God's covenant at the crossroads of superpowers

The small land of Israel was located right between the ancient superpowers of the day: Babel, Assyria, and Egypt. There to be a light unto the nations.

The Covenant in the context of world history

God's covenant with the people of Israel has never been an end in itself. It has been associated to the other peoples of the world from the very beginning. This is evident in the calling of Abraham:

“(…) and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” Genesis 12:3).

It is also evident from Israel's strategic location in the ancient Middle East. The country circled in yellow lay exactly between the great superpowers of the time.

God had a purpose. The new nation of Israel could become a light to the surrounding nations. Therefore, a condition was attached to the covenant. During the covenant ceremony at Sinai (you can read about it in Exodus 19-20), God says this:

If you will obey My voice and keep My covenant, you will be My personal possession out of all nations, for all the earth is from Me” (Exodus 19:5).

During the event, God hands over the world-famous '10 Commandments'. More on these below. The Old Testament (first part of the Bible) describes the ups and downs of the history that follows. Has Israel lived up to its special calling on the world stage? Go to [490 - Israel] for an explanation of Israel's temporary or permanent role in world history.

So, God started a special project with the nation Israel, but always remained internationally involved. What has God done in the meantime in the histories of the Aztecs, the Chinese, or the Aborigines? Some indications you will find in [God's family continues to grow]. But most of it will become apparent in the future [God's people gain insight into world history]. In any case, it is clear without a doubt that 'the God of Israel' cares about the people of all nations.

Sometimes we get a glimpse of this international focus in the Bible.  

  • The prophet Jonah was commissioned to convey God's message of judgment and forgiveness to the megacity of Nineveh (“…should I not pity Nineveh, that great city…? Jonah 4:11).  
  • The Moabite Ruth got her own book in the Bible and became an important link in the lineage to Jesus.
  • The prophet Isaiah said of the Persian prince Cyrus: “(…) Who says of Cyrus, ‘He is My shepherd, and he shall perform all My pleasure, saying to Jerusalem, “you shall be built,” and to the temple, “Your foundation shall be laid” (Isaiah 44:28).
  • Egypt had a hard time under God's rule (read about this in Exodus 1-15), but at another moment He suddenly calls Egypt 'My people': “And the LORD will strike Egypt, He will strike and heal it; they will return to the LORD, and He will be entreated by them and heal them. In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrian will come into Egypt and the Egyptian into Assyria, and the Egyptians will serve with the Assyrians. In that day Israel will be one of three with Egypt and Assyria – a blessing in the midst of the land, whom the LORD of hosts shall bless, saying, “Blessed is Egypt My people, and Assyria the work of My hands, and Israel My inheritance” (Isaiah 19:22-25).
  • Jesus compliments the Roman officer: “When Jesus heard these things, He marveled at him, and turned around and said to the crowd that followed Him, “I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!” (Luke 7:9).
  • The apostle Paul arrives in Athens and enters a debate. He bridges the gap to his Greek listeners: “And he made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and he hath determined their pre-appointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us. For in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising. Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. Het has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:26-31).

Those testimonies are a foreshadowing of the fantastic future of God, in which He has gathered people from all peoples, tongues and nations [the eternal future]. During the coming of Jesus, all nations will come into the picture again [Jesus: good news for all nations!]. At the end of His life on earth He gave His followers a commission, reflecting the international scope God always has had from the beginning:

“And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).

The Ten Words of the Covenant

During the covenant ceremony, before entering the strategically located land of Canaan, Yahweh (the 'God of Israel') hands over the Ten Commandments. There are several special things to say about those world-famous commandments.

  • First, it is noticeable that the ten words are engraved in stone. They are not written on a piece of paper or a clay tablet, but on stone. It means they will be in force forever. In the section below God's words forever we zoom in on this interesting topic.
  • The tablets of stone were stored in a beautiful gold-covered chest, the Ark of the Covenant (Exodus 25:21 / II Chronicles 5:10 / Hebrews 9:4). That ark in turn was given a place in the most important part of the temple: the Holy of Holies (Exodus 26:33-34, first in the tent, later in the temple). The implied message is clear: The Ten Words of the Covenant are super-important to God and non-negotiable. For God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5).
  • The Torah says that the ten words were written on two stone tablets, inscribed on both sides (Exodus 32:15-16). Wouldn't God have enough space to write otherwise? The reason is most likely that it is a 'covenant document'. The ten words have been duplicated. Just like today, both parties received a copy of the contract.
  • Jesus summarized the ten words in the great commandment of love. In an encounter with a religious leader, Jesus is asked, “Which is the first of all commandments?” He replies, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, it this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ (Mark 12:29-31). Love does not conflict with the law, but it summarizes it.
  • The summary of Jesus (loving God and loving your neighbor) is reflected in the structure of the ten commandments. The first three commandments are about the relationship with God (red part) and the last six are about dealing with your neighbor (blue). The commandment of the Sabbath connects both parts because it determines the jurisdiction of the rules. These ten words apply not only within the Jewish borders, but everywhere, always and for everyone, whoever you are and wherever you live. After all, they are given by the Creator of heaven and earth! It is noteworthy that this very Sabbath commandment will play a central role during [the climax of an ancient conflict]. It all comes down to a very simple question: who has the last say about your life?

Be a light for the nations

Before the nation of Israel settled in the land around 1400 BC, Moses wrote the Torah (the first five books of the Bible). It contained the earliest history, reliably handed down by prior generations, and supplemented by the knowledge and experience of Moses himself. In short:

  • The history of the origin of the world, the fall and degeneration of mankind, the great flood, and the tower of Babel.
  • The beginning and dispersion of all nations.
  • The history of Israel and its role in world history.
  • The law of the covenant, consisting of the ten commandments, and all kinds of social, economic, and hygienic rules for society, rules for the annual festivals and for the organization of religious practices and the sacrificial service. Learn more about the temporary or permanent character of these rules in [the great change of course] .

God intended that the nation of Israel, in the land of Canaan, should live according to the terms of the covenant. He could in turn bless them and make them a blessing. Israel could thus stand out in a positive way among the other nations of the world. Those other people groups had lost way over the centuries and invented and worshiped all kinds of 'idols'. Israel was assigned to be a light to the world. It was up to them to make the surrounding peoples curious again about the one true God, the Creator of heaven and earth.

“Therefore be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes, and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people’. “For what great nation is there that has God so near to it, as the LORD our God is to us, for whatever reason we may call upon Him?” (Deuteronomy 4:5-8).

What could be considered true and reliable? There were (and are) so many gods and stories going around. Who or what is the real God? Israel was to show.

The purpose of the Old Testament is to testify that Yahweh, the God of Israel, is the one and only true God. Not just for His own people, but for everyone. In this particular history you can see who God really is, what His character is like and how He wants to deal with His people. Through this testimony, clarity is restored in the tangle of human traditions as it had arisen since Babel [Ancient Babel mingles among the nations] .

Unfortunately, usually the exact opposite happened. Instead of wanting to be an example, by reflecting the character of God, Israel went just the opposite way. It wanted to resemble the surrounding peoples and make a good impression. The temptation of power, connections, international marriages, strong defense, lucrative trade and evil religious practices lurked all the time. The books of the 'prophets' (which cover a large part of the Old Testament) are full of them. The prophets had a full-time job of reminding the people of their original duty and reinstating the covenant.

Did the nation of Israel finally succeeded in fulfilling the great calling? Despite many chances and retakes, it didn't get off the ground. After centuries of pulling and pushing, God even temporarily removed them from the land, first through the Assyrian (8th century BC) and later through the Babylonian captivity (6th century BC). After an appointed prophetic period, God brought them back from the dispersion. They were given a second chance [more about this: 490 - Israel] . That, too, was not without a struggle. Fortunately, God's plan and promise did eventually go ahead! But in a different way than expected. You can read more about this under [Jesus: good news for all nations!] .

A very exiting archaeological find

In modern, liberal theology, all kinds of theories have been devised about the Bible and the history of the Jewish people. A recurring refrain is that the stories from the Bible are historically unreliable. That the first five books (the Torah) were written by Moses is considered nonsense, because the Jews then (around 1450 BC) would not have had a developed writing system. The fact that Jesus himself also refers to 'the books of Moses' does not alter this. That the people of Israel lived in Canaan since 1400 BC is also strongly doubted. And the Old Testament stories, especially those of creation and the great flood, are considered due to pasting and copying of Babylonian traditions during the 5th century BC exile. All these manuscripts were devised together to justify the right of existence and the claim to land. Fortunately, all these wild theories can be set aside as trash. The discovery of one small stone, no more than 2x2 cm, turns everything upside down.  

Just before the Jewish people settled in the new land, an important ceremony took place. It is described in Deuteronomy 27. The covenant, including the accompanying blessing and curse, was once again ratified. The people had to divide themselves between two mountains, close together. One mountain symbolized the blessing, the other the curse. Of course, God would rather give His blessing, but is – unlike many organizations today – completely transparent. Clear is kind. If the people kept the covenant, He would richly bless them, but if the covenant would be broken then a curse follows.

“And Moses commanded the people on the same day, saying, "These shall stand on Mount Gerizim to bless the people, when you have crossed over the Jordan: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin; and these shall stand on Mount Ebal to curse: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphtali” (Deuteronomy 27:11-13).

In 2019, exactly on this Mount Ebal, the mountain of the curse, a small object was found, dated to the late Bronze Age. After an ingenious scanning process by a company in Prague, it became clear early 2022 that there are 40 ancient Hebrew characters on it. Not only does it contain the term 'curse' several times, but the divine name Yahweh is also mentioned twice. It shows that Deuteronomy describes a historical event, that the Jewish people already lived in Canaan at that time, that Moses could well have written the Torah, that Genesis is therefore not a plagiarism of later traditions and that the divine name Yahweh was already in use during those early days and therefore does not come from a later 'source'. Perhaps it is God's humor to put the whole liberal theology in jeopardy with such a small object. But it also makes one think that this find comes from Mount Ebal and not from Gerizim. Is it a final divine warning that the path the present world is walking on is a dead end?

mt. Ebal “Curse Tablet” Discovery: Bigger Than the Dead Seas Scrolls? - YouTube

‍ https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=5bxPpZvFonc

More on the Proto-Hebrew Inscription – Q&A with Dr. Scott Stripling

‍ https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=D7g-3jVDbVk

God's Words are forever

Is it still important to God that we keep the law of Moses? There is much confusion within church and theology on this subject. The reformation of the 16th century stated that we are not saved by good works, but by our faith (sola fide). We do not belong to God's community because we follow certain rules, but by 'grace alone' (sola gratia). This was a loud and clear statement against the fear propaganda, censorship, and abuse of power of the medieval Catholic Church. Yet, the Bible book of Revelation praises those who keep God's commandments:

“Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus. Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them.” (Revelation 14:12-13).

Here 'faith in Jesus' and 'keeping God's commandments' are mentioned in the same breath. Those commandments point back to the covenant-law of God. There are no other 'commandments of God' in the Bible. What to make of this? Read more on this fascinating topic under [the great change of course].

More archaeological Traces

We have already seen the fascinating discovery of the 'curse tablet' on Mount Ebal. Many more excavations have been done. Israel's history is not just passed on in writing. Countless traces have been left in the Middle East. In fact, Israel and the neighboring countries are a kind of huge museum. It's impossible to cover everything, but here are a few notable discoveries.

1 - Oops, it turns out to be true!

Many persons and situations from the Bible have been relegated to the realm of myths over time, by scholars who do not want to subscribe to the authenticity and reliability of the Bible. Especially the oldest period before the Babylonian captivity is targeted. The absence of archaeological evidence has often been used as an argument. But that is obviously a logical inconsistency. You cannot conclude, based on the absence of something, that it is not there or has never been there. Maybe you just haven't found it yet or it has disappeared due to other reasons. The number of times that these kinds of premature conclusions had to be reversed is now beyond counting. Time and again the Bible proves to be extremely accurate.

Evidence for the Bible (with Brian Edwards) - YouTube


2 - One of the oldest Biblical texts

The findings of the Dead Sea scrolls are world famous. It contains scriptures dated to the 2nd century BC, which is amazing. But did you know a much older Biblical text was found in the ‘70’s? This much less knows find dates even back to the 7th century BC. At that time the first temple of Solomon was still standing in its glory. God seems to prefer young people for specials archaeological finds. Just like with the Dead Sea scroll, this find was done by a boy.

The OLDEST copy of Scripture ever found! (Even older than the Dead Sea Scrolls) -YouTube


3 - Inheritance of the Great King David

The famous 'King David' was also seen as a legend by some liberal theologians. Look here for a list of discoveries that show remnants of his kingship.

King David – The Top Ten Archaeological Discoveries: Digging for Truth Episode 12


4 - Daniel's Winged Lions

Daniel is given visions of successive kingdoms in the 6th century BC, beginning with the kingdom of Babylon. Deeper insights into these crucial visions can be found under [Babylonia]. Remarkably, the symbol used in the vision for the Babylonian Empire is a winged lion. That imagery doesn't just come out of thin air. Look at the famous Ishtar Gate and its awe-inspiring entrance. It shows that the lion was used as a symbol of this mighty empire (can be seen from the 11th minute). You also get a good impression of the enormous size and layout of the city of Babel, as it looked in Daniel's time.

Ishtar Gate and Processional Way