The Biblical narrative appears to be all about Israel. If you read it quickly you might come away with the impression that God just arbitrarily chose a nation over all others and showed them favouritism. You may gain the impression that God is quite happy to favour some people and to leave others out, just ignoring them.
Reading the Biblical text, however, soon suggests that this is not the whole picture. Deuteronomy 7:7-8 makes it clear that God’s choosing of Israel was not due to any special attribute or behaviour they had displayed, instead it was because of the promises made to the fathers of the nation, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Let’s think a little about what those promises and other information from the Old and New Testaments tell us about the role of Israel in the grand narrative of the Bible.
In the Old Testament
- The promises to Abraham (or Abram as his name was originally) given in Genesis 12:3 include these words “and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed”
- When the nation was formed and given its law, Moses urged the people in Deuteronomy 4:6 “to keep them and do them for that will be your wisdom and you understanding in the sight of the peoples”. One purpose of the law for this chosen people was to project God’s wisdom to all the people around them.
- When initiating the covenant at Sinai the words of God are recorded as: “you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:5-6). This is suggesting that the nation as a whole could act as priests, intermediaries, to bring all peoples to God.
- The prophetic image of the restored Jerusalem is that when it is lifted up: “all nations shall flow to it…that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths” (Isaiah 2:2-3)
In the New Testament
- Paul in writing to the Galatians declares that believers, whether Jew and Gentile, are “all one in Christ Jesus” and “if you are Christ’s then you are Abraham’s offspring and heirs according to the promise”.
- In the book of Revelation, John hears a description of a people numbered according to the tribes of Israel but when he turns around to see the great multitude, it is composed of people “from every nation” (Revelation 7:4-9)
The picture emerging here is of a people chosen so that they might represent God’s ways to the surrounding peoples, God was reaching out to all peoples through one people. The history of Israel in the Bible demonstrates that this was not quite the outcome that they achieved, more often Israel was influenced by the nations around them rather than influencing them. But eventually the aim was achieved in one from the nation – Jesus Christ, the image of the invisible God to all.
In short (and to quote New Testament scholar, Tom Wright) Israel were “God’s chosen people, chosen from the world but equally chosen for the world.”(1) Let’s read the Biblical narrative with that perspective in mind and try to apply it to our role as Christians in a world which needs the influence of Christ.
- Tom Wright, 2018, “Paul A Biography”, SPCK, page 18
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