|Vol. V, No. 1
Nisan 5607, April 1847
God’s Covenant With Israel
A Sermon Spoken At Cincinnati On Sabbath Shemoth By The
Rev. J. K. Gutheim
The first book of Moses, the reading of which we have concluded last Sabbath, closes the history of the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is the introduction not only to the history of our nation, but also to the universal history of mankind. Beginning with the creation of the world, the sacred historian traces and conspicuously brings to view the genealogy of our parents, and his inspired mind, with unerring purpose, holds up to the gaze of mankind those hallowed pages teeming with thrilling incidents, and important alike to ourselves and to all the children of man. For in Genesis we find recorded not only the origin of the world, which was called into existence by the will of the Almighty, but also the premises on which the subsequent religious and moral development of the human mind is based. The principal part, however, is devoted to the history of the patriarchs, from the period that Abraham went forth from Ur of the Chaldeans, down to the settlement of Jacob in Egypt with his whole family, consisting of seventy souls.
With the second book of Moses, Exodus, which we have commenced to-day, a new era begins in the history of our race. “The children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied and grew exceedingly mighty, and the land was filled with them.” Alarmed at such an unprecedented increase, the most cruel and barbarous measures were devised by the Egyptians to destroy the Hebrews, and to obliterate the name of Israel from among the number of nations. The utter subjection under which the Israelites were held by their taskmasters, the galling yoke under which they groaned bid fair to accomplish this end. But how can human devices and human efforts counteract the decrees of heaven? It is true, the descendants of Abraham were doomed to a temporary servitude in a strange land; but it is equally true that they were singled out as “the peculiar people of God,” and that their deliverance promised by the Supreme Ruler of the destinies of nations. When, therefore, the oppression became unendurable, when every vestige of the sacred traditions that were handed down to them from their fathers had well-nigh vanished, and the hope of an unclouded future departed from their bosoms; it was then that the strong hand and outstretched arm of Providence interposed on behalf of the children of Israel so cruelly persecuted. Few are but the words in which Holy Writ announces the Divine determination to rescue the Israelites; but they suggest the most exalted ideas of the infinite wisdom and goodness of God, and of the true position of our people, to every reflecting mind. Let us, therefore, select them as the text of our present discourse; we find then in the second chapter of Exodus, 24th and 25th verses:
וישמע אלהים את נאקתם ויזכר אלהים את בריתו את אברהם את יצחק ואת יעקב: וירא אלהים את בני ישראל וידע אלהים׃
“And God heard their groaning and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. And God saw the children of Israel, and God knew.”
In elucidating this text I shall make the following three propositions:
I. The Divine covenant with Israel is, like God himself, everlasting;
II. Throughout the chequered history of our nation God has remembered this covenant and protected his people; and
III. We must look up for protection and salvation to the Holy One of Israel, and put our trust in Him alone.
Among all the nations that ever performed a part in the history of mankind, and have either vanished or are yet active on the stage of the world, there is none whose career is of so all-absorbing an interest as that of the people of Israel. Throughout all stages of our gradual development and increase, throughout all the vicissitudes of our existence from Abraham to the present day, the finger of Providence can be traced. We have outlived the barbarians by whom we were oppressed, we have escaped the persecution of centuries, and, in spite of the scaffold and the stake of the middle ages, and the sneers and contempt of a more recent date, we have spread out to the south and to the north, to the east and to the west, under the protecting shield of God Everlasting; and this day, as of old, we cling to the covenant of our fathers. And well may we do so. For it was not only with the patriarchs that God formed his covenant, but also with their descendants after them to all generations. Such was the assurance given to Abraham, repeated to Isaac and reiterated to Jacob, and in whatever subsequent age the relation of God to his people was touched upon, the covenant with the patriarchs was distinctly referred to. It is ברית עולם “a covenant for ever;” that the Lord is our God, and we are His people, in whose midst the worship of the Holy One should be preserved in its pristine purity.
If we examine the Scriptures we will not find the slightest allusion to any deviation from this established covenant. Our text informs us, “that God heard the groaning of the Israelites, and that He remembered His covenant with Abraham and Isaac and with Jacob.” In Leviticus (ch. 26. v. 42) where their dispersion is predicted, we read “And I will remember my covenant with Jacob, and also my covenant with Isaac, and also my covenant with Abraham I will remember.” Again we read: “And I will remember the covenant of their ancestors whom I have brought forth from the land of Egypt, before the eyes of the nations to be their God.” I could cite many more passages in corroboration of my proposition; but I think that these are sufficient to show that the covenant as originally established has never, nor ever will be abrogated or superseded by another. Scripture speaks on this subject in terms too plain to be mistaken, and our reason convinces us that whatever emanates from the Eternal, who is equally acquainted with the past, present and future, whatever is by Him designed for a perpetual institution must, without change or alteration, endure for ever. “For God is not man that He should lie; neither the son of man that He should repent: hath He said, and shall He not do it? Or hath He spoken, and shall He not make it good?”
When God first revealed himself to Moses, and appointed him his delegate to the Israelites and to Pharaoh, Moses inquired under what name he should announce Him who had invested him with his important mission. To which he received the an answer, “I am that I am;” and he said, “thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, ‘I am’ hath sent me unto you.” And God said moreover unto Moses, “Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob hath sent me unto you: this is my name for ever, and this my memorial unto all generations.” Can any thing be more explicit than these words, “I am?” One, eternal, immutable! This is my name for ever. “The God Of your fathers!” This is my memorial unto all generations.
After these emphatic divine declarations, can we for a moment harbour the fallacious idea that God should have rejected the original covenant with Israel, and substituted a new one in its stead? Can we for a moment suppose that he could so modify and alter it as the adherents of Christianity, by mistaken interpretations and flagrant misconstructions of the Bible would fain make us believe? That, after having on so many occasions revealed and proclaimed Himself as One and Indivisible, Eternal, Immutable and Incorporeal, He should at a subsequent period reveal his Holy Essence and Being as consisting of a plurality of persons in the shape of the Christian trinity? No, our very existence as a distinct people proves the absurdity of such doctrines. “I, the Lord, do not alter, and ye, sons of Jacob, will not cease,” says the prophet Malachi. And thus we cling firmly to the old and true covenant, and worship the One true God, who has created heaven and earth, and sing with the psalmist: “He remembers for ever His covenant, the word which He commanded to a thousand generations; the covenant He made with Abraham, and his oath unto Isaac; which He confirmed to Jacob as a statute, to Israel as an everlasting covenant.”
Yes, my hearers, throughout the chequered history of our nation God has remembered His covenant and protected His people. In every age “He saw the children of Israel and had respect for them.” On Him alone, the Rock of Ages, we were dependent in all our heavy trials and afflictions. Almost every nation has had its Pharaoh, from almost every country and clime our cries for enlargement have ascended to heaven. Like the burning bush in the desert of Horeb that was wrapped in flames, and yet not consumed: so were we constantly surrounded and attacked by the fire of malice and hate and persecution, and yet we were not destroyed. We sustained our misfortunes with fortitude, we bore the chastisement for our transgressions with resignation,—still trusting to the mercy of our God, who had promised to be mindful of His covenant; still hoping for the consummation of His promises; still comforted by His holy word, as read from to-day’s Haphtorah, “That Hashem cause them that come of Jacob to take root: and that Israel shall blossom and bud, and fill the face of the world with fruit.” (Is. 22:6)
You all, my brethren, are I hope sufficiently acquainted with our past history to appreciate the truth of my remarks. You all have, I trust, devoted an occasional hour’s leisure “to look back to the rock whence ye are hewn,” (Is. 51:1;) to trace the thread of our eventful history through all the countries whither our destinies have carried us. Is it needful, then, to enumerate the injuries inflicted on us, and the dangers we have escaped? Is it needful to recapitulate the many instances when the sword of destruction was suspended, as it were, by a single hair above our heads? The persecutions of Pharaoh, of Haman, of Hadrian and a host of others; the exile from Spain and the repeated expatriations from almost every other European country in which we had sought shelter; the bloody and sweeping onset of the crusades, in which thousands of our people died the death of martyrs; the continued oppression and tyranny we had to endure, and the reproach and contumely that was attached to our name:—could we have borne all this, survived all this, if God had not remembered His covenant, endowed us with strength to support our trials, and healed the wounds that threatened our life and existence?
Amidst the peace and comfort which we enjoy in this blessed country, amidst the freedom of conscience and thought which we exercise under the protection of its liberal institutions, let us therefore not forget the restrictions under which we once laboured, or the Source whence we derive these benefits. Deeply indeed are we indebted to the Author of our being, who has thus provided for us an asylum, who has caused in many other countries the voice of humanity to he heard, and has softened the hearts of the rulers to relent in their rigour. And although, in a large portion of the world, Israel is yet far from participating in the rights of man, but is pressed down by a despotical rule: let us hope and pray for better times, when oppression will cease, and the light of happiness and peace illumine the world. For God will surely remember His covenant and protect His people. In the words of Isaiah: “In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them; in His love and in His pity He redeemed them: and He bore them and He carried them all the days of the world.”
Having thus shown that the Divine covenant with Israel is, like God himself, everlasting; that God has at all times remembered His covenant, and protected His people, I shall now proceed to my third proposition, that we must look up for protection and salvation to the Holy One of Israel, and put our trust in Him alone.
In the troubles and cares that mark our pilgrimage through life, in the dependence, weakness and frailty of our nature, we require a stay and prop for support and protection. The child looks up for protection to its more experienced and loving parent; the weak in body or intellect depends on the aid of the strong and wise; the poor is at the mercy of the rich; the aged and decrepit seeks shelter under the fostering care of the vigorous and healthy. But how insufficient is the protection that weak, short-sighted man is able to bestow! Are we not all but children of a moment, to-day here, to-morrow in the grave? Are we not all in the hand of God, who governs the world, protects the weak, and soothes the afflicted? To Him alone, then, who was always our Guide and Protector, and whose bounty extends to all His creatures, let us turn with a sincere heart, and we will truly and effectually be protected. “Happy he who hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord his God.”
And as God is our protector, so he is also the source of our salvation. The desire for happiness is implanted in our nature. To realize it, all our faculties are strained, all our energies exerted. But how often, in our eager pursuit after happiness, surrounded as we are by temptations that lead us but farther from the goal of our desire, do we fail to reach the object which we fondly imagined would satisfy the longing of our heart! How often, when even success crowned our ill-directed efforts, we feel but too keenly that not the possession of this world’s goods, but that pious resignation and cheerful contentment are the criterion of happiness here, a godly conduct the guarantee of our salvation hereafter! From the gloom of frustrated wishes and disappointed hopes which fall to our lot in the course of our journey below, we must look to a brighter sphere, and place our trust on a surer foundation than this world affords.
Whatever, therefore, our station and condition may be, whatever the sorrows that overcloud our mind, let us never despair; but let us put our trust in Him who remembered His covenant, “who saw His children, and had respect for them.” “For God is nigh unto all who call on Him, unto all who call on Him in truth.” In Him we will find protection, in Him we will find salvation. May His blessing rest upon us, may He guide us in His mercy and in His love, now and for ever. Amen!