As far as the idea of “chosen people” is concerned, people have welcomed it with mixed reactions over years following the suspicions as to whether the whole notion holds or it is a mere fabrication by some cultures to enhance their esteem or rather to satisfy their grandiosities. Whenever one utters the words “chosen people”, the first group that clicks into the minds of many is the Jews.
According to Scader, there is a significant change concerning the issue of who really fits in the category of the chosen people with some groups or individuals justifying the case based on the superiority factor (432). Therefore, whether the perspective has changed or not, the idea of chosen people still holds in the contemporary society. Biblically, the theme of ‘chosen people’ stands out in both the Old and the New Testament extending further to the contemporary society despite the evident changes in meaning as the paper points out.
Chosen people in the Old Testament
The Old Testament successfully presents the theme of ‘chosen people’ through the way God refers to the Israelites as his chosen nation. For instance, during the call of Moses, God tells him to tell the children of Israel “I am the Lord; I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians…I will take you as my people, and I will be your God” (NIV, Ex. 6.
6-7). Despite the many nations existing then with some even better than Israel, God isolates the Israelites from them informing them how he views them as a priest’s kingdom and a holy nation. Addressing further the theme, God bestows up on the Israelites some obligations and conditions as emphasized by Amos when he tells the Israelites that, “You only have I singled out of all the families of the earth: therefore will I visit upon you all your iniquities” (Am. 3.2). God highlights the conditions for his chosen people through the Ten Commandments and every time they would violate them, he would neglect them to the level of taking them into captivity. If they were not his chosen people, he would not expose them to the punishment.
The choosing of Moses too contributes towards the theme of ‘chosen people’. There are still other incidences in the Old Testament when God chooses some people like Moses from their simplicity elevating them into greatness. To restore His relationship with the Israelites for instance, God singles out Moses elevating him above all the respected people in Israel at the time of their captivity in Egypt. There is a debate concerning the criterion God uses in choosing Moses, considering his admittance as a stutterer.
However, other out-spoken people are available but God considers not the speech but the speaker and thus appoints Moses as he is, bestowing upon him the responsibility of freeing the Israelites from the hands of the wicked Egyptians. The account of David further develops the theme under study. God chooses David, as young as he is, as the king of Israel succeeding King Saul. When the prophet of God goes to the house of Jesse to anoint the new king, no one expects David to qualify as a candidate as the case turns out. David grows up as a chosen one of God considering the events surrounding his life. At a tender age, he kills Goliath, the Palestinian giant, with a sling to the surprise of many. The fact that a simple boy, using a sling, can kill a feared soldier killing enemy soldiers in their thousands is clear evidence that God favors and chooses him as vessel through which God can reveal his mighty wonders.
The many times that Israel forces emerges winners in battles even when their enemies outnumber them elevates them as the chosen people of God. The story of Noah and his children in the ark develops the theme of chosen people. In the times of Noah, when God is about to destroy the world with water, he chooses Noah to build the ark which is the only transition to the new world. Noah faces many challenges when building the ark ranging from ridicules to people despising him. Still in the same story, God further chooses the family of Noah saving it from the floods. Whenever God intends to destroy the world or people, he chooses others as Noah based on their righteousness, a prerequisite of being a chosen one of God. The fact that most people think that the Jews represent Israel is a serious misconception since the nation of Israel had twelve tribes at the time when God chose them.
The Jews are only a representative of a single tribe: the tribe of Judah. The first covenant that qualifies the children of Israel as the chosen people of God is the one between the biblical patriarch Abraham and God. God promises Abraham that his descendants will be great and will conquer the world. Behind the promises comes the condition that the Jews should remain faithful to God. There arises a quite interesting question at this point, as to whether the Jews will permanently enjoy the status as chosen people. There are times when the Israelites disappoint God who as a result turns his back against them resulting into their captivity in and by other nations. Upon realizing their falling into problems because of their bad relationship with God, they repent to God who delivers them from the hands of their enemies since he has chosen them as his children.
However, the theme is not restricted to the Israelites only. Jonah is a non-Israelite and a chosen of God. There are instances when God shows favor to people of other nations who are not Israelites (Nitzan 202). For instance, in the case of Jonah, God chooses the people of Nineveh and wants to spare them from destruction following their wickedness. God has a clear purpose in saving these people considering his insistence that Jonah should go and announce his wrath over them. Jonah instead escapes in a ship where the people throw him out following threats of the ship sinking.
Revealing how much he has chosen to save them, God miraculously prepares a fish that swallows Jonah only to vomit him in Nineveh where he does as per God’s instructions. The people of Nineveh confess, after which God spares them, a clear indication that he knows that they change upon hearing prophesy of their doom. In a related case, when God is about to destroy the immoral cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, he chooses the family of Lot to spare them from the destruction. He indeed sends angels to the city to warn Lot, a sign of his concern for the people. In Lot’s requests to God, he enquires whether God will still destroy the city if fifty people turn out righteous, but God responds that he cannot. As the events unfold, it is only Lot and his wife who God saves from the doom. The New Testament too has a good deal of instances that contribute significantly towards the theme of chosen people.
Chosen people in the New Testament
The New Testament too allocates a good share of episodes that purely point out the issue of chosen people.
Christ the son of God is to be born in the chosen tribe of Judah, one of the twelve tribes of Israel. Despite the many women in Israel, God miraculously sends his spirit to one to conceive and bear the child. Christ is born to a virgin named Mary, betrothed to a man from the lineage of David (Core 45).
In the announcement of the birth of Jesus by the angel Gabriel, the angel tells Mary, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you…Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus” (Lk. 1.26-30). The Virgin Mary and her cousin Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist are considered the people to whom God manifests his favor. They are holy people but not prominent in the society though God chooses them. Jesus’ disciples are no more than a chosen people. Jesus chooses the twelve disciples among the countless men and women and uses them as his representatives in spreading the gospel after his ascension to heaven.
In the book of John, Jesus tells them “you did not choose me, I have chosen you” (Jn. 15.12). He goes further to distinguish between being “chosen” and being “called” by saying that “many are called but few are chosen” (Matt. 20.16). Therefore, the chosen twelve have to leave their families and be with Jesus always whenever he is in his mission.
The sons of Zebedee change their professions upon their choice to follow their chooser: they no longer fishers of fish but of men. God, upon choosing Paul develops further the theme in the New Testament. There are instances in the New Testament where God chooses people like Saul regardless of their character to serve him. For instance, he chooses Saul, the persecutor of Christians, to become a very important figure and vessel in the spreading of the Christian faith. When God chooses him, he changes his name to Paul to indicate the difference that exists between a man chosen of people and the one chosen of God.
Paul meets the amazing miracle on his way to Damascus; a journey aimed at laying ambush on a group of believers. According to Fisher, a conversion came as a surprise to many who knew him and in fact, he faced rejection from the Christians who thought he was spying them to carry out his plan (102). God sees the potential in Paul upon whose conversion will boost Christianity largely. However, there is a notable change in the meaning of chosen people especially in the contemporary society.
Changes in the Meaning
Although what the paper has exposed so far restricts the choosing to a group of people or an individual, as then interpreted, the meaning of ‘chosen people’ is significantly different nowadays. The phrase includes all people considering what God say through Jeremiah.
“I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born, I set you apart and appointed you as my prophet to the nations” (Jer. 1.15). The words reveal that all people are chosen since the choosing happens before one is born. Considering the earlier expositions, the choosing happens only people have grown up, which is not the case. It includes the gentiles and the Jews as well as the born and the unborn.
However, there is an ongoing dispute concerning the understanding of chosen people.
In the contemporary society, many people define the phrase ‘chosen people’ differently following the fact no one wants to be left out from the category. Paul in his epistles indicates that by repentance, gentiles become “spiritual Jews”, truth altered by many, who attach spirituality to the phrase despising its relevance to the traditional Israeli tribes as the chosen nation. As far as Christianity is concerned, this is the biblical truth since God Himself emphasizes this by sending Jesus to save the world and not only the Israelites.
Some nations equate their prosperity and ability to conquer others as a sign of favor by God (Brown 345) declaring themselves chosen based possessions rather than their character’s content. With a close examination of the rates of immorality that goes on in some of the nations, it turns out clear that they are flourishing like those nations that worship idols did in the bible. For instance, Egypt and Babylon are more civilized and powerful than Israel yet revelations declare Israel the chosen nation meaning that ‘being chosen’ has nothing to do with flourishing politically, economically or otherwise.
The idea of the biblical “Chosen people” should not be trivialized since both theologians and historians have proved it. It also gives explanations as to why those individuals who live righteously tend to receive more natural gifts than others do, who lead wicked lives. No matter what, one’s tribe may become God’s chosen through repentance reigning with Christ eternally in the kingdom of heaven. However, for one to be a partisan, he/she must consider his/her character composition rather than material possessions.
Brown, Davis. “God’s Chosen People.” Masses and Mainstream 1.3 (1948): 257–363. Core, Catherine.
A Voyage through the New Testament. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2007. Fisher, Paul. The chosen of God: Minnesota History. Minnesota: Minnesota Historical Society, 1998. Nitzan, Bilhah. The concept of the Covenant. Tel Aviv: Tel-Aviv University Press, 2000.
Scader, Jo-Mari. Patronage between God, Israel and the Nations. London: Oxford publishers, 2007. The New International Version Bible: Containing the Old and New Testaments with Apocrypha. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2009.