Israel’s journey had brought them to Mt. Nebo. The land of Israel was visible across the Jordan River. It had been almost 40 years since they left Egypt. They were finally prepared to possess the land promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It is at this point (on Mt. Nebo) that God specified the requirements for Israel to possess and keep the “Promised Land”. God issued an addendum to the covenant cut at Mt. Sinai.
“These are the words of the covenant which the Lord commanded Moses to make with the sons of Israel in the land of Moab, besides the covenant which He had made with them at Horeb” (Deuteronomy 29:1).
God’s intentions for Israel had been stated earlier.
“And the Lord has today declared you to be His people, a treasured possession, as He promised you, and that you should keep all His commandments; and that He shall set you high above all nations which He has made, for praise, fame, and honor and that you shall be a consecrated people to the Lord, your God, as He has spoken” (Deuteronomy 26:18-19).
God would fulfill His intentions toward His people if they obeyed His commandments. If they did not obey than the opposite would happen. These are the statements of “the blessings and the curses”. The people of Israel were to assembly on Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerizim (near the city of Shechem) and rehearse these requirements. The ultimate consequence if Israel disobeyed was expulsion from the land (Deuteronomy 28:64).
There is a very important point that must be made as we consider this addendum to the Sinai covenant. The Sinai covenant had to do with the relationship of God to His people, Israel. The addendum had to do with the requirements for the people of Israel to possess and hold the land of Israel, i.e., their mission or ministry. The obvious question is: Why were these two parts of the covenant separated? The answer appears quite simple. God knew that Israel would fall into sin and ultimately be expelled from the land. When this occurred, God did not want there to be any question relative to His relationship with the people of Israel.
Failure to understand this has led Christian theologians to conclude that, due to their expulsion from the land, God had cut off His people. This line of thought is foundational to replacement theology common in Christianity even though Israel’s elect position is clearly maintained in the New Testament (see Romans 11). I want to cite three references from my book, “Hebraic Roots” to demonstrate this point. The first is from Tertullian (~200 AD/CE)
“In former times the Jews enjoyed much of God’s favour, when the fathers of their race were noted for their righteousness and faith…But how deeply they have sinned, puffed up to their fall with a false trust in their noble ancestors, turning from God’s way into a way of sheer impiety, though they themselves should refuse to admit it, their present national ruin would afford sufficient proof. Scattered abroad, a race of wanderers, exiles from their own land and clime, they roam over the whole world without either a human or a heavenly king, not possessing even the stranger’s right to set so much as a simple footstep in their native country. The sacred writers withal, in giving previous warning of these things, all with equal clearness ever declared that, in the last days of the world, God would, out of every nation, and people, and country, choose for Himself more faithful worshippers, upon whom He would bestow His grace, and that indeed in ampler measure, in keeping with the enlarged capacities of a nobler dispensation.”
Obviously, Tertullian was speaking of Christianity as being the “more faithful worshippers”.
At about the same time another Church Father, Origin, wrote,
“One fact, then which proves that Jesus was something divine and sacred, is this, that Jews should have suffered on His account now for a lengthened time calamities of such severity. And we say with confidence that they will never be restored to their former condition. For they committed a crime of the most unhallowed kind, in conspiring against the Saviour of the human race in that city where they offered up to God a worship containing the symbols of mighty mysteries. It accordingly behooved that city where Jesus underwent these sufferings to perish utterly, and the Jewish nation to be overthrown, and the invitation to happiness offered them by God to pass to others, – the Christians.”
And somewhat later (~250AD/CE) another Church Father, Cyprian, declared,
“First of all, favour with God was given to the Jews. Thus they of old were righteous…But subsequently becoming neglectful of discipline, proud, and puffed up with confidence in their fathers, they despised the divine precepts, and lost the favour conferred upon them” and, “God would gather to Himself from every nation, and people, and place, worshippers much better in obedience and stronger in faith, who would draw from the divine gift that mercy which the Jews had received and lost by despising their religious ordinances.”
Replacement theology became a foundational doctrine of Christianity from very early times. The dispersion of the Jewish people seemed to present overwhelming evidence of the truth of this doctrine. But by drawing this conclusion, the Church Fathers ignored the reason that God chose to separate the two aspects of His covenant with Israel (Mt. Sinai with relationship and Mt. Nebo with purpose).
Why the Requirements?
Why should there be stringent requirements for the people of Israel to possess the land of Israel? God’s will for Israel is for them to possess and to live in the land of Israel. This is their most important act of righteousness. There is great opposition to every aspect of God’s will. This is especially true concerning Israel. Therefore, Israel must “obey God and keep His commandments” if they are to possess the land. This is their protection. As they do so God’s blessing remains on them and they will prosper. This is, by the way, the prevailing philosophy of the Israeli settlers today. It is for this reason that real, Christian believers should ally themselves with the settlement movement. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem and also for the peace of Shechem (Kedumim and Elon Moreh) and Hevron (Kiryat Arba).