Exodus 19:3-6 Then Moses went up to God; the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, ‘Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites: 4You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, 6but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.’
Okay, this verse has nothing to do directly with food, but it is possibly the most important verse for understanding the Bible. That’s a big claim I know. This is a foundational passage for Israel’s understanding of their identity as the people of God. Later, Peter appropriates this passage and applies it to the church in 1 Peter 2:9.
God’s continuing relationship with Israel is based on the memory of God’s past action on their behalf. The laws and commandments that are given are based on remembering that YHWH rescued them from Egypt. This passage sets apart Israel as a “treasured possession” and a “holy nation,” something unique and particular among all the nations. Right in the midst of this God says, “Indeed, the whole earth is mine.” This sets Israel in context, not as one isolated from the other nations, but rather one “set apart.” Holy literally means set apart, but not in the sense of being separate.
Here, YHWH clearly defines the people as those who are peculiar, particular people within and among the nations. Why? Because the whole earth belongs to God and God’s purposes are for the whole earth. Israel is a particular means to a universal end. This is always the way God works in Scripture, from the particular to the universal.
God’s possession of the whole earth works itself out in laws concerning land ownership and human relationships. We have already seen this in our brief overview of the Sabbath Day, Year and Jubilee. The reason given for returning the land in the Jubilee is that it belongs to God and not people. We only tend and steward this land for God. So, private property and economics continue to be based primarily on the ownership of land. Developers are gobbling up real estate in the U.S. at an incredible rate. Landless peasants in many countries face severe oppression because they have been driven from their land. Those farmers who continue on their land often become tenants on land their families have owned for generations, becoming basically slaves.
The only Christian position I can see is that there is no such thing as private property. We may have to live in a world that believes in private property and deal with that reality, but the underlying truth is that no one can possess what God has made. This is how the wealthy often compete with God through their acquisition of land and material possessions. Their lifestyle makes it difficult to believe that they can possess nothing, when it is so apparent that they possess everything they desire.
The people of God, from the beginning here in Exodus, are a people possessed by God. A people who possess nothing. We are nomads with a purpose and calling to bless the world by embodying God’s way of relating to the earth, each other and God. It has been said that the church is the only organization that exists solely for the benefit of those who are not members. May it be so among us.