What the Bible says about
Israel's Privileged Position
(From Forerunner Commentary)
To understand fully what God has done, it is necessary to go back to the beginning to see His purposes in choosing Israel. Israel's beginning occurs, not with Jacob, but with the calling of Abraham.
God's final remark in verse 3 is the most fundamental reason God chose Abraham, and thus Israel and his descendants: to bless mankind in the Person of Jesus Christ. Christ is the center, the focus, of everything. He is the end or the goal of the law (Romans 10:4), the One toward whom the whole Old Testament was written (Galatians 3:24; see Luke 24:44). As Paul puts it, to us He "is all and in all" (Colossians 3:11; see Ephesians 1:23).
Physically, Jesus had to descend from some line of humanity. Abraham, who was himself descended from those who had been faithful to God in earlier times, possessed special qualities that pleased Him. Therefore, He chose Abraham and his family, which later became known as Israel, to work through to bring the wonderful blessing of salvation to all mankind. God says of him:
For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the LORD, to do righteousness and justice, that the LORD may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him. (Genesis 18:19)
This man had a special relationship with God: He knew God, and God knew him. God says He had worked with Abraham to bring out the qualities that would allow the patriarch to command his descendants so that they would keep the way of the Lord. In other words, Abraham had such a force of godly character that he would pass down to his descendants an affinity for God's way (see the principle in Exodus 20:6). In Abraham, God created a people who had a special link to Him. God knew that, for the purpose He was working out, Abraham was the best candidate, later called "the father of us all" in the faith (Romans 4:16), from whom to build a model nation with certain desired qualities.
We should be careful not to take this idea too far. Abraham was not perfect; he sinned and his story reveals that he had to grow a great deal. Nevertheless, he was the only person whom God ever asked to sacrifice his only son, just as He did. If nothing else, this puts him at least one rung above the rest of us. Beyond that, his righteousness does not make his descendants one whit better than other people of the earth. Their prime advantage lies in the fact that, since God had a close relationship with Abraham, they hold a special place in God's heart (see Deuteronomy 7:7-8).
This is the beginning of Israel. For His purposes, and to produce an eventual blessing for all nations, God started with the best clay that He could mold.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Why Israel? (Part One)
God will remember His covenant because He is a jealous God (Exodus 20:5). Because He does not want His name to be profaned in any way, He is very concerned about those who bear it (Exodus 20:7). The covenant people, Israel, had profaned His name by their conduct among the other nations. Because God is holy and righteous, what He proclaimed to do against the heathen in the first chapter of Amos, He will also do to Israel—a people who had forsaken their covenant with Him.
Isaiah writes that Jerusalem, symbolizing all the tribes of Israel, will receive double for her sins because of her privileged position under the covenant (Isaiah 40:2). God will punish Israel for her failure to live up to her responsibilities within the covenant.
God's punishment, though, is never an end in itself, nor does He punish in wild anger or frustration. Rather, He punishes in the best way and at the best time to bring individuals to repentance. He has not forgotten His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but He will correct their descendants so that He can eventually save His people and give them the promises. The process will be painful but also effective; Israel will come to repentance (Romans 11:25-29).
Reflecting on the history of the British Commonwealth and America in the last two hundred years, we see two nations quickly rising to prominence along with unparalleled accomplishments. The British produced a great empire far out of proportion to their population, native wealth, and abilities. Through her commercial power, the United States became the single richest nation that has ever existed. American influence has since exceeded even that of Britain, making English the universal language of business and politics.
Thousands of academic, scientific, and engineering breakthroughs and inventions have sprung from British and American individuals, discoveries which greatly affected the rest of this world. Such power and influence have made both nations feel they have an unlimited reservoir of natural ability and wealth. They even feel a kind of invincibility.
Amos warns ancient Israel and her modern descendants, however, that no nation is so great that it can stand without God. He makes and unmakes nations (II Chronicles 20:6; Daniel 4:17; Acts 17:26). Their rise or fall is largely dependent upon His purpose for them and their significance in prophecy (e.g. Jeremiah 12:14-17; 25:15-32). If their moral and ethical foundation has eroded, the natural process of strong nations displacing weaker ones will take place (Leviticus 18:28; 20:22). It is this process that God often uses to punish His people for apostasy and immorality.
But though God punishes, there is always the hope of repentance and restitution:
"Behold, the days are coming," says the Lord, "when the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes him who sows seed; the mountains shall drip with sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it. I will bring back the captives of My people Israel; they shall build the waste cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink wine from them; they shall also make gardens and eat fruit from them. I will plant them in their land, and no longer shall they be pulled up from the land I have given them," says the Lord your God. (Amos 9:13-15)
Central to both the punishment and the restitution is loving and living the truth of God. This is the responsibility of those who have made a covenant with Him, whether the Old or the New Covenant. It is our part of the deal—a small part really but a difficult one that must be kept (Matthew 7:13-14). If we do not keep it, God must correct us.
But if we keep our part of the agreement, we will reap the benefits that flow with God keeping His. He promises good health (Exodus 15:26), prosperity (Malachi 3:8-12), children (Psalm 127:3-5), security (Psalm 46), and many other blessings besides His greatest gift, eternal life in His Kingdom (John 17:1-3; Romans 6:23)!
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part One)
God chose ancient Israel out of all the nations of the earth and determined that they would be a holy nation. He ordained that they would be a people set apart from the rest of the world. The Old Covenant was intended not only to be a schoolmaster to teach Israel how to live in such a way that they would recognize the Messiah when He came (Galatians 3:24), but it was also intended to set Israel apart—to make them holy. In so doing, He intended the entire nation to be a witness of Him. This passage demonstrates this.
God proposed the Old Covenant to Israel on the day of Pentecost. Israel accepted the terms of the agreement and thereby signed up to be a light to the rest of the world. God had given them the most superior set of laws that mankind had ever encountered, which would leave the rest of the world in awe due to the beneficial effects that would come from it.
We know from the New Testament that the only problem with this covenant was the heart of the people entering into it (Hebrews 3:10-12; 8:7-8). The God-given terms of the agreement were absolutely perfect for what He wanted to accomplish. One of His main purposes was for Israel to be an example, a witness, to the rest of the world of the right way to live. Incidentally, the Tabernacle that Israel carried with them in the wilderness was even called "the Tabernacle of witness" (Numbers 17:7; Acts 7:44).
If Israel had been faithful to the covenant, they would have received blessings beyond belief. In the blessings portion of Deuteronomy 28, God was prepared to set Israel high above all the nations of the earth. Their cities and farms would be prosperous; their children would be healthy and strong; their herds and flocks would be numerous; they would have an abundance of food; and they would have protection from their enemies. They would have rain in due season, and everything they put their hands to would be blessed. They would have enough that they could lend to other nations and not borrow. God intended them to be a holy people whose behavior and prosperity would make it obvious to the rest of the world that God had set them apart. The effect would be so dramatic that Israel would be feared!
However, as we know, Israel failed. The accounts of the Old Testament prophets show the great lengths to which God went for Israel in cleaning her up and taking her under His wing. Yet, once she caught a glimpse of her God-given beauty and wealth, all she did was play the harlot with the surrounding nations, rather than being a witness to them (see Ezekiel 16).
Today, the United States is the richest nation on earth, which seems to coincide with God's promise of blessing until we realize that America is also the greatest debtor nation. Parts of the nation suffer drought, and other parts are practically floating away. Much of our food is either imported or grown from genetically mutated seed. Our cities are filthy, crowded, and corrupt, and our family farms are dying through environmental regulation and corporate buyouts. We live in abundance yet cannot afford our lifestyles, plunging further into personal debt. The nation's churches are pathetically weak, barely standing to fight the onslaught of secular culture—and, in fact, accepting much of it in a misguided spirit of tolerance. In short, America is the farthest thing from being a kingdom of priests or a holy nation. Our entertainment industry shows, like nothing else, what sort of "witness" we are making to the world.
Israel failed because her heart was not right. Biblically, the word "heart" is synonymous with "mind" and "spirit." We know that God desires that all Israel be saved (Romans 11:26; II Peter 3:9) and that in the future He will replace Israel's heart of stone by pouring out His Spirit (Ezekiel 36:26-27). However, for a few—known as the remnant, the church, the Body of Christ, spiritual Israel, the Israel of God, or the firstfruits—God decided to do this ahead of time.
He gave His Spirit on the Feast of the Firstfruits, the day of Pentecost, AD 31, so that a remnant of Israel would have a heart of flesh and not of stone. God gave His Spirit so that spiritual Israel could obey God both in the letter and in the intent of His law. In addition, just as He gave Israel His law so she would be a witness, God gave the church His Spirit so that Christ's disciples would be witnesses. By receiving a portion of the Spirit that proceeds from the divine Lawgiver, the firstfruits are able to understand the intent behind God's laws. More than this, by yielding to the promptings and motivations of God's Spirit, they can begin to take on His character and actively do good rather than merely avoid sin.
David C. Grabbe
The Pentecost Witness
God commands in Psalm 50:5, 22, "Gather My saints together to Me, those who have made a covenant with Me by sacrifice. . . . Now consider this, you who forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver." Especially interesting is that Psalm 50 is directly addressed to those who have made a covenant with God, yet some, perhaps many, suffer from forgetfulness regarding His importance to their well-being.
Could we be guilty of such a thing?
Psalm 78:39-42 reveals ancient Israel's forgetfulness:
For He remembered that they were but flesh, a breath that passes away and does not come again. How often they provoked Him in the wilderness, and grieved Him in the desert! Yes, again and again they tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel. They did not remember His power; the day when He redeemed them from the enemy.
This serves as a warning. Notice the contrast between God, who remembers and keeps His part of the covenant, and men, who so easily forget Him. Our forgetting triggers neglect of the responsibilities that we acquired in making the New Covenant, as Hebrews shows. The next step in the decline of responsibility is to forsake all accountability. However, to seek God diligently by faith is the opposite of Israel's destructive process. When we come to God, the process of forsaking the world begins. Forgetting God ultimately draws us right back into what we originally came out of!
In what way must we come to God? In Proverbs 8:17, personified wisdom reminds us, "I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently will find me." The Hebrew word translated as diligently means "busily; with persistent, persevering effort; industriously." In Psalm 119:10, the psalmist declares, "With my whole heart I have sought You; oh, let me not wander from Your commandments!" He pursued God wholeheartedly and steadfastly. In Psalm 27:4, David adds that he did this "all the days of my life."
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Five)
The Israelites could have been the world's perpetual premier nation if they had done as God asked. But they failed, proving that no nation, no people - even with the righteous examples of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and with the great laws of God - could solve humanity's problems and live peaceful, abundant lives without a special ingredient only God can supply.
Men say, "With enough time and enough knowledge, we can solve any and every evil." But the record of humanity, foremost in Israel, has proved that it cannot be done. Even with God as their King, Israel could not succeed in this. Something was missing.
What was missing? God's Holy Spirit! It was evident, even during the days of the prophets, that the Old Covenant was insufficient, that its terms could not redeem a person from his sins or deliver eternal life. A new and better covenant was needed. God will make a New Covenant with Israel, one that will include an element whereby He can write His law on people's minds and hearts. By this means, His way of living will be their way too, and they will be faithful to Him.
Paul comments on this in Hebrews 8:7-8, adding that the failure of the Old Covenant lay in the Israelites themselves. They had hearts of stone on which God could not write His way of life. While that covenant was in force, He purposely withheld the vital, heart-softening ingredient, His Spirit, from them as a whole to depict to mankind that peace, prosperity, and redemption are impossible without a spiritual relationship with Him. He must be personally and individually involved in their daily lives.
One day, in the Millennium, He will give Israel that ability - that right heart - and allow them to succeed in the areas in which they failed. This is prophesied in Ezekiel 37:21-23, 26-28:
Thus says the Lord GOD: "Surely I will take the children of Israel from among the nations, wherever they have gone, and will gather them from every side and bring them into their own land; and I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king over them all; they shall no longer be two nations, nor shall they ever be divided into two kingdoms again. They shall not defile themselves anymore with their idols, nor with their detestable things, nor with any of their transgressions; but I will deliver them from all their dwelling places in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them. Then they shall be My people, and I will be their God. . . . Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them, and it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; I will establish them and multiply them, and I will set My sanctuary in their midst forevermore. My tabernacle also shall be with them; indeed I will be their God, and they shall be My people. The nations also will know that I, the LORD, sanctify Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forevermore."
Israel will then be given the New Covenant. They will be allowed wholesale access to God through His Holy Spirit, and they will keep His laws along with the statutes and the judgments. They will not just pay them lip-service. This time they will keep their covenant with God.
Moreover, the nations will notice when Israel finally does what it was chosen to do. The Gentiles will begin making the right connections. They will see that God has sanctified the Israelites by setting them apart, giving them His Spirit and His law, and blessing them abundantly for their obedience. They will say, "Maybe we should be doing this too!" and begin to fulfill Isaiah 2:1-4. Thus, during the Millennium, Israel will perform its original purpose as a model and mediatory nation for the rest of the world.
It will take time, maybe generations, but slowly, surely, the whole world will see in Israel, then part of God's church (see Galatians 6:16), how it should live under God. There will be conversions by the thousands - perhaps even by nations, as they realize what wonderful peace and prosperity can ensue when a nation obeys God and lives the way that He teaches!
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Why Israel? (Part Two)
Notice that, though described as a woman, she is in reality a nation that other nations admire. Israel's marriage to God bound her to keep His laws (Exodus 19:8), but she was not faithful. Harlotry entered the relationship. From this point on in the relationship, her harlotry—the fornication and adultery of the woman—is either implied or directly stated in virtually every remaining verse in Ezekiel 16.
The liberal Interpreter's Bible Commentary says that Israel is portrayed as a wife who became a pagan temple-prostitute. That is a possibility, but the conservative commentaries seem to be more correct. She is portrayed as an unfaithful wife whose faithlessness is displayed in a far wider range of activities than just worship. Israel, the nation and wife, is unfaithful in every area and activity of life in which a faithful wife/nation would normally be involved.
Her sins are described in sexual terms because sexual sins are the most common way infidelity in marriage is shown to the public. Everybody can relate to it. Despite the commands of her Husband, Israel simply did whatever she wanted to do, when she wanted to do it, and how she wanted to do it. Amidst the business of daily life, she simply ignored or completely forgot the vows of faithfulness given in former years to God.
The harlotry implied is clearly the breaking of the terms of the marriage covenant. Her harlotry is unfaithfulness, disloyalty, and is primarily spiritual in nature. The most ruinous spiritual sin behind these sexual terms is gross idolatry, but all other sins are included. Israel was unfaithful in managing God's green earth and in conducting business both domestically and internationally. She revealed her infidelity in the wreckage of millions of her citizen's marriages and child-training practices. She showed herself faithless when her people lied to, stole from, lusted after, and murdered each other. She proved herself to be disloyal and ungrateful by forgetting from whom came her great blessings and worshipping things made rather than the Creator who made them.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beast and Babylon (Part Five): The Great Harlot
Can two exist in a marriage relationship where one is constantly unfaithfully acting as a harlot? Yet, of all the nations that have existed on the earth, the only one that God made a covenant with did this to Him. God entered into no other relationship with any other nation in all of the history of mankind.
A person may have many friends, many family members, many business friends, fraternal friends, professional relationships, but by biblical standards for marriage, it is one spouse until death. God and Israel's relationship involved an intimacy normally associated only within marriage. Yes, God had relationships with other nations, but none even close to what He had with Israel. It was favored with gifts greater than any nation because of that intimacy, but perhaps the greatest gift of all was the revelation of God Himself, the knowledge of His purpose, and how to live life at its fullest. But because of these gifts, Israel's responsibility and deviancy was also the greatest on earth: great Jerusalem, great deviancy. The gift had never been given to any other people on earth.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Where Is the Beast? (Part Five)
Prophecy is both practical and positive, not all gloom and doom. Most of prophecy begins negatively but ends positively because God is confident that what He prophesied will accomplish His end, which is always good! Much of the thrust of Amos is an education for catastrophe. Amos followed Elijah about 90-100 years later. During that period, Israel's sins continued to mount horribly. Despite this, they became very wealthy and self-indulgent, even oppressively so.
Religiously, they were trying to walk a tightrope between God and Baal. They were behaving and worshipping like Baal worshippers but doing it in the name of the Lord. Does that not sound familiar to an informed observer of our modern, American scene? People in high places are claiming we all worship the same God; they say the God of Islam and the God of Christianity are the same!
Amos, a Jew from the southern kingdom, was sent by God to preach against the sins of the northern ten tribes. In those from the north, there would be a natural resistance to such an arrangement. The first thing Amos needed to do, then, was establish his authority to preach against them.
The prophet begins in the first two verses with a "thus saith the LORD," providing the foundation for all that follows. He sets out two things that construct a basis for what he says. First, God and Israel have a special relationship: "You only have I known." This phrase indicates a very close bond, as in a marriage, from which ensues the sharing of life's experiences. This ties what Amos would say to correct them to their responsibilities within that close relationship.
Second, he makes a veiled warning, contained within the next five verses: Amos' words carry authority. Israel had better heed because his words are not idle. He establishes this through a series of illustrations posed as challenging questions that can logically be answered only one way. His aim is to awaken them from their spiritual lethargy. It is as if he is saying, "Think about the practical ramifications of this." What follows is a general pattern of God's operation in His people's behalf.
First: People traveling in the same direction toward exactly the same destination would hardly meet except by appointment. It is no accident that God and Israel have this relationship. This also applies on a smaller but more immediate scale: Amos has been sent by appointment, and he does not speak promiscuously. He is there by no accident. His utterances are not his own words; they began with God, who sent them because the close relationship is seriously threatened.
Second: Lions do not roar unless they have taken their prey because they do not want to scare their intended prey away. Israel is God's prey, as it were, and He is not roaring yet. This means, "Take heed! He is stalking you, and you are in mortal danger. Punishment is imminent, at the very door. Beware, for the margin of safety is very slim."
Third: One cannot snare a bird unless a trap is set, and then something—in this case a bird—has to cause the trap to spring shut. This illustration is declaring a cause-and-effect relationship, meaning, "Israel, you are already in the trap, and you, through your conduct, are just about to spring it shut on yourself. Your sins brought this warning, and punishment will follow if you continue sinning."
Fourth: All too often, the alarms go off, and then people take notice. "Because the sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil" (Ecclesiastes 8:11). Amos is declaring that God is involved in His creation; He has not gone way off. The Israelites must not allow themselves to be self-deceived. God is managing it, governing it. His warning of impending calamity would not come if they were not deserving of it. They have been flippantly careless and have no one to blame but themselves.
Fifth: It is illogical to think that God would punish without first warning His people. It is an aspect of His mercy. We can infer that Amos did not choose to be there before them. God appointed him to this task and "caused" him to speak. It is from God that the authority for the prophet's message emanates.
An important overall warning from Amos for those of us who have made the New Covenant with God is that great privileges must not be abused, or they will bring great penalties. To whom much is given much is required (Luke 12:48). Our great privilege is to have access to Him and His Spirit, and therefore have a far closer relationship with Him than Israel ever had under the Old Covenant. Israel's sin was first neglecting and then departing from God and the relationship. This in turn produced great moral corruption through self-serving idolatry, illustrated as and called "fornication" in other books.
The overall effect of these sins produced a careless disregard for the simple duties people owe their neighbors, as well as oppression of the weak. Amos speaks strongly against public and private indifference toward the keeping of the second of the two great commandments (Matthew 22:37-40). When these are considered, we see that he is truly a prophet for our time, when public morality has fallen so low. We need to heed His words seriously because our cultural circumstances parallel what Amos confronted in his day.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prophecy and the Sixth-Century Axial Period
This statement of relationship is vital to Babylon's end-time identification. Only Israel of all nations has been coupled to God through a binding covenant likened to a marriage. A marriage covenant implies an intimacy limited only to those making the covenant. Israel alone of all nations has rightly earned the title "the Great Whore," as she alone came to know God through His revelation of Himself to her. In the biblical sense, a whore is a woman unfaithful to a covenant or to revealed standards. Israel alone had God's way of life so intimately revealed to her.
No other nation in all the history of mankind entered into a covenant with Him, vowing that all He said she would do. Thus, she alone of all nations was unfaithful to that exclusive union. God provides many proofs of her unfaithfulness and records of how He dealt with it in the prophetic and historical books. The biblical facts, when combined with the external evidence of history, point to end-time Israel. Most reading this article live in Israel and are commanded to come out of end-time Babylon, thus the concern over the Great Harlot's identification.
A number of times during the course of these articles, Babylon has been referred to as a "system." Babylon is a system, an anti-God way of doing things, but it is characterized most specifically in a particular nation. This nation, the focus of the Babylonian system and the one that most effectively influences other nations to follow it, is also identified as "Babylon." Thus, Babylon is both. Protestant commentaries, however, almost unanimously refer to Babylon as a system.
Some evangelical Protestant organizations focus a considerable amount of attention to biblical prophecy, but most of them are weak in several areas of understanding. Perhaps the most glaringly important is the identity of modern Israel - almost all of them say Israel is limited to the Jews. Their interpretations of prophecy, then, are slanted toward that tiny, New-Jersey-sized, Middle Eastern nation of less than ten million people. They overlook almost entirely that, at the time of the scattering, the twelve tribes of Israel were two distinct nations, each having its own land, capital city, and government.
The ten-tribed nation of Israel in the north, dominated by the Joseph tribes, Ephraim and Manasseh, had its capital city in Samaria. It can be claimed that the name "Israel" belongs to these two Joseph tribes because Jacob ordained Ephraim and Manasseh to carry it (Genesis 48:16). To the south of Israel, the remaining two tribes, Judah and Benjamin - thereafter called the Jews - had their capital city in Jerusalem. II Kings 16-18 makes this two-nation fact clear. Both nations also had the priestly tribe, Levi, scattered among them, for the Levites were never given land to support themselves.
When God's time to act came in the eighth century BC, He strengthened and sent the Assyrian nation to conquer the northern ten tribes. The Israelites were taken into captivity, became assimilated amongst their conquerors, and migrated with them as time went on. Israel never returned to be reunited with the Jews. History combined with biblical clues places them in northern and northwest Europe, and also in the colonies the Anglo-Saxon peoples established in other parts of the world.
However, God dealt somewhat differently with the Jews. At the end of the seventh century BC, He raised up and sent the Babylonian nation to conquer and take the Jews into captivity. However, after 70 years, because of prophecies involving the coming Messiah to come out of Judah, a remnant of Jews returned to Judea, reestablishing themselves as a nation in Palestine.
Two thousand six hundred years later, at the time of the end, we find Israelitish people scattered all over the world and a small number of Jews back in the ancestral homeland God originally gave to all the tribes of Israel.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beast and Babylon (Part Ten): Babylon the Great Is a Nation
In verses 1 and 14, Amos addresses the nation's leadership about the way they were living. Chief means "first." They felt Israel was the chief nation on earth, and no other could withstand it. But God says the leaders of Israel were complacent, "at ease," and the nation was following their examples.
The common Israelite looked to people of wealth, power, and influence for models of their own behavior, and they saw self-indulgence, unfounded pride, moral degeneracy, and self-satisfaction. Another nation, the real "first nation," would show Israel its true state by destroying it. Israel would be attacked from Hamath in the north to the Arabah in the south.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part Two)
The English word translated as "jewels" in verse 17 is not entirely wrong, but it is not a precise translation of what the Hebrew word, segullah (Strong's #5459, transliterated in various ways), really means. The simplest usage of segullah is to indicate personal possession. Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words expounds its meaning (remember that we are being described):
Cegullah signifies property in the special sense of a private possession one personally acquired and carefully preserves. Six times this word is used of Israel as God's personally acquired (elected, delivered from Egyptian bondage, and formed into what He wanted them to be), carefully preserved, and privately possessed people. . . .
This is not the first time this word appears in the Bible, which distinction belongs to Exodus 19:5, "Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine." Segullah is translated as "special treasure."
The Keil and Delitzsch Commentary explains:
This manifestation of the love of God to Israel formed only the prelude, however, to that gracious union which Jehovah was now about to establish between the Israelites and Himself. If they would hear His voice, and keep the covenant which was about to be established with them, they should be a costly possession to Him out of all nations. . . . Cagulaah does not signify property in general, but valuable property, that which is laid by, or put aside, hence a treasure of silver and gold. . . .
It is helpful to note how God emphasizes segullah to impress its importance on Israel—and now us—by saying, "For all the earth is Mine." This establishes a reference point, indicating that He could have considered any people on earth as His own personal and private treasure, but He did not. Just as a person carefully and discriminately chooses his personal jewelry according to his own criteria, so He chose Israel then and chooses us now.
In I Chronicles 29:3, segullah is again translated as "special treasure," but the context provides a clear use of the term. It involves the preparations David made for the building of the Temple so Solomon could construct it. David explains that from his own personally obtained and set-aside treasure, he gave so much gold and silver.
John W. Ritenbaugh
A Priceless Gift
This chapter extols the uniqueness of the church, which Paul refers to as "the purchased possession." Israel became God's personal possession through the destruction of Egypt, and more importantly, with the killing of Egypt's firstborn as the price for Israel's liberty. God "purchased" Israel and its liberties by this means.
What we see taking form is a separate and unique people. Even though all mankind owes its existence to God as their Creator, Israel and the church are both separate and unique because they belong to God in a way other people and nations do not. Amos 3:2 declares, "You only have I known of all the families of the earth." God purchased these people at awesome cost and thus came into possession of them.
When Israel became His property, it gave them certain liberties. So it is with us, but we receive more besides. Among other things regarding the uniqueness of the church, Paul explains that its members have been set apart (redeemed and freed from the rest of mankind and its ways) and sealed through the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The term sealed is important because it embraces, not only the sense of ownership, but also security and guarantee. Individual seals were unique, used on documents to identify the sender and to render the content secure from prying eyes and theft, and so they were a guarantee that the contents would reach the intended destination.
God's children may look no different on the outside, but they have been given something inside, something spiritual, that makes them different from others and special to God. They are different only because of something God has done, which also makes them His personal, treasured possession.
John 1:12-13 declares, "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name: who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." That "something" is the right or power (KJV) to believe the Word of God, which opens our minds and imparts to us the knowledge of God and His purpose, faith, the fear of God, the love of God, and so much more.
Billions of people have access to the Bible. They read it and may even attend church and call themselves Christian, but they then ignore and disobey huge amounts of it, thus not living by every Word of God. This is actual evidence that those who are part of God's special treasure do indeed possess something that sets them apart and motivates them to obey more completely.
Deuteronomy 7:6 begins a section that reveals one of the major reasons why God has done this. "For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth." Segullah appears again as "special treasure," but along with segullah is another, more familiar term that identifies being a special treasure as an aspect of a larger subject: the blessings and responsibilities of holiness.
Holy literally means "set apart." Being a special treasure has set us apart from other people. Others, without this advantage, are not set apart. When this principle from the Old Testament is combined with Ephesians 1:13-14, we can understand that the blessing of having the Spirit of God makes us special, different, and holy (Romans 8:9).
This occurs because, in God's self-revelation, His Spirit imparts faith and the love of God beyond what the natural mind is capable. It is becoming clear that being blessed as a special, holy people imposes responsibilities on us that we are required—indeed commanded—to meet. The standards within this relationship are high, requiring gifts and growth to meet them.
John W. Ritenbaugh
A Priceless Gift
In Hebrews 3:12, the apostle Paul reports of Israel's "evil heart of unbelief," the fountain, the source, that gave birth to her irrational, erratic, unreliable spiritual and moral behavior. She could not be trusted to remain firm to her commitment to be faithful in keeping the commandments and thus God's way of life. Had the making of the covenant been a literal marriage between two humans, her conduct would have been as God called it, harlotry. However, this was an agreement between a holy, spiritual God and the human nation He chose.
Though she transgressed every commandment in multiple ways, collectively, the spiritual sin through which her unfaithfulness is most frequently demonstrated is gross idolatry. Israel simply serves herself, following the whim of the moment, so that she might "have fun." Her lack of belief grants her nature free rein to exhibit itself in the self-endowed liberty to follow the lust of her flesh, the lust of her eyes, and the pride of life. She rejects her divine Husband as her Ruler because she wants a king "just like" the other nations.
Except for the occasional times when Israel had good leadership, she conducted her affairs, whether personal, domestic, or international, in the Babylonian manner. Israel, despite her great advantages, became just another kingdom of this world. While God has remained faithful to His agreements and promises through the centuries, she has maintained a hypocritical "God's people" stance toward the world, palming herself off as a "Christian nation."
With the founding of the church following Christ's resurrection, God's spiritual focus turned to the church. Having made the New Covenant with God, our charge now is to be faithful while living surrounded by Babylon the Great. Though it is literally physically impossible, we have the responsibility to come out of her, and we can come out spiritually by being faithful to God and His commandments. We must not fail as Israel did, for the stakes for us are much greater. The New Covenant is a better covenant than Israel made; it contains better promises, enabling us a much better opportunity to be faithful and grow. However, those greater advantages also render us more responsible than even Israel, God's only chosen nation, because the church of God is God's only chosen church.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beast and Babylon (Part Eight): God, Israel, and the Bible
The Berean: Daily Verse and Comment
Sign up for the Berean: Daily Verse and Comment, and have Biblical truth delivered to your inbox. This daily newsletter provides a starting point for personal study, and gives valuable insight into the verses that make up the Word of God. See what over 145,000 subscribers are already receiving each day.
We respect your privacy. Your email address will not be sold, distributed, rented, or in any way given out to a third party. We have nothing to sell. You may easily unsubscribe at any time.