Israel Violates the Covenant

Christian MölkFriend of Strangers Leave a Comment

Although Israel had received the Law of Moses with clear instructions on how to live as God’s people, unfortunately it doesn’t take long before Israel begins to break the covenant with God. They break both the first half of the covenant, to love God with all their heart, by beginning to worship idols, and the second half of the covenant, to love their fellow man as themselves, by beginning to oppress the stranger.

God therefore sends his prophets to warn Israel. If they do not repent and stop mistreating strangers, fatherless and widows, God will drive Israel out of their homeland:

5 “For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another,6 if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other Gods to your own harm,7 then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever.”

(Je 7:5-7)

Under no circumstances could Israel believe that by performing their religious ceremonies in the temple they were safe in their homeland if at the same time they mistreated vulnerable people. For loving God with all your heart and loving your fellow man as oneself go together. You cannot have one without the other:

9 Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other Gods that you have not known,10 and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’-only to go on doing all these abominations? 11Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the Lord.”

(Je 7:9-11)

But despite the prophets’ warnings, Israel does not repent, but continues to worship idols and oppress the stranger, the widow and the fatherless:

7 Father and mother are treated with contempt in you; the sojourner suffers extortion in your midst; the fatherless and the widow are wronged in you. ”

(Eze 22:7)

As a consequence, God first allowed the Assyrians to defeat and remove the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 BC.[i] Some time later, the same judgment befalls the southern kingdom of Judah, when the Babylonians take Jerusalem, destroy the temple, and take the Jewish people in captivity to Babylon: [ii]

8 In the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month-that was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon-Nebuzaradan, the captain of the bodyguard, a servant of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. 9And he burned the house of the Lord and the king’s house and all the houses of Jerusalem; every great house he burned down. 10And all the army of the Chaldeans, who were with the captain of the guard, broke down the walls around Jerusalem. 11And the rest of the people who were left in the city and the deserters who had deserted to the king of Babylon, together with the rest of the multitude, Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard carried into exile.”

(2Ki 25:8-11)

In 586 BC, Jerusalem, including the temple, is destroyed and the Jewish people are taken into captivity. The deportation of entire peoples by the great powers was a common military strategy at the time, in order to prevent future rebellions.

God warned Israel through His prophets[iii] that this would happen if Judah did not repent of its sins, but because they did not, God eventually allowed the Babylonians to carry the Jewish people away into captivity. [iv]

Once in Babylon, the Jewish people had to live in captivity for 70 years, before they were allowed to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple thanks to the Persian king Cyrus.[v]

But while the Jewish people were in captivity in Babylon, God gave them this exhortation:

4 “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. 6Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

(Je 29:4-7)

Losing both their homeland and their temple was, of course, a shock to the Jews who survived. Moreover, false prophets falsely prophesied that Judah would soon return to its homeland.[vi] But God had decided that the Jewish people would remain in Babylon for 70 years[vii] and therefore urges the Jews to continue to live as if they were at home even though they are strangers in another land, and to continue to pray even though the temple in Jerusalem is destroyed.

By presenting himself as “the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel”, God shows that he has the capacity to both hear and answer the prayers of the Jews even if they are outside Israel and even if the temple of Jerusalem is destroyed.

Moreover, although God is the God of Israel, he is not only the God of the Jews, but of the whole world, even of the Babylonians. Even though the Babylonians have a different religion and are the hated enemies of the Jews, God loves them too. God therefore urges the Jewish people to pray for their enemies[viii] and to seek the welfare of the Babylonian society, because if Babylon does well, the Jewish people will also benefit.[ix]

If much of the Bible is about how God’s people should treat strangers who come to Israel, this text is about how God’s people themselves should behave in the event of being in a foreign nation: continue to believe in God, trust in his care. Continue to live and work for a good future. Work together with your former enemies and your new community. Love your enemies and be a blessing to the new land you find yourself in.

And, it should be added, if God’s people do not continue to live their lives in their new land, do not pray for their new society, and do not work for peace and reconciliation with the Babylonians, then the Jewish people will not do well either. Behaving badly in their new land and hating the local people will lead to more enmity and will certainly not benefit the immigrant people.

An interesting detail that does not appear in the English translation of the Bible, is that where in Jeremiah 29:7 it says “welfare”, in the Hebrew text it says “shalom”:

7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

(Je 29:7)

Shalom is a wonderful Hebrew word that can be translated into both “peace” and “inner peace”. In English, “peace” means the opposite of “war”. But the biblical meaning of shalom implies not only the absence of enmity but also a positive state of prosperity and well-being.

So when God calls on the Jews to seek shalom with the Babylonians, he wants the Jews to refrain from hostilities against the Babylonians and actively work for peace and prosperity. A state of peace between Jews and Babylonians will be a blessing for both Jews and Babylonians. One could even translate verse 7 something like this: “Seek peace with your enemies, for in that peace is your peace.”

Continuing this idea into the present, we can compare it to the idea that a Christian of today should not only passively refrain from xenophobia, but should also be actively xenophile (i.e., a friend of strangers). Making peace is more than just passively refraining from war, it also means actively working for peace.[x]

Just as we saw in chapter 4 that it was in the offering of hospitality itself that the transition from potential enemy to protected guest took place, so the Jews were able to make peace with the Babylonians by actively seeking the good of their new community.

I think we all have a lot to learn from the multifaceted concept of shalom. To be at peace with someone is not only to passively refrain from doing something bad, but also to actively do something good.

If we continue to study the word shalom, or “eirene” as it is called in Greek, it seems that the biblical teaching never ends. In the New Testament, the Old Testament view of “peace” as a state of well-being combined with the absence of hostility continues.[xi] The angels proclaim that God brings peace to earth with the birth of Jesus.[xii] God offers peace and reconciliation to Israel and humanity in Jesus,[xiii] which is clearly demonstrated when Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey while the people sing “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”.[xiv] This peace and reconciliation between God and man, and between people and people, was brought about by Jesus through his death on the cross.[xv] The disciples come with peace to the people they visit,[xvi] Jesus greets people with peace.[xvii] The apostles often begin their letters with the greeting “Grace to you and peace[xviii] and state that Jesus is our peace.[xix] Those who work to “make peace” are called by Jesus “sons of God”.[xx] And so on, and so on.

You have read a free chapter of my book Friend of Strangers. If you like this book, please consider purchasing the ebook through Amazon. Since English is not my native language, there may be some linguistic inaccuracies. Please contact me if you find any.

Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[i] 2Ki 17:5–6, 24

[ii] 2Ki 23:26–27, 2Ki 24:2–4

[iii] Je 21:1–10

[iv] 2Ki 23:26–27, 2Ki 24:2–4

[v] Ezr 1:1–4

[vi] Je 28:2–4

[vii] Je 29:10

[viii] Mt 5:44

[ix] 1Ti 2:1–2

[x] See Chapter 26 for more on peacemaking.

[xi] Ac 12:20, Mt 10:34

[xii] Lk 2:14

[xiii] Ac 10:36

[xiv] Lk 19:38

[xv] Col 1:20

[xvi] Mt 10:13

[xvii] Mk 5:34, Lk 7:50, Lk 24:36

[xviii] 1Th 1:1, 1Pe 1:2

[xix] Eph 2:14

[xx] Mt 5:9

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