WHO ARE GOD’S PEOPLE?
by Wayne S. Walker
"Remember Your congregation, which You have purchased of old, the tribe of Your inheritance, which You have redeemed–this Mount Zion where You have dwelt" (Psalm 74:2). God’s chosen people under the old covenant were the nation of Israel. What we call the Old Testament, including the book of Psalms, was written to them as God’s revelation for them. However, the Old Testament was written and preserved for us because much of it has secondary application for God’s chosen people today, the church of our Lord Jesus Christ. Of course, the prophetic sections bring us directly to Jesus as the Messiah. In addition, many of the events that happened to Israel are typical and foreshadow various aspects of the church because there are similarities between God’s people of the Old Testament and His people of the New.
Verse 2 of Psalm 74 points out three similarities. The word "congregation" comes from a Latin word that means "to gather together." The root word ("grex") means "flock" and is also found in our English word "gregarious," referring to a person who likes to gather together with other people and be sociable. We most often use the word "congregation" to identify a local church, a group of God’s people in a specific place who gather together in work and worship, but it can have a broader application. Stephen spoke of Israel as "the congregation in the wilderness" (Acts 7:38; KJV reads "church in the wilderness"). In fact, most times the word "congregation" is found in our English Bibles, it is in the Old Testament. Since the Lord’s church is the result of the fact "that in the dispensation of the times He might gather together in one all things in Christ" (Ephesians 1:10), the universal church can be considered as "God’s congregation" today.
The word "tribe" is defined as, "a division, class, or group of people, especially a primitive or nomadic people, usually characterized by common ancestry, leadership, customs, etc." We often speak of American Indian tribes and native African tribes. The people of Israel were divided into twelve tribes (Exodus 28:21). However, sometimes the word "tribe" is also used in a broader sense. "…And you have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation" (Revelation 5:9). In this sense, Israel was "God’s tribe" among all the tribes of the earth. The book of James is addressed "to the twelve tribes scattered abroad" (James 1:1). Some have supposed that James was writing specifically to Christians from a Jewish background, but I conclude that he is using the term figuratively, that just as God’s chosen people under the old covenant were the "twelve tribes," so God’s chosen people under the new covenant can be called "the twelve tribes," because we are "a holy nation" (1 Peter 2:9).
"Mount Zion" was originally one of the hills upon which the city of Jerusalem was built (2 Samuel 5:7). Then it came to be used of the city of Jerusalem in its entirety (1 Kings 8:1). Next, it came to be used figuratively for the entire nation of Israel (Psalm 69:35, 149:2). Finally, it was used prophetically with reference to the spiritual kingdom that the Messiah would establish (Isaiah 2:2-3, Joel 2:32). Yes, the church was established in literal Zion or Jerusalem, but these prophecies also point out that it would be from Zion (the church) that the word of the Lord would go forth and that in Zion (the church) salvation would be found. Thus, today, we do not approach Mt. Sinai, symbolic of the Old Testament Law, but "have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel" (Hebrews 12:22-24). That is who God’s people are today!