Imagine for a moment that you are looking at a wet sponge. As you gaze from a distance, you can tell it is wet, but only slightly. You speculate, “If I give it one quick squeeze, I should wring out all the water easily.” As you move closer you begin to notice that it is wetter than you imagined. When you pick it up, it is soaked and dripping. You squeeze once…twice…three times… but each time more and more water reveals itself. It is at that moment that you realize how densely packed the sponge actually was! I have found something similar to be true of 1 Peter 2 as I have studied and meditated on it this month. It seems like an interesting passage at a quick glance, but the closer you look, the more depth of meaning you uncover. This passage is supersaturated with Old Testament imagery and allusions, all refining and enhancing its message. The result is a literary masterpiece, with truths that take root deeply in our hearts.
As we put on our wet-suits and plunge deep into the sea of drippings from this scriptural sponge, we must remember the larger ocean which feeds it. Remember, as we reflected on last month, that Peter is writing to a group of weary, overwhelmed, oppressed believers. They, like so many today, were facing trials. One of the principal reasons that Peter writes to these “elect exiles” is to comfort and encourage them. He does that first by reminding them of the “living hope” that has been secured for them, and how they can think and act differently because they have been ransomed by the precious blood of a perfect savior.
In this new section, Peter is switching gears to reassure them in a different way—by reminding them of the transformation in status that has occurred, and continues to occur as they draw nearer and nearer to their deliverer. In contrast to their worldly persecutors, who “stumble because they disobey the word,” these saints have a new identity, community, and responsibility by nature of their status “in Christ.” These truths are intended by the Good Shepherd to console the harassed sheep, both in the 1st century and today. As you read my scattered notes on these beautiful verses, I implore you, neglect not the solace that these words were intended to awaken.
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10)
But you are – Verse 9 starts in the middle of a glaring contrast. In the preceding verses, Peter is presenting the drastic distinction in status between unbelievers and believers. While unbelievers are described as disobedient stumblers, believers are in a position of great honor due to their relation to Christ.
A chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession – these phrases allude to several Old Testament references to the nation of Israel. One example is Exodus, where God directs Moses to say this to the people of Israel:
Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. (Exodus 19:5-6a, emphasis mine)
I hope that when you read these verses next to each other your jaw drops. It is stunning how similar these two descriptions are. In Exodus, God is saying this immediately after he has rescued the Hebrews from Egyptian bondage. He is making a covenant with them to be his chosen, special people. More than that, he is consecrating them as his kingdom of priests, who will worship him and testify to the world concerning his wondrous glory! When Peter makes this allusion in describing believers, he is fully intending for it to be noticed. However, we must tread carefully here. Peter does not intend to communicate that the church has replaced Israel and become the recipient of their blessings. Rather, he is saying that in the same way that Israel was set apart as a treasured people who would worship and represent God to the surrounding world, so also the Church—including every single believer it is comprised of—is set apart to be God’s precious representatives.
That you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you – As I mentioned above, we are set apart for a purpose. We aren’t set apart because we are somehow better than others. Just as the nation of Israel was set apart with the purpose of declaring his praises (Isaiah 43:21), so we have a responsibility as the “people for his own possession.” That responsibility is much the same as it was for the Israelites, to proclaim the excellencies of the One who has rescued you from the bondage of darkness.
Once you were not, now you are… Once you had not, now you have – This verse is another Old Testament allusion (Hosea 1-2). God called Hosea to preach to an unfaithful Israel in a unique way. He was, in a sense, to model and experience the very same unfaithfulness that Israel had shown the Lord. Along the way, God directed Hosea to name the children his adulteress wife bore to him very specifically. Can you guess what two of them were named? I’ll give you a hint; look at verse 10 again. Hosea was instructed to literally name his children “No Mercy” (1:6) and “Not My People” (1:9). Their names were meant to provide a warning. Israel, your unfaithfulness is provoking your God and placing you under his just wrath!
Yet in the midst of that warning, God promises a day when Israel would be free from worthless idol worship. “No Mercy” would receive mercy. “Not My People” would be called His people (Hosea 2:23). Peter likens darkness to our prior “No Mercy, Not My People” state. Frankly, that is where every one of us was, but, by His astounding grace like a blinding light in a dark tunnel, we are called His own and showered with undeserved mercy. May that mercy constantly refresh us in trials, motivating us to shout his praises from the rooftops!
Your fellow recipient of mercy,