Covenant and Consequence
Kee Tavo– Deuteronomy 26:1 – 29:8
Last week’s parasha was entitled Kee Taytasay (“When you go out”). This week it’s Kee Tavo (“When you come in”) and it spans Deuteronomy 26:1 through 29:8. Coming and going – sounds like the history of the Jewish people, doesn’t it? And it all began with our father Abraham. Kee Tavo begins with the command that in the third year we were to bring a special tithe of all the first of the produce of the land to the priest who would be over the Mishkan, at that time. And when the worshiper presented his gift, he would make a really unusual confession: My father was a wandering Aramean! – an indirect reference to Abraham. The confession was actually an overview of our history as a people – our humble beginnings; our hardship in Egypt, and an affirmation that our present prosperity defied all the odds, demonstrating the sovereign will and power of God who had brought us into the Beautiful Land. But after all, His bringing us into Eretz Canaan was part of His covenant – His contractual agreement with us.
Now our lives are filled with multiple contractual agreements; agreements with credit card companies, with banks, mortgage and utility companies, contractors, employers and employees, and even with governments. Every contract has stipulations to which two parties agree to conform. The world is filled with contracts. And because we human beings are, by nature, selfish and sinful, those contracts are frequently broken, which is why the world is also filled with lawyers. Now before you start going off on lawyers, let me point out that if all of us would just let our ‘yes’ be yes and our ‘no’ be no – if we would be true to our word, there would be no need of contracts, let alone the enforcement of them by legal threat.
The book of Deuteronomy is one big covenant document. In fact, it actually follows the same pattern of many Ancient Near Eastern treaties. The outline of those treaties looks like this:
I. Preamble (party A – the victorious and party B – the vanquished named)
II. Historical Prologue (the sequence of events that led to this day)
III. Laws/Stipulations (the particulars of the covenant)
IV. Ratification (animal sacrifices / vows of intent to obey / consequences named)
V. Witnesses called
According to this pattern, the chapters that make up Kee Tavo represent the fourth section – the ratifying of the covenant, including vows and consequences. In chapter 26, verses 17-18, we read: You have declared this day that Adonai is your God and that you will walk in His ways, that you will keep His decrees, commands and laws, and that you will obey Him. And Adonai has declared this day that you are His people, His treasured possession…That’s the ratifying of a covenant!
In chapters 27 and 28 Moses commanded our people, once in the Land, to assemble on Mt.Ebaland Mt.Gerizim, to pronounce, respectively, curses for disobedience and blessings for obedience. Chapter 27 also lists 12 curses specifically for some of the most serious offenses; including deviant sexual practices such as incest and bestiality, corruption in the administering of justice – especially as it targeted the weak and vulnerable, idolatry and the dishonoring of one’s parents.
God must have known that we would collectively fail to abide by the Covenant, since the promised blessings occupy just 14 verses, while the promised curses for disobedience occupy 54 verses. The consequences of our disobedience would be horrifying. We would forfeit God’s protection and become vulnerable to invasion, to famine and starvation, to being taken away into distant lands and while there to be in constant torment and fear. It is summed up well in this statement in chapter 28: Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joy and a glad heart, for the abundance of all things; therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the Lord shall send against you…
We now know these things all took place historically. Our ancestors broke faith with God, and as a result we went into long and bitter exiles: the Northern Kingdom of Israel into Assyria in 722 BC and the Southern Kingdom of Judah into Babylon in 587 BC. Judah’s exile lasted 70 years! Our cities were laid siege to, Jerusalem and the marvelous temple Solomon built were destroyed, and hundreds of thousands of our people died; all on account of violating the covenant we willingly entered into with God.
It seems to me that the past 2,000 years of world-wide Jewish exile is precisely because we rejected God’s offer of the New Covenant. Just days before His death, Yeshua entered Jerusalem and said, “…the days shall come upon you when your enemies will throw up a bank before you, and surround you, and hem you in on every side, and will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.”
It was not always to be this way, however. The same Lord who sent us into exile, gathered us again to the Land, and restored our prosperity. This, in fact, is the theme of the Haftarah reading for this week, Isaiah chapter 60. It is a lovely picture of a people forgiven, re-gathered, living peacefully and fruitfully, enjoying the good favor of the nations around us, and recognizing the Lord as our everlasting light.
But let’s be candid – that doesn’t even come close to describing Israel today. While our people have indeed returned in great numbers to the Land, for the most part it has been in unbelief, and without due appreciation to God. There is seldom peace or stability, and most of Israel still refuses to acknowledge Yeshua as her rightful Messiah. And to say that Israel does not enjoy the favor of the nations is gross understatement.
Sadly, many people today, including far too many who identify as Christian, see the rebirth of Israel, and the regathering of Jewish people from the four corners of the Earth to our ancient homeland, as merely an accident of history. They either fail to understand, or are so blinded by prejudice as to refuse to accept, that God is gracious to Israel, and that His faithfulness to His covenants doesn’t depend on human performance. Oh, thank God for that! Let those of us who enjoy life in the New Covenant economy be grateful, not resentful, and not hold to a double-standard. He is the same gracious, forgiving, covenant-keeping God yesterday and today, yes and forever.