The Model Nation That Wasn’t

On the cusp of the Promised Land, Moses told the Israelites,

See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?

Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children—how on the day that you stood before the LORD your God at Horeb, the LORD said to me, “Gather the people to me, that I may let them hear my words, so that they may learn to fear me all the days that they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children so.”

(Deuteronomy 4:5-10, ESV)

For a brief moment in human history, Israel was uniquely positioned to do something no nation has ever had the opportunity to do, before or since.

They could have shown the world what it looks like to be the people of God.

They could have shown the world what it looks like to “love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5) and what it looks like to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). In a world filled with abominations and wicked acts that would make our skin crawl today, Israel had the chance to make such an impact on the nations around them that the people around them would marvel at their wisdom and their intelligence.

That didn’t happen.

It took a single generation for Israel to do the exact opposite—to immerse themselves in the wickedness around them and leave behind the perfect, righteous laws given to them by God (Judges 2:7-15).

The rest is history. The nation had its occasional high points, but they were few and far between. From Exodus to the end of the Old Testament, Israel’s history is largely one of wasted potential and squandered opportunities. The chosen people of God ignored their purpose until there was no purpose left to ignore.

* * *

I said that no nation before or since has had the opportunity to do be what Israel could have been. That’s true. But there are people with that opportunity:

You. Me. Thousands upon thousands of our brothers and sisters around the world. We have the chance to do what Israel didn’t—just by choosing to do the right things.

We don’t need to be loud. Or ostentatious. Or confrontational. We just need to do the things God tells us to do. And you know what happens when we do?

People see.

They see us living a life that is fundamentally different than the lives around us, they see it being fueled by a Spirit that is fundamentally different than the spirits around us, and even if they violently disagree with who we are and what we do, they see. They take notice.

It won’t make sense right now. It doesn’t have to—and we don’t have to shove it in anyone’s face.

We just have to live it. When it’s easy, when it’s hard, when it’s challenged, when it’s ignored—it doesn’t matter. We live it because it’s right and good and we believe it and we want it.

“You are the light of the world,” Jesus told His disciples—told us. “A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).

That light flickers when we do what Israel did—when we immerse ourselves so deeply into the things of this world that it’s hard to spot the difference. That city on the hill gets a lot easier to hide when we start lowering ourselves and participating in the same shouting, the same name-calling, the same underhanded, dishonorable tactics that the world around us is using.

Oh, brethren. The world is fuming right now, and about so many things. It’s so tempting to throw ourselves into those angry debates, to take a stand for truth, to shout down everyone who can’t see what we see. But will they see lights when we do that? Will they see cities on hills?

Fighting the good fight as a soldier of God means remembering that “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). That’s our fight. That’s where our attention and focus needs to be—the illness, not the symptoms.

Keep fighting that good fight. Keep living the right life. Others are going to see that—and one day, it will make a difference.

“For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today? Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life.”

Israel didn’t keep its soul diligently.

We can and we must.

Until next time,
Jeremy

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