Election According to Scripture, Pt. 2

The Purpose of Divine Election

We must keep in mind a second aspect of divine election in Scripture in order to see that it does not stand in tension with God’s love.  God sets his love upon a particular people so that they might be the agents whereby God swallows up even more people into his love.

Divine election is actually an extension of God’s love for the world.  This becomes clear when we consider the Scriptural narrative.

The mission of God to reclaim creation begins with God’s call of Abram in Genesis 12.  God promised to make Abram (later called Abraham) into a great nation so that he would be a blessing to “all the families of the earth” (vv. 2-3).  From the beginning, God’s election had a universal thrust.

After Israel grows into a great nation in the womb of Egyptian slavery, God delivers them and gives them their commission.  Israel is God’s chosen people for the purpose of being a “light to the nations,” a “kingdom of priests” (Exod. 19:6).

Israel was supposed to cultivate a national life of justice and care for the poor, the orphan, and the widow.  And, as a kingdom of priests, they were to initiate a mission to bring the nations to God and the one true God to the nations.

God’s election of Israel was not at the expense of the nations, but for the purpose of God’s redemption of the nations.  God chose Israel to receive his love and to radiate his redemptive love beyond themselves to the nations.

Israel failed to fulfill this commission.

They perverted their election, regarding themselves as God’s favorites.  God had chosen them and not any other nation.  That must have meant that God loved them rather than the nations.  Israel eventually came to despise their neighbors, longing for their destruction.

We see this posture toward the nations embodied in the prophet Jonah.  God called him to announce judgment to Ninevah, but Jonah refused.  He knew that God longed to redeem, and that if there was even the slightest hint of repentance, even on the part of a blood-thirsty nation well-entrenched in its paganism, God would pour out mercy.  Jonah’s expression of agony at God’s redemption is shocking:

But Jonah thought this was utterly wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the LORD, “Come on, LORD! Wasn’t this precisely my point when I was back in my own land? This is why I fled to Tarshish earlier! I know that you are a merciful and compassionate God, very patient, full of faithful love, and willing not to destroy. At this point, LORD, you may as well take my life from me, because it would be better for me to die than to live” (Jonah 4:1-3, CEB).

Israel, like Jonah, longed for the destruction of the nations, perverting the purpose of their election. 

Because of this enduring posture toward the nations, God sent them into exile, eventually calling them, “not my people.” 

God has set himself on a mission to redeem creation and so chooses a particular people as agents of his saving love.  If they become a people who do not purposefully extend God’s love beyond themselves, they cannot be called the people of God.

Divine election always has this outward thrust.  God chooses a particular people from eternity past to save them so that they will be agents of his redeeming love for the world.

From the perspective of divine election, then, there are (1) the people upon whom God has set his love, and (2) those whom God is pursuing in love through his elect.

Regarding the two groups from the standpoint of election differently is quite perilous, for we risk taking our place alongside those whom God called “not my people.”

13 thoughts on “Election According to Scripture, Pt. 2

  1. Jerry

    this is good stuff, Tim!

    I think it’s also important to remember that at times Israel spurned her election and chased after the gods of the nations. She needed to remember BOTH that she was chosen to be YHWH’s people AND that she was chosen to be YHWH’s people for a purpose. She was not chosen because she was special, she was special because she was chosen. She was not to be different for the sake of being different but she was peculiarly different because YHWH was her God and there was none other like Him.

    1. timgombis

      Good points, Jerry. Indeed, the prophetic critique of Israel was they had spurned their God and despised their election. It seems that beneath this, and driving it, was their complacency. “Hey, we’re God’s people. So, if we blur the lines a bit and adopt the perverted and idolatrous practices of the nations, what’s he gonna do? He loves us more than anyone else, so why bother?”

      That sort of complacency brought them judgment and it’s an utter perversion of election. And it’s the sort of attitude I think many people and churches haven’t confronted in their own imaginings.

      1. Scott William Bryant

        Tim … You make a great point when you connect Israel’s complacency to the complacency of the contemporary church. In both cases, it would appear that we (and I include myself here!) often adopt a position of favored child and fail to recognize the fact that our favored status places an obligation upon us to assist in bringing others into that same favored position as a child of God. Great stuff!

      2. timgombis

        Exactly, Scott. I think that’s the sense of Paul’s warning in 11:20-22 — anyone who becomes conceited should fear! God has shown that he will harden those who become obstacles to his saving purposes!

  2. S Wu

    Tim, I think your last point in reply to Jerry is really worth considering. When I read the Gospels, I keep thinking whether we behave like the Pharisees and Scribes. We naturally dismiss that, and think that we cannot possibly be like them. But don’t we have the tendency to think that we are the elect and miss God’s gracious restorative purposes in Christ because we have the same attitude as that of the Pharisees and Scribes (who most likely thought that they were the elect – the descendants of Abraham)? Maybe we do need to confront ourselves and consider Jesus’ words accordingly?

    I guess this leads us to Romans 9-11, a Scripture that no doubt you will discuss in due course.

    1. timgombis

      I think that tendency is universal–that smug complacency and condescending posture toward others. And that is exactly what Rom 9-11 is getting at, warning any and every group in the Roman church that attitudes like that put them in the place of judgment. Indeed, behold the kindness and severity of God!

      1. David M

        So succinct! And with verses from the bible (wink wink)! Thank you for this series Tim.

        To this post, I recall C.S. Lewis in “Miracles” echoing you by stating that those who are chosen/elect were elect for us, the world, all. That anyone directly part of God’s involvement bear a great responsibility. Here is a link (hopefully) to Google books that has this section:

  3. Bayer Watson

    I’m really enjoying this series!
    I do have a question about God’s purpose in Israel’s election. I think I understand how God chooses Israel to be agents of His redemption. But how does the conquest of Canaan and God’s judgement of Canaanite nations fit into this? If God’s election of Israel was for the sake of the nations, why did some nations have to be annihilated in the process?

    1. timgombis

      That’s a huge issue, Bayer, and a very important question. Certainly part of Israel’s commission (among other things) was to act as the earthly agent of God’s judgment on certain nations that had apparently become so corrupted that the God of Israel saw fit to bring about devastating judgment. It appears that this is in order to bring about the ultimate restoration of the nations and creation. In this we see both judgment and salvation–certain nations are judged in God’s move to ultimately bring about salvation.

      It’s a somewhat tangential discussion, but certainly could be subsumed under Israel’s election–they are specifically chosen to do God’s will on earth, both in judgment and salvation. What’s interesting is that when they seek to do violence apart from a specific word from God, they become the objects of God’s judgment. It’s not that they can just do what they want because they’re God’s elect.

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