The Significance of 1 Peter 2:9’s Use of Exodus 19 Language Concerning the Relationship between the Church and Israel

The following was a short exegetical essay for Dr. Richard E. Averbeck’s Pentateuch and Historical Books course at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

In 1 Peter 2:9, Peter lathers Christian (Gentile) believers with descriptions once used exclusively of the nation of Israel (cf. Ex 19:5-6; Deut 7:6; Isa 43:20; Hos. 1:6, 9, 10; 2:23; Mal 3:17). Regarding Exodus 19 specifically, Peter quotes exactly from the LXX—βασίλειον ἱεράτευμα, ἔθνος ἅγιον (“a royal priesthood, a holy nation”; Ex 19:6)—and alludes to וִהְיִ֨יתֶם לִ֤י סְגֻלָּה֙ (“and you will be to me a treasured possession”) with the words λαὸς εἰς περιποίησιν (“a people for possession”; Ex 19:5). The application of such language to the Church has resulted in no little debate regarding the relationship between Israel and the Church. An investigation of Peter’s use of this language will help shed some light on this discussion.

Many scholars conclude that Peter’s application of Israel-designations to the Church indicates a level of continuity (often seen as typological and/or supersessionistic) between Israel and the Church. By using appellations of Israel in reference to the Church, Peter shows “how he understands the true line of continuity to run from the people of God under the old covenant to the people of God under the new covenant” (Carson, 1032; cf. Woudstra, 234; Grudem, 113). However, dispensationalists, whose theological presuppositions include the absolute separation of the Church and Israel (Ryrie, Kindle Locations 705-706), often understand Peter’s use as analogical. In other words, Peter is applying spiritual realities in Israel to similar spiritual realities present in the Church. Due to dispensationalists’ belief in a distinct future for national Israel apart from the Church, they are necessarily uncomfortable with applying “Israel” language to the Church or acknowledging a supersessionistic typological relationship between Israel and the Church. But as Progressive Dispensationalist, Robert Saucy, states, “The application to the church of these descriptions formerly used exclusively for Israel does not mean that the church now assumes that position exclusively for herself” (Continuity and Discontinuity, 241; emphasis mine). Elsewhere he argues that an initial typological fulfillment or application does not necessarily negate a future, ultimate fulfillment with national Israel (Progressive Dispensationalism, Kindle Locations 7035-7037). In other words, this relationship says something more than the OT texts, but not less (cf. complementary hermeneutics).

In conclusion, surely analogy is fundamental to Peter’s use of this OT language. But the lavishing of designations once used for Israel (Grudem, 113), as well as the specific type of designations, indicate something more. For example, what use is it to call the Church, a multi-ethnic community, a nation? Peter’s point is certainly not the Church’s national composition (hardly), but the realization of this special position once held by Israel. Or further, Peter does not merely apply one or two OT themes to the Church, but applies several designations for and descriptions of Israel to the Church in 2:9-10. And this Church, Peter has argued, is the people of God who has become the recipients of all the promises previously anticipated by the Old Testament people of God (1:3-12). In other words, Peter’s use of the language of Exodus 19 (as well as other OT texts) in application to the Church assumes an implied typological relationship between the Church and Israel. This doesn’t necessitate that the Church and Israel are indistinct and there’s no discontinuity between eschatological Israel (i.e., the Church; Gal 6:16) and Old Testament Israel; nor does it mean that the Church has “replaced” Israel (rather, believing Israelites are included) and ethnic Israel has no future in God’s redemptive purpose (cf. Rom 9-11). But this relationship does imply that all of God’s promises are realized in the Church, the eschatological people of God, of which all the true children of promise (Rom 9:8; Gal 4:28; cf. Rom 2:25-29; Gal 3:14, 29), Jew or Gentile, are a part.

The Meaning of “Kingdom of Priests” (Exodus 19:6)

The following was a short exegetical essay for Dr. Richard E. Averbeck’s Pentateuch and Historical Books course at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

In Exodus 19:6, as conditioned on Israel’s obedience, God marks Israel’s special position with three descriptions. The second of these is מַמְלֶ֥כֶת כֹּהֲנִ֖ים (“kingdom of priests”) Since an understanding of this phrase is central to an understanding of the immediate text, Israel’s calling in the subsequent Biblical drama, as well as various New Testament passages that employ language from this passage, the exegete does well to investigate this phrase.

In Exodus 19:6, YHWH identifies Israel’s intended position as a result of keeping God’s covenant as being מַמְלֶ֥כֶת כֹּהֲנִ֖ים (“a kingdom of priests”). The syntax of this phrase allows itself to be interpreted two ways: (1) a kingdom (domain or realm) of priests over whom God rules. Or (2), a kingly (royal) priesthood, “the exercise of royal office by those who are in fact priests” (Gentry, 319). Nonetheless, Israel is specified with this collective priestly function. Hamilton presents two possible theological meanings (or emphases) for this idea. The question is whether this phrase addresses Israel’s relationship to God or to the nations. On the one hand, מַמְלֶ֥כֶת כֹּהֲנִ֖ים may express Israel’s privileged position in relationship to God. To Israel alone has God revealed Himself in this way through His Exodus-redemption and this nation-covenant. And just as priests alone were privileged to enter the holy place, only Israel has this special access to His mediated presence through the tabernacle (and eventual temple). But, on the other hand, מַמְלֶ֥כֶת כֹּהֲנִ֖ים may refer to a mediatorial role to which YHWH has called Israel (Hamilton, 304). Just as priests mediated between God and the worshiper, so Israel was to be God’s priests unto the nations. Stuart advocates the latter position: “they [Israelites] were to represent him to the rest of the world and attempt to bring the rest of the world to him,” and thereby bring to fruition the responsibility inherent in God’s words to Abraham to be a blessing and that all nations would be blessed through him (Gen 12:2-3; Stuart, 423). Stuart provides four ways in which Israel might have served as priests to the nations:

(1) Israel would be an example to the people of other nations, who would see its holy beliefs and actions and be impressed enough to want to know personally the same God the Israelites knew. (2) Israel would proclaim the truth of God and invite people from other nations to accept him in faith as shown by confession of belief in him and acceptance of his covenant. . . . (3) Israel would intercede for the rest of the world by offering acceptable offerings to God (both sacrifices and right behavior) and thus ameliorate the general distance between God and humankind. (4) Israel would keep the promises of God, preserving his word already spoken and recording his word as it was revealed to them so that once the fullness of time had come, anyone in the whole world could promptly benefit from that great body of divinely revealed truth, that is, the Scriptures. (423)

As Sarna well summarizes, “the priest’s place and function within society must serve as the ideal model for Israel’s self-understanding of its role among the nations” (104; cf. Childs, 367).

So does מַמְלֶ֥כֶת כֹּהֲנִ֖ים refer to Israel’s privileged position before God or her mediatorial relationship to the nations? This author suggests a both/and solution. Certainly, the immediate context deals with Israel’s relationship to God; the pericope contains no direct reference to Israel’s obligations to the nations. Nonetheless, Israel’s mediatorial relationship to the nations is a passive one, not an active one as in the case of modern missionaries; they are called, not necessarily to witness, but to be a witness. By being who they are called to be in relationship to God, they serve as priests unto the nations.


Gentry argues that מַמְלֶ֥כֶת כֹּהֲנִ֖ים וְג֣וֹי קָד֑וֹשׁ (“a kingdom of priests and a holy nation”) should be taken as one description, rather than two. These two parallel terms share a hendiadys relationship in which both descriptions consider the same topic from a variant perspective (318). Contrary to this perspective, Childs claims that apart from a brief parenthetical remark (כִּי־לִ֖י כָּל־הָאָֽרֶץ) three distinct descriptions are provided, which nonetheless ought “to be interpreted in relation to one another” (367). Childs claims that while סְגֻלָּה specifically addressed Israel’s relationship to God, מַמְלֶ֥כֶת כֹּהֲנִ֖ים  defines her relationship to her neighbors (367). Either way, for the sake of this brief paper, מַמְלֶ֥כֶת כֹּהֲנִ֖ים will be examined on its own terms.

An Analysis of “Treasured Possession” (Exodus 19:5)

The following was a short exegetical essay for Dr. Richard E. Averbeck’s Pentateuch and Historical Books course at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

The stipulations element of the covenant (וְעַתָּ֗ה אִם־שָׁמ֤וֹעַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ֙ בְּקֹלִ֔י וּשְׁמַרְתֶּ֖ם אֶת־בְּרִיתִ֑י, v.5) is followed by the divine promise of Israel’s special position, which is presented with three terms. The first of three descriptions held out to Israel is סְגֻלָּה, which has been translated into English as “peculiar treasure” (KJV), “treasured possession” (ESV; NIV; cf. NASB; RSV; HCSB), and “special treasure” (NLT). The precise meaning and origin of סְגֻלָּה is somewhat obscure. Given the importance of understanding this term in order to understand the immediate passage as well as Israel’s intended position throughout Biblical history, the exegete does well to investigate סְגֻלָּה.

Out of its eight Biblical uses, twice סְגֻלָּה carries a secular or common use as it refers to literal treasure. In 1 Chronicles 29:3, David speaks of all the resources, including his own special treasure (סְגֻלָּה), which he is donating to the building of Solomon’s temple. In Ecclesiastes 2:8, Solomon mentions gold, silver, and סְגֻלָּה among many other pleasures he sought in vain. However, סְגֻלָּה came to be employed in a theological-figurative sense (e.g., Ps 135:4). As Sarna and Hamilton note, a connection between the Hebrew סְגֻלָּה (segulla) and Akkadian sikiltum may exist. Sikiltum occurs in a royal seal parallel to the description of Abban king of Alalakh as the servant and beloved of the god, Alad. Similarly, in an Ugarit text from a Hittite king (identified as “the sun”) to Hammurapi of Ugarit, a potential cognate of סְגֻלָּה occurs parallel to a word referring to Hammurapi as a friend-servant. Such parallels suggest that sikiltum, and correspondingly סְגֻלָּה, connotes a special relationship (Sarna, 104; Hamilton, 303). In Malachi 3:17, YHWH uses סְגֻלָּה to describe the remnant that fears Him. Again, such texts indicate that סְגֻלָּה connotes a unique relationship. Therefore, according to Stuart, in Exodus 19:5, סְגֻלָּה indicates God’s intention to create for Himself His own particular people. As he says,

“This represents the separation of his chosen people from the general world population, or, stated in terms of the overall biblical plan of redemption, the beginning of the outworking of his intention to bring close to himself a people that will join him for all eternity as adopted members of his family.” (422)

In like thought, according to Childs, if Israel demonstrates faithfulness to God’s covenant, she will achieve this special relationship (367). In other words, these scholars claim that סְגֻלָּה primarily serves to define Israel’s relationship to God; “Israel is God’s own people, set apart from the rest of the nations” (Childs, 367). Interestingly, in the Pentateuch exclusively, this language of Israel as God’s סְגֻלָּה always occurs hand in hand with Israel’s unique election and subsequent call to holiness (Ex 19:5; Dt 7:6 14:2 26:18; Sarna, 104; Hamilton, 302). In other words, Israel’s unique “otherness” from all other nations as a result of her election and special relationship to God is to result in Israel’s “otherness” in action, ethics, religious service, etc.

In conclusion, although used to refer to an individual’s literal special treasure, a “prized possession” if one will, סְגֻלָּה entered the figurative as well as the religious sphere to denote something or someone of a unique, privileged position similar to that of one’s literal “prized possession.” In Exodus 19:5, God states that if Israel is faithful to His covenant, such a position will be hers. God holds his people as his “prized possession,” His special and most valued treasure. What a privilege! And, as a result of this special position, God’s people are called to special conduct unique from those that are not God’s people.