You can't read the Bible very long before you realize that Israel was a special people. If you enter into covenant with me, said God (Exodus 19:5), you will be mine in a way that others aren't. "My people!" There must have been moments despite their obvious weaknesses and their fickleness when Israel felt good about that! There must have been moments when it sank into the heart of each one of them that there was a new wonder in the world and that they were part of it. It wouldn't have happened to them all at the same time or under the same circumstances. For some it would have been a moment of solitude while working in the field alone. For others as they looked in on their children while they slept before they themselves settled down to a refreshing night's rest. For some it would have come in the middle of a noisy and joyful 'riot' with special friends when everyone was silly with laughter. For others it would have a moment of national praise or mourning. When in their desperation or in their worshipful mood the nation came together as one person. To be a part of all this. To have been 'lucky' enough to be invited into such a nation and heritage. At that moment all of these wonderful occasions would become sacraments, bringing the individual into the very presence of the Lord who had graciously chosen her or him. Only now and then, perhaps, would the astonishing quality of their privilege and honor come home to Israel but that flash of insight could be enough to create a brilliant view of life and the world. The moment would pass but the impression left would last a lifetime and beyond. "My people!"
The People is bigger than the individual. The People are grander than the sum total of all the citizens. God's astonishing claim is that Israel is 'My people'. There are no 'big wheels' (except in Ezekiel, and they aren't men). Leaders they had, elders they had, kings they had, prophets and priests and judges they had but it was the 'People' that God calls 'My'. The elders, priests, prophets, kings and judges are servants to the 'People'. It's true that the individual mustn't be completely swallowed up in the corporate whole and become a statistic, but it seems to me that people today in the Western world need to learn the major truth about solidarity, about 'corporate personality'. It's true that the OT, even in its earlier periods, stressed the importance of 'one man' but it had (or so it seems to me) a healthier view of 'solidarity' than the Christian Community and certainly a healthier view that those of raised in a democracy that so stresses individuality that community is lost.
For good or ill we're linked together. Organized crime knows what organized good only pays lip service to--that there's more power in organization. Independent thieves and gangsters can make 'a living' but criminals who band together can make 'a killing'. When the People of God fully acknowledge God's intention to create a 'People' and not just to save 'individuals' and when that truth becomes a guiding principle, the world will see, more clearly and with more effect, the sign of God's presence in the world. In society there will be a People who move together, give and forgive together, praise and protest together, sing and suffer together, debate and worship together, work and weep together. When that time comes, the redeeming and creative acts of God which formed such a People will become matters of enquiry and wonder and God will be glorified in his people.
The People are stronger than the individual. One cannot do without the other but something happens to an individual when he becomes part of a great heritage. It gives him added significance, added strength since he shares in the grand mission and purpose of countless men and women. It gives him additional reasons to remain true because others are depending on him. Alone he is more vulnerable to doubts and despair and discouragement. As part of a People in whom God has invested strengths of many kinds he finds people to bolster him where he is weak and keep him from straying.
One army of the living God,
Before one throne we bow,
Some of the host have crossed the flood,
And some are crossing now.