Covenant Curses for Israel before the exile; Covenant Blessings for Israel after the Restoration: Why?

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JTB.SDG

Puritan Board Junior
God sent covenant curses to Israel leading up to the exile. During the exile, He promises to reverse the covenant curses, turning them into blessings. Instead of drought and famine, there would be abundance and fruitfulness.

My question is: Why?

This is all the more fascinating to me in reading Haggai, where it seems that we need a nuanced understanding of the fact that God would reverse the curses in the restoration, since in Haggai 1:6-11; 2:20ff (cf. Malachi 2:1-2; 3:9), the Lord is dealing with restored Israel in the same way that He had dealt with Israel before the exile (IE, sending drought, etc).

Would love to get you guys' thoughts on this. Thoughtful responses please.
 
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brandonadams

Puritan Board Freshman
I am approaching this from a 1689 Federalism perspective, so take my comments for whatever they are worth to you.

I believe there were essentially two Abrahamic promises:
  1. That Abraham would have physical offspring as numerous as the stars/sand and that they would inherit the land of Canaan
  2. That the promised Messiah would be born from Abraham
The first promise was narrowed to the line of Isaac and then narrowed to the line of Jacob. It was not entirely fulfilled until Solomon's reign (1 Kings 4:20-21). Prior to that point, the first Abrahamic promise spared all of Israel from Mosaic curse (Ex 32:13-14). However, once that first promise was fulfilled in Solomon's reign, it could no longer delay or withhold the Mosaic curse (Gen 15:11; Deut 28:26). Compare Deut 9:27-28
Remember Your servants, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; do not look on the stubbornness of this people, or on their wickedness or their sin, lest the land from which You brought us should say, “Because the Lord was not able to bring them to the land which He promised them, and because He hated them, He has brought them out to kill them in the wilderness.”
with 1 Kings 9:6-9
6 But if you turn aside from following me, you or your children, and do not keep my commandments and my statutes that I have set before you, but go and serve other gods and worship them, 7 then I will cut off Israel from the land that I have given them, and the house that I have consecrated for my name I will cast out of my sight, and Israel will become a proverb and a byword among all peoples. 8 And this house will become a heap of ruins. Everyone passing by it will be astonished and will hiss, and they will say, ‘Why has the Lord done thus to this land and to this house?’ 9 Then they will say, ‘Because they abandoned the Lord their God who brought their fathers out of the land of Egypt and laid hold on other gods and worshiped them and served them. Therefore the Lord has brought all this disaster on them.’”

Prior to the fulfillment of the first promise, God's integrity and power was on the line. After its fulfillment, Israel's disobedience was to blame. Solomon sinned and as a result Israel was divided and the 10 tribes were cast off forever as part of the Mosaic curse. Why was Judah spared? Because the second Abrahamic promise (which had not yet been fulfilled) was narrowed from Abraham to Isaac to Jacob to David. Yet they still had to be punished, so they were sent into exile (not the full Mosaic curse).

Once in exile, God promises a New Covenant and a reverse of the curses and a return to the land. Lee Irons does a good job of explaining how this was fulfilled on a typological and an antitypological level. In the typological fulfillment, Judah returns and rebuilds the temple but they still remain under Mosaic law and thus are still subject to its curses - though they are tempered curses until the second Abrahamic promise is fulfilled in Christ's birth. After that point the full curse is unleashed and Jerusalem & Judah are destroyed in AD70, ending the Old Covenant.

The prophecy of the new covenant must be interpreted in the context of Jeremiah 30-32 as a whole. When we do so, it becomes apparent that the promises in this section must be interpreted in terms of a two-stage or two-level fulfillment. The first-level fulfillment is the literal restoration of Israel to the land after the decree of Cyrus in 538 B.C. The following statements concerning the literal restoration of the city of Jerusalem and the temple on Mount Zion, were initially fulfilled in the post-exilic period:

30:3 "For behold, days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will restore the fortunes of My people Israel and Judah." The LORD says, "I will also bring them back to the land that I gave to their forefathers and they shall possess it." ... 31:38 "Behold, days are coming," declares the LORD, "when the city will be rebuilt for the LORD from the Tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate. 39 The measuring line will go out farther straight ahead to the hill Gareb; then it will turn to Goah. 40 And the whole valley of the dead bodies and of the ashes, and all the fields as far as the brook Kidron, to the corner of the Horse Gate toward the east, shall be holy to the LORD; it will not be plucked up or overthrown anymore forever."1

The first-level fulfillment of many of these statements was fairly literal. Under the leadership of Zerubbabel the exiles returned from captivity and the temple was rebuilt (Ezra 2:2; 3:8; 5:2; 6:15). But it is clear that the first-level fulfillment does not exhaust everything promised. When we come to the New Testament, we learn that there is a second-level fulfillment in Christ. Many of the literal details (e.g., the boundaries of the perimeter of the city) no longer function in an earthly manner but must be understood as types that are fulfilled in Christ and his church. The literal land and the physical temple have been superseded by that to which they pointed. The temple is replaced by Christ himself, and all who are united to him by the Spirit are being built upon Christ into a holy temple in the Lord (Eph. 2:19-22). The church is "the holy city," the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven as a bride prepared for her husband (Rev. 21:2).

It is important to point out that these two fulfillments are not equal. The second-level fulfillment involves a dramatic escalation and advance upon the first-level fulfillment. The first-level fulfillment is merely a repetition and re-establishment of the typological situation that existed in Israel prior to the exile. In fact, the temple of Zerubbabel was inferior to Solomon's. The second-level fulfillment, by contrast, brings the earthly, typological situation to an end and replaces it with the antitype – the reality to which the type pointed now accomplished finally and permanently in Christ (Col. 2:17).

As an illustration of the relevance of two-level fulfillment to the interpretation of the prophecy of the new covenant, consider the opening words of the prophecy: "'Behold, the days are coming,' declares the LORD, 'when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah'" (verse 31). This was fulfilled literally on the first level during the post-exilic period, when Nehemiah led the people in a corporate confession of sin and covenant renewal ceremony (Neh. 9-10).

http://www.upper-register.com/irons_trial/ResponsetoCharge2(Irons).pdf (pages 3-4)
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Jon,
Genuine restoration is something that cannot take place without the arrival of Messiah. Blessing for Israel is in him, and not apart from him. The promise of blessing is conveyed under the same language as national Israel was used to; but fulfillment goes beyond such things. Restoration is eschatological in nature.

In terms of the return to the land, it is clear from what takes place in the return that what is seen cannot be what is desired. As I've previously stated here: from Daniel's prayer (ch.9) it's clear that though 70yrs have passed (per Jeremiah), repentance does not characterize the people, and they do not deserve repatriation. But, again God is gracious in allowing a return in spite of that defect. But the return is not immediately accompanied by full recovery. The people continue in an "oppressed" state, dominated by foreign powers, etc. So, there is a sense in which the exile hasn't come to an end, even though the people (some few) have come back. And the returnees continue to sin and to not-deserve as much of (partial) covenant-blessing as they experience.

Israel hasn't changed character. Daniel's later visions teach the remnant concerning the days to come. The time of "the indignation" (Dan.8:19; 11:36) that began with war and exile, will not truly end until Messiah's arrival. Only he can really end the exile. Unlike what some in the first century were thinking, Messiah wasn't coming after the people finally got ready and obedient enough. He would come in God's timing, and in spite of sin.
 

Jerusalem Blade

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Hello Jon,

I attach a piece on the covenant curses upon Israel, excerpted from the larger work, A Poet Arises In Israel; it speaks of the present effects of those curses:
 

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JTB.SDG

Puritan Board Junior
Jon,
Genuine restoration is something that cannot take place without the arrival of Messiah. Blessing for Israel is in him, and not apart from him. The promise of blessing is conveyed under the same language as national Israel was used to; but fulfillment goes beyond such things. Restoration is eschatological in nature.

In terms of the return to the land, it is clear from what takes place in the return that what is seen cannot be what is desired. As I've previously stated here: from Daniel's prayer (ch.9) it's clear that though 70yrs have passed (per Jeremiah), repentance does not characterize the people, and they do not deserve repatriation. But, again God is gracious in allowing a return in spite of that defect. But the return is not immediately accompanied by full recovery. The people continue in an "oppressed" state, dominated by foreign powers, etc. So, there is a sense in which the exile hasn't come to an end, even though the people (some few) have come back. And the returnees continue to sin and to not-deserve as much of (partial) covenant-blessing as they experience.

Israel hasn't changed character. Daniel's later visions teach the remnant concerning the days to come. The time of "the indignation" (Dan.8:19; 11:36) that began with war and exile, will not truly end until Messiah's arrival. Only he can really end the exile. Unlike what some in the first century were thinking, Messiah wasn't coming after the people finally got ready and obedient enough. He would come in God's timing, and in spite of sin.
Thanks Bruce. I agree with what you wrote. As I'm writing through some of these things I'm finding myself grappling with questions I'm not sure I had grappled with before. I know the restoration is a picture of our restoration in Jesus, and indeed the promises of restoration, though partially fulfilled with the return to the land, only find their ultimate fulfilment in Jesus' redemption. I agree that Israel didn't deserve to be restored and there were still issues; and that it was despite them and for God's own name (God's words in Ezekiel, etc); and that, thus it was gracious. Part of my question has to do with thinking through this graciousness. Because we would say that Israel in the OT was also indeed under the Covenant of Grace. So if OT Israel was under the Covenant of Grace, and yet were sent (rightly) into exile as a corporate judgment for corporate apostasy, then why is Israel post-exile brought back into the land? If God only deals with His people in grace in the Covenant of Grace, and if pre-exile Israel was under the Covenant of Grace just as much as post-exile Israel, then why is God "gracious" to Israel in bringing them back but "not gracious" as it were to Israel pre-exile? Why did God judge pre-exile Israel but deal with post-exile Israel in grace in restoring them? That's I think the primary thing I'm grappling with.

The best answer I can come up with traces its roots to a difference in administration between the OT and NT Covenant of Grace. That in the OT, many, and perhaps/probably most of the church was made up of people who didn't know the Lord in a saving way. Whereas it would be different in the New Covenant. It's the same gospel, but it would have a much greater effect in God's new covenant people than His old covenant people, hence what we read in Jeremiah 31. Amos 9:9 gives the imagery of the exile experience as winnowing. In/during the exile, God was winnowing His people, separating the wheat from the chaff. And it's only the wheat that God brings back. Calvin has some really interesting comments on this verse that I found really helpful. So that, it's true that Israel still massive issues and they definitely didn't deserve God to bring them back, and so it was a gracious restoration; yet at the same time, it seems that those whom God brought back seemed to represent the elect, who had survived the winnowing of judgment. And in this sense, we might think of it this way, that God sent pre-exile Israel into exile because He was dealing with His people corporately, and though there were faithful individuals mixed in, still, on the whole, corporate apostasy had led to corporate judgment. Whereas, in the restoration, God would now reverse the covenant curses and turn them into blessings for His people (Ezekiel 34,36; Amos 9 etc) because these were now a people who were characterized as knowing and belonging to the Messiah. The blessing is in Jesus. And since now post-exile, God's people were now characterized as knowing the Lord, God can grant corporate blessing instead of corporate judgment. (In this sense we can also draw parallels to the final judgment, where the Lord will winnow away the chaff, but that after the winnowing of the wicked, God will lead His redeemed people into a new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.)

I see the Haggai and Malachi passages as reminding us that the corporate blessing God promised is only in Jesus, and that it wasn't unconditional per se; IE: In the new covenant, God is now going to be a sugar daddy who just blesses His people instead of curses them. No, when God's people (as a whole, corporately) stray from Him and turn from Him, there are the covenant curses at the door once again. And I think it's the same principle in Revelation 2-3, where Jesus addresses the churches and basically tells them the same thing we see in Haggai and Malachi.

I'll stop there. What do you think Bruce? Can you follow what I'm trying to say? Do you think that's accurate?
 
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Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
I'll stop there. What do you think Bruce? Can you follow what I'm trying to say? Do you think that's accurate?
I'll reference some of my other recent posts here, https://puritanboard.com/threads/thomas-e-peck-on-the-link-between-circumcision-and-baptism.102238/. I don't think the LORD was being anything other than gracious to Israel, prior to the exile.

Going back through the divided nation, to the united nation, to the days of judges, to the conquest, to the wilderness, to Sinai itself--the people experienced nothing but the grace of God in all their good gifts. They never earned a single thing, other than the wages of sin.

In other words, it's my contention (and you may disagree, or only agree in part; I don't know where you will come out on this) that Israel doesn't experience not-graciousness prior to the exile. 2Chr.36:15-16, read in light of this apprehension, tells me that it was the patience and long-suffering of God that was the reason Israel was not consumed, for as long as they continued and from the very start. Their bent was apparent just as soon as they came forth from Egypt, even before the covenant was made; and the covenant didn't change them.

As I see it then, we see plenty of grace before the exile. We see +700yrs of grace. We see mostly grace! There is no strict administration of the law on Jehovah's part toward the nation, none. They don't get any blessings strictly in covenant-terms, because there is no earning of them. Why does the land rest for its accumulated Sabbaths, 2Chr.36:21? Because the people not once trusted the LORD to keep his word according to his promise, Lev.25:18-22.

God *only* exiles them for 70yrs--a tithe on the years of his grace already shown them. He sends them into exile, because he's still in teaching mode; because there's another +600yrs to go until Messiah arrives, more revelation and instruction in truth. Until the time of Christ, and grace upon grace is given. Maybe, looked at from one angle, there's more judgment before the exile, more grace afterward. But maybe from another angle there's more grace before the exile, and more judgment afterward--that's the tendency of my perspective, although my basic stance is that there is both grace and justice thoroughly mixed together. Prior to Christ, if anything has priority all along it is justice; because the coming of Christ (first advent) brings in the "days of grace," in contrast to the days of indignation. But, let's not forget that the Day of Judgment is still on its way. The ultimate Day of Grace follows that.

I agree with you, that there is an illustration in the exile's return of the wheat-minus-chaff. Just so, there's a prior illustration of the same principle in the generation of faith (wheat) that takes possession of the land, while the unbelievers (chaff) fall in the wilderness. In either case, the people are a sign of the elect (obviously, not every individual is an elect person). Such is the nature of the church, which is always a sign of the elect, and not a perfect expression. The nation received the land, "rolling away the reproach," Jos.5:9.

There's a narrow lens, and a wide lens by which to view these interrelated things. The post-exilic terms seem to emphasize the wonderful promises of covenant because they are so much closer to the coming of Christ, and he will bring the blessings in, and bestow them on his people. At the present time, our redemption is also closer than it has ever been, and we are called ever more to look to the inbreaking of the age to come, because this world does not satisfy and we crave the blessing.
 

KGP

Puritan Board Freshman
Jon, the shift you have in mind that you are seeing in the language of God reminds me of the simple principle that sin must be dealt with before blessing - Rev Buchanan has said that truly there is no blessing lest we be in Christ; so wherever we see this principle at work in what God is speaking and threatening/proimsing, it steers us to calvary where the principle is presented undistilled. As I was reading your question, my mind immediately was filled with the thought that until Christ was exiled for our sin, we could not be blessed. That Israel experiences the language of blessing after exile points to this as well I think, that until sin is put away by judgment, lasting blessing cannot come in earnest, we could think of many stories in the OT that follow this principle including the exile, and they all have the shape of Christ, 'who has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.' Heb 9:26
 

JTB.SDG

Puritan Board Junior
I'll reference some of my other recent posts here, https://puritanboard.com/threads/thomas-e-peck-on-the-link-between-circumcision-and-baptism.102238/. I don't think the LORD was being anything other than gracious to Israel, prior to the exile.

Going back through the divided nation, to the united nation, to the days of judges, to the conquest, to the wilderness, to Sinai itself--the people experienced nothing but the grace of God in all their good gifts. They never earned a single thing, other than the wages of sin.

In other words, it's my contention (and you may disagree, or only agree in part; I don't know where you will come out on this) that Israel doesn't experience not-graciousness prior to the exile. 2Chr.36:15-16, read in light of this apprehension, tells me that it was the patience and long-suffering of God that was the reason Israel was not consumed, for as long as they continued and from the very start. Their bent was apparent just as soon as they came forth from Egypt, even before the covenant was made; and the covenant didn't change them.

As I see it then, we see plenty of grace before the exile. We see +700yrs of grace. We see mostly grace! There is no strict administration of the law on Jehovah's part toward the nation, none. They don't get any blessings strictly in covenant-terms, because there is no earning of them. Why does the land rest for its accumulated Sabbaths, 2Chr.36:21? Because the people not once trusted the LORD to keep his word according to his promise, Lev.25:18-22.

God *only* exiles them for 70yrs--a tithe on the years of his grace already shown them. He sends them into exile, because he's still in teaching mode; because there's another +600yrs to go until Messiah arrives, more revelation and instruction in truth. Until the time of Christ, and grace upon grace is given. Maybe, looked at from one angle, there's more judgment before the exile, more grace afterward. But maybe from another angle there's more grace before the exile, and more judgment afterward--that's the tendency of my perspective, although my basic stance is that there is both grace and justice thoroughly mixed together. Prior to Christ, if anything has priority all along it is justice; because the coming of Christ (first advent) brings in the "days of grace," in contrast to the days of indignation. But, let's not forget that the Day of Judgment is still on its way. The ultimate Day of Grace follows that.

I agree with you, that there is an illustration in the exile's return of the wheat-minus-chaff. Just so, there's a prior illustration of the same principle in the generation of faith (wheat) that takes possession of the land, while the unbelievers (chaff) fall in the wilderness. In either case, the people are a sign of the elect (obviously, not every individual is an elect person). Such is the nature of the church, which is always a sign of the elect, and not a perfect expression. The nation received the land, "rolling away the reproach," Jos.5:9.

There's a narrow lens, and a wide lens by which to view these interrelated things. The post-exilic terms seem to emphasize the wonderful promises of covenant because they are so much closer to the coming of Christ, and he will bring the blessings in, and bestow them on his people. At the present time, our redemption is also closer than it has ever been, and we are called ever more to look to the inbreaking of the age to come, because this world does not satisfy and we crave the blessing.
Thank you Bruce, this is very helpful, and has further clarified things for me. Blessings to you, dear brother.
 

JTB.SDG

Puritan Board Junior
Thanks again everyone for your help. For what it's worth; this ended up being my summary on the meaning of the reversal of the covenant curses:

The exile was the ultimate covenant curse, but in the restoration, God would bring about a cataclysmic reversal of the curse of sin. Instead of famine, there would be abundance; instead of drought, showers of blessing. Ultimately, this reversal of the curse is meant to teach us all that God would do for us in and through Christ. Earlier we saw that the exile symbolizes Jesus' death. So, it's only fitting that when the exile was complete, God abolished the curse from His people and began pouring out His blessing upon them! Until Jesus was exiled for our sins, we lived under the curse. But in and through Jesus' exile at the cross, we've come out from under God's curse and entered into His favor and blessing. Paul says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, 'Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree'—in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles. . .” When Adam sinned in the garden, he brought God's curse upon all of us; and we became the rightful inheritors of the covenant curses of famine, pestilence, and the sword; and ultimately, death. But at the cross, Jesus took God's curse for sin on our behalf; and in His resurrection, He reversed the curse, since “the resurrection is the ultimate reversal of the curse of sin.” So that, now, in Jesus, instead of being inheritors of God's curse, we're ever and only recipients of His blessing. Paul says in Romans 8 that as believers, we may still face “famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword” (v35), but in Jesus these things no longer come to us as curses for our sin, but rather as hidden blessings from the hand of our loving heavenly Father.

So, the reversal of the curse teaches us about the blessing God lavishes on His people in Jesus. This is true for us as individuals, as we mentioned, but it's also true for the church corporately, as a whole. In fact, when God promised to reverse the curse in the restoration, He wasn't making that promise to individuals as much as He was to the entire people of God, collectively. God was promising to pour out His blessing on the whole corporate church. Now, God did this, to a degree, when He brought Israel back to their land. But after just a few short years, God is already telling His people: “because of you the sky has withheld its dew and the earth has withheld its produce. I called for a drought on the land. . .” (Haggai 1:10-11). And later, God even says to His people: “You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing Me. . .” (Malachi 3:9). We're left asking: What happened to God's promise that He would annihilate the covenant curses from His people and pour out His blessing on them? The answer is that though these things were partially fulfilled when God brought His people back to their land; ultimately, this promise of blessing looks past Israel's day and ours to a day yet to come. Here again, Israel's restoration points us forward to the restoration of all things. Jesus began to reverse the curse with His death and resurrection, but it's not until the new heavens and new earth that He brings this work to completion. We've said that the resurrection is the ultimate reversal of the curse of sin; but though it's true that Jesus has been resurrected; it's not until He establishes the new heavens and the new earth that we as God's people receive the “redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23). And it's here, in the New Jerusalem, that Revelation 22:3 tells us: “There will no longer be any curse. . .”
 
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