God’s People, part 29: Israel

Read Judges 2:1-15

“My people bend their tongues like bows to shoot out lies. They refuse to stand up for the truth. They only go from bad to worse. They do not know Me,” says the LORD.” (Jeremiah 9:3)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

masadaPart 29: Israel. You may be scratching your head and thinking, “Wait a minute, Israel is the other name of Jacob. Didn’t we already talk about Israel?” If so, my answer to you is yes, we did. With that said, we still have yet to talk about people of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob or, rather, the people of Israel. While Israel, the person was a character, it should be clear to anyone who is familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures, that Israel (the collective people) is a character as well. In fact, Israel in the latter sense is featured far more than any other character in the entire Bible.

Israel was chosen by God to be set a part for God’s redemptive plan in the world. Right from the beginning of God’s covenant with Abraham, Israel’s purpose was to be a blessing to all the nation so of the earth (Genesis 22:18). Yet, the struggle to live up to their divine purpose was real. Just like their forefather Jacob was renamed Israel because he had spent his whole life wresting with God and with people, the Israelites were constantyl wrestling with God and with people. The struggle for Israel, just as it was for Jacob, was real.

In Judges 2, we see Israel at its outset. One would think that beginnings ought to be inspiring and lead people into the golden years, the opposite seems to be the case for Israel. Right from the get go, Israel choose to do their own thing, rather than doing what God instructed them to do. Case in point: God instructed Israel to take over the Promised Land and drive the inhabitants out. While Israel conquered the land, they failed to follow the “driving out” part of God’s instructions. Instead, they enslaved those they didn’t kill (Judges 1:28).

Slavery, of course, profitted Israel greatly as slaves work their tails off for free; however, God did not free the Hebrew slaves so that they could go and enslave others. What’s more, those slaves didn’t remain slaves forever and the land ended up filled with TONS of people who did not believe in God and who were most definitely enemies of Israel. The end result: Israel found itself in a constant state of sin and falling away from God as a result of competing ideologies, and Israel also Israel also found itself under constant threat of attack both from within and without their Kingdom.

Unfortunately, the end result also led Israelites later on to seek to purify their kingdom. They sought to isolate themselves from any multicultural experiences, and to isolate themselves from marrying anyone outside of their own religious identity. The more trouble Israel found itself in with competing kingdoms, the more Israel felt the need to be LESS engaged with the rest of the world. While the history is a long and complicated “back and forth” between the two extremes of embracing and shunning diversity, the ultimate reality is that Israel was failing to live up to its divine purpose of being a BLESSING to the nations.

Much later in this series, we’ll see how God still ultimately finds a way to make Israel the blessing it was intended to be; however, there is a challenge for us here today. Do you realize that God created you to be a blessing to the nations as well? Do you realize that God created you to reflect the love, the mercy, the grace, the hospitality and the inclusivity of God? Do you realize that God created you to be a blessing today and always?

Instead of looking for God’s blessing on us, which was given to us the minute life was breathed into our nostrils, we should be looking to fulfill that divine purpose God gave each of us. We have been equipped with gifts to bless others uniquely. All we need to do is to let God reveal those gifts to us and then use them as God intended us to do. While we all play the part of Israel in “wrestling with God and other people”, and that is quite natural, God does not want us getting so preoccupied with wrestling that we fail to do anything else. Stop wrestling and begin to bless others as God created you to, then you will know just how blessed you truly are.

“After the first blush of sin comes its indifference.” – Henry David Thoreau

Lord, you have created me to be a blessing. Turn me away from sin so that I may fulfill that divine purpose you have given me. Amen.

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