Have you ever thought about the Israelites? I mean, really thought about them?
It's easy in modern-day geography to consider the Israelites a people of their region, the region of Israel. This place in the Middle East that is in so much turmoil today. This little bit of land that everyone is fighting over because, it seems, this is the land. This is the Promised Land...it seems. And God's people - modern-day Israelites - want their milk and honey.
Except that's not quite the story. And before I go on, this is not a post about the Palestinian conflict or 2013 at all. This is a post about God's people.
In their day, in their time, God's people were an anomaly. They pushed through the wilderness and fought into the Promised Land to take what God had declared He had given them, and in doing so, they pushed countless other nations out of their way. These were nations of people named after their nations. The Philistines from the region of Philistia. The Amalekites from the land of Amalek. The Moabites from Moab. Later, the Babylonians from the empire of Babylon. All of these nations named after...their nations.
Because I've never seen a man named Babylon in all of the genealogies. Have you?
But God's people - God's nation - has no such territory behind their name. They never did. They were a people named after their lineage, their ancestors. Their father. They took the name of the man, Jacob, whom God called "Israel." That was their identity. They were their father's people. And a few closely-related tribes did the same. Edom was named for Esau, Jacob's older brother, and the Edomites were descended from the place, sure, but also their father. A nation God was still using at the time to guide His chosen nation's journey. (Sorry, Edom. I know it's hard to hear, again, that you weren't chosen.)
For the most part, that's how peoples go. We are peoples named after places. I am a Hoosier. It means I hail from Indiana, although nobody here can tell you what Hoosier even means. Beyond that, I am an American, a person from the United States of America. When asked to identify my nation, my answer is, "America." It's a place. It's a nice place, as far as places go, I guess, but it's still just a place.
How cool, I think, it must have been for God's people, when asked to identify their nation, to say, "Israel." I am from the nation of Israel. And I have no place. I am my Father's.
Then, as their story goes, when they finally had a place, they named the land after their father, too. Instead of taking the name of their land.
I like that. And I think that's the heart of the Christian story. That we are a people, a chosen and beloved and blessed people, and that we need not worry so much about a place. We need not think we have to define ourselves by a place. We define ourselves by our Father; we are His. And when we find a place here or there? We name that place for Him, too. We do not take the names of this place.
It's that whole line about being in the world but not of the world. Being in this place but not of this place. Being in Indiana, maybe, but being my Father's first. What nation am I from? I am an Israelite; I am my Father's. Although today, maybe we wouldn't say that. Under the new covenant, maybe we would say, "I am a Christian; I am my Father's." Knowing, of course, that we stand as children of the most high God in the lineage of His Son, Jesus Christ.
It frees us to be wanderers, to be unattached to the places of this world. Because we realize these are not our places; our place is in our Father. We are His people. And His people so rarely have a place among the places. Their place is always in relationship - knowing whose they are even when they could never find themselves on a map. That's God's story. I love it.
And in those rare circumstances where His people find a place, in those rare times when there is time to settle down, in the here and there where we build a home, it behooves us to remember that it doesn't change our name. Our name changes this place. We rename this place by His name, knowing our name and claiming our place for Him. I am a Christian; I am my Father's. This place is His. Because His people, His nation, live here.
I live here. And I'm taking this place for Christ.