The Present Truth : January 14, 1897
When God sent Moses to lead Israel from Egypt, His message to Pharaoh was, “Israel is My son, even My firstborn; and I say unto thee, Let My son go, that he may serve Me” (Exodus 4.22, 23); and He brought them forth, and gave them the lands of the heathen, “that they might observe His statutes and keep His laws.” Psalm 105.44, 45. The great advantage of the Jews over other people was that “unto them were committed the oracles of God.” Romans 3.1, 2. To be sure they did not receive those “lively oracles” in all their living power, and thus make their advantage infinitely greater; but that was not the fault of God, and we are not now considering what Israel actually had and were, but what they might have possessed, and what they ought to have been.
Two things have always been true namely, that “no man liveth unto himself,” and that “God is no respecter of persons;” and these two truths combined form a third, which is, that whenever God bestows any gift or advantage upon any person, it is in order that he may use it for the benefit of others. God does not bestow blessings upon one person or people that He does not wish all to have. When He promised a blessing to Abraham, it was in order that he might be a blessing—that in him all the people of the earth might be blessed. It was in the line of the promise to Abraham that God delivered Israel. Therefore, in giving them the advantage of possessing His law, it was that they might make known to other people that inestimable advantage, so that the other people also might share it.
God’s purpose was that His name should be made known in all the earth. Exodus 9.15. His desire that all people should know Him was as great as that the children of Israel should know Him. To know the only true God, is life eternal (John 17.3); therefore in revealing Himself to Israel, God was showing them the way of Eternal life, or the Gospel, in order that they might proclaim the same Gospel to others. The reason why God made Himself known to Israel in so marked a manner, was that they were, so to speak, nearer at hand than other people. The memory of God’s dealing with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph, and of their faith, was preserved among the Jews, thus making them more accessible. God chose them, not because He loved them more than He did others, but because He loved all men, and would make Himself known to them by means of the agents that were nearest at hand. The idea that God ever was exclusive, and that He ever confined His mercies and truth to one special people, is most dishonoring to His character. Never did He leave the heathen without witness of Himself, and wherever He could find a man or people that would consent to be used, them He straightway enlisted in His service, to make a more full revelation of Himself.
Effect of the Proclamation of the Gospel in Egypt
The Gospel is the power of God to salvation, and since God’s mighty power was exhibited in the salvation of Israel from Egypt, it is evident that the Gospel was at that time proclaimed, as it has never been since. The effect of that proclamation is shown by the words of a heathen woman, the harlot Rahab. When the two spies came to her house in Jericho, she concealed them, and said to them: —
“I know that the Lord hath given you the land, and that your terror is fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the waters of the Red Sea for you, when ye came out of Egypt; and what ye did unto the two kings of the Amorites, that were on the other side of Jordan, Sihon and Og, whom ye utterly destroyed. And as soon as we had heard these things our hearts did melt, neither did there remain any more courage in any man, because of you; for the Lord your God; He is God in Heaven above, and in earth beneath.” Joshua 2.9-11. And then she begged for and received the promise of deliverance.
“By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies in peace.” Hebrews 11.31. That which happened to her might have been the lot of every other resident of Jericho, provided they had exercised the same faith that she did. They had heard the same things that she had, and knew as a matter of fact, as well as she did, that “Jehovah your God, He is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath.” But knowledge is not faith. The devils know that there is one God, but they have no faith. Faith is trust—submission. Rahab was willing to submit to the requirements of God, and to live as one of His people, while her fellow-countrymen were not. In her case we see the evidence that God saves people, not because they are good, but because they are willing to be made good. Jesus is sent to bless us, in turning us away from our iniquities. That poor heathen woman of disreputable life, who could utter a lie with a composed countenance, and with no consciousness of guilt, had a most meager idea of the difference between right and wrong; yet God acknowledged her as one of His people, because she did not turn away from light, but walked in it as it came to her. She believed to the saving of her soul. Her faith lifted her out of her sinful surroundings, and set her in the way of knowledge; and no stronger evidence can be found that Christ is not ashamed to acknowledge even the heathen as His brethren, than the fact that He is not ashamed to have one of them, a harlot, to boot, recorded in the roll of His ancestry after the flesh.
God’s Solicitude for all Men
But the special point in this reference to Rahab is that God had not shut Himself up to the Jewish people. Wherever there was an idolatrous inhabitant of Canaan, who was willing to acknowledge God, that moment he was enrolled among God’s people. This lesson is not merely theoretical, the point being that the promise to Abraham included all the world, and not merely the offspring of Jacob, but it is practically consoling and uplifting. It shows us how longsuffering the Lord is, “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3.9. It shows us how quickly God seizes upon the slightest inclination to seek Him, and uses it as a means of drawing the erring soul still nearer. He gently breathes upon the tiniest spark, if possibly it may be enlarged to a flame. His ear is continually turned to earth, alert to catch the faintest whisper, so that the feeblest cry, yea, the first impulse to call, from the lowest depths, is instantly heard and responded to.
Priests of God
That God’s design for Israel was that they should proclaim the Gospel to all the world, is seen in the fact that if they abode in His covenant they were to be a kingdom of priests. All were to be priests of God. Now the work of a priest is thus set forth in Malachi 2.5-7, where God says of Levi: —
“My covenant was with him of life and peace; and I gave them to him for the fear wherewith He feared Me, and was afraid before My name. The law of truth was in his mouth, and iniquity was not found in his lips; he walked with Me in peace and equity, and did turn many away from iniquity. For the priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth; for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts.”
To turn men away from iniquity, is the work of Christ through His resurrection; therefore the work of the true Priest is simply to preach the Gospel; —to proclaim the living Saviour, in whom is the living law that is perfect, converting the soul. But since all the children of Israel were to be priests, and therefore all familiar with the law, it is evident that they were to be priests in behalf of others, and not merely to be settled teachers among themselves. If they had accepted God’s proposition, and been content to abide in His covenant instead of insisting on one of their own, there would have been no need of any priesthood to make the law of truth and peace known to them; they would all have known the truth, and consequently all have been free; but the office of a priest is to teach the law, and therefore it is positive that God’s purpose in bringing Israel out of Egypt was to send them all over the world preaching the Gospel.
What an easy and speedy task this would have been for them, backed by the power of God! The fame of what God had done in Egypt had preceded them, and as they went forth with the same power, they could preach the Gospel in its fullness to people already prepared to accept or reject. Leaving their wives and little ones safe in the land of Canaan, and going out two by two, as Jesus afterward sent forth His disciples, it would have taken them but a short time to carry the Gospel to the remotest parts of the earth. Suppose enemies attempted to oppose their progress? One could chase a thousand, and two put ten thousand to flight. That is, the power of the presence of God with any two of them would render them in the eyes of their enemies equal to ten thousand men, and none would dare attack them. So they could go about their appointed work of preaching the Gospel, without fear of molestation. The terror which their presence would inspire in opposers, shows the power which the message they proclaimed would have on hearts open to receive truth.
As they should go forth thus clothed with the full power of God, the ground would not need to be gone over the second time. All who heard would at once take their position either for or against the truth; and this decision would be final, since when one rejects the Gospel proclaimed in its fullness, that is with the mighty power of God, there is nothing more that can be done for him, for there is no greater power than that of God. So a very few years, or possibly months, after the crossing of the Jordan, would have sufficed for the preaching of the Gospel of the kingdom in all the world as a witness to all nations.
Evidences of God’s Impartiality
But Israel did not fulfill its high calling. Unbelief and self-trust deprived them of the prestige with which they entered the Promised Land. They did not let their light shine, and so in time they themselves lost it. They were content to colonize in Canaan, instead of possessing the whole earth. They assumed that the light, which God had given them, was due to the fact that He loved them better than He did others, and so they became haughty, and despised others. Nevertheless God ceased not to indicate to them that they were to be the light of the world. The history of the Jews, instead of showing that God was shut up to them, shows that He was continually trying to use them to make His name known to others. Witness the account of Naaman the Syrian, who was sent to the king of Israel to be healed of his leprosy. See the case of the widow of Sarepta, to whom Elijah was sent. The Queen of Sheba came from far to hear the wisdom of Solomon. Jonah was sent, much against his will, to warn the Ninevites, who repented at his preaching. Read the prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, and see how often the various nations are directly appealed to. All of these things show that God was not then, any more than now, the God of the Jews only, but of the Gentiles also. At last, when Israel had utterly refused to fulfill the mission to which God had called them, He sent them into captivity, that thus the heathen might receive some of the knowledge of God, which they would not impart voluntarily. There a few faithful souls were the means of bringing the truth clearly before the heathen king Nebuchadnezzar, who in time humbly acknowledged God, and published his confession of faith throughout the whole earth. King Cyrus, also, and other Persian kings, in royal proclamations made known the name of the one true God in all the world.
Gathering into One Fold
Thus we see that there was nothing God so much desired as the salvation of the heathen round about the Jews, and not only of those near at hand, but those who were most distant, for the promises were not only to the Jews and their children, but to all that were “far off.” See Acts 2.39; Isaiah 47.19. That God made no difference between Jews and Gentiles is seen in the fact that Abraham, the head of the Jewish race, was himself a Gentile, and received the assurance of acceptance with God while he was yet uncircumcised, “that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also.” Romans 4.11, 12. God was always as ready to accept people from among the heathen, as He was when He called Abraham out from among them. When Christ came, He declared that He was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and even while He said that, He showed who were the lost sheep of the house of Israel, by sending healing to a believing heathen woman. Matthew 15
What Christ did for that Canaanitish woman, He was equally ready and anxious to do for every believing inhabitant of Canaan and of the whole world, in the days of Joshua. All who did not stubbornly cling to their idols, were to be gathered into the fold of Israel, till there should be but one fold, under the One Shepherd. There was salvation for all who would accept it, but they must become Israelites indeed.
Israel to be Separate
It was for this reason that the Israelites were forbidden to make any league with the inhabitants of the land. A league implies likeness, equality, the union of two similar powers. But Israel, when true to its calling, had nothing in common with the inhabitants of the land. They were to be a separate people, separate solely because of the sanctifying presence of the Lord. When God said to Moses, “My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest,” Moses replied, “If Thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence. For wherein shall it be known here that I and Thy people have found grace in Thy sight? is it not in that Thou goest with us? so shall we be separated, I and Thy people, from all the people that are upon the face of the earth.” Exodus 33.14-16. To make a league with the nations round them, was to be joined to them, and that meant separation from the presence of God. The presence of God was the one thing that would make and keep the people of Israel separate from the nations, and His presence could have no other effect than that very thing. The presence of God will do the same thing in these days, for He changes not. Therefore if one should say that it is not necessary for the people of God to be separate from the nations, he would really be saying that it is not necessary for them to have God’s presence.
The same principle was involved when the people wanted a king. Read the account in 1 Samuel 8. The people said to Samuel, “Give us a king to judge us like all the nations.” The thing displeased Samuel, and doubtless hurt his feelings, but the people insisted, saying, “Give us a king to judge us.” Then the Lord said to Samuel, “Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee; for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them. According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day, wherewith they have forsaken Me, and served other gods, so do they also unto thee.” Then Samuel, at the command of the Lord, set before the people some of the evils that would result if they had a king; but they refused to be persuaded, saying, “Nay, but we will have a king over us, that we may be like all the nations.”
In the Bible the “nations” are the heathen. The Hebrew word, which is often rendered “nations”, is the identical word from which the word “heathen” always comes. Perhaps Psalm 96.5 makes the case as clear as may be to the English reader. “For all the gods of the nations are idols; but the Lord made the heavens.” Here it is very evident that the “nations” are heathen. In Psalm 2. where we read, “Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?” The Revision has it. “Why do the nations rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?” Such an idea as a “Christian nation” is as much a contradiction of terms as a “Christian heathen,” or a “Christian sinner.” A “nation” in God’s use of the term, when speaking of earthly nations, is a collection of heathen. So what the Jews really said was this: “We will have a king over us, that we also may be like all the heathen.” That was what they wanted, because all other people acknowledged other gods than Jehovah, and all the people on earth, with the exception of Israel, had kings over them. The Danish Bible renders 1 Samuel 8.20 plainly, “We will also be like all the heathen.”
God’s plan for Israel was that it should not be a nation. We are apt to look at what was, as though it was what ought to have been, forgetting that from first to last the people refused, to a greater or less extent, to walk in the counsel of God. We see the Jewish people with judges, and officers, and all the paraphernalia of civil government; but we must remember that God’s covenant provided something far different, which, on account of unbelief, they never fully realized.
Israel the Church of Christ
The word “church” is in very common use, yet perhaps comparatively few of those who use it realize that it is from a Greek word which means “called out,” and that it applies to Israel more than to any other people. They constituted God’s church; they had been called out of Egypt. In the Old Testament they are referred to as “the congregation,” that is, those who were assembled or had flocked together; for they formed the Lord’s flock, of which He was Shepherd. God is known as the “Shepherd of Israel.” Psalm 80.1; see also 23.1. So the church in later times is called God’s flock. Acts 20.28. Stephen, in his talk before the Sanhedrim, spoke of Israel as “the church in the wilderness.”
There is but one church, for the church is Christ’s body (Ephesians 1.19-23), and there is but one body. Ephesians 4.4. That one church is composed of those who hear and follow the voice of Christ, for Christ says: “My sheep hear My voice,” “and they follow Me.” John 10.27. That church in the wilderness is therefore identical with the true church of Christ in every age. This is most clearly shown by Hebrews 3.2-6. As you read the passage; remember, “The house of God” is “the church of the living God.” 1 Timothy 3.15. Now the text says that Christ was faithful in the house of God, even as Moses was. Moses was faithful in the house of God as a servant, and Christ as a Son over the same house, “whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.” Jesus was called out of Egypt, as it is written, “Out of Egypt have I called my Son.” Matthew 2.15. He was the Head and Leader of the host that came out with Moses. 1 Corinthians 10.1-10. Christ and Moses therefore, are in the same fellowship and communion, and whoever is a partaker of Christ, must acknowledge Moses as a brother in the Lord.
These facts are most important, since as we learn God’s plan for Israel, we learn the true model for the church of God in all ages, even unto the end. We may not indiscriminately quote what Israel did, as authority for what we should do, since they often rebelled against God, and their history is more often a record of apostasy than of faith; but we may and should study God’s promises and reproofs to them, for what He had for them He has also for us.
The Church the Kingdom
The people of Israel constituted a kingdom from the beginning, centuries before Saul was set over them; for the church of God is His kingdom, and His subjects are all His children. The “household of God” is “the commonwealth of Israel.” Ephesians 2.19. Christ, with the Father, sits upon “the throne of grace,” and the true church acknowledges Him, and Him only, as Lord. The Apostle John, in writing to the church, subscribes himself, “your brother, and companion in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ.” Revelation 1.2. Christ declared Himself to be a King, even the King of the Jews (Matthew 27.11), and received homage as “the King of Israel.” John 1.49. But even while claiming to be king, Jesus declared, “My kingdom is not of this world; if My kingdom were of this world, then would My servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now is My kingdom not from thence.” John 18.36. As Christ’s kingdom is not of this world, so His church, His body, the people whom He has chosen and called out of the world, are to form no part of the world, although in it. It is to make no sort of alliance with the world, for any purpose whatever. Its sole use in the world is to be the light of the world, the salt by which as much of the world as possible is to be preserved. It is to be no more a part of the world than the light is of the darkness in which it shines. “What communion hath light with darkness?” 2 Corinthians 6.14. There are two distinct classes on earth—the church and the world; but when the church forms an alliance with the world, whether formally, or by adopting the world’s methods or principles, then there is really only one class—the world. By the grace of God, however, there have always been a faithful few, even in the time of greatest apostasy.
Not a Theocracy
It is quite common to speak of Israel as a theocracy. This is indeed what God designed it to be, and what it should have been, but what in the truest sense it never was. Least of all was Israel a theocracy when the people demanded an earthly king, “that we also may be like all the heathen,” for in so doing they rejected God as their King. It is passing strange the people will refer to what Israel did in direct opposition to the wishes of God, as a warrant for similar action on the part of the church now, and to their rejection of God as evidence that they were ruled by His power.
The word “theocracy” is a combination of two Greek words, and means literally, “the rule of God.” A true theocracy, therefore, is a body in which God is sole and absolute ruler. Such a government has rarely been seen on this earth, and never to any great extent. A true theocracy existed when Adam was first formed and placed in Eden, when “God saw everything that He had made, and, behold, it was very good.” Genesis 1.31. God formed Adam of the dust of the ground, and set him over the works of His hands. He was made ruler “over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.” Genesis 1.26. He therefore had all power given to him. But at his best state, when crowned with glory and honor, Adam was but dust, with no more power in himself than the dust on which he walked. Therefore the mighty power that was manifested in him was not his own power at all, but the power of God working in him. God was absolute Ruler, but it pleased Him, so far as this earth was concerned, to reveal His power through man. During Adam’s loyalty to God there was therefore a perfect theocracy on this earth.
Such a theocracy has never existed since, for man’s fall was the acknowledging of Satan as the god of this world. But individually it existed in its perfection in Christ, the second Adam, in whose heart was God’s law, and in whom dwelt all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. When Christ shall have renewed the earth and restored all things as in the beginning, and there is but one fold and one Shepherd, one king in all the earth, that will be a perfect theocracy. The will of God will be done in all the earth as it now is in heaven. Christ is now gathering out a people in whom His character will be reproduced, in whose hearts He will dwell by faith, so that each one of them, like Himself, may “be filled with all the fullness of God.” Ephesians 3.17-19. These gathered ones constitute the church of Christ, which, as a whole, is “the fullness of Him that filleth all in all.” Ephesians 1.22, 23. So while the true theocracy is first of all in the heart of individuals who day by day sincerely say to their heavenly Father, “Thine is the kingdom,” the multitude of them that believe—the church—when perfectly joined together in the same mind by the Holy Spirit, constitutes the only true theocracy that has ever existed in this earth. When the church is apostate, it seeks by alliances with the world, by assuming kingly power, to exhibit a theocratic form of government, but it is only a counterfeit form, with no Divine power, whereas God’s true followers, few in number, scattered throughout the world, and unknown to the nations, furnish an example of a real theocracy.
Through the prophet who opened his mouth to curse, but who instead uttered blessings, God said of His people Israel, “The people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations.” Numbers 23.9. The people of God are in the world, not of it, for the purpose of showing forth the excellency of Him who has called them out of darkness. But this they can do only as they acknowledge God to be supreme. The church is the kingdom in which God rules alone, and its only law is God’s law of love. It is God’s voice alone that it hears and follows, and it is God’s voice alone that speaks through it.
No Earthly Model
Nothing among earthly kingdoms or associations of whatever kind can serve as a model for the true theocracy, God’s church and kingdom; nor can the acts of human organizations be taken as precedents. It is unique in every particular, depending on none of the things upon which human governments depend for the maintenance of unity, and yet so marvelous an exhibition of order and harmony and power, that it astonishes all.
But although the true people of God are to dwell alone, not reckoned among the nations, and consequently having no part in the direction or management of civil governments, they are by no means indifferent to the welfare of mankind. Like their Divine Head, their mission is to do good. As Adam was the son of God (Luke 3.38), the whole human facility, although fallen, are His children, —prodigal sons, —and therefore God’s true children will regard all men as their brethren, for whose welfare and salvation they are to labor. Their work is to reveal God to the world as a kind and loving Father, and this they can do only by allowing His love to shine forth in their lives.
Christ’s kingdom on earth has as its sole work to show by practical likeness to Christ, its allegiance to Him as rightful Lord of all, and by thus showing forth His excellencies, to induce as many as possible to accept Him as King, so that they may be prepared to receive Him when He comes on the throne of His glory. Matthew 25.31. Christ, the King, came into the world for no other purpose than to bear witness to the truth (John 18.37), and so His loyal subjects have no other object in life; and the power by which they witness is that of the Holy Ghost abiding in them, and dwelling in them (Acts 1.8), and not by their mingling in political or social strife. For a little while after Christ’s ascension to heaven, the church was content with this power, and wonderful progress was made in the work of preaching the Gospel of the kingdom; but soon the church began to adopt worldly methods, and its members to interest themselves in the affairs of State, instead of Christ’s kingdom, and the power was lost. But let it be remembered that in those days of the church’s loyalty, the very same power was present that was given to Israel for the same purpose hundreds of years before; and remember further that the people through whom the power of God was thus manifested were in both instances the very same, “for salvation is of the Jews.” John 4.22
“As for God, His way is perfect,” and we know that “whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever; nothing can be put to it, nor anything taken from it; and God doeth it, that men should fear before Him.” Ecclesiastes 3.14. Therefore although Israel in the days of the judges and the prophets proved unfaithful to their trust, and the same church from the days of the apostles has been to a large extent unmindful of its privileges and duty, the time must come when the church—the Israel of God—shall come out from the world and be separate, and so, free from all earthly entanglements, and depending alone upon Christ, will shine forth as the morning, “fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners.”