His loving kindness endures forever
They had arrived the day before and had spent a night in the Ruth Daniel Hotel in Jaffa, where I found Jo, the tour leader and one tourist still at the breakfast table, everyone else was already at the bus. She was always last but nobody made a fuss of this; nobody ever asked her where she’d been or why she kept everyone waiting.
No rule had been written about things like this. Everyone knew the unwritten rule. If it had been written, it would have said: “don’t criticize”. They accepted this unwritten rule without question just as they accepted, without question everything written in the Torah and in the Christian Scriptures.
The group moved comfortably around Israel, watching and absorbing everything they saw and heard, like people who have heard it all before and know what is to come. They knew about the Diaspora from God’s warning to Abraham that his seed would be scattered to the four corners of the earth but would be gathered in again. And those days of gathering in had arrived and they had come to Israel to bear witness to it, being what they expected, namely, God fulfilling His promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God fulfills His promises. This is what they expected to see in Israel and this is what they saw.
They knew about the success of Israeli agriculture in turning swamps into fertile land which they saw from the Mts of Naphtali, looking down into the Huleh Valley, which was once a swamp, and the trees flourishing in the Negev Desert, changing it from a dry, desolate area into fresh, invigorating forest land, because this was written:
“You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.13 Instead of the thorn bush will grow the juniper, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow. This will be for the Lord’s renown, for an everlasting sign, that will endure forever”. (Isaiah 55:12,13)
When we visited the winery at Eli, a new settlement in Samaria and we saw the vineyards and the bottling plant where more than 100000 bottles were produced, everyone said this is as it should be because it is written:
Again you will plant vineyards on the hills of Samaria; Jeremiah 31:3
Who could deny that the turnaround of the Arab gentleman who had once been a hit man for the PLO and became a Christian, cooperating with the Jews, establishing homes and schools for underprivileged children, Jews and Moslems, who they met in Jericho, was not the fulfillment of the words of the prophet:
“Many nations will be joined with the Lord in that day and will become my people”. (Zecharia: 2:11)
And so it went one tourist site after another, each one a fulfillment of prophecy. For example we visited an absorption center in Arad, for new immigrants from Ethiopia. I’m sure you can guess what prophecy this is meant to fulfill, yes it is:
“He will assemble the scattered people of Judah from the four quarters of the earth”. Isaiah 11:12
These are the things that make a journey to Israel a journey of inspiration and encouragement.
The expression “behold days are coming” appears 21 times in the Tanah. So who can deny that these are the days which the Tanah is referring to? God fearing people in every generation used this expression to explain that the days in which they were living were the days which the Tanah is referring to.
Christians are especially fond of this expression because Jeremiah uses it and so the Christian book of Hebrews repeats it, naturally as a proof that their scriptures have been prophesied in the Tanah and are therefore holy being a continuation of the Tanakh:
”The days are coming,” declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah”. (Jeremiah 31:31).
The prophets of the Tanakh, Isaiah, Jeremia, Zecharia and others, were great spiritual leaders of the Jewish Nation, each one in a different period of time. Their words weren’t said in a vacuum. They were said to real people, living under real conditions, facing real problems which were the result of the era in which they were living. In fact the whole of the Tanakh is addressing itself to the people of Israel and the nations of the world in an attempt to deal with a problem facing the nation at the particular time in which they lived.
For example many of the prophecies are addressed to the nation at a time of terrible suffering, caused by destruction, such as the destruction of the land of Israel, the temple destroyed, Jerusalem destroyed.
The nation that Jeremiah, in these words is speaking to is a despondent and depressed nation. Their despondency arises more out of a feeling of guilt rather than actual physical suffering. It arises because they feel guilty, that God is punishing them because of their corruption and immorality. They feel that God’s punishment is to take away His covenant with them. They themselves are to blame for the loss of God’s covenant. They have a terrible feeling of guilt, of losing a treasure which God specially gave to them to keep and now is lost and cannot be found again because of their guilt.
As the spiritual leader of the nation Jeremiah must combat this feeling of guilt and loss, if he doesn’t’ succeed in this the nation could even sink into self-destruction. This is a desperate hour; the nation hates itself for acting foolishly and causing the loss of God’s covenant that He made with them through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Jeremiah must choose his words carefully or else all will be lost. By his words he is trying to save the people from itself.
Jeremiah knows that, despite everything they haven’t lost God’s covenant with them, but telling such a people that their feelings are wrong and that they hadn’t lost the old covenant wouldn’t be encouragement; it would just be argumentative, trying to convince them that their feelings of loss were mistaken. That would even deepen their feelings of loss.
It’s because he is certain that God will yet fulfill His original covenant that he promises them a new covenant. Being so ridden with guilt it would be impossible to convince them that God still planned to keep His old covenant. The only thing that might give a guilty nation hope is to promise them a new covenant.
Christian theologians like the writer of the book of Hebrews are so obsessed with the idea that the new testament is prophesied that they choose to neglect the presence of a guilt ridden nation, needing to be comforted, that God will always keep His covenant with them no matter how far they might stray from it, that Jeremiah is speaking to and interpret his words as if they are said in a vacuum which is an extremely wrong way to look at the Biblical text.
Jeremiah isn’t prophesying a new covenant. He is prophesying a continuation of the old covenant to a nation that feels they have lost it.
I think that the problem lies with mankind’s tendency to feel so guilty that it is unforgiveable, whereas everything is forgivable in the eyes of God.
People underestimate the durability and faithfulness of God’s mercy and think that the only solution to the problem is that God will choose a new covenant for the Jews and they will become a new nation that will take the place of the old, guilty Jewish nation.
This tendency led to Christianity and later to Islam to claim to possess the new covenants; both growing out of the same mistaken feeling that God’s mercy is not forever. Both are convinced that God is going to give the People of Israel a new covenant and that the book they venerate is that new covenant and it will change them into a new nation.
Naturally they are disappointed and even angry at the Jews for not accepting their books as that new covenant and instead of following those covenants the Jews continue to hold on to the original covenant and to be the same nation that is riddled with guilt.
Christians and Moslems question how the Jews who are so guilty can have the audacity to continue holding on to the original covenant. It even seems unnatural that the nation who refuses to accept the new covenant, presumably prophesied by Jeremia, to become a new nation continues to exist.
Yet it all makes sense if we accept that guilt can be forgiven:
“I will betroth you unto me forever, and I will betroth you unto me in righteousness and justice, in kindness and in mercy.” (Hosea 2:21)
We are the beloved of God. It would be wrong to try to become a different nation with a new covenant. We must remain the same nation with the same covenant and repent and God will eventually fulfill His original covenant.
Or the words of the Lamentations:
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness”. (Lamentations 3:22, 23)
The Jewish People will always continue to remain the Jewish People and they can live in their guilt because it will always be forgiven because God’s mercy is forever. This is what gives them confidence and determination to constantly try to improve their ways, no matter how many times they may falter and go astray.
In fact it’s a lesson to all mankind that no matter how guilty a person is he can mend his ways and attain forgiveness without dying or becoming a different creature. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with a sinner; he is simply human and humans tend to go astray and God understands this.