And the Lord has affirmed this day that you are, as He promised you, His treasured people who shall observe all His commandments, and that He will set you, in fame and renown and glory, high above all the nations that He has made; and that you shall be, as He promised, a holy people to the Lord your God.
–Deuteronomy 26:18-19 (JPS Tanakh)
What does it mean to be the Chosen People? To many Jews it is a source of embarrassment and consternation. To many Christians it is a source of awe and admiration — and to some Christians, jealousy. And to our Muslim cousins — hatred?
Why is the concept of Chosen People an embarrassment and consternation to some Jews? The great concepts of equality and liberty flow from our Torah. That we should think of ourselves as “chosen” rubs against the grain that all people are created in the image of God. Also, if our Chosen-ness makes others jealous, who needs to give more justifications for crusades, pogroms and holocausts? Some Jews think that we have suffered because the Almighty calls us His Chosen People. And even if our suffering is not because of the appellation, then what good does it do for us to be called the Chosen People?
That’s a good question. Especially in America where we have the principles of equality and fair play, and especially in the modern, progressive age where it seems almost offensive to many if one group is given a special status, having a “chosen people” seems anachronistic, elitist, and even racist. How dare the Jewish people be chosen? What could God have been thinking? Who are the rest of us, chopped liver?
An additional wrinkle is that many Christians believe that they have taken over that “chosen” position and replaced the Jews and Israel in the covenant promises of God. Thomas Schreiner’s book 40 Questions About Christians and Biblical Law is a perfect example of this kind of thinking in the church. Fortunately, this perspective is slowly evolving beyond such a state, but we have a long way to go.
Rabbi Packouz cites the above quoted portion of Deuteronomy, from this week’s Torah reading, along with Exodus 19:5-6, Deuteronomy 7:6, and Deuteronomy 14:1-3 to illustrate Israel’s chosen status and specialness in the eyes of God.
The Rabbi further states:
While the concept of Chosen People does not mean a superior people, it does imply a special closeness of the Jewish people to the Almighty. Why is there that special closeness, that special relationship?
The concept of Chosen People means both chosen and choosing. Chosen for the responsibility to be a light unto the nations, to be a moral signpost for the nations of the world. Choosing means that the Jewish people accepted on Mt. Sinai to fulfill this mandate and to do the will of God. We are not chosen for special benefits; we are chosen for extra responsibility.
In my recent review of the FFOZ TV episode Ingathering of Israel, I mentioned that in the Biblical prophecies describing the ingathering of the elect at the second coming of Christ, the elect are clearly Israel, the Jewish people:
“Ho there! Flee from the land of the north,” declares the Lord, “for I have dispersed you as the four winds of the heavens,” declares the Lord. “Ho, Zion! Escape, you who are living with the daughter of Babylon.” For thus says the Lord of hosts, “After glory He has sent me against the nations which plunder you, for he who touches you, touches the apple of His eye. For behold, I will wave My hand over them so that they will be plunder for their slaves. Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent Me. Sing for joy and be glad, O daughter of Zion; for behold I am coming and I will dwell in your midst,” declares the Lord.
–Zechariah 2:6-10 (NASB)
It is true that the non-Jewish disciples of the Jewish Messiah also have a role to play, a very important role, but we must never lose sight of what the Bible says about the Jewish people, especially not in order to elevate ourselves as Gentile Christians above the status God gave to us as “people of the nations who are called by His Name.”
In considering the phrase “one new man” from Ephesians 2:15 (and it’s not like I haven’t written about Ephesians a time or two), Christianity has spun a web that captures all people in Christ as being the same and eliminating the “chosenness” from the Jewish people, replacing it with the “chosenness” of Christianity. If Jews wish to have a “chosen” status, they must now convert to (Gentile) Christianity, abandoning Jewishness, Judaism, and especially Torah observance.
The flip side, and this is a minority view among Gentile believers, is that the almost the opposite happens. “One new man” describes all believers, Jewish and Gentile, adopting and embracing Jewish identity, Judaism, and especially Torah observance, but without Gentile conversion to Judaism.
No matter which way you slice it though, Jewish people and Israel lose being chosen the minute they enter any sort of Gentile Christian religious space, Hebrew Roots included.
Elhanan Ben-Avraham, in his article “Replacing Replacement”, written for the Summer 2013 issue of Messiah Magazine, defends the Jewish people against the traditional Christian theology of supersessionism.
Adherents of replacement theology claim that God has rejected his rebellious firstborn son and adopted a new son in his place. Part of their perspective includes the viewpoint that Jews must now become part of that church in order to be saved. Throughout the ages this has forced Jewish people to reject living as Jews and to accept Christianity instead with all its forms, rituals, symbols, practices and theologies.
It’s like a loving father choosing to kick out his first-born son and adopt a different son to replace him. I know a few adoptive families and I also know it’s quite possible to adopt a child without first removing the other children in the home. And yet, this traditional doctrine of the church seems to deny that fact and also, to deny that God’s first-born son, the Jewish people, could possibly retain any specialness in God’s view after the coming of Jesus, who after all, is God’s first-born son as an individual, and the living embodiment of everything it is to be Jewish and to embrace a life of Torah observance.
In his Torah commentary, Rabbi Packouz concludes:
Because of our voluntary acceptance, the Almighty made an eternal covenant with us that we will be His people and He will be our God. Any individual can come close to the Almighty, but the ultimate relationship comes through entering the covenant of Abraham and fulfilling the Torah. This special relationship is open to any member of humanity who wishes to enter the covenant irrespective of race, religion or ethnic origin.
Every nation, every people, every religion thinks that it is better than any other nation, people or religion. The Jewish people know that the issue is not whether we are better than anyone else, but whether we fulfill our part of the covenant with the Almighty to hold high the values of the Torah and to do the Almighty’s will.
That Messiah came and opened the door, though one of the conditions of the Abrahamic covenant for the people of the nations to also enter into a relationship with God, does not delete any other covenants God made with the nation of Israel and the Jewish people. They remain chosen. We Gentiles who voluntarily accepted Yeshua as Lord, also are considered chosen or elect, but not with an identical set of responsibilities as the Jewish people. This is the confusing part.
This is why most Christians believe that the Torah was done away with, so that Jews and Gentiles can be identical. This is why some folks in the Hebrew Roots movement believe that Jesus applied the Torah to all people equally upon coming to faith in Messiah. The splitting of status and responsibility and the Jewish people retaining “chosenness” unique to themselves, even among Gentiles who follow the God of Israel, is an extraordinarily difficult thing to grasp, let alone to embrace, for everyone (or almost everyone) who isn’t Jewish.
And yet to deny this is to deny all of the promises of God to Israel and indeed, to deny God’s authority to choose Israel and have them remain chosen.
Thus says the Lord, Who gives the sun for light by day And the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar; The Lord of hosts is His name: “If this fixed order departs From before Me,” declares the Lord, “Then the offspring of Israel also will cease From being a nation before Me forever.”
–Jeremiah 31:35-36 (NASB)
How can any non-Jewish religious movement or group demand that Jews cease to be unique, chosen, and set apart from the people of the nations, even the believing people of the nations, unless they set God’s Word aside in order to gratify the Gentile need to be “equal?”
As Rabbi Packouz said, being chosen isn’t easy. Being God’s elect has many difficult responsibilities attached. Pogroms, inquisitions, torture, maiming, blood libel, and murder have always followed the Jewish people because of their status. When the nations could not destroy them using those methods, they switched to assimilation, conversion, identity theft, and inclusion, and they are also very effective weapons.
And yet after thousands upon thousands of years, the Jewish people have not disappeared. God’s promises of return and restoration of the people to their Land, to Israel, remain intact. Only a fool would oppose God.