What makes Israel so distinctive?
What is it that makes Israel distinctive amongst all the nations?
It’s not that they have to wear funny clothes, the little skullcaps (Heb. kippahs) or blue and white strings showing from underneath their shirts (Heb. tzitztit). Many nations and religions have a national dress required of them.
For example, if I am Sikh then I have to wear a turban on my head, if I am a Buddhist monk then I have to wear orange robes, if I am female Wahhabi then I wear a full Niqhab. If I am a Bishop then I wear a ridiculous looking hat called a mitre. We can see that having strange clothing is not a mark of distinctiveness.
Special diets, places and more...
What about having a special diet?
Does the inability to consume cheeseburgers at McDonald's make someone special in the history of the world? Do the kosher rules for food make Israel distinct amongst the nations? Not really, as many other nations have food restrictions of their own.
For example, in India I can not eat cow as it is a special animal for Hindu peoples and taboo for consuming as food. While bacon is a forbidden product in Israel it is similarly forbidden in Islamic countries. These days the modern Western nations have developed a special food restriction, its called gluten intolerance, so when I go to the United States I can’t eat bread - strangely fulfilling the verse that ‘Man shall not live by bread alone’.
How about sacred places?
Many nations, like Israel, have or have had in the past, sacred places, religious calendars and prayers books. Prayer books and calendars do not mark Israel as separate and distinctive. What makes Israel different from amongst all the nations is the Tabernacle. It is that God dwells with them.
When God, with a mighty arm and an outstretched hand, redeemed a people from slavery under the Pharaohs, He commanded them to build Him a Tabernacle, for He wanted to dwell with His people. Amongst all the mighty nations through history only Israel has a God that declares He will live with them. Other nations had gods but their gods lived on top of mountains like Olympus, or even on whole different worlds across the rainbow bridge in Asgard, or lived amongst sacred groves of trees guarded by crazy white bearded druids, or hidden deep under the earth guarded by three headed dogs.
To get to their god they had to embark on a quest, a long journey with possible perils. The reality was that they would most likely not succeed in meeting their deity. Israel’s God, by comparison, was very close, not far away and very accessible.
The God of Israel said He wanted to dwell with His people.
The God of Israel lives with us, and redeems us!
The Book of Exodus describes the redemption of Israel from Egypt and takes 11 chapters to do so, then it embarks on a detailed 15 chapter explanation on how you construct a tent. I have heard it said that God is in the details, and I would agree. Exodus 26 tells us which material to use to cover the tent, and it is animal skin. The probable source being the Manatee from the Red Sea. Thus setting up a pattern that God would dwell inside skin.
Further, it would take 9 months to build the structure of skin for God to live in! See Exodus 19, which tells us the Israelites start construction of the Tabernacle in the 3rd month of the first year, and Exodus 40 tells that they finished in the first month of the second year, which is nine months construction time.
Imman-u-el: God lives with us
The concept of biblical incarnation is not one derived from Pagan culture.
It is deep seeded within the sacred history of Israel. God always wanted to be close to His Creation. From walking in the cool of the evening, conversing with Man, to dwelling within the midst of the community inside a structure of skins, to the prophecies of the indwelling of the Spirit on all flesh (Joel 2) of the present day.
And it is this that separates Israel out from amongst all the nations of the world. It is this wondrous tradition that enters the Christian Faith through the early Jewish Believers in Messiah.
"I will dwell among the sons of Israel and will be their God. They shall know that I am the LORD their God who brought them out of the land of Egypt, that I might dwell among them; I am the LORD their God."