In the third month after the sons of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day they came into the wilderness of Sinai. When they set out from Rephidim, they came to the wilderness of Sinai and camped in the wilderness; and there Israel camped in front of the mountain. Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself. Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.”
–Exodus 19:1-6 (NASB)
I probably talked a little too much (or a lot too much) in Sunday school class today. I may have even gotten on a few nerves. It was difficult not to. The sermon was on Exodus 19:1-25 which is Pastor Randy’s introduction to a sermon series on the Ten Commandments and how they apply to the Church today.
Before even getting to the Ten Commandments, he’s going to spend separate sermons on Deuteronomy 5:1-5; 22-23, 1 Timothy 1:8-11, and Galatians 3:1-14. After that, he’ll spend one sermon on each of the Ten Words (Aseret ha-Dibrot).
I had the opportunity to speak with Pastor before service began. He knew I’d be particularly interested in these sermons and also knows the points where I’m likely to disagree. That’s OK since there are other areas where I do agree, one of which is that most Christians really need to hear more about “the Law” and how not only was it valuable in ancient days, but that it is valuable and relevant for not only present day Jews, but all modern believers in Jesus Christ.
I won’t spend a lot of time on his sermon, but he did reference a Christian children’s song that goes Every promise in the book is mine, every chapter, every verse, every line. Happily he said that these lyrics are not true and that the Bible must be studied carefully to determine which of the promises can be applied to the Gentile Christian. He also said “we (the Church) are not Israel,” to which I wholeheartedly agree.
I actually ran out of room on the sheet of paper given out before services to take notes on the sermon. What Randy explained was worth a lot of ink to preserve his thoughts. Pastor got into such detail that he ran out of time, only getting to verse nine out of twenty-five, so we’ll pick it up starting with verse ten next Sunday.
I told Randy that I didn’t feel sorry for him (in the sense that we don’t always see eye-to-eye) since he is a careful, honest, and thorough researcher and instructor. My Sunday school teacher on the other hand, I do feel sorry for.
I didn’t get a chance to talk with teacher before class began but given the topic and the fact that he knows my areas of emphasis, he should have expected my “active participation.” It didn’t help that not a lot of other people in class were speaking up much. Again, like last week, we had new people in class, so I also felt a little sorry for them since I’m not a typical Sunday school student.
In his notes, teacher quoted from one of Walt Kaiser’s books:
The “sign” given to Moses in Ex. 3:12 is fulfilled here: he has returned to the “mountain of God.” The presence of the “if” in Ex. 19:5 did not pave the way for Israel’s decline from grace into the law.
“Decline from grace into the law?” Since when did the two become mutually exclusive?
I’m not sure that’s what Kaiser was saying and teacher did try hard to emphasize that the grace shown Abraham (Genesis 15) ran parallel to the giving of the Law at Sinai.
I tried hard to demonstrate the relationship between the Abrahamic, Mosaic (Sinai), and New Covenants bit by bit as I responded to questions in the teacher’s notes, but had to disagree with Pastor and teacher that all of the laws of the Torah constitute the Sinai Covenant. Actually, the Covenant is stated in just two verses:
Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’
–Exodus 19:5-6 (NASB)
That’s the Covenant. The Torah, all of the commandments, statues, and ordinances, are the conditions of the Covenant, the things the Israelites agreed to obey to uphold their end of the Covenant.
But both Pastor and teacher introduced an interesting parallel:
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
–1 Peter 2:9-10 (NASB)
These are just about the same words we see in Exodus 19 where God describes who the Children of Israel are to Him in the Covenant, but Peter is addressing a non-Jewish audience. Pastor said that in the body of Christ, it is not the peoples but the people of God, singular. But since he also said that the Church is not Israel and recognizes Jews in the Church (presumably) as “Israel,” then there are distinctions, though I recognize more distinctiveness between believing Jews and Gentiles than he does.
And yet, it is the ekklesia (assembly) who are “chosen,” “a royal priesthood,” “a holy nation,” a possession” (Am Segulah — a treasured, splendorous people) according to Peter. Israel became a people and a nation before God at Sinai (and according to Jeremiah 31:35-37 they will never stop being a people before God) and when the people of the nations become disciples of the Jewish Messiah through faith, we too become “chosen” and “treasured” as grafted into the root.
Teacher filtered the Exodus 19 experience through Romans 7, 8, and Galatians 3. I used some of the information from my Reflections on Romans series to head off the idea that the Torah in any sense could be “bad” or cause sin. This was surprisingly acceptable to teacher but I have no idea what anyone else was thinking. Pastor Bill was in class, so if I’d said something too far out of line, you’d think he’d have brought it up.
Like I said last week, it’s like they’re shooting all round the target and are just short of a bullseye as far as “getting it” in regards to the continuation of the Torah in Jewish lives.
Teacher even mentioned Psalm 19 which is one of David’s strongest endorsements of the beauty of the Torah. And yet in past classes, teacher has also said how relieved he was that we Christians aren’t under the law, so some dissonance is happening somewhere.
I brought way more notes to class than I needed (or had time for), but one I did bring up, though I didn’t have time to quote it, is this:
“For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.
–Deuteronomy 30:11-14 (NASB)
Obviously God expected that when Israel said “All that you have said we will do,” they would and actually could do it. The Torah is a delight. It always has been. Only human weakness and frailty make it difficult if not impossible for the Jewish people to be able to fulfill their vow before God. But while perfection in the performance of the mitzvot isn’t something that can reasonably be achieved, God’s plan of redemption through the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31, Ezekiel 36) will make it possible.
Since we people of the nations, through a portion of the Abrahamic Covenant (Abraham 12:1-3, Galatians 3:15-16) solve the mystery of the Gospel (Ephesians 3:1-13) on how Gentiles can receive New Covenant blessings and yet not be of the House of Judah and the House of Israel, we also benefit from that redemptive plan. But if not for Israel and God’s promises to her, there would be no hope for us.
I managed to get all that out in class but I don’t know if it made the impact I wanted it to. I think Pastor’s goal and mine for his sermon series are pretty much alike. I think we both want the people at church to see the Bible as one, big, unified book, and not a document that describes a “before” and “after” picture, or a bunch of different plans God had, trying out one after the other until he found one that would work.
Pastor’s going to teach a class this Fall called “God’s Big Picture” where he presents the Bible as the single, overarching Word of God. I’d attend but I’ve spent over a year having almost weekly private conversations with him about these topics, so we both know where the other stands. I’d just serve as a speed bump to the other people who want to listen to Randy, but then again, maybe that’s what I’m doing in Sunday school, too.
I came away from class feeling pretty flat and regretting that I spoke up so much. I was still holding myself back but there was so much I felt needed to be said. I realized that when I was responding to questions, I wasn’t really answering them, but then, I think that was because I didn’t agree with how the teacher organized his entire lesson. His “vision” of how to teach the material and mine are more than a little different.
I guess I’ll have more than one shot at this, so next week when we delve into Deuteronomy, I’ll try again. Hopefully, God will help me become a more effective participant unless He doesn’t want me to speak up at all. But then again, what would be the point of going if I couldn’t participate because, and I’m sorry to put it this way, I believe I have a better handle on topics related to the Torah than my Sunday school teacher.
Yeah, that sounds incredibly arrogant, even to me. So much for the month of Elul.
Addendum: Monday, September 1st: If you read the comments below, you’ll see that several people pointed out my mistake regarding 1 Peter 2. The intended audience of the epistle is not a non-Jewish but rather a Jewish audience, thus we Gentile disciples of the Master cannot consider ourselves “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession.” In retrospect, this actually strengthens my prior statements that the people of the nations called by our Master’s name cannot be Israel, since only they are referred to by the language from the Sinai Covenant.