God may have known in advance that His kingdom of priests would fail, but He did all He could to help them to succeed. This is why He made them a holy nation. The word “holy” has an actual, original, meaning that can be a surprise to some. It implies being apart from others. If someone is holy, it doesn’t mean they are morally, spiritually or ethically pure; what it really means is that he or she tries to live a life separated from the uncleanliness of the rest of us. This is a person apart. The Jewish people were a people apart, kept apart by the laws and customs imposed on them by God for a purpose.
The first year had been spent receiving the Law at Horeb (Sinai). It was there that Moses received the Ten Commandments (and the other 603 rules and regulations recorded in the Books of Moses – primarily in Leviticus and Deuteronomy). These constituted what has become known as the Mosaic Covenant, or ‘the Laws of Moses’.
Ah, a covenant. Does this take the place of the old covenant with Abraham? No, certainly not because, if you remember, the Abrahamic Covenant was unconditional.
‘The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God’. (Genesis 17:8).
This new covenant with Moses contained a whole list of rules and regulations, some major, some minor, all perfectly breakable.
“When Moses went and told the people all the Lord’s words and laws, they responded with one voice, ‘Everything the Lord has said we will do'”. (Exodus 24:3)
This Mosaic covenant, was a conditional covenant, meaning that it could be broken. Deuteronomy 28 contains a list of blessings and curses attached to this covenant, promising blessings if they followed God’s commands and curses if they didn’t. As we shall see later, subsequent Jewish history to the present day represents the outworkings of this covenant.
The second year was spent travelling to Kadesh, where it all went horribly wrong. You can read it in Numbers 13 and 14. It seemed that God’s promises of the land were about to be realised. The Israelites were poised at the edge of Canaan, the land was theirs for the taking. All they needed was sufficient faith in the God who had delivered them from Egypt and sustained them with miracle after miracle.
Twelve men were sent out to spy out the land. Their names and lineage were proudly recorded in Numbers 13:4-15. Ten of them came back with tall tales of giants and demonic offspring and every excuse not to progress further – ‘Hey, chaps, it’s been fun but perhaps it’s time we went home – to Egypt’. These men’s names were never again to appear in the Bible, whereas the only two to have a positive report of the land – Joshua and Caleb – became heroes of the faith.
Because the Israelites chose to believe the ten doom-merchants, this incredible lack of faith doomed the entire adult generation (except for Joshua and Caleb) to wander around in circles for up to 38 years and never to enter the ‘Land of Milk and Honey’.
This experience, nevertheless, had the effect of forging these people together as a nation. God shepherded them and strengthened them, binding them together through the Torah, the instructions for life given to Moses at Sinai. This was a set of 613 rules and regulations, designed not just to bind them together as a people under God but also to provide them with rules for living and surviving in those times, covering issues of behaviour, diet, relationships and much more. Torah, often labelled in a negative sense as “law”, was intended to be viewed in the positive light as teachings or instructions.
So, had their lack of faith in God, their deliverer from Egypt, nullified God’s covenant with Abraham? Moses has more to say on this subject as we now find him, at Moab, near the end of his life, a tired old man of 120 years.
(This is an abridged extract from Steve’s book Outcast Nation)