Israel: A ‘Covenant Community’ Amidst Political Aspirations
Pr. Phinni Joseph
Israel is a nation related to Yahweh through a covenant. The descendants of Jacob came to be known as ‘the house of Israel ‘or the ‘house of Jacob’ in later years. Israel has a significant role in the eternal plan of God. They were chosen as a mediator for blessings. God has separated them from other nations around them. (Num. 23:9; Deut. 23:4-5). It was through the Call of Abraham that Israel took birth. (Gen. 12:1-2). This promise was reaffirmed to Isaac and Jacob in the later years. We can understand that through the twelve sons of Jacob, the great nation Israel took shape.
The real history of Israel begins with the redemption from Egypt. When the people came to Mount Sinai, the Lord gave the Laws and regulations through the hand of Moses. There were religious, ethical and social laws included in it. Though the people got freedom on the day when they came out of the land of Egypt, they became a sovereign nation only when they received the law at Mount Sinai. They began to shape themselves as a nation under the reign of god, subjected to obey the divine commandments. The Sinai covenant was established here. The covenant stipulations make clear the significant characteristics of the people of Israel:
i) Israel is the treasured possession of God,
ii) Royal priesthood
iii) Holy nation.
i) Israel as the Treasured Possession of God
God has chosen the nation Israel as a treasured possession, though the whole world belongs to him. As a separated nation, they stand as God’s own people. They were entitled to this status by being obedient to the commandments of God. They were given the commission to be witness among other nations as the representative of God.
ii) Israel as Royal Priesthood
The duty of a priest is to stand in the gap between God and human so as to intercede for the people. So also the duty given to people of Israel was also that of an intercessor. What is expected here is to take up the priestly commission so that the other nations would get an access to the presence of god. More than a political commission, God has given a responsibility of divine intercession. God’s purpose was to bless all nations through the people of Israel. God’s intention about Israel was to take up the noble responsibility of Intercession for World humanity.
iii) Holy Nation
‘Holiness’ is a significant theme in the Scriptures. It is not mere ritualistic 'do’s and don’ts' that holiness represents. Rather, a separation with a special purpose – therefore, separated things, instruments, individuals; communities cannot be used for ordinary purposes. Israel is separated unto God with a special purpose so that they cannot function as the gentile nations. They have to be under the reign of God and must be obedient and submissive to the statutes of God. Their lifestyle, religious rituals and practices, administration of the nation etc. should be in strict accordance with the Word of God. Only then are they entitled to the name ‘holy nation’.
Theocracy and Monarchy
Israel easily broke away from their purposes and responsibilities, though they were created with a noble cause. They have changed from theocracy to monarchy. They were influenced by the neighboring nations to follow their pattern of governance. Extending the borders, subduing the enemy and equipping the military etc. have become their sole aim - as with the every king. Hence, the scripture teaches us, the rule of kings in Israel was not pleasing to the Lord. They were exhausted by the political intrigues, luxurious life, worship of other gods and goddesses because they forgot their mission. We understand that though they were called to be a light to the gentiles, they became worse than the gentiles.
Socio-Political and Religious Nexus
The political and social life in Israel is closely integrated with the religious life of the people. There were three major offices to regulate these various aspects of their existence. The political system was governed by the kings, religious system by the priests and the prophets served as the spokesmen of justice and correction in the society. When the king began to rule in Israel the socio-political- religious nexus was affected. The kings began to interfere in the duties of the priest and religious system. So the priests could not work freely and discharge their responsibilities. This led to an unholy alliance with the political and religious leaders. The prophets of the 8th century testify that the princes and priests alike broke the commandments of the Lord. So, God raised up the prophets as corrective forces. When the people fell from the state of a ‘covenant community’ to a ‘political community’ ministry of prophets became an unavoidable necessity. The prophets exhorted the people to walk in the ways of justice and holiness so as to obey the commandments of the Lord.
God’s purpose for the people of Israel was not to be ‘political entity’ under a king as the other gentile nations but to be a ‘covenant community’ under the chosen leaders given by the Lord. Only then would they become a special treasure for God, a royal priest and a holy nation. Their mission was to be a witness for the Lord among the other nations, a light to the gentiles to declare the mighty acts of Yahweh to the coming generations.