The Old Testament is substantially the story of the nation of Israel. Too often Christians fail to read the Old Testament and so miss the drama of Israel’s birth, growth, victories and defeats over its long history. Underlying all that happens is Israel’s role as the vehicle to prepare for and then give human lineage for the Savior to join the human race in the Incarnation. In addition to that, the nation was meant to be a beacon to the world, showcasing the mighty God that had raised them up and sharing how others might know Him.
While Israel succeeded in providing the human lineage of Christ, somewhat succeeded by its keeping of the Temple rituals to signal by symbol the ministry of our Lord, it failed miserably in its role as a beacon to the nations. Somehow most of the people thought the blessings were theirs by right, that God elevated them to be a superior race to those around them. The light given to them was viewed more as a personal reading lamp than the beacon God intended. While others groped in darkness they, with smug self-assurance, proclaimed that the light was theirs and theirs alone. Most did, but not all. Sprinkled throughout the hymns of Israel is the theme of this witness to the nations. "Sing praises to the Lord, enthroned in Zion; proclaim among the nations what He has done…All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before Him" (Psalm 9:11; 22:27).
Clearly the nation as a whole failed as the lighthouse of God. By the time Jesus began His ministry some of the Jewish leaders taught that the peoples of other nations were created by God to fuel the fires of Hell. Those who did seek Israel’s God did so more through sheer determination on their part then through helpful witness on the part of the Jews. Jesus was correcting this when He taught “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house” (Matthew 5:14-15).
Lest we shake our heads too much at the nation of Israel for its failure, we need to examine how it is we go about handing the light that we have. Too many of us are content to leave the sharing of the light to other people. It is the chaplain’s or the corps officer’s job. Maybe a Sunday school teacher should address these issues. An attitude of too many is that the corps is my place to worship to escape the pressure of everyday life. I shall go warm myself at the fire. Don’t ask me to do any more. Besides that, we reason, if people want to find us they can read the signs on our building and find their own way in at the prescribed time on the right day. Isn’t there an ad in the phone book? Maybe they can search us out on the internet. The light is here. Y’all come and find it.
I once attended one of the most wonderful Youth Councils I have seen. The message was clear. The challenges demanded response. The energy of the youth and the things they said warmed my heart. But I wondered: After a time of waving our torches in a rally were any fires ignited back home?
Because Israel failed in its task to be a beacon eventually its light was snuffed out. Israel was destroyed as a nation and the Jews scattered as a people. Will The Salvation Army someday face a similar fate? Could it be that we have perennially small numbers because we have so miserably kept the light to ourselves rather than letting our light shine where we are? I fear we have become a people more obsessed with having our own needs met than seeking and saving that which is lost. To be sure there are wonderful exceptions but in the main we seem to be spending a lot of time trimming our lamps instead of lighting them, shopping for bulbs instead of plugging them in.
William Booth warned that the tendency of fire is to go out. May God the Holy Spirit ignite His flame in us again so that we can light the way to the Light of the World.