Hebrew Roots/The Law and the Covenants/Covenants:The Israeli Restoration Covenant
THE RESTORATION COVENANT OF ISRAEL
There were many breaches in the functioning of the Davidic priesthood in the nation, and after the final judgment for their apostasy, they were taken captive by their enemies, the temple was destroyed, and they were taken away from the land, into Babylon. Jeremiah had prophesied that their period of judgment would last seventy years after which they would return to the land (2 Chron. 36:20-21; Jer. 25:11-12; 29:10) Persia conquered the Babylonian empire and the Israelites then became subject to the Persians.
The seventy years in captivity were God's discipline for Israel's neglect of His law, of which He had forewarned them (Deuteronomy 28:36-37; Leviticus 26:31-35), in particular, the neglect of His Sabbaths.
THE RESTORATION TO THE LAND
In the first year of Darius, Daniel began to seek the face of Yahweh God in prayer and fasting when he realised the time of the judgment prophesied by Jeremiah was coming to an end. He confessed the sins of the nation and made supplication for their restoration to covenant relationship. Daniel 9: 1-7 In the second year of Darius, as a result of Daniel's prayer which was heard by God (Dan.9:23), Zechariah records that the Angel of Yahweh came to him with a message of divine favour toward Jerusalem, saying, "I am returning to Jerusalem with mercy; My house shall be built in it" .. .. "Yahweh will again comfort Zion, and will again choose Jerusalem" (Zechariah 2:16b, 17b)
When Cyrus the king of Persia conquered Babylon, Yahweh stirred his heart to build Him a House at Jerusalem and he issued a written decree to the exiles of Judah giving them liberty to go back and rebuild the temple (2 Chronicles 36:22-23). The decree of Cyrus was a fulfilment of the prophecy of Zechariah and of Isaiah (Isaiah 44:28-45:4) which called Cyrus by name before Israel was even taken captive. Cyrus encouraged the people to provide for the work and he restored all the articles of the House of Yahweh which Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple before he destroyed it, back to them (Ezra 1:1-11).
During the time of the northern kingdom's apostasy, many who were faithful to God fled south and joined themselves to the House of Judah, so that when the nation was taken captive, there was a remnant of all the tribes within the House of Judah. When the decree was issued, some of these also returned to the land. Those of the House of Judah who did return were a small minority of the whole population, the majority were settled and comfortable in their place of exile and chose to remain there. The pilgrims who returned faced many trials, difficulties and setbacks as they worked to rebuild the temple and the city of Jerusalem.
The temple was completed and dedicated after the second decree was issued by Darius (Ezra 6: 6-14, 16-18) But it was not until Nehemiah was dispatched by King Artaxerxes that the oppression of the enemy was finally overcome and work was completed so that the worship and services of the temple could recommence. All that remained was for the people to comply with the Word of God and humble themselves, confess their iniquity so that He would remember the covenant, and remember the land. Leviticus 26:40-42
Ezra read the book of the law to them once again, and they realised their need of repentance before Yahweh. They then kept the Feast of Tabernacles in the newly built temple and when the feast days were completed, they read the law of God once again, fasted and confessed their sins, and then proceeded to set their lives in order and consecrated themselves to make a new covenant agreement to keep the laws of Yahweh God and to walk in His ways. Nehemiah 8: 1-3,6,9; 9: 1-3 This covenant was a re-institution of the covenant in the Tabernacle of David which had fallen down.
It was also the first time that the children of Israel had humbled themselves and turned fully and wholeheartedly back to the law delivered through Moses since Joshua's time, when they took the land and accepted the blessings and cursings of the covenant upon Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerizim. Joshua 8:30-35 Because they had fully repented, the curses of the broken covenant ceased to accrue against them and in the fullness of time Messiah would come, as He said in the covenant, "I will walk among you" (Leviticus 26:12). The remnant who returned were to see His glory in their midst.
THE PROMISES OF THE COVENANT
This whole covenant that the people made was a re-commitment to the previous covenant which had been broken. Its focus was centered on the particular areas of their shortfall in keeping the law.
So they "entered into a curse and an oath to walk in God's law, which was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe to do all the commandments of Yahweh our Lord, and His ordinances and His statutes: .. .." and that:
- 1. they would not intermarry with the people of the land
- 2. they would not trade with the people of the land on the Sabbaths
- 3. they would keep the seventh year Sabbath as the law commanded
- 4. they made ordinances regarding the tithes for the work of God
- 5. they cast lots for the services in the upkeep of the temple
- 6. they made ordinances for the laws in the offering of firstfruits and tithes
- Nehemiah 10:29-39
The Jews (as they were now called), both in the land and in the exile, were now under the jurisdiction of Gentile kings who mostly acted as their protectors and allowed them freedom to worship their God. They had to submit to the civil authorities and social administration of the ruling empire of the time, which precluded them being able to follow the law in these aspects, but otherwise, they had liberty to follow the moral and ritual aspects of the law in their personal lives and worship in the synagogues or in the temple.
The new covenant of the restoration era was called into being by the prophetic oversight of Zechariah calling them to repentance (Zech.1: 1-6) and Haggai exhorting them to consecrate themselves (Haggai 1: 1-11).
With each new covenant there is a new priesthood and a new House of God. Ezra set the new priesthood in order according to the ordinances of Davidic worship and the statutes given by Moses (Ezra 3:8-10; 6:18, 20) which was further consolidated by Nehemiah. Nehemiah:12:22-24, 27, 31, 36, 43, 45-46
The new House did not compare to the glory of the former, nor was the Ark of His Presence in the Most Holy place anymore since the destruction of the previous temple, but the expectation the Word of Yahweh gave, was, that the House of the last days would be greater than that of the former temple built by Solomon. The promise looked forward to the final restoration of the Tabernacle of David. Haggai 2: 3
THE SEAL OF THE COVENANT
This covenant was written in a formal document and sealed with a solemn oath by the leaders, the priests, the Levites and the rest of the people, together with their families, and they entered into a curse and an oath to keep the Law according to the instructions given by Moses to the nation when they first entered the land (Deuteronomy 27:11-14). By so doing, they renewed the previous covenant and re-activated the covenant blessings upon themselves if they obeyed, and the curses if they disobeyed. Deuteronomy 27-28
The names of those in the sealed document are listed in Nehemiah 10: 2-28. Being a re-affirmation of the previous covenant, sealed with their oath, nothing further was required to place themselves in covenant relationship and under divine favour once again.
THE PROPHETIC ROLE OF ISRAEL
Yahweh God's purposes are always redemptive. Even in judgment, His purpose is corrective so that a change of heart might be effected to bring restoration and reconciliation.
The revelation given to Daniel of the progressive succession of the kingdoms of the world, made known that the divine decree was that the Jews would be subjugated to Gentile powers until the establishment of the kingdom of God (Daniel 2:36-45). This was the outworking of the curses upon them for the broken covenant.
However, it served a corrective, redemptive purpose for Israel and an evangelistic purpose in the nations. While they submitted to the discipline and kept His testimonies before their rulers, they were favoured in the nations. For example, the Jews found favour in the court of Babylon, as also with the kings of Media and Persia and had positions of authority and influence in those kingdoms.
Daniel and his friends, Ezra and Nehemiah, and Esther and Mordecai were notable figures apart from the general populace who had favour in the nations. Dan.2:46-49; Ez.1:1; 7:1,6-7; Neh.2:1-8; Es.8:15-16;10:1-3 Daniel, for instance, served the king of Babylon during the time of captivity, as well as Darius the Mede. His was an advisory position, a supreme adviser to the king of Babylon and then he was head over the satraps and presidents in the kingdom of Persia (Daniel 2:46-49; 6: 1-3).
Daniel served these kings in this advisory capacity through divine revelation in the administration of their kingdoms, which was in the form of a prophetic ministry to them. Because of the excellent "spirit" that was in him, it was planned to appoint Daniel over the whole kingdom, similar to the position Joseph held in Egypt under Pharaoh. Mordecai enjoyed similar favour after the evil influence of Haman was eliminated.
Apart from the recorded instances of those in high positions of influence, the common people made a prophetic statement in their daily lives which spread the knowledge of the One true God.
Israel as a nation no longer had civil power, but she was appointed by God to serve as a prophetic witness to the world. It was Israel's prophetic task to give godly counsel to the leaders of the Babylonian, Persian, Greek, and Roman empires who protected her and, through her position in the empire, be a faithful witness to them of the power of God. The final era of Israel's history, thus, was a prophetic era in which the word of God went forth more broadly than at any time in their history.
In the beginning of this era, Ezra the scribe set in place a commission for the leaders to teach the people. This developed into the ministry of the scribes and the Pharisees in the synagogues as a "prophetic" ministry of law experts who taught the people the Word of God. During this era, the real leaders of the nation were the prophets and teachers of Scripture which led the nation in righteousness and caused the kings overseeing them to show special kindness to the Jews.
The prophetic books of this period - Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi - looked for the establishment of God's kingdom on earth through Israel's witness (Haggai 2:5-7; Zech. 2:11-12; 8:22-23). However, during the Greek and Roman era, corruption and spiritual decline caused them to lose their testimony and the ruling powers over them became their oppressors. The priesthood became defiled and the scribes and Pharisees were no longer faithful teachers of the Word, but served their own interests.
Daniel had given the prophetic timetable for the revelation of the Messiah to Israel (Daniel 9:24-25) which was to be calculated from the time of Cyrus' decree. Josephus records that many of the Pharisees at the predicted time recognised it was time for Messiah to come (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 17,Ch.2 Sec.4, vs.41-43).
When the decree went forth to give allegiance to Caesar Augustus at his coronation, by the legislated registration and taxation in the year 3-2BC, they refused to do so, believing the Messianic deliverance was at hand. They misinterpreted the prophesies and the nature of His appearance to Israel. Raymond C. Vaughn has calculated the application of the curses given through Moses and Ezekiel and their outworking as a result of the nation's sins by mathematical calculations, to arrive at the same date of the 15th Tishri in the year 3-2BC (And I Will Walk Among You Ch10, p.111).
This date can also be calculated for the birth of Y'shua by applying the knowledge of the succession of the courses of the priests serving in the temple in the time of Zacharias against the time of Mirium's journey to Elizabeth together with the historical dates of the emperors. Luke 1: 5, 23-27, 39-40, 56-57; 2: 1-7
Not only did the leaders miss His appearing, but they also rejected His Messiahship and His provision of the Messianic covenant, bringing upon themselves further judgment, dispersion among the nations once again and the postponement of the kingdom upon earth (Matthew 24:34; 27:25). Within forty years, the probation period, the temple was destroyed and the prophesied dispersion began.
However, a remnant of the nation responded in faith to the new covenant and entered into the promises given to the fathers of the Messianic hope promised originally in the Garden and renewed to Abraham and then to David of the Seed that would come to bring deliverance and restoration.