The very idea that God could choose the people of Israel over all the others offends sensibilities and can be hard to swallow. Both Jew and Gentile alike have been known to puzzle at this apparent favouritism. How are to we believe that God is just and loves everyone, but at the same time “sets his affection” on one people group in particular?
“For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 7:6-8)
This theme of his passionate love for his people is repeated throughout the whole Bible – sometimes with conditions such as following the law, and sometimes in spite of their breaking all the conditions. He refers to Israel as his “special treasure” (סגולה) and the “apple of his eye” (בבת עיניו) among other tender and affectionate designations. His anger and fury is aroused if they are hurt, and their unfaithfulness pains him like no other. And this is not even thrown out of the window on the safe arrival of Yeshua the Messiah. He states that he was sent to “the lost sheep of Israel”, and Paul says the gospel should go first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. We see God’s distinct choice of Israel right to the end of Revelation, because his calling and gifts are irrevocable (Romans 11:28-29).
How are we to align ourselves with this passion of God’s heart, when it seems contrary to our sense of justice and fair play? Indeed, contrary to God’s revealed heart for every nation, and his declared lack of favouritism? (“I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism”, declared Peter in Acts 10:34).
Lord, Couldn’t You Choose Someone Else?
We often think of God’s choice of Israel as an honour and privilege, but it also carries a heavy responsibility. More than one Jewish person has verbally wished that the choice had landed on another people group instead. God warns Israel,
“You only have I chosen of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your sins.” (Amos 3:1-2)
God calls Israel to a higher standard, precisely because of his unique revelation and choice of them. Just as a judge might “make an example” out of a criminal, Israel serves as an example and a lesson to the world. The curses and punishments in Deuteronomy promised to Israel if they fail are eye-watering in their severity and extremity.
Psalm 147 declares:
“He has revealed his word to Jacob, his laws and decrees to Israel. He has done this for no other nation.”
God wanted us all to have access to the Scriptures – the “oracles of God’ as Paul calls them – the precious words of God to the world. He also wanted to bring his Messiah into the world through a people group. Through humanity itself. A personal delivery. The Jewish people are trustees, guardians and messengers of these gifts to the world.
Israel may be the nation that was chosen, but they have been chosen for a reason.
The reason is not merited by themselves, but God’s reason is to bless all the nations on the earth.
God wanted a ‘flagship’ nation that was an example to the world – not of how they behave, but of how he behaves.
We can learn by observing the twists and turns of the love story between God and Israel what kind of character it is that we are following. We can see his faithfulness. We can see his standards. We can see his compassionate love and mercy, as well as his jealousy and wrath when he is rejected for other lovers.
The Bible cannot be understood without appreciating the place of Israel in his grand scheme – from beginning to end. Indeed, looking through the lens of his dealings with Israel is like a key that unlocks the Scriptures.
However, a cursory glance backwards through history shows how time and time again, while the people of Israel may be the object of God’s undying affection, they are also targeted for special hatred – the unquenchable, Satanic drive to annihilate them continues throughout the generations. It is enough to make anyone envious of the chosen people retreat from that position with gratitude.
Part of our problem is that we have bought the lie that uniformity is good.
Paul writes to the Galatians that there is no longer “Jew nor Greek” (3:28), but then he also says there is no “male nor female”, so we understand that he does not mean those identities vanish when we come to faith, but rather that we are all equally valuable in God’s sight. Our identity in the flesh does not give us preferential treatment or diminish our status before God. Clearly, we remain either male or female, and our gender is part of who God created us to be – these differences are roles, and functions in God’s created order which we can either respect or ignore. As time goes by, in the drive for equality, the human race is confusing difference with value and denying the differences that God has put in place, thinking that if we are different then one must be better than the other. This is a mistake. The fact that we can be different but equally precious is a truth that the enemy is trying to hide.
We see this strategy insidiously contaminating many areas of life – we must be the same – we must have the same – we must look the same. This is not the will, nor is it the purpose or the desire of God. We just have to consider the flora and fauna around us to see how God takes great delight in variety working in harmony together, and then compare that with Communist apartment blocks that drown out any hint of individuality with a monotonous, monochrome drone.
God’s creation of each individual is unique, and his plans for us are also tailor-made. We often fall into the trap of thinking “But everyone else…” and believing that we are therefore rightfully due the same. After his resurrection, Jesus has a conversation with Peter about his future. He bestows great honour upon him but also gives him a heads-up about his painful end. Peter immediately looks over at John…
When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”
Yeshua answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” (John 21:21-22)
Jesus tells Peter, and all those who read these words, that we are not to look at others and insist on identical treatment, but to accept the privileges we receive from God with understanding – and also the challenges that he has uniquely put before us. His path for each one of us is different. It’s hard not to compare, but the Body of Messiah depends upon each one embracing their unique calling, giftings, privileges and responsibilities, and celebrating those of others (1 Corinthians 12).
In other words, we must not covet the package that others have got. Following this commandment means learning to be satisfied and content with what God chooses for us, and not begrudging what he chooses for others. Even graciously rejoicing in the blessing of others, and appreciating their contribution. A deepening trust in God’s sovereign plan and his perfect goodness to us can help us accept the differences we see – to steward our privileges well and generously, and to humbly accept the difficulties we experience that others seem to escape from Scott-free. It is a command against the greed and bitterness that we so easily fall into.
This can only be done when we truly believe that God really loves us. Satan whispers to us that God is rejecting us, that he prefers another, that someone else is getting better treatment and that we are losing out. But these too are lies. We need faith to believe in God’s goodness to the whole world, and every individual in it. He loves each one passionately, but he has different plans and a different relationship with each of us.
Joining God’s Heart for Israel
If we believe God is loving and wise, we must trust God with his choice of Israel. We can rejoice in God’s divine plans for us all, enjoying what God has chosen for us to its full extent without believing that we are any less esteemed at all. It’s a beautiful thing to forego a demanding attitude that insists on exactly the same treatment for all, and is ready instead to draw alongside our Father God – to join him and and share his heart for his people. It requires that we refuse to believe the lie that we are rejected or second best – or that God’s grace and favour must be merited. All those who have come to love the God of Israel and have been forgiven by Yeshua the Messiah have been brought into the commonwealth of Israel to share in God’s riches, and have been grafted into the chosen people. Ephesians 2:12-13 says,
“At that time you were separate from Messiah, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Messiah Yeshua, you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of the Messiah.“
We all have equal standing before God and free access to the Father through his son, Yeshua. Yet the tribes of Israel are still there right to the end of Revelation, just as God promised that they always would be (Romans 9-11, Jeremiah 31:35-36). It is easy to see the unique role that God had for Israel in the past, bringing us the Scriptures and the Messiah, the story of God… but we have the amazing privilege today of seeing God’s faithfulness in action as we see his ancient promises to Israel coming to pass before our eyes today.
Israel was, and still is, like a fuzzy felt illustration to the rest of the world to teach us what God is like. He will not give up on Israel, he will not renege on his promises (despite Israel’s unfaithfulness), and if he says he will do something, he will do it. Israel is our concrete proof of this truth, and will continue to testify to the certainty of God’s word by being a living example of it. The fact that God is a covenant-keeping God is good news for everyone.