Israel were meant to be God’s people. Throughout the scriptures, we see God calling on his people to be the living example to the world of what it is to be created in the image of God. They were to be his holy people reflecting his holy character as a witness of God’s glory across the earth. In doing so God made a covenant with his people and gave them the law to help them to be the holy people they were called to be. If Israel were to obey the law, we could have walked among the people of this nation and witnessed a society in which human dignity and value was the highest standard for the whole world even with the presence of sin. The punishments were designed to fit the crime, and compassion for sojourners, widows, poor and orphans were a regular feature in the law. It’s true that Israel were built into a national family related to the twelve sons of Jacob and allotted portions of the land of Cana according to those family groups. Primarily, however, when we think of Israel, we should remember that their calling was not to simply be a physical descendancy but a holy people of God. When Israel went after the other nations, it was not a problem because they were of different physical descendancy but because those nations were not worshipping and serving the one true God. As an example, one of the most beautiful portions of Israel’s history was about an Israelite man called Boaz marrying a Moabite woman called Ruth who was committed to Yahweh.
Israel was put into exile because they ran after the gods of the other nations and had followed the practices of the ungodly. They had lusted after the pleasures and practices of the world and as a result, had you walked among the people of Israel, you would have experienced an atmosphere of prejudice and injustice toward each other. The prophet Amos described this atmosphere as he rebuked those who fed their indulgences and harshly treated the needy. Amos 4:1-2 “Hear this word, you cows of Bashan, who are on the mountain of Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy. The Lord God has sworn by his holiness that, behold the days are coming upon you, when they shall take you away with hooks, even the last of you with fishhooks.” Injustice and perceptions of superiority within Israel brought this supposedly holy nation under the judgment of their God. They were not reflecting his character by not treating others created in the image of God with dignity. These verses in Amos are just one small example of the plethora of statements from Old Testament prophets warning Israel that their prideful prejudices would result in God’s judgment.
Israel experienced exile as they were dispersed throughout the other nations of Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon and their expulsion from the land lasted for generations. While Judah was in the midst of captivity in Babylon, the prophet Ezekiel was warning Judah’s leaders that they must heed God’s warning or face destruction (Ez. 33). Ezekiel warned that each person was responsible to hear the call of God and repent of sin. Within this warning is a call to specifically repent of the injustices that had become so prevalent among them. Ezekiel 33:14-16 Again, though I say to the wicked, 'You shall surely die,' yet if he turns from his sin and does what is just and right, 15 if the wicked restores the pledge, gives back what he has taken by robbery, and walks in the statutes of life, not doing injustice, he shall surely live; he shall not die. 16 None of the sins that he has committed shall be remembered against him. He has done what is just and right; he shall surely live.
In this same chapter, Ezekiel also warns Israel that there will be no restoration of them in the land if they do not repent. These people thought that the nation was their right as physical descendants of Abraham, but God made it very clear that to be at rest as God’s people in his presence requires repentance of sin and a life that trusts and obeys God. Ezekiel 33:23-25 The word of the LORD came to me: 24 "Son of man, the inhabitants of these waste places in the land of Israel keep saying, 'Abraham was only one man, yet he got possession of the land; but we are many; the land is surely given us to possess.' 25 Therefore say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: You eat flesh with the blood and lift up your eyes to your idols and shed blood; shall you then possess the land?
As we see what God has done with Israel in the Old Testament, it gives a strong message to the New Covenant people of God in Christ. We should expect the world to be a prejudicial place of oppression and injustice. God’s people are to be different. God calls us in his grace, and through faith in Christ we are a people who are to be the shining light of his holy character. When people walk into our churches, they should see love, care, justice, and a complete lack of sinful partiality. God demanded that his people saved by grace in the Old Testament were to be a repentant people of faith living out in active obedience to his word. Anything else would result in expulsion and it did. Today, the church should be a repentant people of faith living out in active obedience to the law of Christ. Anything else should result in expulsion. That expulsion should come through church discipline. The question is, does it?