The Chosen People
For more than a thousand years the Jewish people had awaited the
Saviour's coming. Upon this event they had rested their brightest hopes.
In song and prophecy, in temple rite and household prayer, they had
enshrined His name. And yet at His coming they knew Him not. The Beloved
of heaven was to them "as a root out of a dry ground;" He had
"no form nor comeliness;" and they saw in Him no beauty that
they should desire Him. "He came unto His own, and His own received
Him not." Isa. 53:2; John 1:11.
Yet God had chosen Israel. He had called them to preserve among men
the knowledge of His law, and of the symbols and prophecies that pointed
to the Saviour. He desired them to be as wells of salvation to the
world. What Abraham was in the land of his sojourn, what Joseph was in
Egypt, and Daniel in the courts of Babylon, the Hebrew people were to be
among the nations. They were to reveal God to men.
In the call of Abraham the Lord had said, "I will bless thee; .
. . and thou shalt be a blessing: . . . and in thee shall all families
of the earth be blessed." Gen. 12:2, 3. The same teaching was
repeated through the prophets. Even after Israel had been wasted by war
and captivity, the promise was theirs, "The remnant of Jacob shall
be in the midst of many people as a dew from the Lord, as the showers
upon the grass, that tarrieth not for man, nor waiteth for the sons of
men." Micah 5:7. Concerning the temple at Jerusalem, the Lord
declared through Isaiah, "Mine house shall be called an house of
prayer for all peoples." Isa. 56:7, R. V.
But the Israelites fixed their hopes upon worldly greatness. From the
time of their entrance to the land of Canaan, they departed from the
commandments of God, and followed the ways of the heathen. It was in
vain that God sent them warning by His prophets. In vain they suffered
the chastisement of heathen oppression. Every reformation was followed
by deeper apostasy.
Had Israel been true to God, He could have accomplished His purpose
through their honor and exaltation. If they had walked in the ways of
obedience, He would have made them "high above all nations which He
hath made, in praise, and in name, and in honor." "All people
of the earth," said Moses, "shall see that thou art called by
the name of the Lord; and they shall be afraid of thee." "The
nations which shall hear all these statutes" shall say,
"Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people."
Deut. 26:19; 28:10; 4:6. But because of their unfaithfulness, God's
purpose could be wrought out only through continued adversity and
They were brought into subjection to Babylon, and scattered through
the lands of the heathen. In affliction many renewed their faithfulness
to His covenant. While they hung their harps upon the willows, and
mourned for the holy temple that was laid waste, the light of truth
shone out through them, and a knowledge of God was spread among the
nations. The heathen systems of sacrifice were a perversion of the
system that God had appointed; and many a sincere observer of heathen
rites learned from the Hebrews the meaning of the service divinely
ordained, and in faith grasped the promise of a Redeemer.
Many of the exiles suffered persecution. Not a few lost their lives
because of their refusal to disregard the Sabbath and to observe the
heathen festivals. As idolaters were roused to crush out the truth, the
Lord brought His servants face to face with kings and rulers, that they
and their people might receive the light. Time after time the greatest
monarchs were led to proclaim the supremacy of the God whom their Hebrew
By the Babylonish captivity the Israelites were effectually cured of
the worship of graven images. During the centuries that followed, they
suffered from the oppression of heathen foes, until the conviction
became fixed that their prosperity depended upon their obedience to the
law of God. But with too many of the people obedience was not prompted
by love. The motive was selfish. They rendered outward service to God as
the means of attaining to national greatness. They did not become the
light of the world, but shut themselves away from the world in order to
escape temptation to idolatry. In the instruction given through Moses,
God had placed restrictions upon their association with idolaters; but
this teaching had been misinterpreted. It was intended to prevent them
from conforming to the practices of the heathen. But it was used to
build up a wall of separation between Israel and all other nations. The
Jews looked upon Jerusalem as their heaven, and they were actually
jealous lest the Lord should show mercy to the Gentiles.
After the return from Babylon, much attention was given to religious
instruction. All over the country, synagogues were erected, where the
law was expounded by the priests and scribes. And schools were
established, which, together with the arts and sciences, professed to
teach the principles of righteousness. But these agencies became
corrupted. During the captivity, many of the people had received heathen
ideas and customs, and these were brought into their religious service.
In many things they conformed to the practices of idolaters.
As they departed from God, the Jews in a great degree lost sight of
the teaching of the ritual service. That service had been instituted by
Christ Himself. In every part it was a symbol of Him; and it had been
full of vitality and spiritual beauty. But the Jews lost the spiritual
life from their ceremonies, and clung to the dead forms. They trusted to
the sacrifices and ordinances themselves, instead of resting upon Him to
whom they pointed. In order to supply the place of that which they had
lost, the priests and rabbis multiplied requirements of their own; and
the more rigid they grew, the less of the love of God was manifested.
They measured their holiness by the multitude of their ceremonies, while
their hearts were filled with pride and hypocrisy.
With all their minute and burdensome injunctions, it was an
impossibility to keep the law. Those who desired to serve God, and who
tried to observe the rabbinical precepts, toiled under a heavy burden.
They could find no rest from the accusings of a troubled conscience.
Thus Satan worked to discourage the people, to lower their conception of
the character of God, and to bring the faith of Israel into contempt. He
hoped to establish the claim put forth when he rebelled in heaven,--that
the requirements of God were unjust, and could not be obeyed. Even
Israel, he declared, did not keep the law.
While the Jews desired the advent of the Messiah, they had no true
conception of His mission. They did not seek redemption from sin, but
deliverance from the Romans. They looked for the Messiah to come as a
conqueror, to break the oppressor's power, and exalt Israel to universal
dominion. Thus the way was prepared for them to reject the Saviour.
At the time of the birth of Christ the nation was chafing under the
rule of her foreign masters, and racked with internal strife. The Jews
had been permitted to maintain the form of a separate government; but
nothing could disguise the fact that they were under the Roman yoke, or
reconcile them to the restriction of their power. The Romans claimed the
right of appointing and removing the high priest, and the office was
often secured by fraud, bribery, and even murder. Thus the priesthood
became more and more corrupt. Yet the priests still possessed great
power, and they employed it for selfish and mercenary ends. The people
were subjected to their merciless demands, and were also heavily taxed
by the Romans. This state of affairs caused widespread discontent.
Popular outbreaks were frequent. Greed and violence, distrust and
spiritual apathy, were eating out the very heart of the nation.
Hatred of the Romans, and national and spiritual pride, led the Jews
still to adhere rigorously to their forms of worship. The priests tried
to maintain a reputation for sanctity by scrupulous attention to the
ceremonies of religion. The people, in their darkness and oppression,
and the rulers, thirsting for power, longed for the coming of One who
would vanquish their enemies and restore the kingdom to Israel. They had
studied the prophecies, but without spiritual insight. Thus they
overlooked those scriptures that point to the humiliation of Christ's
first advent, and misapplied those that speak of the glory of His second
coming. Pride obscured their vision. They interpreted prophecy in
accordance with their selfish desires.
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