But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light; (I Peter 2:9 KJV)
The meaning of “peculiar” has changed somewhat since the publication of the King James Bible four hundred years ago. In 1611 it meant special, set apart, treasured – in other words, holy. Today it means odd, strange, or out-of-place, which is why the New King James uses the word “special” instead of peculiar.
The point of this language, both in I Peter and in the Torah passages Peter references (Exodus 19:5-6; Deuteronomy 14:1-2, 26:18-19), is that YHVH has designated the people of Israel as His own possession. As such, Israelites will think, eat, speak, dress, and act differently than the rest of the world. The fact that Peter draws on the Torah for his exhortation to First Century followers of Yeshua testifies to his belief in direct connection between them and Israel. Paul agrees, which is why he says that we who take advantage of the grace offered through Yeshua’s redemptive work are adopted or grafted into the covenant people of Israel and become part of Abraham’s seed (Ephesians 2:8-13; Romans 11:16-27; Galatians 3:29).
As sincere Christians in traditional churches, we already had some measure of distinction from the world as we tried to speak kindly, treat one another nicely, refrain from vices, go to church regularly, and study the Bible. All of that established us as different from “unchurched” people. Observant Jews are also distinctive from the rest of the world in that they dress and eat differently, observe the Sabbath and the Feasts of the Lord, and make a concerted effort to take care of one another. So what happens when sincere Christians start looking like observant Jews?
That is a lesson we learned yesterday in our walk around Jerusalem. As Hebrews, we wear tzittzit in observance of the commandment in Numbers 15:37-41. Many of us have also adopted the Jewish custom of keeping our heads covered, either with a kippa or with a hat of some kind. This is normal in Jerusalem, where many varieties of tzittziyot and head coverings – as well as other dress – come together in an eclectic Jewish blend. What made us peculiar even here, however, was what we did.
In our wanderings, we made our way to the foot of the Mount of Olives to read and discuss some scripture passages at the traditional site of the Garden of Gethsemane. That in itself is peculiar: why would these “Jewish” people want to go to a site associated with the Christian Jesus? The garden is in the courtyard of the Church of All Nations, a Catholic church and a regular stop for Christian tour groups. As we gathered on the edge of the garden and discussed the various events associated with the Mount of Olives, we received many puzzled looks from the groups who filed by us. The quizzical looks continued when we left the garden as Arab vendors and Jewish pedestrians wondered the same thing: why are these “Jews” going to a church?
The answer, of course, is not that we are trying to be Jewish, but that we are finding our own way in this appreciation of the whole Word of God.
It is a peculiar journey.
(For the curious, the passages of interest included II Samuel 15 and Zechariah 14, which we discussed in the context of King David’s story prefiguring the life, ministry and second coming of Messiah Yeshua, the Son of David).