One way that we can make sense of the Church today is to look at the blueprint of how God built up a people to be His people. Since Christ doesn’t change, His consistency will be evident in how He dealt with ancient Israel and how He deals with the Church today.
As Moses prepared the children of Israel to enter the land of Canaan, he wrote the words of the law in a book and placed that book in the Ark of the Covenant. Then God through Moses addressed the people of Israel saying:
“He [God] found him in a desert land And in the wasteland, a howling wilderness; He encircled him, He instructed him, He kept him as the apple of His eye. As an eagle stirs up its nest, Hovers over its young, Spreading out its wings, taking them up, Carrying them on its wings, So the LORD alone led him, And there was no foreign god with him” (Deuteronomy 32:10–12).
The one takeaway is that God is working with His people and there is consistency in the way that He does it – past, present, and on into the future. He found them, instructed them, and kept them as the apple of His eye. These three attributes are important in building the relationship between God and Israel.
The word ‘found’ means to find as result following a time of seeking. We note that there is a caveat to being found of God: “Now it happened in the process of time that the king of Egypt died. Then the children of Israel groaned because of the bondage, and they cried out; and their cry came up to God because of the bondage. So God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. And God looked upon the children of Israel, and God acknowledged them.” (Exodus 2:23–25).
God was ‘seeking’ in the sense of His being open to His people; He remembers His covenant. With Israel, God found them over and over again when they were chastised and they turned to Him (Psalm 107:4-7,13).
When we cry out to God, God is in the attitude of wanting to continually find His people. He’s constantly seeking them: “When you are in distress, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, when you turn to the LORD your God and obey His voice (for the LORD your God is a merciful God), He will not forsake you nor destroy you, nor forget the covenant of your fathers which He swore to them” (Deuteronomy 4:30–31).
God’s correction never means He is rejecting. God finds those who take His correction to heart, those who respond to Him. As our Father desires a relationship with us and seeks us out, we are to reciprocate by seeking Him. If we seek God He will listen, and we will be found by Him. That’s an attribute of God (Isaiah 41:8-10).
The second attribute was that God instructed them. The word “instruct” means to separate or to distinguish mentally. It’s not just simply the transfer of information. God’s instruction is the development of a state of mind, to have a presence of mind to be able to separate right from wrong, good from evil and to distinguish what God wants among His people: “You came down also on Mount Sinai, and spoke with them from heaven, and gave them just ordinances and true laws, good statutes and commandments” (Nehemiah 9:13).
God’s instruction provides understanding that allows us to take God’s principles and learn to use them for determining between the way of the world and the way of God. Their wandering in the wilderness was not aimless even if it may have appeared so to them. God was training them for the task that He had originally set for them, to be His representative nation.
Even though Israel did not choose to live by God’s laws, statutes, and judgements, He did not forsake them: “Yet in Your manifold mercies You did not forsake them in the wilderness. The pillar of the cloud did not depart from them by day, to lead them on the road; Nor the pillar of fire by night, to show them light, and the way they should go. You also gave Your good Spirit to instruct them, and did not withhold Your manna from their mouth, and gave them water for their thirst. Forty years You sustained them in the wilderness; They lacked nothing; Their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell” (I Kings 3:19-21).
Their time in the wilderness was not just simply God punishing them because of some of the decisions they had made relevant to entering the land of Canaan. God worked with His people during the forty years that they were in the wilderness. His purpose was not overcome by the errant conduct of His people. They made some bad decisions. God wanted them to enter the land right away after they’d left Mount Sinai. They chose not to go in because they thought the people were too fearful, too big, too this, too that. Yet God continued to work with them very closely, using their circumstances to further instruct them through His laws, statutes and just judgments.
God also kept them, as the apple of His eye. His tenderest care carefully preserved them. King David says this about God: “I have called upon You, for You will hear me, O God; Incline Your ear to me, and hear my speech. Show Your marvelous lovingkindness by Your right hand, O You who save those who trust in You from those who rise up against them. Keep me as the apple of Your eye; Hide me under the shadow of Your wings, From the wicked who oppress me, From my deadly enemies who surround me” (Psalm 17:6–9).
So many times, Israel had the opportunity to stand still and see the salvation of the Lord. At the Red Sea when escaping Egypt, and when God defeated large armies coming against them and Israel didn’t have to do anything. He kept His people safe throughout the forty wilderness years. At the end, they could not have thought anything else other than God was protecting them as the apple of His eye.
God was developing His nation before they move into the land of Canaan (Deuteronomy 26.15-19). Israel’s governing system was a system of priests who were to teach the people how to relate to and how to worship God. God was working with the individual components that made up the nation. The book of Leviticus is God’s guidebook for His newly redeemed people showing them how to worship, serve and obey a Holy God.
Each individual was taught to think for themselves under the tutelage of a priest, whose job it was to focus attention on God. The development of each individual was to complement the whole. He intended that the collective unit would be a holy representative of Him and a representative to the people they had been separated from.
Think about the alternative for a moment, in particular, the form of government that developed under Nimrod. In Genesis 10 we see the development of an extensive kingdom under the rule of one despotic man. The focus of this form of government is dominion, control, power and expansion.
God’s nation was different from the government structure of mankind. It was different from the nations roundabout, the way they functioned. God’s Kingdom focuses on the development of the individual – individual character demonstrating how individuals and nations were to live. God’s laws required individual responsibility and accountability, a godly standard which they quickly failed to live up to.
After Joshua died, God gave Israel a period of time under judges. But “in those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). Israel collapsed into a heap of confused hyper-individualism.
The intended individual character became individual self-seeking, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind just like the nations around them. They turned to the style of the governments of this world.
So, what about the Church, spiritual Israel today? Paul explains in Acts 13:17-23 the transition from physical ancient Israel to the Church. Then Paul begins a discussion relative to the Church:
“And we declare to you glad tidings—that promise which was made to the fathers. God has fulfilled this for us their children, in that He has raised up Jesus. . . . Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins; and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses. . . . For so the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have set you as a light to the Gentiles, That you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.’ ” (Act 13: 32-33, 38-39, 47).
Exactly the same concept for Israel of old as the present Church. Through Jesus Christ, God has found His people. He instructs His people, and He keeps them with the objective of a people representing Him. Each follower of Christ makes up the spiritual organism founded by Him. We spiritually were all in a desert wilderness, a waste howling wilderness with no spiritual food to sustain us and no protection from Satan (Ephesians 2:2-5). And God found us (I Corinthians 8:3).
God seeks, God found us. And God surrounds His people: “As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds His people from this time forth and forever” (Psalm 125:2).
We are in a “sheep fold” and God is offering protection for us in that fold. God instructs His Church not just as in a formal presentation as a sermon or a Bible Study. He uses whatever situation we put ourselves into or that He allows to happen to us. God continues to work with His people as He did with Israel.
The role of the Church is built upon the individual components of the body, as living stones being built together into a spiritual temple. Each stone is an important element of that temple. Each member is taught to think and act with individual responsibility and accountability just as Israel was. We are to work out our own salvation.
It’s not every man doing that which is right in his own eyes. It’s working out our own salvation with our eye completely on God and the standards that He has instructed us in. Each of us is required to individually surrender to God, a surrender that transforms our mind into the mind of Christ. Now is a time of building individual character.
We must make decisions; we must choose to obey God. There is no government structure in the Church to mirror the structure of Israel that forces us to do anything. Because that doesn’t build character. It is developed by our choosing to do the right thing, our discerning, our making a separation between Satan’s way and God’s way. If we all have the mind of Christ and we are all submitting voluntarily to the will of God we’re going to end up thinking in similar ways.
God’s Church does not follow the government structure that some practice as far as the Babylonian system. A dictatorial human monarchy does not work in terms of cohesion. It doesn’t work in terms of character development. It didn’t work in Israel. God initiated a system that pushed the responsibility down upon the people. That’s not abrogating any responsibility at the top. The priesthood had that responsibility, but the people were responsible to build their own relationship with God. God’s government requires voluntary submission in acceptance of God’s teachings.
While most of the pattern of Israel fits very well, we must write a different conclusion to the story. Israel descended into anarchy as individuals replaced individual character development. We must see with a clear spiritual perception the latter end for which God is preparing us. He promised that He would prepare a nation of priests, a special people to be a light to the nations.
With character development comes chastening to correct the thinking and behavior that is contrary to God’s way. “Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).
“Blessed is the man whom You instruct, O Lord, and teach out of Your law, That You may give him rest from the days of adversity, until the pit is dug for the wicked. For the Lord will not cast off His people, nor will He forsake His inheritance. But judgment will return to righteousness, and all the upright in heart will follow it” (Psalm 94:12-15).
God is instructing us out of His law. God has not cast off His people. God is turning judgment into righteousness, an individual at a time. God is training us individually in the building His character as He prepares the Church for the role of being a holy nation. A light to all the nations.