Commentary on Psalms 1:1-6

Introduction to Psalms

The english word Psalms is derived from the Greek word ψαλμός (psalmos), and the Hebrew title for the Psalms is תְּהִלִּים (tĕhillîim) meaning songs of praises (Berlin and Brettler, 1265) In the Hebrew scriptures there are 150 praises and has been used as a songbook and prayerbook by Jews and Christian throughout the centuries.  

The psalms have been written by several authors and have been compiled and edited to create a psalter.  Through the use of titles, many of psalms have been attributed to identifiable authors. These authors include David, Moses, Solomon, Asaph, Heman, Ethan and the Sons of Korah.  David wrote the Majority of the psalms with 73 attributed to him. There are some psalms that are designated as having unknown authorship. Some of the psalms date to the middle of the second millennium BC (2000-1000 B.C.E) whereas others date to the postexilic era (after 539 B.C.E) (Hill and Walton, 274).

Literary Context

The psalms are divided into five books: Psalms 1-41, 42-72, 73-89, 90-106, and 107-150. This division may reflect the five books of the Law seeing that much is said about the Law in the Psalms. The following is a brief outline for Psalms (Hill and Walton, 278)

I. Introduction (1-2) V. Introspection about the destruction of the temple and exile (90-106)
II. David’s conflict with Saul (3-4) VI. Praise and reflection on the return and the new era (107-45)
III. David’s kingship (42-72) VII. Concluding praise (146-150)
IV. The Assyrian crisis (73-89)

Moreover, the psalms have been classified into types based on their characteristics: Hymns are characterized by songs of praise and thanksgiving to God for His goodness and greatness. Penitential psalms are confessional in nature and focus on repentance of sin with an appeal for mercy and forgiveness. Wisdom psalms offer general insight about life, faith and relationship with God. Royal psalms focus on God’s kingly rule of his people through God’s chosen man, the son of David. Messianic psalms describe a coming anointed one who will restore and save his covenant people.  Imprecatory psalms call out for the judgement of God upon his enemies and the enemies of his people.  Lament psalms voice one’s condition of disappointment, confusion, doubt and disillusionment but also statements of hope and trust (Arnold and Beyer, 307-311).

In view of this background and literary information, Psalms 1:1-6 has an unknown author and date and fits within the whole of the book by acting as an introductory and wisdom psalm inviting individuals to read, meditate upon and use the entire book for the way to the blessed life.

Commentary on Psalms 1:1-6

1   The Hebrew phrase אַשְׁרֵי־הָאִיש (ašre hoǐš) meaning blessed the man (Brown, Driver and Briggs, 81) may be viewed as the start of a beatitude which are scattered throughout the Psalms and appears to have been a widely used literary device in the psalms dated in the post-exilic era. Thus, this may give a hint to the dating of Psalms 1 (and 2 since there is a similar construction at the end) (Mays, 41).  Nevertheless, this beatitude is complex because it first states what the blessed do not do …does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. Then, in the next line it states what the blessed do.

2  The commended conduct done by the blessed is engagement in the Law of the Lord. The author writes, But his delight is in the law of the Lord and on his law he meditates day and night. The emphasis is on the study of the Torah for the sake of study. This is similar to the instruction given in Joshua 1:7-8 “…Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left,that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it….”  However, the result of such a focus will certainly keep one away from the way of the wicked and sinner (Berlin and Brettler, 1269).

3   Simile is used in this verse which is defined as “a figure of speech that compares two things using the words ‘like’ or ‘as’ ” (Klein, Blomberg and Hubbard, Jr, 304). He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither, whatever they do prospers. John of Damascus comments on this type of simile, “The soul watered by sacred Scripture grows fat and bears fruit in due season, which is the orthodox faith, and so is it adorned with its evergreen leaves, with actions pleasing to God, I mean.  And thus we are disposed to virtuous action and untroubled contemplation by the sacred scriptures” (Blaising and Hardin, Faith and Works).

4   Another simile is used but this time it is pertaining to the wicked.  The image is of the winnowing process where the threshed corn is tossed up so that the chaff is blown away. The message is that the life of the wicked is meaningless and without value (Prinsloo, 365).

5-6   These verses are an example of a chiastic pattern in Hebrew poetry.  Chiasm is a structural form where the word order of a subsequent line appears in reverse order to the previous line (ab/ba) (Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard, Jr.,298). (v.5) Therefore the (a)wicked will not stand in the judgement, nor sinners in the assembly of the (b)righteous (v.6) for the Lord watches over the way of the (‘b)righteous, but the way of the (‘a)wicked will perish. The contrasting between the righteous and the wicked reaches its culmination and those who walk the way of the righteous will remain in the secure and loving arms of the Lord, but for those who walk the way of the wicked will have have no future with the Lord and perish as a result.


Works Cited

Arnold, Bill T, and Bryan Beyer. Encountering the Old Testament : a Christian Survey. Grand Rapids, MI : Baker Academic, 2008.

Berlin, Adele and Marc Zvi Brettler eds. The Jewish Study Bible. 2nd ed. Oxford, NY : Oxford University Press, 1999.

Blaising, Craig A, and Carmen Hardin. Ancient Commentary on Scripture. Psalms 1-50. epub edition. Downers Grove, IL : InterVarsity Press, 2008.

Brown, Francis, S.R. Driver and Charles Briggs. The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon : with an Appendix Containing the Biblical Aramaic : Coded with the Numbering System from Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible.  Peabody, MA : Hendrickson Publishers, 1996.

Hill, Andrew E, and John H. Walton. A Survey of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI : Zondervan Pub. House, 1991.

Klein, William Craig L. Blomberg and Robert L. Hubbard, Jr. Introduction to Biblical Interpretation. Revised and Updated ed. Nashville: TN:, Baker Academic, 2004.

Mays, James Luther. Psalms. Louisville, KY : John Knox Press, 1994.

 

 

 

 

The People of God: Part 7 of 7 Formation, Mission and Future Hope of the Church

Throughout the New Testament there is an emphasis on belonging together within the community of faith. Thus, part of God’s formation of the Church is unity and fellowship. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians,

I urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling you have received: with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, and with diligence to preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Eph 4:1-6).

In the Christian community, the formation involving unity and fellowship meant that they regularly met together in order to praise God together, to pray together, to learn together and to break bread together (Acts 2:42). They shared resources with anyone who had need (Acts 2:44-45), and they shared spiritual blessings with each other (1 Cor 9:23). This was not a random coming together of people with common interests, but rather it was a people coming together because Christ’s sacrificial death reconciled them to one another.[1] They were “a caring and sharing community, a “life-sustaining fellowship,”[2] in which the members of the body of Christ receive their life from God, and comfort, encourage and support one another.”[3]

Furthermore, like the formation of the Israelites, the Church is called to be Holy as God is Holy (1 Pet 1:15-16; Heb 12:14) and to be a people who are set apart (1 Cor 7:1). God in his holiness desires a holy people amongst whom he can dwell. Ephesians 2:19-22 states,

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

In other words, Christians are God’s temple and his dwelling place must be holy and sacred (1 Cor 3:16-17).

Another aspect of the Church’s formation is that Christians are to be defined by love. Jesus taught that the world would know that they were his disciples by their love for one another (John 13:35). The Church must be compelled by love and always growing in love for others. “Love defines every aspect of Christian community, internally and externally; for love defines every aspect of God’s life. God is love.”[4]

Along with the formation of the church is the mission of the Church. The Holy Spirit continues Jesus’ ministry through the Church, and so the Church’s mission is empowered by the Holy Spirit and involves bringing honor to God (Eph 3:10-11), bearing witness to Christ (Acts 5:30-32), making disciples of all peoples and baptizing them (Matt 28:19-20), preaching the gospel (Acts 20:24), and healing (Luke 9:2). While explaining the mission of the Church, Lucien Deiss writes, “We are toiling at a task that is beyond our strength. And what the Lord asks of us is “Be my witnesses.” That is the mission we must carry out. It is for him to accomplish his mission at the time he decides upon, in accordance with his own blessed will, which is one of tender love for each and every human being.”[5]

The Church is called to hope. Hebrews 10:23 states, “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” Because of the resurrection of Jesus, the Church has “hope of the resurrection of the dead” (Acts 23:6). At the consummation of all things, the people of God will participate in the eschatological resurrection where all who are in Christ will receive glorified bodies and eternally reign with Christ in his everlasting kingdom. Revelation tells of a new heaven and a new earth where God dwells with his people. He will be their God and they will be his people. God finally puts everything back to right. His restorative mission for his people and creation is finally accomplished. The people of God will encounter God forever, and they will experience belonging forever. Belonging to God and to one another.


[1] Charles H. H. Scobie, The Ways of Our God: An Approach to Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 2003), 501. [2] Paul D. Hanson, The People Called: The Growth of Community in the Bible (San Francisco: CA, 1986), 501, quoted by Scobie, The Ways, 502. [3] Scobie, The Ways, 502. [4] David Zac Niringiye, The Church: God’s Pilgrim People (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2015), 184. [5] Lucien Deiss, God’s Word and God’s People, translated by Matthew J. O’Connell (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1976) 323.

The People of God: Part 6 of 7 Jesus and the Calling and Gathering of Israel and the Nations

Mark 1:14-15 states, “Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time is fulfilled,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” Why is the time fulfilled and what is the good news? Throughout the history of Israel, there was the hopeful expectation of a future coming of a kingly figure chosen and anointed by God to redeem and restore his people. This messianic figure was believed to usher in a new era in the history of the people of God. He was to establish God’s sovereign reign and fulfill God’s mission of restoring all things and creating a new people who will love, worship and serve him.

Luke 4:16-21 depicts Jesus entering the synagogue and reading a passage from Isaiah which states, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me, to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (v. 18-19) Then, Jesus says, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (v. 21). Jesus declares that he is the promised messiah and his life and ministry supported his claim. However, God’s people were perplexed because he did not fit the image of a typical royal king, and he was not crushing the Romans. Rather, he was beaten and crucified, put to shame by the oppressors of Israel.

What was going on? The promised serpent head crusher (Gen 3:15) was fulfilling God’s redemptive and restorative mission as the suffering servant (Isa 53). Jesus fulfilled what the people of God throughout history could not. He was a perfect, devoted and faithful servant to God and a blessing to the nations. As a result, God did not let Jesus rot in the grave, but rather God raised him from the dead with a resurrected body. Jesus is the firstborn of the resurrection. He is inaugurator of the resurrection people of God.

The Gospel of John narrates a scene where Caiaphas prophesied about Jesus, and then the author of the Gospel of John commentates by saying that “He [Caiaphas] did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad” (John 11:51-52). The prophecy by Caiaphas was a glimpse of what God was up to through the life and ministry of Jesus. Through Jesus, God was calling all nations, races, people and tongues to come to him. This is the gospel message, that God calls the world to come to him through Jesus’ redemptive life, death and resurrection, and he gathers from Israel and the nations those who by faith in Jesus respond to the call. He creates one people where “[t]here is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). Those who are in Christ are connected to God’s people of the past, they are “Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal 3:29).

Moreover, God, through Jesus, enters into a new covenant with his people. At his last supper, Jesus links the new covenant with his broken body and shed blood (Matt 26:28; Mark 14:24) and the Letter to the Hebrews explains that Jesus is “the guarantee of a better covenant” and that “…Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.” In chapter 8, the author of Hebrews quotes in full Jeremiah 31:31-34 which is the passage that was mentioned above concerning the promise of a new covenant. With this quote, the author of Hebrews connects the death of Jesus with the promise of a new covenant prophesied by Jeremiah. Therefore, according to Charles H.H. Scobie, “[t]he Christ event, focused in Jesus’ death on the cross, inaugurates the promised new covenant, a new relationship between God and people.”[1]

Similar to the description of the people of God throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, this new people of God, the Church, is described as “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Pet 2:9). Much like the Israelites, God chooses and calls a people to be the Church and “they become his people by responding to his gracious acts.”[2] The Church has encountered God through Jesus—the God-man, and they belong to him and to one another as the people of God. Thus, the Church should embrace their belonging as God’s people, and since they “have been clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49), they should devote themselves to worship, service and mission.


[1] Charles H. H. Scobie, The Ways of Our God: An Approach to Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 2003), 496. [2] Harold Stauffer Bender, These Are My People: The Nature of the Church and Its Discipleship According to the New Testament (Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1962),14, quoted by Scobie, The Ways, 491.

The People of God: Part 5 of 7 Promise of a New Covenant

Throughout the history of the Israelites, they were plagued and sickened by divided loyalties, mistrust, unfaithfulness and disobedience. Instead of living “shema” (Deut 6:4-9) and leaning into their identity as the people of God, the Israelites constantly turned away from God and rejected their belonging in favor of self-preservation and self-sovereignty.[1] They struggled with being a people who reveal to the nations the glorious name, ways and character of creator God. They failed in being a people who brought God’s life-giving blessings to the nations. Thus, they were not worshipping and serving God or partnering with him in his redemptive and restorative mission.[2]

In view of the Israelites ongoing dilemma, God sends his messengers, the prophets, to get the attention of his people. Instead of giving up on his people, he shows his steadfast love by drawing them back to him through judgement and through messages of life and hope. The prophets speak messages focused on God’s sovereignty with the aim that Israel would recognize that their sovereign God should govern all their “doings.” The prophets confronted the sins of the Israelites and counseled them to change their behavior towards others. God speaks through Isaiah saying, “Wash yourselves. Cleanse yourselves. Remove your evil deeds from my sight. Stop doing evil. Learn to do what is good. Pursue justice. Correct the oppressor. Defend the rights of the fatherless. Plead the widow’s cause” (Isa 1:16-17).

Moreover, the prophets announced both judgment and hope. They announced God’s judgement as a warning for the people to turn back to God. This message of judgment ultimately resulted in exile, “but even in the midst of sin, judgement and exile the prophets proclaimed YHWH’s grace-filled, unaltered commitment to [his] mission.”[3] God still desired that his people participate in his restorative mission by being the instrument that “bring[s] life-giving blessing to all the nations.”[4] Thus, the prophets speak a message of hope “that somehow, someday YHWH will accomplish his intentions for the people by doing for them what they can’t do for themselves. YHWH will deal with the human dilemma of divided loyalties by transforming the people’s character so that they can live out their identity as the instrument of the divine redemptive mission.”[5]

This involved the promise of the new covenant. Through Ezekiel, God says, “I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant I will establish and multiply them and will set my sanctuary among them forever. My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people” (Ezek 37:26-27). Through Jeremiah, God says,

Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah…. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people (Jer 31:31,33).

God promises a new move that will further his redemptive and restorative mission in the world. He gives his people hope that they will be forgiven of their sins and receive a new and clean heart. They will have a new spirit which will allow them to enter into a close personal relationship with God and to fulfill their God given mission.[6]


[1] Brad E. Kelle, Telling the Old Testament Story: God’s Mission and God’s People (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2017), 166. [2] Kelle, Telling, 165. [3] Kelle, Telling, 165. [4] Kelle, Telling, 165. [5] Kelle, Telling, 168. [6] Charles H. H. Scobie, The Ways of Our God: An Approach to Biblical Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 2003), 483-485.

 

The People of God: Part 4 of 7 Gatherings

The Israelites were chosen, called and formed as the people of God and obedience was the governing principle of life within community, but the Israelites were often disobedient and struggled to keep their part of the covenant. They faced several challenges and temptations that disrupted their devotion and relationship with God. In response, God gathered his people at times to remind them of his goodness and greatness, to reiterate the covenant and to encourage and strengthen them in obedience and in the renunciation of other gods. Three significant gatherings throughout the Israelites history are the gathering at Shechem, the gathering of Josiah and the gathering of Ezra.

As Joshua 24 portrays, God used Joshua to gather and speak to the Israelites at Shechem where he reminded them of the divine events that took place “long ago” (v.2) and that took place in their midst. Then, Joshua states, “…choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (v. 15). After a community dialogue, the people declared “The Lord our God we will serve, and his voice we will obey” (v. 24). With this, the covenant was renewed, and the people of God encountered God and leaned into their belonging to God and to one another.[1]

Six hundred years later during the time of a divided kingdom and the Assyrian occupation, Jerusalem was filled with idolatry, impurity and corruption; however, King Josiah “[i]n the eighth year of his reign, while he was still a youth, he began to seek after the God of his forefather David” (2 Chr 34:3), and he was led by God to institute reforms by purging Jerusalem and Judah of all its idolatrous elements and all its priestly corruption (2 Chr 34:3-4; 2 Kgs 23:5-13). During the restoration of the temple, the Book of the Law was discovered and read to King Josiah. After hearing the Book of the Law and consulting with God through Huldah the prophetess, Josiah was used by God to gather the people so that they could hear the Book of the Law and encounter their God (2 Kgs 22; 2 Chr 34:29-30). Then, Josiah “made a covenant before the Lord, to walk after the Lord and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people joined in the covenant” (2 Kgs 23:3). Once again with steadfast love, God called his people to himself and met with them through the reading of his words which reiterated covenant relationship and refocused the Israelites’ worship, service and mission.[2]

Many centuries later, the Israelites had entered exile but eventually were returning to Jerusalem after the King of Persia commissioned the rebuilding of the temple. During this time, Ezra organized the gathering of the people where he read the Book of the Law (Neh 8). This led the people to worship God and to confess their sins. They were reminded that God is one who is “ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Neh 9:17), and so they renewed their covenant with God and took an oath “to walk in God’s Law that was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the Lord our Lord and his rules and his statutes” (Neh. 10:29). During this time, God was at work in calling his people to be “under his rule in his place”[3] to further his missional purposes.[4]


[1] This paragraph is influenced by Lucien Deiss, God’s Word and God’s People, translated by Matthew J. O’Connell (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1976), 39-49.[2] This paragraph is influenced by Deiss, God’s, 52-71. [3] J.G. Millar, “People of God” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, edited by T. Desmond Alexander and Brian S. Rosner (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 684. [4] This paragraph is influenced by Deiss, God’s, 76-83.

The People of God: Part 3 of 7 Formation and Mission of Israel

Being God’s people, the Israelites had to learn how to live as God’s people because “to be God’s people entails being a certain kind of people, a God-kind of people, whose foremost quality is holiness.”[1] Thus, God initiated the formation of the Israelites by teaching, shaping and maturing them through the giving of the Law, through divine acts and through life experiences.[2] God desired that Israel would develop into a peculiar community with a distinguished character in order to serve as a particular instrument within God’s restorative mission.[3] Initially, God instructed Israel that they were to worship and serve him as “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exod 19:6). They were “to be a holy community that fulfills a priest-like role for all the peoples of the world.”[4] In other words, God called Israel to be his messengers and intermediaries “bringing life, flourishing and hope to people, places and circumstances.”[5]

Furthermore, God gave the Israelites the Ten Commandments as the words for ongoing covenant dialogue. If the Israelites were to be the people of God, they were to keep their part of the covenant by following God’s words.[6] As they participated in the covenant dialogue they would experience “life and prosperity” (Deut 30:15), wisdom and understanding (Deut 4:4-8) while being a signpost of God to the nations (Deut 4:4-8, 28:9-10).

Thus, part of the Israelites’ formation was that they had to embody holiness as God is Holy (Lev 11:44-45) and to learn and live the language of “shema” (Deut 6:4-9). Leviticus 11:44-45 states, “For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy…. For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.” Deuteronomy 6:4-9 states,

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

The people of God underwent formation so that they could be in right-relationship with the holy God and participate as God’s doorposts in his redemptive and restorative mission.


[1] Elmer A. Martens, “The People of God” in Central Themes in Biblical Theology: Mapping Unity in Diversity, edited by Scott J. Hafemann and Paul R. House (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 242.[2] Brad E. Kelle, Telling the Old Testament Story: God’s Mission and God’s People (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2017), 25. [3] Kelle, Telling, 83. [4] Kelle, Telling, 88. [5] Kelle, Telling, 89. [6] Lucien Deiss, God’s Word and God’s People, translated by Matthew J. O’Connell (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1976), 16.

 

The People of God: Part 2 of 7 God Chooses and Calls a People

With the fall and downward spiral of humanity, the beginning of God’s redemptive and restorative mission is revealed. Genesis 3:15 announces the proto-euangelion (first gospel) with the initial proclamation of the future “serpent head crusher” who by his suffering forms a new humanity. Moreover, God reveals his mission by choosing to enter into a covenant with Noah and calling him and his family into the life saving ark (Gen 6:18). After the flood, God reiterates his cultural mandate (Gen 1:28) by calling Noah and his family to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” and to exercise authority over the earth (Gen 9:1,2). They were to worship God by depending on him, and they were to serve him by participating in his mandated mission. By covenanting with Noah, God commits to a new, long term plan to redeem and restore people into right-relationship with himself.[1] The establishment of the covenant enabled Noah and his descendants to encounter God in new ways and to experience the reality of belonging to God and to each other.

However, after the tower of Babel, the people were scattered due to their desire to make a name for themselves (11:4), but out of this scattered people, God again chooses and calls a people into covenant relationship with himself. This began with Abraham and Sarah where God promises to make Abraham’s name great, to make him into a great nation, to bless him with land and to use him as “the instrument of life-giving blessing to the world.”[2] Here, God chooses and calls one person “who then expands into a multitude of descendants, for the purpose of participating in God’s redemptive work in the world.”[3] This is a significant development of God’s mission, and it is the foundation for one’s understanding of the rest of the overall biblical story.

God’s covenantal promises continued to Abraham’s son Isaac and his grandson Jacob, who was renamed Israel, and from his twelve sons descended the twelve tribes of Israel. These “children of Israel” are those who are the people of God, and God decisively chooses and calls them his people while they were enslaved in Egypt. Exodus 6:6-7 states,

I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians (ESV).

And later in Exodus 19:4 God says to Israel, “I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.” Deuteronomy 7:6-8 explains that God chose Israel “out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession” because he loved them and kept the oath he swore to their ancestors. These passages emphasize the sovereign and loving nature of God in choosing and calling a people, and this is what set them apart as unique people among all the other people of the Ancient Near East. The Israelites encountered and belonged to the one, true and loving God.[4] They were the people of God.


[1] Brad E. Kelle, Telling the Old Testament Story: God’s Mission and God’s People (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2017), 51.[2] Kelle, Telling, 57. [3] Kelle, Telling, 56. [4] Hans Urs Von Balthasar, Engagement with God, Translated [from the German] by John Halliburton (London: S.P.C.K., 1975), 35.