Deuteronomy 4 and Israel’s Unique Calling

There are many reasons, coming from many different philosophies, why people do not believe that the Jewish people have a uniqueness or a unique calling. Just a few days ago a commenter said that I would be “hard-pressed” to show any text in the New Testament which argues for a unique calling for Jewish people in the continuing reality of Yeshua’s Congregation.

How about Romans 11:29?

Should faithful readers of the Bible believe that Israel has a unique calling? Has Israel ever had a unique calling? If so, does it continue?

One text to consider is in this week’s Torah portion (Va’etchanan): Deuteronomy 4:5-40. Consider an outline of the passage’s larger topics:

(4:5-8) The teachings (chukkot and mishpatim) are full of wisdom and worthy of obedience

(4:9-14) Remember the Sinai revelation

(4:15) God did not appear in a form like an idol

(4:16-18) Do not make images of earthly or heavenly things

(4:19) Do not worship the stars and heavenly bodies

(4:20-24) God is jealous as our story up to now has shown

(4:25-31) If you turn your back you will be scattered, but God will not give up on you

(4:32-40) Has any nation had such a revelation?

Uniqueness in the Torah Portion
There is a relativizing tendency many readers of the Bible fall prey to.

A common Christian mode of reading of Torah passages (there are different Christian modes and many people mix and match with little consideration of method) is to assume that the individual Christian is being addressed. This is usually combined with a filter: anything about guilt or judgment is about Israel but any timeless truth that can be derived is for the Christian as is any promise.

In this Christian mode of reading, Deuteronomy 4:25-31 could be read “devotionally” as a statement that God will not give up on any Christian who is in sin. God’s love will pursue and reconcile (in this life or the next) any disobedient child. And 4:32-40 could be read as a statement about the uniqueness of revelation to those who read and believe the Bible (note: that is the whole Bible as understood via a Christian reading as opposed to the Torah covenant as read specifically by the descendants of Israel).

Another mode of reading, one that has been constrained to various Sabbath-keeping Christian groups and, in more recent times, to universal-Torah-movement groups (often called “Messianic” and sometimes self-defining as One Law or Two House movements) is a reading of identification and extension.

By identification I mean that this type of reader writes himself/herself into the text, the promises and relational statements of the Torah.

But Deuteronomy 4:32-40 resists such identification by non-Jewish readers..

Has anything as grand as this ever happened, or has its like ever been known? Has any people [other than the Jewish people] heard the voice of a god speaking out of a fire, as you have, and survived? Or has any god ventured to go and take for himself one nation [the Jewish people] from the midst of another by prodigious acts . . . from amidst that fire you [the Jewish people] heard His words. And because He loved your fathers [Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob], He chose their heirs [the Jewish people] after them; He Himself, in His great might, led you out of Egypt, to drive from your path nations greater and more populous than you, to take you into their land and assign it to you [the Jewish people] as a heritage, as is still the case. . . . Observe His laws and commandments, which I enjoin upon you [the Jewish people] this day, that it may go well with you and your children after you . . .

The entire point of this passage is based on physical descent:

–Israel is chosen because of the patriarchs from whom they descend.

–Israel saw the revelation at Sinai and no other nation did.

–God took for himself one nation — both words (“one” and “nation”) are important here.

–God enjoined his Torah upon this one nation.

–The continuation of this Torah covenant is for the benefit of the children (physical descent) of the nation.

Not Diluting Uniqueness
Has anything as grand as this ever happened? God asks.

It is a point worth remembering that the Torah covenant between God and Israel is unique. Nothing like it happened before with the nations (gentiles).

And if Israel breaks the treaty of Torah, Deuteronomy 4:25-31 describes the results: punishment but not final rejection.

None of this means God’s love, his redemptive purpose, or his calling of people to relationship was, is, or will be limited to the Jewish people. Torah itself deals with Israel’s calling as priests to the nations (gentiles) and gives more than one category for non-Israelite people (temporary resident in the land, permanent resident, foreigner).

None of this means God would not extend an offer of relationship to other peoples.

But the Torah covenant is between Israel and God. Israel’s calling is unique. And the Torah denies that this calling will ever end.

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About Derek Leman

Rabbi, writer, Weight Watchers leader, blogger, geek. My main blog is DerekLeman.com/Musings and my health blog is LemansLoserBlog.wordpress.com
This entry was posted in Bible, Christian, Gentiles, Judaism, messianic, Messianic Jewish, Messianic Judaism. Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Deuteronomy 4 and Israel’s Unique Calling

  1. Hi Derek, I’ve been following your blog for a while now and found it really helpful and stimulating. I’m a Gentile believer in Jeshua, currently studying Romans for a future PhD (God willing!) and a lot of what you say rings true to what I see as Paul’s view of the relationship between Jews and Gentiles in the gospel. I’ve got a question for you: how do you see Israel’s calling as priests to the nations actually operating today (and/or in the future)? I can see the theory – and it makes sense. But I’d really like to know how you see the theory working out in practice. NB you might have written about this elsewhere, if so please just point me in the right direction.

  2. lionelwindsor:

    I see two aspects of Israel’s priestly role in our world and a third aspect is the priestly calling of non-Jewish Yeshua-followers.

    (1) Israel’s history, continuity, and communities of faith (mainstream Judaism) are an ongoing mediator of the truth of God to the world. This includes many concepts. Judaism gave the world monotheism, the Bible, many doctrinal concepts, and Messiah. The continuing identity of Jews and the practice of Judaism mediates knowledge of God to the world by showing that God’s promises are realized in a real and concrete community which continues to exist and be distinct just as God said it would.

    (2) The remnant of Israel (the Yeshua-followers from among the Jewish people, i.e., Messianic Jews) continue the priestly role in a more focused manner (Lk 22:30; Mt 21:41). The apostles became the leaders of the renewed Israel and the legacy of renewed Israel continues through Jewish believers. The fact of Jewish faith in Yeshua is crucial for the world to see and believe. A lot of replacement theology (supersessionism) was an apologetic response to the apparent lack of Jewish faith in Yeshua. Christians as replacements for Jews had to fill the role that the Jewish remnant was said by Yeshua to fill.

    (3) All of Yeshua’s followers have a priestly role similar to that of Israel (1 Pet 2:5). This should not be taken as a replacement, but as an analogous role.

  3. danbenzvi says:

    Derek,

    Sorry, you still would be hard-pressed…

    In Rom. 11:29 Paul emphsizes that Israel’s salvation is secure because God is faithful to His promises. That’s all. God’s covenant blessing upon individuals within Israel is not based on their liniage, but upon His choosing. See Paul’s example of Jacob and Esau in Ch. 9. Jacob receives the blessing because of god’s sovereign choice, not because his lineage.

    Does the remnant of Israel in each generation receives full covenant blessings because their lineage or because they believe? does not God also chooses individuals for salvation also from the Gentiles (Rom. 9:23-24)?

    You see Derek, Gentiles are also saved through God’s sovereign “call.” the “calling” is for salvation, not for Jewishness.

  4. danbenzvi:

    Let me try to show you that “calling” in Romans 11:29 does not mean “salvation” or “inclusion in the world to come” or any such thing.

    (1) Romans 11:28 is clear that the Jewish people being discussed are “enemies of the gospel.”
    (2) Paul would not say that “enemies of the gospel” have “salvation” or “inclusion in the world to come.”
    (3) Therefore, “calling” in vs. 29 must mean something else.

    Why not look to the original texts for some idea of Israel’s “calling”? Exodus 19:5-6, “my special treasure out of all the nations, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” is a good bet.

    Derek

  5. danbenzvi says:

    Not good enough Derek,

    “..for the gifts and the calling of God are IRREVOCABLE.” So what something else is “irrevocable?” The calling here cannot be forfeited, even by Israel’s disobedience. Paul explains this in verses 30-31. It is because of the mercy shown to the Gentiles that Israel herself will be shown mercy. That does not look to me as a call to Judaism….

    • Gene Shlomovich says:

      Here are things which belong to Israel, things beyond salvation, parts of Israel’s unique calling:

      “Theirs IS (NOT WAS) the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the Torah, the Temple worship and the promises.” (Romans 9:4)

      Not sure how one could read the above and then say that Israel doesn’t have a unique calling. Just because Gentiles by G-d’s grace get to share in some of Israel’s blessings doesn’t take away from the original calling.

  6. danbenzvi says:

    Derek,

    would you consider the “irrevocable gifts and calling” to also include the grafting metaphor that Paul uses in previous context? his point is that the wild branches are nourished by the same root as the natural branches. The blessings of the covenant flow equally to both, do you agree?

    Since Israel is the only nation with whom God has entered into covenant (is a covenant a calling?), and the Gentiles are to receive God’s blessings, they must be brought into Israel. The salvation of the elect from the nations is never envisioned apart from Israel’s salvation.

    There is no call for Jews to be Jews, and Gentiles to be Gentiles…

  7. danbenzvi says:

    OK, Gene,

    I will erase Eph. 2:11-14 from my Bible…..

  8. wordmachine says:

    Derek,

    I think maybe I understand most of what you’re saying here. It’s okay to dwell with Israel in their land and take on parts of the Torah, but it’s not right for anybody else to try to take it over, it belongs to Israel. It’s like going to a foreign land, a foreigner can reside there and participate but should not expect to lead the operations of the land. Please let me know if this isn’t what you mean.

  9. Mike says:

    “A lot of replacement theology (supersessionism) was an apologetic response to the apparent lack of Jewish faith in Yeshua. Christians as replacements for Jews had to fill the role that the Jewish remnant was said by Yeshua to fill.” – Derek

    Ive been reading this over and over. Just wondering if you could further address this, maybe I am misunderstanding the obvious. You make it sound like Christians ‘replaced’ Jews to fulfill a role.. for what? Some prophesy? I understand the anti-semetic aspects of the Replacement theory, just a bit puzzled by this.

  10. Mike:

    I was speaking the POV of replacement theology (“there are no Jewish believers, but no problem: we are now Israel”).

    I did not mean it was a statement I agreed with.

    Derek

  11. ctsp1 says:

    @danbenzvi: “no call for Jews to be Jews”: of course there is a call to such. While Hebrews 4 makes the application of Sabbath to believers of a Hebrew background, Colossians 2 tells the Gentile audience not to be trapped into worrying about it. The Greek Scriptures could have been written much shorter is everyone was supposed to dissolve the difference and simply be what the other was. The wall that separated the Gentiles from intimacy with God was taken down and they did not need to get access to God through the gate of the Covenant God made with a unique people. 2 Samuel 7:24 suggests the unique relationship was never to be severed: “For You have established for Yourself Your people Israel as Your own people forever, and You, O LORD, have become their God. Romans 10 is set in that context.

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