Dear Friends of "Dial Daily Bread,"
A mystery comes unraveled when we compare Hebrews 4 with Exodus 19. The problem has been to find out what God actually said to Israel when they were at Mount Sinai. Scholars have wrestled over this for centuries. Now it comes clear with the help of that New Testament book of Hebrews.
In that confrontation just before God wrote the Ten Commandments on stone, He made a generous proposition to His people. But the King James Version makes it sound like He told them, "If you will get a perfect record in obedience to all My commandments, then I'll bless you." And of course, the people wanted that blessing, so they promised, "All that the Lord has spoken we will do" (Ex. 19:4-8). The bottom line idea that many have had is that the Lord Himself was to blame for starting the Old Covenant with all the misery and ruin it brought on ancient Israel.
But investigation reveals that God had nothing to do with forming the Old Covenant. It was the people's idea, 100 percent. The mysterious word translated "obey" in verse 5 is shamea in the original language, but "obey" isn't its primary meaning. It means, "listen to My voice" (the word "voice" gives it away, so "we" should have seen this centuries ago).
Here's where the New Testament book of Hebrews comes in to help us. We see where and why the Old Covenant was a failure from the beginning: "the gospel was preached ... but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it" (4:2). It was useless hearing, without faith "mixed in"!
This insight makes the Hebrew verb shamea in Exodus 19 come alive: what God proposed to Israel at Sinai was, "If you will listen to My voice and not at the same time brace yourselves against what I am saying, if you will listen with faith 'mixed in' with your listening, I promise you that you will be the most wonderful people on earth, etc., etc."
Thus it is clear that what the Lord wanted to do at Mount Sinai was renew to Israel the same New Covenant He had promised to Abraham, who listened to God's "voice" with faith "mixed in." The legalism problem wasn't God's fault, but Israel's.
And the Good News for us is this: if we are struggling with sin and selfishness (who isn't?), the remedy is to listen to what the Lord says, and at the same time stop resisting what He says. Listen with faith. Listen and believe. Then will come all the obedience we're so concerned about.
--Robert J. Wieland
From the "Dial Daily Bread" Archive: May 7, 2003.
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