We should constantly be saying thank you to the people of the Old Testament. Their life experience provides a physical illustration of spiritual realities we wouldn’t otherwise understand. The book of Hebrews constantly uses the experience of the Israelites to help us understand what God has always been doing.
It is easy to wonder why God had a plan A and a plan B. Why didn’t God send Jesus before the flood and the law? It seems that we had something we had to learn as humans about God and about ourselves before we were ready for plan B. Humanity needed to grow up. We spent a long time as children and Hebrews has already warned us about our desire to remain children.
I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, 2 but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. 3 In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. 4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:1-5 ESV)
Plan A, the Mosaic covenant, was all about rules. Rules can be taught and learned. Through the rules we learn about God and what he cares about. We learn that sin has consequences and one of those is that we are separated from God. I’m also working through a study of the ten commandments and they remind me how much God cares about our relationships with him and with each other. Even though we are privileged to live under plan B, the new covenant, frequent review of the ten commandments is a wonderful way to be reminded of God’s desires.
The rules also teach us something very important about ourselves. We can’t keep the rules. Like children, when we can’t keep the rules we make up our own. The easiest way to win is to make up the game and the rules so that only I can win. Plan A teaches me that life is not a game and that I don’t get to make the rules. Unfortunately, the Pharisees didn’t learn that lesson. They made plan A into a game and then modified the rules so that only they could win.
The other point of this is that the first covenant was about knowledge, knowledge of the law. The second covenant is about relationship, knowing God. It isn’t about knowing about God. It is very much about knowing God. The most important part of knowing God from this passage is experiencing God’s forgiveness. This is what Jesus makes possible and it is essential for me to be able to be close to God.
This has me thinking that we may be missing something in our discipleship programs within the church. If our discipleship focus is learning and knowledge, then we are operating as if we are still under plan A. We may be effectively creating learners who can eventually become teachers, but we may not be creating sons and daughters. God’s clear desire is to have many sons and daughters. This requires a relationship that continually experiences the grace of forgiveness that draws me closer and closer to a loving father.
Heads up! The days are coming
when I’ll set up a new plan
for dealing with Israel and Judah.
I’ll throw out the old plan
I set up with their ancestors
when I led them by the hand out of Egypt.
They didn’t keep their part of the bargain,
so I looked away and let it go.
This new plan I’m making with Israel
isn’t going to be written on paper,
isn’t going to be chiseled in stone;
This time I’m writing out the plan in them,
carving it on the lining of their hearts.
I’ll be their God,
they’ll be my people.
They won’t go to school to learn about me,
or buy a book called God in Five Easy Lessons.
They’ll all get to know me firsthand,
the little and the big, the small and the great.
They’ll get to know me by being kindly forgiven,
with the slate of their sins forever wiped clean.
(Hebrews 8:8-12 MSG)