Recently, I saw a television advertisement for a smartphone company in which a child is given a large lollipop. Then another child standing nearby receives a much smaller lollipop. This child cries out “That’s not fair,” at which time the child is given an equally large lollipop. The point of the ad was that both new customers and established customers get the same deal. There are no favorites.
While this is not a perfect example, it does remind me of the way many people react to the idea of the “chosen people.” To many people, it is a scandalous thought that God should choose a people for himself. Even to many Jewish people, this notion of chosenness is not acceptable. Many years ago, an important tenet of the Reform movement within Judaism was that there was no such thing as “chosenness.” They deleted promises of restoration to the land, the rebuilding of a temple, or the coming of a messianic king from the siddur. How could a just God choose a people group for special treatment? It does not make sense! That is, until you read the Bible and observe history.
It is clear from the Scriptures and thousands of years of history that the chosenness of Israel has never meant “special treatment” in the way most people think of it. There has been no escape from hardship, persecution, or ostracism. One of the first statements about the destiny of the chosen people is given to Abraham in Genesis 15:13–14, “God said to Abram, ‘Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years’. ‘But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve, and afterward they will come out with many possessions’”. How interesting that God tells Abraham that the chosen descendants will be enslaved and oppressed. This was part of the calling of Israel.
The words of Tevye in “Fiddler On The Roof,” while humorous, reveal a profound question: “Once in a while, can’t you choose someone else?” The unique relationship between Israel and God included difficulty as well as blessing. The calling or choosing of Israel is to be a redeemed community serving the Lord. It means to be a people who represent God in the world, receiving the hatred of a world in rebellion to God. And it also means to be a people who reveal the character of God to this world by living a Torah way of life. Moreover, very importantly, the calling of Israel includes the promise and experience of deliverance and redemption. It is clear from the exodus account that Israel was called to be enslaved and redeemed, and demonstrate to the Egyptians, the world, and themselves that God is a benevolent deliverer. Thus, all would know that there is no other true God but him, and that he judges nations and peoples who reject him. He even judges the “chosen people” when they rebel against him.
Our Torah portion this week must be read with this understanding of the “chosen people.” We read this week about the last plagues, including the death of the Egyptian firstborn sons and the Passover lamb. In Exodus 11, God explains the tenth plague to Moses. He describes the terror of the death of all firstborn baby boys and the great outcry that will be heard. But then we read, “But against any of the sons of Israel a dog will not even bark, whether against human or beast, that you may understand how the LORD makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel” (Ex. 11:7). When we read this Torah portion, and when we celebrate Passover, we are celebrating the calling of the Jewish people to serve God in all of the facets of chosenness.
As Messiah followers, we all become part of this calling. When we embrace the Messiah, we become part of the “body of Messiah.” We represent the God of Israel in this world. We reveal the character of God, and have a great promise of redemption in this world. It can mean being disliked or persecuted as Messiah was persecuted, and it means living a Torah way of life. May we live as a redeemed community in all the facets of what it means to be a called people!