It is a common question. Why were the Israelites God’s choice for the avenue of the salvation story that culminated in Jesus Christ? It might be disheartening to you to hear an idea that says the God of all things is only interested in loving, caring for, and ultimately saving one group of people.That is, sometimes, the banner that some people carry with them on their religious quest. But is that really God’s ultimate plan?
Over the past three years, the Westminster community has been invited to be a part of reading scripture. One of the main goals of these scripture readings has been to help people gain a better understanding of the whole story of scripture. Many of us know the main stories, but sometimes there are things that connect one story to another that help clarify the greater story. When someone looks at a small part of scripture outside of the greater context that is God’s whole plan for humanity, it can sometimes get distorted or misunderstood.
So what happens and what can be found when we begin to see how the plan for salvation has been enacted by God throughout all of history, rather than just looking at a few events? We discover tidbits of God’s character that some people might miss.
So that brings back the question, is salvation only for some or is it for all people? Did God only love the Hebrew people or did God always have a plan to save both Jew and Gentile? As Christians we might be familiar with the Hebrews text that states:
23 Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. 24 So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian. 26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of Godthrough faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
Galatians 3:23-29 NIV
Our faith in Jesus Christ blurs any and all lines that we have created for ourselves and makes us all the same – children of the one true God. If this true now then why did God seem so picky before? Why did God claim only Israel during the Old Testament times?
A member of Westminster that is reading through the Chronological Bible noticed something early on in Genesis that he had not recognized in scripture ever before. Sure, it is evident that God chose Israel and claimed them to be God’s people, but did that mean God didn’t love, care for, or have a plan for the many, many other people in the world?
1 The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.
2 “I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”
Genesis 12:1-3 NIV
Right there tucked in what might be a familiar story God tells Abram that his family will be made into a great nation, a nation we now know as Israel and the path that leads to Jesus. But do the words suggest that God has a plan only for this one chosen nation? Re-read verse three again. God says that all nations will be blessed through Abram.
The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is a polarizing one. The drama of the interaction between God and Abraham is worthy of the silver screen. But does this story help us understand the greater narrative that God is enacting?
16 When the men got up to leave, they looked down toward Sodom, and Abraham walked along with them to see them on their way. 17 Then the Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? 18 Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him.19 For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just, so that the Lord will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”
The text here does clearly state that Abraham will become a great nation, but it is directly followed by the words “all nations on earth will be blessed through him.” If we keep reading we here God speaking once again to Abraham saying,
17 I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, 18 and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessings for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.”
It is easy to recognize how God is claiming one people as the avenue for the plan of salvation to be enacted. It is through Abraham and his descendants. Some may call this a blessing, but for Abraham and his people, there was more to it than just receiving God’s favor. The pressure and accountability that comes with the follow through is easy for us to forget, but if we are familiar with the history of the Jewish people we know that God never forgot. God surely blessed the people of Israel but that blessing came with the responsibility of the being the avenue through which the rest of the world was to be blessed. Even Paul recognized this in his letter to the Galatians:
7 Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. 8 Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.”9 So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
The question was, why was Israel the only nation chosen to be the avenue of God’s plan of salvation? We may not know the answer to that question, and is it possible that it is not the best question to ask? Maybe the question should be, did God have a plan for the salvation of all people from the very beginning? It sure seems that way if you look at the story of Abraham and how Paul reminds us in Galatians. If you rely on faith, then you are blessed right along with Abraham and his family.