The People of God: Part 4 of 7 Gatherings

The Israelites were chosen, called and formed as the people of God and obedience was the governing principle of life within community, but the Israelites were often disobedient and struggled to keep their part of the covenant. They faced several challenges and temptations that disrupted their devotion and relationship with God. In response, God gathered his people at times to remind them of his goodness and greatness, to reiterate the covenant and to encourage and strengthen them in obedience and in the renunciation of other gods. Three significant gatherings throughout the Israelites history are the gathering at Shechem, the gathering of Josiah and the gathering of Ezra.

As Joshua 24 portrays, God used Joshua to gather and speak to the Israelites at Shechem where he reminded them of the divine events that took place “long ago” (v.2) and that took place in their midst. Then, Joshua states, “…choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (v. 15). After a community dialogue, the people declared “The Lord our God we will serve, and his voice we will obey” (v. 24). With this, the covenant was renewed, and the people of God encountered God and leaned into their belonging to God and to one another.[1]

Six hundred years later during the time of a divided kingdom and the Assyrian occupation, Jerusalem was filled with idolatry, impurity and corruption; however, King Josiah “[i]n the eighth year of his reign, while he was still a youth, he began to seek after the God of his forefather David” (2 Chr 34:3), and he was led by God to institute reforms by purging Jerusalem and Judah of all its idolatrous elements and all its priestly corruption (2 Chr 34:3-4; 2 Kgs 23:5-13). During the restoration of the temple, the Book of the Law was discovered and read to King Josiah. After hearing the Book of the Law and consulting with God through Huldah the prophetess, Josiah was used by God to gather the people so that they could hear the Book of the Law and encounter their God (2 Kgs 22; 2 Chr 34:29-30). Then, Josiah “made a covenant before the Lord, to walk after the Lord and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book. And all the people joined in the covenant” (2 Kgs 23:3). Once again with steadfast love, God called his people to himself and met with them through the reading of his words which reiterated covenant relationship and refocused the Israelites’ worship, service and mission.[2]

Many centuries later, the Israelites had entered exile but eventually were returning to Jerusalem after the King of Persia commissioned the rebuilding of the temple. During this time, Ezra organized the gathering of the people where he read the Book of the Law (Neh 8). This led the people to worship God and to confess their sins. They were reminded that God is one who is “ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Neh 9:17), and so they renewed their covenant with God and took an oath “to walk in God’s Law that was given by Moses the servant of God, and to observe and do all the commandments of the Lord our Lord and his rules and his statutes” (Neh. 10:29). During this time, God was at work in calling his people to be “under his rule in his place”[3] to further his missional purposes.[4]

[1] This paragraph is influenced by Lucien Deiss, God’s Word and God’s People, translated by Matthew J. O’Connell (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1976), 39-49.[2] This paragraph is influenced by Deiss, God’s, 52-71. [3] J.G. Millar, “People of God” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, edited by T. Desmond Alexander and Brian S. Rosner (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 684. [4] This paragraph is influenced by Deiss, God’s, 76-83.