Israel as a Royal Priest Among the Nations

Between their exodus from Egyptian slavery and their entrance into the new Eden, the land of promise, Israel encountered God at Mount Sinai. At God’s holy mountain, God commissioned Israel as a royal priest among the nations.

At Sinai, God announced the good news of divine grace and entrusted Israel with a vocation. The good news is that God carried Israel on eagles’ wings from Egypt to Sinai in order to begin a new relationship with them. God entered into covenant with them so that they would become God’s own possession. God would be their God, and they would be God’s people. God blessed Israel with God’s own presence and gave them status as God’s firstborn.

This status, however, came with responsibility.  When God created humanity as the image of God, humanity was invested with the responsibility to fill the earth with divine glory and care for it. In a similar way, when God created Israel, God entered into covenant with them, and called them “my children,” and God gave them a responsibility, a mission, a vocation.

Like humanity in the beginning, this mission arises out of their role as royal priests. Just as humanity—as the image of God—is a royal priest within the creation, so Israel is a royal priest among the nations. As royalty, they represent God in the world. They embody the values and life of God in their own community as God’s ambassadors. As priests, they mediate the presence and grace of God in the world. In their priestly role, Israel receives God’s blessing in order to bless the nations, and they invite the nations to hear the word of the Lord.

God wanted Israel to showcase wisdom and understanding, to display divine glory and righteousness. The Torah was a witness to the nations, and if Israel lived by its guidance, the nations would say, as Deuteronomy 4:6 anticipated, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” If Israel followed the Torah, they would embody wisdom, and they would show the nations how to live in peace, harmony, and justice. If Israel followed the Torah, Israel would flourish, and in their flourishing they would commend God’s wisdom to the nations.

The “Great Commission of the Hebrew Bible,” found in Isaiah 49:6, underscores Israel’s missional purpose:  they are a light for the nations and appointed to bring God’s salvation to the ends of the earth. Israel was not simply a means by which God would send the Messiah but also a witness to the holy love of God among the nations.  

As the image of God in the world, Israel served the nations as a shining city on a hill, a light in the darkness. At times, they succeeded, and at other times, they did not, just like us.

3 Responses to “Israel as a Royal Priest Among the Nations”

  1.   Anita Hassey Says:

    Well done, John MarkK! I’m wondering if you ever comment on the many variations of the idea that Israel is still, even now, God’s “chosen” whom He will protect until the end of time. As you well know, there are political ramifications to this point of view, and our foreign policy reflects this belief by many Evangelicals.

  2.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    As we move forward in the series, I will express an opinion about that in general terms, which I think is consistent with the trajectory of the story. In essence, I don’t think the political state of Israel is a fulfillment of God’s intent for Israel, but I do think there is a future role for the Jewish people with whom God has enacted an irrevocable covenant. More later. 🙂 I know…its a teaser.

  3.   Dwight Says:

    According to what we are told in the Gospels, the “nation of Israel” and the nation of the Gentiles were to be united under Christ, one nation…one nationality…the called out…the children of God. The fulfillment of Israel and the Law was Jesus, the Savior of mankind.

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