If I had to summarize Exodus in one sentence, it would be this:
God established the nation of Israel to be His people, set apart in every aspect of their daily lives to accomplish His purpose for them as a nation and, through the course of time, for the world as a whole.
Exodus is the fleshing out not only of the foundation of that nation, but also of the practical ways in which He intended that nation to be set apart. The fleshing out is continued throughout the remainder of the Pentateuch, but Exodus gives a solid foundation for the concept.
So much of what God commanded and required of Israel stemmed strictly from His intent that Israel be distinctly different from the pagan cultures around them. Over and over again He commanded them to be different because the behavior of the cultures around them was detestable to Him. He commanded them to not mingle or intermarry, to not be pulled in by friendship with those cultures.
Which brings me to this question: Why would it be any different for us?
When I look at the culture in which we live, I see many of the same things that disgusted God about the pagan communities around Israel. And yet, we have blended in with the culture. We marry into it. We raise our children just as others who are not chosen of God raise their children. We follow after the same pastimes. We enjoy the same entertainment. We speak, dress, and act the same way.
God has called us to be holy, to be set apart for God. We are expected to look differently. To act differently. To make different choices. We are not supposed to blend in. And yet, even our churches strive to be “culturally relevant.”
Psalm 73 is a Psalm from the heart of a downtrodden and oppressed psalmist who recognizes the destruction that lies ahead for the wicked. He recognizes that, despite the good that seems to come in the here and now for the wicked, the end result will be horrible judgment. In the here and now, things seem to look rather bleak for him as he strives to live set apart. When viewed in light of eternity, however, the psalmist acknowledges that none of the benefits of this earth gained by the wicked are worth much of anything. In verse 25, he exclaims:
Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.
Blending in with the world sometimes results in life being good here on earth. Standing apart regularly results in being deprived of the pleasures of this world. Like the Israelites, we chase after those things because we don’t want to be left out. They seem so good. They seem so promising. And, like the Israelites, we chase after death when we choose to blend in with the culture in which we live.
Living set apart, does not typically result in the good life or the fulfillment of the American dream, but, there are joys unimaginable that result from obedience. Blessings that begin here on earth and extend throughout eternity. Delights that fill our heart with true pleasure rather than the temporal pleasures of this earth that need to be increased time and time again to satisfy.
Being set apart may not be pleasant from an earthly sense. It may require sacrifice and earthly loneliness. But, it is what God commands, and therefore it is for our good. It will accomplish His purposes, both for us and for His eternal kingdom. Will we begin to stand out in our communities? Will we begin to live differently? Will we reap the eternal benefits, or will we continue to blend in with our society so as to enjoy temporal, rotting pleasures?