In the greatest movie ever made, named “Chariots of Fire”, five young British men are chronicled through their university years on their way to Olympic glory. Four of the men met and became friends at Cambridge University in post-WWI England. One of these young men, a Hebrew, won a race against an old courtyard clock that had not been won by any man in 800 years. Upon learning of the feat accomplished by this freshman Hebrew student, one University Master said to another, “perhaps they truly are God’s chosen people.” It has been said multitudes of times throughout the ages that the Hebrews are the “chosen people of God.” But why? What made them God’s chosen people, and what does it mean to be the chosen people of God?
To understand this, we must return to the days of Abram and Sarai in the Torah. In Genesis we read that Abram left the home of his father in Ur, and traveled to Canaan. Abram chose to live a righteous life among wicked and idolatrous people in this land. His new neighbors on one side, the Amorites, were a wicked people. His other neighbors, the kingdoms of Sodom and Gomorrah, were so wicked that not 20 righteous people could be found within the walls of these cities. Abram’s nephew, Lot, and his family went to live among them, but Abram kept himself separate in order to keep his household righteous and obedient to the commandments of God.
After being in Canaan some years, the neighboring peoples had a fight. A group of kings attacked the area near where Abram lived, and carried away many people, flocks, and riches, including Abram’s nephew. Abram went and defeated the army, but he cited his obedience to God as his reason for refusing to engage in plunder. He further displayed his decision to be righteous by paying tithing to the King of Salem on what he did keep for the sustenance of his men. These are outward displays of Abram’s righteousness. But Abram was also a wealthy man, and many people say it is easier to be righteous when one is wealthy and everything is going your way. But not everything was going well for Abram.
Abram’s wife, Sarai, was barren. As a couple, they were getting along in years, and I’m sure the lack of children weighed on them greatly. In spite of being old, childless, and stricken in years, Abram believed the Lord’s promise of seed as numerous as the stars. (Gen 15) He remained faithful to God even though it must have been difficult if not impossible to understand how this promise would be fulfilled given their age. When Isaac was finally born to Sarai and Abram, I imagine the joy was overwhelming. But then Abram – now Abraham (Gen 17) – was tested in the ultimate test a man can bear: he was commanded to sacrifice his son. Throughout all of these experiences Abraham remained righteous and obedient, and this is the reason God made His covenant with him. This is why Abraham became “chosen” of God. His son Isaac and grandson Jacob followed in his footsteps and the Lord renewed the covenant with them – also due to their righteousness and obedience.
When the seed of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob escaped from Egypt in the 2nd book of the Torah, the covenant was renewed with them. Exodus and Deuteronomy are the most amazing books of the Torah for me because God clearly lays out the covenant, His expectations, and the blessings that will come to his chosen people if they will be righteous and obey his commands. (Exodus 20, Deut 28-29) The Lord also explains the curses that will come upon them if they do not obey Him. He then prophesies that due to unrighteousness the Hebrews will reap the curses and not the promised blessings; and that when the time finally comes around – presumably many years later because of the years of sorrow and curses will take place – when the seed of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob returns again to God in righteousness and obedience, they will be accepted, again, as the chosen people of God. (Deut 30)
But why? Why will they still be God’s chosen people? It is because God promised in the Torah that if they will return to obedience and righteousness they can become so. So who can become the chosen people of God? Those who righteously obey His commandments. That is why Abraham was chosen. That is why the covenant was renewed with Isaac and Jacob. Disobedience and wickedness lost the children of Israel these same great blessings, and brought a calamitous curse upon their nation – and their promised blessings were given to others in stead. The founders of the United States of America believed that America is the re-incarnation of ancient Israel and that America is reaping the blessings that ancient Israel lost through disobedience. I agree with this belief, although I also believe it is not just one people or nation on earth that is somehow “chosen” of God as though it is their birthright. Rather, it is the righteous and obedient to God’s laws and commands that become His chosen people. Lest we forget, Jesus himself said that God could raise up seed unto Abraham from stones if he needed to. (Matt 3:9) This statement applies to modern Americans just as much as it did to the ancient Israelites.