Deuteronomy is a book of choices. In most of these, God is seen to choose. He chooses sovereignly, but never capriciously. Mostly, men are the subjects of His choice, whether corporately as a nation, or an elite within it, or as a king over such a nation. But in being God’s choice in these capacities, those concerned did not become mere automata; they were accounted fully responsible for what they did in the functions assigned to them by God. Not only were persons concerned, but also the place where their religious life was centred was the subject of God’s choice. In the book, men themselves also make choices, for good or evil.
Five times in Deuteronomy it is stated that God chose the Jewish nation. It was an “elect” nation, Isa. 45. 4. It began with Abraham, to whom God revealed that He would make of him “a great nation”, Gen. 12. 2; that He would give the land of Canaan for a possession to his descendants. When Jacob, Abraham’s grandson, removed from Canaan into Egypt with all his family, there were only sixty-six persons in all. During their sojourn in Egypt, they increased so much that “a new king” considered them a threat to his security in the event of war. God had revealed to Abraham that his descendants would be “stranger in a land that is not their’s, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; and also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge; and afterward shall they come out with great substance”, Gen. 1 5. 13, 14. Upwards of a million people left Egypt at the exodus; there were 600,000 footmen of twenty years of age and over, Num. 11. 21. The original sixty-six persons had become a nation.
God’s choice of Israel as a nation derived from His choice of Abraham and their fathers, “Because he loved thy fathers, therefore he chose their seed after them”, Deut. 4. 37; 7. 8; 10. 15. Israel was intended by God to be His “peculiar treasure” or “special people” “above all people”, Exod. 19. 5. No other nation was so chosen by God. His choice of Israel was not determined by their numerical superiority over other nations, for they “were the fewest of all people”, Deut. 7. 7. His choice of, and His love for, Israel related to considerations which He did not disclose to them. Nor did their possession of Canaan depend upon their own righteousness, but rather on the wickedness of those nations which they dispossessed, that God might perform the oath He swore to their fathers, 9. 5.
A “peculiar treasure” or “special people”, 26. 18; Psa. 135. 4, means an “enclosure” or “that which is enclosed”. Israel was enclosed for God’s exclusive use and pleasure; they were His preserve upon which no other might enter; hence “Thou shalt have no other gods before me”. God’s covenant with Israel was of the nature of a marriage bond which must be kept inviolate. If Israel was a chosen people, they were also required to be “an holy people”, as God Himself was holy, “ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy”, Lev. 11. 45. The benefits of the covenant depended upon Israel keeping all His commandments.
As a nation, Israel utterly failed to fulfil God’s purpose that it should be “a kingdom of priests”, because they failed to keep His covenant. Hence the priesthood became limited to one tribe out of the twelve tribes, that of Levi, whose priests mediated between God and the people in their religious life. Nowhere is Israel’s failure as a nation more evident than in Malachi’s prophecy, yet this did not altogether invalidate God’s purpose, for that very book records that God found His pleasure in a remnant among the nation who, in the midst of national apostasy, “feared the Lord (and) spake often one to another; and the Lord hearkened and heard it … And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels” or, “in the day that I do make, (even) a peculiar treasure”, Mal. 3. 16-17. What God had originally intended the whole nation to be, came only to be realized by a small part of it.
When Peter wrote to Christian Jews of his day who had been scattered by fierce persecution, he addressed them as “elect according to the foreknowledge of God”, 1 Pet. 1. 2. With their Jewish background, they would readily have understood the implications of “elect”. God’s dealings with the Jewish nation were in suspense. These scattered Jewish Christians had not been chosen by God because they were Jews, but they became Christians because they had been chosen forming a new “elect”. Peter described them as “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people”, 2. 9, which description borrows from God’s original purpose for the Jewish nation, which had failed in it. In his second Epistle, Peter urges them “to make (their) calling and election sure”, by the addition of Christian virtues to the basic grace of faith, 2 Pet. 1. 10, It was fundamental to their special relationship that they be holy, even as God was holy, 1 Pet. 1. 15, 16. Not only Peter, but Paul also saw Christians as the new “elect”. Paul wrote, “he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him”, Eph. 1. 4. Of the Thessalonians he wrote, “Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God”, and “God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth”, 1 Thess. 1. 4; 2 Thess. 2. 13. The apostles, who were foundational to the church, were themselves chosen by Christ, John 15. 16, 19.
Paul regarded the elect as beyond the reach of accusation, “Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth”, Rom. 8. 33. He urged upon the “elect” the assumption of those Christian graces that are consistent with such a calling, Col. 3. 12-14. He himself endured “all things for the elect’s sakes, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory”, 2 Tim. 2. 10.
To be followed by:
2. A Chosen Place.
3. A Chosen Priesthood.
4. A Chosen Prince.
5. A Chosen Portion.