|The Apple Of God's Eye|
Friday, 01 July 2011 12:31
As believers, our desire and aim - indeed our destiny - is to become more and more like Yeshua... to be "conformed to his likeness", as Paul puts it in Romans 8:29. As his children, we want to grow and to change to become more and more on his "wavelength", so to speak.
We want to see things the way God sees them, through eyes of faith. We want to feel how God feels and have his perspective on our lives, the lives of others, and the matters around us. We want to think the way he thinks and be in alignment with him - to be living more fully in his truth.
If we ever see something differently to God, guess who's wrong! God, though very far above our thoughts and understanding, will always be our moral yardstick that we are measured against.
However, this can be difficult. Sometimes it goes against the grain to agree with God's choices and to feel the same way as he does. Why does he seem to have this special tenderness towards Israel more than other nations, and does he really expect us to join him in it?
A Puzzling Choice
The very fact that God chose one people over all the others offends sensibilities and can be hard to swallow. Both Jew and Gentile alike have been known to puzzle at this apparent favouritism. How are to we believe that God is just and loves everyone, but at the same time "sets his affection" on one people group in particular? And how are we supposed align ourselves with this way of thinking?
"For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt." (Deuteronomy 7:6-8)
This theme of his passionate love for his people is repeated throughout the whole Bible - sometimes with conditions such as following the law, and sometimes inspite of their breaking all the conditions. He refers to Israel as his "special treasure" (סגולה) and the "apple of his eye" (בבת עיניו) among other tender and affectionate designations. His anger and fury is aroused if they are hurt, and their unfaithfulness pains him like no other.
It is safe to say that God has a unique soft spot for the people of Israel.
And this is not even thrown out of the window on the safe arrival of Yeshua the Messiah. He states that he was sent to "the lost sheep of Israel", and apparently shows incredible partiality when a Canaanite woman seeks his help. Of course, we know that Yeshua came for the whole world and his purpose was to include all the nations in his plan of salvation, but this story is in all three synoptic gospels. Then Paul says the gospel should go first to the Jew, then to the Gentile, and we see God's choice of Israel right to the end of Revelation, because his calling and gifts are irrevocable.
How are we to align ourselves with this passion of God's heart, when it seems contrary to our sense of justice and fair play? Indeed, contrary to God's revealed heart for every nation, and his declared lack of favouritism? ("I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism", declared Peter in Acts 10:34) What about the un-chosen? Are they rejected?
Lord, Couldn't You Choose Someone Else?
We often think of God's choice of Israel as an honour and privilege, but it also carries a heavy responsibility. More than one Jewish person has verbally wished that the choice had landed on another people group instead.
God warns Israel, “You only have I chosen of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your sins.” (Amos 3:1-2) God calls Israel to a higher standard, precisely because of his unique revelation and choice of them. The curses and punishments in Deuteronomy promised to Israel if they fail are eye-watering in their severity and extremity.
Psalm 147 declares: "He has revealed his word to Jacob, his laws and decrees to Israel. He has done this for no other nation." God wanted us all to have access to the scriptures - the "oracles of God' as Paul calls them - the precious words of God to the world. He also wanted to bring his Messiah into the world through a people group. Through humanity itself. A personal delivery. The Jewish people are trustees, guardians and messengers of these gifts to the world. Israel may be the nation that was chosen, but they have been chosen for a reason. The reason is not merited by themselves, but God's reason is to bless all the nations on the earth. It is a global calling. It is a high honour, and it is a daunting task.
God wanted a 'flagship' nation that was an example to the world - not of how they behave, but of how he behaves. We can learn by observing the twists and turns of the love story between God and Israel what kind of character it is that we are following. We can see his faithfulness. We can see his standards. We can see his compassionate love and mercy, as well as his jealousy and wrath when he is rejected for other lovers.
A cursory glance backwards through history shows how time and time again, while the precious people of Israel may be the object of God's undying affection, they are also targeted for special hatred - the unquenchable, Satanic drive to annihilate them continues throughout the generations. It is enough to make anyone envious of the chosen people retreat from that position with gratitude.
Thou Shalt Not Covet
Part of our problem is that we have bought the lie that uniformity is good.
We see this strategy insidiously contaminating many areas of life - we must be the same - we must have the same - we must look the same.
This is not the will, nor is it the purpose or the desire of God. We just have to consider the flora and fauna around us to see how God takes great delight in variety working in harmony together, and then compare that with Communist apartment blocks that drown out any hint of individuality with a monotonous, monochrome drone.
His creation of each individual is unique, and his plans for us are also tailor-made. We often fall into the trap of thinking "But everyone else..." and believing that we are therefore rightfully due the same. After his resurrection, Jesus has a conversation with Peter about his future. He bestows great honour upon him but also gives him a heads-up about his painful end. Peter immediately looks over at John...
When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”
Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” (John 21:21-22)
Jesus tells Peter, and all those who read these words, that we are not to look at others and insist on equal treatment, but to accept the privileges we receive from God with understanding - and also the challenges that he has uniquely put before us. His path for each one of us is different. It's hard not to compare, but the Body of Messiah depends upon each one embracing their unique calling, giftings, privileges and responsibilities.
In other words, we must not covet what others have got. Following this commandment means learning to be satisfied and content with what God chooses for us, and not begrudging what he chooses for others. Even graciously rejoicing in the blessing of others, and appreciating their contribution. A deepening trust in God's sovereign plan and his perfect goodness to us can help us accept the differences we see - to steward our privileges well and generously, and to humbly accept the difficulties we experience that others seem to escape from Scott-free. It is a command against the greed and bitterness that we so easily fall into.
This can only be done when we truly believe that God really loves us. Satan whispers to us that God is rejecting us, that he prefers another, that someone else is getting better treatment and that we are losing out. But these too are lies. We need faith to believe in God's goodness to the whole world, and every individual in it. He loves each one passionately, but he has different plans and a different relationship with each of us.
How Do We Join God's Heart For Israel?
God's relationship with Israel is unique. It is not that the rest of the world should feel slighted, but if we believe God is loving and wise, we must trust God with this choice. We can rejoice in their chosenness, thank him for his divine plans for us all, enjoying what God has chosen for us to its full extent without believing that we are less esteemed. Their chosenness has resulted in our riches. Indeed, it would be good to be thankful and appreciate the great difficulties and challenges that have been endured to provide the world with the Scriptures and our precious Messiah.
It's a beautiful thing to forego a demanding attitude that insists on equal treatment for all, and is ready instead to draw alongside our Father God - to join him and and share his heart for his people. It takes great faith and generosity. Especially for those who believe the lie that they are rejected or second best - or that God's grace and favour must be merited. It is the willingness not only to let someone else be greatly loved, but to add to that love in agreement.
Ultimately, we can choose to embrace our Father's beloved and share his fondness for Israel, or remain hardened in our belief that no-one should have "special treatment". When you read how God feels about his people - the passion, the tenderness, the anguish at their rebellion - do you feel the same?
The Hebrew expression for "apple of the eye" means the very back part of our eyeballs - the most innermost, tender part of our eyes. If you cannot bear to have someone else touch your eye, or to think of anything coming near it - never mind entering into the eye itself - then you are getting close to the picture of the sensitivity of God's heart towards Israel.
"Whoever touches you touches the apple of his eye" (Zechariah 2:8)