See our "How to Interpret Scripture" lesson index plus extra resources on our 2020 Second Quarter Index
Lesson 8 November 16–22
Read for This Week’s Study: Neh. 10:1-29, Gen. 4:8-19, Heb. 13:20, Joshua 24, Neh. 10:30-39, Heb. 8:1-7.
Memory Text: “‘And because of all this, we make a sure covenant and write it; our leaders, our Levites, and our priests seal it’. … we will not neglect the house of our God” ( Nehemiah 9:38; 10:39, NKJV).
What does the Bible mean when it talks about the “covenant”? The easiest explanation of this kind of biblical covenant is that it is the legal establishment of a relationship between God and His people. It is God saying, “You are my people, and I am your God”. Beyond this, we can find the use of written covenants among other people in the ancient world, often between leaders and the vassals under them.
These covenants were established because they were beneficial to both parties. The leader would take care of the people, and the people would pay tribute. But with God, the covenant was different. God wasn’t really getting anything out of it, and yet He promised to be faithful to it, even when people were not. Indeed, the blessings and curses attached to the covenant made it possible for the Israelites to know when bad things started happening, that they had been breaking the covenant.
This week, we will look at the covenant that the Israelites renewed with God, in Nehemiah 10, and also discuss some general information about the history and importance of covenant making in the Bible.
Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, November 23.
Sunday ↥ November 17
Read Nehemiah 10:1-29 (and refresh your memory by reading Nehemiah 9:36-38). Who is making this covenant, and why did they enter into it?
Although only the leaders signed the document, the text pointedly notes that all of “the rest the people” entered into “a curse and an oath to follow the Law of God” ( Neh. 10:28, 29, NIV). What was so significant about the covenant that they all desired to enter into an agreement with God? In order to answer this question, we have to go back to the very beginning, and understand the biblical idea of the covenant.
The covenant was important because it was part of God’s story in dealing with sinful humanity, and it demonstrated God’s yearning for a relationship with people. It also allowed people to demonstrate their desire to be dedicated to God.
The biblical creation story in Genesis 1 and 2 reveals not only the creation of the first humans but the relationship between them and God, and between each other, as well. However, sin then entered and broke all those relationships. Sin is the antithesis of creation, bringing de-creation (death) instead.
The genealogy of Adam eventually splits, as Cain chooses evil ( Gen. 4:8-19) and Seth embraces God ( Gen. 5:3-24). Cain’s genealogy culminates in Lamech ( Gen. 4:17-19), the seventh (inclusively) from Adam, who introduced polygamy. Violence and vengeance on Cain’s side stand in juxtaposition to the faithful lineage of Seth. Seth’s genealogy is also enumerated, but the seventh in this line is Enoch, who “walked with God” ( Gen. 5:24) and was taken to heaven.
Unfortunately, the world embraced evil more than it did God, and there came a point when the lineage of the faithful was very small, and soon there might not be any family left through whom God could fulfill His word by sending the promised Seed to save humans. At that point, God intervenes with the flood. The flood, however, was a further de-creation, a reversal and destruction of life, and yet God destroyed only what humans had already ruined ( Gen. 6:11-13).
How have you personally experienced the reality of sin’s destructive force? What’s the only power against sin, and how do we avail ourselves of it?
Monday ↥ November 18
After the flood, God began again, now with Noah and the people who came afterward. With them, too, He sought a relationship, and central to that relationship was the idea of covenant. The Bible identifies seven major covenants that God has made with people:
Read the following texts. What do they mean by the “everlasting covenant”? ( Gen. 9:16, 17:7, Isa. 55:3, Heb. 13:20).
The Bible incorporates the term “everlasting covenant” sixteen times. Out of them, thirteen are specifically applied to the covenants with Abraham, Israel at Sinai, and David. Each of the covenants mentioned above, although unique, bore the imprint of “the everlasting covenant”. Just as the everlasting gospel is first announced in Genesis 3:15, but then progressively revealed throughout the Bible, the same applies to the everlasting covenant. Each consecutive covenant serves to expound and deepen our understanding of the everlasting covenant of love, which is revealed most fully in the plan of salvation. The New and Old Covenants, as they are often distinguished, contain the same components.
2. Reconciliation: “I will be their God, and they shall be My people” ( Jer. 31:33, NKJV; Heb. 8:10).
3. Mission: “No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD’, for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them” ( Jer. 31:34, NKJV; Heb. 8:11).
4. Justification: “I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” ( Jer. 31:34, NKJV; Heb. 8:12).
Tuesday ↥ November 19
Bible scholars recognize that there is a typical structure to biblical covenants; this was even seen in covenants made by the ancient Hittites. That is, God communicated to the people in a manner that they, in their culture, could especially understand.
The covenants that were common during the time of ancient Israel had the following parts: preamble (who God is); historical prologue (past relationship defined); stipulations or laws; blessings and curses; witnesses, special provision or sign of the covenant. Thus, it should be no surprise that God used something similar in communicating to His people back then. He used what they were familiar with.
For example, the whole book of Deuteronomy is written in the form of a covenant, because Moses invites God’s people to enter into a new covenant relationship with their God. It expresses the covenant in the following manner: 1. Preamble ( Deut. 1:1-5); 2. Historical prologue ( Deut. 1:6-4:43); 3. Stipulations or laws ( Deut. 4:44-26:19); 4. Blessings and Curses (Deuteronomy 27-30); 5. Witnesses ( Deut. 30:19); and finally, 6. Special provision ( Deut. 31:9-13).
Read Joshua 24. How is this covenant pattern revealed in that chapter as well?
The same is true with the renewal of the covenant made by Joshua.
First, a preamble is mentioned where God presents Himself as “the LORD, the God of Israel” ( Josh. 24:2, NIV). Then follows a long historical prologue where Joshua reminds the people of what God has done for them in the past ( Josh. 24:2-13). After this history, the stipulations or laws are enumerated ( Josh. 24:14, 15, 23), blessings and curses are mentioned ( Josh. 24:19, 20), witnesses identified ( Josh. 24:22, 27), and special provision stated ( Josh. 24:25, 26). Here, too, the basic form of a covenant was used to communicate with Israel and show them, not only God’s leading in their past, but what was required of them to uphold their end of the covenant.
Read Joshua 24:15. What principle is here that we can apply to ourselves today?
Wednesday ↥ November 20
Read Nehemiah 10:30-39. What are four things the Israelites pledged to do as part of the renewed covenant?
The first three pledges related to relationships with others (marriage and debt cancellation) and with God (Sabbath), while the last one ( Neh. 10:32-39) deals with temple regulations.
The goal of the community was to demonstrate that they were committed to the covenant, and therefore would implement practical ways of building their relationship with God and others. Even if they didn’t always keep the covenant perfectly, they understood that right habits and practices would influence the future. If the Israelite nation was going to get on the right path, they had to establish practices and habits that would be conducive to where they wanted to be. If they wanted to have a close walk with God, then making the Sabbath important and taking care of the temple were important steps in that direction.
Unfortunately, they didn’t keep their pledges very well, as demonstrated in the last chapters of Nehemiah. Yet, even if everyone didn’t keep them, some or many people did. With God’s help and keeping our focus on Him, we can develop the right habits and stick to the right path.
“Through the right exercise of the will, an entire change may be made in your life. By yielding up your will to Christ, you ally yourself with the power that is above all principalities and powers. You will have strength from above to hold you steadfast, and thus through constant surrender to God you will be enabled to live the new life, even the life of faith” - Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ, p. 48. What’s holding you back from experiencing what’s written here?
Thursday ↥ November 21
Look at Nehemiah 10:32-39 again. Why were the temple’s practices essential for the Israelites, as shown by “we will not neglect the house of our God” ( Neh. 10:39, NKJV)? Why was the Temple so important for the faith as a whole? (See also Heb. 8:1-7).
The Israelites pledged to take care of the temple. Even though they were a small group financially oppressed by the kings, they decided they needed to give from the little they had in order for the temple to thrive and not just survive. Therefore, they chose to give a third of a shekel for the temple service every year, instead of just when the census happened, as the law commanded. The nation saw a need to go beyond what was required. Additionally, they allotted the responsibility for burning firewood on the altar to specific families, as they recognized that without organization the practice would wane.
Firstfruits, firstborns, and tithes and offerings were aspects of the temple service that provided for the ministry of the priests and Levites. A tenth of everything was to go to the Levites. Also, firstborns were redeemed by money, adding to the amount the Levites received. However, a tenth of the Levites’ tenth went to the priests.
The temple served as the heartbeat of the Israelite nation. It was so central to their faith that the greatest tragedy occurred when Nebuchadnezzar tore down the temple and carried away the sacred objects.
When the temple was properly managed, it gave the nation a vibrant spiritual life because it pointed the people to the ultimate solution to the sin problem, which was through the death of a lamb. When Jesus died on the cross, that solution was provided ( Rom. 5:5-10). Moreover, through the yearly service of the Day of Atonement, the people learned that ultimately God has a plan to get rid of evil and sin for good. In other words, the temple served as the setting for revealing to the people the entire plan of salvation. The lessons we can gain through looking at the temple services are immense and necessary to give us a bigger picture of God’s character and to illuminate the plan of salvation.
“This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” ( 1 Tim. 1:15, NKJV). What was Paul’s hope, and how can we make it our own hope, as well?
Friday ↥ November 22
Further Thought: Read Ellen G. White, “Consecration”, pp. 43–48, in Steps to Christ.
“The ministration of the earthly sanctuary consisted of two divisions; the priests ministered daily in the holy place, while once a year the high priest performed a special work of atonement in the most holy, for the cleansing of the sanctuary. Day by day the repentant sinner brought his offering to the door of the tabernacle and, placing his hand upon the victim’s head, confessed his sins, thus in figure transferring them from himself to the innocent sacrifice. The animal was then slain. ‘Without shedding of blood’, says the apostle, there is no remission of sin. ‘The life of the flesh is in the blood’. Leviticus 17:11. The broken law of God demanded the life of the transgressor. The blood, representing the forfeited life of the sinner, whose guilt the victim bore, was carried by the priest into the holy place and sprinkled before the veil, behind which was the ark containing the law that the sinner had transgressed. By this ceremony the sin was, through the blood, transferred in figure to the sanctuary. In some cases the blood was not taken into the holy place; but the flesh was then to be eaten by the priest, as Moses directed the sons of Aaron, saying, ‘God hath given it you to bear the iniquity of the congregation’. Leviticus 10:17. Both ceremonies alike symbolized the transfer of the sin from the penitent to the sanctuary” - Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, p. 418.
Man Bahadur Rai and his family believed that six spirits inhabited their home in a rural village near Nepal’s border with China.
Six clay pots were placed around the home for the spirits to live in. Whenever Mother cooked a meal, she placed food into each pot for the spirits to eat. She feared that if even one spirit were forgotten, the whole family would suffer indigestion - or worse.
The parents wielded great influence in the village as the local spiritual leaders, and they hated Christianity, the belief in an unseen God. They preferred their visible gods of metal and wood.
One evening, 18-year-old Man was walking home after work and heard a male voice speaking about a virgin who had a child. Man wondered who was making such an illogical statement. He followed the voice a building and saw a man reading from a black book.
After the meeting, Man fiercely argued with the man over his teachings. The man, a visiting Seventh-day Adventist pastor, simply smiled and invited the teen to return the next evening.
After a week of meetings, Man obtained a Bible and determined to prove it wrong. The more he read, however, the more he felt convinced that Jesus is the living God. He gave his heart to Jesus.
Father was furious when Man announced that he had become a Christian. He badly beat the teen and chased him from the village.
Mother wept all night. In the morning, she asked a friend to find her son and give him a lamb.
Man accepted the lamb with joy and, after praying, felt a strong impression to sell it - and buy a volleyball ball and net. Finding a piece of unused land between five villages, Man set up the new volleyball net and started to play.
Soon several young people passed by and asked if they could join him. “Sure”, Man said. “But you have to memorize one Bible verse”.
The young people eagerly memorized a verse and began to play. As they played, other young people stopped and memorized verses to join in. When the matych ended, the young people pleaded to play again.
“OK”, Man said. “But first you have to learn a song about my God”.
Before long, many young people had memorized whole Bible chapters and many Christian songs.
Then Man heard that I would conduct a Bible school, and he shared his story on the first day. He introduced three young men seated nearby. “This is the result of my volleyball evangelism”, he said. “These men have accepted Jesus and want to become Bible workers, too”.
Man, left, who has been disowned by his family, is no theologian. He is a frontline worker building a new family who will live forever in God’s kingdom.
Wilson Measapogu is executive secretary of the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s Southern Asia Division.
Produced by the General Conference Office of Adventist Mission. email: firstname.lastname@example.org website: www.adventistmission.org
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