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.