The Scriptures are quite clear that among all the nations in the world, God chose Israel as the one He would work with. God said through the prophet Isaiah, “Yet hear now, O Jacob My servant, and Israel whom I have chosen” (Isaiah 44:1).
This was the nation that God delivered out of slavery in Egypt, the nation to whom God gave the land of Canaan, and the nation through whom would come Jesus, the Messiah.
Was there something special about these people unlike others?
God Himself answered this very question. In addressing the ancient Israelites, He told them: “For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth. The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because the LORD loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers, the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 7:6-8, emphasis added).
So why did God choose Israel?There are two basic reasons:
- God was fulfilling a promise to Abraham.
- God wanted Israel to serve as a model nation.
This promise was repeated to Abraham’s son, Isaac, and to Abraham’s grandson, Jacob (Genesis 17:21; 26:24; 28:1-4, 13).
God’s purpose in choosing Israel was also for this nation to be a servant to God. “But you, Israel, are My servant, Jacob whom I have chosen, the descendants of Abraham My friend,” said God (Isaiah 41:8). As already noted, through Abraham’s descendants would come the Messiah, the One through whom “all the families of the earth” would be blessed (Genesis 12:3).
God wanted Israel to be a model nation, a group of people through whom other peoples could learn vitally important lessons. God wanted Israel to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). Other nations would see that when the Israelites obeyed God, they were blessed (verse 5), and when they disobeyed God, they would be punished (Deuteronomy 28).
Moses reminded the Israelites of this important concept prior to their entering Canaan. “Surely I have taught you statues and judgments, just as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should act according to them in the land which you go to possess.
“Therefore be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes, and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has God so near to it, as the LORD our God is to us, for whatever reason we may call upon Him?’” (Deuteronomy 4:5-7).
An important point to note is that God intended for Israel to serve—be a servant—to God and to be a blessing to other nations.An important point to note is that God intended for Israel to serve—be a servant—to God and to be a blessing to other nations. Unfortunately, ancient Israel forsook God, yet because of their opportunity to serve God, they often wrongfully thought of themselves as superior to other peoples. They apparently overlooked God’s warning that they needed to obey Him and keep the covenant they had made with Him in order to be a “special treasure” to God “above all people” (Exodus 19:5).
Key lessons all people can learn from God’s chosen people, the ancient IsraelitesGod gave His laws and Sabbaths to be a benefit to all people (Deuteronomy 10:13; Mark 2:27).
Yet God’s chosen people disobeyed His commandments and profaned His weekly Sabbath and annual Sabbaths (2 Kings 17:13-18; Ezekiel 20:12-13). And so, as God’s model nation, their punishment was recorded for all to learn from.
God says He will put His laws, which Israel did not obey, “in their mind and write them on their hearts” under the New Covenant (Hebrews 8:10). The animal sacrifices have been replaced by the sacrifice of Jesus, but the laws of God remain for Christians today.
Consider these important doctrines:
- Weekly worship on the seventh day of the week. The seventh day was sanctified by God at creation as the day for mankind to rest and worship God (Genesis 2:1-3). This law of God existed prior to the nation of Israel, was part of Israel’s form of worship (Exodus 20:8-11; Deuteronomy 5:12-15), and continued as the day of worship for Jesus and the New Testament Church (Luke 4:16; Acts 13:42, 44; 18:4).
- The 10 Commandments (including the weekly Sabbath mentioned above). These beneficial commands from God existed prior to the nation of Israel, were also given to ancient Israel and continued to be obeyed by the New Testament Church (Exodus 20; Deuteronomy 5; 1 John 5:3).
- God’s annual holy days. These were observed by ancient Israel (Leviticus 23). The New Testament Church also observed these same annual feasts, albeit with enhanced meaning (Luke 22:15; 1 Corinthians 5:7-8; Acts 2:1; 27:9; John 7:2, 10).
Citing this important principle, Paul wrote: “Now all these things happened to them [the ancient Israelites] as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Corinthians 10:11).
Non-Israelites welcomed in the Old TestamentWhile God chose to work with the ancient nation of Israel, this decision did not exclude people of other nations (gentiles) from coming to understand God and serve Him. God instructed the ancient Israelites that they were to respect peoples of other nationalities who came to live among God’s chosen people.
As for observing the Passover (one of God’s commanded observances in both the Old and New Testaments), God said, “And when a stranger dwells with you and wants to keep the Passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as a native of the land. For no uncircumcised person shall eat it” (Exodus 12:48).
Showing fairness for all, God continued, “One law shall be for the native-born and for the stranger who dwells among you” (verse 49). Later, God added: “You shall neither mistreat a stranger nor oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 22:21).
A good example of God’s acceptance of non-Israelites in the Old Testament is found in the life of Ruth. Though a Moabite by birth (Ruth 1:1-4), she came to respect and follow God.
As Ruth told Naomi, her Israelite mother-in-law, after the premature death of her husband: “Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God” (verse 16).
Ruth then married an Israelite man named Boaz and became part of the family lineage God selected for Jesus (Matthew 1:1-16).
Gentiles welcomed into God’s chosen people, the ChurchWhen the Holy Spirit was granted to Jesus’ followers and the New Testament Church was established on the Day of Pentecost, the people in this beginning congregation were initially Jews (Acts 2:5), descendants of Judah, one of the 12 tribes that comprised ancient Israel.
Because God had specifically chosen and worked with their ancestors and now was continuing to do so, they understood themselves as being part of “the commonwealth of Israel,” which gave them access to God’s “covenants of promise” (Ephesians 2:12).
These Jews who were the earliest Christians did not fully understand that God was also going to bring gentiles into the Church. Through a miraculous granting of the Holy Spirit to a gentile named Cornelius and his household, just as God had previously done for Jews on the Day of Pentecost, Peter and the members of the New Testament Church came to understand that God was now also calling people from different ethnic backgrounds.
As people from different nations became part of the Church founded by Jesus and His apostles, they came to realize that they were to be one unified body in Christ.The Church of God is clearly God’s chosen people. As Peter wrote, “You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10).
As people from different nations became part of the Church founded by Jesus and His apostles, they came to realize that they were to be one unified body in Christ. As Paul explained, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
The significance of God’s work with Abraham and his descendants was clearly respected by the first-century Church of God. Members were considered “Abraham’s seed” regardless of their race, and the body of believers was referred to as “the Israel of God” (Galatians 3:29; 6:16).
Israel’s futureBecause the ancient Israelites went into captivity for their sins and lost their national prominence, many have wondered what lies ahead for their descendants. Actually, the Bible reveals that there remains a bright future for these peoples.
When Christ returns to earth and sets up the Kingdom of God, He will restore a repentant Israel to its position of leadership in the world (Isaiah 11:12; 14:1-2). A humbled, obedient people will then serve in the capacity God intended for them.