After the Israelites had been delivered from Egyptian bondage they soon came to the wilderness of Sinai and camped there before “the mountain,” (Mount Sinai). While they were busy setting up their camp…
“…Moses went up to God. The Lord called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” (Exodus 19:3-6).
God had a message for the people of Israel… they had been brought out of Egypt, not just for their own freedom, but as He said “I…brought you to myself.” He had a purpose for them – a purpose they could not fulfill while slaves in Egypt. He told them that if they would obey His voice and keep His covenant they would be His “treasured possession among all peoples” and be to Him “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”
What did it mean that they were to be a kingdom of priests? A priest is a mediator between God and man. To be a kingdom of priests conveys the idea that they were, as a people – a nation – to represent God to the kingdoms of men. They were to make Him known to the nations with a view to bringing them to a knowledge of the only true God. In order to do this they had to live as people who were governed by God. They had to keep His covenant and be obedient to His laws. If they would do this, God would be their God, would dwell among them and bless them.
These people were to be a living demonstration of what it meant to live under the rule of the God of heaven. They were to live as He commanded, demonstrating the law of God as the ideal way for men to live. They were to serve as a model for the nations. They were to declare by their individual and corporate actions the character and love of God among people who did not know Him. They were to be a blessing to the nations all around them and even to all the earth.
Israel failed in their assigned task. Instead of exalting the name of God, they had profaned His name among the nations. God told the prophet Ezekiel, as he was foretelling the coming captivity of the nation of Judah, to…
“…say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. (Ezekiel 36:22).
The action God was about to take was the removal of the people from Jerusalem and from their land by the Babylonians. They were to be taken into exile in a land that was vilely corrupt. Babylon was not a place they would have chosen as a home. Even in captivity they were not freed from their responsibility to serve as priests in behalf of their captors. In Jeremiah 29:7 they were given this instruction:
“But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”
God made man to be His representative to the world. His promise to Abraham was that he “shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him” (Genesis 18:18). Admittedly this probably referred to the Savior who would be of the “seed of Abraham.” But He was to come through the nation that had descended from Abraham. They had the special responsibility of foreshadowing the character of the Messiah in their relations with all people.
Today God’s special people, Christians, are spiritual descendants of Abraham by faith. We are to have the same kind of faith Abraham manifested – the faith that made him into the great man that he was. Since the Redeemer has come, the promised “seed” of Abraham, we are to similarly reflect His character by the lives we live and the things we do.
Peter, in writing to Christians whom he described as “sojourners and exiles,” (1 Peter 2:11), tells them…
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9).
We are to be in this world as Abraham was in his world, a sojourner in the land of promise. As sojourners and exiles we are to “live light” as far as this world is concerned. The world is not a friendly place for Christians. Certainly we are to refrain from all forms of evil, but there is more than just abstention from sin. Since we are God’s special people we are to be as He is – holy.
“As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:14-16).
As Israel of old had been specially chosen by God and set apart unto Him from all the nations of the world, so the New Israel, the church, this present-day “holy” nation is set apart to Him. We are different from the world, but not against the world. We are separated FROM the world FOR the world. We cannot be a blessing to the world if we are no different from the world.
How do we accomplish this monumental task? How do we represent God to the world? Here is a good suggestion from a reader who happens to be very close to me. In a comment on my article yesterday, he said…
“”[A] nation of Christians” would be a powerful thing indeed. Imagine a place where citizens are governed principally by the two greatest commandments: love God, love your neighbor. There would be no internal strife, and unified resistance to external threat. No worries about poverty or disease or suffering from lack or want or need, as each person strives to serve others and provide the necessities.”
That is, at least in part, what the kingdom of God would look like on earth if it were to be realized in it’s fullness. God’s people today are expected to model the ideal of the kingdom. We are to show to the world what it would be like if God’s will were done on earth as it is in heaven. Instead of bemoaning the horrible state of current civilization, we are to live out a different kind of civilization – an alternative to man’s necessarily limited concept of civilization – a civilization that can only exist in fellowship with God.
“Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”
But what do we do? Instead of being the people who show to the world what the kingdom of God is like, we keep ourselves separated into our little enclaves of sectarian isolation. We entertain ourselves and assure ourselves that we alone are right while the world goes on in darkness. We confine church activities to what happens within the walls of our meeting houses for a few hours a week, doing the things we have assured ourselves are the right things to do in worship while the world around us goes to pieces. If we are to be “salt” to preserve the world, we simply must get out of the salt shaker and into the world!