How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God.
- I John 3:1
Did you ever wonder why the people of the Old Testament were called The children of Israel? In a story that covers at least 2,000 years, dont you think there would have been more adults at any given time than children?
Perhaps the word children was more inclusive then than it is now, or the great gulf between God and mankind reduces all human beings in size and status when compared to Him. Or maybe my college Bible professor had it right: When Gods people (civilization) were young, he explained, they were addressed in simple terms much like you would speak to a child, but when they matured, so did Gods method of communicating with them.
For example, several times in the Old Testament God instructed his people to repay evil with evil - an eye for an eye etc. (Leviticus 24:20) - while just as often Jesus would say, But I say unto you, love your enemies turn the other cheek pray for those who hate you, etc. (Matthew 5:38-39; 44).
I think of the parents who were teaching their young daughter the parts of her body. As they identified each area, they told her to say the word back to them.
This is your toe toe; this is your ankle ankle; this is your knee knee; this is your shin.
At this last word the puzzled child asked, But wheres my leg?
The Ten Commandments are a good illustration of that simplicity: Without paragraphs of commentary, God just said, Dont kill, dont murder, dont steal, and dont worship any other gods except me. Sounds a lot like, Brush your teeth, go to bed, and dont get your clothes dirty to me - lots of negatives and or elses, but all designed for the good of the child.
Incidentally, Gods commandments were all for the Israelites good, too. If they listened to the commands of the many pagan gods in those days, the mixed messages would leave them confused about what code to follow. Another commandment for their benefit was the one about the Sabbath Day. These former slaves had never had a day off in their lives. Thus, having one day a week to do no work rewarded both their bodies and their spirits.
But there are signs of that maturing process even as Gods children made their way from Egypt to their Promised Land. Two weeks into the journey, after the long, plague-filled process to convince the Pharaoh to let my people go, the Israelites reached the shores of the Red Sea just as they heard the sound of hoofbeats in their ears. An angry Pharaoh, realizing the crippling effect losing all that labor, had come to take the Israelites back to Egypt.
The frightened children erupted in anger at Moses for bringing them out into the desert to die. But upon Gods command, Moses stretched his staff over the sea and a mighty wind blew back the upstream water, creating a path of dry ground where the sea had been, and the people walked safely to the other side. Forty years later when they were ready to cross the flooded Jordan River into the Promised Land, God instructed the people to step into the water first, before he performed a similar miracle and made a dry path through the river, too. No faith was required when their journey began, but after a generation had passed, God required at least some initiative on the peoples part before he acted on their behalf.
But child is also a relative term. My grown sons will always be my children. And not only were the traveling Israelites Gods children, but even in the New Testament those who call themselves his followers are still referred to as children. The Apostle Johns three brief epistles near the end of the Bible are full of references to Christians as Gods children: My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin (I John 2:1); I write to you, dear children, because your sins are forgiven (2:12); Little children, keep yourselves from idols (5:21); and much more.
The Apostles concept of that father-child relationship is captured in a Swedish hymn:
Children of the heavenly Father, safely in his bosom gather;
Nestling bird nor star in heaven, such a refuge eer was given (Caroline Sandell-Berg).
(Barbara Seaborn is a local free-lance writer. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.