For the week of September 25, 2010 / 17 Tishri 5771
Torah: Shemot / Exodus 33:12 - 34:26;
Bemidbar / Numbers 29:17-22
Haftarah: Ezekiel 38:18 - 39:16

Binding Agreements

Take care, lest you make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land to which you go, lest it become a snare in your midst. (Shemot / Exodus 34:12; ESV)

This week's readings are special as they occur during the Festival of Sukkot (English: Tabernacles or Booths). Sukkot is a week-long, harvest thanksgiving festival that is celebrated after two weeks of intense spiritual preparation through the observances of Rosh Hashanah (also Festival of the blowing of the Shofar and commonly referred to as the New Year) and Yom Kippur (English: Day of the Atonement). The call to rejoice and give thanks during Sukkot draws us to some very basic aspects in our relationship to God.

The historical event that Sukkot commemorates is the 40 years spent by the Israelites in the wilderness between the exodus from Egypt and the conquest of the Promised Land. It was during these 40 years that the presence and reality of God was experienced by the people like no other time. This included guidance and protection through the visible manifestation of God's presence in a pillar of cloud and fire; the actual hearing of the voice of God from Mt. Sinai; and miraculous provisions of food and water.

This experience of the tangible reality of God was to act as a foundation in the development of the nation, so that when the people settled the Land, they would remember who God is and live life accordingly. Just because they would not be as vulnerable to the elements, or they would be able to eat of the fruit of their own labors, didn't mean that their need of God was any less. God is our provider regardless of whether he rains down bread from heaven or we receive a bi-weekly paycheck. God is our protector whether we live in tents or condos. Being surrounded by the works of own hands may blur our understanding of God's involvement in our lives, but the truth is that without God's continual care, we would be in big trouble.

As part of the perspective on life that the lessons of the years of wilderness wanderings were to provide, the people were strongly cautioned against making covenants with the inhabitants of the Promised Land. A covenant is an official binding agreement like a contract or treaty. The ways of the peoples of the Land were such that to enter into binding agreements with them would work to undermine who the people of Israel were to be as the people of God. Not only were they to not enter into covenants with them, they were to completely eradicate the presence of these people's religions from the Land.

It is important to note that God never sent Israel out on military missions outside the Land to destroy other religions. Their extreme stand against other religious and spiritual influences was an issue only within their own borders. Many centuries later, when God would send his people beyond their borders to bring the Truth about himself to the nations, the tools given them were his Word and his Spirit through teaching, preaching, and healing (See Mathew 28:18-20; John 20:21; Acts 1:8).

As the reality of God through the proclamation of the Messiah has been made known throughout the world, it is still necessary to be cautious of making covenants with those around us who do not know God. The cultures in which we live can have great appeal, supposedly offering us prosperity, success, and popularity, but unless their roots are in God's Truth, they will become a snare to us, just like the ancient Israelites.

The covenants we make with the world may not be established by official ceremonies and the signing of documents but they are just as binding. They try to convince us that if we come into agreement with them by embracing their values, then they will accept us and perhaps give us a hearing. But it isn't long before they demand we view our understanding of God as equal to all others and then they work to eradicate it all together.

The only hope for the world is if we determine to keep true to our covenant with God. It is only as we get to know him and his Word better, allowing him and him alone to determine how we are to live, that we will be most effective in helping those around us know him too.

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