“But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light”. (1 Peter 2:91 Peter 2:9 But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:)
“In a small town, the clock in the jeweler’s window stopped one day at a quarter to nine. Many of the citizens had been depending on this clock to know the time. On this particular morning, business men and women glanced in the window and noticed it was only fifteen minutes to nine; children on their way to school were surprised to find they still had plenty of time to loiter. Many persons were late that morning because one small clock in the jeweler’s window had stopped.” — C. L. Paddock, God’s Minutes (Nashville, TN: Southern Publishing Association, 1965), p. 244, adapted.
How accurate a representation of ancient Israel’s failure! The Lord placed Israel “in the midst of the nations” (Ezek. 5:5) — in the strategic bridgeland between three continents (Africa, Europe, and Asia). They were to be the spiritual “clock” of the world.
Israel, however, like the clock in the jeweler’s window, in a sense, stopped. Yet, it was not a total failure; for then, as today, God has His faithful remnant. Our study this week focuses on the identity and role of God’s true Israel in every age, including our own.
The Week at a Glance: What covenant promises did the Lord make to Israel? What conditions came with them? How well did the nation abide by those promises? What happened when they disobeyed?
Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, May 8.
“For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God: the LORD thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth” (Deut. 7:6).
There is no question about it: The Lord specifically had chosen the Hebrew people to be His special representatives upon the earth. The word translated “special” in the above verse, segullah, can mean “valued property” or “peculiar treasure.” The crucial point to remember, too, is that this choice was totally the act of God, an expression of His grace. There was nothing found in the people themselves that made them deserve this grace. There couldn’t be, because grace is something that comes undeserved.
Read Ezekiel 16:8. How does that help explain the Lord’s choosing of Israel?
“Why was Israel chosen by Yahweh? That was inscrutable. She was a small group of people without great culture or prestige. She possessed no special personal qualities which would warrant such a choice. The election was the act of God alone … . The ultimate cause for that choice lay in the mystery of divine love. Yet the fact is that God did love Israel and did choose her, thereby honouring His promise to the fathers … . She had been chosen in virtue of Yahweh’s love for her. She had been liberated from slavery in Egypt by a display of Yahweh’s power. Let her once grasp these great facts and she would realize that she was indeed a holy and a specially treasured people. Any tendency on her part, therefore, to surrender such a noble status was reprehensible in the extreme.” — J. A. Thompson, Deuteronomy (London: Inter-Varsity Press, 1974), pp. 130, 131.
According to the divine plan, the Israelites were to be both a royal and a priestly race. In an evil world they were to be kings, moral and spiritual, in that they were to prevail over the realm of sin. As priests, they were to draw near to the Lord in prayer, in praise, and in sacrifice. As intermediaries between God and the heathen, they were to serve as instructors, preachers, and prophets, and were to be examples of holy living — Heaven’s exponents of true religion.
The promise that a land would be given to God’s people, Israel, was first given to Abraham and then repeated to Isaac and Jacob. Joseph’s deathbed words repeated this promise (Gen. 50:24). God informed Abraham, however, that “four hundred years” would pass before the seed of Abraham would take possession of the land (Gen. 15:13, 16). Fulfillment of the promise began in the days of Moses and Joshua. Moses repeated the divine command: “Behold, I have set the land before you; go in and take possession of the land” (Deut. 1:8, RSV).
Read Deuteronomy 28:1, 15. What is implied in these words? In short, the land would be given to Israel as part of the covenant. A covenant implies obligations. What obligations did Israel have?
The first part of Deuteronomy 28 outlines the blessings Israel would receive if they followed God’s will. The other section of the chapter deals with the curses that would befall them if they did not. These curses were “largely, though not wholly, brought about by simply giving sin scope to work out its own evil results … . ‘He that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption’ (Gal. 6:8). Like water, which, left to itself, will not cease running till it has found its level; like a clock, which, left to itself, will not cease going till it has run itself completely down; like a tree, which, left to grow, cannot but bring forth its appropriate fruit; — so sin has a level to seek, a course to run, a fruit to mature, and ‘the end of those things is death’ (Rom. [6:]21).” — The Pulpit Commentary: Deuteronomy, H. D. M. Spence and Joseph S. Exell, eds. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1985), vol. 3, p. 439.
Despite all the promises of land, those promises were not unconditional. They came as part of a covenant. Israel had to fulfill her end of the bargain; if not, the promises could be nullified. The Lord made it very clear, more than once, that if they disobeyed, the land would be taken from them. Read Leviticus 26:27-33. It’s hard to imagine how the Lord could have been more explicit with His words.
“Yet they obeyed not, nor inclined their ear, but walked every one in the imagination of their evil heart: therefore I will bring upon them all the words of this covenant, which I commanded them to do; but they did them not” (Jer. 11:8).
Look at the above text. The Lord says that He will bring upon them “all the words of this covenant.” Yet, He is talking about something bad! Though we tend to think of the covenant as offering us only something good, there’s the flip side. This principle was seen with Noah. God offered Noah something wonderful — preservation from destruction, but Noah had to obey in order to receive the blessings of God’s grace. If he did not, the other side of the covenant would follow.
Compare the above text with Genesis 6:5, regarding the pre-Flood world. What’s the parallel? What do these verses say about how important it is for us to control our thoughts?
Unfortunately, the history of national Israel was for the most part, a repeated pattern of apostasy, followed by divine judgments, repentance, and a period of obedience. Only briefly, under David and Solomon, did Israel control the full extent of the promised territory.
Look at these texts from Jeremiah regarding Israel’s apostasy. “They say, If a man put away his wife, and she go from him, and become another man’s, shall he return unto her again? shall not that land be greatly polluted? but thou hast played the harlot with many lovers; yet return again to me, saith the LORD … Surely as a wife treacherously departeth from her husband, so have ye dealt treacherously with me, O house of Israel, saith the LORD” (Jer. 3:1, 20).
This brings up something touched upon earlier: the covenant God wants with us is not merely some cold legal agreement made between business people looking to cut the best deal for themselves. The covenant relationship is a commitment, one as serious and sacred as marriage, which is why the Lord uses the imagery that He does.
The point is that Israel’s apostasy did not have its root in disobedience but in a broken personal relationship with the Lord, a break that resulted in disobedience that finally brought punishment upon them.
Despite Israel’s repeated cycle of apostasy, divine judgments, and repentance, what hope is found in these texts?
Although God’s plan for ancient Israel was spoiled by disobedience, it was never completely frustrated. Among the weeds, a few flowers still grew. Many of the Old Testament prophets speak of this faithful remnant, whom God would gather unto Himself as a lovely bouquet.
The purpose of God in creating and preserving a faithful remnant was the same as it had been for all of Israel — to use them as His divinely appointed instruments for declaring “my glory among the nations” (Isa. 66:19, RSV). By this means, others would join the faithful to “worship the King, the LORD of hosts” (Zech. 14:16, RSV). Thus, no matter how bad the situation became, God always has some faithful people who, despite apostasy within the ranks of God’s chosen people, kept their own calling and election sure (2 Pet. 1:10). In short, whatever the failings of the nation as a whole, there were still those who tried to keep, the best they could, their end of the covenant (see, for instance 1 Kings 19:14-18). And though, perhaps, they suffered with their nation as a whole (such as exile from the land), the final and ultimate covenant promise will be theirs, that of eternal life.
Read John 10:27-28. What is Jesus saying there? Apply His words, and the promises in them, to the situation regarding apostasy in ancient Israel. How do these words help explain the existence of a faithful remnant?
Whatever the mistakes and failings of ancient Israel, the Lord was not finished with the plan of creating a faithful people to serve Him. In fact, the Old Testament looked forward to a time when the Lord would create a spiritual Israel, a faithful body of believers, Jews and Gentiles, who would carry on the work of preaching the gospel to the world. Welcome to the early church.
Read Galatians 3:26-29.
As a son of Abraham, Christ became, in a special sense, heir to the covenant promises. By baptism we acquire kinship to Christ and through Him acquire the right to participate in the promises made to Abraham. Thus, all that God promised Abraham is found in Christ, and the promises become ours, not because of nationality, race, or gender but through grace, which God bestows upon us through faith.
Read Ellen G. White, “The Vineyard of the Lord,” pp. 15-22; “Hope for the Heathen,” pp. 367-378; and “The House of Israel,” pp. 703-721, in Prophets and Kings.
“No distinction on account of nationality, race, or caste, is recognized by God. He is the Maker of all mankind. All men are of one family by creation, and all are one through redemption. Christ came to demolish every wall of partition, to throw open every compartment of the temple courts, that every soul may have free access to God. His love is so broad, so deep, so full, that it penetrates everywhere. It lifts out of Satan’s influence those who have been deluded by his deceptions, and places them within reach of the throne of God, the throne encircled by the rainbow of promise. In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free.” — Ellen G. White, Prophets and Kings, pp. 369, 370.
Read 1 Peter 2:9-10 to discover the four titles Peter applies to the church. Most of these titles are reflected in the following Old Testament texts which refer to Israel: Exodus 19:6 and Isaiah 43:20. What does each of these titles emphasize about the church’s relationship to God? (For example, the title “chosen nation” emphasizes the fact that God chose the church and has a specific destiny for it.)
“I only have one empty room, and a student has paid for it,” the owner said. “Look,” Hernando said. “God brought me here because I need that room.” The owner gave him the room rent-free for six months. With that kind gesture, Hernando was certain that God was leading him. Immer had lived with relatives in another city for a year, and Hernando wanted to enroll him in a Christian school near the hospital. A hospital receptionist heard about his quest. “I know a good Christian school nearby,” she said. “My niece studied there. It’s Seventh-day Adventist.”
Hernando wasn’t familiar with the Adventist Church. But a visit to the school impressed him, and Immer started classes. Shortly into the school year, Immer informed the teacher that his father was a physician. “Tell him to give me his resume so I can submit it to the Adventist clinic,” the teacher said. She knew that the Adventist Medical Center on the campus of Colombia Adventist University was struggling to find a physician. Immer told his father, and Hernando gave his resume to the teacher. “I want to work, but I can’t because I need to be with my baby,” he said. “Don’t worry,” the teacher said. “Just show up for the interview.” When the clinic called him for an interview, Hernando explained his need for a flexible schedule. He was hired on the spot. “We’ll work with your schedule,” the director said, adding that he could help with Samuel’s paperwork.
A grateful Hernando joined the clinic’s team. He became acquainted with the Adventist faith and accepted an invitation to attend church. His understanding of God’s love grew. “The Adventists were hospitable, humble, and sincerely interested in helping me,” he said. “I brought my family to church.” Hernando and his family joined the Adventist Church. Today, Samuel is a healthy 8-year-old boy, and Hernando works full-time at the Adventist Medical Center, where he has led more than 100 patients and others to Christ through his personal testimony. Hernando believes that God led him every step of the way. “Other hospitals wouldn’t work with me,” he said. “It was a miracle that the Adventist clinic hired me.”