The Admiration of the Nations

March 5, 2024

In a previous post, we explored the meaning of the words “if you shall heed the voice of the Lord your God.” This phrase appears twice in these two verses. Now we will examine the meaning of the repetition of this phrase in verse 2.

Does Israel seek the admiration of the Nations?

These verses introduce a series of blessings that God will bestow on the people of Israel. At first glance, the verses state that as a reward for our obedience to the commandments of the Torah, God will elevate our status above all other nations. The question that comes to mind is, “Do we want this?” Do the Jewish people harbor some desire to be rulers of the earth, dominating all other nations? Do we seek the admiration of others? In other words, these verses appear to be promising some kind of Israelite supremacy. Is this the goal of God’s covenant? Is this the proper motivation for obedience to God’s commandments?

This verse brings to mind another verse in Deuteronomy that seems to present a similar message:

Are we to understand that the motivation for obedience to God’s law is the desire to be admired and praised by the nations of the world? Are these verses, both in Deuteronomy 4 and here in chapter 28, appeals to a national arrogance and a desire for Judeo supremacy over other nations?

A Kingdom of Priests

Let’s recall the purpose of the nation of Israel. When God first called on Abraham, He told him that his mission was to bring blessing to “all the families of the earth.” (Gen. 12:3, 18:18) Later, when the children of Israel stood at Mount Sinai, God introduced the covenant with Israel as follows:

Like our verses in Deuteronomy, here, too, we see God promising the Children of Israel that they will have the highest status among all the nations of the earth. But in Exodus 19, at the moment of the inception of the covenant with Israel, God tells the children of Israel what their role will be in relation to the nations of the world: You shall be for Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

What is a kingdom of priests? 

The Hebrew word for priest, kohen, does not refer only to the family of Aaron, the priests of the Tabernacle and Temple. Kohen is a generic term for all priests, regardless of religion. For example, Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law is called “priest of Midian” (Ex. 18:1). The priests who served pagan gods are likewise referred to as kohen (e.g. see 1 Sam. 5:5, 1 Kings 12:32, 13:2). Put simply, a kohen is someone who serves a deity by facilitating the worship of others. This is the simplest definition of the word “priest.” 

So what exactly is a “kingdom of priests”? Does it mean that everyone in the nation of Israel is meant to serve as clergy? How can a society made up entirely of priests function properly? Clearly, this is not the intent of the phrase. 

If the role of a kohen is to help the flock serve and connect with God, then we must understand a “kingdom of priests” the same way. In other words, the purpose and mission of the nation of Israel is to facilitate the faith, worship, and service of God of the entire world. Just as a single priest helps individual people in their faith and worship, so too the priestly nation, the kingdom of priests, has a collective, national mission to promote faith and worship of God to the other nations of the world.

Admiration = Influence

It is essential to the fulfillment of this mission that the nation of Israel have influence. Nobody is going to be led to faith by a nation that does not inspire admiration. It is essential to the mission of Israel that they be seen and admired by the nations of the world. But here’s the thing, it is equally essential to the mission of Israel that they are admired and respected for the right reasons. It is not enough for the nation of Israel to be admired for being economically or militarily successful. To fulfill the mission that God placed before Israel at Sinai, Israel must serve a priestly role. In other words, Israel must be admired in such a way that the nations of the world are drawn to the faith and service of the God of Israel.

Now let’s reread the verses in Deuteronomy 28 that we are studying:

It shall be if you shall heed the voice of the Lord your God to take care to perform all His commandments that I am commanding you today, the Lord your God will place you uppermost over all the nations of the earth. All these blessings will come upon you, and reach you, if you shall heed the voice of the Lord your God. – Deuteronomy 28:1-2

Notice the seemingly needless repetition at the end of these two verses. The passage begins by saying “if you shall heed the voice of the Lord your God,” certain blessings will happen. But then the same words are repeated at the end of the second verse. For the sake of illustration, imagine if a friend who needed help packing up and moving apartments said to you, “If you help me pack and move apartments I will buy you dinner, if you help me pack and move apartments.” The repetition of the condition for the reward of dinner is obvious and needless. 

A good rule for studying the Bible carefully is that any time there is repetition that does not appear to add any new idea, we must pay close attention to the words that are repeated. The Bible does not include boldface, italics, or underlines. The way the Bible stresses a point is through seemingly needless repetition or a restatement of information that is already known. When the Bible does this, the words that seem to be needlessly repeated are actually being stressed through the repetition. 

The fact that the words “if you shall heed the voice of the Lord your God” are repeated here tells us that they are the main point of the passage. 

What Moses was telling the nation of Israel was this. If you are careful to be obedient to God and build the Israelite society according to His commandments, the result is that you will be admired as the greatest of nations. Most importantly, the object of that admiration will be the fact that you have built a nation, a society, that is governed by the will of God. That will be the source of your elevated status among the nations of the world. From such a position, you will be able to fulfill your mission, stated all the way back at Mount Sinai, to be a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

When we live according to God’s word, the ultimate result is that others see us and come to admire the Godly life. Engendering admiration and respect is a key tool to influence others and draw them closer to God.

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Rabbi Pesach Wolicki

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki is the Executive Director of Israel365 Action and the author of Verses for Zion and Cup of Salvation: A Powerful Journey Through King David’s Psalms of Praise. Rabbi Wolicki is the host of Eyes on Israel on Real America's Voice Network. He is a regular contributor to Israel365news.com and The Jerusalem Post.

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki is the Executive Director of Israel365 Action and the author of Verses for Zion and Cup of Salvation: A Powerful Journey Through King David’s Psalms of Praise. Rabbi Wolicki is the host of Eyes on Israel on Real America's Voice Network. He is a regular contributor to Israel365news.com and The Jerusalem Post.

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