Why do God’s chosen people have just as many moral failings as anyone else in the Bible? In this week’s episode, Tim and Jon take a look at ancient sibling rivalries, divine election, and God’s determination to form a covenant people that will one day embrace and include all nations.
God keeps choosing one out of the many, but as you look at Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, David, why does God keep choosing these particular people? It’s not working, and none of them are very upstanding moral examples. In fact, the narratives of every one of these chosen figures is going to highlight for the reader huge moral failings. So to be the elect does not mean that you are righteous and good...What that means is that the people who aren’t chosen are not the wicked and the evil in the story. In other words, this is not a story about the good guys and the bad guys, the chosen and the non-chosen.
God elects Abraham’s family as his chosen instruments to bring blessing and unity to all nations. Abraham and Sarah quickly deviate from God’s plan by attempting to achieve God’s promised blessings by their own means, including oppressing their immigrant slave, Hagar, and forcing her to conceive a child with Abraham.
Despite the mess, God reaffirms his covenant with Abraham and adds a new covenant sign, circumcision, which anyone from any family can adopt in order to become part of God’s covenant people. God also promises to take care of Ishmael, Hagar’s son.
Abraham becomes the father of many nations, among whom Israel is God’s chosen “seed” to restore blessing to all the nations.
In part two (9:20-19:40), the team concludes the story of Abraham with a look at Genesis 25.
By this point, God has already given Abraham and Sarah their promised son, Isaac. Then God demands that Abraham sacrifice Isaac to him. (God never intended for Isaac to actually die; it was the test of Abraham's faith). When Abraham passes the test, God reaffirms his covenant with Abraham again.
Genesis 25 introduces us to three family lines descended from Abraham, that go on to populate the biblical world. And the spotlight is now on Isaac.
Genesis 25:1-8, 11-18
Now Abraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah. She bore to him Zimran and Jokshan and Medan and Midian and Ishbak and Shuah. Jokshan became the father of Sheba and Dedan. And the sons of Dedan were Asshurim and Letushim and Leummim. The sons of Midian were Ephah and Epher and Hanoch and Abida and Eldaah. All these were the sons of Keturah. Now Abraham gave all that he had to Isaac, but to the sons of his concubines, Abraham gave gifts while he was still living and sent them away from his son Isaac eastward, to the land of the east. These are all the years of Abraham’s life that he lived, one hundred and seventy-five years. Abraham breathed his last and died in a ripe old age, an old man and satisfied with life. And he was gathered to his people…It came about after the death of Abraham, that God blessed his son Isaac; and Isaac lived by Beer-lahai-roi (“the well of the one who sees me”). Now these are the records of the generations of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s maid, bore to Abraham. And these are the names of the sons of Ishmael, by their names, in the order of their birth: Nebaioth, the firstborn of Ishmael, and Kedar and Adbeel and Mibsam and Mishma and Dumah and Massa, Hadad and Tema, Jetur, Naphish and Kedemah. These are the sons of Ishmael and these are their names, by their villages, and by their camps, twelve princes according to their tribes. These are the years of the life of Ishmael, one hundred and thirty-seven years. And he breathed his last and died and was gathered to his people. They settled from Havilah to Shur which is east of Egypt as one goes toward Asshur; he settled against the face of all his brothers.
Ishmael’s birth continues the motif of the divided family of humanity, and all the nations descended from Abraham remain hostile to Israel throughout the biblical story.
God’s choosing of one person or family instead of others is never merited—this is essential to the biblical design pattern of election. Frequently, God’s chosen people live just as immorally as the people God didn’t choose.
In part three (19:40-40:00), Tim and Jon take a closer look at election and ongoing sibling rivalry.
In every generation, God’s election sets someone apart from their family, so that they can become vehicles for blessing others. Sadly, they often become sources of cursing as much as blessing (like Abraham).
We can trace this theme from the first family onward: Abel and Seth were chosen by God. Noah was chosen from Seth’s line, followed by his son Shem. Abraham is chosen from Shem’s family, followed by his son Isaac, Isaac’s son Jacob, and Jacob’s son Judah. Many generations later, God chooses David, a descendant of Judah.
Each of these chosen people has at least one un-chosen brother who becomes hostile, representing the same sibling rivalry we first witnessed in Cain and Abel. Kenites, Canaanites, Egyptians, Babylonians, Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Samaritans—they’re all descendants of Israel’s siblings.
The biblical authors remind us again and again that “elect” does not equal “righteous,” nor does “unchosen” equal “unrighteous.” Because the chosen people keep failing to bring God’s blessing to others, God often elevates people from the non-chosen nations to bring blessing to the chosen:
God chooses the elect to be the vehicle of the future “seed,” through whom he will save all humanity, but it is often the non-elect who trust Yahweh. To be non-elect, then, does not mean you are outside of God's mercy.
These stories show us that a person’s ethnicity plays no part in their value to God. What matters most to God is how we choose to relate to him.
In part four (40:00-end), Tim and Jon jump ahead in the biblical story to the prophet Isaiah’s hope in God’s plan to form a covenant people that will one day embrace and include all nations. The book of Isaiah emphasizes this theme in two poems in the opening and closing sections of the book.
The word which Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
Now it will come about that In the last days
The mountain of the house of Yahweh
Will be established as the head of the mountains,
And will be raised above the hills;
And all the nations will stream to it.
And many peoples will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of Yahweh,
To the house of the God of Jacob;
That he may teach us concerning his ways
And that we may walk in his paths.”
For the Torah will go forth from Zion
And the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
And he will judge between the nations,
And will render decisions for many peoples;
And they will hammer their swords into plow-blades
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not lift up sword against nation,
And never again will they learn war.
Isaiah calls the house of Yahweh a mountain like a “head” raised high, to which many nations will come. In other words, Yahweh’s house is the antithesis of Babel.
As the book of Isaiah develops, we see that a “seed” from the line of David rules Yahweh’s house (Isaiah 11). Although Israel is hostile to the seed, Yahweh vindicates his servant, whose future is inextricably intertwined with the future of Israel and all nations.
Arise, shine; for your light has come,
And the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
For behold, darkness will cover the earth
And deep darkness the peoples;
But the Lord will rise upon you
And his glory will appear upon you.
Nations will come to your light,
And kings to the brightness of your rising.
Lift up your eyes round about and see;
They all gather together, they come to you.
Your sons will come from afar,
And your daughters will be carried in the arms.
Then you will see and be radiant,
And your heart will thrill and rejoice;
Because the abundance of the sea will be turned to you,
The wealth of the nations will come to you.
A multitude of camels will cover you,
The young camels of Midian and Ephah; [sons of Keturah, Genesis 25:2-3]
All those from Sheba will come;
They will bring gold and frankincense,
And will bear good news of the praises of the Lord.
All the flocks of Kedar will be gathered together to you, [sons of Ishmael, Genesis 25]
The rams of Nebaioth will minister to you;
They will go up with acceptance on my altar,
And I shall glorify my glorious house.
Observing the family of God throughout the Hebrew Bible allows us to see the interplay of God’s will, divine election, and the true freedom God allows humans to have. Like a father who sees his two children fighting, God has no more love for one people group over another. He’s still going to do what he has always planned to do. How he accomplishes his purposes varies, as he chooses to respond in real time to the choices of humanity.
Interested in more? Check out Tim’s full library here.
“Defender Instrumental” by Tents
Show produced by Dan Gummel. Show notes by Lindsey Ponder.
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