Faithful God

Torah Portion: Bechukotai (Lev. 26:2-27:34)
Gospel Reading: Romans 11
Commentary by: Matthew Day

On a surface level, the blessings and curses of Leviticus are about reward and punishment. You do good, and you get rewarded. But if you do evil, you get punishment. It seems fair and runs in line with human intuition. Indeed, this is why so many believe in a sort of works based salvation. However, if we dig a little deeper, we'll find that there is a message beneath the surface--one which moves beyond fairness and justice toward mercy; a message which brings a hope that defies all common sense: God will never reject His people.

This is a point that has been contested within the church. Christians of the various denominations take sides as to whether God still has a Covenant with Israel, whether God still has a plan for the Jewish people, and whether the physical descendants of Abraham even matter anymore. When God said after all Israel's backsliding, failures, and idolatry, "Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not spurn hem, neither will I abhor them so as to destroy them utterly and break my covenant with them, for I am the LORD their God," (Lev. 26:44) was it forever? Was this promise unconditional? Was there an implied limit to the amount of rebellion God could take before He changed His mind?

In Romans 9-10, Paul takes up this argument. How could God break His Covenant and reject His people? How could He allow the Gentiles to take their place? Because, He is God, Paul argues, and He has the right to take His clay and make whatever He wills with it. As Jeremiah prophesied, when a nation that is promised blessing turns toward disobedience, God can reshape His intentions toward that nation just as the potter reshapes a clay vessel (Jer. 18:1-11). Similarly, Ezekiel proclaimed that if a righteous man turns toward wickedness, none of his righteous deeds will be remembered (Eze. 18). When Israel rejected the Messiah and refused to turn from their hypocrisy, they sealed their fate and earned themselves a place in exile. Blessing and cursing. Reward and punishment. This is what we read in the Torah portion this week.

However, Paul goes on in Romans 11 to remind us of the shaky ground we stand on. Before we stand up and look down upon our Jewish brethren, we should remember that we were grafted in contrary to nature. We were "separated from Messiah, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world" (Eph. 2:12). If the natural branches can be broken off, how much more so we who are strangers? If the covenant people have reason to fear and tremble, how much more so we who were pagans? Blessing and cursing. Reward and punishment. This is the law of the earth.

Finally, Paul comes to his conclusion. "And in this way all Israel will be saved...for the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable...for God has consigned all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all." God has not rejected His people. After all this talk about branches being broken off, about Israel's stumbling, Paul comes back to the promise at the end of it all: "Yet for all that...I will not spurn them...for I am the LORD their God."

Notice that last phrase in the verse, "for I am the LORD their God." God has hinged this statement about covenant faithfulness on His very identity. His Name and His reputation is tied up in His promise to Israel. Thus, this debate becomes about more than just the future of the Jewish people (as important as that is). It becomes about the very character of God. Is He a God that keeps His promises? Is He truly long-suffering, merciful, and gracious? Is it true what the evangelicals say, that no sin is too great to separate us forever from the love of God?

When we look at how God views the Jewish people throughout Scripture into the present, we see a glimpse of how God views us. We are sinners, rebellious and backsliding. Idolaters. Liars. Slanderers. Squanderers. And yet, "while we were still sinners, Messiah died for us." He will never give up on us just as He still has not given up on the Jewish people. One day, all Israel will be saved. On that day, God will be known as the Faithful One. The God who is faithful to Israel will be faithful to us as well.