By Dennis Hipenbecker
Christian News, Vol. 51, No. 21, May 27, 2013
It is the belief of many people, especially within the evangelical or fundamental Christian community, that the covenant God made with Abraham and his descendants is an irrevocable everlasting covenant. This writer disagrees and believes that since the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, God declares no nation, no country, no people of particular ethnic descent as being his “chosen people” receiving special material and or spiritual benefits or blessings. The relationship between God and the descendants of Abraham in the Old Testament times was unique. As a nation, Israel was a theocracy. God was the king. Such uniqueness was not to be retained or duplicated after the coming of Jesus Christ, Son of God and Savior of all nations or peoples.
If the covenant God made with Abraham and his descendants is still in effect, who is covered? Who are the physical descendants of Abraham today? Can any person who claims to be a Jew trace unbroken physical descent back to Abraham? (This descent would come through Sarah. Abraham had children with other women. But Jewish people do not claim descent through those other women) Over the centuries there has been intermarrying with Gentiles, so that in many cases a blood tie with Abraham is very thin. It is said that in 740 A.D. at the eastern edge of Europe there lived a tribe of people known as the Khazars who en mass took up Judaism.
It is claimed that many of the Jewish people today come from that tribe. It has also happened that Gentile couples converted to Judaism with their children and grandchildren claiming to be Jewish, yet no physical tie to Abraham. The question of who is a Jew is debated. Some say it is descent. “If your mother was a Jew, you are a Jew.” Others say, “You are a Jew because of your faith.” And still others claim that both religion and descent must be present. Some years ago, Sammy Davis, the black comedian converted to Judaism. Was he a Jew? There was disagreement.
I come back to the original question. If the covenant to Abraham and his descendants is in force today as when first given, who are his descendants? Who is covered? Who is among the “chosen’‘? Does it make any difference? Does only God need to know? That does not seem to be the case with those who hold this belief. Their belief effects their preaching, speaking, lobbying, and view of world politics.
If the covenant to Abraham and his descendants is in force today as when first given, a more important question is: what are the benefits or blessings to the “chosen ones”? If there are no specific benefits or blessings, the title “Chosen people of God” is meaningless. Are the benefits material in nature? Will the “chosen ones” receive from God better protection from various enemies or disasters than the non-chosen? Such does not seem to be the case as we review the history of the Jewish people for the past two thousand years. Will the “chosen ones” be blessed with more wealth, artistic and intellectual ability than the non-chosen? Some people believe this is part of the benefit of being chosen. It is true that the Jewish people have contributed much in the areas of science, medicine, law, arts, finance, etc. Many fine examples could be given. On the other hand Jewish people have been involved in activities and movements that have been detrimental to humanity. For instance, most of the architects of communism were secular Jews. Many of the leaders of the pro-abortion movement are Jews. Whether God caused it or allowed it to happen, both Jews and Gentiles have brought forth both good and evil with their gifts and abilities.
Is possession of the land promised to Abraham part of the benefit of being among the “chosen” people today? Many will answer “yes”. Many believe in the continuity and irrevocability of God’s promise of land to the people Israel, even though for 19 centuries few Jews lived in Israel. They rejoiced with the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, claiming this to be proof of the irrevocability of the covenant given to Abraham. They quote such passages as Genesis 13:15, “All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring forever.” The Hebrew word, “olam“ translated as “forever“ is also used when referring to the establishment of ceremonial laws. For instance, Exodus 30:21 reads, “So they shall wash their hands and their feet, that they die not: and it shall be a statute for ever to them, even to him and his seed throughout their generations.” (King James Version). The NIV reads, “They shall wash their hands and feet so that they will not die. This is to be a lasting ordinance for Aaron and his descendants for the generations to come.” As Christians we believe the ceremonial laws were fulfilled in Christ and are abrogated. Therefore, the word, “olam” is used in a conditional sense.
Are the benefits or blessings given to the “chosen ones” spiritual in nature? For instance, are Jewish people being given special revelation from God today as in the Old Testament? There seems to be no evidence for or claim of such revelation. Do the Jewish people have a different way to eternal life than the Gentiles? A growing number of people, including Christians, believe this to be a present day benefit of being a “chosen one” of the Abrahamic covenant that is irrevocable. The thinking is this: Jews were not replaced by Christians as the people of God, but both traditions live under a covenant with God to be God’s people. For Jews that covenant was established with Abraham and specifically revealed with Moses at Mt. Sinai as recorded in the biblical book of Exodus. For Christians the covenant was established through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Neither faith need exclude the other from being called, “people of God.” Both faiths, as well as other faiths, are valid expressions of God’s will. All faiths can lead to eternal life. Christians who try to convert Jews are working against the will of God.
But this flies in the face of nearly 2,000 years of traditional Christian teaching – that Christianity completes and supersedes Judaism, as the New Testament completes and supersedes the Old Testament. Luther, as well as countless other Christian theologians, taught that Christians are the Israel of God in the New Testament, whether Jew or Gentile. They also taught that all of the believing Jews of the Old Testament are part of the assembly of saints, the church, the forever people of God.
The benefits or blessings of the covenant which God made with Abraham and his descendants are clearly spelled out in the Bible. Genesis 12:2-3 reads, “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” God promises to Abraham many descendants, numerous as the stars. God blessed Abraham with wealth, protection in many difficult circumstances, a long life, etc. The name and person of this Abraham is revered worldwide. He was a blessing to many in his day, we think especially of Lot. Abraham’s faith and trust has been a blessing to millions down through the years. God indeed blessed those individuals and nations that befriended Abraham and his descendants. God also punished those individuals and nations that sought to harm Abraham and his descendants. Time does not allow for the many examples that could be given. All people on the earth have indeed been blessed through Abraham. From him came the promised Messiah or Savior, Jesus Christ, according to the flesh, Abraham and his descendants were the chosen people of the Old Testament to be the bearer of the Messianic promise. “For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.” Deuter-onomy 7:6 “For you are a people holy to the Lord God. Out of all the peoples on the face of the earth, the Lord has chosen you to be his treasured possession.” Deuteronomy 14:2
In the book of Romans, the Apostle Paul lists benefits or blessing enjoyed by those included in the covenant with Abraham. “Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises.
Theirs are the patriarch, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.” Romans 9:4-5
Israel had been adopted or accepted as God’s son “Then say to Pharaoh, This is my first born son, and I told you, Let my son go so he may worship me.” Exodus 4:25 The glory and presence of the Lord was shown in the appearance of a special cloud and by many miracles of such magnitude never shown among any other people.
Covenants and promises were made to and through Abraham, Moses, David, Jeremiah, etc. The Law or Word of the living God came through Moses and many other prophets. The elaborate temple worship with the sacrificial system came through these covenant people among their family tree were great men of faith and action such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and others. Indeed there were many benefits and blessings that came to Abraham and his descendants, God’s chosen people of the Old Testament era.
The covenant with the physical descendants of Abram was conditional ‘’Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Exodus 19:5-6 “The Lord will establish you as his holy people, as he promised you on oath, if you keep the commands of the Lord your God.” Deuteronomy 28:9
The Lord warned Israel of the consequences of disobedience. “However, if you do not obey the Lord your God and do not carefully follow all his commands and decrees I am giving you today, all these curses will come upon you and overtake you.” Deuteronomy 28:15 “Just as it pleased the Lord to make you prosper and increase in number, so it will please him to ruin and destroy you. You will be uprooted from the land you are entering to possess. Then the Lord will scatter you among all nation, from one end of the earth to the other.” Deuteronomy 28:63-64 “Remember the instructions you gave your servant Moses, saying, If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations.” Nehemiah 1:1
Israel a chosen people, a people blessed by the unmerited love of God, a nation redeemed from Egyptian slavery, was unable to live up to the standards of the covenant of the law, as given by God through Moses. God in His mercy introduces a new covenant, which was really the covenant or promise God made with all of humanity at the fall of Adam and Eve. God spoke to Satan and said, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” Genesis 3:15
The new covenant of forgiveness of sins and salvation was part of the Covenant with Abraham, but somewhat veiled in the words, “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” Abraham, along with Adam and Eve and all the faithful believers of the Old Testament looked for a deliverer from death.
The new covenant was revealed and promised by various prophets, especially Jeremiah who clearly said, “The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant though I was a husband to them declares the Lord. This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time declares the Lord. I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, Know the Lord, because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest declares the Lord. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” Jeremiah 31:31-34
The writer of Hebrews says, “But the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is the mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises. For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. But God found fault with the people and said...(Here the writer to Hebrews quotes Jeremiah 31:31-34) By calling this covenant “new” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon “disappear.” Hebrews 8:8-12
God’s selection of Abraham and his descendants as the chosen people of the Old Testament was in view of the coming Savior. The people of Israel were in a sense the “womb” carrying the precious Savior and Life of the world. During the Old Testament era, this “womb” or people enjoyed special protection and privileges from God. It is the belief of this writer that since the Savior of the world has come the role of national Israel as chosen people no longer exists. The coming of the Messiah has changed many things. God no longer requires that the Old Testament ceremonial laws be kept. They found their fulfillment in Jesus. Even the Jews do not keep those laws especially since the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. In the New Testament writings not one word is said of God declaring any nation, or any ethnic group as being his “chosen people” receiving special benefits to the exclusion of other peoples.
The nation of Israel as a whole did not accept Jesus of Nazareth as their Messiah. ‘’He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him” John 1:11 Jesus said that the Jews who did not believe in Him were not Abrahams descendants.
“Abraham is our father,” they answered. “If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, ‘’then you would do the things Abraham did. As it is, you are determined to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. You are doing the things your own father does.” John 8:39-41 The Gentiles are to take the place of Jews at the heavenly banquet. “I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Matthew 8:11-12 John the Baptist said God could make descendants of Abraham from stones if need be. “And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father. I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.” Matthew 3:9
The parable of the vineyard tenants teaches that God’s kingdom will be taken from the Jews because the majority rejects Jesus as their Messiah. No doubt you remember the parable. A landowner planted a vineyard. He had everything in tip-top shape and then rented it out, since he had to go on a journey. The tenants didn’t want to pay rent. They treated the servants poorly, and finally they killed the owner’s son. Near the end of the parable Jesus gives the interpretation: “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.” Matthew 21:33-44 Jesus also speaks of the nation of Israel being left desolate. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings but you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate.” Matthew 23:37-38 This would seem to refer to the future destruction of Jerusalem and other parts of the land of Israel in 70 A.D. by the Roman armies.
Jesus of Nazareth is the prophet that Moses spoke about and whoever does not listen to him shall be destroyed or cut off. “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him for this is what you asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said ‘Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.’” The Lord said to me: “What they say is good. I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. If anyone does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name, I will call him to account.” Deuteronomy 18:15-18 “For Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you must listen to everything he tells you. Anyone who does not listen to him will be completely cut off from among his people.’” Acts 3: 22-23
As earlier mentioned in Exodus 19:6, a special designation is given to Old Testament Israel: “Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” The Apostle Peter transfers this special designation to New Testament Christians. “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” I Peter 2:9-10 This is an extremely important verse. It shows that the chosen people of the New Testament era are believers in Christ, both Jews and Gentiles. Although it would seem Peter is directing his remarks more to Gentiles since he refers to his readers as previously not being the people of God and not obtaining mercy. That has all changed with faith in the Messiah, Jesus.
Those who believe that the Jews are still considered by God to be his chosen people will argue that this verse does not negate the fact. Some will argue, as mentioned earlier, that the Jews were not replaced by Christians as the people of God, but both traditions live under a covenant with God to be God’s people. But it is not Scriptural, or logical, or reasonable, to transfer a special, unique designation or status from one group to another, and then say both are unique.
In Romans chapters nine through eleven, the Apostle Paul speaks at length concerning Israel, the descendants of Abraham. In chapter nine he speaks of his great sorrow for his Jewish people, the majority who will not believe in Jesus as their Savior. In verse 6 he says, “It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel (physical descent) are Israel (spiritual Israel, believers). Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children.” He goes on to point out that God’s people, those who will be saved, are people of the promise. They believe in salvation by grace, through faith in the Messiah. In chapter ten, verses 1-4, Paul says that the majority of the people of Israel did not know or accept the righteousness provided by God but sought to establish their own righteousness.
In Chapter eleven verse one, the Apostle Paul writes “I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin.“ On the surface, the phrase, “his people” would seem to include all the living descendants of Abraham, the Jewish people, to whoever reads the epistle. The verse has been used by some to back their belief that the Jewish people today en masse are the chosen people of God as in the Old Testament era. But in verse two, Paul qualifies his statement. He writes: “God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew.” The word, “foreknew” is a telling one. It is the same word used by Paul in Romans 8:29 when he presents God’s doctrine or truth of election. Therefore, Paul in effect is saying, “God did not reject the elect among the Israelites.” Paul uses as example the apostasy during the time of Elijah, who was so depressed as to cry out that he alone was left to worship the true God. God told him he was not alone. Many others (seven thousand) had not bowed to Baal. In verse five Paul says: “So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace.” In verse seven he uses the word; “election”. “What then? What Israel (the people as a whole) sought so earnestly it did not obtain but the elect did.” The words “remnant”‘ and ‘‘elect” are used synonymously and interchangeably.
Just as it is with the Gentiles, so it is with the Jews. God’s election of grace is at work just as it is in the New Testament era, so it was in the Old Testament era. God’s election of grace was and is at work. God’s people are the elect, those who were brought to faith in a coming Messiah and those brought to faith in a Messiah come.
In verses 11-24 Paul says that the rejection of Jesus by the majority of the descendants of Abraham has resulted in a benefit to the Gentiles, in that God has directed his saving Gospel to be carried to them. Paul is confident and prays that many of his fellow Jews (elect Jews) will be saved. In verse 13 he says, “I make much of my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them.” In verse 16 he says, “If the part of the dough offered as first fruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy. If the root is holy so are the branches.” Paul does not want his Gentile believers to gloat over the fact that many of the Jewish people had rejected Christ. They must remember salvation comes from the Jews. God made a covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, (the roots) that the Savior would come from them. God was faithful to his promise. He will save his people, the elect, both Jews and Gentiles. The tree represents the entire mass of true spiritual children of Abraham, Jew and Gentile, the communion of saints of all times. Every person that accepts the Messiah by faith is a branch of the tree.
In verses 25 and 26, Paul says, “Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved.” Again, we must interpret these verses in light of the doctrine of election. The phrase “full number of Gentiles” is the total elect. The phrase, “all Israel” is the total elect of the Jewish people.
There are many people who believe the day is coming when literally all Israel, every Jewish person living at that time will be converted to Christ. This is not a correct interpretation. In addition to the above-cited verses, another key verse for use in interpretation is verse 6b chapter nine. “For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.” Not all who are physical descendants of Abraham are believers in the Messiah. They are not part of spiritual Israel, the elect, the remnant, the eternally saved.
By way of deduction, and I emphasize the word “deduction”, this truth means that in the Old Testament when all of the descendants of Abraham were referred to as the chosen people of God, some were not saved for eternity. The benefits to such people had to be temporal or material, even though they were numbered with the chosen people. A parallel truth would be this: not every Christian church member is a Christian. Such people will not be saved eternally, but they may enjoy some temporal or material blessings from membership and association with Christians.
Do those who believe that the Jewish people are still the chosen people of God believe the word “chosen” is synonymous with “elect”. That every Jewish person will be converted and saved for eternity? I don’t think so. Therefore, I come back to my two original questions: What are the benefits to the Jewish people today and who is included?
As mentioned, God’s selection of Abraham and his descendants as the chosen people of the Old Testament was in view of the coming Savior. He has come, and as Simeon said, “He is the glory of his people Israel.” Since his coming God declares no nation, no country, no people of particular ethnic descent as His “chosen people” receiving special material and or spiritual benefits.
The Christian Church, composed of both Jews and Gentiles, is the New Testament Israel and legitimate successor to the Old Testament promises. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. Galatians 3:28-29 “For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus” Philippians 3:3
The Messiah, Jesus Christ, is the ultimate “Promised Land” to which the Old Testament people of God were to look and we New Testament people of God do look. There is not one New Testament passage that speaks of the restoration of the state of Israel. The modern state of Israel is not Old Testament Israel in its reborn form. Israel of old was a theocracy. Reading the Old Testament as a land contract for the state of Israel forever distorts the role of the Messiah as the consummation of God’s s saving revelation.
There are Christians “Zionists” who are more radical in their determination to bring about the state of Israel than many Jewish “Zionists.” Israel plays center stage in their dispensational, millennial interpretation of Scripture. It goes something like this: The creation of the state of Israel (1948), next the rebuilding of the temple with the re-introduction of animal sacrifices, next the rapture, the seven year tribulation, Armageddon, conversion of all the Jews, the return of Christ to rule a thousand years from the temple in Jerusalem, and the great white throne judgment.
The belief that the Jewish people are still the chosen people of God is not some mere academic matter, but has serious ramification for American foreign policy. These people believe that America must support Israel no matter what they do, for God will bless those who help Israel and will curse those who do not help Israel. Their belief has influenced our nation’s foreign policy in the Middle East to the point where we have tilted very much in favor of Israel personally, I believe this has and will continue to cause problems for our nation.