“A Special People unto Himself”

One great object of the Most High in locating Israel in olden time in a cleansed land was, that they might be a witness for Him among the surrounding nations (Isa. 44:8). And in order to that national witness, it was absolutely necessary that “the people should dwell alone, and not be reckoned among the nations (Num. 23:9). Whether in the wilderness, or whether afterwards in Canaan, still to separation was their distinctive calling. Ere yet they reached the promised land, very earnestly were they admonished to maintain that separation complete. The reason of this we have thus assigned: “For thou art a holy people unto the Lord thy God: the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto Himself” (Deut. 7:6). If, therefore, in that promised land—a purged land—sacred and earthly things were much co-mingled, it should be remembered that as a nation they had been chosen. Then the government was, strictly speaking, in part at least, theocratic, administered by the Most High Himself, through the intervention of the high priest. And, seeing that the nation as such were called to be a peculiar people, and caused to dwell in a prepared or purged land, therefore were they to abstain from all affinity with other nations. Alliances on their part with any of the surrounding nations were peremptorily forbidden, because they themselves nationally were in covenant with Jehovah. On His help alone were they to depend. Some of their best kings, as Asa for instance, did truly indeed assay to act contrary to the divine mandate, but then God’s prophet denounced the wickedness (2 Chron. 16:7). When again Jehoshaphat joined himself to Ahab for religious purposes, to Ahaz for commerce, and to Jehoram to increase his own military strength, then in each case his design was rendered abortive by the Most High. Hence, so entire was this separation to be preserved, that if some, even a majority, of the tribes of Israel wandered from God, then the remaining tribes were to keep themselves distinct from those also. Now, if this separation from others was so serious a matter, that when their best kings for a time ignored the principle, disaster quickly ensued, we may well understand how ruin was the inevitable consequence of that principle being utterly abandoned. First, vengeance overtook the ten tribes; and presently after, the remaining two were carried in retributive judgment to Babylon.

There, the two tribes appear to have learnt somewhat of the difficult lesson, that their separation, if it had been their weakness, had it been maintained, so it would have ever constitituted their strength. Whenever, weak and unaided, they had relied solely upon their God, then had they proved to be strong and invincible indeed. On the other hand, whenever they had leaned upon any arm of flesh, then were they shorn of their true strength, and became the scorn of their enemies. (See Isa. 30, 31.) Accordingly, when these returned from their seventy years’ captivity, as if clearly apprehending the cause of all their past woes, they perseveringly refused all connection and assistance even from the motley Samaritan nation. For then they replied to that people’s proffer of help: “Ye have nothing to do with us to build a house unto our God” (Ezra 4:3.) Noble, magnificent answer! Made, too, although that proffer had been joined with the specious pretext of their would-be partners: “We seek your God as ye do, and we sacrifice unto Him.” And their refusal was all the more self-denying, since it appears from the sequel how laborious was the work to their own unaided hand. And seeing further, that that persistency in separation provoked the Samaritans to that degree, that they procured for awhile the compulsory cessation of their work. Still, by faith they stood to their resolve. And this principle of separation was not only resolutely adhered to by these men of faith, as regards defilement from without, but as touching like impurity in their own midst also. Sedulously did they endeavour to sever themselves from all those who were wrongly, yet by one means or another, found among them (Neh. 9:1-2). This jealousy in their attention to this great duty, after their return from their captivity, can scarcely be accounted for otherwise than by the truth couched in our own familiar proverb: “A burnt child dreads the fire.”

If very many now, as was also the case in those days, prefer to all this slow and painful effort, slothful continuance in Babylon, may those who have returned therefrom, with equal jealousy to that of those pious Jews, see to it that they keep themselves from all connection with the accursed thing. And albeit the lovers of Babylon’s delights are to be left alone to the divine judgment and discrimination, let those who have escaped, continue for themselves, and for their testimony, the building of that wall which Babylon has, in abhorrence, so ruthlessly broken down. Let them proceed with their work, even though they have to endure the derisive jeers of some, or the scornful pity of others, at the paucity of their material (for few indeed, comparatively speaking, are truly separated unto God), and at their slow and insignificant advance. Never mind. If the evidence of two be ever ample to establish the truth which is testified; so where even two only are gathered together in the Name of Jesus alone, there, though unseen, is He. Is there lack of encouragement? The history of those times in type supplies it. Nehemiah’s position, after he had left the royal court, and commenced the building of the wall, was the most exalted he could have. The humility observable in his requests to God proves this. “Remember me,” he says, “O my God, for good” (Neh. 13:31). For what Christian is unaware that

“Nearest the throne shall ever be
The footstool of humility.”

And again, when the course of witnessing in the divine account is completed, the inspired history is finished, and nothing remains but for Christ to come. “The Lord whom ye seek shall suddenly come to His temple,” was then, and is again, the promise given. God keep us faithful! God speed the time.