Deuteronomy / Devarim 3:23 - 7:11
For the week of August 8, 1998
16 Av 5758
To Be Chosen
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 (Devarim / Deuteronomy 7:6).
There is much confusion as to what it means that Israel is the Chosen People. Looking at Israel's history one might think that this chosen-ness is one of trouble and suffering. Not to any way belittle the hardships of other people and nations, it would be difficult to find a nation with such a long history of persecution and trauma.
It is not surprising that Tevye, in the play and film Fiddler on the Roof, should say to God, "Why don't you choose someone else!"
But this is not the way the Torah sees Israel's chosen-ness.
For you are a people holy to the Lord your God
The word "holy" means "separate." Separate in the sense of taken apart from the rest and given over to special use. God himself is holy, meaning that he is set apart from all he has made. He is totally other. When God makes people holy, he sets them apart for himself in some way.
The opposite of holy is common. Common isn't bad, it is just like everything else. To be holy is to not be common, but to be for special use.
Israel was called by God to be a holy people - a special people set apart from the other nations for God.
This is why in the preceding verse they are told,
This is what you are to do to them: Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones, cut down their Asherah poles and burn their idols in the fire (Devarim / Deuteronomy 7:5).
As God's own people, false worship could not be tolerated. As holy ones their lives could not be diluted with the falsehood and evil practices of the other peoples they would encounter.
If we accept that it was God's desire from the beginning to make himself known to the world and that Israel was chosen for that purpose, it would be inconceivable to tolerate anything less than a God-centered lifestyle.
It is within this context that we can maybe understand some of Israel's hardships. Whether hard times came as a result of Israel's misdeeds or simply because of being associated so closely with God, Israel, whether liking it or not, became something like an object lesson for all the world to see.
Back to Tevye. Why would anyone want to be in that kind of position? Who would like to be the one that God picks out of the crowd to show us how much we need him?
There is more:
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.
Israel's chosen-ness is not just some cold supernatural scheme designed by an impersonal extraterrestrial force. No, the Master of the Universe entered into a very special and intimate relationship with the descendants of his friend Abraham.
Israel is God's treasured possession, a people close to his heart, the apple of his eye (Zechariah 2:8), a nation he wanted a close relationship with, through whom the rest of the world might come to know him too.
This special relationship had unique and awesome benefits and responsibilities. At times it is easier to be focused on the responsibilities than on the benefits. But there is no greater benefit than the privilege of being part of God's eternal purposes in the midst of a world that appears often to be meaningless.
A final misconception regarding what chosen-ness means is that it was intended to be for Israel alone for all time. While there are some aspects of this that are eternal, this special relationship that Israel has with God was to be a foretaste of what God intended for all nations. All people are God's creations and he longs to be reconciled with his children.
The fact is that even though Israel had (and still has) this special relationship to God, our misgivings (in other words, sins) keep getting in the way. We, on our own, cannot know God in the way we need to.
That is why the Messiah came. Through Yeshua's death and resurrection all people could experience the kind of relationship with God desired for Israel.
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