Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.
We all long for meaning and purpose in life. Identity defines our understanding of who we are. It matters to us that we matter to others, at least the ones that matter to us! (you may need to read that sentence again)
The Jews identity came from their chosen status—selected from among the nations uniquely to represent God’s character and calling. God promised Abraham he would be a blessing to all nations through his innumerable offspring. Genesis ends with Joseph and his family, the “Hebrews,” prosperous and multiplying in Egypt but waiting for the Promised Land.
The story turns desperate in Exodus, with the oppressed Hebrew slaves crying out to God for a deliverer. God chose Moses. Through providential events, Pharaoh raised Moses as a son (not a slave). As Moses came to understand the plight of his people, Moses identified with the Hebrews. His first attempt at “saving” a Hebrew led him to murder, exile, and 40 years in the wilderness. It was there that Moses encountered YHWH—the LORD who calls himself “I AM.”
At this point Moses saw himself as a stuttering outcast who failed to help his people—perhaps the exact level of humility God was looking for in a spokesperson (Numbers 12:3). Remember that the hero of every story in the Bible is always God, although Moses would become the greatest Jew: “no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel” (Deut. 34:12). Ten Plagues and one Red Sea crossing later, as many as 2 million Jews plundered the Egyptians, wandering the desert in route to the Promised Land. YHWH took the Egyptian gods to task on their home turf and gave them a whoopin’! [See “Judgment on Egyptian Gods”]
As one preacher said, “it was easier to get the Hebrews out of Egypt than to get the Egypt out of the Hebrews.” The rest of the Torah describes YHWH’s attempt to instill His Identity in His People, this newly formed nation of Israel. To do this, YHWH had to purge their slave identity to set apart, purify, and remind the Hebrews of their chosen identity again and again.
|10 Plagues as “Judgment on the Egyptian Gods”|
|10 Plagues||“I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt” (Exodus 12:12)|
|1. Nile to blood||Hapi (Apis): bull Nile god; Isis: Nile goddess; & others|
|2. Frogs||Heqet: frog-headed birth goddess|
|3. Gnats||Set: desert storm god|
|4. Flies||Uatchit: possibly represented by the fly|
|5. Death of livestock||Hathor: cow-head goddess; Apis: the bull fertility god|
|6. Boils||Sekhmet: disease goddess; Sunu: pestilence god|
|7. Hail||Nut: sky goddess; Osiris: crops/fertility god; Set: desert storms|
|8. Locusts||Nut: sky goddess; Osiris: crops/fertility god|
|9. Darkness||Re & Horus: sun gods; Nut & Hathor: sky goddesses|
|10. Death of firstborn||Min: reproduction god; Heqet: childbirth goddess; Isis: child guardian goddess; Pharaoh & Pharaoh’s firstborn son: considered gods|
Set Apart. Israel was to be a holy (set apart) nation, distinct from other nations, gods, and religions. YHWH’s instructions (Torah) directed them how to be holy, remain holy, and deal with unholiness. They were to be monotheistic—“the Lord your God is one” (Deut. 6:4). YHWH defined their identity as a “kingdom of priests” (Ex. 19:6) to the nations. They were to have no other gods or images (idols) because they were the true images (idols) of God (Gen 1:26-28).
Purified. Never before had YHWH established a nation as his people. YHWH’s instructions guided them how to set an example in their morality to the nations around them. Purity instructions (Torah) cleansed them from other corrupting religious practices (sex shrines, child sacrifices, etc.) while preparing them to live in YHWH’s presence. Blood to them was not a symbol of death, but of life; blood sacrifices reinforced their understanding of purity. Food and purity laws helped them maintain their distinctive identity.
Reminders. Yet, they complained about every aspect of their existence in the desert. In response, YHWH delivered water, manna, quail, leadership, and military protection—all while their supplies and clothing never wore out (Deut. 29:5). YHWH established a partnership, a covenant, with His people that required their allegiance (faith) to Him alone. They rebelled at every turn, proving themselves disloyal, unfaithful, and unfit. YHWH continuously reminded them of his presence through the Cloud, the Pillar of Fire, the Tabernacle, and the Tent of Meeting. YHWH established sacred times (holy days) with sacrifices (something they were familiar with) to cleanse their consciences, help them feel close to Him, and remind them of their identity.
Like the Israelites, our identity is primarily defined by our relationship with God. We are his children (1 John 3:1), a kingdom of priests (Revelation 12:12), set apart as holy, purified through the blood of Christ, on our way to the Promised Land, with YHWH’s presence (Spirit) living in us, and His inheritance waiting for us.
Here are some thoughts to help you practice claiming your identity in Christ
- In your prayer today, claim your identity as his child, not his slave. Renounce the sin that enslaves you and draw near to YHWH with a full assurance of sonship (Hebrews 4:16).
- Recognize the same identity in your fellow human, who is also created in His image. Pray for anyone who you struggle to see “in the image of God.” Proclaim that they are YHWH’s children.
- Consider the times when you are tempted to complain. How can you remind yourself today to be set apart, purified, and grateful to be created in God’s image?