Bible Covenants (5): The Covenant with Israel


Israel’s wilderness wanderings were over. They were now encamped “in the land of Moab” and the green fields of Canaan beckoned (Deu 29:1). The covenant of the law had been agreed upon at Horeb, another name for Sinai, or perhaps a peak in the Sinai range (v1). Now God was making a covenant that was in addition to the Law, a confirmation of the covenant with Abraham when He promised him the land. The covenant of law was a bilateral agreement. Its benefits were dependent on the compliance of the people, but God’s commitment to give the land to the descendants of Abraham was not conditional on good behavior. Lest there should be any doubt about that, He now made this further “covenant … beside the covenant which he made with them in Horeb” (Deu 29:1). It is a general principle that nothing said in the Law could in any way annul promises made to Abraham (Gal 3:15-19).

Some have called this covenant the Palestinian Covenant, though perhaps not the best description of the agreement, for the word Palestine is allied to the word Philistine, and “the land of Philistia” was only a fragment of the territory promised to Abraham. So it is possibly preferable to refer to it by its alternative description, the Land Covenant. In a sense, it is an amplification and endorsement of the covenant with Abraham, and equally unconditional. Reading the first few verses of Deuteronomy 30 may give the impression that Israel’s ultimate permanent presence in the land will be dependent on their conduct. A careful reading will reveal that their reinstatement is not in question; only the timing of it is conditional, dependent on their repentance: “when … then” (vv1,3).

Background to the Covenant

Deuteronomy 28 makes grim reading, as it delineates the fearful consequences of Israel’s departure from God’s ways and their disobedience to His commands. Included in the litany of disasters is the prospect of banishment from their land: “The Lord shall scatter thee among all people, from the one end of the earth even unto the other” (v64 KJV). That threat was implemented, for even in Bible days the northern tribes were transported to Assyria and never returned en masse. The people of Judah were exiled in Babylon for 70 years, and their return and subsequent events are recorded in the twin books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Centuries passed with them ensconced in the land, but with tears the Lord Jesus predicted the destruction of Jerusalem (Luk 19:41-44). That transpired when the Romans sacked the city in A.D. 70. At that point in history the Jews were really scattered, and for 2000 years their wanderings took them to almost every part of the globe. The Land Covenant promised that despite scatterings and being displaced persons, at the last they would inhabit the land that God had promised their great progenitor.

A harbinger of their final regathering has been witnessed in the last 150 years. The Zionist movement was formed to facilitate the return of diaspora Jews to their land. A significant event was the Balfour Declaration of 1917 when Lord Balfour, the British Foreign Secretary, indicated the British Government’s sympathies with the idea of a homeland for the Jews, a “national home for the Jewish people.” Some years later the League of Nations granted a British Mandate for the administration of Palestine, and this was terminated on May 15, 1948, at which time the State of Israel was born. This was precipitated by the horrors of the Holocaust, and since then, Jews have continued to gravitate to the land. However, the final occupation of the territory promised to Abraham awaits a future day when the Messiah reigns.

Features of the Covenant

The Covenant anticipates the absence of Israel from the land because of their sin, scattered “among all the nations, whither the Lord thy God hath driven thee” (Deu 30:1 KJV). In that enforced exile they will “call … to mind” “the blessing and the curse” connected with the Law (v1), and the memory of that will stir a repentant spirit and the desire for restoration. That will result in their returning to the Lord and obeying His voice, and doing it with their whole heart and soul (v2).

These expressions of true repentance will invoke divine compassion (v3), and God will personally intervene to smooth their return to their land. “God … will gather thee from all the nations” (v3). “From thence will the Lord thy God gather thee, and from thence will he fetch thee” (v4 KJV). “The Lord thy God will bring thee into the land which thy fathers possessed” (v5 KJV). The God who had given them the land, and had driven out its previous inhabitants by His power, will exercise that same power to re-establish them in the land at the end.

The Covenant promises them not only the land, but also “circumcised” hearts, enabling them to love God as they should, and thus “live” (v6). Their erstwhile persecutors will be judged (v7), and they will enjoy burgeoning families, increased herds, and abundant harvests (v9). God will take pleasure in them as He did with their forefathers (v9). All this awaits the day when the Lord Jesus will return in power and great glory to establish His kingdom.

It is likely that it is this covenant, combined with the new covenant, that is reaffirmed in Ezekiel’s day, and there called “an everlasting covenant,” another indication of the unconditional nature of these divine commitments (Eze 16:60).

The Fulfillment of the Covenant

As indicated earlier, over the last 150 years, many Jews have drifted back to the land, but this does not constitute the regathering predicted in Scripture. Numerous Scriptures prophesy that final return, including the teaching of the Lord Jesus in the Olivet Discourse. It is at the return of the Son of Man that angels will be dispatched to “gather together his elect from the four winds” (Mat 24:31). National repentance will be effected when “they shall look upon me whom they have pierced” (Zec 12:10). “In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness” (Zec 13:1 KJV). In other words, the work of the cross will effect cleansing for repentant Israel.

The migration of the Jews to the land will be monitored so that any who still harbor a rebellious spirit will be denied access (Eze 20:33-38), but by and large, in millennial days the land will be populated by the repentant nation, with the Lord Jesus sitting on “the throne of his father David” (Luk 1:32).  God’s promises are always sure.