Thursday, February 27, 2003

Insights to Lesson 9: "The Covenant Sign," February 22-28, 2003

The seventh-day Sabbath is in crisis according to ex-Adventist minister Dale Ratzlaff. He argues that since Christians are new covenant believers, they have nothing to do with such legalism as Sabbath-keepers practice. After all, Jesus did away with the old covenant Sabbath when He died on the cross.
But if the Sabbath is in crisis, then so is God in crisis, for the Scriptures teach that "God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it He had rested from all His work which God created and made" (Gen. 3:3). God put the blessing of Himself into the seventh day of the week before there ever was such as thing as the old covenant. The blessing of God is His life, righteousness and love.
There is no legalism in the Sabbath. The Sabbath is all about God's rest. Jesus said, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls" (Matt. 11:28, 29). Jesus invites the believer to rest his sin-burden upon Himself. Sins are forgiven. The sinner is declared righteous in Christ, thus sanctifying him apart from the world.
The Sabbath is the seal of God's sanctification. "Moreover also I gave them my Sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord that sanctify them" (Ezek. 20:12). The seventh-day Sabbath rest is the sign of righteousness by faith in Christ.
In fact the seventh day Sabbath is part of that law of God which is sealed upon every believing heart through God's new covenant promise. "For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people" (Heb. 8:10).
It is a misunderstanding of God's everlasting covenant to speculate that the old covenant embodied the Sabbath before the cross did away with it, and the new covenant saves people after Calvary.
God's covenant is His plan to bring sinners back into harmony with His law through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The old covenant is man's promises to keep God's law (Ex. 19:8), which were doomed to failure on arrival. The law was the basis of both covenants. Which method to achieve obedience to God's law would you choose for salvation?
The new covenant is superior to the old in that it is based on the better promises of God in Christ (2 Cor. 1:20) and the better ministry of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary. The old covenant was based on man's promises to obey and had an earthly priesthood which could never bring perfection of conscience.
The two covenants are not bound by time before and after the cross-the new covenant succeeding the old in sequence. The two covenants are two different dispensations of the heart-condition with respect to God's promise and oath. The old which is passing away is trust in self and God. The new involves death to self and absolute confidence in Christ.

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Friday, February 21, 2003


The tragic news is emblazoned everywhere. "Seventh-day Adventist ordained pastor found guilty of genocide!" Pastor Elizaphan Ntakirutimana is convicted by the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in Tanzania and sentenced to ten years (his frail health made the sentence lighter). His son, Gerard, a physician, was also found guilty and sentenced to 25 years. Former U. S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark served as counsel for Pastor Ntakirutimana.
One key piece of evidence was the letter that a host of Tutsi pastors and people sent to Pastor Ntakirutimana, "We are doomed to die. Can you help us?" To which he replied, "I can do nothing for you. Prepare to die. Your time has come." Then he brought in the Hutu soldiers who slaughtered them all.
Most Seventh-day Adventist church members don't want to believe the headlines. Beloved ordained pastors should shepherd the flock, not kill people!
Let us say a word in defense of Rwandan Seventh-day Adventists. They are not monsters; they are people who need the pure, true gospel of Jesus as much as anyone else on earth. We labored among them from 1945 to 1953, when we were sent to Uganda to serve (large numbers of Rwanda people lived in Uganda).
From the beginnings of our work in Africa, the message "we" proclaimed was largely Old Covenant in nature. From 1896 Ellen White was forced to declare that "Satan succeeded" in "our" rejection of the "most precious message" of Christ's righteousness that Heaven sent "us" in 1888. She said that "by the action of our own brethren" it has "been kept away" from both our people and from the world. Our people in Rwanda just had never had a chance to know what that message of Christ's righteousness is. They knew practically nothing of agape.
Hutu hatred of Tutsis was very popular in Rwanda among the people in general. It was for them the "patriotic" thing to do. The hatred they felt was similar to "our" hatred of Osama bin Laden. A lukewarm, "worldly" Seventh-day Adventist just hated the Tutsis like everybody else; when the rip tide swept the people off their Christian feet, our pastor and his son had nothing to hold them. Nothing could have held them except the pure gospel teaching of the New Covenant. They just didn't know what it is.-Robert J. Wieland

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Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Insights to Lesson 8: "Covenant Law," February 15-21, 2003

As we have studied our Sabbath School Lessons this Quarter on "The Promise--God's Everlasting Covenant," the Lord has permitted some things to focus more clearly.
There is widespread discussion. Just now one large SDA church has devoted three Sabbath afternoon hours to a discussion of the Covenants. There is the possibility that we might take wrong positions and again condemn truth. That's what our dear people did some 115 years ago. They missed out on receiving the latter rain and proclaiming the loud cry message; and the second coming of Christ was delayed.
(1) All who see the gospel as the fundamental truth of "the third angel's message in verity" long for, and pray for, a healing of divisions, and harmony to unite the church.
(2) The fundamental truth of the message God has given to Seventh-day Adventists for the world is the New Covenant. Its "everlasting Good News" alone can reconcile alienated hearts to God. The New Covenant is the "Elijah message" that will "turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers" (Mal. 4:6), before judgment "smites the earth." The New Covenant is holy ground; we must tread softly. Carelessness or irreverence here is fatal. Jokes and ridicule are out of place.
(3) The message of Revelation 18 that must "lighten the earth with glory" is the New Covenant truth as verily as the message of the apostles was the New Covenant truth for their day. The 1888 understanding of the Covenants is a breath of fresh air that will sweep through the popular churches and speak to every honest heart. The Bible is clear that it will also speak to "all nations," which must include Islam.
(4) The message is not just for the church, but is perfectly suited for proclamation to the world. God entrusted its "most precious" truth to the care of His "remnant church," as He entrusted His most precious Son to the Jews, but they rejected Him. Ellen White says we did precisely the same with this "most precious" "verity" of the third angel's message--"in a great degree."
(5) There can be no mixture of Old Covenant confusion with that pure New Covenant lest "the truth of the Gospel" be compromised. Paul didn't like controversy any more than we do, but when it came to dealing with the Galatians, he said of those who wanted to worm in their Old Covenant confusion, "To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you" (Gal. 2:5).
(6) Old Covenant confusion is directly responsible for the worldwide condition of lukewarmness. It is not cultural, for it is as prevalent in Third World churches as in Europe or America. Money doesn't cause it; poverty-stricken people can get it too. It's a universal malady of the human heart, a virus that can grow and flourish only through the absence of New Covenant truth. It's like an illness that attacks only if there is a deficiency of vitamins.
(7) A believing response to the New Covenant promises (such as Abraham's faith) transforms people individually, and also churches corporately. In these last days, understanding and believing the New Covenant promises prepares a people to welcome Jesus at His second coming. If this is true, it invests the topic of the two Covenants as immensely important. Maybe that's why the Pioneer Memorial Church in Berrien Springs is devoting those three Sabbath afternoon hours to it.
(8) Understood in context, "the most precious message" which "the Lord in His great mercy sent" us in 1888 was in fact the New Covenant message that God intended should lighten the earth with glory--salvation "by grace . . . through faith, and that not of [ourselves]: it is the gift [not merely an offer!] of God: not of works." That message alone could produce living works, because any so-called "obedience" not motivated by grace-much-more-abounding always ends up as "dead works."
(9) Understood in context, the message of the Battle Creek leaders who opposed was the Old Covenant resurrected--Galatianism revived. But it was far more subtle than what Paul faced in his day (which at that time came from church leaders in Jerusalem). The confusion will shape up to become the greatest shaking of all time. This history can't be reversed. The plan of salvation is on trial and must be fully revealed and demonstrated. And the efforts of "the great dragon" to confuse us must be exposed.
Again in Sunday's lesson we are frequently reminded that what Christ accomplished for the world was an "offer." The Bible seems to indicate that Christ GAVE something to the world, and Israel were to tell the world about it. If (as it says) He "died for all humanity," that seems to be what the Bible is saying. His love and His sacrifice were both unconditional. The condition for our receiving the blessing is faith.
In Monday's lesson we read of "various requirements . . . for maintaining the special relationship He sought with His people." It is better Good News to realize that through the Holy Spirit God is seeking to "maintain" that relationship. He took the initiative in starting it, and He takes it in keeping it going--if we don't resist Him.
Thursday's lesson is so true that the Covenant from Sinai states "conditions of obedience." But we must not insert the Old into the New.

Questions have been coming in that evidence perplexity:
(1) "Isn't it true that we 'have to obey'? Isn't the Seventh-day Adventist Church the one that teaches obedience to all of the Ten Commandments? Is there some secret in this New Covenant emphasis that will weaken our denominational emphasis on keeping the commandments?"

We don't obey because "we have to." The very idea of "having to do it" suggests a fear motivation mixed in, which immediately makes it suspect of being Old Covenant in principle. If you "have" to do something, back in the shadows lurks the idea of a threat if you don't--a possible curse. We obey because our hearts have been made at-one with the heart of God; He loves His law, so do we. Abraham was "the friend of God." They were close in the father-son love experience. Do you remember how unafraid you were when you were with your father when you were a child? Did he threaten you with curses if you made a mistake? Abraham was not coerced "under law." Those today who are motivated by Abraham's faith (when he was justified) are living under the New Covenant.

(2) "Is there danger that this emphasis on the New Covenant may weaken our stand on dress and health reforms?"

Dress and health reform become Old Covenant when the motivation is egocentric. We follow health reform with the supreme motivation to yield ourselves fully to the service of Christ. We follow dress reform because in a healthy sense "we pour contempt on all our pride" when we "survey the wondrous cross, on which the Prince of glory died." That doesn't mean dressing in a bizarre manner to draw attention to ourselves, either as pride or as self-abasement. It's all sanctified common sense.

(3) "Deuteronomy 28:15-68 lists a host of curses that the Lord promised to send on Israel if they did not obey; aren't they just as much 'the word of the Lord' as the New Covenant promises He made to Abraham?"

Yes, because when Israel at Sinai rejected the Lord's Plan A, He was forced to implement Plan B. The Old Covenant became their "schoolmaster" or disciplinarian to drive them back to where Abraham was, to be justified by faith (Gal. 3:24). If they would not keep step with Him, God must humble Himself to keep step with them because His faithful love would not let Him abandon them. Thus began the long detour of many centuries, of their own choosing. As a nation Israel failed, although there were always some few individuals who chose to believe New Covenant truths. Paul was the first to clearly grasp the meaning of this history (3:15-25).

(4) "Paul uses the term 'the law' in Romans and Galatians to denote the instructions Moses gave Israel from Exodus 19 through Leviticus to Deuteronomy. Is not that body of instruction just as inspired as the Lord's promises He made to Abraham, which are the New Covenant?"

Yes, as "the law" of the Old Covenant. Doubtless the threat of the curses inspired much of the obedience. But there were some wonderful Old Covenant revivals in Israel and the Kingdom of Judah. But "the third angel's message in verity" today is New Covenant because it teaches the true self-less motivation of the cross.

(5) "Is not the Ten Commandment law the basis of both the Old and New Covenants, thus proving that the two Covenants are actually identical?"

In the Old Covenant, the law was written on stone. In the New Covenant, it is written on believing hearts. The underlying issue is motivation. As we near the end and the call sounds ever more powerfully, "Come out of [Babylon], My people," hearts will be moved by the revelation of Christ's High Priestly ministry in the Most Holy Apartment of the heavenly sanctuary. The appeal of the message will be Christ and Him crucified. It will be clear that there is heart-moving power in the message when self-centered motives are transcended by a purpose to honor the One who gave Himself for us. It works! Multitudes will learn in a short time what it has taken us many decades to grasp.

May the Lord hasten the day!

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Insights to Lesson 7: "Covenant at Sinai," February 8-14, 2003

Tuesday's lesson (February 11): We need to look closely. The Old Covenant of Exodus chapters 19-24 is said to be "the Mount Everest . . . event" of Israel's early history. The Covenant instituted by the people is represented as "GOD'S proposal of a covenant with Israel," and their Old Covenant response is considered their "ACCEPTANCE of the covenant" (emphasis supplied). Thus the Old Covenant goes through a metamorphosis of being re-defined as righteousness by faith (that is, "acceptance").
But what God "proposed" in Exodus 19:5 was that they believe His New Covenant promise--just as Abraham had believed it. But instead of "acceptance," they rejected God's proposal and substituted their own idea, a promise of obedience (vss. 7, 8).
Then the Old Covenant instituted by the people is presented as "God revealing Himself more fully than before," "a deal 'made in heaven.'" Further, God's "covenant demanded that they obey" (Thursday).
But do we see such a "demand" anywhere in the Bible record of the New Covenant? Did God make a "demand" of Abraham? He wanted Abraham to obey, but not in response to a threat if he didn't. Right here we see the issue of the two Covenants exposed. The Old Covenant is replete with terrible threats that if God's so-called "demand" is not met by perfect obedience, all kinds of curses are predicted (see Deuteronomy 28:15-68). Abraham didn't need any of those "curses"! Yet he obeyed without them, because he believed God's New Covenant promises.
Wednesday's lesson: the meaning of the Hebrew word translated in Exodus 19:5 as "obey" (shamea) needs to be remembered. Says the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament: "The basic idea [of shamea] is that of perceiving a message or merely a sound . . . to hear, . . . listen to, pay attention" (Vol. II, p. 2411). "Obey" has been attached as a derivative meaning that is not in the Hebrew word (probably itself as a consequence of Old Covenant thinking).
Likewise the root meaning of the word translated as "keep" (shamar) is not primarily "obey," but to "treasure," as we see its use in Genesis 2:15. God placed Adam in the Garden to "treasure" it, esteem it highly. In Exodus 19:5 God was not trying to institute a covenant of works. He wanted to renew to Israel His glorious promises He had made to Abraham. The so-called "Mount Everest" Sinai was more a lowland of proposed do-it-ourselves religion based on the "obey and live" motif which Ellen White says is the basic principle of the Old Covenant (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 372).
If we are tempted to view discussions about the Old and New Covenants as abstract theology over people's heads, consider the plight of innocent children who are taught Old Covenant ideas. After 1907 the view of Uriah Smith and G. I. Butler et al became the standard view. Seventh-day Adventist children found themselves in for a century of borrowings from Evangelicalism with Old Covenant emphases.
Standard "children's stories" in church and Sabbath School often became variations of the "crime-does-not-pay" motif. "Little Billy disobeyed Mommy and went swimming and almost drowned; you must obey Mommy and Daddy" was played out frequently. Or, if little Billy obeyed the Law, then his prayers got miraculously answered (which some kids don't get to see).
As the Old Covenant was popular in ancient Israel, so it has been in modern Israel. Parents innocently relied on the abundant supply of "obedience" stories to help them solve what they thought was their main problem: supporting the church's unpopular "standards."
"Standards" became an accepted idiom for rules, and loyalty to the church seemed to require employing the only theological motif that seemed to work in upholding them. After 1907, the personal failures of Jones and Waggoner made it almost impossible to resurrect the 1888 view of the Covenants (Ellen White had labeled that assumption a "fatal deception").
When the "Victorious Life" enthusiasm swept through the Sunday-keeping Evangelical churches after 1915 (the year Ellen White died), it was heartily adopted at the 1922 General Conference Session. Speakers declared they had come to believe that "the Victorious Life" was the same as the 1888 message and thus a more convenient way to understand it. Thus a long process began of borrowing the "righteousness by faith" concepts of the zealous Protestant churches and substituting them for the insights of the 1888 message. The confusion has extended into the present millennium.
The "most precious message" which Ellen White endorsed recognized that the New Covenant was the promise of God based 100 percent on His much more abounding grace; and the theme of the Old Covenant was the promise of the people to keep the commandments. It "gendered bondage" as Paul says (Gal. 4:24) for the simple reason that the people couldn't keep their promise (neither can we keep ours to God, which is why God never asked Abraham to make promises to Him). To this day, the New Covenant idea of 100 percent the grace of God as motivation for upholding "standards" is suspected of being a sly infiltration of antinomianism. Which is probably why in our current Sabbath School Quarterly so often the "contract," "make an agreement," make a "deal," strike a "bargain" ideas infiltrate the many clear points.
Consider the once-popular book for Pathfinders entitled, I Promise God (R&H, 1963). "The JMV* pledge is a heart promise you make to God" (p. 11). And so on throughout.
By employing the caveat "By the grace of God," the Old Covenant idea is supposedly sterilized, even though God never asked Abraham to promise Him obedience. (Steps to Christ makes clear: what God wants from us is to CHOOSE to serve Him, to GIVE ourselves to Him, not promise to keep the law, p. 47).
The idea that the Old Covenant is good for children is seen in the following from the once-popular Psalms For Tiny Tots (R&H):

[Picture shows Jesus standing by the Ten Commandments]:
"I will whisper in your ears [Jesus speaks] / How I love you children dear. /
Promise Me you will be true / In every little thing you do."

[Next page, picture shows children standing before the Ten Commandments as the door to heaven]:
"I promise that I will obey / His Ten Commandments every day. /
I promise that I'll never go / Where His commandments tell me no. /
I promise that I'll always take / The path that His commandments make."

But the innocent child lives in a world of temptation. Sooner or later, he stumbles, and forgets. Then comes what Steps to Christ describes: "The knowledge of your broken promises and forfeited pledges weakens your confidence in your own sincerity, and causes you to feel that God cannot accept you" (p. 47). This is followed by self-reproach and spiritual discouragement ("I'm a failure; I'm not good enough to go to heaven") that Dr. Roger Dudley describes in Why Teenagers Reject Religion (pp. 9-17).
Rather, says Steps to Christ, "What you need to understand is the true force of the will. . . . The power of choice God has given to men; it is theirs to exercise" (p. 47). But the choice cannot be made intelligently if the motivation in the agape motif is absent. An egocentric motivation (threats if you disobey) is ineffective when temptations come (and they surely will).
Next, the Old Covenant mind-set renders acceptable the core Hindu idea of karma:

[The picture shows a little girl busily ironing clothes]:
"Helping mother is lots of fun / In getting all her housework done. /
I know that it makes Jesus glad. / It helps make up for when I'm bad."

How this Hindu concept could infiltrate our literature for children is not perplexing if the history of the Covenants is remembered. It was like the Old Covenant mind-set that Israel took upon themselves at Mount Sinai. Ever after it was easy for them to be ensnared in the ways of their neighbors. Finally came the rigid legalism that crucified their Savior.
The author of this book for children was a very good man, sincere and well-meaning. He apparently had never had a chance to know the 1888 view of the Covenants, or its history. All had been buried in the archives. It had "in a great measure" been "shut away from our people" and "in a great degree kept away from the world" (Selected Messages, book one, pp. 234, 235). The authors were innocent, as have been many others. But that doesn't lessen the number of children who have wandered unnecessarily into "bondage" as the result of imbibing Old Covenant ideas.
Several interesting questions have come in:

(1) Wasn't Abraham's obedience made a prerequisite condition before God would give him the New Covenant promises? Didn't he first have to leave Ur of the Chaldees? And if so, doesn't that indicate that the New Covenant is based on our obedience first?
If this suggestion is correct, it would follow that Abraham's response to the New Covenant promises was egocentric in nature. Was the "Promise" a carrot-stick held before him, luring him to "obedience"? But there is no egocentric element in genuine faith. Abraham left Ur not knowing what lay before him. His heart merely responded to God's call, "Come out of Babylon."

(2) Weren't the revivals and reformations under such Kings as Hezekiah and Josiah, and later under Ezra and Nehemiah, New Covenant in nature? If so, doesn't this indicate that ancient Israel lived under the New Covenant, not the Old?
If one had never read Galatians, one might make that assumption. But Galatians 3 is clear: all through ancient Israel's history "the law was our schoolmaster" (vs. 24). It is possible to follow Old Covenant principles in great sincerity and fidelity, but the revivals were not permanent, and "bondage" followed. And of course, after the people had made their promises, God as "the schoolmaster" had to encourage them to keep them, driving them back to the faith that Abraham once had. Thus He led His servants the prophets to call them back repeatedly. But all the reformations of these good men led eventually to tragedy (Hezekiah to Manasseh; Josiah to Zedekiah; Ezra to the legalism that eventually crucified Jesus). Paul in Galatians clearly understood the meaning of the history.

Wednesday, February 05, 2003

Insights to Lesson 6: "Abraham's Seed," February 1-7, 2003


The title and theme for our Sabbath School lesson this week is "Abraham's Seed." The purpose is identified in the following sentence: "Our study this week focuses on the identity and role of God's true Israel in every age, including our own." We will first focus on the role, and then the identity, of Israel.
There seems to be a recurring notion in our Sabbath School studies at least up to and including this week's lesson. The idea is that God's covenant is an agreement, a compact, or a bargain that must be entered into by God and man.
That God initiates, promises, and fulfills His covenant is not the issue or the difference in understanding. There is agreement here. The difference is with man's response. The concept contained in language such as "those who tried to keep, the best they could, their end of the covenant," and "Israel had to fulfill her end of the bargain; if not, the promises could be nullified" (comments for Wednesday and Monday) is a serious point for consideration.
From a Biblical perspective are the words, or even the concept, expressed in the above paragraph ever found in connection with God's everlasting covenant? No. The words that express the concept are the sum and substance of the Old Covenant.
We need to be ever mindful that fallen man is dead to the things of God's covenant (Eph. 2:1). The dead know nothing and can do nothing. So how can they possibly do the best they can "in fulfilling their end of the covenant" or "end of the bargain." The Spirit of God must quicken or bring to life a person dead in trespasses and sin. The Holy Spirit convicts of sin and of judgment and of righteousness (John 16:7-11). As the spiritually dead is awakened to his condition and also to the goodness of God there is given to him the gift of repentance (Acts 5:31) and there is created within him a faith rooted in the innermost part of the heart (Rom. 10:17, 9-10). He thanks God for the promise of salvation contained in the everlasting covenant. With a heart overflowing with love to God he will do the duties of a believer. He will obey. But his obedience does not constitute his end of the covenant. He does not fulfill an end of a bargain.

The Role of Israel

Jacob and Mother
Abraham's grandson, Jacob, was promised the inheritance, and all the spiritual blessings of God, as was Abraham and Isaac, Jacob's father (Gen. 28:1-4). Earlier, Jacob and his mother believed God's promise that the birthright of inheritance would go to Jacob. However, as years passed they felt God needed some assistance in obtaining it. The term "Jacob" means "to supplant," "to overreach." The word "deceitful" in Jer. 17:9, and "Jacob" come from the same root word. It is true that in helping God out Jacob and his mother didn't use works of righteousness. They used guile and deceit. It is evident that Rachel and her son thought that the end justified the means.

Sara, Abraham, and Hagar
Abraham was involved in two covenants. He and his wife, Sara, received the covenantal promise of God by faith alone and was thus counted as righteous (Gen. 15:6). But after time elapsed with no offspring, they knew that if something wasn't done relatively soon there could be no possibility of having a child. Sara came up with the brilliant idea that Abraham and she "had to fulfill" their "end of the bargain," their "end of the covenant;" if not, the promise would not be realized. So, Hagar was enlisted to help produce a child of the flesh. This is, of course, the Old Covenant. This was an amalgamation between the flesh of man and the promise of God.
The everlasting covenant of God is not a bargaining proposal or a procedure. God's covenant is His promise of grace. A promise is something to be believed, not negotiated. This is not negotiable! It is not that God does His part of the bargain, if you do your "end of the covenant." Certainly God wants to bring us into a state of agreement with Himself. This is called reconciliation. He has done this already. This was the fulfillment of the covenant that He entered into with His Son back in the days of eternity. When Jesus became the Head and Representative of the race, God was here, in Christ, reconciling and restoring the world to favor with Himself. Now He pleads with us, for His sake, to receive this reconciliation. Simply believe it. Accept it. Don't resist it (see 2 Cor. 5:19, 20). The role, the duty, the function, of spiritual Israel is to believe.
Jacob learned this valuable lesson in a terrible time of trouble. He learned that the fulfillment of the promises of God comes by faith and not by fraud. Jacob was a man of great physical strength and endurance. But it was not through his might as a wrestler that he gained the victory. Jacob's strength was in his weakness.
The angel said, "Let me go" (Gen. 32:26). Here is evidence that Jacob had stopped fighting and was clinging. His strength was now by faith in God. He was resting in God. No longer a supplanter, but rather as a prince of God, he fought the good fight of faith and won. The journey from a Jacobite to an Israelite is an illustration of righteousness by faith. When Jacob stopped fighting God he became an Israelite. There is more than one way to fight God. We can fight God by resisting Him. We fight God, also, when we refuse to believe His covenant. An "Israelite" is one who is crippled and helpless in his own strength, and overcomes the world by faith (1 John 5:4, 5).
Abraham, Sara, Rachel, and Jacob gave bad example to their physical descendants, Israel. But they recovered from their unbelief and became outstanding examples of righteousness by faith. Why did the nation of Israel (and we Christians) not follow their examples of faith? Why do we follow their examples of the flesh?
The Old Covenant experience of Abraham and Sara was repeated at Sinai in the motivation exhibited in the people's response as they promised "All that the Lord has said we will do" (Ex. 19:8). They thought God's everlasting covenant was do-able on their part. Thus they felt they needed to make a compact with God and to hold up "their end of the bargain."

So much for the role of Israel. Let's move on to the identity of Israel.
The term "Israel" has been used for centuries to designate a nation of people as the physical descendants of Abraham. However, not all of Abraham's descendants were to be considered Israel. Physical descent does not constitute a true Israelite. An Israelite is a child of promise (Rom. 9:8; Gal. 4:28). Israel is the seed of Abraham because of God's promise to Abraham.
Consider, for a moment, Christianity and Christians today. The term "Christian" is used to designate anyone who makes a profession of belonging to Christianity. In spite of the profession, however, this does not constitute one a Christian. So with Israel. The Bible testifies: "Not all Israel is Israel" Rom. 9:6). Those who share a common racial ancestry are not necessarily the "seed of Abraham."
True "Israel" came into existence as a gift of God's grace. God changed Jacob (the "supplanter") from deceit to Israel ("overcoming prince"). After God changed Jacob's character He gave him the new name of Israel to reflect the change. Israel is made up of those who have been changed by God's grace, and who continues in grace "from faith to faith."
The nation of Israel was a type, a symbol, a figure, a shadow of Christ. He is the substance, the true Israel. Jesus, the great prince of God is the first Israel, not in point of time, but in pre-eminence. And so, anyone who is Christ's is a true Israelite.
The everlasting covenant promise to Abraham and to His offspring always centers in Jesus. The promise was to, and through, the Messiah. He is the Seed of Abraham. He is the "Israel" of God. Both words "Seed" and "Israel" are collective or corporate terms. Messiah's people and Himself are one, as the Head and the body or church.
By comparing Matt. 2:15 with Hos. 11:1 we note that Jesus is Israel. God's son, Israel (the nation), was taken from Egypt, yet proved faithless in subsequent history. The only begotten of the Father, the Son, Jesus, was taken from Egypt, grew into perfect manhood, and accomplished the work which the Father had purposed.
Isaiah 49:3 also calls Him "Israel." This chapter reveals a conversation between the Father and the Son that occurred back in the days of eternity. This conversation is about the everlasting covenant between Them. The Father told the Son: "I will preserve You and give you for a covenant to the people" (verse 8). Jesus believed God's promise. This is the faith of Jesus.
What covenant promises did the Lord make to the nation of Israel? The same that He made to Noah, to Abraham, and to Jacob. In every case the condition of receiving the promises was to believe what God said. Because the nation of Israel refused to believe they never entered God's rest (Heb. 3:18-4:3).
God promised Abraham that through His Seed all His covenant promises must come. And all His promises were to His Seed, the Son of Man (Gal. 3:16). So the covenant, decreed in the days of eternity, was promised to Abraham and to his Seed, his Heir, his Offspring, the true Israel. God referred to not several individuals, but to One, who can be none other than Jesus, the Messiah and Mediator of the everlasting covenant. It follows that if you and I are in Him, then we are Abraham's seed and heirs according to the promise (Gal. 3:29).
In conclusion and summary we learn that Israel is identified as Jesus and all who believe God's promise from the heart. The role, or duty, or function of Israel is to receive and to keep the faith of Jesus (Rev. 14:12). Believing God's everlasting covenant of love and grace will always be manifested in obedience to all of God's commandments. This is righteousness (i.e., obedience) by faith. This is the precious message God promised to, and commanded to be given to, the world (see "Testimonies to Ministers," pp. 91, 92).