Wednesday, 4 March 2015

The Easter Story: An ancient promise


THREE AND A HALF THOUSAND YEARS AGO. ON THE PLAINS OF MOAB.

The people of Israel had wandered for forty long years. They were now gathered on a high plateau, where the wind, unhindered due to the lack of trees, blew through the grass and grain. All these years of waiting had led to this moment: to the fulfilment of the great promise to their forefather, Abraham. They were to go into the land that was promised to them.

Their leader, now advanced in years, would never enter this land. He was to die here in Moab. He would walk to Mount Nebo, a long ridge that cut across the plains, look out on the land that God had promised to his people and die. That would have to wait; he still had one last job as the leader of Israel. He turned and addressed them. A hush fell over the crowd. The old man said, 'See, I have given you this land. Go and take possession of the land the Lord has sworn to your fathers - to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob - and to their descendants.'

They all knew the promise that the Lord had given Abraham. The Lord had promised him this land, but that was not all. Abraham, those many years ago, was old and with no children. The Lord, however, promised that his children would be a great nation and that all the people on earth would be blessed through Abraham. All the people of earth were to be blessed, the Lord had promised.

The leader of Israel continued. He reminded the people of Israel of the Lord's faithfulness. The Lord had promised; the Lord had delivered. He reminded them how they had lost patience and had turned from the Lord many times. The leader, too, had failed to stay faithful and this is why he was not to enter the promised land. He spoke of how God's people were to live. Then he said, 'The Lord said to me, "I will raise up a prophet like you from their fellow Israelites. I will put words in his mouth and he will tell everything I have commanded him."'

(Deuteronomy 34)

Commentary
You have to commend the Israelites on their patience. Abraham was promised land and descendants by God. Between that time, they have roamed the Middle East, fled famine, settled in Egypt for six hundred years, then wandered a desert for forty years. They finally made it. They were entering the land that God had promised their ancestors. But this moment has much deeper and longer lasting significance. It does not, it appears, end here.

First, the promise given to Abraham was that all the people of earth were to be blessed through Abraham and his descendants. This moment went the Israelites were to walk from the plains of Moab to claim their inheritance would not be the complete fulfilment of that promise. It was unlikely that impact of their settlement would be so far reaching. This is only one piece of the puzzle. So, the story has not finished (which is good, as there are another sixty-two books of the Bible to go).

Furthermore, the scope of God's promise is baffling. Often we see the Old Testament as God and His people, the Israelites. Apart from invasions, wars and the odd character (like Ruth the Moabitess), it seems that God is primarily interested in the descendants of Abraham. But, right back at the start of this relationship, God is looking at all the people of earth. He wants them, He cares for them, He is going to bless them. He is interested in every nation, not just those of certain descent. Which is very fortunate for us, otherwise we probably would not be celebrating Easter right now.

Before Moses died, he spoke another promise from the Lord. He spoke of one to come. This idea crops up again and again: that someone is coming and they are of great significance. It began in Genesis 3, we see it when Jacob blesses his sons, we see it here and we will see it again. So, the Israelites' waiting has not ended just yet.

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