I wrote yesterday about Abraham. Today, I’ll say a bit about Israel and then state why their identity and vocation are important for thinking about the church’s mission.
After delivering Israel from Egypt in the Exodus, God gives his people a new identity and a particular vocation. They will be a “kingdom of priests” and a “holy nation” (Exodus 19:6).
They are a kingdom of priests in that they were to bring God to the nations and the nations to God. In direct continuity with Abraham’s vocation, they are the agent of God’s reclamation of the nations.
And they are a holy people, called to conduct themselves as a nation completely unlike any other earthly people. The Scriptures draw out what this means in some surprising ways.
Israel’s holiness included many social and political realities. In contrast to the conduct of the nations, they were to ensure justice for the poor, the orphan, and the widow. They were not to charge interest, but live with an open hand.
They were to care for the ground, including crop rotations and giving the land rest every seventh year.
And they were to worship God appropriately, which involved both ritual worship and a life of worship all week long. If they didn’t worship throughout the week with their politics and social relations, then God wasn’t interested in their ceremonial worship.
Further, nations typically build walls and establish borders for self-protection. But since Israel was called to be a kingdom of priests, cutting themselves off from the nations wasn’t an option.
Think about what this would have involved. They would have needed to develop relationships with the nations, going out and getting to know them, figuring out how to love and honor them and invite them into mutually beneficial relations. Such behavioral patterns would be characteristic of the God of Israel and in continuity with God’s aims for humanity in creation.
But that’s risky and frightening—there’s no guarantee that will turn out well! They’d be tempted to make treaties with the nations in order minimize the risk, but God forbade them from doing that. No back-up plan. God called them to get out there, bring God to the nations and the nations to God and God would be their protection.
Here’s my point: God’s call of Abraham and Israel was in total continuity with his purposes in creation. He sought to create a people who would embody the life of God on earth, which meant cultivating internal patterns of shalom, seeking the flourishing of creation, and reaching out to others in self-sacrificial service and love.
This kind of life as a nation constituted the worship of Israel’s God—the one true Creator God.
God called Israel to cultivate this mode of life and they were to train the nations to join them in doing the same.
In their book, DeYoung and Gilbert rightly note that Israel was given a privileged status among the nations of the world, but they downplay the fact that the identity of Israel was oriented toward God’s reclamation and redemption of the nations.
But that’s the point Scripture makes with Abraham and Israel. The core identity and fundamental task of the people of God is the enjoyment of God’s love and the embodiment of that love to the nations of the world.
These cannot be separated without destroying both. This vision forms the backdrop against which we must understand the mission of Jesus and that of his people in the world.