The “Election” of Israel and What It Means

Why would God "choose" the Jewish People? I've tried to examine Christianity with an open mind and give the Bible a fair hearing. Quite frankly though, its whole foundational premise suggesting that the Jews are God's chosen people seems to discredit the whole religion for me. I mean seriously; a book, written by Jews, claiming that Jews are God's chosen? The whole thing seems much too contrived, convenient, and self-serving to me. What is your response to that?

Your question echoes the sentiment expressed in a famous epigram attributed to British journalist William Norman Ewer (1885-1976): “How odd of God/To choose the Jews.”

Odd? Perhaps. But in an important sense it’s precisely this oddness that makes the whole idea sound so much like God – that lends it, in effect, a certain “ring of truth” that the writers of Scripture could never have invented or cooked up on their own. God’s ways are not our ways, and His plans rarely conform to the standards of human logic (Isaiah 55:9, 10). His wisdom appears foolish to the wise (I Corinthians 1:21) and His strength is revealed in weakness (II Corinthians 12:9, 10). When He sends deliverance, it does not come through the agency of a Caesar Augustus but in the form of an infant in a manger. In the same way, at a time when He could have made the Egyptians, architects and masters of one of the greatest civilizations the world has ever known, the special objects of His love and grace, He decided instead to focus His attention on the Hebrew slaves. From a human viewpoint, it just doesn’t make sense. In other words, it has His fingerprints all over it.

That’s not to mention that the concept of the “election” or “choosing” of Israel conceals a nugget of theological truth that is absolutely indispensable from the perspective of the Christian Gospel. New Testament theologians call it “the scandal of particularity.” This is just another way of saying that narrowness and exclusivity are essential to the Christian message. They are essential because they are, to a certain extent, implied by the Incarnation. “There is one God,” writes the apostle Paul, “and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all …” (I Timothy 2:5, 6). This is the Gospel in a nutshell, and in many ways it presumes, if not the choosing of the Jews, then something very much like it.

Here’s how it works. If God wanted to come into our world as one of us – not in the form of a dazzlingly divine or angelic superhero, but as a thoroughly and completely human individual (as the Bible and all the Creeds affirm) – then He had to be born at a particular moment in history, in a particular geographical setting, to a particular human mother. She in turn had to be the daughter of parents who were connected with a particular family, with genealogical links to other families, who in turn were all part of a particular nation or ethnic group that traced its lineage back to a particular ancestor. This is the “scandal of particularity.” It’s also the story of the “choosing” of the Jewish race. We could change the names in the story – from “Mary” to “Bertha,” for example, from “Abraham” to “John Doe,” or from “Israel” to “the Hottentots” – but the principle would remain the same. It’s the principle of electing grace. And grace, as we’ve already indicated, is the heart and soul of the Christian message.

In the context of your question, then, it doesn’t really matter that God “chose the Jews.” What matters is that He chose somebody and used that somebody as a vehicle or vessel through which to introduce the Savior into the human line. Why He chose the somebody He did is a matter of indifference. The only question that means anything is, “How are we going to respond to the offer of salvation extended to us by means of this marvelous and mysterious plan?”

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