A. E. Long, Nutley
In God's purpose, the nation of Israel was meant to be His possession, separated from the nations and enclosed by His laws which were unique only to them, "the law of commandments contained in ordinances", Eph. 2. 15. These constituted Israel an enclosure, a property reserved for God's exclusive use. Such was the object of God's covenant with them at Sinai, which was conditional only upon their obedience to it, "if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people", Exod. 19. 5. "Peculiar treasure" (Hebrew, segullah) indicates a (private) possession of great value. Property of this kind would normally be enclosed. Just as an object of special value would be adequately safeguarded by its owner, so Israel was protected by God for His special use. The Lord's parable of the kingdom of heaven, "like unto treasure hid in afield ("the world"?, cf. Matt. 13. 38); the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field", v. 44, points to God's special interest in Israel as his "peculiar treasure". This thought occurs several times in the Old Testament, especially in Deuteronomy. In 7. 6 R. V. it occurs as "peculiar people" — "the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all peoples". This is repeated in 14. 2, and occurs again in 26. 18 R.V. as "the Lord hath avouched thee this day to be a peculiar people unto himself. These references have the thought of a peculiar treasure, or enclosed property. Psalm 135. 4 reiterates the concept, "the Lord hath chosen Jacob unto himself, and Israel for his peculiar treasure". In the language of the Song of Solomon, Israel was meant to be "a garden inclosed ... a spring shut up, a fountain sealed", 4. 12, for God's special use. No outsider had any right of access to, or use of it.
But the ideal and the reality are often poles apart. God's purpose for the nation was never realized. Israel's separation from other nations was compromised by their disobedience to His commandments; they "were mingled among the heathen, and learned their works", Psa. 106, 35; cf. Ezra 9. 2. "The law of commandments contained in ordinances" was breached, and Israel's distinctive character as God's enclosed property was lost. God withdrew His presence from them, and the accompanying separateness of which Moses spoke was broken, Exod. 33. 16; cf. 1 Kings 8. 53. With h, God's purpose for the nation as "a peculiar treasure" was not fulfilled; it remained an unrealized ideal.
In Malachi's day a decline had set in, affecting almost every sphere. The priesthood had become corrupt and had "caused many to stumble", Mal. 1. 6 to 2. 9. Divorce had become widespread, 2. 14-16. In these unfavourable circumstances, only a remnant among the nation remained faithful to God, giving Him any pleasure. In them, as a remnant, God's original purpose for the nation was fulfilled, "Then they that feared the Lord spake one with another: and the Lord hear kened, and heard, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name. And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in the day that I do make, even a peculiar treasure", 3. 16, 17 R.V.
As Jewish Christians, the readers of Peter's first Epistle would have been familiar with the concept of a "peculiar treasure", as of other Old Testament terms which Peter used. Israel had been an "elect" nation; Peter addressed his "scattered" readers as a new "elect", "elect according to the foreknowledge of God", 1. 1, 2; "an elect race", 2. 9 R.V. They had been Jews but, more importantly, now were Christians, 4. 16. As an "elect race" they were "a peculiar people", 2. 9, or "a people for God's own possession", R.V. They formed part of a new "enclosed property" for God's exclusive use, an enclosure of grace and not of law. God alone had property rights in them, 1. 18, 19. As such, they were called upon to "show forth the excellencies of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light", 2. 9 R.V. Peter's practical exhortations in the Epistle fill out what he meant by this.
Peter wrote to Jewish believers. In his letter to Titus, Paul wrote of believing Gentiles, who would not have understood Peter's allusions to the Old Testament. Nonetheless, Paul used the same idea as Peter. He wrote of all classes in the Christian community in Crete, of "aged men . . . aged women . . . young women . . . young men . . . servants", 2. 2-10. God's grace in salvation had "appeared to all men", v. 11, without distinction, but in the event only a minority availed themselves of it. Hence Paul regarded the Cretan believers as a special enclave separated by God from the surrounding unbelieving community in Crete. These alone had benefited from Christ's redemptive work, "Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people (a people for His own possession, R.V.), zealous of good works", v. 14. Together with believing Jews, these Christian Gentiles formed a new "elect race", a new "peculiar people" for God. God's choice involved a zeal for "good works". This is one of the main thrusts of Paul's letter. Salvation is not by good works, cf. Eph. 2. 9; Tit. 3. 5, but unto good works. There were those in Crete, "specially they of the circumcision", whose teaching was subversive and who were "unto every good work reprobate", 1. 16. Titus himself was required to show himself "a pattern of good works", 2. 7, otherwise his teaching would have but little force. The believers were "to be ready to every good work" in their subjection to civil authorities, 3.1, and it was evidently necessary that Titus "affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works ... for necessary uses", 3. 8, 14.