Friday, November 12, 2010

Chosen, But Not Special

We are working our way through Deuteronomy, which has been an epoch speech by Moses as he attempts to prepare the Israelites to enter the Promised Land. Recently, Moses reminded the Israelites that God wanted them to kill all of the men, women, children, goats, cows, etc. which now reside in the Promised Land. Then Moses reminded them of how God is like a father to them; a father who will kill them if they drift away from Him. Now Moses will remind the Israelites of who they are.

Chosen, but Not Special
Some passages of the Old Testament have such profound implications when considered as being a foreshadowing of Christianity that they are best left unsaid, at least if you are a believer. Take Deuteronomy 9, for example.

Moses begins by telling the Israelites that God is going to subdue the present occupants of the Promised Land, thereby granting the Israelites quick possession of the land (Deuteronomy 9:1-3).

In terms of foreshadowing Christianity, you might imagine that the Israelites (at this stage anyway) represent God's chosen Elect, and that the Promised Land represents the coming Kingdom of God. So far so good. God is going to make it easy for His Elect to enter the Kingdom of God. The “make it easy” part could even be projected to represent Jesus' touted victory over death.

That is where the benevolent foreshadowing ends, and things take on a darker motif.

In Deuteronomy 9:4, Moses tells the Israelites that they will get the Promised Land, not because of their own righteousness, but because of the wickedness of the other nations presently in the Promised Land. Next, in Deuteronomy 9:5, Moses says that same message again:
“It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the LORD your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what He swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” NIV
Just for good measure, Moses repeats the message one more time in Deuteronomy 9:6, where he adds that the Israelites are a “stiff-necked people.”

So God was going to destroy those nations because they were so wicked, but the Israelites were also wicked and were almost destroyed by God twice! Moses continues by reminding them of these moments of near annihilation. The first was the Golden Calf idol incident, which Moses recalls in Deuteronomy 9:7-21, where we find God saying to Moses in Deuteronomy 9:14:
“Let Me alone, so that I may destroy [the Israelites] and blot out their name from under Heaven. And I will make you into a nation stronger and more numerous than they.” NIV
The second near-fatal incident was a moment of doubt and fear experienced by the Israelites before they were to enter the Promised Land, which Moses recalls in Deuteronomy 9:22-29, where we find Moses pleading to God in Deuteronomy 9:27:
“Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Overlook the stubbornness of [the Israelites], their wickedness and their sin.” NIV
Summing all of this up, we find that the Israelites had Godly-destruction-worthy wickedness, but that they were only still alive because God promised something to a few men centuries ago, and because Moses was there to remind God of His promise. Because of this promise, they were chosen, but not special.

Now, fast-forward to Christianity and consider the meaning of what was supposedly foreshadowed in this Old Testament story.

The Elect are chosen by God, but are not special. They do all sorts of sins worthy of destruction, but because of a promise, and perhaps because of Jesus reminding God of that promise, God begrudgingly allows His Elect to live. That is not exactly the attitude of a loving God.

Yet what is perhaps more disconcerting is that this effectively means that God is choosing people to save arbitrarily. It is not based on the merits of righteousness, works, or integrity. An arbitrary decision by God determines your fate for eternity. That is not love; that is lottery.

Free-will advocates will attempt to push this back on personal responsibility of the individual to choose God, and thereby get God off the hook of being arbitrary. However, as this foreshadowing suggests, there is no way around such a harsh, and realistic perspective. In fact, Paul's words in Romans 9:16-21 make this position explicitly clear:
It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. For Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Therefore God has mercy on whom He wants to have mercy, and He hardens whom He wants to harden. One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?” NIV

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