One of the things I do from time to time is draw lessons for the United States from the history of Israel in the Old Testament. I know that this must exasperate some good folks, making them dance beside their computers in frustration, exclaiming to their ceiling fan that I clearly don’t know that America is not the chosen nation, that the old covenant is not the new covenant, that baptism is not circumcision, and so on.
But actually I do know, appreciate, embrace and love all those distinctions. Yay for all of that. Something else is going on, which I will touch on briefly. Then I will say something about how we can, at the very least, still talk this way on the basis of story. And then I will apply a lesson from ancient Israel to the current cultural morass we find ourselves in.
The church is no longer “confined to one nation, as before under the law” (WCF 25.2). This does not mean that God’s Word in the Old Testament now applies to no nation, but rather that it applies, through the gospel, to every nation. To apply the fulfillment of all the blessings purchased by Christ to a modern nation is only a theological violation if we tried to limit that to one nation, as in “our own”. But the Deuteronomic blessings have already been enjoyed by multiple nations, and, as the gospel progresses, will be enjoyed by many more.
But let us say that you have not (yet) been persuaded to drink the postmill circus water. Let us say that the thought of baptizing babies still gives you both the willies and the fantods. Let us grant that you don’t want to get swept up in an overrealized eschatology. I mean, who wants that?
We can still take the lessons we need to take from the Old Testament because God is still the same God, and people, at their best, are still the same old dufflepuds. At the very least, we should still be gaining wisdom from the older Word in the same way that we can learn from Wormtongue and Theoden, from Shift and Puzzle, and from the dragon and St. George. We are so far gone that we don’t believe in the authority of stories anymore.
“The Lord will smite thee with the botch of Egypt . . . The Lord shall smite thee with madness, and blindness, and astonishment of heart: And thou shalt grope at noonday, as the blind gropeth in darkness, and thou shalt not prosper in thy ways” (Deut. 28:27–29).
This is where we are. Our seers, our pundits, our analysts, our brainiacs, are all specialists in groping at noonday.
The verses that follow this indicate why I have been emphasizing, for many years, the importance of rejoicing in God — and rejoicing materially in Him. The joy of the Lord is our strength, and it is a lamentable fact that Christians have by and large been guilted into abandoning their strength.
“Moreover all these curses shall come upon thee, and shall pursue thee, and overtake thee, till thou be destroyed; because thou hearkenedst not unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to keep his commandments and his statutes which he commanded thee: And they shall be upon thee for a sign and for a wonder, and upon thy seed for ever. Because thou servedst not the Lord thy God with joyfulness, and with gladness of heart, for the abundance of all things; Therefore shalt thou serve thine enemies which the Lord shall send against thee, in hunger, and in thirst, and in nakedness, and in want of all things: and he shall put a yoke of iron upon thy neck, until he have destroyed thee” (Deut. 28:45–48).
We are to stand for the gospel, and for the honor of Christ, rejoicing in a thick creation. We are not to use our piety as some kind of creational paint thinner, pouring it into the bucket so that “the things of earth might grow strangely dim.” No — Israel was judged because of her refusal to serve God with joyfulness, with gladness of heart, for the abundance of all things. Christians need to learn how to fight with their stuff by being grateful for it.
And when God delivers, it will be with a fiery law from His right hand (Dt. 33:2), followed by a fiery gospel, tongues of flame resting on the heads of His people.