("Jacob Wrestling with the Angel," by Rembrandt, c.1659)
32.) Israel and the Scandal of Election - But if the OT is a record of God’s relationship with human beings, why was it necessary to have a “scandal of election”? Why did God not institute relationships with many people, from many cultures, rather than adopting one people group for himself? Perhaps it comes down to a practical reason: God’s intent seems to have been the institution of a moral culture of greater depth than would have been possible from the interior witness of human nature alone; revelation was necessary. But a revelatory religion which required such firm delineations of holiness and practice would be unlikely to persist unless it were managed along the powerfully-sustainable lines of ethnic heritage and national culture. The antipathies between people groups would make it highly unlikely that multiple people groups in the Ancient Near East could enact and follow the same revealed religion unless it came with a fullness of knowledge and the individual-transformational potential that Christianity has. Further, God wanted to prepare a way for the coming of Christ, to layer symbolisms and hints of future grace into the story of humanity; once again, this is done most sustainably within a single culture, and it makes most sense to do it within the culture that will itself bring forth the promised Messiah. However, even with this “scandal of election,” it is worth pointing out that within the witness of the OT itself, it is clear that God is not unconcerned with other nations. He has left hints of grace in many of their traditions as well, but not to the same degree as Israel’s. In some cases, as with ancient Greek culture (which would be the first major culture to take up Christianity after its birth within Judaism), God seems to have opened the way to even greater moral and spiritual awakenings than is ordinary in most ancient cultures. It would be incomplete, though, to leave the matter there, suggesting that God's election of Israel was merely a matter of practical considerations. We must remember that the story of Israel's election did not begin with a "chosen people," it began with a chosen person. God entered into relationship with Abraham, and later with Isaac, and later still with Jacob. This shows that God's election is not merely a matter of practical considerations, but of love. Our God is a God who wants to be in personal relationship with his people, to interact with them, to touch their lives in intimate ways. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all their descendants were then not simply stepping-stones to get us Jesus, they were the beloved of God.