A Chosen People

A Chosen People

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As we’ve seen in previous lessons, God has a plan for bringing mankind to salvation in His Kingdom. Since His creation of Adam and Eve, God has worked with people in various ways but always with the same goal in mind.

Before Christ came, God called only a few people out of their societies to serve Him and further His work. Many of them are mentioned by name in Hebrews 11:1-40 Hebrews 11:1-40 1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. 2 For by it the elders obtained a good report. 3 Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear. 4 By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead yet speaks. 5 By faith Enoch was translated that he should not see death; and was not found, because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God. 6 But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. 7 By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith. 8 By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing where he went. 9 By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: 10 For he looked for a city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. 11 Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore sprang there even of one, and him as good as dead, so many as the stars of the sky in multitude, and as the sand which is by the sea shore innumerable. 13 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. 14 For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. 15 And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from where they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. 16 But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: why God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he has prepared for them a city. 17 By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, 18 Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall your seed be called: 19 Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from where also he received him in a figure. 20 By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come. 21 By faith Jacob, when he was a dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph; and worshipped, leaning on the top of his staff. 22 By faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones. 23 By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents, because they saw he was a proper child; and they were not afraid of the king’s commandment. 24 By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; 25 Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; 26 Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect to the recompense of the reward. 27 By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king: for he endured, as seeing him who is invisible. 28 Through faith he kept the passover, and the sprinkling of blood, lest he that destroyed the firstborn should touch them. 29 By faith they passed through the Red sea as by dry land: which the Egyptians assaying to do were drowned. 30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they were compassed about seven days. 31 By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace. 32 And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: 33 Who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions. 34 Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. 35 Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: 36 And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yes, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: 37 They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; 38 (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. 39 And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise: 40 God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.
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, a chapter in the Bible we could call the faith hall of fame.

Even as He called and worked through individual leaders and prophets to do a spiritual work, God established a physical nation to help fulfill His plan. This nation, the descendants of Abraham through his grandson Israel, was also known as God’s congregation (Acts 7:38 Acts 7:38This is he, that was in the church in the wilderness with the angel which spoke to him in the mount Sina, and with our fathers: who received the lively oracles to give to us:
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) or “ church ,” as it is translated in the King James Version. Understanding how God worked through people in the Old Testament is important background for understanding why and how God established the Church in the New Testament.

Has God worked with people in different ways?

“God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds” (Hebrews 1:1-2 Hebrews 1:1-2 1 God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, 2 Has in these last days spoken to us by his Son, whom he has appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;
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).

God spoke to Adam and Eve directly, as He later communicated with Moses. However, He often conveyed His message in other ways—through dreams and visions, through prophets and priests, and through His inspired written Word, the Holy Scriptures. But the message always fit into the same overall mission.

Why did God call Abraham?

“Now the LORD had said to Abram: ‘Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed’ ” (Genesis 12:1-3 Genesis 12:1-3 1 Now the LORD had said to Abram, Get you out of your country, and from your kindred, and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you: 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing: 3 And I will bless them that bless you, and curse him that curses you: and in you shall all families of the earth be blessed.
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).

God had a plan for Abraham. In His mission to extend His love to all humanity, God chose a man who was faithful and obedient to serve as a physical and spiritual role model. Abraham set an example of obedience in leaving his home country at God’s command, not even knowing the final destination (Hebrews 11:8 Hebrews 11:8By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing where he went.
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). He believed God would fulfill His promises, in spite of the seeming impossibilities involved. He was even willing to give up his own son (Genesis 22:1-24 Genesis 22:1-24 1 And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said to him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am. 2 And he said, Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and get you into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering on one of the mountains which I will tell you of. 3 And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and split the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went to the place of which God had told him. 4 Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off. 5 And Abraham said to his young men, Abide you here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you. 6 And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together. 7 And Isaac spoke to Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering? 8 And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together. 9 And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar on the wood. 10 And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son. 11 And the angel of the LORD called to him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I. 12 And he said, Lay not your hand on the lad, neither do you any thing to him: for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son from me. 13 And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son. 14 And Abraham called the name of that place Jehovahjireh: as it is said to this day, In the mount of the LORD it shall be seen. 15 And the angel of the LORD called to Abraham out of heaven the second time, 16 And said, By myself have I sworn, said the LORD, for because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son: 17 That in blessing I will bless you, and in multiplying I will multiply your seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is on the sea shore; and your seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; 18 And in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because you have obeyed my voice. 19 So Abraham returned to his young men, and they rose up and went together to Beersheba; and Abraham dwelled at Beersheba. 20 And it came to pass after these things, that it was told Abraham, saying, Behold, Milcah, she has also born children to your brother Nahor; 21 Huz his firstborn, and Buz his brother, and Kemuel the father of Aram, 22 And Chesed, and Hazo, and Pildash, and Jidlaph, and Bethuel. 23 And Bethuel begat Rebekah: these eight Milcah did bear to Nahor, Abraham’s brother. 24 And his concubine, whose name was Reumah, she bore also Tebah, and Gaham, and Thahash, and Maachah.
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), prefiguring the sacrifice of Christ. Why was Abraham willing to do this? In faith he knew that God could raise Isaac from the dead (Hebrews 11:17-19 Hebrews 11:17-19 17 By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, 18 Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall your seed be called: 19 Accounting that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead; from where also he received him in a figure.
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).

Why is Abraham so important?

“For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness’… that he might be the father of all those who believe … [and] that righteousness might be imputed to them also” (Romans 4:3-11 Romans 4:3-11 3 For what said the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness. 4 Now to him that works is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. 5 But to him that works not, but believes on him that justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. 6 Even as David also describes the blessedness of the man, to whom God imputes righteousness without works, 7 Saying, Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. 8 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin. 9 Comes this blessedness then on the circumcision only, or on the uncircumcision also? for we say that faith was reckoned to Abraham for righteousness. 10 How was it then reckoned? when he was in circumcision, or in uncircumcision? Not in circumcision, but in uncircumcision. 11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed to them also:
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, emphasis added throughout).

“And I will make your descendants multiply as the stars of heaven; … and in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; because Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws” (Genesis 26:4-5 Genesis 26:4-5 4 And I will make your seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and will give to your seed all these countries; and in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; 5 Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.
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).

“Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, ‘And to seeds,’ as of many, but as of one, ‘And to your Seed,’ who is Christ” (Galatians 3:16 Galatians 3:16Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He said not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to your seed, which is Christ.
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).

Not only did Abraham become the father of many nations, including those that descended from Israel, but his example of faithfulness to God led God to call him the father of the spiritually faithful. Over the years God extended the promises He made to Abraham not only to his physical descendants (Genesis 13:16 Genesis 13:16And I will make your seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall your seed also be numbered.
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; Genesis 15:5 Genesis 15:5And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if you be able to number them: and he said to him, So shall your seed be.
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; Genesis 17:3-6 Genesis 17:3-6 3 And Abram fell on his face: and God talked with him, saying, 4 As for me, behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations. 5 Neither shall your name any more be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made you. 6 And I will make you exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come out of you.
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) but to the whole world through the promised Seed, Jesus Christ.

The faithful—all those called and chosen for a relationship with God in the past, present and future—are Abraham’s spiritual descendants. But God also worked through Abraham’s physical descendants.

What was the nation of Israel called to do?

“Surely I have taught you statutes and judgments, just as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should act according to them in the land which you go to possess. Therefore be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes, and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has God so near to it, as the LORD our God is to us, for whatever reason we may call upon Him? And what great nation is there that has such statutes and righteous judgments as are in all this law which I set before you this day?” (Deuteronomy 4:5-8 Deuteronomy 4:5-8 5 Behold, I have taught you statutes and judgments, even as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should do so in the land where you go to possess it. 6 Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. 7 For what nation is there so great, who has God so near to them, as the LORD our God is in all things that we call on him for? 8 And what nation is there so great, that has statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day?
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).

One of the responsibilities God gave to the physical nation of Israel was to represent Him, to show by example that God’s way works. The nations around should have seen the beauty of God’s laws at work in the lives of the Israelites.

Did the Israelites fulfill the mission God called them to do?

“But I had concern for My holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations wherever they went” (Ezekiel 36:21 Ezekiel 36:21But I had pity for my holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the heathen, where they went.
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“Nevertheless they were disobedient and rebelled against You, cast Your law behind their backs and killed Your prophets, who testified against them to turn them to Yourself; and they worked great provocations” (Nehemiah 9:26 Nehemiah 9:26Nevertheless they were disobedient, and rebelled against you, and cast your law behind their backs, and slew your prophets which testified against them to turn them to you, and they worked great provocations.
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).

“Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah—not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke …” (Jeremiah 31:31-32 Jeremiah 31:31-32 31 Behold, the days come, said the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: 32 Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they broke, although I was an husband to them, said the LORD:
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).

Israel not only failed to set a good example for its neighboring nations, but the Israelites also broke their agreement with God and even caused God’s name to be blasphemed (Romans 2:24 Romans 2:24For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written.
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Why did Israel fail?

“… They did not obey or incline their ear, but everyone followed the dictates of his evil heart …” (Jeremiah 11:8 Jeremiah 11:8Yet they obeyed not, nor inclined their ear, but walked every one in the imagination of their evil heart: therefore I will bring on them all the words of this covenant, which I commanded them to do: but they did them not.
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“You stiff necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you” (Acts 7:51 Acts 7:51You stiff necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, you do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do you.
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).

“But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people” (Jeremiah 31:33 Jeremiah 31:33But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, said the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people.
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).

The Israelites didn’t have the heart needed to fully accomplish God’s will (Deuteronomy 5:29 Deuteronomy 5:29O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!
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). They resisted the Holy Spirit, as does all of mankind without the special calling of God. But God has a plan to make a new heart available to us all and to write His laws in our minds.

What role did Israel’s failure play in setting the stage for the New Testament Church?

“What then? Israel has not obtained what it seeks; but the elect have obtained it, and the rest were blinded. Just as it is written: ‘God has given them a spirit of stupor, eyes that they should not see and ears that they should not hear, to this very day.’ And David says: ‘Let their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a recompense to them. Let their eyes be darkened, so that they do not see, and bow down their back always.’ I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles. Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness!” (Romans 11:7-12 Romans 11:7-12 7 What then? Israel has not obtained that which he seeks for; but the election has obtained it, and the rest were blinded. 8 (According as it is written, God has given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear;) to this day. 9 And David said, Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumbling block, and a recompense to them: 10 Let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see, and bow down their back always. 11 I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come to the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy. 12 Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fullness?
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).

Paul explains that Israel, not having the Holy Spirit, was unsuccessful in becoming a righteous nation before God, but that God has not deserted the Israelites. They are temporarily blinded, and during this time God is calling people from other nations. But, says Paul, the time is coming when the people of Israel will all be saved (Romans 11:25-27 Romans 11:25-27 25 For I would not, brothers, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in. 26 And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: 27 For this is my covenant to them, when I shall take away their sins.
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). As a result of Christ’s sacrifice, God’s Spirit now is available to individuals of any nation or race who genuinely repent.

God’s ultimate purpose is salvation for all people, both Israelite and gentile (non-Israelite). Yet now only “the elect” are being transformed into the righteous servants of God, and both Israelites and gentiles can become part of His spiritually transformed people, His elect. This step, of course, historically required the next step in God’s plan, the founding of the Church.