I’m often told by Christian Zionists that ‘God cannot break covenant’ and that is why he must bring Jews back into the land. To plagiarize, there are almost as many errors in that argument as there are words. To begin with, it’s not a case of God breaking covenant, but his ‘people’. You only have to read the prophets to see that the people are faithless. And both the prophets and the history teach that faithlessness leads to punishment, leads to exile.
But, the people come back don’t they? We seriously need a more careful reading of the history, as well as a more considered understanding of Ezra-Nehemiah -Haggai. First, or is it second, the majority of Israelites were not taken into exile, not even from the northern kingdom. Sargon II, who should know, claims to have taken fewer than 27,000, that’s about the population of Samaria at the time. Even allowing for death in battle it’s nothing like the total population which, archeologists reckon, would be about 250-350k. As to Judah, you can do the sums yourselves (backend of 2 Chronicles). Then factor in that many exiles remained where they were. There were four ‘returns’ during a 100 year period.
So, God can’t break covenant, so that means, surely, that the covenant cannot be broken. The problem with that is that at least three prophets say it is. ‘One like a vulture is over the house of the Lord, because they have broken my covenant, and transgressed my law’, that’s Hoses (8:1). Then, in chronological order, there’s Isaiah, who wrote, ‘And it shall be, as with the people, so with the priest; … The earth lies polluted under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed laws, violated the statutes, broken the everlasting covenant.’ (Isaiah 24:1-5). Next up is Jeremiah in a chapter much misrepresented, ‘The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.’ (31:31-34). All these have parallels with other scriptures such as Amos 2 and 9 where the people reject God and face destruction. Or, say, Micah 2 where the people’s inheritance is altered, or Jeremiah 15 where we read,
‘You have rejected me, says the Lord, you are going backward; so I have stretched out my hand against you and destroyed you— I am weary of relenting’.
Then there is Ezekiel, in the long chapter in which God compares Judah unfavourably with Sodom, we find,
‘Yes, thus says the Lord God: I will deal with you as you have done, you who have despised the oath, breaking the covenant; yet I will remember my covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish with you an everlasting covenant. Then you will remember your ways, and be ashamed when I take your sisters, both your elder and your younger, and give them to you as daughters, but not on account of my covenant with you. I will establish my covenant with you, and you shall know that I am the Lord, in order that you may remember and be confounded, and never open your mouth again because of your shame, when I forgive you all that you have done, says the Lord God’. (16:59-63).
Since Jeremiah has already spoken of a ‘new covenant’ it is reasonable to suppose that ‘establish’ in Ezekiel, must refer to that new covenant, since the old one has been broken. So, is there any hope? Ezekiel spends half his book in condemnation, and half in restoration, (very broadly speaking). Uniformly the later prophets look forward to a time when Israel will again be strong. But uniformly that strength is predicated upon their sentence, their humility, their living according to God’s requirements of justice and righteousness.
So Jeremiah, ‘Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.’ (23); or Isaiah in chapter 59, ‘Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands at a distance; for truth stumbles in the public square, and uprightness cannot enter. Truth is lacking, and whoever turns from evil is despoiled. The Lord saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. He saw that there was no one, and was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm brought him victory, and his righteousness upheld him.’
Look and see, it is always God’s action, never man’s. The return is in righteousness and with justice, and it is always a remnant, never the whole. Sinners will not get beyond the border, see Ezekiel 20.
The testimony of the Old Testament can only be fully understood through the lens of the gospel. As the prophets foresaw, all nations will be brought under the Abraham blessing (Genesis 18:17-19; Isaiah 19:24-25). Paul understood this as we find in his reinterpretation of Genesis 12:3 in Romans 4. We stand in God’s New Covenant of Grace freely available to all who believe that Jesus the Jewish messiah rose from the dead and lives as Lord and king. As Paul makes clear, it is to the Jew first, and there is no time limit on that. God has not rejected his people, but if people reject him….
The remnant of Israel, including those Israelites regrafted in, together with gentile believers grafted into Christ, constitute the Israel of God. Always, even in the Old Testament, only those with the faith of Abraham.