So the Old Testament period is not taken into account! H.M.O.)

"World history has hurled six challenges at the Jews, each a threat to their very survival. The Jews rose to each challenge and lived to meet the next."

Then the author mentions the eight basic ways of viewing history: 1. the unhistoric one of Henry Ford: "History is bunk"; 2. the political one, the type taught in the schools; 3. the geographic one, in which climate and soil determine formation of character of people; 4. the economic one: history is determined by the way goods are produced; 5. the psychoanalytic one: history is the result of a process of repressing unconscious hostilities; 6. the philosophical one of G.W.F. Hegal, Oswald Spengler, and Arnold Toynbee, who have this in common that they see history as a flow of events having continuity. Each civilization follows a more or less predictable pattern. 7. The "cult of personality", holding that events are motivated by the dynamic force of great men. Men create the events. And finally 8. the religious one, looking upon events as a struggle between good and evil, between morality and immorality. "It is the relationship which man thinks exists between him and God that does shape history. What happens between God and man is history ... This man-God relationship was responsible for the great gulf in thinking which began to separate the Jews from the rest of the pagan world four thousand years ago. " Making up his mind, Dimond holds with the psychoanalytic, philosophical and religious interpreters of history, in that "ideas motivate man and that it is these ideas which create history" (p. 22).

Since we have made Genesis 12 our point of departure, we wonder: What about this history, in the opinion of Mr. Dimont? How does he approach it? We read on page 29: "Here Abraham has a strong experience. It is here that he meets the Lord God 'Jehovah' for the first time ... At this encounter, it is God who proposes a covenant to the patriarch ... If Abraham will follow the commandments of God, then He, in His turn, will make the descendants of Abraham His Chosen people and place them under His protection ... Did this really happen? Views vary all the way from the fundamentalist position of a literal acceptance of every word to the rejection of every word by the sceptics. We say it could have happened, but in a slightly different way. If we view this encounter through the lens of modem psychoanalysis, it might become understandable in modern terms.

"Psychiatrists are familiar with a psychological phenomenon known as 'projection' Let us say that an individual is obsessed by a thought, which, because it is painful or forbidden, he does not want to acknowledge as his own. On the other hand, he can't give it up. He wants the thought but doesn't want to be its owner. He longs for it unconsciously, but wants to reject it on a conscious level. His mind therefore resorts to an unconscious 'trick'. He 'projects' the thought onto someone else, and then convinces himself that it is the other person who suggested the thought to him or accused him of it. These methods of hearing or perceiving such projected messages are known as auditory or visual hallucinations - that is, hearing voices, or seeing things, that are not there . . . "

"From a psychoanalytic viewpoint, therefore, it could be that Abraham himself conceived the idea of a covenant with an Almighty Father figure, represented as Jehovah, and projected onto this father figure his own wish to safeguard his children and his children's children for future generations."

"From a historical viewpoint, it makes no difference whether it was Abraham who projected this experience onto an imaginary Jehovah or a real Jehovah who proposed it to Abraham. The fact remains that after four thousand years the idea is still alive and mentioned daily in prayers in synagogues throughout the world."

Thus far Dimont.

The reader sees where he is with this successful author and how he finds his way out, namely, by making everything pivot not around the Revelation of the only True God, but round the idea of a covenant taking form in the patriarch's mind. In the last resort it is man who is the maker of religion.

The State of Israel's Proclamation of Independence of May 14th, 1948, starts from the same principle. It reads: "The Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here their spiritual, religious and national identity was formed. Here they achieved independence and created a culture of national and universal significance. Here they wrote and gave the Bible to the world." [2] I underline the words: "they wrote and gave".

Comment is superfluous.

Meanwhile what has been said above can serve as introduction to that which is to be remarked regarding: the land. The land, we may say, plays a next-important role in the considerations of the Jews with regard to their being a people. According to some it is almost as important a factor. I now give a quotation from the book Pictorial History of Israel, by Jacob A. Rubin and Meyer Barkai, the first chapter of which leads off this way: "This was the Covenant: 'And I will give to thee and to thy seed after thee the land of my abode, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession' [ Genesis 17:8].

"This was the beginning, the beginning of the bond between the people of Israel and the land of Israel. From time Immemorial this sacred attachment of the people to their land has never weakened, never been forgotten. Thousands of years have passed, tens of generations have vanished, civilizations have been created and disappeared, nations have been lifted to heights of influence and have vanished from memory, but the people of Israel have remained ever faithful to the strip of land on the Eastern shores of the Mediterranean. The land had changed its name, its rulers, and, by force, its inhabitants, but it still remained the Promised Land.

"There was no mystery involved (emphasis mine, H.M.O.). A people of shepherds and peasants gave birth to a unique idea of monotheism and gave a moral code to humanity - and still withstood the pressure of worldly affairs. "

"No mystery involved ... .. A people gave birth to a unique idea." Again it is the same tune. The very opposite to the one given by us.

The land has a significant place. There is hardly a major passage in the Five Books of Moses which fails to refer to and to reiterate the promise that God made to Abraham, that the land of Canaan would be his inheritance and that of his descendants. In the first verse of Gen. 12 we already hear of it. It is spoken of there as "the land that I will show you". "I will show you" - these words make the land part of the Lord's revelation, a select spot, a choice land, since it was the Lord who roused Abraham's interest. And after having set out to go, Abram came there and traversed the land from north to south.

The promise comes true in so far that the land is shown to him and he may live there. Still, it is not yet his possession. The promise remains a promise. "Will give," the Lord says in Gen. 17:8. Hebrews 11:13-16 provides elucidation here.

The promise remains a promise for the time being. The Patriarchs, the first Israelites, may live there, but not in the spirit of an arrived man, but in faith, in hope. They are to feel themselves strangers and exiles on the earth. N.B.: here we come across the word "exiles", which is to play such a considerable role in the people's history throughout the centuries, in a context referring to the beginning of Israel's history. They started as exiles! So we learn that there is a positive element in it.

Not only with respect to their progeny, but also with respect to the land their faith is put to the test. How things are related we read in Genesis 18:19: "For I have chosen him, that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice; so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him". The latter ("so that", and so on) is dependent upon the former: the keeping of the way of the LORD. And so it remains in force. The promise stands and all the time the requirement remains in operation. It is dependent upon the Lord and up to Israel as well whether they will enter the land. At the same time we see the promise corroborated by what came to pass in history. E.g., from this angle the burial of Sarah becomes significant, since the first piece of land then passes into Abraham's ownership. We may call Sarah's tomb: a pledge, a surety. The same can be said of the information we get in Gen. 33:19, "And from the sons of Hamor, Shechem's father, he bought for a hundred pieces of money the piece of land on which he had pitched his tent." Again: a pledge. But a pledge, however. For much more, namely, the entire land, is implied in the promise. When the LORD is pleased to put their faith to the test, He has their faith strengthened, confirmed. Already the Patriarchs may say of some landed property: this is mine. That way they are assured that with respect to the entire land it will come true for their children.

After the land in its full extent has been shown to them for two centuries so as to have a clear idea of it and to keep a reminder of it, they have to leave to move to a land which definitely is not theirs and never will be: Egypt, where the third patriarch is given a tremendous welcome, but his posterity is compelled to submit to slavery, to hard bondage, to such an extent that they cry unto the LORD (Ex. 2:23). That the LORD has led the people this way, a hard and bitter way, in accordance with His divine plan, we knew already from Genesis 15:13 ff., where the LORD also says to Abraham: "But I will bring judgment on the nation which they serve." The whole course of events is the LORD's concern. It is He who will make them depart as certainly as it was He who had made them enter before. It is not a band of slaves under the leadership of a certain Moses, a resistance fighter, a clever man, that managed to escape by seizing the opportunity as soon as it offered; that representation is given sometimes in books of liberal O.T. scholars. No, it is the LORD, who revealed himself to Moses; the LORD, and nobody else who will bring the people out of Egypt with His mighty hand and outstretched arm and into Canaan, at the entry of which difficulties are to be faced and will be overcome. And in so far as the LORD is enlisting the service of Moses and the people, they are to follow where their GOD is going ahead of them, taking the lead. The LORD is carrying out His plan, but that does not mean that the Israelites will enter automatically. No, they are admitted conditionally. Throughout the book of Deuteronomy, the last words spoken by Moses on the behest of the LORD, it is pointed out to them that by obeying the Law and heeding the testimonies, statutes, the way into Canaan will be paved.

And not only that. Once they have entered, they should not live in the mood: "We are safe! Nothing can happen to us!" No, dangers are threatening over there. And now I mean dangers of a spiritual kind. Today, about twenty-five years after the event, I very well remember how the late Prof. B. Holwerda during his lectures on the exegesis of Deuteronomy, disgressed upon those dangers. In Deut. 7 it is the inhabitants, the Canaanite population, which constitute such a danger, and for that reason they are to be destroyed. In ch. 8 it is the land itself that constitutes a danger. It is a good land, a choice portion, sure. Cp. the verses 7-10. In the setting of that time, of course! A time when copper and iron, but not oil-wells, had come into the picture. The condition of life is such that the Israelites may become wealthy people, saving in their hearts: "My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth". So we are led to ch. 9 and 10, where it is the people itself that forms a potential danger to Israel. They should never forget what a people they have been in the wilderness, provoking the LORD to wrath. When entering they are taking this old nature along with them. So the LORD has his people warned circumstantially. And now that I come to think of it, I wonder: Isn't it a remarkable coincidence that Prof. Holwerda gave this course in the very time that Israel's independence was proclaimed?! As often as the question comes up: Is Israel entitled to live in an independent state in Palestine, I would like to point to the last book of the Pentateuch.



In the beginning of Israel's history there are two men who stand head and shoulders above the others. They are Abraham and Moses, as even a child knows. And for him who has a child's faith no problems arise here. It pleased the LORD to reveal himself to Abraham and to Moses. In this order. That the order is not merely a matter of the succession of historical facts but that it is also really significant, we learn from Galatians 3:16 and 17, "Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring", and, "The law, which came four hundred and thirty years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance is by the law, it is no longer by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise." What Paul is stating here is not far-fetched. Rather, he sticks to the text, not only to the letter but also to the context. And he has a keen eye for the various stages in the history of God's revelation. First: Abraham; then: Moses. That means: first the promise; then, afterwards: the law. And not the reverse. Definitely not! For that would mean the nullification of what God intended in making a covenant with man, with Abraham - a covenant of grace throughout. Cp. also Romans 4:13-16.

However, for him who approaches the Bible without a child's faith, problems will arise. The book of Max I. Dimont, quoted in the previous article (ch. 1, 2, "The Reluctant Prophet") furnishes abundant proof. To be sure, on p. 41 Dimont writes, "Though we have discussed these theories on the identity of Moses and the origins of the Hebrews and Israelites at length, we wish neither to discredit nor to affirm them. " But just read how he goes on and you know where you are with him: "but merely to point out that in our way of viewing history, it makes no difference whether Moses was a Jew or not, whether the Hebrews and Israelites were the same or different people, or to whom God first revealed his covenant. " It is the same author who on page 36 dares state: "This Biblical version of the life of Moses raises many perplexing questions." And then he deals at great length with all kinds of questions that he sees arise regarding the relation between Abraham and Moses and God's revelation of each of them respectively. I am not going into this matter now.

After having spoken or written of faith and promise in our first two articles, the way is paved to deal with the Law, the Torah, without which we can hardly imagine the Jewish people today. Isn't the Jewish people named: the people of the Torah, the Law, so as to express the inseparability of the two?

In the context of Genesis 12, the first chapter of the history of Israel, it is faith that stands out clearly as the demand that God makes upon Abraham and all his children.

In the promise it is the land which the LORD is going to show him that is mentioned first: it will provide room for the promised posterity, the children of the blessed one, who are to become a blessing themselves, by whom all the families of the earth shall bless themselves as they did by their father. That promise-requirement relationship is taking shape in the ceremony of the covenant (Gen. 15) and in circumcision, the sign and seal of the covenant (Gen. 17) - not only with a view to Abraham individually but also with a view to his seed after him in their generations, which are to become a people united by the tie of the covenant.

It is in Egypt that the promised seed grows into a nation, having hitherto constituted no more than a large family. Egypt that first hailed them, as a refuge in time of famine, turned out to be a house of bondage later on. Yet, in hard bondage the people increased miraculously. In the words of the Latin saying: Palma sub pondere crescit. And he who believes the LORD's providence which comes to light in the history of Joseph, knows that not Canaan, where Israel ran the risk of being assimilated, but this hard bondage in a strange land was the presupposition for their developing into a nation and for the manifestation of the LORD's mighty deeds in the subduing of the oppressor and the realization of the Exodus. After having come to know the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as its Originator, the people of Israel will now learn to recognize Him as the Great Redeemer out of distress, and that is how He presents and introduces Himself to them in the Law.

"I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage." This Exodus is going to be a landmark, a milestone in their history. An occurrence never to be forgotten; ever memorable. A milestone on the way; so, not the beginning. The people had already been set on the way in the person of their forefather, but now they are the fathers, showed Himself to be a real, genuine Covenant-God. YAHWEH is His name. "I am who I am", He explains Himself. Sovereign as well as faithful. He saw the people of Israel and knew them, loved them, making His love effective 'in the redemption from Egypt.

However, this God is not going to leave it at that. The matter cannot rest here. As Covenant God He is going to make demands upon them. He has a claim on them. Having become their Redeemer, He is the more entitled to do so.

The LORD did not promulgate His Law on first acquaintance. That is what heathen gods would have done, and have done, in the opinion or imagination of their believers. For in the heathen world man makes gods after his image: exacting, whimsical, capricious, angry without reason. That is why heathen religions give rise to all sorts of legalism as well as to ingenuity in evading the law.

But once the Lord has set his people free, He makes demands. Those demands are part of the conditions of the covenant. We may speak of conditions in all seriousness as we have learned since the Liberation, I would almost say. However, it is not on account of what happened during the Liberation or on account of a cherished doctrine of Liberated theologians, but on account of God's own manner of speaking in Holy Scripture that we do so. The way those conditions are phrased is so serious that you can call them unconditional. That is to say, the LORD requires unconditional obedience.

This may be seen in the style of some laws, in their uncompromising formulation. It may be seen also in the threatened punishment, which in some cases is death, the extirpation from the people of God, or the curse in some instances, viz., in the case when the sin is in flat contradiction to the unity and the holiness of God. According to the level Israel lived on in those times, certain notorious sins are singled out as a warning to others, the underlying idea being: "Be holy for I am holy."

"Be holy for I am holy". The Law is motivated. That is why conditions are to be taken in all seriousness. In each commandment a real relationship comes to light. In an article on the Law in the O.T. we read: "The form of the commands is negative. Here is the fresh confirmation that the theological setting of this Law is the covenant of election. There is not commanded what establishes the relation to Yahweh, but prohibited what destroys it.[3] " Throughout the Law the covenant with Israel - that is to say: with the fathers - is presupposed.

You see it also in the persuasive aspect of the commandments. Not all in the commandments is negative. No, "the proclamation of the Law seeks to make an impression on the will of the hearer and to make transgressions inwardly impossible by recollection of Yahweh's acts. This aspect does not consist, however, in the promise of a reward, for, since the covenant precedes the prohibition, the only reward can be perseverance in this positive relation to Yahweh. For this positive relation to Yahweh. For this reason there is reference to punishment for violation but not to any special reward for fulfillment. " It is a grace to be permitted to have such a Law; and to fulfil it is also a matter of mere grace. "Do that and you shall live!" Consequently Life the reward - is implied in the very doing of the commandments. For the Law of the LORD is a Law unto life, whatever "paragraph" you touch upon. YAHWEH has the well being of his people at heart.

It is to be expected that such a God takes into full account the condition of his people. In the last verse of Ex. 2 it is their condition of being slaves. What I have in mind now, however, is the condition of being sinners, a sinful people. Their being brought out of Egypt did not remove the fact that the Israelites, considered in themselves, remained the sinners and transgressors they were. The Law was meant by God to keep them far from sin, as far as possible anyway. Yet, we know, they were to fall into sin over and over again. So, other provisions were to be made, other measures to be taken, by a God who speaks in all earnest as often as He refers to a covenant relationship. That is why we find such a great place apportioned to the socalled "ceremonial" laws. I for one am not so happy with this term. For it is not what we are inclined to understand by "ceremonial" today: something outward, for the sake of appearances, i.e., not of essential importance. Let alone that I would be happy with seeing those ceremonial laws in small print as is the case in some Bible editions. As if they were periscopes to be read or skipped at will by the Bible readers. For in these laws you hear, in a manner of speaking, the heartbeat of Israel's religion - the Old Testament religion, I had better say.

Here you see the heart of Israel's God - YAHWEH, propitious, willing to have atonement made for the sins of his people. The ceremonial laws are the very center of the Law. They deal with the tabernacle, the place where a Holy God is pleased to dwell in the midst of a sinful people, the tent of meeting, visible guarantee of the relationship pointing to Him who calls Himself "this tabernacle", Jesus Christ. There the mediators, the priests, officiate after having been introduced by the mediator of the O.T., Moses, who foreshadows the real Mediator of both Old and New Testament. There bloody sacrifices are brought uninterruptedly, keeping the covenant relationship going and intact. And around and in the tabernacle Israel celebrated its feasts, keeping alive what the LORD had done in history. Without the shedding of blood no remission of sins! Also the purifications were meant to teach and instruct the people that they had to be cleansed from sin and kept at a distance from the polluting influence of death. Everything in the Law pivots around the Law of the sanctuary. From the tabernacle the light and the holiness of the LORD radiate over all of life.

Though the motive is religious throughout, the feasts have a bearing on daily work, the work done during the season concerned. With the first fruits of the field and the firstlings of the flock the Israelite is to present himself before the LORD, giving the LORD what he has first received out of his hand. It is not so much the gift as the giver personally whom the LORD has in mind. Far from being commercialized in its worship, Israel is given the opportunity to show its thankfulness toward the LORD to whom it owes whatever it has.

Light is thrown upon Israel's personal and social life as the LORD imprints upon them that He wills them to be holy in all their expressions and their whole conduct towards one another. Another characteristic mark that must come to the fore according to the will of the LORD is his mercy as reflected and mirrored in the attitude the people assume toward the poor, the widow, the orphan, the stranger and the alien. "Remember that you yourselves have been strangers in the land of Egypt," the LORD reminds them.

By all these features we see how important and significant a place the Law acquired in the life of the people, because of its character, because of its Author. It is REVELATION throughout. He who fails to see this, fails to see the essence of the Law and strains the truth. It is a good Law; a wonderful Law; a Law bearing testimony to its Author GOD; a Law worthwhile to be kept but at the same time requiring a righteous, a perfect, man to keep it. And this man has been given the Jewish people and the Church of all ages in Jesus Christ, who is the end of the Law, that everyone who has faith may be justified. And so we come back to our starting point: faith. Faith: man's answer to God's revelation, to the promise, to the Covenant relationship, a relationship so comprehensive and rich with respect to all that it implies that the people were in need of the Law to have it pointed out to them how happy they really were. "Congratulations," it reads in Psalm 1 and 119, where the man is addressed who says: "Oh, how I love thy Law. It is my meditation all the day!"

In this article I disgressed upon the Law of the O.T. We'll return to the subject. Of course, in articles dealing with Israel! What is an Israel without the Law? Right! However, what is Israel; and what is the intention of the Law? On this answer the future of the nation is dependent!



[1] <BACK> Arthur Hertzberg, Judaism (in the series) Great Religions of Modern Man 1, pp. 8, 9.
[2]  <BACK> Walter Laqueur, The Arab-Israel Reader.- A Documentary History of the Middle East Conflict, p. 125.
[3]  <BACK> Kittel-Brorniley, Theological Dictionary of the N.T., Vol. IV, p. 1037.