“Therefore, be very strong to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, turning aside from it neither to the right hand nor to the left, that you may not mix with these nations remaining among you or make mention of the names of their gods or swear by them or serve them or bow down to them, but you shall cling to the Lord your God just as you have done to this day.” (ESV – Read the chapter)
A major purpose of the Law of Moses was to give the people of Israel a national identity that set them apart from all the other nations around them. Over and over again we see that the Lord wanted them to be different from everybody else. All the other nations, in spite of their own uniquenesses, were functionally the same: They were pagan. Israel, on the other hand, was to be a people of the Lord.
This was the covenant God was making with them. He was making them into a people who were dedicated to Him and Him alone. He was doing this for several reasons. Part of the reason was to bless them so that they could be a blessing. Part of the reason was that He was creating a cultural climate into which He could come in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ, and have His words make sense to the people.
Doing this latter thing would take time. They were a long way from such a place now. They were much closer to their pagan neighbors than not. It was going to take setting them off by themselves and leaving them there to develop in basically a national isolation…for years. Hundreds of years.
This is a big part of what makes the Old Covenant so different from the New Covenant. The Old Covenant was significantly about keeping Israel separated from the rest of the world. They weren’t to interact with them. They weren’t to share with them. They weren’t to have anything to do with them at all.
Well, when you set a nation off by themselves, tell them they are special, and that they are to stay separated from the rest of the world for hundreds of years, eventually they start to think that they’re special and nobody else is. They start to look down on the rest of the world as inferior to them. They start to think their God doesn’t like the rest of the world–even when He keeps telling them otherwise.
And yet, when the time came for God to make a new covenant with the people through Jesus, while they had been successfully set apart from the rest of the world as different, there was a lot they had to unlearn and relearn in order to understand what His real plans had been all along: To bless the world with a relationship with Him through Jesus.
This is why the New and Old Covenants, although continuous, are so different. Once the time came for the New Covenant to go into effect, God knew the time was right to extend the blessing of a relationship with Him out to the rest of the world. We live in that time and so we are to constantly reach out with the good news of the Gospel. We are set apart, like Israel was, but we are set apart for the world, not from it. Israel was set apart for God with the world on the horizon. We are set apart in Christ by God for the world. Let us cling to Him as they were called to, and be who He made us to be.