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Apr 20, 2022

Israel as God’s Chosen People: Does God Show Favoritism?

Jeff Cavins

Throughout the Old Testament, God refers to Israel as his “Chosen People.” 

Why does God use this language?

For you are a people holy to the Lord your God, and the Lord has chosen you to be a people for his own possession, out of all the peoples that are on the face of the earth.”

Deuteronomy 14:2

Aren’t we all God’s people?

These verses could lead us to believe that God has favorites. We could walk away from that verse thinking that God picks some to be treasured by him and leaves others out. 

But that is far from the truth. 

In this article, you will discover the key to understanding God’s choosing Israel, why it does not exclude anyone. In fact, the answer is more striking than you could imagine. 

So if God universally cares for all people, why does he choose Abraham and his descendants (the Israelites) to be the Chosen People? How can Israel be the elect if God is the God of all? Why does God call only one nation out of all the nations of the world?

The answer is found in the conclusion of the story of Abraham’s offering of Isaac in Genesis 22.

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Tested beyond his strength, Abraham still completely trusts God. Abraham takes his beloved son and places him on the altar. Isaac offers himself in willing cooperation, since as a young man he could easily have fought back against the aged Abraham. 

Abraham raises his knife to kill Isaac, and at the last moment God’s angel stays Abraham’s hand and tells him not to kill his son. Spying a ram caught in a thicket, Abraham offers the ram for the sacrifice and calls the place “The LORD will provide”—in Hebrew, YHWH yireh, literally “God will see to it.” 

God then confirms the promise of universal blessing to Abraham and raises the promise to a covenant by swearing an oath:

“By myself I have sworn … and by your descendants shall all the nations of the earth bless themselves.”

Genesis 22:16-18

It is important to pay attention to detail. Earlier in Genesis 22, Abraham had said that God would provide a lamb for the sacrifice. But it is actually a ram, not a lamb, that Abraham sacrifices. In light of this fact, Abraham specifically names this place using the future tense, “The LORD will provide.” In fact, the text notes that “on the mount of the LORD it shall be provided” (Genesis 22:14, emphasis added). As Genesis 22 ends, the Lord still needs to provide the lamb for the sacrifice.

This place, YHWH yireh, is eventually named yireh-salem, or Jerusalem, which means “the Lord will see to the peace.” Much later, after Jerusalem has been established as the capital of Israel, King Solomon builds the Temple on this same mountain, Mount Moriah (see 2 Chronicles 3:1; Genesis 22:2), and every morning and every evening the priests in the Temple will offer up a lamb to remind God—on the very spot where he promised universal blessing—that he has yet to provide a lamb for the final atoning sacrifice for sin. 

In this ceremony, a ram’s horn, the shofar, is blown, calling to mind that God provided a ram, not a lamb. It is here that God finally does provide a lamb, bringing a worldwide blessing, the forgiveness of sin, and true peace. On this very place where Isaac was almost sacrificed, Jesus Christ, the beloved only begotten Son of the heavenly Father, is sacrificed to fulfill the promise to Abraham, “”By you all the families of the earth shall bless themselves.”” (see Genesis 12:3).

This climactic story of the sacrifice of Isaac, which prefigures and finds its fulfillment in the sacrifice of Christ, brings the story of Abraham back full circle to Abraham’s call in Genesis 12. God promised to bless Abraham and, what is more, to bless all the families of the world through him.

Now that Abraham has trusted God completely with the life of his beloved son, God elevates that promise to a solemn covenant oath (Genesis 22:16-18), which he will fulfill by sacrificing his own son, Jesus Christ. The author of Hebrews, reading Genesis 22 in the light of Christ, states that Abraham willingly obeyed God’s command to sacrifice Isaac because he trusted that if Isaac died, God could raise him up from the dead (Hebrews 11:17-19). That is the faith that made Abraham the father of Israel and the father of faith.

What frames the story of Abraham from beginning to end is the call of Abraham and his descendants to be a channel of blessing to all the nations. Therefore, the choosing of Abraham and the election of Israel are not in spite of the other nations but for their sake. 

God doesn’t choose Israel because they’re his favorites—he’s setting them apart in order to bless the whole world through them. 

Similarly, God brings us to himself and sets us apart as Christians to bless the world and bring the love of Jesus to the whole world (including your coworkers, your next-door neighbors, and your family).

“”Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the HolySpirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”

Matthew 28:19-20

Do you want to learn how to read and understand the Bible?

The Bible Timeline: The Story of Salvation study program takes you on a guided journey through salvation history.

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Jeff Cavins is passionate about helping people understand Scripture and become disciples of Jesus Christ. Though he was born Catholic, Jeff went to Bible school and served as a Protestant minister for twelve years before reverting to the Catholic Faith. He then quickly became a leading Catholic evangelist and author. Jeff is best known for creating The Great Adventure Bible study programs published by Ascension, which have been used by hundreds of thousands of people to engage in Scripture in a life-changing way. Some of his recent projects include The Activated DiscipleThe Jeff Cavins Show (his podcast), and the Great Adventure Bible studiesEphesians: Discover Your Inheritance, and Wisdom: God’s Vision for Life.

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  • The insights of Abraham’s and Isaac’s story are enlightening. They clearly point out and explained God’s love for all his creation in light of God’s election. It is so evident that God intended this blessing for the entire human race through the faith and obedience of 1 father and his son. Clearly, they are images of God the Father and Christ the Son, the sacrificial substitution for Isaac. It prefigures the future events. The substituted ram explains the name Jerusalem. and why that holy city is so important to both religions. Never saw that before.
    Thank you for your insights. They have increased my faith and understanding of the Biblical story. I wish the whole world could read this.
    Thank you,
    Silvana Raiola

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