Establishing the Ancient State of Israel
JEHOVAH’S dealings with the ancient “state of Israel” are shown by Paul to be a “shadow of the things to come.” Now that the theocratic government of the new world is rapidly taking form in our own day, modern Christians are intensely interested in the legal steps taken by the Sovereign Majesty to establish that ancient typical government.—Eph. 2:12; Col. 2:17.
As we now know, legal procedures accepted under patriarchal customs and in accord with divine justice were employed by God in producing this new state some thirty-four hundred years ago. A preliminary step was taken to produce a legal person in the sight of God with whom Jehovah could enter into a basic valid covenant. Such a one proved to be the patriarch Abraham. After Jehovah had put Abraham to the test by asking him to leave his native land of Ur, Jehovah found him to be faithful and therefore legally recognized him as God’s “friend,” declaring him righteous by faith.—Jas. 2:23.
The covenant promise with Abraham began when Abraham completed his exodus from Mesopotamia by crossing the river Euphrates into the land of Canaan, Nisan 14, 1943 B.C. Later in Canaan this covenant was ratified according to patriarchal law when both Abraham and Jehovah passed between the halves of cut-open animals to establish the necessary sacrificial basis to bind this covenant legally. Jehovah now legally became Abraham’s powerful protector and benefactor. The resultant patriarchal society built around Abraham remained nomadic, not becoming subjected to any of the pagan city-states of Canaan. Why? Because Abraham was “awaiting the city having real foundations and the builder and creator of which is God.”—Gen. 12:1-5; 15:9-18; Heb. 11:10.
It was 215 years later that Abraham’s descendants went into Egypt to become servants of Pharaoh by reason of the food shortage in Palestine. In Egypt for another 215 years they became a large slave society. Before this period came to an end Jehovah commissioned Moses at the “burning thornbush” to serve notice on Pharaoh that Jehovah was “reclaiming” Israel in accordance with patriarchal law, which provided for a near relative to reclaim or repurchase relatives that had become slaves. “And you must say to Pharaoh, ‘This is what Jehovah has said: “Israel is my son, my first-born. And I say to you: Send my son away that he may serve me. But should you refuse to send him away, here I am killing your son, your first-born.”’” This warning implied that Jehovah as the rightful repurchaser would use punitive force if Pharaoh refused to release Israel, God’s legal “son” under the Abrahamic covenant.—Gen. 46:1-7; Ex. 6:2-7; 4:22, 23.
Because Pharaoh hardened his heart against Jehovah it became necessary for the true God to use his almighty power to deliver Israel by force and thus enforce his legal claim. By means of the blood covering of the passover lambs the firstborn of Israel were preserved on the night of Nisan 14, 1513 B.C., exactly 430 years to the day after Abraham completed his exodus from Mesopotamia, and thus the Israelites themselves began their own exodus as a delivered people out of Egypt. As Pharaoh had been warned, on that same night Egypt suffered the loss of their firstborn of both man and beast. In the final contest of power at the Red Sea Egypt lost its army in total defeat and Israel moved forward in their exodus as a freed people of some two millions belonging to the God of Abraham.—Ex. 12:13, 29, 40, 41; 14:27, 28.
FORMING THE STATE
By every right the people of Israel now had become the exclusive property of Jehovah. No longer were they a society of slaves in Egypt. They were too numerous to be effectively organized as a patriarchal society. Steps were now taken to form the state of Israel with a theocratic government. Through mediator Moses Jehovah next proposed a national covenant, to which the people unanimously said: “All that Jehovah has spoken we are willing to do.” At Mt. Sinai, amidst a spectacular inauguration in the third month after coming out of Egypt in 1513 B.C., the Law covenant went into effect between Jehovah, the Theocrat, and the people of Israel. The blood of bulls and goats was used to sprinkle the “book of the covenant,” representing Jehovah’s side, and then the people were sprinkled as the other party, thus bringing about a sacrificial basis to legally validate the national covenant. The covenant contained a basic set of commandments, the Ten Words, and a further detailed code of some six hundred laws, statutes, regulations and judicial decisions.—Ex. 19:8; 24:6-8; Deut. 5:22; 6:1.
Supernaturally there was a loud trumpet sound at Mt. Sinai to signify that governmental control by the Sovereign Power had become effective. Thus the ancient state of Israel became a reality in 1513 B.C. Jehovah was the immediate Sovereign Ruler over the nation, with the people as his sworn subjects. Jehovah was their Lawgiver, their Judge and their King. The Law covenant as a constitution vested no authority in any one man or any parliamentary body of men, nor even in the whole assembled nation, to make any new laws or alter old ones. The reigning Sovereign reserved the legislative power exclusively to himself. Likewise, the Sovereign reserved to himself the final judicial power. Jehovah became the Supreme Court, making all final infallible judicial decisions. The theocratic constitution likewise recognized no one hereditary chief magistrate nor gave power to any, even to the whole nation, to elect a supreme governor. It was the special prerogative of Jehovah to appoint whomever he pleased to guide the people as judge, his own immediate administrator. During the first five hundred years of this government many faithful men were raised up to lead the nation as the circumstances of the state required, and they performed many remarkable deliverances for their countrymen.—Ex. 19:19; Isa. 33:22; Acts 7:35; 13:20.
The Law covenant constitution, however, did make provision for a future dynasty of Israelite kings to be chosen in Jehovah’s due time. This line of kings began with David in 1077 B.C. They were not absolute monarchs as were neighboring pagan kings, nor were they to be deified or to unite in themselves the office of high priest with that of the kingship. The dynasty of constitutional kings was to be kept separate from the dynasty of high priests. Furthermore, their station was that of a consort king in that they sat upon “Jehovah’s throne,” not their own throne, and were in subjection to the higher will and governmental direction of the true Sovereign of the state, King Jehovah.—Deut. 17:14, 15; 1 Chron. 29:23.
Under this new theocratic government idolatry not only became a grave moral wrong, but also became an act of treason against the state. Idolatry was a virtual rejection of the authority of their acknowledged Sovereign and God-King. It was committing lese majesty. It was a breach of the national covenant, an open rebellion against God. Therefore, on the established principles of all earthly governments, such lese majesty merited capital punishment. The state of Israel through its officers and the community were empowered to administer punishments in various ways upon law violators after the courts found them guilty.—Ex. 20:2-5.
In order to keep their relationship toward their God constantly before their eyes, the Most High as their King caused a royal tent to be erected in the midst of their encampment. Later it was the gorgeous royal palace or temple built at the capital city of Jerusalem. These regal residences of the Sovereign Jehovah were equipped with all the splendor of royalty surpassing those of earthly Gentile potentates. The palace was divided into two compartments. In the innermost room, the Most Holy, was the royal throne adorned by golden cherubs. The throne was the lid of the ark of the covenant, which as a royal archive contained the governmental reminders of the two tables of stone of the Ten Words, Aaron’s rod that budded and the bowl of manna. The second compartment amounted to the state banquet hall known as the Holy. In this anteroom a gilded table was spread with bread of presence as the royal table, and precious incense was burned daily. The exterior courtyard might be considered the royal outdoor kitchen, where the sacrifices were prepared and burned. Here also music was played and sung, by instruments and chorus, similar to musical performances at the tables of eastern monarchs.—Heb. 9:1-5.
PRIESTS AND LEVITES
The state of Israel also had an official priesthood vested in the paternal house of Aaron, to whose family the line of the high priesthood was limited. High Priest Aaron and his successors served as the chief officer of the court of law and the first minister of state under Jehovah the King. It was the high priest who wore on high state occasions the costly state garments and the state crown of gold reading across the shining plate, “Holiness belongs to Jehovah.” He too wore the breastpiece that contained the Urim and the Thummim in its pouch to enable him to receive Jehovah’s “yes” or “no” to state problems presented to the divine Majesty in his palace.—Ex. 28:4, 29, 30, 36.
The assistant ministers of the priesthood were the males of the tribe of Levi set aside by Jehovah for temple duties and other state service. These Levites served as Jehovah’s courtiers, state officers and palace guards. They also looked after the sacred robes and utensils, were the royal bakers of the bread of presence, assisted in preparing the meal or grain offerings, took charge of the treasury and served as temple musicians and singers. When not serving at the sacred palace in their semiannual weekly course of temple duties, the underpriests and Levites were scattered throughout the land as educators in the law; they supervised the gathering of the tithes of produce into the various storehouses, served as local judges in many cities and took charge of the six cities of refuge. This department of the state government of Israel was also responsible for quarantining those with contagious diseases, that the national health might be maintained.—Num. 3:9, 10.
The Law covenant finally required all the Hebrew males of certain ages to report to Jehovah’s palace every year on the three great annual festivals. They were to come with presents (sacrifices and gifts) to render homage to their God-King. Furthermore, these days of renewing their allegiance to Jehovah were to be celebrated with festivity and joy. The law provided for the second tithe to be spent in providing the expenses necessary for those happy occasions.—Deut. 16:16, 17; 14:22-26.
There was also an advisory group of state officials made up of the princes of the nation. Each of the twelve tribes had their hereditary prince (sar). The high priest served at times as their spokesman, being considered the prince of the thirteenth tribe of Levi. Others likewise served as princes, such as the rulers over the tribal divisions of a thousand and lesser sections of the army. This group of princes did not act as a parliament to make or cancel laws. They were merely administrative servants who carried out orders and abided by decisions already rendered by the divine Sovereign. The princes brought tribal offerings to Jehovah, furnished military leadership, confirmed treaties already negotiated, such as the treaty with the Gibeonites, heard the judicial case of Zelophehad’s daughters, and as a committee under the headship of the high priest reproved the tribe of Reuben for building a separate altar. In later times the group of princes gave counsel to the kings who sat as administrators on Jehovah’s throne.—Num. 1:16; Josh. 9:15; 17:4; 22:13-16.
A final outstanding feature of the ancient state of Israel was that it had an assigned invisible angelic prince. Obedience to the direction of this angel prince was commanded by the Sovereign in the Law covenant constitution. “Here I am sending an angel ahead of you to keep you on the road and to bring you into the place that I have prepared. Watch yourself because of him and obey his voice. Do not behave rebelliously against him, for he will not pardon your transgression, because my name is within him.” The Bible identifies this prince as Michael. Later this angel prince was transferred to earth as a human, becoming Jesus Christ the promised Messiah. History attests that his expert leadership as angel prince and as Messiah was rejected by Israel as a whole.—Ex. 23:20, 21; Dan. 10:21.
For the first forty years of its existence the state of Israel governed a nomadic society on the move in the wilderness of Sinai. Then in 1473 B.C. the Israelites entered the land of Canaan promised to Abraham and conquered it in accord with their Sovereign’s orders and with His help.
After Joshua’s death, time and again the people of Israel deflected away from their God-King, and sections of their land would be sold to their enemies; then after due repentance Jehovah would deliver them and strengthen the operation of the state. Over the centuries their iniquity became so great that Jehovah permitted the last vestiges of the theocratic state to be fully destroyed in 607 B.C. It was after 906 years of their continuous statehood that theocratic government ceased from the earth. This is five times longer than the statehood of the United States and longer than the world powers of Babylon, Assyria, Medo-Persia and Greece under their respective demon princes. No independent sovereign state was re-established in 537 B.C. Rather, a Hebrew commonwealth under Gentile suzerainty was set up permitting the Law covenant to operate as a secondary legal structure subordinate to the dominant non-Israelite powers. All traces of the operation of Israel’s matchless ancient law came to an end with the second fall of Jerusalem A.D. 70.—2 Chron. 36:15-17.
The question now remains, Was this ancient state of Israel “the city having real foundations” that Abraham was awaiting? No. Israel’s theocratic state was merely a “shadow” or a type of the real “city,” the heavenly “New Jerusalem,” the theocratic government of the new world. Learn about this amazing new government which must fill the whole earth with its rule and which lasts forever.—Heb. 11:10.