The Bible As Story (#8) Act 3: Israel—The Identity of the Nation

My granddaughter told her mother who is from Mexico to not speak Spanish to her all the time. Her mother replied, “I do it because I want you to remember where you came from.” Even though Tammy was born in the US, her mother wants her to understanding and appreciate something of her heritage. It will help her have a sense of who she is and help her understand and respect those with whom she shares a common heritage.

People who immigrate from their native country into a strange land take with them numerous ways of remembering who they are. By their traditions, customs, food, keepsakes, language and stories they create in their families as sense of identity and cohesiveness. Using these tools, they pass on to their children something of what it means to be from their particular part of the world and members of a distinct ethnic, religious or national group.

When God brought the children of Israel out of Egypt He set about instilling in them a sense of identity. They were not Egyptians though they had lived in Egypt for 400 years. A knowledge of a common heritage had been passed down from parents to children so they knew they were Israelites and descendants of Abraham. They probably knew something of God but not nearly as much as they needed to know. God wanted them to have a clear understanding of who they were, especially as that related to their connection and commitment to Him.

One thing God gave these people as a reminder of who they were and what He had done for them was the Passover feast. The last of the ten plagues brought against Egypt was the death of all firstborn of both men and domestic animals. God had provided for the Israelites to be delivered from this plague by sprinkling the blood of a lamb on the doorposts and lintels of their houses so that the “destroyer” would “pass over” their houses. Even to this day Jews observe the Passover in a family feast or “seder,” retelling and reenacting the story of the first Passover. This is one of the ways they maintain their identity as a separate as a people.

God sought to have these people understand that He was their God and was always with them. His presence, as a cloud, overshadowed their camp every day and as a column of fire each night. They needed to understand that He was with them, protecting and leading them to the place He had chosen to put them. To teach them to depend on Him, He provided manna, the wonderful, nutritious food that miraculously appeared on the ground every morning. When they found themselves in places where there was no water He miraculously supplied it.

When they came to Mount Sinai, God’s presence was manifested in a fearsome display of fire, smoke, lightening and thunder on the mountain top. Yet with all this and with all these people had seen and experienced in Egypt and in their deliverance through the Red Sea they showed that they still were not committed exclusively to God as His people. While Moses was on the mountain receiving the law from God the people were creating and worshiping a golden calf. He descended the mountain to find a nation of idolaters – a people whose loyalty to God was as insubstantial as morning mist. (Exodus 32).

While these Israelites may have thought of themselves as a distinctive people, they had not yet come to identify themselves as God’s people. For far too many of them, the God of Abraham was a god among gods, little different from the gods of Egypt. Thus their readiness to create the golden calf at the food of Sinai.

Being the people of God is not about being merely religious – it is about being a people who are so committed and so trusting of Him that one will not waver in the face of whatever may come. It is not about keeping law to please God – it is about being so full of faith that no enemy, no temptation, no power can keep the believer from doing the will of God to the best of his knowledge and ability. Knowing God and knowing that one is a child of God is what will keep us on the path toward the goal. This is what Israel lacked.

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