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At the conclusion of the break, the Tribal Chiefs accepted the reality of the coming captivity, but they wanted to know how to relate to the Philistines during that time.
“How shall we treat the Philistines,” Ibzan asked. “We know that they are idolaters, and we have therefore shunned them and viewed them as God’s enemies. Moses told us to destroy all of the people of Canaan, and again he tells us that idolaters should be put to death. But now we find God lifting them high above Israel. This is difficult for us to understand. Can you explain this to us?”
“That is a complex question,” I replied. “The answer is bound up in one’s understanding of an apparent contradiction between the covenant with Abraham and the covenant with Israel at Mount Horeb. As you are aware, God chose Abraham above all men and promised that his seed would inherit this land—and, indeed, the entire earth. But He also told Abraham that he would be a blessing to all nations. The question is how Israel could bless all nations and yet also destroy the Canaanite nations and the Philistines.”
“That does seem to be an inherent contradiction,” Ibzan observed.
“The key,” I continued, “is in understanding what happened at Horeb. When Yahweh spoke the Commandments, your fathers all heard the voice of God speaking directly to them from the Mount. What, then, was their reaction?”
“They were afraid of His voice, and they desired Moses to hear His voice on their behalf, so that they would not die,” Ibzan answered.
“Did not Moses urge the people to draw near to God in order to hear the rest of the law?” I asked.
“That is correct,” Ibzan said.
“However,” I said, “because the people were afraid to hear, Moses alone received the law and then returned to tell Israel the words of the law. Faith comes by hearing, and our faith rests in the one we hear. Moses had faith in Yahweh, because He was willing to hear His voice. The people placed their faith in Moses, because they wanted to hear him. This was their first major problem, for their faith in Yahweh was an indirect faith, which differed from Moses’ direct faith in Yahweh.”
The chiefs looked startled, having never contemplated the quality of their faith in this light. I paused to let this New Covenant truth settle in their minds before continuing.
“The Spirit of God would have indwelt your fathers as temples of God, if they had been able to draw near to hear God’s voice. But because of fear, the Spirit of His presence remained external, in a tent surrounding the Ark of His Presence. In this way, God came to dwell among you, as it is to this day, for He now dwells with Israel in Shiloh.”
“The day will yet come in the future, when your promised King appears, that your children will receive another opportunity to draw near to Him and to hear His voice. This time they will obey, for they will no longer be afraid. The Spirit of God will then indwell those who draw near, and they will be called temples of God. That which your fathers feared, your sons will embrace by faith.”
“That is amazing,” Eli said, for he had been listening intently and was very interested in all matters pertaining to the tabernacle. “Are you saying that Yahweh’s presence in the Ark is a temporary convenience until God’s people overcome their fear of hearing His voice?”
“Yes, your understanding is correct. Your fathers had opportunity to become the temples of God, and even you here and now can have that privilege if you have ears to hear His voice. But Israel’s ears in the days of Moses were dull, and their eyes became blind when their fear proved to be stronger than their faith at the base of Horeb.”
“Are you saying that God’s people are blind and deaf?” Eli asked.
“The hardness of eyes, ears, and hearts was made manifest at the Mount when the people ran in fear from God’s presence. The problem is far older, but Horeb was where it was fully displayed. It is rooted in the view that Yahweh desires to remain separate from sinful men, and that heaven and earth must remain apart forever. Though it is true that sin has caused this separation, this was not the divine intention at the beginning of creation. Creation was supposed to be an extension of heaven that reflects His will in all things. Though sin drove a wedge between Creator and Creation, God fully intends to overcome that problem. The biggest barrier is men’s fear of drawing near to God.”
“Do you not recall,” I continued, “how Moses told your forefathers, after they had spent forty years in the wilderness, that Yahweh had not yet given them a heart to know, nor eyes to see, nor ears to hear? Israel was tested forty years and failed the entire time. And yet God still led Israel into the Promised Land. How could God expect Israel to succeed in the Promised Land where they had failed in the wilderness?”
“What do you mean?” Eli asked.
“Is it not obvious,” I said, “that if Yahweh does not give us ears to hear, eyes to see, and hearts to understand, that Israel will continue to have the same problem as under Moses? Would not the people today still want to stone Moses whenever they experienced adversity, or when they felt a desire to worship idols?”
“So,” Eli asked, “how shall we pray that Yahweh might give us such eyes, ears, and hearts? If He would not give them such hearts in the days of Moses, then how shall we expect Him to do so with us today?”
“Now we are pointing to the real heart of the matter,” I said. “After Moses’ speeches in the land of Moab before he died, did not God make a second covenant with Israel to address that very issue? Did God not vow to establish you as His people and to be your God, not only with those standing there, but also with all who were not present?”
“Yes,” Eli said, for he knew the Scriptures well.
“Was this second covenant made with the people only after their blindness was healed? Or was it made with them while they were yet blind and deaf?”
“They were yet blind and deaf,” Eli replied.
“Then did Yahweh fulfill His promise to Israel, leading them into this land, on account of their own ability to obey the first covenant? Or was it on account of Yahweh’s ability to make them His people?” I asked.
“It is plain,” Eli said, “that Joshua led us into this land by the promise of Yahweh and not as a result of our forefathers’ ability to be obedient.”
“How did this second covenant in the plain of Moab differ from the first covenant at the base of Horeb?” I asked.
“The first covenant asked Israel to take an oath of allegiance and obedience to Yahweh,” Eli said. “The second put no such requirement upon Israel, for Yahweh Himself took an oath to make us His people.”
“That is correct,” I said, grateful for his knowledge of the word. “But with whom was this second covenant made? Was it only for the Israelites or for others as well?”
“All of Israel and all the aliens with them who came out from Egypt were included in this covenant to make them His people and to be their God,” Eli recalled. “More than that, Moses said, ‘not with you alone am I making this covenant and this oath, but both with those who stand here with us today in the presence of Yahweh our God and with those who are not with us here today.’ Obviously, it included not only those who were present, but those not present as well.”
“Did this covenant, then, include the Canaanites and Philistines?” I asked. “Did not Moses explain this covenant further, saying that it included the idolaters of the earth? Were not the Philistines included in God’s vow?”
“Yes,” Eli responded, “for He told our fathers, ‘you have seen their abominations and their idols of wood, stone, silver, and gold.’ But He then spoke of blotting out their name from under heaven. How can He include them in His covenant, only to curse them again?”
“This is the great mystery,” I said. “God vowed to make them His people, and yet He also vowed to destroy them. How can this great contradiction be resolved?”
Boaz then spoke. “God also vowed to destroy Israel if they became idolaters. How could God destroy Israel and yet vow to make them His people? We know that the judgments of God are designed to correct Israel, even if God must destroy the nation to do so. None of us believe this to be a contradiction when we apply it to Israel. Why would it be any different for the rest of the nations?”
“You have uncovered the great key that unlocks this mystery,” I said with a smile of approval. “God intends to turn the hearts of the Israelites by the strength of His own will. Having proved His power in Israel, He will also turn the hearts of the Philistines in the end. Whether He is dealing with Israelites or Philistines, He does so by holding all men accountable for their wicked ways. His judgments bring death to whole nations—but even death is not the final solution. There is a resurrection of the dead, where all men will appear before the great Judge of Creation. There the glory of God will be revealed to all, and there every knee will bow. The Philistines too will bow to Him. Every tongue will then confess allegiance to Him, and this will fulfill God’s vow that He made the second time in the plains of Moab.”
I paused again to let the chiefs adjust their thinking to this new revelation of the word.
“How, then,” I asked, “does this affect your attitude toward the Philistines—and toward all the idolatrous nations of the earth? Are they not all God’s children? Though they have all gone astray, have not the Israelites acted as wayward sheep as well? Will not the righteous Judge of the earth judge all nations impartially? Is not His justice toward Israel the same as His justice toward the nations?”
The chiefs looked at one another with uncertainty, for they had never heard such things. They had assumed that God would treat Israel differently from the other nations, that His laws were given to Israel only, and that only Israel could be His people. And yet they were all aware that aliens had become part of Israel from the beginning and that many foreigners had come—some from afar—to worship the God of Abraham at Shiloh. None of them had been turned away.
“It is true,” I continued, “that God said to destroy idolaters—not only those of other nations, but also those of Israel. Justice is equal for all people, but if you know that God’s love remains strong for Israel, even in the midst of judgment, then know too that God’s love remains strong for the idolatrous Philistines. He is not willing that any should perish, yet many will perish along the way until the day that the Judge summons all men to His throne. There all idolaters will be judged equally, and when His judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness. They will be placed under the authority of the righteous ones, who will teach them the ways of God, so that they too may truly become His people.”
“If you understand this principle of divine justice,” I said, “you will see the Philistines with new and unveiled eyes, and you will know that it was never God’s intention for you to hate them or to despise them, but to love them and to be a blessing to all families of the earth. To love their idolatry, of course, is a perversion of the truth; but to love the people themselves, to show kindness and mercy to them, and to seek ways for them to return to their heavenly Father is to reflect God’s own heart toward all of His children. To hate the Philistines is to hate the God who has subjected you to them. Do not blame the Philistines for your captivity, for it is God who is responsible for judging Israel.”
After a pause to let this sink into their minds, I continued, “One of the main words that my wife and I are called to give you, is to have faith in God’s vow to make all nations His people. If your faith is based on the covenant at Horeb, then your faith will be in Moses and in your own vow of obedience. Can any of you claim to have fulfilled your fathers’ vow? If not, then how can you be saved? Your salvation is not based upon your ability to fulfill the vows of your fathers, but upon God’s ability to fulfill His vow.”
“Faith,” I continued, “always has an object. If man has faith in himself, rather than in God, is it true faith?”
“No, of course not,” Eli said.
“Faith, then, must be rooted in truth,” I continued. “If our faith is in our own vow, made by the will of man, and our own ability to fulfill such a vow, then what happens when men break their vows?”
“The covenant, I suppose, is invalidated,” Eli said.
“Then,” I said, pressing the issue, “it is plain that the covenant at Horeb is already invalidated, for no one is righteous, not even one. Is this not the reason a second covenant was needed? Did not Israel have forty years in which to prove their inability to keep their vow? Did they not worship the golden calf? Did they not lose faith whenever they ran out of water? Did they not want to stone Moses many times? Did they not lack the faith to enter the Promised Land when they were at Kadesh-barnea? How many failures are needed to invalidate the first covenant?”
“Just one, I suppose,” Eli admitted reluctantly.
“Then perhaps the underlying message from God and Moses is that the Promised Land can be inherited only through the second covenant. Our faith must be in Yahweh’s vow and His ability to keep His word. But if the people do not understand this properly, they will naturally revert back to having faith in the strength of their own will.”
Eli was silent, perhaps not quite comprehending this.
I continued, “This may explain why the land could not be fully conquered in the days of Joshua. Though God used Israel to judge the Canaanites, God also gave Israel the opportunity to become a blessing to them. However, Israel began to adopt their idolatrous ways instead of showing them how to worship the true God. And because the people’s faith was divided between the two covenants, God allowed only a partial fulfillment of His vow at that time.”
“But if God has truly vowed,” Eli retorted, “then it should not have been based upon the people’s faith at all. If God cannot lie, then why did He not fulfill His word entirely?
“It is plain,” I responded, “that Yahweh spoke of a future time. Israel’s entrance into the land of Canaan was only a pattern of a greater entrance in the future under a greater Joshua. There is yet a time ahead when this second covenant will take effect in a greater way. But the real question is what to do today.”
“What is your suggestion?” Eli asked.
“First, place your faith in Yahweh and in His vow. Know that He will indeed fulfill His word, even if the fulfillment is delayed, or if it comes in portions over a long period of time. There has always been a remnant of grace within Israel, those who have had such faith and in whose hearts the law of God has been written. That remnant was too small to change the course of Israel’s captivities, but their presence has proven that Yahweh’s oath has begun to be fulfilled.”
I could see that it was difficult for most of them to grasp what I was saying. They had not yet had time to observe the slow development of the divine plan in the earth. Neither had they seen the greater prophet who was like Moses. Neither had they received the revelation of a greater Joshua, who was destined to lead us all into a greater Kingdom.
Trying to explain New Covenant principles to an Old Covenant people was difficult, though not impossible. After all, Moses did make two covenants with the people, the second being based upon the same principle as given to Noah and to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Old Covenant, after all, was but a single covenant of its kind, whereas the second covenant had been given both before and after the Old Covenant. The problem was not a lack of revelation, but a lack of understanding of that which was revealed from the beginning.
“The real solution to your current problem is to walk according to the second covenant, rather than by the first covenant,” I explained. “Or perhaps a better way of saying it is that you should have faith in Yahweh and His oath, rather than in your own oath of obedience. The first covenant was given to prove that your flesh is incapable of fulfilling the law. It will always fail, so that the whole world may become guilty before God. When men cease striving to fulfill their own oaths, but instead place their faith in Yahweh to fulfill His oath, then is faith based upon truth as God sees it. One of the great truths of creation is that death reigns in our flesh, and that this causes us to sin. We must lose faith in our mortal flesh’s ability to fulfill even its best intentions.”
This word struck their ears like a club. The Chiefs turned to one another, questioning this strange teaching. Some were disturbed. Some were angry. Only Boaz and Abihud truly understood. Their eyes were enlightened, I knew, because I saw—or rather, felt—three Seeds of Elyon slip out from my bag, fly on the wings of the breeze, and implant themselves invisibly in the ears of these Chiefs.
“I see only two men of real faith, but felt three seeds depart. I wonder who has received the third seed. Whoever it is, may these seeds be watered by the water of life,” I prayed silently to the Creator of all things. “May they bear fruit for generations yet to come, and may there be a great harvest.”
As the Council meeting had ended, I turned to look for Pegasus and was surprised to see him nuzzling Rephah’s oldest son. The delighted five-year-old boy was stroking Pegasus’ nose, and I could hear Pegasus speaking to him in low tones.
I walked toward them and heard the boy ask Pegasus, “Does He love children?”
“Yes, very much,” Pegasus told him, “and He loves you, too. Always remember that.”
I had interrupted their conversation, and Pegasus looked up. “Put the child on my back,” he instructed.
“Are you serious?” I asked.
“The Chiefs need to see an example of true faith,” he replied.
“Okay, if you say so,” I said. I picked up the boy and put him on Pegasus’ back. “Hold on to his mane,” I instructed him. I stepped back, as Pegasus began to walk around the circle of stones. The Chiefs stopped and looked in amazement. They were even more surprised when Pegasus, with his head held high, broke into a trot with the little rider clinging unafraid to his white mane. Ibzan stood speechless with his mouth open, not knowing what to do or what to say.
The boy squealed with delight, having no more difficulty riding than I did. Somehow Pegasus knew how to keep his riders balanced.
“Nathan!” a woman screamed. Rebekah came running to the circle with Rephah one step behind her. “Be careful! Hold on tight!” Turning to me with a frantic look of a concerned mother, she said, “Is it safe? Will he be okay? How did this happen?”
“Do not worry,” I said. “Be calm. Pegasus is an experienced horse, and no one falls off his back without his permission. Your son has made a new friend. He has faith in Pegasus. He will be just fine.”
Pegasus soon returned and stopped in front of Rebekah. She reached out to the happy child and pulled him off the horse. As she held him tightly, Rephah patted him on the back to reassure himself that the boy was unhurt.
“Mother,” Nathan said with excitement, “I was riding Pegasus! He is my friend! He says God loves children like me!”
“Yes, of course!” his mother said, finally beginning to calm down.
“He talks to me!” Nathan persisted. “He is a magic horse!”
“That’s nice,” Rephah said. Turning to me, Rephah said, “It seems that your horse has made quite an impression upon Nathan. My son thinks he can talk! What an active imagination!”
“Well, you would be surprised at the way children can connect with animals,” I replied. “They are not so distant from heaven yet. Eden is yet their familiar playground. Some children, beloved by cherubim, are allowed back through the forbidden gate from time to time. A child’s spirit has not had time to be subjected fully to his soul, so he does not suffer from some of our adult limitations. We should not be so quick to dismiss a child’s perceptions as mere imagination, for much that they see is more real than we can know.”
“Perhaps,” Rephah said, contemplating my words. “There is no doubt that Nathan has done what Ibzan was unable to do.”
“He is gifted,” I said. “Train him well, and he will also give you heavenly insights.”