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.