THE STORY OF THE STEPS: HOW TO UNDERSTAND HISTORY

THE STORY OF THE STEPS: HOW TO UNDERSTAND HISTORY

By Glen Penton

Here is the hidden mystery behind all history. The story of the steps is a schematic way to look at the biblical message and apply it to the human situation. Understanding the story of the steps will not only help you understand and evaluate all of human history and current events, but will give you a better perspective on your personal experience.

God's love is the foundation for the whole universe, the purpose behind all creation and everything that happens. His love is eternal. It never started. It never will end. So we can diagram the situation like this:


{--------------------------------------------------------------------}
                               LOVE

But when our first ancestors sinned against Him for the first time, there was a new context for His love. It needed to be expressed in a new way. God did a historically new thing that day by offering full forgiveness to whoever would trust Him and accept it. This forgiveness had never been needed or offered before. It was based on the fact that Yeshua would later suffer, die and rise again to pay the sin-debt we all owed. The forgiveness started in the lifetime of Adam, and will never end. So now our step looks like this:

      .--------------------------------------------------------------}
      |(Adam)               FORGIVENESS
{-----'--------------------------------------------------------------}
                               LOVE

If that were the end of biblical history and the final expression of God's love for us, it would have been so much more than any of us deserve, and more than most people ever get. He took our punishment on Himself and forgave our sins. What more should anyone want? But history does not end there. His forgiveness is only the beginning.

About sixteen centuries after people began to sin, at the time of the awful Deluge-disaster, God revealed Himself again to Noah. He told Noah what Noah most needed to hear, the good news that He has a redemptive plan, not only for us as individuals, but for the earth and for humanity as a whole. Noah needed to know, as we do, that our sinfulness, destructive as it is, can never derail God's good plan for His creation.

When Noah heard that message he should have simply believed it and spent the rest of his life praising God. No doubt he wanted to, and sincerely tried. But the darkness of history had become too deep, the trauma too painful, and human insight too weak. Noah had a survivor's neurosis that would drive even a good man to drink. So the Holy Spirit appealed to God our Father for help for Noah and for us, expressing, as always, the depth of our need with unutterable groans for us that only God's loving Father-heart understands. And the Father responded by sending His Word (That's Yeshua!) to Noah to act out an oath. An acted-out oath is called a covenant.

The matter is similar to our children's needs. On a beautiful summer day, when the other kids are calling a boy out to play and there were Froot-Loops for breakfast and everybody's happy and healthy, he says, "Bye Mom, bye Dad. I'll call you from Dane's if his mom invites me to spend the night." No need for a hug or "I love you" from us. He's ready to play.

But when the sleet beats the window pane at midnight and the wind is howling, when a nearby lightening-flash and loud thunderclap wake him up from a nightmare, and he vomits all over his bed, it does no good for him to try to reason that mom and dad love him, are in the house, will help later, but need their sleep now. He needs NOW to see us, to hear comforting words, to be held, and for the mess to be cleaned up.

That is how it is with God's oaths and covenants. God has something important to tell us, but He knows how hard it is for us to really believe Him. So in addition to telling us, He swears to it by an oath or, in the case of His most-important and hardest-to-believe messages, He cuts a covenant. That is to say, He carries out some symbolic action to signal to us that this promise is more important to Him than His very existence, and that He will never let it be broken, no matter what the circumstances, and no matter what may be the cost to Him.

The Bible does not describe any covenant God made before Noah, and we don't know for sure that He will cut any further covenants when He returns. But in the deep darkness of death and disaster that has dominated history until now, we fight off our doubts by faith as best we can, and cling by faith to His Covenant. You'll find this same point made in Scripture in Hebrews 6:16-19.

The Bible usually refers to God's Covenant in the singular. Whenever He re-stated and re-newed the covenant throughout biblical history, He was essentially giving us new steps upwards and forwards in the same Covenant, re-affirming the same good program. So as I diagram for you the steps up His pathway of blessing, I'll use exclamation points to represent His new covenant-statements.

The covenant was acted out in many ways and under many circumstances all through history. The supreme Covenant-drama was Yeshua's death and resurrection for us. He is our Covenant with God, our Guarantee of all God's promises, oaths and covenant-renewals. But I'm getting ahead of my story.

So at the end of Genesis 9 our diagram looks like this:


             .-------------------------------------------------------}
             !(Noah)           PLAN
      .------!-------------------------------------------------------}
      |(Adam)               FORGIVENESS
{-----'--------------------------------------------------------------}
                               LOVE

God's next covenant-statement, that we know of, was with our father Abraham. God covenanted to give Abraham a family, then waited and tested Abraham's faith for a quarter of a century. Then he fulfilled His promise by giving Abraham a son, starting God's family. In this family He includes all who receive His love, His forgiveness, and all the other benefits of His plan. Genesis 15 gives perhaps our clearest biblical example of a covenant-drama. This is the covenant-statement which seems to resonate most deeply--and is sometimes hardest to grasp--for those of us who hail from dysfunctional families.

The sign of the covenant is announced two chapters later in Genesis 17. As a sign, circumcision specifically relates to our family relationship both with the Father (Who has the right to demand absolutely anything of us, and Who demands only what is really in our best interests), and with our brothers and sisters. A baby boy born into the Family is circumcised on the exact day of his life that is safest for surgery, and when he is relatively insensitive to pain. He recovers in a couple of days. But an older child or an adult who undergoes circumcision endangers his life to join the family, and comes into the family with pain and infant-like dependence. For the first couple of days he is in bed needing to be kept warm and babied, but unable to tolerate even a piece of clothing or a sheet to touch the wound. For a couple of weeks he cannot put on pants or walk around much. And it is months before he is back to work. It is worthwhile to note that of the traditional cultures that circumcise, only the Jewish People circumcise babies rather than older children, and the Jews circumcise only boys, never girls, as some cultures do.

When our Jewish brothers were released from the anti-Semitic slavery of the Soviet Union to come to the West as refugees a few years ago, I was impressed with how their circumcision became again a sign of loyalty between the new immigrant and the Jewish community hosting him, whether in America or in Israel. Perhaps this issue of helpless dependency is also why our Rabbi Sha'ul (whose legal Roman cognomen was Paul) ruled that the law of circumcision did not apply to a non-Jew coming into the Family outside the Land of Israel, without the support of the temporal leadership of the local Jewish community. We'll know we have the real power of God working effectively among us who trust Him, when our family loyalty is revived, and we consider the needs of our hurting brothers and sisters ahead of our own convenience. In a culture in self-destruct mode, full of mixed-up minds and destructive families, we are unlikely to get much credibility any other way.

So let's diagram it:


                    .------------------------------------------------}
                    !(Abraham)FAMILY
             .------!------------------------------------------------}
             !(Noah)           PLAN
      .------!-------------------------------------------------------}
      | (Adam)               FORGIVENESS
{-----'--------------------------------------------------------------}
                               LOVE

Four generations later, God rescued our Family from slavery so dramatically and miraculously that we could never again go back to being just another mid-eastern clan. The Exodus changed our whole culture from that day to this and gave our family an separate ethnic identity which those born into the Family still preserve. God broke the covenant we had with the Egyptians, the one that said, "If you'll be good and loyal slaves, we won't kill all of you today." He brought us out and renewed His Covenant with us at Mount Sinai. There He made us a nation and gave us both an eternally-valid legal system to express His righteousness, and a network of eternal cultural symbols to help us understand and express both His grace towards us and our gratitude towards Him.


                           .-----------------------------------------}
                           !(Exodus-Sinai)ETHNIC-LEGAL-CULTURAL
                    .------!-----------------------------------------}
                    !(Abraham)FAMILY
             .------!------------------------------------------------}
             !(Noah)           PLAN
      .------!-------------------------------------------------------}
      |(Adam)               FORGIVENESS
{-----'--------------------------------------------------------------}
                               LOVE

It is difficult for those of us who have never been without an ethnic and cultural framework to appreciate how important it is for our earthly lives. We can get some hint of its importance by noticing how much of the horror on the evening news is wrecked by people deprived of the ethnic and cultural expressions they think they need. Another hint of its importance is in God's vision for our future. Even after we are all glorified and perfected and our identity in Him and in His People Israel is completed, He will still preserve our national identities (Revelation 21:24-26). Likewise, those of us who have always had an earthly homeland can hardly identify with the pain of being without one. But God's next covenant statement, the Book of Deuteronomy, promises an eternal homeland for His wandering children. It's not heaven, but heaven will come there, and so will we.

But concerning the earthly homeland God gave the People of Israel, someone could raise the question whether that gift is eternal. After all, we were evicted from the Land only eight centuries after we received it. For the past 26 centuries, the majority of the People of Israel have not lived in the Land of Israel.

A legal analogy may help answer that question. I could be detained from going home for a long time if I committed some crime and went to prison. But whenever the sentence is served it would still be my home to return to. In the same way, our failure and sin cannot finally annul His Covenant, including His promise to save all the survivors from the Family of Israel someday, and to live with them forever in the Land of Israel.

He wanted to give us the Land less than a year and a half after the Exodus, but we delayed Him by our lack of faith and grieved Him 40 years in the Sinai desert. Of all the complaints and accusations and disobediences, the one that made Him the very angriest, the one that killed a whole generation, was when we accused Him of intending to ruin our children. (That story is told in Numbers 13-14.) He loves you, and He wants to bless you and your children. And you can safely trust Him to do that.


                                  .----------------------------------}
                              LAND!(Deuteronomy)
                           .------!----------------------------------}
                           !(Exodus-Sinai)ETHNIC-LEGAL-CULTURAL
                    .------!-----------------------------------------}
                    !(Abraham)FAMILY
             .------!------------------------------------------------}
             !(Noah)           PLAN
      .------!-------------------------------------------------------}
      |(Adam)               FORGIVENESS
{-----'--------------------------------------------------------------}
                               LOVE

He gives grace on top of grace, one part of His grace being the good Law He gave through Moses (which, like all His good gifts, has been abused), and all of His grace and truth, at all times of history, through many different ways, by Yeshua the Messiah, the Offspring of David (John 1:16-17). He swore to David that his offspring would be the royal dynasty to rule Israel forever, and that his city would not merely be the eternal capital of the Land of Israel, not merely the eternal capital of the whole earth, but God's own Home forever (II Chronicles 7:16). The prophet Ezekiel saw Him leave that home temporarily, like a king going into exile. But Ezekiel also foresaw the day when the City will forever be called "Joy to the World, the Lord's Come There." (Ezekiel 48:35) (I just can't understand why people mistake that song for a Christmas carol, can you? It's about the future.)


                                         .---------------------------}
                ROYAL CAPITAL AND DYNASTY!(David)
                                  .------!---------------------------}
                              LAND!(Deuteronomy)
                           .------!----------------------------------}
                           !(Exodus-Sinai)ETHNIC-LEGAL-CULTURAL
                    .------!-----------------------------------------}
                    !(Abraham)FAMILY
             .------!------------------------------------------------}
             !(Noah)           PLAN
      .------!-------------------------------------------------------}
      |(Adam)               FORGIVENESS
{-----'--------------------------------------------------------------}
                               LOVE

His most recent covenant renewal was when He came to earth, physically and personally carried our pains, taught and showed us how to follow Him in the context of a ruined human race and a world under the curse, taught the shlichim (apostles), died for us, rose again, returned to Heaven to get ready to do still more wonderful things for us, and fulfilled the symbolism of the Holiday of Weeks (called Shavu'ot in Hebrew and Pentecostes in Greek). He has returned by His Spirit to live inside of anyone who will renounce their rebellion against God and receive His forgiveness. If you have not yet received His Spirit, you don't have to wait for anything. You don't have to understand or accept all that I have written in this article. You do not have to discuss it with anybody but Him first. You don't even have to wait until you finish reading this paragraph. All you have to do is trust Him the best you know how. He is waiting right this second to fill you with His new Life. Please receive it now. His Spirit inside you will become like a living spiritual river, meeting your own need and the need of the people in the spiritual desert around you. He will begin in new ways to demonstrate the love He has always had for you. He will make you useful in His plan to redeem this fallen planet. He will give you a new identity as a member in good standing in His Family and His People, learning His ways. He will serve as your King, Father, and loving Guide starting today, soon to bring you home to His Land (if you are not there yet) to rule with Him from His Capital City.

One important insight that this step-approach clarifies for us, is that God accepts or rejects us primarily on the basis of our response to His most recent Covenant renewal. What do you think, for example, might have happened to an Israelite who believed the Abrahamic covenant, but refused to leave Egypt with Moses? This principle provides a partial solution to the problem of the harshness of the curses the Holy Spirit pronounced in the Psalms against David's enemies. It also helps us to understand God's tolerant acceptance for many people who believe in Yeshua's death and resurrection, and who receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, but who reject for themselves nearly all the other provisions He offers. To them, most of God's Words are mainly of historical interest. They think those words apply only to another people, at another time and place. But God accepts them in their ignorant unbelief, while rejecting those who accept the earlier parts of His Covenant but don't accept Messiah's death, resurrection, and provision of the Holy Spirit.


                                                .--------------------}
                            INDWELLING          !(apostles)
                                         .------!--------------------}
                ROYAL CAPITAL AND DYNASTY!(David)
                                  .------!---------------------------}
                              LAND!(Deuteronomy)
                           .------!----------------------------------}
                           !(Exodus-Sinai)ETHNIC-LEGAL-CULTURAL
                    .------!-----------------------------------------}
                    !(Abraham)FAMILY
             .------!------------------------------------------------}
             !(Noah)           PLAN
      .------!-------------------------------------------------------}
      |(Adam)               FORGIVENESS
{-----'--------------------------------------------------------------}
                               LOVE

We don't know much about the rest of the chart, because it hasn't happened yet. We know there is a time coming when all the survivors from the family of Israel (including everyone who dies trusting Him) will be saved, glorified, and ruling with Him from His Renewed City and all the terms of the New Covenant will have been fulfilled. (We have the down payment now, but soon the full payment. You can check out the terms of this latest covenant-renewal for yourself in Jeremiah 31:31ff.) Then, a thousand years later, begins the never-ending Sabbath when His Love will be perfectly manifest. Sin, with its death and sorrows will be finally forgiven and done away with, His plan accomplished, His family complete and in full obedience, at home in the Land, ruling with the King in His City, heaven and earth completely united, the flesh in full submission to (and fully healed and blessed by) the Spirit.


                                                              .------}
                            ALL THE UNIVERSE                  |
                                                       .------'------}
                               ALL ISRAEL              |
                                                .------'-------------}
                               INDWELLING       !(apostles)
                                         .------!--------------------}
                ROYAL CAPITAL AND DYNASTY!(David)
                                  .------!---------------------------}
                              LAND!(Deuteronomy)
                           .------!----------------------------------}
                           !(Exodus-Sinai)ETHNIC-LEGAL-CULTURAL
                    .------!-----------------------------------------}
                    !(Abraham)FAMILY
             .------!------------------------------------------------}
             !(Noah)          PLAN
      .------!-------------------------------------------------------}
      |(Adam)             FORGIVENESS
{-----'--------------------------------------------------------------}
                              LOVE

May God continue to bless you with every blessing according to the generosity of His Love.


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