God and the Whole Community

Using that unique experiment as a springboard, let us jump farther into the past, and see how the point was expressed in the Old Testament. We saw (in Chapter 15) that one of the most important Biblical ideas is the notion of the covenant. God enters into special relationship with a whole people. He agrees to be their God, and they agree to be his people.

But what happens, you remember, is that the chosen people invariably break their part of the covenant and worship other gods. And the outcome of this fact is plain for all to see: a broken covenant means a broken community. When the covenant relationship between God and man is destroyed, the relationship between man and man is likewise destroyed. Life gets "out of joint," and disaster follows.

In the sayings of all the prophets -- Amos, Hosea, Micah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the rest -- the theme is repeated again and again. Israel has broken its covenant relationship with God. "The Lord has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land," announces Hosea. "There is no faithfulness or kindness, and no knowledge of God in the land" ( Hos. 4: 1). And what happens where there is "no knowledge of God in the land"? Hosea is uncomfortably specific. These things happen:

swearing, lying, killing, stealing, and committing adultery; they break all bounds and murder follows murder. ( Hos. 4: 2)

Men act this way when the covenant relationship is no longer taken seriously. There is not only "sin in general," but there are "sins in particular."

Why does this happen? Why do people spurn God and thereby destroy their life together? Ezekiel sees, as all the prophets do, that what has upset the applecart is the sin of pride; that is, the feeling that life can be organized apart from God. People repudiate the covenant relationship because they think (falsely) that they can live apart from God, that they can "get by on their own." But this complete repudiation of God brings its own disastrous consequences:

Because your heart is proud,
and you have said, "I am a god,
I sit in the seat of the gods,
in the heart of the seas,"
yet you are but a man, and no god,
though you consider yourself as wise as a god . . .
and your heart has become proud in your wealth --
therefore thus says the Lord God:
"Because you consider yourself
as wise as a god,
therefore, behold, I will bring strangers upon you,
the most terrible of the nations;
and they shall draw their swords against the beauty of
your wisdom
and defile your splendor." ( Ezek. 28: 2, 5-7)

If this is a grim picture, it is also a realistic picture. The whole history of the Old Testament shows that when the covenant relationship with God is repudiated,

the relationship between man and man does go to pieces; chaos and disaster do follow; men are set up in conflict with their fellow men; the rich do despoil the poor; the priests do become hypocrites; religion does become a mockery.

Is there no escape? Is this the last word? We have seen that it is not. God did not forsake his people. He chastened them, but he did not forsake them. After the Exile came the restoration. But the time of restoration, when the Children of Israel were restored to their own land, brought its own peculiar difficulties, and we must now take a look at them.

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