Tuesday, July 21, 2009

America, Nation of Covenant Breakers


"The earth mourns and withers; the world languishes and withers; the highest people of the earth languish. The earth lies defiled under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed the laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore a curse devours the earth, and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt; therefore the inhabitants of the earth are scorched, and few men are left."
- Isaiah 24:4-6

In the ancient Middle East, whenever a king conquered a new territory, he established a covenant, a treaty laying out his responsibilities as king, and the responding responsibilities of his new subjects. Unlike a treaty of our time, these covenants, known as "suzerainty covenants," were imposed, not negotiated. The parties to the covenant were not equal partners in its establishment. What is the covenant to which Isaiah refers? God says to Abraham in Genesis 17:7, "I will establish my covenant between Me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you." Such particular covenants are applications to men of the ultimate covenant made within the Trinity described in Hebrews 1, after Psalm 2:7-8, "I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me, 'You are my Son, today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.'" Thus, strictly speaking, the covenant is made between the persons of the Trinity, then applied to believers. However, that is a legal distinction, not something that necessarily changes our response to the covenant.

Which brings us to the matter at hand.

The Puritan Thomas Shepard, in a preface to a book of sermons on the covenant by fellow Puritan Peter Bulkeley, of Cambridge, England, wrote about 1650, "As all good things are conveyed to God's people, not barely by common providence but by special covenant, Isa. 63:8-9. So all the evills they meet with in this world (if in them the face of Gods anger appeares) upon narrow search will be found to arise from breach of Covenant." [spelling and punctuation in the original] That passage in Isaiah (plus verse 10) reads, "For He said, 'Surely they are My people, children who will not deal falsely.' And He became their Savior. In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of the presence saved them, in His love and in His pity He redeemed them; He lifted them up and carried them all the days of old. But they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit; therefore He turned to be their enemy, and Himself fought against them." You might view this as a lawsuit by God against men who violated His covenant.

Does this ring any bells? Many Americans like to talk about the spiritual roots of our country. Consider the Mayflower Compact, which explicitly dedicated the new colony to the Christian faith. Most cities have a church on every corner. There is an average of three Bibles in every home. As a society, do we honor that commitment? Fifty million American babies have been tortured and executed since 1973. I think that that one sign gives an adequate answer. So, doesn't the covenant demonstrate that God has a controversy with us? Yet, economic hardship, war, drought, crime, are all treated as a big mystery. I suggest that they are exactly what should be expected, for a society which has turned against the knowledge and commitments of its forefathers.

Again, Isaiah 1:18-20: "Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken." God lays out the choice to be made, and the consequences of each option. Have we not chosen to be eaten by the sword?

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