THE MEANING OF BEING THE CHOSEN PEOPLE
“I am Hashem; I have called upon you in Righteousness; and I have strengthened [Righteousness] through your hand; and I have protected you; and I have set you for a Covenant of the people -- [to be] for a Light unto the nations.” (Isaiah 42:6)
“For He [the God of Israel] has said: ‘It is too little that you should be My Servant, in that I raise up the tribes of Jacob and restore the survivors of Israel. I will also make you a Light of nations, that My Salvation may reach the ends of the Earth.’” (Isaiah 49:6)
“Arise [and] Shine; for, your Light has arrived, and the Glory of HaShem shines upon you. For, behold, Darkness many cover the Earth and a thick Cloud [may cover] the Kingdoms, but upon you HaShem will shine, and His Glory will be seen upon you. And nations will walk by your Light, and kings [will walk] by the brilliance of your Shine.” (Isaiah 60:1-3)
As stated at the very beginning of the Hebrew Bible, God created the first human being, Adam, “b’Tzelem Elohim” -- “in The Image of God” (Gen. 1:27). Thus, each descendant of Adam -- that is, every human being -- is deemed to have been individually chosen to bear The Image of God. Consequently, every righteous person -- whether Jew or Gentile -- has equal status in his individual relationship with the God of Israel, even if he follows a false religious doctrine.
Ancient rabbinic commentaries express this egalitarian concept by declaring:
“The Righteous of all nations have a share in the World To Come.” (Tosefta, Sanhedrin 13); and
“Therefore only a single man [Adam] was created [by God] to teach you that if anyone destroys a single soul from the Children of Man, Scripture charges him as though he had destroyed a whole World, and whoever rescues a single soul from the Children of Man, Scripture credits him as though he had saved a whole World, and [only a single man was created] for the sake of Peace among Humanity -- that no man might say to his fellow, ‘My ancestor was greater than your ancestor.’ ...” (Mishna, Sanhedrin 4:5).
Yet -- despite the reality that some number of individual Jews are, in fact, evildoers -- the Jews are nonetheless God’s Chosen People in their collective relationship with God. Accordingly, God has said of and to the Jewish people: “... So said HaShem: My firstborn Son is Israel.” (Ex. 4:22); and: “... My Legions -- My People -- the Children of Israel ...” (Ex. 7:4); and: “For you are a holy people to HaShem, your God; HaShem, your God, has chosen you to be for Him a treasured people above all peoples that are on the face of the Earth. Not because you are more numerous than all the peoples did HaShem desire you and choose you, for you are the fewest of all the peoples. Rather, because of HaShem’s Love for you and because He observes the Oath that He swore to your forefathers did He take you out with a strong hand and redeem you from the House of Slavery -- from the hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt.” (Deut. 7:6-8); and: “For you are a holy people to HaShem, your God; and HaShem has chosen you for Himself to be a treasured people from among all the peoples on the face of the Earth.” (Deut. 14:2); and: “And HaShem has distinguished you today to be for Him a treasured people, as He spoke to you, and to observe all His Commandments, and to make you supreme over all the nations that He made, for praise, for renown, and for splendor, and so that you will be a holy people to HaShem, your God, as He spoke.” (Deut. 26:18-19).
Nonetheless, Chosenness ought not be confused with Righteousness. For, as Moses warns the Jewish people prior to their entry into the Land of Israel: “Do not say in your heart, when HaShem pushes them [the Canaanite nations] away from before you, saying, ‘Because of my righteousness does HaShem bring me to possess this Land’; for, because of the wickedness of these nations does HaShem drive them away from before you. Not because of your righteousness and the uprightness of your heart are you coming to possess their Land, but because of the wickedness of these nations does HaShem, your God, drive them away from before you, and in order to establish the Word that HaShem swore to your forefathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. And you should know that not because of your righteousness does HaShem, your God, give you this good Land to possess it; for, you are a stiff-necked people.” (Deut. 9:4-6). Furthermore, the Jewish people’s status as God’s Chosen People imposes upon them a higher responsibility to act righteously, on account of which God will not ignore the Sins committed by His People. As the Prophet Amos, speaking in God’s Name, states: “‘Only you [the Jewish people] have I known from among all the families of the Earth; therefore I will visit upon you [Punishment for] all your Iniquities.’” (Amos 3:2). Accordingly, the Jewish people’s collective status as the Chosen People, together with everything that such status entails, is a more than 3,400-year-old work-in-progress.
For this reason, nothing in this Essay is meant to conflate the Jewish people (due to its Jewishness) with Righteousness or to conflate the Gentile peoples (due to their lack of Jewishness) with Evil. Indeed, a Jew who believes in the God of Israel may perpetrate evil deeds, while a Gentile who believes in a false god may perform righteous deeds. Consequently, under normal circumstances, it cannot be determined by Humankind whether any particular Jew is more -- or less -- beloved by God than any particular Gentile, as that Judgment can only be made by God alone, based upon each individual’s moral worth. The Hebrew Bible itself is proof of this, as it abounds with accounts of worthy Gentiles -- from Adam and Eve to Noah to the Amorite brothers Mamre, Aner and Eshcol to the priest Melchizedek to Abraham’s servant Eliezer to Pharaoh’s unidentified daughter to Moses’ father-in-law Jethro to the prostitute Rahab to Job to Ruth (the last of whom, by joining herself to the Jewish people, became the ancestress of King David as well as of the future Messiah). Moreover, the Hebrew Bible even contains an example of God extending His Mercy to an entire Gentile populace, namely, the population of Nineveh, capital city of the pagan Assyrian Empire, over the strenuous objection of the Prophet Jonah (see Jonah 1:1 - 4:11).
As God declared to the Prophet Jonah:
“And should not I care about Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not yet know their right hand from their left [i.e., who still lack sufficient knowledge of the God of Israel], and many beasts as well.” (Jonah 4:11)
Rather, the status of being collectively Chosen means that God’s Plan for Humanity will be made manifest and will be implemented through the Jewish people -- both the righteous ones and the evil ones.
Even Jesus, the progenitor of Christianity, agreed with the foregoing, as is
demonstrated by the following exchange between him and a Gentile follower: “The woman said to
him, ‘Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this
mountain; and you say that in
Moreover, even Mohammed, the progenitor of Islam, agreed with the foregoing, as is demonstrated by the following Koranic declarations: “Children of Israel, remember My Favor which I have bestowed upon you, and that I exalted you above the nations.” (Koran, Sura 2 “The Cow” at 122); and “Bear in mind the words of Musa [Moses] to his people. He said: ‘Remember, my people, the favor which Allah has bestowed upon you. He has raised up prophets among you, made you into kings, and given to you that which He has given to no other nation. Enter, my people, the Holy Land [Land of Israel] which Allah has assigned for you. Do not turn back, or you shall be ruined.’” (Koran, Sura 5 “The Dinner Table” at 20-21); and “And certainly We delivered the Children of Israel from the abasing chastisement -- from Firon [Pharaoh] -- surely he was haughty, one of the extravagant. And certainly We chose them, knowingly, [to be] above the nations. (Koran, Sura 44 “The Smoke” at 30-32); and “And certainly We gave the Book [i.e., the Torah] and the Wisdom and the Prophecy to the Children of Israel, and We gave them of the goodly things, and We made them excel [among] the nations. (Koran, Sura 45 “The Kneeling” at 16).
However, a necessary byproduct of the Jewish people being collectively Chosen is that the Gentile nations, as a collective, will suffer God’s Wrath when they inevitably join together to oppress the Jewish nation (see Genesis 12:3; Numbers 24:8-9; Deuteronomy 32:43; Isaiah 52:10 & 59:17-21; Jeremiah 2:3; Ezekiel 38:3 - 39:6; Joel 4:1-2; and Zechariah 14:2-13; and Malachi 3:19-21).
© Mark Rosenblit