Summary: We have been brought out of darkness to show forth the glory of God.
I opened the last chapter describing the watershed interaction between Jesus and his disciples, which culminated in Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the living God. In a similar manner God and his people, the Israelites, had a watershed experience in which their relationship entered into deeper significance. It is the occasion of God imparting the Commandments to Moses. Before God called Moses up onto Mt. Sinai, he first set the context for what he was to do. It is recorded in Exodus 19:3-6:
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 house 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.’”
It was on this basis – being the unique people of God – that the exodus from Egypt took place, the commandments and laws were given, and, indeed, all of Israel’s history evolved as it did. Israel was not just another nation with another religion. It was the only nation with which God made a covenant. It was the nation uniquely possessed by the one true God.
Note the emphasis of their special status. They are God’s treasured possession. The whole earth is God’s possession, but Israel is his treasure. Note what this treasure will be: first, a kingdom of priests. The tribe of Levi was set apart by God from the other tribes to be his special representatives. Then, from within that tribe, the family of Aaron was set aside to be the priests who could serve in the presence of God in his holy temple. Israel was to the other nations, what the Levites and priests were to Israel - a group given special access to God via a special relationship.
That Israel was to be a holy nation also denotes the special relationship to God. A synonym for holy is consecrated; Israel was a nation consecrated to God, i.e. set apart from the rest for God. That is what holy means – to be set apart. The Levitical system of laws illustrate this principal. Any object used for the temple, or priest, to serve in the temple had to go through a ritual of consecration – being made holy or being set apart for God.
Why did God give Israel, the descendants of Abraham such special status? What had they done to earn his favor? Nothing. They had not been so spiritual or wise to choose God and earn his blessing; indeed, they had done nothing to be chosen by him. Yet God did choose the people of Israel and did so out of his own desire. Moses reminds the people of this in Deuteronomy 7:7,8:
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 forefathers 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.