by David A. Reed COMPLETE BOOK ONLINE
"Who are God's chosen people?" "The Jews." Ask almost anyone that question, and that is the answer you will receive. (However, many people will be quick to add a qualifying statement, opinion or argument.) The expression "chosen people" is commonplace, part of everyone's vocabulary. And everyone knows that it refers to the Jews.
But what does it really mean?
First, it is important to understand what it definitely does NOT mean. It is clear from Scripture that their being the chosen people does not mean that God approves of everything they do or endorses the policies of their government.
The government of Israel has brought worldwide criticism upon itself for its mistreatment of Palestinian civilians both politically and militarily. Have those injustices and brutalities been endorsed by God, because the Jews were his chosen people? The best answer is to look into the Bible to see what God had to say about Israeli political leaders in the past. Although he referred to King David as "a man after my own heart," his Word the Bible had much more negative things to say about most of the kings of Israel:
"Jehoram was thirty and two years old when he began to reign; and he reigned eight years in Jerusalem...and he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord." (2 Chronicles 21:5-6 The Holy Scriptures, Jewish Publication Society of America)
"Forty and two years old was Ahaziah when he began to reign; and he reigned one year in Jerusalem...And he did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord." (2 Chronicles 22:2-4 The Holy Scriptures, Jewish Publication Society of America)
And so on for most of the kings who ruled in Jerusalem, and for most of the Jewish kings who ruled in Samaria over the breakaway northern kingdom of Israel. They followed policies that were displeasing to God, for the most part, and they were condemned for it in the Bible.
So, the fact that Benjamin Netanyahu or Ariel Sharon might be ruling as prime minister over God's chosen people does not mean that their governmental policies are God's chosen policies.
In what way, then, are the Jews God's chosen people?
The answer is found in the Bible, and, although the story begins thousands of years ago, it is essential to understanding what is happening today in the Middle East and its significance for the whole world.
Although the first human pair, Adam and Eve, were expelled from the Garden of Eden, they still went on to fulfill God's mandate to them to 'be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.' (Genesis 1:28) Their offspring spread abroad and populated and planet, but, for the most part, they too followed the sinful course of their parents, and the earth was full of violence and immorality. The Creator returned to his creation to correct the mess they were making of the earth and to correct the course that these creatures endowed with free will had chosen for themselves. He announced that he would wipe the earth clean and start over again. He commissioned a righteous man named Noah to make this announcement and to provide the means for a new start for the world's repopulation via his offspring.
Noah spent perhaps a hundred and twenty years building, with the aid of his three sons, a floating box or ark that would preserve the lives of his family, his wife and sons and their wives. Then God sent the global deluge that wiped out the rest of mankind and cleansed the earth. After many months of floating over the flooded planet, Noah and his family finally disembarked when the flood waters had drained off the land. God caused geological processes to lower the ocean floors and raise the mountains and redistribute the water, and "the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat" in eastern Turkey. (Genesis 8:4 Jerusalem Bible)
As generations passed, the offspring of Noah increased in numbers and grew to a sizeable population. But, instead of spreading out to fill the earth as God intended, they remained concentrated in "the land of Shinar" not far westward from where the ark had settled after the flood. They set about building a city there. "Then they said, 'Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.'" (Genesis 11:2, 4 Revised Standard Version)
They were able to do this, in part, because all mankind, descended from Noah and his sons, naturally spoke the same language. So, God intervened creatively by giving the people different languages, thus preventing them from continuing their cooperative venture, and forcing them to spread out and fill the earth.
As they moved apart and settled in widely scattered areas, the families of mankind all had opportunity to carry with them the knowledge passed on by their ancestors concerning God's dealings with mankind. But most of them chose not to preserve this knowledge. Instead, they began making up fables and even making up gods for themselves, and crafting idols to worship instead of worshiping the Creator. As the Apostle Paul explained it to Roman Christians thousands of years later:
"The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles." (Romans 1:18-23 NIV)
However, not everyone chose to forget about the true God, the Creator of heaven and earth. Some continued to worship the true God. In the line of descent from Noah's son Shem there was eventually born a man named Abram. God spoke to Abram, and he listened obediently, even though God's instructions were to leave his relatives behind and move his own household to a foreign land he had never seen before.
God told Abram, "Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee. And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee. And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee." (Genesis 17:5-7 KJV)
Abraham was to be a father of "many nations," not just of the Jews. Through his wife Sarah, Abraham begat Isaac, the father of Jacob, whose name was later changed to Israel. But, through Sarah's Egyptian maid Hagar (a practice considered acceptable in that culture), Abraham fathered Ishmael, and Ishmael became the progenitor of many of the peoples inhabiting the Middle East:
"This is the account of Abraham's son Ishmael, whom Sarah's maidservant, Hagar the Egyptian, bore to Abraham. These are the names of the sons of Ishmael, listed in the order of their birth: Nebaioth the firstborn of Ishmael, Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, Mishma, Dumah, Massa, Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish and Kedemah. These were the sons of Ishmael, and these are the names of the twelve tribal rulers according to their settlements and camps. Altogether, Ishmael lived a hundred and thirty-seven years. He breathed his last and died, and he was gathered to his people. His descendants settled in the area from Havilah to Shur, near the border of Egypt, as you go toward Asshur. And they lived in hostility toward all their brothers." (Genesis 25:12-18 NIV)
This "hostility" has continued into our day, in the form of Arab opposition to the Jews and the state of Israel.
Later in life, after the death of his wife Sarah, Abraham took another wife, who bore him additional sons, the progenitors of other Arab tribes:
"Abraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah. She bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak and Shuah. Jokshan was the father of Sheba and Dedan; the descendants of Dedan were the Asshurites, the Letushites and the Leummites. The sons of Midian were Ephah, Epher, Hanoch, Abida and Eldaah. All these were descendants of Keturah." (Genesis 25:1-4 NIV) These, too, settled areas and towns of the Middle East that came to bear their names.
Abraham's son Isaac became father to twins: Jacob and Esau.
Esau became father to the Edomites, who inhabited land surrounding Canaan:
"These were the chiefs descended from Esau, by name, according to their clans and regions: Timna, Alvah, Jetheth, Oholibamah, Elah, Pinon, Kenaz, Teman, Mibzar, Magdiel and Iram. These were the chiefs of Edom, according to their settlements in the land they occupied. This was Esau the father of the Edomites." (Genesis 36:40-43 NIV)
Meanwhile, "Jacob lived in the land where his father had stayed, the land of Canaan." (Genesis 37:1 NIV) There he fathered twelve sons by his two wives and two concubines. These sons, in turn, became the progenitors of the twelve tribes of Israel. But, first, due to a famine in the land of Canaan the whole family went to live in Egypt, where vast amounts of food had been put into storage ahead of time by Jacob's son Joseph who had been appointed prime minister of Egypt. (The whole story is fascinating and is found in the Bible book of Genesis.)
While living in Egypt for hundreds of years, Jacob's descendents grew into twelve populous tribes, so populous that the king of Egypt began to fear them and put them into slavery to keep them under control. (Exodus 1:9-11) God spoke to an Israelite named Moses and gave him the assignment of leading the people of Israel up out of Egypt. He also told Moses to tell them that they were his chosen people:
"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 forefathers 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." (Deut. 7:6-8 NIV)
From that point on, there has been jealousy and rivalry and war among these close relatives, the Arabs and the Israelites. It is a jealousy that goes beyond normal sibling rivalry. It revolves around choices God made and the promises he made to Israel as his chosen people.
Psychologists have written books about 'irregular people' and 'toxic parents' who favor one child over another unreasonably. Is that the sort of parent God was in choosing Jacob's offspring rather than Esau's?
No, God had sound reasons for his special dealings with the nation of Israel. And he engineered things so that the Jews did not, ultimately, have an unfair advantage over the rest of mankind. Their being 'chosen' resulted in many blessings, but also in many tribulations. What other nationality has been persecuted from one country to another, culminating in a holocaust in which six million were killed? When faced with such persecution, the lead character in the play Fiddler on the Roof finds it so painful that he asks God to 'choose someone else next time.'
But why did God 'choose' one people out of all mankind? Primarily, because the Messiah would need to be born in a community that would be able to receive him appropriately. By the time the Christ child was scheduled to be born, the rest of mankind had forgotten about the Creator and his promised "seed." (More will be said about the Promised Seed in the next chapter of this book.) The Jews would have forgotten, too, and would have been worshiping idols with the rest of the human race, if God had not intervened and made them his Chosen People.
When Moses was still on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments from God, the people of Israel had his brother Aaron make them a golden calf and they bowed down and worshiped it. They turned to idolatry just as quickly as all the other nations. God intervened and forced them to destroy that idol. The history of Israel shows that he intervened many, many times in the same way, because the people of Israel had the same sinful tendencies as the other nations to abandon true worship and to fall into idolatry.
The Chosen People were given the Ten Commandments, as well as more than six hundred laws of God, to force them to preserve true worship of the one living and true God, and to preserve some semblance of moral and ethical purity. God could have chosen any nationality to provide this appropriate framework to receive the Messiah. But, he had to choose somebody. So, why not the Jews?
Besides providing a society practicing true worship, in which the Messiah could make an appearance, God also needed a Chosen People to preserve the sacred Scriptures. A pagan society would not have valued the holy writings, and they would have been lost. So, one nation on the earth had to be kept somewhat on the straight and narrow, to act as custodians of the Bible.
"The Jews were entrusted with the whole revelation of God," according to the Apostle Paul. (Romans 3:2 New Living Translation) "The Jews are the people to whom God's message was entrusted." (Romans 3:2 Jerusalem Bible) Even the Islamic holy book the Koran says that the Jews "were required to preserve the Book of ALLAH" and that "they were guardians over it." (5:45)
So, the Jews were 'chosen' to do a job that needed to be done. Any nation could have been chosen, and if another nation had been instead of the Jews -- say, the Irish, for example -- then people would have asked, "Why the Irish?" in the same way that they now ask, "Why the Jews?"
Ultimately, though, the Jews were not given a permanent advantage over other nations, because God is not the sort of parent who plays favorites. "There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism." (Romans 2:9-11 NIV)
The Jews were the people 'chosen' to preserve true worship until the arrival of the Messiah, and the people 'chosen' to preserve the Sacred Scriptures with their inspired history and prophecy. But, God did this with the aim of saving other people 'chosen' from all nations. Because of the things that God accomplished in this way, personal salvation is now available to both Jews and non-Jews on the same basis: "Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith." (Romans 3:29-30 NIV)
In fact, to avoid giving the Jews an unfair advantage over other nationalities, when it came to receiving blessings through the Messiah, God placed an obstacle in their path. "Blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in," or "One section of Israel has become blind, but this will last only until the whole pagan world has entered." (Romans 11:25 KJV and Jerusalem Bible)
The Jews, too, would end up being blessed. But, in the meantime, they would have to suffer more than many other peoples. For example, they would undergo centuries of slavery: "And he said unto Abram, Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land [that is] not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years." (Gen 15:13 KJV) And, if they failed in their responsibilities to keep the strict laws God gave them, "the LORD will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other end of the earth." (Deuteronomy 28:15, 64 NASB)
The Jews were 'chosen' to do a job that needed to be done, but it was a servant's job, because its aim was to bless the rest of mankind. The end result would be, as God told Abraham, "And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed." (Gen 22:18 KJV)