We’ve all experienced not being chosen, whether it was the failure to get picked for a sports team, not getting asked to go on that date or not landing that dream job. Its not a great feeling when you don’t get picked or you end up being the last to be picked. There are things of course that at times we would rather not get chosen for, but generally being chosen is a really good thing. The reasons we get chosen is normally that we have some characteristic that makes us suitable for the given task, job or opportunity. However when it comes to God choosing a nation for Himself, the Bible tells us that His reasons for choosing them were very different.
1. God’s Covenant (Exodus 19)
In Blessing the Nations we saw how God promised Abraham that he would be blessed and all the peoples of the earth would be blessed through him. God gave him Isaac, the son of the promise through whom God would work out His purposes. Things take a bit of an unexpected turn however with Jacob, as he and his family plus are forced to relocate to Egypt because of severe famine. 400 years later this small family had become a nation (views vary on the size of this nation) and they were under a yoke of slavery. God then calls Moses to bring them up out of Egypt and once they are out (no small feat) God meets them at Mount Sinai.
19 On the first day of the third month after the Israelites left Egypt – on that very day – they came to the Desert of Sinai. 2 After they set out from Rephidim, they entered the Desert of Sinai, and Israel camped there in the desert in front of the mountain. 3 Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, ‘This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: 4 “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, 6 you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.’Exodus 19:1-6 (NIV)
God promises that if they obey Him and keep His covenant then they would be His treasured possession (v5). A covenant is a formal agreement between two parties which would involve agreed action on both sides. On God’s part are a set of promises that they would be a treasured possession, a Kingdom of priests and a holy nation. God was promising to extend his promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to what was now a great nation. God’s promises are conditional upon Israel’s full obedience to His covenant. We will return to these great promises later.
2. God’s Love (Deuteronomy 7)
We now jump to Deuteronomy which marks the end of 40 years spent walking in the wilderness. If you remember, Moses sent 12 spies to report on the land and despite a good report the people of Israel were gripped with fear because of the challenge that lay before them (for more see The valley of Eshkol). The consequence was that none of that generation were able to enter the Promised Land. The time came however, when a new generation had arisen and God was ready to move them forward once more. Sadly, this would not be under Moses’ leadership but as he neared the end of his life, he spoke at length to the people reminding them of the journey they had taken and encouraging them to be strong and courageous. As part of this rich book of teaching and exhortation, Moses speaks on the subject of why God had chosen them:
7 The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. 8 But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. 9 Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments. 10 But those who hate him he will repay to their face by destruction; he will not be slow to repay to their face those who hate him.Deuteronomy 7:7-10
Moses makes very clear that God had not chosen them because of their numbers, but because He loved them. Often we love something or someone because there is something about it or them that is loveable. With God however, the Bible tells us that He loves because it is in His nature to love: moreover the Bible claims that He is love. The reason God loves is nothing to do with us and everything to do with God and His incredible grace towards us. God loved the people of Israel and “set His affection” (v7) on them. God was faithful to the promises that He had given to their forefathers. Still, these verses are also clear, that there is a conditional element to his love. He keeps His “covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love Him and keep His commandments” (v9).
God’s covenant agreement with His people was that they would be set apart for Him. They were to be a holy nation – not looking to fit in with the nations around them, but living a distinctive life as prescribed by God. In this chapter alone, God instructs them regarding the nations who they were to drive out of the Promised Land. They were not to make treaties (v2), intermarry (v3-4) or worship their gods (v16, 25-26). The way that God drives these incumbent nations out of the Promised Land raises a number of quite difficult questions. We don’t have time to deal with it here but what we must remember is that none of them were innocent bystanders. These nations were involved in idolatry, child sacrifice, sorcery and witchcraft (Deuteronomy 12:31 & 18:10-1). We might also refer back to Genesis 15:16 when God tells Abraham that “the sin of the Amorites had not yet reached its full measure” and promises that the fourth generation of his descendants would come back to this land. God was working to judge these nations and in so doing He was also reducing the chance of these nations becoming snares to them. SPOILER ALERT: In session three however, we will see that Israel’s failure to drive all the peoples out of the Land would be a big part of their undoing!
3. God’s Chosen People (1 Peter 2:4-10)
In the New Testament Peter writes words of encouragement to the scattered Christians. He refers to Jesus as “the living stone” and says that believers too are “like living stones being built into a spiritual house” (v4). The purpose of this building he says is that believers become a holy priesthood offering spiritual sacrifices. Then down in v9 we hear some very familiar words, that in Christ we become a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation and God’s special possession.
4 As you come to him, the living Stone – rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him – 5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For in Scripture it says: ‘See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.’ 7 Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,’ 8 and, ‘A stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.’ They stumble because they disobey the message – which is also what they were destined for. 9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.1 Peter 2:4-10
These verses are very significant, for Peter attributes words about God’s chosen people (i.e. Israel) to all believers. If we are in Christ, these incredible things are also true of us. Just let that thought sit with you a moment! In verse 10, Peter contrasts the idea that those who were not a people, have now become the people of God, and those who had not received mercy, have now received it. In love God chose a nation and now through Christ all those who follow Him are part of this nation. This radical new identity is not however something to be kept to ourselves, but something that should overflow in praise (v10). We are chosen people with a chosen calling to declare His praises. The task of this new nation is to “declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (v9).
In this second instalment of my Into the Nations series I have sought to show how God choses to work through a nation – specifically the nation that God promised to make Abraham into back in Genesis 12. In Christ, that idea of being the chosen people of God and a holy nation has been expanded to include all who love and follow the Lord Jesus Christ. God chooses us because He loves us. It is a love that demands obedience but the benefits of this covenantal agreement are massive for us.
Once again we see that God’s incredible plan for our world is caught up in His love for the nations. To what extent can you comprehend the incredible truths of what it means to be in Christ? If you do not yet know Jesus, what do you sense He saying to you about how He wants you to also be a part of His holy nation? What part does God want you to play in calling the nations to declare the praises of our amazing God?
See other posts in this series