We know from our studies of the Old Testament that the Hebrews were selected to be God’s chosen people.
Deuteronomy 7:6 For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth.
As God’s chosen people, the Israelites were meant to be a “holy nation” (Exodus 19:6), entrusted with preserving the Law (Joshua 22:5), and intended to bring “renown and praise and honor” to the Lord (Jeremiah 13:11).
…And they failed spectacularly.
Thus, we read in that there was to be a transition. This was actually foretold by the Prophet Isaiah...
Isaiah 65:15 And ye shall leave your name for a curse unto my chosen: for the Lord GOD shall slay thee, and call his servants by another name
Jesus eventually fulfilled this prophecy in the New Testament.
Matthew 21:43 Therefore say I unto you, the kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.
Much like other Old Testament to New Testament changes, the shift was to be from the physical realm to the spiritual… No longer would the Jewish nation – blood descendants of Abraham and Jacob – bear the distinction of being called “God’s Chosen People”, but instead those disciples of Jesus who would come to be called Christians.
1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light…
One of the biggest alterations from the Old Testament to the New is the passing of this mantle, “God’s Chosen People” from the Jewish nation to the Christians.
Whereas the Hebrews claimed this as a birthright, Christians to this day make a conscious choice to follow Jesus and serve Him.
Then Why Even Bother with the Old Testament?
Knowing that the Old Testament no longer applies today and that Israel is no longer God’s chosen it would be tempting to simply not study the Old Testament at all.
However, we cannot overlook the importance of the Israelites’ time as God’s special people and we certainly cannot afford to overlook their example.
1 Corinthians 10:11 Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.
Romans 15:4 For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.
Therefore, as we go through this lesson pay attention to the ways in which the Israelites failed to live up to their chosen status. Be sure to take careful note, because as God’s chosen people today we can fail in the same exact ways!
The Failures of God’s Chosen People
• Lack of Faith
It’s frustrating to consider that a people who witnessed so many miraculous events would have any trouble with faith in God, but that is exactly the problem the Israelites had!
Time and time again, we read of the Israelites complaining against God, often in situations in which they found themselves overwhelmed with some peril they thought to be greater than God.
For example, just after they had left Egypt and were preparing to cross the Red Sea, Pharaoh and his six hundred chariots began to pursue them.
Exodus 14:10-12 And when Pharaoh drew near, the children of Israel lifted their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians marched after them. So they were very afraid, and the children of Israel cried out to the Lord. Then they said to Moses, “Because there were no graves in Egypt, have you taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you so dealt with us, to bring us up out of Egypt? Is this not the word that we told you in Egypt, saying, ‘Let us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than that we should die in the wilderness.”
Recall that these same people had not long ago witnessed the 10 plagues God unleashed upon the Egyptians! Did they not trust that the same God would protect and deliver them in this instance?
Likewise, we read in the book of Numbers that Moses sent out spies to scout out the Promised Land of Canaan which the Israelites were destined to conquer. While a few spies brought back a good report, the majority were overly negative, seeing the people of Canaan as being too great of a threat. Ignoring the good report and God’s longstanding promise of a land of their own, the Israelites vocalized a familiar lament…
Numbers 14:1-3 So all the congregation lifted up their voices and cried, and the people wept that night. And all the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron, and the whole congregation said to them, “If only we had died in the land of Egypt! Or if only we had died in this wilderness! Why has the Lord brought us to this land to fall by the sword, that our wives and children should become victims? Would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?”
Isn’t it sad to think that there were numerous occasions in which the Israelites were so lacking in faith that they actually grieved the fact that God liberated them from slavery in Egypt?
As Christians, we too can struggle in our faith. Like the Israelites, we can forget how God cares for us and promises to continue to do so!
Hebrews 11:6 But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
Matthew 6:31-33 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.
God promises to take care of our physical needs, but more importantly, He also takes care of our spiritual needs. We cannot allow ourselves to lose our faith in God!
Complaining, grumbling, feelings of entitlement… This is easily one of the most annoying aspects about reading about the Israelites wanderings: their constant complaining!
Remember that when the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness that God provided them with bread (manna) from Heaven? Apparently, the miraculous food that God gave to the Israelites wasn’t good enough!
Numbers 11:4-6 Now the mixed multitude who were among them yielded to intense craving; so the children of Israel also wept again and said: “Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish which we ate freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our whole being is dried up; there is nothing at all except this manna before our eyes!”
How petty they were! (And how bad their breath must have been!)
It’s easy to be repelled at the Israelites’ whiny dissatisfaction, but how often do we find ourselves overlooking the blessings God has given us and craving more? How often do we want more than we actually need? How often are we unthankful for what we already have?
1 Timothy 6:6-8 Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content.
Hebrew 13:5 Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
As Christians, we should be content with what God has given us and not get caught up in the covetous desires for more.
• Wanting to be like the World
Another problem the Israelites had was their worldliness.
1 Samuel 8:4-5 Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, “Look, you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.”
Whether it was demanding to have a king like other nations or worshiping of idols and false gods common to the areas in which they lived, the Israelites often had a strong desire to be like those around them.
Can Christians be guilty of the same? Absolutely!
James 4:4 Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
1 John 2:15-17 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.
Those in the world should be able to tell the difference between Christians and everyone else. Certainly, living in the world while not being of the world is a difficult calling, but God’s Chosen People must rise to the occasion and resist the urge to be worldly.
In the book of Judges we read of Joshua’s passing. After this great leaders’ death, the following generation of Israelites turned their back on God.
Judges 2:10-12 When all that generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation arose after them who did not know the Lord nor the work which He had done for Israel. Then the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and served the Baals; and they forsook the Lord God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt; and they followed other gods from among the gods of the people who were all around them, and they bowed down to them; and they provoked the Lord to anger.
Despite their disobedience, God still took care of them and gave them new leaders in the form of judges. However, we read that the Israelites wouldn’t even heed the judges!
Judges 2:16-17 Nevertheless, the Lord raised up judges who delivered them out of the hand of those who plundered them. Yet they would not listen to their judges, but they played the harlot with other gods, and bowed down to them. They turned quickly from the way in which their fathers walked, in obeying the commandments of the Lord; they did not do so.
Christians are warned time and again to obey Word of God. This is not something that we can afford to take lightly!
Luke 6:46 But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?
John 14:15 If you love Me, keep My commandments.
As Jesus said, if we truly love God and desire to be His chosen people, we must follow be obedient to Him!
Probably the most infuriating aspect of reading the Old Testament is just how many times the Israelites turn away from God. In fact, it wasn’t that long after they had left Egypt that they completely forsook Him and worshiped the false god of the Golden Calf.
Exodus 32:8 They have turned aside quickly out of the way which I commanded them. They have made themselves a molded calf, and worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!’
This was to be the first of many times that the Israelites would turn to worshiping idols. God would promptly punish the people and those that weren’t struck down would turn back to Him. However, it wasn’t long before the same situation would be played out all over again.
Recall that in the time of Elijah that the vast majority of Israel had turned to worshiping the false god Baal. Notice his poignant words as he pleaded with the people to come to their senses.
1 Kings 18:21 And Elijah came to all the people, and said, “How long will you falter between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” But the people answered him not a word.
How often do we Christians waver in our service? We are warned that this should not be so!
2 Peter 2:21-22 For if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: “A dog returns to his own vomit,” and, “a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.”
Christians are warned against being “lukewarm” (Revelation 3:16). When we become Christians we should “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4) and do so consistently. In our former life we might have been servants of our own desires (Romans 16:18)…we spent enough time “walking in darkness” (1 John 1:16). But once we dedicated our lives to Christ, we ought to do so wholeheartedly!
Consider the words of Moses concerning the very essence of the Old Law.
Deuteronomy 10:12 And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul…?
Isn’t it interesting to that Jesus echoed these thoughts in the New Testament?
Matthew 22:37-40 Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself. ‘On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
Conclusion: Act Like God's Chosen People!
However, let’s not be discouraged by this… Let’s learn from their mistakes and be better for it.
Where the Israelites failed, we have the opportunity to succeed!
Ephesians 4:1 I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called…
If we are called to be God’s Chosen People… We need to act like God’s Chosen People!