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Deuteronomy 4:11-20 -

Israel's peculiar relation to God.

This paragraph sets forth in earnest appeal the peculiar and distinctive relation to God in which Israel was placed. (For the precise details of the point in their history here referred to, see Exodus 19:1-25 .; and for the application of several of the expressions used both here and there to believers in Christ under the Christian dispensation, see 1 Peter 2:9 .) Here is a noble theme for the preacher—Israel ' s special relation to God , typical of and fulfilled in the present relation of Christian people to him .

I. LET US STUDY THE PECULIAR RELATION OF ISRAEL TO GOD . "The Lord hath taken you, and brought you forth out of the iron furnace … to be unto him a people of inheritance ," i . e . a purchased or acquired people. So in Exodus 19:5 , Exodus 19:6 . The Lord had called Abraham, had made promises to him and to his seed. These promises ran down through Isaac and Jacob and the twelve patriarchs. Now their descendants had become numerous enough to form a nation; as such they had been duly constituted, with this peculiar feature—they were to be God's nation. They had been freed by him, they were consecrated to him, and were being trained by and for him. Hence, as Kalisch remarks, every subject is as it were a priest, and every civil action assumes the sanctity of a religious function: idolatry was an offence against his sovereignty, and therefore punishable with death; so blasphemy, false prophecy, Sabbath-breaking, were visited with the like punishment. Disrespect to elders, disobedience to parents (they being the representatives of God), were visited with sore penalties. Hence, too, the whole land belonged to God. The people were but tenants, and in the year of jubilee land reverted to its former owner or his heirs. The Israelites were the subjects and servants of God alone. Slavery, therefore, though not peremptorily put down, was so regulated that the slave went out free in the seventh year; and if he did not desire the freedom, he was branded with an ignominious mark because he refused the immediate sovereignty of God. £ Now, this expression, "God's nation," is the key wherewith to interpret many of the enactments which seem to us unintelligible, and many of the punishments which seem unusually severe. This truth, that Israel is the Lord's people, runs through the Old Testament Scriptures, as will be seen if we note the varied names by which they are distinguished.

1. God's son, his firstborn ( Exodus 4:22 , Exodus 4:23 ; Jeremiah 3:4 , Jeremiah 3:9 ; Hosea 11:1 ).

2. Firstfruits ( Jeremiah 2:3 ).

3. The people of God ( Psalms 81:8-11 ; 2 Samuel 7:23 , 2 Samuel 7:24 ).

4. God's inheritance ( Deuteronomy 32:9 ).

5. The people ( Deuteronomy 33:29 ).

6. The chosen ones ( Psalms 33:12 ; Deuteronomy 7:6 ).

7. His flock ( Jeremiah 13:17 ; Psalms 100:3 ).

8. The holy people ( Deuteronomy 7:6 ; Jeremiah 7:1-34 :44).

9. The righteous people ( Numbers 23:10 ; Exodus 19:6 ).

10. The house or the family of God ( Isaiah 1:2 ).

11. A kingdom ( Psalms 89:18 ).

Thus all Israelites were subjects of the same eternal, perfect King, all equal in dignity, rights, and duties. There was among them no institution resembling caste. All were equal in Heaven's eye; all enjoyed scope for the development of their spiritual nature. The poorest herdsman might become a prophet, if filled with the Spirit of God. And the intended differential feature of the whole nation was given to it by the revealed character of its King, "Be ye holy; for I am holy." It is no wonder that a people, selected thus for such a close relationship to God, should be called in the text, "a people of inheritance." Not, indeed, in Israel alone, was there a theocratic form of government. The kings of Egypt, the monarchs of Persia and Thibet, pretended to rule as the representatives of the gods. Minos among the Cretans, Lycurgus the Lacedaemonian, Numa of Rome, and Mohammed, all pretended to have in some sort Divine authority; but these were only the mimicry of the true, and were all lacking in the supreme point to and for which Jehovah was educating Israel, even for "righteousness and true holiness." It is easy enough to win converts by a certain mimicry of the Divine. The early history of many a nation is laden with mythology, but the early history of Israel stands out in clear and startling distinction from that of other peoples, in the clearness with which they witness for the one living and true God, the accordance of their early records with known life and manners, and the clear and striking demand in their precepts for love and goodness, holiness and truth. This was at the time, and ever will be in the history of that age, the one bright spot amid the surrounding gloom. The people were "a peculiar treasure to God above all people."

II. WHAT ISRAEL WAS DESIGNED TO BE AMONG THE NATIONS , CHRISTIAN PEOPLE ARE TO BE WHEREVER THEY ARE : a holy people unto the Lord their God. The Apostle Peter intimates this in the verse to which we referred at the outset (see also Titus 2:14 ; Ephesians 2:10 ; 1 Peter 1:15 , 1 Peter 1:16 ). There are many more passages in which believers are spoken of not only individually but collectively, as making up a family, a household, a city, a commonwealth ( Ephesians 2:12 , Ephesians 2:19 ; Philippians 3:20 , Greek). And there are four features which mark this new commonwealth, which correspond to those which marked that of the Hebrews.

1. The members of this Christian commonwealth are redeemed (cf. 1 Peter 1:18 , 1 Peter 1:19 ). From the curse of the Law, from the bondage of sin, believers have been redeemed by an offering of unspeakable value, even the precious blood of Christ.

2. Thus redeemed , they come to have such a knowledge of God as their God as the world has not and cannot have ( Romans 8:15 ; Galatians 4:5-7 ). They are redeemed out of a state of servitude into a state of sonship (cf. John 8:34-36 ).

3. They are redeemed to a life of close fellowship with God (cf. Deuteronomy 4:7 ; 1 John 1:1-3 ). They are at home in God.

4. They are redeemed to this close fellowship with God , that thereby they may become pure ; and that in this life of purity they may "show forth the praises of him who hath called them out of darkness into his marvelous light." Not one of these four stages must be lost sight of; redeemed out of sin and servitude, into sonship, to fellowship, for holiness. Not one of these features must be left out; nor can the order in which we have put them be reversed or even transposed. The only mark by which the world can know God's people is —their holiness ( Hebrews 12:14 ). It is not for naught that Scripture speaks of a great redemption. And no preacher preaches the gospel fully, who does not insist on its side of ethics as well as on its side of grace. And no professing Christian is worthy of the name he bears, who loses sight of holiness as the end to be attained, any more than he would be if he were to lose sight of the grace of God as that by which alone he can attain the end. How many of the controversies in the Church of God have arisen from an unequal perception of the varied truths of God's holy gospel! Out of an inadequate view of the evil of sin and of its affront to God's honor and government, many have felt but feebly the need of the Great Atoning Sacrifice, whereby the injured honor of the Law was vindicated and a redemption for man made possible! And then, on the other hand, through dwelling all but exclusively on the evil from which man is rescued, others have failed to insist sufficiently on the holiness for the sake of enabling him to attain which his rescue was effected at such a cost. Perhaps few preachers present in perfection an exactly balanced gospel. It is a doctrine according to godliness. Some decry doctrine because they see around them such a lack of godliness. But if we would have the godliness which is to illustrate the doctrine, we shall never secure the end by weakening the exhibition of the doctrine which, rightly used, will certainly lead to it. And not only do preachers need to take heed to both doctrine and practice, but private professors also. If we want the world to understand the value of the Christian religion as an object of revelation, we must show its power in a holy, personal life. If we want others to believe its doctrines to be superior to any other doctrines, we must show that the life it secures is superior to any other life. Thus must we be, like Israel, a peculiar people; showing to others that we have not been redeemed in vain. Be it ours to let our light so shine before men, that they may see our good works, and glorify our Father which is in heaven. Thus shall we show we are his people indeed.

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