A Friday Reflection: Wilderness

Oh that wilderness, desert place. A place of such history and ambivalence. The wilderness is “vast and dreadful… a thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions”(Deut 8:15). It is a “barren and howling waste” (Deut 32:10), an uninhabitable place, a dangerous place, a place of death. The Israelites said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt?”

The Israelites were expecting to die in the wilderness, but it was into the wilderness that God delivered them from the bondage of Egyptian slavery. The Israelites met their God in the wilderness, and God showed his power and compassion by providing food, water, clothing and healing. The Israelites received God’s greatest gifts–his statutes, commandments and holy sabbaths. God promised to be with them in the wilderness and to bring them into “a land flowing with milk and honey.” In the wilderness, God wooed the Israelites into a loving covenant relationship, and later through the prophet Jeremiah, God recalls this time in the wilderness by saying, “I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the wilderness, through a land not sown” (Jer 2:2).

However, it was in the wilderness that the Israelites lost their vision and grumbled, protested and rebelled against God. Due to the Israelite’s unfaithfulness, the wilderness became a place of wandering, testing, judgement and punishment. This wilderness experience was not terminal because God remained faithful and did not allow his divine anger to erase his love for his people.

God allowed the Israelites to continue into the land, but the wilderness wandering became a prophetic reminder throughout history of the potential judgement of God upon the Israelites if they were disobedient and unrepentant. God speaking through the prophet Jeremiah says,

Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the Lord. That person will be like a bush in the wastelands; they will not see prosperity when it comes. They will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives (Jer 17:5-6).

Through the prophet Hosea, God explains that Israel must repent, lest he “turn her into a wilderness, and make her like a dry land” (Hos 2:3).

But God juxtaposes these wilderness statements with eschatological pronouncements that with the future outpouring of the Spirit, the wilderness will become a fruitful field (Is 32:15) and Zion’s wilderness will be made like Eden (Isa 51:3).

The Psalmist sums up God’s sovereignty and actions regarding the wilderness,  

He turned rivers into a desert, flowing springs into thirsty ground, and fruitful land into a salt waste, because of the wickedness of those who lived there. He turned the desert into pools of water and the parched ground into flowing springs; there he brought the hungry to live, and they founded a city where they could settle (Ps 107:33-36).

The wilderness is an important place used by God for his purposes, but the people of God must heed the words of Psalm 95:8,9

Today, if only you would hear his voice, “Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness, where your ancestors tested me; they tried me, though they had seen what I did.

But there is more wilderness juxtaposition that should be considered.

Throughout biblical history, the wilderness was viewed as a place marked by uncleanness, defilement and evil. People were relegated to “outside the camp” if they were determined ceremonial unclean (Lev 13:46; Num 5:1-4) or if they had blasphemed (Lev 24:14). The wilderness was the “cut off” place where the scapegoat was sent after the sins of the people were transferred to it on the Day of Atonement (Lev 16:10, 21-22). Moreover, it was believed that Satan and evil spirits were in the wilderness. Jesus is confronted and tempted by Satan in the wilderness (Matt 4:1-11; Mark 1:12; Luke 4:1-13). In Luke 8:29, the Gerasene demoniac was driven into the desert by a demon. In Matthew 12:43-45 and its parallel in Luke 11:24-26, the unclean spirit who had been cast out “passes through arid places.”

In contrast, the wilderness was also viewed as a place of refuge, a place to get away to meet with God and a place where kingdom work took place. David escaped to a stronghold in the wilderness during his flight from Saul (1 Sam 23:14; 26:2-3). Jeremiah wished he had a wilderness hut to get a respite from the sinful people (Jer 9:2). Jesus often withdrew into the wilderness in order to pray (Mark 1:35; Luke 5:16). Jesus fed the multitudes in the wilderness (Mt 14:21; 15:32-39). The wilderness was a place of revelation and proclamation of the good news. As prophesied by Isaiah (Isa 40:3), John the Baptist lived in the wilderness (Luke 1:80) where the word of God came to him (Luke 3:2), and he preached and baptized (Mark 1:3-5). Philip’s missionary outreach to the Ethiopian takes place in the wilderness between Jerusalem and Gaza (Acts 8).

Today, we also may experience the wilderness in these ways by seeking God in solitude, silence and prayer. We can choose to get away with God, and we can experience his rest and refuge. God may lead us into the wilderness for his kingdom ministry. We may find ourselves in the wilderness not by our own choice but because God has led us there. Take Elijah for example, God led him to the wilderness for a season where he was fed by ravens before he continued on in ministry (1 Kgs 17). The Apostle Paul spent a season in the desert being taught by the Holy Spirit before starting his ministry (Gal 1:16-17). Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness before his ministry.  

These examples teach us about depending on God and not giving up while in the difficult places. God cares for us and is watching over us. As we cry out, “O God, you are my God; I earnestly search for you. My soul thirsts for you; my whole body longs for you in this parched and weary land where there is no water” (Ps 63:1), God is preparing us for future things that are greater than we could imagine. He is leading us to things that we could not fathom doing if it were not for being formed in the wilderness.

As we have seen, there is a lot to this wilderness place, but no matter why we are in the wilderness, God loves us and is faithful to us. He has a perfect, sovereign plan that he is accomplishing, and we can trust him and look to him.

The Old Testament Law for Christians

God said to the Israelites, “I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God (Exod 6:7). Then God gave the Law which set apart Israel from the nations as God’s special people. Obedience to the Law was to be the distinguishing mark of the people of God and it was to be what sustained them in their relationship with God. However, this was a temporary covenant with a new covenant on the horizon which was prophesied by Jeremiah and Ezekiel. The new covenant to come was to be written on the heart and could be kept by those who walk in the power of the Spirit.

The Law pointed to the coming of Christ and with his coming, the Law is fulfilled. After Christ’s coming, the Law is no longer the distinguishing mark of the people of God. Rather, the people of God are distinguished by their faith in Jesus and by their participation in the Spirit within the new humanity where there is no distinguishing between Jew and Gentile. Thus, the specifics of the Law that separated Israel from the nations are no longer binding for the believer in Christ. There is a discontinuity of the Law, but there is continuity of the principles, values and morality that governed them. In this sense, the Law is “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16). The NT believer is not obliged to carry out all the demands of the Law, but there are many lessons that can be drawn for Christian living from the Law.

New Testament Eschatology: Part 1 of 7 Contextual Background

In order to begin a study on New Testament eschatology, one must understand that the first Christians were Jewish, and so they would have been influenced by Jewish eschatology. Furthermore, the first Christians also lived within the predominant Greco-Roman World, and so the eschatological views of the contextualized Greco-Roman culture should also be explored.

Jewish Thought

The first Christians were rooted in the Old Testament (I prefer to say First Testament) and Second Temple Judaism and most of the eschatological themes found in the First Testament are also found in Second Temple Jewish literature. At that time, eschatological views were fixed on a series of events in which God would intervene by ending the oppression of Israel and by establishing his rule.[1] The First Testament and Jewish literature often refer to the “latter days” as a time marked by tribulation, persecution, apostasy and exile, which is followed by the culmination of history due to the final arrival of a conquering leader (Messiah) from Israel who would permanently deliver the Israelites and exercise judgment over their enemies.[2] At this time, God would raise from the dead the saints of Israel while establishing a kingdom on earth and entering into a new covenant with Israel. Moreover, some of Israel’s enemies (Gentiles) would experience mercy and deliverance by God.[3] Thus, the “latter days” ultimately meant that there would be a future period defined by an irreversible, permanent and extreme change from the preceding period.[4]

For the Israelites, there was a hope of a future greater people, greater covenant, greater land, and greater king. In other words, during the “age to come,” there would be a spiritual people who would be the inheritors of the faith, a new covenant that would be written on the hearts of God’s people and would supersede the covenant mediated by Moses, a land described as the new heaven and the new earth and a king who would rule and reign through his defeat of evil and of Satan.[5] In Jewish thought, the strong and prevailing conviction was that in the future God would act in a powerful and transformative way on behalf of his people.[6]

The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) at Wadi Qumran in 1947 has contributed to the understanding of eschatological thought within Judaism from about 250 BCE to the first century CE. Discovered in the DSS were copies (QNJ collection) of an unknown writing which describes an apocalyptic vision of the renewed heavenly Jerusalem in the eschatological age. This text appears to have relied heavily upon Ezekiel 40-48.[7]

Moreover, the Qumran War Scroll (1QM) depicts a final battle on earth between the redeemed of God or the “Sons of Light,” led by the warrior angels Melchizedek and Michael, and the forces of evil or the “Sons of Darkness.” The “Sons of Light” defeat the “Sons of Darkness.” However, the text is more theological in nature than a military composition, and it appears to have been influenced by Daniel 7-9, Isaiah 24-27, Zechariah 12-14 and 1 Enoch.[8]

Greco-Roman Thought

The ancient Greek religions and philosophies had numerous views on life after death or on last states of the cosmos. The tales of Homer portrayed the idea of an underworld where dreary souls wandered after death;[9] by contrast, Plato believed that the soul is the divine self that exists eternally and is preferred over the physical body. In fact, in his view, the physical body incarcerates the soul after a fall from the eternal realm. Therefore, the soul needs a liberation from the body followed by a series of reincarnations in order to return to the eternal realm with the One.[10] According to Plato, only noble souls would survive the death-reincarnation cycle and arrive at a state of perfect and ascending knowledge.[11]

Other Greek philosophers believed that upon death people would transform into a star in the galaxy or undergo a reincarnation of some sorts. The Epicureans advocated for an absolute non-existence or complete extinction after death.[12] Epicurus writes, “Death is nothing to us; for the body, when it has been resolved into its elements, has no feeling, and that which has no feeling is nothing for us.”[13] Another ancient belief of the afterlife is that the deceased continued to live a peaceful, soulish life in the tomb. This is supported by archaeological discoveries of ancient tombs that had openings so that gifts, food and drinks could be delivered.[14]

The Stoic philosophers believed in an endless, repeating cycle of the cosmos. When one cosmic cycle completed, another cycle began repeating the same ordered history. Thus, upon death, a soul would be temporarily extinct until the current cosmic cycle ended and then restarted. Chrysippus sums up this view by writing, “Socrates and Plato will exist again and every man with his friends and his fellow citizens; he will suffer the same and do the same and do the same. Every city, every village and field will grow again. And this restoration will not happen once, but the same will return without limit and end.”[15]

In view of all these ancient Greco-Roman beliefs, Hubbard explains that Greek philosophers were united on one point: “their denial of a bodily resurrection.”[16] This point is in sharp contrast with Jewish eschatology and as we will see with New Testament eschatology.

New Testament Eschatology

As mentioned earlier, the first Christians were Jewish, and so they were influenced by the First Testament and by Jewish eschatology; therefore, it should not be surprising that the Christian New Testament writers followed the First Testament’s use of the phrase “latter days.” While the New Testament’s use of “latter days” has the same overall meaning as in the First Testament, the New Testament uniquely views the “latter days” as beginning their fulfillment in the life and ministry of Jesus and as continuing until Jesus’ final return.[17] G.K. Beale writes,

The OT expectations of the great tribulation, God’s domination of the Gentiles, deliverance of Israel from oppressors, Israel’s resurrection, the new covenant, the new creation and the establishment of God’s kingdom have been set in motion by Christ’s death and resurrection and in the emergence of the Christian church.[18]


[1] T.A. Noble, “Eschatology,” in New Dictionary of Theology (NDT): Historical and Systematic, edited by Martin Davie et al. 2nd ed. (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, 2016), EPUB edition. [2] G.K. Beale, “Eschatology,” in Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments (DLNT), edited by R. P. Martin and P. H. Davids (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 330-331. [3] Beale, “Eschatology,” in DLNT, 330-331. [4] G.K. Beale, A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2011), 114. [5] Bruce K. Waltke and Charles Yu. An Old Testament Theology: An Exegetical, Canonical, and Thematic Approach (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007), 169. [6] K.E. Brower, “Eschatology,” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology (NDBT), edited by T. Desmond Alexander, et al. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 461. [7] L.D. Hurst, “Qumran,” in Dictionary of the Later New Testament and Its Developments (DLNT), edited by R. P. Martin and P. H. Davids (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 997. [8] Hurst, “Qumran,” in DLNT, 997. [9] Moyer V. Hubbard, “Greek Religion” in The World of the New Testament: Cultural, Social and Historical Contexts eds. Joel Green and Lee Martin McDonald (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017), 121. [10] Horton, The Christian Faith, EPUB edition, pt. 6, ch. 27, “Dualism and the Myth of the Exiled Soul. [11] Hubbard, “Greek Religion,” 121. [12] Hubbard, “Greek Religion,” 121. [13] Epicurus, Principal Doctrines 2 in Diogenes Laertius, Lives 10.139 LCL quoted by Hubbard, “Greek Religion,” 121. [14] Hubbard, “Greek Religion,” 121. [15] Stoicorum veterum fragmenta ed. H.v. Arnim, II, 190, 16 ss. quoted by Rudolf Bultmann, History and Eschatology: The Presence of Eternity (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1957), 24. [16] Hubbard, “Greek Religion,” 121. [17] Beale, “Eschatology,” in DLNT, 331. [18] Beale, “Eschatology,” in DLNT, 331.

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 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.