The Israelites were God’s chosen people, “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. Subject to their obedience to the covenant that He made with them, God promised that they would be His “peculiar treasure”: “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. They said, “All that the Lord hath spoken we will do”, v. 8; cf. 24. 3, 7, despite the fact that on the first occasion the terms of the covenant had not even been communicated to them, 20. 1-17.
In Egypt.When God revealed Himself and His purpose concerning Israel to Moses at the burning bush, the Israelites had been in bondage in Egypt four hundred years, Acts 7. 6. God had foretold this to Abram long before it began, “thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years”, Gen. 15. 13. At the same time, God predicted their exodus from Egypt, v. 14. After so long a time of unrelieved oppression, and the death of several generations of Israelites in Egypt, it must have seemed to their successors that God had forgotten and forsaken them.
His appearance to Moses at Horeb made clear that He had not; “I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows; and I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians … Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people … out of Egypt”, Exod 3. 7, 8, 10. Twice in this incident God affirmed that the Israelites were His people.
When Moses and Aaron appeared before Pharaoh, they demanded in God’s Name, “Let my people go, that they may hold a feast unto me in the wilderness”, Exod. 5. 1, a demand to be repeated to, and as often refused by, Pharaoh, v. 2, of. 7. 16; 8. 1, 20. Even at the outset of Moses’ enforced escape from Egypt and his forty years’ sojourn in the land of Midian, Acts 7. 30, he had recognized that the Israelites were “the people of God”, Heb. 11. 25. Doubtless his mother, providentially appointed to be his nurse by Pharaoh’s daughter, told him of his origin.
In the Wilderness. God had a special interest in Israel. He wished them to be His “peculiar treasure”, Exod. 19. 5; cf. Deut. 7. 6; 14. 2, namely an enclosure, reserved exclusively for His own use. Three times they had promised to be obedient to the covenant, the first commandment of which said, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image … Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them’, Exod. 20. 3-5. During Moses’ absence in the mount of God, Aaron was persuaded by the people to “make us gods, which shall go before us”, 32. 1. From their golden earrings, he fashioned “a molten calf, and they said, “These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt”, v. 4. The Lord broke off His instructions to Moses in the mount and said, “Go, get thee down; for thy people, which thou broughtest out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves”, v. 7. This was virtually disowning them and the Lord would have substituted Moses and his seed for Israel, “I will make of thee a great nation”, v. 10. Daringly, Moses’ reply showed that he did not accept that the Israelites were his people, or that he had brought them out of Egypt, “Lord, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt? … Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people”, vv. 11-12. In the event, God repented and accepted that they were “his people”, v. 14.
In the Land. Succeeding generations were no better than their forebears who had worshipped the molten calf, for the O.T. records God’s many complaints about their idolatry. Six centuries after Sinai, God enacted a parable through Hosea’s domestic life, saying, “Go, take unto thee a wife of whoredoms: for the land hath committed great whoredom, departing from the Lord”, Hos. 1.2. Gomer his wife bore him three children, to all of whom the Lord gave names, the last one being Lo-ammi (not my people): “for ye are not my people”, v. 9. A point had been reached at which God disowned them, but it had taken six hundred years to reach that point. A longsuffering God waited in hope of reformation on their part. And even at the time of God’s disavowal of His chosen people, He predicted their eventual restoration to favour, “it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people, there it shall be said unto them, Ye are the sons of the living God”, v. 10; of. 2. 23b.
While Scattered.During the time of Israel’s rejection, the Church, comprised of believing Jews and Gentiles, has been interposed. At the meeting of the parent church at Jerusalem, convened to consider the position of the Gentile believers in relation to the law, attended by Paul and Barnabas as delegates of the daughter church at Antioch composed of Gentiles, Peter, from his own experience in the house of Cornelius, endorsed what Paul and Barnabas had said. James summed up the discussion, “Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name”, Acts 15. 14. The experience of Peter at Caesarea and of Paul and Barnabas at Antioch marked a watershed in God’s dealings with men, in that Gentile believers had been adopted as His people, during the time of Israel’s rejection.
Both Paul and Peter referred to God’s pronouncement through Hosea that Israel was “Lo-ammi"-"not my people”. Peter wrote to persecuted and scattered Jewish Christians in terms that they would have understood as Jews, “ye are an elect race, a royal, priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession … which in time past were no people, but now are the people of God”, 1 Pet. 2. 9-10 R.V. Paul wrote of both Jews and Gentiles, “As he saith also in Osee, I will call them my people, which were not my people”, Rom. 9. 25.
When Regathered.The old covenant, conditional on Israel’s obedience which they had failed to render, God set aside in favour of a new covenant wholly dependent on God Himself, “the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel … not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers … which my covenant they brake … but this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days … I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts … and they shall be my people”, Jer. 31. 31-33; cf. Heb. 8. 7-10. At Sinai, the people had said, “All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient”. They accepted responsibility for keeping the old covenant. God takes responsibility for implementing the new covenant, “I will make … I will put … (I) will be … I will remember their sin no more”. All this is still in the future for Israel, but the spirit of the new covenant now applies to true, Jewish believers, “the Israel of God”, Gal. 6. 16. Indeed, in instituting the Lord’s Supper, the Lord said to His disciples who would be foundation members of the church, Eph. 2. 20, “this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins”, Matt. 26. 28.
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