Last week I wrote about how Christians should think about the war happening now between Israel and Hamas. I chose that topic, because there are many articles and blog posts and religious people claiming that we should support Israel because they are God’s chosen people. I argued in the previous post that we should support Israel, but not because they are God’s chosen people, rather we should support them as political allies. In this post I am going to set before you, dear reader, what the Bible teaches about God’s chosen people.
The belief that Israel is God’s chosen people in perpetuity finds its support in the OT, and I freely admit that God chose Israel as his people. The question isn’t surrounding whether Israel is God’s chosen people, but are God’s people about blood (genealogy, ancestors, decedents, etc.) or faith?
God’s chosen people were always a people chosen for the purpose of faith. I’ll start at the beginning of Israel’s calling–with Abram (later to be called Abraham). Genesis 12:1-3 “Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” That is the promise God gave to Abraham, part of which is the promise of a great number of people who will be a nation. This promise, later confirmed in a covenant ceremony and sealed with the sacrament of circumcision (it’s confirmed in covenant and sacrament not for truth’s sake, but for Abraham’s faith’s sake), is the foundational promise that established Israel as God’s people. In short, Israel is God’s promised people to Abraham.
“I will make of you a great nation.” Abraham will have children, two earlier than others: Ishmael and Isaac (other sons are listed in Gen. 25). God’s chosen people will come through Isaac, not Ishmael.
Isaac will have two sons, Esau and Jacob. Both are blood grandsons of Abraham, both are blood sons of Isaac and Rebecca, but only Jacob is God’s choice. In fact, Jacob is the person who is later named “Israel”.
Those two instances don’t prove my point, but they do illustrate that not all of Abraham’s blood relatives are part of God’s chosen people. Anyone’s inclusion into God’s people is totally dependent on God’s choice, not their blood. As part of God’s choice of a person, he grants them the gift of regeneration, repentance, and faith.
Through the OT we see God claim Israel as his chosen nation using affectionate terms for the people like “apple of my eye”, but he also threatens correction and punishment. The prophets over and again warned the Israelites to be faithful or be punished, which may include being cut off. Many Israelites were cut off from God’s promises by their lack of faith, and some gentiles were included into God’s promises by their faith.
Some important cases of this: Ruth, Rahab, and Naaman. Ruth the Moabitess, as she is called so many times in Ruth, becomes an Israelite by faith in Naomi’s God (who is Israel’s God). Rahab also becomes an Israelite through faith in the God of the invading Israelites. Both of these women are ancestors of Jesus our Lord, by God’s choosing grace and faith. Naaman the Syrian general shows us that a person can be an Israelite by faith even while living in a foreign land–being an Israelite isn’t conditioned on living in Israel.
All this points to the truth of God’s promised people, they are a people of faith. The last part of Abraham’s promise, “in you all the nations of the earth will be blessed” is the most important one, it’s the promise of the Messiah, Jesus. The fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise was accomplished through Jesus’ advent, life, death, and resurrection and furthered in the Holy Spirit’s work. The question for this post is now, “What about the New Testament, is there a special place for Israel?” It depends on what you mean by that.
If you are referring to any group of people that lives in the geographical nation of Israel, then the answer is no. It never was about the people of the land, that puts the cart before the horse. The land was always a gift of God to the people. The Promised Land pointed forward to Jesus’ fulfilling work on the cross which will one day be consummated in the New Heavens and New Earth (Heb. 11:8-10 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.). It wasn’t about the land, it was about the God who promised it.
If you are referring to the people who are genetically descended from Isaac, the answer is also no. Israel was always about a nation of faithful people with God at their center. We see that truth reflected in the arrangement of the camp: the tribes of Israel arranged 3 on each side of the tabernacle, so God who was represented by the Tabernacle was literally in the center of the camp. They were called to be a people of faith.
If you are referring to God’s chosen people, then yes, as long as you understand that his chosen people were never according to blood, but faith. The NT Church is the fulfillment of OT Israel, so Israel of the OT is the Church and the Church of the NT is Israel. It’s not that the Church has replaced Israel, but the Church is the fulfilment of it. The difference between the OT Church and the NT Church isn’t one of substance, but form. The substance of the Church is Jesus grabbed hold of by faith. In the NT we believe in him who did come and will come again, in the OT the saints believed in the promises of God which made clear “the LORD will provide” (Gen. 22:14).
The answer to “Who are God’s Chosen People?” is the same as it always has been: those who believe, the Church. In the OT, the Church was largely relegated to the nation of Israel, those people descended from Isaac. In the NT, the Church is largely relegated to those who profess Christ, participate in his public worship, and their children. In both instances, we see that there is an outward element, but the inward truth of faith is what is ultimately important. The nation of Israel isn’t God’s chosen people, the Church is, just as it always has been.