On July 9, 2011 the nation of South Sudan was born.
Only that simple date doesn’t really tell the full story of these people…you see, Sudan has been in the middle of a blood, cruel civil war since 1983. There are a lot of factors for the war…ethnic tribes, water rights, religion, politics, injustice….
Finally after close to 30 years of fighting, the people of South Sudan have their own country – a country that they can govern the way they want to instead of having to live under the rule of the North.
Yet…yet… even though they have a new country things are still…umm….bad.
Some folks have decided to keep fighting…others are upset on who was elected to political office…others are worried about food and water….They still have a long ways to go before they are unified as one nation.
The Making of a Nation
Israel was like that…
They were rescused from slavery by the Hand of the Lord – delivered from hundreds of years of oppression and injustice… They walked through the Red Sea on dry land and saw the power of God like no other nation….
Yet they did not know how to act. They did not know how to be a ‘nation’ – a people dedicated to God and each other. As such, God had to train them…He had to guide their steps and mold them into His people…
Today we are going to look at the making of the nation of Israel – specifically we are going to look at why the Lord made them into a nation.
But before we do that, I want to give you all quick overview of Exodus and Leviticus – seeing as having an overview of the book will help when we dive into the details:
• Israel Oppressed and the Birth of Moses (Ex 1:1-2:10)
• Moses Leaves Egypt (2:11-25)
• Moses meets God in the Burning Bush (Ex 3:1-4:17)
• Moses returns to Egypt (Ex 4:18-31)
• Moses and Pharaoh (Ex 5:1-7:13)
• Plagues in Egypt (Ex 7:14-11:10)
• The Passover and Redemption (Ex 12:1-13:16)
• Departure from Egypt (Ex 13:17-15:21)
• Water, Manna, and Quail (Ex 15:22-17:7)
• Amalekites and Arrival at Mt. Sinai (Ex 17:8-19:1)
• God talks to Moses on Mt. Sinai (Ex 19:2-20:21)
• Judicial Laws (Ex 20:22-24:11)
• Instructions for building the Tabernacle (Ex 24:12-34:28)
• Building the Tabernacle (Ex 34:29-40:2)
• Regulations about Sacrifices (Lev 1:10-10:20)
• Regulations about Purity (Lev 11:1-18:30)
• Holiness Laws and Marching Orders (Lev 19:1-Num 10:10)
All this takes up about one year on the Israelites lives…the rest of Numbers talks about the Israelites journey through the wilderness for 39 additional years… we will talk more about this next week (unless God changes things).
The key turning point in all of this comes at the beginning of Exodus 19 – right after God delivers Israel for Egypt and before the Mosaic Law is given to the people. As you will soon see the position of these verses between these two HUGE events and very, very crucial as it is the bridge that ties the Exodus event with the Law.
Sadly these passages are often forgotten….causing difficulties in how one read the rest of the Bible.
So what is this passage? Well, let us read the first eight verses of Exodus 19.
** Exodus 19:1-8***
I want to go back and focus on verses 4 through 6 as they bring Genesis 12:1-3 (God’s call to Abraham) into focus – they carry the heart and mission of God – and, as if that was not enough, they explain the why behind the nation of Israel.
“You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 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, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” -Exodus 19:4-6
The entire earth is God’s – not just one part – but all nations everywhere at all times.
Israel was chosen as a ‘treasured possession‘ – The Hebrew word for this comes from a royal context that describes the personal treasure of the monarch and his family (1 Chron 29:3, Eccles 2:8). While the whole country and all the people within that country might be thought of as the wider property of a king, he also had his own personal treasure – items and land in which he took special delight. For this reason, many Christians and Christian churches often take religious missions to Israel to be closer to this “treasured possession” and visit Holy sites with the help of Christian tour companies such as Immanuel-Tours as an example.
In modern context it could be a special item or keepsake that is special to one particular family member even though that person has access to everything that the family owns. For example, even though the house, cars, and all the stuff that Emily and I have is mine – as in, I can refer to it as ‘mine’ – I can use it without asking, etc… there are some things – like a 1903 copy of Edmund Alexander de Schweinitz’s “The History of the Church Known as the Unitas Fratrum” or the Wild Goose painting I talk about so often – that are not ‘household’ items. They are Joshua Hopping items. Special items. A treasured possession.
This is the metaphor God uses to describe the identity of Israel. God is the King over all the earth and all nations – and He has chosen Israel as his treasured possession to be in special personal relationship with Him.
But this status also means that Israel has a role… they were not chosen by God just to hang out… just because they were ‘special.’ They were to be a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”
o Between the people and God
o Israel was to be between all nations and God
– Showing them and drawing them to God
• “All nations belong to God, but Israel will belong to God in a unique way that will, on the one hand, demand covenantal obedience, and, on the other hand, be exercised through a priestly and holy identity and role in the world.” Christopher Wright, Mission of God, pg 257
“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you;
I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you”
• Israel was chosen to join God in His Story – to play a part in His Mission
o God asked them – Ex 19:7-9
7 So Moses went back and summoned the elders of the people and set before them all the words the LORD had commanded him to speak. 8 The people all responded together, “We will do everything the LORD has said.” So Moses brought their answer back to the LORD. -Exodus 19:7-9
o God is asking us…what will we say?
• Once the people of Israel agreed, God gave Moses the Law
o Ten Commandments are in the next chapter Exodus 20
• Here is a very, very important item
o Grace came first
o God delivered the people out of Egypt and then He cut Covenant with them
– The Law was never intended to be a system of legal observances by which one could earn God’s acceptance
– The Commandments are was to live within a Covenant relationship which is rooted in grace
• Lord-Servant (Suzerain-Vassal)Treaty
o An ancient Middle-Eastern covenant regulating the relationship between a great Suzerain (King) and one of his subject kings.
o The Suzerain King claimed the right of absolute sovereignty and demanded total loyalty and service – in exchange for this loyalty, the King would protect the vassal / servant.
o Protection was conditional on the servant following the King and obeying… if there was a breach of loyalty, especially in going to another nation for protection, the King would rain down curses on his disloyal subject in an attempt to get them to turn from their rebellion.
o The Mosaic Law follows this treaty format to a ‘T’.
– In fact, the entire book of Deuteronomy is one long Suzerain-Vassal treaty
• The Preamble (1:1-5) – Setting the context of the treaty
• The Historical Prologue (1:6-3:29) – The history of God and His people
o Basic Stipulations (4:1-11:32)
o Detailed Stipulations (12:1-26:19)
• Instructions about Reading (27:1-26) – How often the treaty is to be read
• Blessings (28:1-14) – The blessings that come when the stipulations are kept
• Curses (28:15-68) – The curses that come when they are not kept
• Provision for Continuing the Treaty (31:1-34:12) – A review and summary of the treaty
• What does this mean?
o The original focus – the original heart – of nation of Israel was grace.
o They were chosen out of grace to be a light into the world
– To be a people who looked different, acted different, worshiped different then everyone else so that everyone around would see God and come to Him
– God carried so much about them that He gave them guidelines to help them navigate this crazy messed up journey we call life.
• That is what the Mosaic Law is in a nutshell…guidelines on how to be a ‘kingdom of priests to the world
o Take the Ten Commendations for an example
o The first four focus on the Israelites relationship with God
1. God is unique and supreme (No other gods)
2. Be concerned about proper worship (No graven images)
3. God’s name has dignity and power (Not taking name in vain)
4. God has a claim to His creatures’ time and His concern for re-creation (Keep the Sabbath holy)
o The next six focused on the relationship between people
5. Recognition of legitimate authority (Honor parents)
6. Reverence for life and the human right to live (No murder)
7. The sanctity of marriage and the home (No adultery)
8. Respect for property (No stealing)
9. Respect for reputation, good name, and honesty (No false witness)
10. Contentment (Avoid coveting)
o We may take these principles for granted as our legal and cultural system is based upon these 10 Commendations
– But not everyone in the world did or does
– Some groups followed parts of these 10…some had all 10… yet sin reigned and God carried enough about the Israelites to give them some guidelines to live by
• Just like we teach our kids how to live
• Remember, the Israelites were ex-slaves, they didn’t have a lot of experience living without masters
• They were trying to set up a new nation – with a government, laws, etc…
o Here’s the kicker:
– “The point of Israel’s separation was not ethnic exclusiveness (there were all kinds of ways that foreigners could be incorporated into the worshipping community of Israel) but religious protection.” Christopher Wright, Mission of God, pg 257
o God knew the Israelites needed some boundaries or they would forget about God and go off and serve an idol
– As it was, they did that anyway…
o Just like we need boundaries (sermon on the mount – Matthew 5)
– Jesus told us not to hate a person for it is like murder
– Not to think impure thought about person for it is adultery
• We are to be made new from the inside
– It is our turn to carry the torch
– We have been called into the Story of God just like the Israelite so long ago.
– It is our turn to live a life different from the world around us
• We are not to retreat into a holy huddle
• We are not to give up and blend into the culture around us
• We are to go out into the world and show them Jesus
o Transform the culture
Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. -1 Peter 2:12