Election from a Deuteronomical standpoint

God’s Chosen Nation – Relevance for today
From the promise to Abraham through to the church era, election is a prominent theme in scripture and finds one of its most poignant focal points in the book of Deuteronomy. We often refer to Israel as God’s chosen people and nowhere is it more significant than here as Israel stands east of the Jordan, on the plains of Moab, readying themselves to cross in to Canaan and capture the land God has promised to them. This is a major step in the culmination of God’s plan.

From a brief study of Deuteronomy, with no need of consultation of other sources, it is clear that God has set aside the Israelites to be His chosen people from among all of the nations around them. In his first sermon Moses reminds Israel of that fact. “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on earth to be his people, his treasured possession (Deut 7:6).”

In spite of being this treasured possession, it was not for the sake of this Israelite generation that God chose these people. God did not choose Israel because they had numbers on their side (7:7), or that they were righteous (9:4). In fact they were neither large nor righteous. The parent’s of this generation had been destined to die in the wilderness because of their rebellion (Deut 1:22-33; 2:14-15; Num 14:20-45). The nations around them were perversely wicked (Gen 19:30-38; Gen 15:16) and yet God was merciful to them (Duet 20:10-15).

In contrast, the residents of Canaan were to be utterly destroyed (7:1-6; 9:5). This is worth further investigation to understand why God would allow such a thing to happen? He has chosen one nation, is merciful to others around them and yet gives Israel deliberate instruction for the eradication of the nations in Canaan: the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. This is not simply ethnic cleansing in favour of His chosen race. The curse on the Canaan encompasses all its inhabitants and stems back to Noah and his son Ham and his act of viewing his father’s drunk and naked form (Gen 9:20-26). Viewing a relative’s nakedness appears to have been highly unacceptable behaviour in early times. [1] It would seem that Canaan bears the brunt of the punishment for his father’s sin. However, it has been proposed that Old Testament thinking does not allow a son or father to be punished for the other’s sin, and some suggest a possible involvement by Canaan.[2] Conversely this may be the cause of the introduction of laws in later times to address this issue. [3] (Dt 24:16; Ezk 18:20). Others propose that this sin lays the seed for detestableCanaanite sexual practices in their religious life.” [4]  God abhorred Canaanite ways. They practiced sexual immorality including incest, bestiality, homosexuality and the sacrifice of children to their god Molech (Lev 18:6-23). The Canaanite ways that apparently started with Ham’s perversion and grew to unbridled depravity. Couple this with the fact that God did not want His people to be affected by them and thereby lose their holiness, culminated in their death sentence (Lev 18: 24–30),

“…so that they may not teach you to do all the abhorrent things that they do for their gods, and you thus sin against the Lord your God.” (Deut 20:18).

Nonetheless, a corresponding problem is that Israel were also sinful (Dt 9:6, 24; 31:27). In fact it is only through the Grace credited to Abraham’s righteousness (Gen 15:6)[5] that they became beneficiaries of the Abramic covenant. In essence Israel was chosen because of the promises made to their ancestry whom God loved (4:37;10:15), and indeed had extended that love to them (7:8). No fewer than 50 times the text of Deuteronomy refers to their ancestors.[6] God had committed Himself to faithfulness (bĕrît) [7] to the promises He made to Abraham (Gen 12:1-3) which He extended to the patriarchs, Isaac (Gen 27:12, 35, 36, 38, 41) Jacob and their descendents (Gen 49:25, 26, 28). In his third Deuteronomic sermon Moses proclaims the extension of these blessings to the nation. A watershed moment for Israel: [8]

Take heed and listen, O Israel: This day you have become

the people of the Lord your God (27:9)

Unlike the covenant made with their ancestors, (4:31) this relationship God had with Israel also involved a new covenant (5:3). It still bore all the promises made to Abraham but where “Abraham believed and it was credited to him as righteousness” (Gen 15:6; Rom 4:3; Gal 3:6; Jas 2:23), and so grace was given freely to him, their covenant came with responsibilities on their part.  This was a suzerainty-vassal covenant being similar in nature to a covenant they might have with a conquering king, as indeed Israel did have with Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon some centuries later.[9]  God was determined that they keep this covenant so that they would be holy.  This agreement they were bound to keep because they were to be God’s agents in the new land and throughout the earth, modelling His kingdom in much the same way Adam and Eve were to have been His vice regents before the fall. [10]

God’s expectations are high for this nation because they were to be holy (7:6; 14:2) to maintain the covenant and so their elected status. That means they were to be set apart or separate for Him.[11] As one commentator puts it they are “…the exclusive possession of Yahweh their God, and thus (required to have) complete dedication to him.”[12]Keeping themselves holy would entail following all of the instruction Moses would deliver over the three Deuteronomical sermons so that meant keeping the commandments (5:1) and above all stresses that the Israelites love God with all their being. (6:5).

God’s concern for the minorities and care for the oppressed is highly evident as part of the covenantal agreement in Deuteronomy. Moses reminds the Israelites that they should remember their Egyptian enslavement and care for the alien, the orphan and the widow (Deut 24:17–21). The alien was to be protected and if his desire was to partake in community or indeed worship, the law made allowance for him to have the full rights of a native born Israelite so long as he and his household were prepared to be circumcised in the same manner as the Israelites (Exod 12:48–49; 23:9; Lev 17:8–16; 24:22; Num 15:14–16).[13] Moses announces an extension of protection over widows ensuring they are not held in bond for financial aid.[14] It was most likely that there would be more like welfare than an actual loan given a widows reduced ability to repay. In this way the oppressed were cared for within the society[15]

Israel’s reward for their obedience was in the Land (Dt 28:12) that God had promised to their forefathers. They would prosper in the land (7:13) If they succeeded in doing all the things God commanded them, the blessings would be greater than any other nation had known (28:1-14). They would see a fulfilment of those promises made to Abraham: They would be that great nation (Deut 28:1; Gen 12:2); their name would be great (Dt 28:10; Gen 2); they would be a blessing (Dt 28:12; Gen 12:2); they would be a thorn in the side of their enemies (Dt 28:27; Gen 12:3); and they would become numerous (Dt 28:4,11; Gen 15:5).  All of this and far more besides (Deut 28:2): their prosperity would have been in their livestock (28:4,11); and their produce (28:11-12); they would have been powerful (28:13);  life would be good wherever they were (28:6)  and in all that they did (28:8)

Of course we cannot predict what the outcome may have been had all this happened. In what way all the peoples of the earth may have been blessed (Gen 12:3). But it may be fair to assume that peace would have come to Israel and her neighbours had they done God’s bidding and removed the wiped the Canaanites out. With their enemies vanquished there would not have been Land to corrupt them.  Perhaps Israel may then have been salvation to the nations fulfilling the Abramic blessing (Gen 12:3).

Naturally failure to uphold this covenant would have consequences. As soon as Moses finished proclaiming the blessings he delivered the consequences of failure to comply. (28:15-68). Each curse was the antithesis of its counterpart blessing but the calamities that would befall Israel seemed never ending.  Ultimately they would lose their status as God’s chosen and be exiled from the land, their reward. [16] (28:36) Their fate will be the same as the nations God was destroying before them. (8:19-20)

But what was the fate of Israel? Deuteronomy 30 no longer points to either a blessing or a curse scenario but that in fact both happen consecutively. God anticipated Israel’s failure (31:16; cf. Is. 42:19), yet remained faithful to His covenant with them and the promises made to the patriarchs. Amidst the failure God offers mercy and grace. In spite of scattering them among the nations as punishment (30:3), He promised that one day He would return them to the land and continue to be faithful to His promises (30:5).[17]

Sadly, in the course of its history, in spite of some shining moments especially under the leadership of Joshua and David, ultimately the nation of Israel did fail, as God knew they would. They could not keep the covenant and so God set the wheels in motion for a new covenant with a new elect. These people were to be indwelled by God’s Spirit (Isa 44:3-4; Jer 31:31–34; Ezk. 36:26–27; Joel 2:28–29) and they may not be from the house of Israel in the same manner as this generation of Israelites might expect. (Isa 44:5)[18] Paul expands this thinking for us:

…. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel… In other words, it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring. (Rom 9:6-8).

So election is not limited to the nation of Israel but belongs to those who, like Abraham, trust in the promise.[19]

Deuteronomy foresaw the ultimate answer. It spoke of a prophet like Moses who would come from Israel.[20] In fact Jesus is greater than Moses because, in the language of the writer of Hebrews:

Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself…  “Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house,” …But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. (Heb 3:3–6)

However Jesus was greater than much more than Moses.[21] Of all the symbols that denoted Israel as God’s chosen people, none was more powerful than the Temple. It was impressive and imposing. The Temple stated to the whole world that God was among them. This was His dwelling place (1 Kgs 8:11; Exod 25:8) and they were the custodians. But when Jesus appeared and the Pharisees challenged Him, He told them “one greater than the Temple is here” (Mt 12:6) and in the same debate proclaimed Himself  “Lord of the Sabbath” (Mt 12:8) the Jewish holy day which was highly sacred to any God fearing Jew.

There are typological parallels in the New Testament that compare Christ to Israel. Israel had failed, its Judges its Kings and its people. None could uphold the law and so God sent His son. Phrases such as “Out of Egypt I called my son,” (Mt 2:15; Hos 11:1) establish a typology that help us understand these parallels between Israel, who God redeemed from Egypt for a purpose in which they failed, as we have explored, and Jesus, who was rushed away to Egypt in similar fashion to Moses’ rescue as a baby (Ex 2:1-4).[22] In similar fashion Jesus was tempted in the desert for forty days (Mat 4:1-11) which parallels to Israel’s 40 years in the wilderness (Dt 2:7).[23]

An imagery often used for Israel is that of the vine. (Isa. 5:1–7; Jer. 2:21) It spoke of peace and success “More particularly it symbolized the chosen people.” [24] Jesus uses this same imagery to describe Himself:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.  He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. (Jn 15:1-2 cf 3-8) [25]

This imagery of the vine is also used to describe God’s rescuing of Israel out of slavery in Egypt and  transplant the vine in a more fertile soil, that land flowing with milk and honey, where it could mature and grow. God, the gardener, had done everything for it, clearing the soil, symbolic of driving  out the enemies before Israel. With all the Gardner’s care the vine gave only wild grapes. This vine was of little us to the gardener and so it was to be discarded as was the normal procedure for unproductive vines.  (Ezk. 15:4;). [26] After this fashion John relates this to those who are unproductive as Israel had been.

Paul asks “Did God reject His People?” (Rom 11:1). As Deuteronomy 30 alludes to there was always a remnant. “…not all who are descended from Israel are Israel” (Rom9:6) Elijah doubted yet God had hidden in safety a remnant of faithful (Rom 11:3-5; 1 Kgs 19:18). In matters of election God must act in sovereignty “For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: ‘I raised you up for this very purpose.’” And name’s that purpose: “that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”  (Rom 9:17)

Israel had been primed to be the recipients of the promises made to Abraham. They were to have been a blessing to all people (Gen 12: 3). Yet, they had failed at their task and not kept their side of the covenant. In spite of their failure God was merciful to them and always maintained a remnant of faithful believers like their father Abraham. But God was never to be thwarted in His plan to have a chosen people for Himself and so remain faithful to the Abramic covenant. He acted in Christ to fulfil Israel’s role in a new covenant that would pour out His Holy Spirit on His elect.

If Israel’s failure has brought such blessing to Gentiles, what will be the blessing for the whole world when Israel as a whole accepts its own heritage in Christ (Rom 11:11–16)![27]

[1] William David Reyburn and Euan McG. Fry, A Handbook on Genesis, UBS handbook series (New York: United Bible Societies, 1997), 218.

[2] Ted Cabal, Chad Owen Brand, E. Ray Clendenen et al., The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007), 20.

[3] This may infer a later writing date for this passage of Genesis.

[4] Reyburn, UBS handbook series, 221.

[5] Eugene H. Merrill, vol. 4, Deuteronomy, electronic ed., Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001), 190.

[6] ˒ab (אָב, 1), “father; grandfather; forefather; ancestor:                                                                                               W. E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger and William White, vol. 1, Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Nashville: T. Nelson, 1996), 78.

[7] Erwin Fahlbusch and Geoffrey William Bromiley, vol. 1, The Encyclopedia of Christianity (Grand Rapids, Mich.; Leiden, Netherlands: Wm. B. Eerdmans; Brill, 1999-2003), 710.

[8] William D. Mounce, Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old & New Testament Words (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), 70.

[9] ibid, 740.

[10] Merrill, vol. 4, Deuteronomy, NAC , 51.

[11] Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1988), 984.

[12] Robert G. Bratcher and Howard Hatton, A Handbook on Deuteronomy, UBS handbook series (New York: United Bible Societies, 2000), 154.

[13] Merrill, vol. 4, Deuteronomy, NAC , 323.

[14] This being a bond over their apparel .

[15] Merrill, vol. 4, Deuteronomy, NAC, 323.

[16] Bratcher Deuteronomy, 462.

[17] J. Gordon McConville, Grace in the End: a Study in Deuteronomic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan,1993), 135-136.

[18] D. A. Carson, New Bible Commentary : 21st Century Edition, 4th ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), Is 44:1–28.

[19] Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin and Daniel G. Reid, Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 848.

[20] J McConville, Grace in the End, 150-151.

[21] Mt 12:41; 42; Lk 7:28; 11:31; Jn 4:12,25-26; 8:12-16

[22] John Nolland, The Gospel of Matthew : A Commentary on the Greek Text (Grand Rapids, Mich.; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 2005), 123.

[23]ibid., 166.

[24] D. R. W. Wood and I. Howard Marshall, New Bible Dictionary, 3rd ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 1225.

[25] James Emery White, “John” In , in Holman Concise Bible Commentary: Simple, Straightforward Commentary on Every Book of the Bible, ed. David S. Dockery (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1998), 484.

[26] Wood, NBD, 3rd ed., 1225.

[27] Hawthorne, Paul and His Letters, 848.


~ by timmywarner on November 16, 2011.

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