The New Covenant vs Old, as Explained in the Letter to the Hebrews

Few things aggravate like being in service and the householder tells you how you can’t earn salvation through good works. Say: “Well, the good works can’t hurt, can they?” Let him try to assert that they do. If they get truly condescending, sloughing you on the basis that they’re Christian (as though you are not), I have even been known to say: “Only a Christian would do what I am doing. Frankly, I’m a little surprised that you are not doing it yourself.” Watch that smug smile fade. I mean, it is fine to decline conversation—more people do than don’t—just not on that basis.

It’s a little dicey. Use it very sparingly, only when richly deserved, and probably not even then, for it is not exactly an example of turning the other cheek. Duh. Every Witness knows that they are not earning anything in their house-to-house ministry. But it is like the mirror that you put under the nose of someone lying prostrate. If that mirror doesn’t fog up, I don’t care how many people tell me that the person is alive—he’s dead. It is the same way with faith.

Besides, it is been there/done that as regards trying to earn life. That is what the Mosaic Law was all about. “You must keep my statutes and my judicial decisions; anyone who does so will live by means of them,” said God of that Law. (Leviticus 18:5.) You could even say that God had set them up for failure, since it was not possible for imperfect persons to keep that perfect law, and he knew it. Of course, you don’t say it, because the purpose of that Law was to direct them to something better—that they would not have seen the need for before. It was setting them up for the real life. That’s what Paul means about the Law being a tutor:

“However, before the faith arrived, we were being guarded under law...looking to the faith that was destined to be revealed.  Consequently the Law has become our tutor leading to Christ,that we might be declared righteous due to faith. But now that the faith has arrived, we are no longer under a tutor.” - (Galatians 3:23-25)

As they trod a path back and forth to offer up sacrifices for their sins, it would occur to a remnant of them that something more permanent would be nice. They couldn’t earn life by following Law. They were flawed. It was beyond them. What they needed was forgiveness for sin, not a just a continual reminder of them via their price tag. As to being “guarded under law,” the Law gave them plenty to do and kept them off the streets where they might get into mischief with the rowdy neighbors.

And so there is the New Covenant, to replace the old Law Covenant [Old and New Testaments, in most Bibles] The old covenant is between God and Israel, mediated by Moses, and inaugurated through the sacrificial blood of animals. The new is between God and spiritual Israel, mediated by the Son, and inaugurated through his own shed blood. The name “Israel’ is even retained—only the identity of those who occupy the slot has changed—those who “contend with God,” as the name means.. It is now “the Israel of God,” (Galatians 6:16) since “not all who descend from Israel are really ‘Israel.’” (Romans 9:6)

Paul waits until he writes to Christians in Jerusalem [Letter to the Hebrews] before he draws all the parallels. They were at “ground zero.” They were in the host city. Three pilgrimages took place there each year—there occasions when the magnificent temple and even the entire city would be abuzz. Meanwhile, the Christians there were meeting in private homes, not the big glorious temple. Did they suffer an inferiority complex?

If you had been a believer anywhere else, you would not have had that contrast for someone to rub into your face, but in Jerusalem you did have it. It took its toll. After a furious spurt of early activity, the ministry of those Christians had cooled off. “For although by now you should be teachers, you again need someone to teach you from the beginning the elementary things of the sacred pronouncements of God, and you have gone back to needing milk, not solid food,” the apostle writes at Hebrews 5:12.

They are in some spiritual danger. If you don’t keep forward motion on the bicycle, you fall off. “Beware, brothers, for fear there should ever develop in any one of you a wicked heart lacking faith by drawing away from the living God...so that none of you should become hardened by the deceptive power of sin. For we actually become partakers of the Christ only if we hold firmly down to the end the confidence we had at the beginning.” (3:12-14)

Paul draws upon their knowledge of mutual history. Sure, God, led the forefathers out of Egypt, he says, but he afterwards cast off those “testing” him, those “provoking” him, those “always going astray” despite their having seen his works for 40 years—those who gave in to “lack of faith” and became “disobedient.” (3:7-19)

He ups the ante significantly when he speaks of those who accept, but then reject, the free gift: “For as regards those who were once enlightened and who have tasted the heavenly free gift and who have become partakers of holy spirit  and who have tasted the fine word of God and powers of the coming system of things, but have fallen away, it is impossible to revive them again to repentance, because they nail the Son of God to the stake again for themselves and expose him to public shame.” (6:4-6)

Not to worry, though. He is talking tough, but it isn’t to them: “But in your case, beloved ones, we are convinced of better things, things related to salvation, even though we are speaking in this way. For God is not unrighteous so as to forget your work and the love you showed for his name by ministering and continuing to minister to the holy ones.” (6:9-10)

He just hopes that they will pick up the slack: “But we desire each one of you to show the same industriousness so as to have the full assurance of the hope down to the end, so that you may not become sluggish, but be imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” (6:11-12)

He helps them as he points out that the fantastic temple and the high holidays are not the real thing—they are things that go hand in hand with the Law that has become “obsolete,” is “growing old,” and is, in fact, close to “vanishing away”—which it did, just a few years later when Romans destroyed that temple in 70 C.E. It never had been the real thing. It had been the pattern of the real thing.

These “men [the Jewish priests] who offer the gifts according to the Law—[they] are offering sacred service in a typical representation and a shadow of the heavenly things.” Those Christians in Jerusalem had the real thing—big temple notwithstanding. Even “Moses, when about to construct the tent, was given the divine command....‘See that you make all things after their pattern that was shown to you in the mountain.’” (8:4-5)

They had the New Covenant, not the Old. Paul refers to how it was foretold through Jeremiah (31: 31-34): “Look! The days are coming,’ says Jehovah, ‘when I will make with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah a new covenant.... I will put my laws in their mind, and in their hearts I will write them....And they will no longer teach each one his fellow citizen and each one his brother, saying: “Know Jehovah!”...I will be merciful toward their unrighteous deeds, and I will no longer call their sins to mind.’” (8:8-12)

 

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“Egypt Anyone? Let’s Stuff This Religious Gig and Go Back!”

It seems incredible that Israelites delivered from bondage in Egypt would petition to go back just a few weeks later. Doesn’t it? We’ve all seen the movie. Moses raises him arm, the Red Sea parts, the Israelites cross, the Egyptian army follows, and the Sea closes in on them and drowns them all.

A few weeks later they thought it was all a mistake. They wanted to go back. Would anyone believe it without seeing it in black and white? No. Therefore, here it is:

“And all the sons of Israel began to murmur against Moses and Aaron, and all the assembly began to say against them: “If only we had died in the land of Egypt, or if only we had died in this wilderness!  And why is Jehovah bringing us to this land to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become plunder. Is it not better for us to return to Egypt?” They even went to saying to one another: “Let us appoint a head, and let us return to Egypt!” (Numbers 14:2-4)

It wasn’t the cakewalk they thought it would be. If God got them out of a jam once, surely it couldn’t happen again. The food had been good. “How we remember the fish that we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers and the watermelons and the leeks and the onions and the garlic!” (Numbers 11:5) True, the slavery sucked, but life wandering about in hopes of a promised lands wasn’t glamorous at all.

It is all a matter of delayed gratification. If you weren’t able to do that, and grumbled about manna— it was fairly versatile stuff, but there are limits—being not cucumbers and watermelons and leeks and onions and garlic, then you started to pine away for the old life. Apparently slavery wasn’t all that tortuous; if you faithfully made your quota of bricks, the taskmaster left you in peace and fed you good when feeding time came.

The reasons not to go back to Egypt? They were all of a spiritual nature. Wanting to worship their God unhindered had triggered the Ten Plague showdown in the first place. To Pharaoh is was: “This is what Jehovah the God of the Hebrews has said: “Send my people away that they may serve me.” (Exodus 9:13) And the “promised land” where they would also worship their God unhindered was but a promise that one had to have faith it would come about.

In short, the reasons to turn back were physical. The reasons to press on were spiritual. It is no different today. If the Reddit characters that the Philly reporter wrote about—the dropouts who carried on about “the absurdities of their experiences” to a reporter who lapped it all up—it could be argued that they remained too shallow for too long to appreciate what was worthwhile.

Wanting to go back to Egypt, my foot! To maneuver to maybe become the bossman’s head lackey? Don’t tell me that in any way compares to the real life that one must, to be sure, exercise faith in and master the art of delayed gratification.

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Moses Strikes the Rock and Draws Water in a Rebellious Age

“Finally, Moses cried out to Jehovah: “What should I do with this people? A little longer and they will stone me!” as the Israelites went online and complained 24/7 over everything under the sun. It is an update Exodus 17:4 into the present. Though the July 2018 Watchtower article entitled ‘Where are Your Eyes Looking?’ nowhere makes the connection, beyond a vague reference to those having ‘a measure of responsibility in God’s organization,’ which everyone took as a reference to congregation elders, I couldn’t help but think the ones of the Governing Body had themselves foremost in mind as beneficiaries of the counsel offered.

It is not as though I have any special insight. It is just that I hang out on the internet a lot and I hear all the grousing going on. It is not necessarily to my credit that I do this. It may be like the impression you get from hearing Trump and Obama people scream online at each other day and night but then you go into the real world and you find that people get along with each other tolerably well despite differences, and it is just the internet that gives a skewed picture.

Much was made of the instance in which Moses produced water from the rock at God’s direction. He did it twice, something that I had forgotten, if I ever knew it in the first place. The first was months after crossing the Red Sea, during a time when there was so much muttering over lack of water that Moses in frustration cried out the words above. It didn’t occur to them that the God who slammed Egypt with ten plagues and parted the waters, closing them upon the army in pursuit, could solve the problem of a drought. Jehovah told Moses to strike a rock. Moses did, and water gushed out. (Exodus 17)

The next instance was almost 40 years later, and the people seem to have worn Moses down, what with constant bellyaching and occasional rebellion throughout the interim. This time when they started complaining over the same thing, Moses lost it. “Hear, now, you rebels! Must we bring water for you from this crag?” and struck the rock twice, after which water again gushed out. But God didn’t like what Moses had shouted. Much later Psalm 106: 32-33 says, ‘They provoked him at the waters of Meribah, and it went badly for Moses because of them. They embittered his spirit, and he spoke rashly with his lips.”

Look, if you approach the speaker after a good talk and tell him it was a good talk, he will as often as not say something to the effect that it is not really him who should get the credit, but Jehovah. He says that even though people are capable of speaking all by themselves without any help at all from Jehovah. So what about someone who takes full credit for doing what no human in a thousand years could do? It is what Moses did. Yet that’s what can happen when the scoundrels are nipping at your heels day and night for forty years. This last bit of correction from God, that Moses as a result of his outburst would not be the one to take his countrymen into the promised land, strikes the average reader as pretty harsh. Yet it is entirely in harmony with ‘to whom more is given, more will be expected,’ and ‘he will finish your training; he will make you firm.’ Moses, like everybody else, is being trained for the real life, not this transitory one.

Notwithstanding that the internet is the perfect breeding ground for complainers, one has to ask. ‘What is it with all these malcontents?’ It is as though kicking against the goads is the order of the day, seen everywhere. Acquiescence to the authority of the parent, the teacher, the counselor, the coach, the boss, the consulted advisor, the party leader, the union steward, and those taking the lead in the congregation was once an entirely unremarkable fact of life; today it is selling out one’s soul. I begin to imagine the GB posting God’s rebuke to Moses as their own personal yeartext, in hopes that they do not also lose it one day kicking back at the grumblers.

God counted that complaining about Moses as complaining about Him. “When your forefathers tested me; They challenged me, though they had seen my works,” reads Psalm 96:6. ‘Yeah, well, they’re no Moses,’ I can hear the retorts already, ‘Where are their comparable works? What Red Sea did they lead anyone though?’

No, I think people should think very hard before they go there. The human component of the divine-human interface is always the sticking point. It is even so with Judas. He and God were tight; there were absolutely no problems there. But that fraud that claimed to be the Messiah! That was just too much for Judas.

Observing that literal food and drink prefigures the greater spiritual food and drink, the accomplishments of the Witness organization today are nothing short of amazing, The average person of a developing nation is stuck with some 200 year-old turkey of a translation that he can neither afford nor understand because those in the church world think it only natural that Big Business be entrusted with the distribution of God’s word. Only Jehovah’s Witnesses devise an entirely separate channel to place a modern understandable translation in his hands at minimal cost, even free. The Bible satisfactorily answers questions that are answered nowhere else, the deeper questions of life such as ‘Why would God permit suffering, why do people die and what is the hope afterward, and what is the ultimate purpose of life?’ Although this fellow may not have a nickel to his name, he has access to the answers no less than someone in more affluent lands, some of whom count it as nothing as they grouse about matters of personal inconvenience.

It is not nothing. However, when people become obsessed with their own immediate needs and wants, it can become as nothing. I don’t dare do it: simply become a whiner over present inconveniences. There are some inconveniences, of course, in pursuing a united service to God today, but to carry on excessively about them seems to me a reality not too far off from Moses in Sinai. In any organization there is a chance that a given decision will not go your way. Should organization be jettisoned on that account? It is exactly what opposers would wish. That way individuals flail away, accomplish little, and can likely be absorbed in time by the popular cause.

Obviously if you take away the upside there become nothing left other than to bitch about the downside. The rage today of the young is to go atheist. Who smoothed that path for them? However, when they come around complaining about the ‘restrictions’ they have broken free from, always ask them what they have found that is better. What is it that they have to offer? Are they not just ‘promising them freedom’ while existing as ‘slaves of corruption’? What do they have to offer? Simply the freedom to do whatever one wants without check? History shows that freedom has not worked out particularly well for humankind.

Poussin _Nicolas_-_Moses_Striking_Water_from_the_Rock_-_1649

 

 

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