The promise made to Abraham concerning a son was fulfilled in the birth of Isaac and it was through his descendants that the Savior was to come. We pick up the narrative of God’s continuing attempts at reformation in His followers. Isaac has grown into manhood and married Rebecca who gave him two sons, Esau and Jacob. It was God’s plan that the firstborn receive the birthright, but Esau was too self-centered to submit himself to such a restriction on his activities. Coming home one day, tired and hungry, he sold his birthright to Jacob for a “mess of pottage.” “‘Thus Esau despised his birthright.’ In disposing of it he felt a sense of relief. Now his way was unobstructed; and he could do as he liked.” Patriarchs and Prophets, 179. Jacob, later named Israel, at the insistence of his mother, practiced deception on his father to gain that birthright for himself.
As the result of this deviousness, Jacob paid a heavy price. Laban, his father-in-law, deceived him with regard to Leah and Rachel, and changed his wages many times during the years he spent working for him. In addition, he never saw his mother again, and his sons lied to him about their treatment of Joseph. But God did not reject Jacob and blessed him throughout his life. He lived long enough to see Joseph and his sons and be reunited with them in Egypt where Joseph was the governor.
After Joseph’s death, “there arose up a new king over Egypt, which knew not Joseph.” As this king viewed his kingdom, he saw that the Israelites were growing in number. He feared they would become strong, join the enemies of Egypt in a war and leave the country, depriving the Egyptians of their workforce.
At first the king tried to keep the Israelites from increasing in number by issuing a decree that all male babies were to be destroyed at birth. This cruel law failed and Israel continued to increase. He also made them work under severe conditions. The hard work only made the Israelites grow stronger and continue to increase.
Moses, a Reformer
It was under these circumstances that Moses now appeared upon the scene. Having grown up in the house of Pharaoh, he was to be the next ruler of Egypt. The time had come for Israel to be delivered from bondage, and Moses decided that since he was chosen by the Lord to deliver his people, he would proceed to do it. When he saw an Egyptian attacking an Israelite, he put into motion the only method he knew to carry out that deliverance. He killed the Egyptian. This was not God’s plan for the deliverance of His people, and Moses had to flee to Midian. There he spent the next forty years herding sheep and learning the lessons of humility and patience.
“Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.” 1 Corinthians 10:11. These are lessons that we are to learn; lessons of truthfulness and openness, of maintaining a humble spirit and exercising patience at all times under all circumstances. With that kind of spirit the Lord can use us to bring the message of salvation to a lost world.
Moses came back to Egypt ready to lead his people out to the Promised Land. Now God could use him to bring reformation to His people. Moses did not know it, but there was a long, arduous and frustrating journey ahead of him. There would be many occasions where his patience would be severely tried. When asked to go before Pharaoh and demand that he let Israel go into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the Lord, he hesitated, giving the excuse that he had a speech impediment. The Lord was patient with Moses and consented to have Aaron,his brother, speak for him to the Egyptian ruler.
It was at Sinai that the attempt at the reformation of Israel was begun in earnest. The Ten Commandments were given to Moses on the mount to help the children of Israel understand God’s character as well as His requirements for their salvation and work. The people promised to obey every word spoken by God. However, they failed to realize their own shortcomings and inability to do as they had promised. They were tested many times before arriving at the borders of the Promised Land. Most of the time they failed those tests, but the Lord continued to work with His people in spite of these failures. He wanted them to evangelize the world in order to save lost humanity.
At Kadesh-barnea Israel refused to go into Canaan. Because of unbelief and insubordination they spent the next forty years wandering in the wilderness until all those who had been twenty or older at the Exodus from Egypt had passed off the scene of action. “It was not the will of God that the coming of Christ should be thus delayed. God did not design that His people, Israel, should wander forty years in the wilderness. He promised to lead them directly to the land of Canaan, and establish them there a holy, healthy, happy people. But those to whom it was first preached, went not in ‘because of unbelief.’ Their hearts were filled with murmuring, rebellion, and hatred, and He could not fulfill His covenant with them . . . We may have to remain here in this world because of insubordination many more years, as did the children of Israel; but for Christ’s sake, His people should not add sin to sin by charging God with the consequence of their own wrong course of action.” Evangelism, 696.
In the history of the Advent Movement there have been several occasions when we have come to a Kadesh-barnea experience and have refused to go into the Promised Land. The most notable of these events occurred in 1888 at the refusal by many at that conference to accept the messages of righteousness by faith. We turned into the wilderness and have been there ever since.
“How sad, how deeply regrettable, it is that this message of righteousness in Christ should, at the time of its coming, have met with opposition on the part of earnest, well-meaning men in the cause of God. The message has never been received, nor proclaimed, nor given free course as it should have been in order to convey to the church the measureless blessings that were wrapped up within it. The seriousness of exerting such an influence is indicated through the reproofs that were given.” Christ Our Righteousness, 47. By A. G. Daniels, 1941.
At the close of the forty years of wandering in the wilderness, Israel once again came to the borders of Canaan. The devil was working furiously to frustrate God’s plans for Israel. He was successful once more and seduced the Israelites into idolatry and infidelity. Through the efforts of some that stood for principle, this problem was solved and Israel finally entered the Promised Land.
“God had placed His people in Canaan as a mighty breastwork to stay the tide of moral evil, that it might not flood the world. If faithful to Him, God intended that Israel should go on conquering and to conquer. He would give into their hands nations greater and more powerful than the Canaanites. The promise was: ‘If ye shall diligently keep all these commandments which I command you, . . . then will the Lord drive out all these nations from before you, and ye shall possess greater nations and mightier than yourselves.’ Deuteronomy 11:22–25.
“But regardless of their high destiny, they chose the course of ease and self-indulgence; they let slip their opportunities for completing the conquest of the land; and for many generations they were afflicted by the remnant of these idolatrous peoples, that were, as the prophet had foretold, as ‘pricks’ in their eyes, and as ‘thorns’ in their sides. Numbers 33:55.” Patriarchs and Prophets, 544.
Israel Desires a King
“Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.” 1 Samuel 8:5. Israel desired to be like the heathen nations around them. This was one of the consequences of not driving out the inhabitants of Canaan when Israel first entered that land. Up to this point God had been their king, but they were not satisfied with that arrangement. They wanted a king to rule over them the way the other nations were ruled. The Lord sent a warning to them regarding the consequences of having an earthly king, but they refused to listen and demanded a king. The Lord granted their wishes and Israel was led down the path into idolatry.’
The principle of becoming changed into that which we behold is one of the reasons we have been counseled to get out of the cities into a country setting. Our children would be contaminated with the lifestyle of the inhabitants of the cities and as a result would be lost. And we as adults are not immune to the influences of city life. The devil uses such settings to cause us to become so engrossed in our daily living that we lose sight of our purpose for being, that is giving the Three Angels’ Messages to the world.’
It seems that we, as modern Israel, have come to the same place as they. We desire to be like the churches around us. Two Union Conferences and one mission have joined the Council of Churches as guest members in their respective areas. That requires payment of dues. The two Unions are the North and South German Unions and the Mission is Vanuatu. Seventh-Day Adventists in the Solomon Islands have also joined as guest members. Both the German and South Pacific Councils are arms of the World Council of Churches. Will we ever learn the lessons that Old Testament history attempts to teach us? We are to be a separate and peculiar people, peculiar in that we have a unique message for fallen man.
God says, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” 2 Corinthians 6:14–18.
Results of Kingly Power
Because of this demand for an earthly king, the ten tribes were led deeper and deeper into idolatry and eventually were scattered over the earth and lost to history. Judah fared better but they too were finally taken captive to Babylon for seventy years. After returning to Jerusalem, rebuilding the city and temple, they failed to continue their reformation and were almost lost sight of, for the next four hundred years, until the time Jesus was born.
When Christ arrived as a babe in Bethlehem, the Jews were looking for a messiah but not as the one portrayed by the prophets. They were expecting a great general to free them from the Roman yoke and establish Jerusalem as the leading city of the world. Because Jesus did not fulfill their desires, He seemed to them to be a usurper of the throne of David. So they decided to eliminate Him. He interfered with their plans. His gospel included humility, which hurt their pride. Caiaphas said, “Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not.” John 11:50.
The Messiah had come to bring salvation and greatness to the children of Israel and they crucified Him. Yet the Spirit of God continued to plead with them until the stoning of Stephen. Then the Lord accepted Israel’s rejection of Him, and He rejected them as a people and turned to the Gentiles. Will we as a people suffer the same experience as they did and be rejected also? God is waiting for a people that will finish the Reformation that was begun in the fourteenth century with Wycliffe. He will use people; will it be you and me? If not, then who will it be?
The disciples and apostles did their best to fulfill the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18–20and they were able to reach the whole world. (See Romans 10:18.) But there came a falling away even before Paul died. He said: “the mystery of iniquity doth already work.” 2 Thessalonians 2:7.
The work Jesus had begun while he was upon the earth reached a plateau of development at the death of John and then began a steady slide down into a paganistic religion.
This descent into a false religion continued until the evils of paganism once more entered the church, leading to the establishment of the Papacy by the year 538 A.D. For the next one thousand years, that papal power ruled the consciences of men all over the world. However, there were, in various parts of the earth, groups of people that remained untainted by the false doctrines of the Papacy. These faithful souls stood steadfast and loyal to God’s Ten Commandments, including the fourth commandment.
Throughout the period known as the Dark Ages, when the Papacy was in control of most of the world, there were those who refused to be obedient to the papal demands. In many areas of the world there were people that not only obeyed the Commandments of God but also propagated the Gospel message any way they could. Because of extreme persecution by the papal power, the spread of the Gospel was limited as long as Roman Catholicism was in control. But the time was approaching when this control was to be broken. There were signs of disintegration of Papal supremacy, visible at different times and various places in the earth, revealing that God was moving upon the hearts of people. When the break came, it was like a thunderbolt to the Papacy and was to shake the Triple Crown upon the heads of the popes at Rome.
In our next article we will pick up this story of the broken shackles, and follow its movement in the world and in the hearts of men.