God’s Chosen People

Michaelangelo hands of God and Adam

There’s a guy where I exercise who’s nice, but I’ve never really warmed up to him.  He’s not part of the ownership or the management team, so it’s never really mattered to me what I think of him.  Last week, though, I discovered that my subconscious might have been sending me messages when I couldn’t make myself like him.  After a tirade against capitalism, for ObamaCare, and in favor of restrictions on all things that could affect Global Warming (yes, let’s get rid of the sun!), he said, “And another thing….”  He then started to inform me how pernicious the message is that the Jews are “God’s chosen people.”

My exercise place is wonderful, so I wasn’t about to upset the nice dynamic there by getting into a debate with a hard-core Leftist.  Those debates usually end badly:  the Leftist doesn’t change his mind, while any people in the vicinity who aren’t hard-core but are still Left (this is Marin after all), get very upset and start thinking with their navels, not their brains.  The best way for me to handle situations like this is to leave, think my arguments through, and then have those arguments ready for the inevitable round two.  This blog is where I think my arguments through. . . .

Apropos his anger that Jews think they’re special (along the lines of “Who are they to claim they’re God’s chosen people?”), it occurred to me that both the Left and antisemites are ferociously ignorant about their Old Testament.  Here is what the Bible tells (and all of you, who are more Bible literate than I, please correct me when I’m wrong):

Before he formed the covenant with the Jewish God, Abraham was polytheistic.  Ur, his original homeland, was certainly polytheistic.  God did not originally appear as a monotheistic God.  Instead, he just appeared as a divine being who selected Abraham (or, as he was initially, Abram).  If Abraham joined in a covenant with God, aligning his family with God, and circumcising all males as a sign of that covenant, God would treat Abraham and his descendents well.  Provided that all of them, through the centuries, abided by the covenant (and circumcision is a harsh demand) they would have land and good fortune.

The Bible acknowledges more than once that there are other gods swirling around in the ancient world.  For example, when Jacob and Rachel flee her father, Laban, Rachel takes her father’s “Household Gods.”  Significantly, in the Ten Commandments, God himself acknowledges other Gods.  It’s just that, as to the Jews, if they wish to keep the covenant, he must be the only God they claim and worship:

“Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”

Those words make sense only if there was competition. Otherwise, God would have said, “There are no other Gods, but for me.”

While God promised much to the children of Abraham, he also placed heavy burdens upon them in addition to circumcision.  In a time when people were comforted by a panoply of gods, all of whom were physically present and whose favors could be bought with human or animal sacrifices, the Jews had just one abstract God in whom they had to believe, regardless of his invisible nature.

During the Greek occupation in Palestine, the Jews could not partake of the physical libertinism that characterized the Greeks.  Jews could not hold on to slaves for more than seven years, and had to treat their slaves humanely, which placed them at an economic disadvantage compared to others in the ancient world.  They were prohibited from eating all kinds of foods, which may have conferred some health benefits on them (e.g., no trichinosis), but which also limited their ability to thrive.

And so it goes, rule after rule that gave the Jews a spiritual advantage, but that limited their options in the ancient world.  In exchange, absent periodic miracles, such as the exodus from Egypt, being God’s chosen people wasn’t so great:  they were isolated and often at war with the world around them, their lives were constrained by God’s stringent rules, and God was big on punishing individuals or whole groups for any failure properly to abide by His rules.

The end result was that, in the ancient world, Jews were considered everything from fellow imperialists, to slaves, to an occupied people.  The one thing that they weren’t considered to be, though, was arrogant and special.  Indeed, in the ancient world, they were considered foolish for hewing to one invisible God rather than taking advantage of the panoply of gods then benefiting everyone else.

What changed was Christianity, which looked at the Jewish God and the whole notion of monotheism and concluded that it was a good idea.  The early Christians were Jews and, when they split from Jews who didn’t recognize Christ’s divinity, they still considered themselves God’s Chosen People — only they were even more chosen because they had taken Christ as their savior.  Suddenly, the Jews’ claim to be God’s Chosen People seemed (a) wrong and (b) arrogant, considering that both Jews and Christians were claiming the same God as their own.

All of which is to say that the Leftist at the dojo was wrong when he sought to insult Jews because they somehow think they’re “special.”  That’s not the issue at all.  Jews have simply chosen, for thousands of years, to abide by a very challenging covenant that Abraham made with a God who came to Abraham and said, “If you pick me, and you play by my rules, we’ll be a team forever.”  In the beginning, everybody thought Abraham made a bad deal by letting himself and his descendents get tagged by this jealous God.  It was only with the passing of time that others began to think that they’d like to be tagged too.

Certainly now, Jews do not display religious arrogance.  They do not demand, either with words or swords, that others worship their God; and they do not enslave or tax or otherwise discriminate against those who don’t.  Yes, amongst themselves they think they’re doing the right thing, but so does every group, whether religious or otherwise.  Why bother to be a group if you don’t have special bonds that distinguish you from others?  But there’s a profound difference between thinking “Yup, I’m engaging in correct religious behavior,” and thinking “You all are evil and doomed.  You deserve to die and then go to Hell.  And while you’re on this earth, I have the right to make it a Hell on earth for you.”  Now that’s arrogant.

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    Left and antisemites are ferociously ignorant about their Old Testament. 
    There’s a difference? 

  • http://OgBlog.net Earl

    I’m not a theologian, and I don’t play one on TV…..so there is your disclaimer.
    The covenant was stringent, for sure.  It required a great deal, but it also conferred a great deal.  Abram was promised that his offspring would be like the sands of the sea or the stars in the sky for number.  Over and over he heard this from God – which makes the whole story of Isaac so powerful.  The dietary stuff probably did ensure better health, but it was good ecologically, as well.  Grazing animals turn something inedible into milk, meat, wool, etc.  Pigs and other ceremonially “unclean” critters mostly compete with humans for the local food supply, or are predators, scavengers, filter-feeders, etc. which nowadays we know tend to concentrate toxins in the environment.  “Eating lower on the food chain” was a good idea back then, just like now.
    Christ was (and is) seen to be the culmination, or the fulfillment, of the entire sacrificial system that the Jews followed.  It started with Adam and Eve, but every time any Jew killed the lamb, it was a symbol of the sacrifice that Jesus would make on the cross.  Clearly it was Jewish and gentile believers in Christ’s ministry who see it this way – the non-Christian part of the Jewish leadership saw it very differently.  But even before Christ’s arrival, there were Jews reading prophecy and saying that the Messiah was due.
    As for “religious arrogance”, I can’t believe that no Jew possesses such….aren’t they human?  Certainly there are Christians with this failing, along with any other religion we might name.  It *is* true that Jews don’t proselytize…while for Christians, this is a requirement.  I think this is because of the “chosen” nature of the Jewish self-identity….you can’t “choose” to be part of God’s chosen people!  I could be wrong about this, but it makes sense to me, anyhow.  :-)
    As for Jew-hatred, it seems to be a result of the relative success of Jewish people as they spread through the world.  They do (relatively) well, even in the face of oppression.  Insecure people can quickly be induced to hate such a people, and it generally benefits those on top, even if their (insecure) subjects end up suffering from the troubles visited upon the Jews.  “Concentrated benefits, and distributed costs.”  Sound familiar?

  • Charles Martel

    One effect of the anti-Semitic drumbeat against the specialness of the Jews is the rise of self-hatred among them. Most of the Jews I know in Marin are self-haters, either smug tikkun olam types who decided long ago that the platform of the Democratic Party is how we repair the world, or else self-consciously “progressive” folk who wink at the laughable moral precepts of Judaism, which to them are colorful but embarrassing constructs to be tucked away with all the other cute ethnic customs their ancestors brought over with them from the Old World.
    They are horrified when I tell them about a Jewish woman I knew 30 years ago on the trade magazine circuit, a writer for my magazine’s greatest rival. She was funny and whip smart, and a damned good writer, and I always hung out with her if we happened to be attending the same trade show. Susan was the kind of New Yorker I’ve always liked, and the band of brothers and sisters we hung out with shows and conferences had some of the wittiest, most entertaining people I’ve ever spent time with. 
    Susan later wowed us all when she married an orthodox Jew and had eight children by him. She homeschooled her brood while doing highly-in-demand freelance writing in between spills, fractures, tantrums, and misdemeanors. She remains one of the funniest, happiest people I know, and to her tikkun olam means doing exactly what she’s been doing: filling the world with educated, self-loving Jews who will do more to help this sorry planet than all of the imams, Obamas, feminists, leftists, and limousine liberals of the world combined.

  • Caped Crusader

    “Thou shalt have no other gods before me.”
    Although considering myself a basic orthodox Christian this passage has always troubled me in that it could be implied to accept other gods, just as long as God is foremost; and why was it expressed in this manner. It would seem that have NO other gods should be the command. If you know a good basic rabbi who can explain it please do, since this is an old testament manner essentially and I have learned a great deal occasionally reading rabbinical writings online.
    Another thing that has always galled me is when someone commits the most reviled and heinous criminal acts and then revels in the misery caused by others, and shows no remorse, certain Christians run around saying we forgive you, we forgive you, ad infinitum. I have never felt the Christian duty to forgive such people, leaving that to the Lord. Reading some rabbinical columns, it seems that in Judaism there is no obligation to forgive unless the person is truly remorseful, begs forgiveness, and does their best to make amends. This makes sense to me.
    I agree with Earl that arrogance knows no theological bounds.
    Also the promise to Abraham to make his progeny as numerous as the sands of earth and the stars in the sky seems impossible to be able to happen anytime soon; while both Christians and Muslims would appear to each have a claim on this promise. For this to be fulfilled Jesus must certainly tarry for a very long time.
    Bookworm if you know a good straight thinking rabbi help me out.

  • Spartacus

    Three thoughts:
    1) I’m also not a theologian, and certainly don’t want to drive any stakes in the sand here, because I think reasonable people can certainly have a very healthy debate about this one.  But while there are a number of references in the Old Testament to “other gods,” I believe this is an acknowledgement of the pagan world that existed at the time, and the fact that almost everyone believed in other gods, and carved little figurines of them and worshipped them; it is not actually an acknowledgement of their existence in reality.  Nowhere is there any verse such as, “And the Lord said to Molech…”  And while there are many nice folks who would argue for the inerrancy even of English translations, I’m not one of them, so I think it’s better to look for consistent, undeniable messages, and exercise considerable caution when finely parsing a verse.
    There’s an old joke about a college philosophy class in which the final exam consisted of only one question: “How would you prove or disprove the assertion that there is life on Mars?”  One student simply wrote, “Ask one of the inhabitants.  Even a negative answer would be sufficient.”  Well, I’ve never met any of the other “gods” in order to ask them if it’s true they’re imaginary, so I guess my input here is somewhat speculative.
    2) Not meaning to be argumentative, but I’m not sure how much of a difference there is between “chosen” and “special.”  Are Jews God’s chosen people?  Yes.  (See Gen. 1 – Mal. 4.)  Does that make them special?  Well, sure.  Does that make them better than everyone else?  Well, more like “honored,” in the same way that Christians are not better, but “forgiven.”  The blessings of these two groups shouldn’t upset anyone else, unless of course that someone had expectations of being honored or forgiven by God without belonging to either group.
    3) Jeez… did this guy know you’re Jewish?  I mean, spontaneously spouting off like that is fairly over-the-top even if he didn’t know, but over-the-top-of-the-top if he did!  What an unpleasant person!  What a burr he must have under his saddle!
    It actually reminds me of an office picnic at my former manager’s house once upon a time.  Sunny summer day, great food, elegant backyard in a utopian neighborhood.  We’re all just sitting lazily in the sunshine, chatting about nothing in particular, and out of nowhere, one guy (the guy literally sitting on the far left, appropriately) says something like, “Maybe it’s not a good idea bringing this up here, but… is anyone else bothered by the fact that Ariel Sharon is a genocidal maniac, and is basically the ultimate force of evil in the universe?!?!?”  (Why Ariel Sharon?  What did he have to do with any of us?  But some things never change.)  I think my initial response was something like, “Yeah, it’s probably *not* a good idea to bring it up.”  But he persisted, and I let myself get dragged into it, and we had a good shouting match for the next 45 minutes.  Long story short, that was a big mistake.  So, while keeping your guns oiled and your ammo sorted and handy is wise, I would gently recommend considering your objectives carefully before allowing this unpleasant person to provoke you…

  • MacG

    THere is only one God that is an actual God.  Abraham always served God Most High, other gods are so called gods that people make into gods in rebellion:
    Genesis 14:18
    And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a priest of [s]God Most High. He blessed him and said,
    “Blessed be Abram of God Most High,
    Possessor of heaven and earth;
    And blessed be God Most High,
    Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.”
    He gave him a tenth of all.  The king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give the people to me and take the goods for yourself.” Abram said to the king of Sodom, “I have sworn to the Lord God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth, that I will not take a thread or a sandal thong or anything that is yours, for fear you would say, ‘I have made Abram rich.’I will take nothing except what the young men have eaten, and the share of the men who went with me, Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre; let them take their share.”
    Isaiah 43:10ff
    “You are My witnesses,” declares the Lord,
    “And My servant whom I have chosen,
    So that you may know and believe Me
    And understand that I am He.
    Before Me there was no God formed,
    And there will be none after Me.
    “I, even I, am the Lord,
    And there is no savior besides Me.
    “It is I who have declared and saved and proclaimed,
    And there was no strange god among you;
    So you are My witnesses,” declares the Lord,
    “And I am God.
    “Even from eternity I am He,
    And there is none who can deliver out of My hand;
    I act and who can reverse it?”
    Isaiah 44:8“Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts:
    ‘I am the first and I am the last,
    And there is no God besides Me.
    ‘Who is like Me? Let him proclaim and declare it;
    Yes, let him recount it to Me in order,
    From the time that I established the ancient nation.
    And let them declare to them the things that are coming
    And the events that are going to take place.
    ‘Do not tremble and do not be afraid;
    Have I not long since announced it to you and declared it?
    And you are My witnesses.
    Is there any God besides Me,
    Or is there any other Rock?
    I know of none.’”
    Isaiah 45:3ff
    So that you may know that it is I,
    The Lord, the God of Israel, who calls you by your name.
    “For the sake of Jacob My servant,
    And Israel My chosen one,
    I have also called you by your name;
    I have given you a title of honor
    Though you have not known Me.
    5 “I am the Lord, and there is no other;
    Besides Me there is no God.
    I will gird you, though you have not known Me;
    That men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun
    That there is no one besides Me.
    I am the Lord, and there is no other,
    The One forming light and creating darkness,
    Causing well-being and creating calamity;
    I am the Lord who does all these.
    Isaiah 45:18
    18 For thus says the Lord, who created the heavens (He is the God who formed the earth and made it, He established it and did not create it a waste place, but formed it to be inhabited),
    “I am the Lord, and there is none else.
    “I have not spoken in secret,
    In some dark land;
    I did not say to the offspring of Jacob,
    ‘Seek Me in a waste place’;
    I, the Lord, speak righteousness,
    Declaring things that are upright.
    “Gather yourselves and come;
    Draw near together, you fugitives of the nations;
    They have no knowledge,
    Who carry about their wooden idol
    And pray to a god who cannot save.
    “Declare and set forth your case;
    Indeed, let them consult together.
    Who has announced this from of old?
    Who has long since declared it?
    Is it not I, the Lord?
    And there is no other God besides Me,
    A righteous God and a Savior;
    There is none except Me.
    “Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth;
    For I am God, and there is no other.
    “I have sworn by Myself,
    The word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness
    And will not turn back,
    That to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance.
    “They will say of Me, ‘Only in the Lord are righteousness and strength.’
    Men will come to Him,
    And all who were angry at Him will be put to shame.
    “In the Lord all the offspring of Israel
    Will be justified and will glory.”
    “To whom would you liken Me
    And make Me equal and compare Me,
    That we would be alike?
    “Those who lavish gold from the purse
    And weigh silver on the scale
    Hire a goldsmith, and he makes it into a god;
    They bow down, indeed they worship it.
    “They lift it upon the shoulder and carry it;
    They set it in its place and it stands there.
    It does not move from its place.
    Though one may cry to it, it cannot answer;
    It cannot deliver him from his distress.
    “Remember this, and be assured;
    Recall it to mind, you transgressors.
    “Remember the former things long past,
    For I am God, and there is no other;
    I am God, and there is no one like Me,
    Isaiah 47:8
    “Now, then, hear this, you sensual one,
    Who dwells securely,
    Who says in [your heart,
    ‘I am, and there is no one besides me.
    I will not sit as a widow,
    Nor know loss of children.’
    “But these two things will come on you suddenly in one day:
    Loss of children and widowhood.
    They will come on you in full measure
    In spite of your many sorceries,
    In spite of the great power of your spells.
    “You felt secure in your wickedness and said,
    ‘No one sees me,’
    Your wisdom and your knowledge, they have deluded you;
    For you have said in your heart,
    ‘I am, and there is no one besides me.’
    “But evil will come on you
    Which you will not know how to charm away;
    And disaster will fall on you
    For which you cannot atone;
    And destruction about which you do not know
    Will come on you suddenly.
    All quotes are New American Standard and cut pasted from http://www.biblegateway.com

  • MacG

    Proverbs 15:14
    The mind of the intelligent seeks knowledge, But the mouth of fools feeds on folly.
    Good on ya Book.

  • http://www.amazon.com/Occupy-Innsmouth-ebook/dp/B009WWJ44A/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1361504109&amp raymondjelli

    There were no other gods.  What these passages meant were two things.  In man’s imagination there were such beings.  Number two was  that at earlier time there was reference to specific powers of the Creator and it was thought that there could be intermediaries that would allow someone to reach them while not putting oneself wholly in the sight of that Creator and be judged.  You could section off the power of different parts of creation while not feeling that one was being judged.  Since the Creator was far more easily felt in the workings of the world at that time it was truly overwhelming and paganism was an emotional escape.  This was the sin of the golden calf.  Moses was seen as an intermediary and not the bringer of laws.  The golden calf was seen as a new intermediary and a return to the safer feeling paganism.
    Those who hate the Jews for saying they are arrogant and believe they are chosen when they are not are lying . What they really hate is a Creator who is involved throughout creation and makes moral judgement (the Jews just carry the message)…Hence a Communist type is a real hater.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    He might want to reconsider his place in martial arts. Judging by the various comments floating around at that place from your previous descriptions, a whole heck load of people there think they are “special”.
    In reality, at least half the people I know in the H2H training circle can obliterate them without even trying.

  • pst314

    “After a tirade against capitalism, for ObamaCare, Global Warming…Jews…”
    May he vacation in a hundred cities, and in each city may he visit a hundred sights, and each time may he meet a Jew who is smarter, wiser, wealthier, stronger, and more accomplished than he.

  • http://ymarsakar.wordpress.com Ymarsakar

    Capitalism, not socialism, is why people get to use martial arts as their self enclosed hobby.
    In socialism, you’d be too busy working to pay for the feasts of the Ruling Class to be doing any “hobbies” like “exercise”.

  • shirleyelizabeth

    Always the late one…
    In my study of the Old Testament and its history I’ve never heard Abraham’s family referred to as simply Jews. It’s always Israelites. Jews are a division, though who can say if there is a difference today?
    The Ten Commandments were given to Moses, who had a whole slew of people with him that had been living in Egypt for generations and adopting their Gods and traditions. One God was a new thing for them, just as it was for Abraham, and the reason they had to go to the mountain to re-make the covenant. As I’ve been taught (and could depend on which translation you read) The Ten Commandments is actually the simple version of the covenant, as the people were not ready for what Moses brought down initially. So they had to start with the simpler things, like one God, love ME, worship ME, no more idols, don’t do bad stuff.