Monday, January 27, 2014

The Election of Israel as an Act of Love

I am so used to reading that God chose Israel to be his special people so that they could do a job for him--witness to his goodness to the rest of humanity--that it is refreshing and illuminating to read another take. This is provided by Walter Moberly in his Old Testament Theology (ch. 2). He bases himself especially on Deuteronomy 7:6-8, which text prompts Moberly to say:
YHWH's delight in Israel and commitment to Israel is formulated strongly: the idea of Israel as a "treasured possession" conveys the image of Israel as the object of YHWH's special delight, and the verb "set his heart on" (hashaq) is used elsewhere for the passionate emotion of a man's falling in love with a woman and desiring her. The nature of election as rooted in, and expressive of, the act of divine loving is thus clear. (p. 44)
Moberly then talks about the "why me?" response that often follows such an act of love: "The question expresses sheer marvel at the gratuitous wonder of being loved (gratuitous, because even the most admirable personal qualities are no guarantee of being loved by another). The reality of love surpasses the realm of reason" (p. 44). This section of Moberly's chapter ends with a paragraph that starts with this sentence: "One prime fact about Israel's election, therefore, is that in an important sense it is an end in itself" (p. 46).

Up to this point in chapter, Moberly has barely mentioned the 'instrumental' interpretation of Israel's election, but his next section is titled "Is Election Instrumental?" Here he cites as prime examples "popular Christian apologist Rob Bell" and the OT scholar Daniel Block. Both Bell and Block emphasize the instrumental nature of Israel's election. As Moberly (p. 47) quotes Bell's Velvet Elvis (p. 165): "God doesn't schoose people just so they'll feel good about themselves or secure in their standing with God or whatever else. God chooses people to be used to bless other people." Moberly pushes back against this notion. He does not deny completely the instrumental idea of election (at least, I don't think he does), but he does argue that this notion is not the dominant note in the OT presentation of Israel's election. Rather, God's love for Israel is.
Interestingly, both Bell and Block [...] shy away from YHWH's election of Israel as an end in itself by depicting such a notion pejoratively ("just so they'll feel good about themselves"; "that he might merely lavish his attention on her as if she were a pet kitten or a china dish on a shelf" [a quotation from Block, p. 157]). It is curious that they are unable here to articulate the nature of love of one to another as a wondrous good, of value in itself, even though I imagine that they would have no difficulty in doing so in other contexts. (p. 48)
Moberly compares God's love for Israel (and Israel's "why me?" response) to human relationships (as, indeed, the Bible itself does). A husband and wife often have trouble offering an "explanation" for why they love each other, and they would probably deny that they do it so that the other would be good to him/her. It's not instrumental, it just is. "Love has its own reasons."

Why did God elect Israel? Because God loved Israel.

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