Week 42 (October)
Some years ago the film His Land was being used in an evangelistic thrust in Sicily, that island "football" off the boot-shaped Italian peninsula. This film, produced by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, portrayed the land and people of Israel in the light of biblical history, with a particular emphasis on divine prophecies.
At the conclusion of the film showing in Sicily, some left-wing radicals stood up and began accusing the church group of being CIA agents who were saying the modern state of Israel was "untouchable" because it is under special, divine protection.
That's an absurd accusation, of course. There is something special about God's people, of course, but it's not because of a CIA plot. It's because of a day in the Sinai when Israel took her marriage vows to the Lord (vows that binds even us today as the spiritual ancestors of that people of God).1
To be sure, the Sinai event wasn't called a marriage ceremony. But the covenant between God and Israel at Mount Sinai was almost immediately identified by Moses as a kind of marriage covenant. Later in the book of Exodus, Moses refers to the People of God's unfaithfulness to the covenant agreement as "whoring" (KJV) or "prostituting" (NIV).2
That's strong language. But it is a theme repeated in the Old Testament by prophets such as Ezekiel and Hosea. The use of figures of speech drawn from the man-woman relationship indicates the kind of exclusive relationship God wants with His people, including us today.
The covenant agreement is not to be understood in terms of Western marriage, however. It is more like the Eastern marriages, which were in many ways "imposed" marriages. The bride had little to say in the choice of her husband. Still, if he was obviously a good man, offering her status, a home, a future, and a promise to love and cherish her, she would willingly say "yes" to his offer. The stories of Isaac and Rebekah and Jacob and his two wives are good examples of this.
It's easy to make parallels between this kind of marriage agreement and the covenant at Sinai (and with the "better covenant" outlined in Hebrews 8).
Neither the inborn merits of the Jews nor a plot by the CIA made them the chosen people. The same thing can be said of us. We did not choose ourselves. God has always taken the initiative in wooing us into a covenant relationship by His loving promises.
In a certain sense, God's covenant today is an "imposed" covenant, but only upon a willing people. God asks us only to respond to His offer of "a better covenant established upon better promises" (Hebrews 8:6). He calls us to pledge our lives, our love and affection to Him. He wants us to accept our part of the joint responsibility which a covenant always entails.
We are not signing just a mutually-agreed-upon, haggled-over contract. We are committing ourselves to a marriage-type covenant already signed and sealed with Jesus' precious blood.
In the light of His sacrificial love, can we do less than take our vows seriously? Let's discover anew the depth of meaning in our relationship to God. Let's reciprocate His faithfulness!
1 Exodus 19:8
2 Exodus 34:15-16, Leviticus 17:7; 20:5, Deuteronomy 31:16
I wrote these devotional thoughts while a missionary in Italy. They were originally publised in in the October 19, 1980 edition of Standard, a take-home piece for adult Sunday school classes.
Howard Culbertson, 5901 NW 81st, Oklahoma City, OK 73132
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