A king in pre-Christian times, whether the monarch of Israel or a ruler of a Gentile kingdom, had access to a national treasury of riches accumulated from citizens’ taxes and the bounty acquired as spoils of war. Wealthy King Solomon admitted, ‘I collected great sums of silver and gold, the treasure of many kings and provinces’ (Ecclesiastes 2:8, New Living Translation throughout). These resources could be apportioned as:
 salaries for government officers
 the costs of the upkeep of palace buildings
 road maintenance
 army expenses
But each king also had a treasure chest filled with his own personal valuables; the noun (occurring sparingly in the Hebrew scriptures) for this store of ‘special treasure’ was segulah (s’gulah).
When publicly recognising his son Solomon as the future executive builder of ‘the Temple of my God’, David recorded how vast were the reserves he himself had amassed for this project:
‘Using every resource at my command, I have gathered as much as I could for building the Temple of my God. Now there is enough gold, silver, bronze, iron, and wood, as well as great quantities of onyx, other precious stones, costly jewels, and all kinds of fine stone and marble’ (1 Chronicles 29:2).
Then he added this detail to inspire others to donate generously towards the building of God’s house:
‘And now, because of my devotion to the Temple of my God, I am giving all of my own private treasures (s’gulah) of gold and silver to help in the construction’ (verse 3), then listed the specific amounts (verses 4-5). This inspired leaders of families, tribes, army and administration also to contribute generously (verses 6-9).
At different stages in the history of Israel, the Old Testament specifies the Lord’s ‘special treasure’ as: (i) the whole nation, (ii) the tribe of Levi and (iii) dynamic small interactive groups of faithful ones – a precious remnant of the nation, as follows:
- The redeemed nation
On Mount Sinai, God told Moses to inform ‘Israel: “You . . . know how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure (s’gulah) from among all the peoples of the earth . . . And you will be my holy nation”’ (Exodus 19:2-6). Having said this to the generation of Israelites who came out of Egypt, the Lord repeated this message three times nearly forty years later (among Moses’ ‘famous last words’) to the new generation who were about to enter the promised land:
 They must destroy every altar to a pagan god, and must not intermarry with those who worshipped them: ‘For you are a holy people, who belong to the Lord your God. Of all the people on earth, the Lord your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure (s’gulah)’ (Deuteronomy 7:6).
 They must not copy pagan mourning practices, nor eat ceremonially unclean meat as the people of Canaan did, because ‘You have been set apart as holy to the Lord your God, and he has chosen you from all the nations of the earth to be his own special treasure (s’gulah)’ (Deuteronomy 14:2).
 Finally, after they had agreed to obey all the Lord’s commandments and declared that the Lord was their God, Moses confirmed that ‘The Lord has declared today that you are his people, his own special treasure’. Now, if they actually carry out their vows, ‘he will set you high above all the other nations he has made. Then you will receive praise, honour, and renown. You will be a nation that is holy to the Lord your God, just as he promised’ (Deuteronomy 26:18).
- The tribe of Levi
The Lord also told Moses, ‘Look, I have chosen the Levites from among the Israelites to serve as substitutes for all the firstborn sons of the people of Israel. The Levites belong to me, for all the firstborn males are mine. On the day I struck down the firstborn sons of the Egyptians, I set apart for myself all the firstborn of Israel, both of people and of animals. They are mine; I am the Lord’ (Numbers 3:12-13). He repeated it straight after: ‘Take the Levites as substitutes for the firstborn sons of the people of Israel. . . . The Levites belong to me; I am the Lord’ (verses 44-45). We will find that this phraseology is coupled to the concept of s’gulah in our final category of ‘crown jewels’
- Small groups of ‘the faithful few’
A generation after the exiles of Israel returned to the promised land a spate of religious hypocrisy had developed among priests and worshippers at the restored temple. Through the prophet Malachi God voiced his disapproval. ‘Then’ – oh joy! – ‘those who feared the Lord spoke with each other, and the Lord listened to what they said’ and he recorded their names. ‘They will be my people . . . my own special treasure’ in the time of his judgement on the reprobate nation (as was inflicted in AD 70) – see Malachi 3:16-18.
There have been other seasons like that in the history of Christians, as is the case in some parts of the world today, where true believers are few and far between and persecution is prevalent. How reassuring to know that even when reduced to a remnant, God’s people are treasured by him like crown jewels. And it is salutary to examine ourselves and ask if our fellowship with other believers really rises above social greeting and ‘church liturgy’!