One of my favorite phrases in the bible is “I will be your God and you will be My people.” It is littered throughout the Old Testament and creates the feeling of cadence throughout the many books. To the point that the Old Testament starts to look like one long love poem between God and His people.
The first time we see this sentiment is in Genesis chapter 17, “And I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you […] I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.” (Gen. 17:7-8 NASV emphasis added) Notice though, it is only half the phrase. God is in the process of establishing a people through His covenant with Abraham. They aren’t a people yet, but they have a God who wants them and has a plan for them.
The next time we see this phrase is in Exodus chapter 6, “I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with and outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God.” (Ex. 6:6-7 NIV emphasis added) Again it isn’t exactly the same wording. This time God has a people, but they’ve lost their identity because of slavery. God is in the act of taking them back, out of bondage and into His care and restoration. They are a people now, but they are lost and no longer know who they are. Yet, they have a God who wants them, is coming for them, and will heal their identity.
Finally, our exact phrase shows up in Leviticus, “For I will look on you favorably and make your fruitful, multiply you and confirm My covenant with you. […] I will set my tabernacle among you and My soul shall not abhor you. I will walk among you and be your God, and you shall be My people.” (Lev. 26:9, 11-12 NKJV emphasis added) At this point Israel has been delivered out of the hands of Pharaoh. They have spent some time with God in the wilderness. They are in the process of receiving their new identity as the people of God. Israel knows God and they know who they are. With that knowledge comes a purpose: To be the people of God and live out the revelation of God’s character to the world. Israel is a people, they have God, and they are in relationship together, they belong.
The problem is Israel keeps forgetting who they are and who God is. They fall into a cycle of revival, righteousness, distraction, rebellion, idolatry. At which point God does something to get their attention and the cycle starts over again. It seems like each generation has to discover God and their identity in Him for themselves. Some embraced that discovery and some didn’t. Either way, God doesn’t give up on His people. He sends the prophets to remind them who they are and invite them to return to Him.
Our little phrase of belonging can be found in Zechariah (8:8), Ezekiel (11:20, 14:11, 36:28, 37:23, 27), and Jeremiah (7:23, 11:4, 30:22, 31:1, 33, 32:38). These messages came around or during times of upheaval. Especially in the case of Jeremiah, who prophesied during Israel’s fall to Babylon. Each time God harkens back to Israel’s time of deliverance and union with Him in the wilderness through our phrase. Essentially, God is quoting Himself to His people in order to jog their memory so they might remember who they are and whose they are.
You might be thinking, “What’s the deal? Why can’t Israel be God’s people and explore what else the world has to offer? Diversify and all that?” Here’s the problem: the sin of idolatry is a block between God and His people. It is literally the first commandment Israel got on Mount Siani. By committing the sin of idolatry, Israel erected a wall between themselves and God. They shut out their own God. Israel excluded themselves from their own belonging.
God wasn’t about to let that wall stay. He wasn’t about to let Israel exclude themselves from Him forever. So God enacted His plan for deliverance, the ultimate Deliverance that is Jesus. Not only that, but He sent His Spirit to dwell in His people as a living reminder of who they are and where their belonging is found.
In His second letter to the Corinthians, Paul uses the words of the prophets to remind the Corinthians of the gospel he taught them, and their identity in Christ. He warns them not to mix in the religions of the pagan gods around them. “And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people.’” (2 Cor. 6:16 NKJV) Paul is quoting Ezekiel 37:26-27, trying to get the Corinthians to remember who they are and whose they are.
But Paul doesn’t end it there, he takes it a step further, “Therefore ‘ Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the LORD almighty.” (2 Cor. 6:17-18 NKJV) Paul quotes Isaiah 52:11 and 2 Samuel 7:14 and takes the message of “You are My people” to “You are My sons and daughters.”
Through Abraham and his covenant with God, Israel were the people of God. Through Jesus, and abiding in Him, we (as Christ followers) are the children of God. We can revise our phrase, “I will be your God and you will be My people,” to “I will be your Father, and you will be my children.” Not only do we find belonging, but a personal belonging. This is the end goal.
Revelation 21 describes the new heaven and new earth after sin and Satan have been banished from the earth forever. “And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.” (Rev. 21:3 NKJV) The ultimate expression of what we first read about in Leviticus comes to full fruition in the new heaven and earth. The living God dwelling with His people in full peace and restoration. “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev. 21:4 NKJV)
God goes onto talk about the trustworthiness of His words. He declares Himself the Beginning and the End and offers the waters of life to whoever thirsts. Finally, God affirms Paul’s revision to His mantra of belonging, “He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be my son.” (Rev. 21:7 NKJV)
God wants us to be His people, His children. He is our God and He made a way for us to be with Him. Jesus is waiting for us to accept Him and in Him find our true belonging.
I love that. The reassurance of belonging. It exists, and its mine. When I am a child of God, I belong. Forever.