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Parashat Yitro - The Unchosen Chosen People

The Unchosen Chosen

Further thoughts on Parashat Yitro

by John J. Parsons

THERE'S AN OLD STORY (midrash) that says that before God offered the Torah to the children of Israel, He first asked the other nations if they wanted it. God did this so that the nations wouldn't be able to claim that they would have accepted the Torah if only they had been asked.  God first asked the children of Esau. "What's in the Torah?" they asked.  "You shall not murder," God replied. "Well, we could never accept that," they admitted. "Isaac's blessing to Esau said that we would live by our swords (Gen. 27:40), so how could we stop doing that?" And so they refused to accept the Torah. God then went to ask the children of Ishmael. "What's in it?" they asked. "You must not steal," God answered. "Well, we could never accept a Torah like that, since we make our living by stealing," they admitted.  So God decided to ask each of the 70 nations whether they would accept the Torah, but each refused it for one reason or another. Finally God came to the Israelites. "Do you want my Torah?" He asked them. "Of course we want the Torah," they replied -- without even asking what was required of them. kol asher diber Adonai na'aseh ("all that the LORD has spoken, we shall do"). So God gave the Torah to the children of Israel...

We might wonder if this midrash wasn't developed to defend against the charge by various anti-Semites that the Jewish people are ethnocentric, elitist, etc.  After all, from a strictly "egalitarian" point of view it seems somewhat scandalous to suggest that God would exclusively choose one group of people at the expense of others.... And perhaps this would be offensive if, like aristocrats who live with a sense of inborn entitlement, the "chosen ones" believed they were chosen for the sake of self-aggrandizement....


Of course this is not what Judaism means by "chosenness" at all.  Being a Jew means that you are "chosen" to take on additional responsibilities to live in holiness for the glory of God and for the welfare of the world. Therefore a Jew takes the role of being a both a mediator (i.e., "priest") and ambassador for God. The performance of various mitzvot are for the greater purpose of tikkun olam, the "repair of the world."  After all, Israel was always meant to be a "light to the nations." God's greater plan was for all the families of the earth to come to know Him and give Him glory. "Jewishness" is therefore not an end in itself but rather a means to bring healing truth to the nations...  Indeed, the entire redemptive story of the Scriptures is about the cosmic conflict to deliver humanity from the "curse" by means of the "Seed of the woman" who would come.  Any talk of genetics, bloodlines, lineage, and so on are a means to this greater redemptive end....

In fact, a chosen person is not selected on the basis of their genetics or lineage, but solely from the personal call and election of God.  "For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring,  but "through Isaac shall your offspring be named." This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring" (Rom. 9:6-8). The idea of chosenness therefore is independent of considerations of "flesh" but is directly related to our response to God's promises.... This was true of "Israel at large" in relation to its faithful subset called she'arit Yisrael (i.e., the faithful remnant), just as it is true of those who trust the promise of life in Yeshua the Messiah.

Therefore the Apostle Peter refers to followers of Yeshua as "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession" (1 Pet. 2:9, cp. Ex. 19:6, Deut. 7:6). This is clearly a reference to both Jews and Gentiles who receive Yeshua as their Savior, since he adds: "Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people" (1 Pet. 2:9-10). The Apostle Paul likewise understands Christians to be "chosen people" (Eph. 1:4; 2 Thess. 2:13). All true Christians are b'kehunat Mashiach - in the priesthood of Messiah Yeshua and therefore have direct access to God. This priestly lineage began with Malki-Tzedek (Melchizedek), culminated in Yeshua, and is passed directly to the believer by means of his or her justification and identification with the Lord, "who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a 'peculiar people' (i.e., am segulah: עַם סְגֻלָּה), zealous of good works" (Titus 2:14).

Within so-called Messianic Judaism, some non-Jewish believers tend to consider themselves as "second-class" members in the family of God.  They often tend to be self-deprecatory, calling themselves "wild olive shoots," "Gentile believers," or even "ger tzedek" (a righteous convert).  This is most unfortunate, since it robs these precious souls of their true identity as co-heirs of the Kingdom (Gal. 3:9; Titus 3:7), and it also destroys the unity that Yeshua sought to bring among God's people (John 17:20-23; Eph. 2:14-15).

While it's indeed true that ancient Israel was composed of various classes of people (priests, Levites, Israelites, women, converts, slaves, etc.), it's also clear that Yeshua (Jesus) didn't come to create a "caste system" among His followers. In fact, Yeshua turned things upside-down by saying that the "greatest would be the slave of all" (Mark 10:44; Matt. 18:1-4, Matt. 20:25-28). Whoever would be great in the Kingdom must humble himself and walk hatznea lechet - in childlike simplicity before the Lord (Micah 6:8). Yeshua transposed the all-too-human view of social relationships by inverting the "natural" order.  Do you "seek great things for thyself"?  Then take hold of your absolute nothingness before the LORD and serve your fellow man (Jer. 45:5). Show gratitude for the gift of life and quit your vain conceits.

וְאַתָּה תְּבַקֶּשׁ־לְךָ גְדלוֹת אַל־תְּבַקֵּשׁ
כִּי הִנְנִי מֵבִיא רָעָה עַל־כָּל־בָּשָׂר נְאֻם־יְהוָה
וְנָתַתִּי לְךָ אֶת־נַפְשְׁךָ לְשָׁלָל
עַל כָּל־הַמְּקמוֹת אֲשֶׁר תֵּלֶךְ־שָׁם

ve·at·tah  te·va·kesh  le·kha  ge·do·lot?  al  te·va·kesh
ki  hi·ne·ni  me·vi  ra·ah  al  kol  ba·sar,  ne·um  Adonai
ve·na·ta·ti  le·kha  et  naf·she·kha  le·sha·lal
al  kol  ha·me·ko·mot  a·sher  te·lekh  sham

"And do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not,
for behold, I am bringing disaster upon all flesh, declares the LORD.
But I will give you your life as a prize of war in all places to which you may go"
(Jer. 45:5)

The Apostle Paul - undoubtedly the greatest Torah sage of the apostolic period - taught that in the Messiah there "is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female" since we are all one (echad) in the Messiah (Gal. 3:28). But what does this mean? Despite the egalitarian ideal, don't we use these very distinctions to this day? On a fleshly level we certainly do.  After all, we clearly distinguish between men and women, rich and poor, and various ethnic identities. We all live with these distinctions in the world of basar - the carnal world that is known through sensuous apprehension. However, "from now on we regard no one according to the flesh" (2 Cor 5:16) but we aim to understand, with the help of God, that a follower of Yeshua is briah chadashah - a "new creation." Together we are ish-echad chadash ("one new man") designed to live in unity. k'ish echad, b'lev echad - "like a single person with a single heart."

God is said to be no "respecter of persons" (Acts 10:34, Rom. 2:11). He is able to make the unclean clean (Acts 10:28) and to regard those who were once called "Not My People" as "My People" (Hosea 2:23, Matt. 3:9). Indeed, a true Jew is one who is circumcised inwardly, someone who has undergone spiritual brit millah - "covenant of the word" (Deut 10:16, 30:6; Rom. 2:28-29, 1 Cor. 7:19, Gal. 5:6; 6:15; Phil. 3:3, Col. 2:11, etc.). Indeed, Paul insisted that any merit obtained either through his pedigree or his adherence to the moral law code is accounted as less than nothing in comparison to the imputed righteousness given by means of his relationship with Yeshua (Phil. 3:3-8).

So, dear Christian, is it correct to call yourself a "Gentile" believer in Yeshua? Is that an adequate label to describe your identity in Him?

Regardless of your ethnic background, or your gender, or your social status in this world, understand that you are am segulah (עַם סְגֻלָּה) - precious and elect, and part of the family of God.  You are now Kohanim l'El Elyon - priests of the Most High God -  "like living stones being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Yeshua the Messiah" (1 Pet. 2:5).

Psalm 136:1

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