“It is not because of your righteousness or because of the uprightness of your heart that you are going to possess their land, but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord your God is driving them out before you. He is doing this in order to confirm the oath which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” (Deuteronomy 9:5)
Saved from Destruction
Moses is simply reminding Israel that God isn’t giving them the land of Canaan as a reward for their righteousness. For Moses reminds them of their apostasy. He goes on to explain how it was only his intercession for them which saved them from divine destruction (Deuteronomy 9:7–29). No, what made dispelling the Canaanites from their land necessary was their own intense wickedness. It was not Israel’s goodness. God was giving Israel their land to fulfill His promise to the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Yet, we could easily misinterpret this passage. We might take it as saying that God would have cared nothing about Israel had it not been for the Canaanites’ sin. In other words, it was only His anger with Canaan that made Him turn to someone else, to Israel—to make the Canaanites regret offending Him.
Such an interpretation would make God out to be a jilted lover. It would portray God as a neglected lover who quickly turns to another love interest only as a way to “get even” with their old love interest. It would make God out to be manipulative—as merely using one group of people to make another jealous.
A False Idea
Yet, as crazy as this interpretation sounds, this is essentially the way we interpret Romans chapters 10 and 11 (10:19–21; 11:11–21). We walk away from this passage with the idea that God never really cared anything about the rest of humanity. It’s only because Israel rejected the Messiah, Jesus, that God is now turning to the “despised Gentiles.” He is doing so only to make Israel jealous. Then, after moving Israel to jealousy and causing them to return to Him, God will proceed to dump the Gentiles.
This idea is erroneous and nonsensical. The truth is that God has cared about the whole of humanity from day one. In fact, when God first called Abraham, His stated plan was to use the Patriarch (and his descendants) as a means of blessing “all the families of the earth” (Genesis 12:3; 18:18; 22:18). As the chosen people of God, Israel would not constitute an exclusive club in which only members benefit from God’s blessings. Israel was to become a “kingdom of priests,” serving as mediators between God and the rest of humanity (Exodus 19:5–6).
Indeed, Moses told Israel that they would be a witness to the nations around them. But the only way was by simply keeping God’s commandments (Deuteronomy 4:6–8). Israel’s purpose as God’s Elect was to serve as His witness to humanity so that His salvation might extend to the ends of the earth (Israel 49:6). The ministry of the prophet Jonah abounds with this theme. It is Jonah who harbors the erroneous idea that only the Elect should be partakers of God’s mercy. It is God who reasons with the prophet that He is appropriately concerned about the “despised” Ninevites as well (Jonah 4:9–11).
That God’s love and salvation extend beyond the borders of His chosen people was also emphasized by Jesus. In Luke 4:25–26, He points out that God sent the prophets Elijah and Elisha to Gentiles, rather than to Israelites, to bring them to faith in Him.
What the apostle Paul does describe in Romans 10-11 is that God will essentially “reverse the roles.” If Israel will not be the Messiah’s witness to the Gentiles, then—through the Messiah—God will raise up a people for Himself from the Gentiles and use them to witness to Israel. If the “natural branches” will not bear fruit for the world, they will be broken off and replaced with “wild branches” that will bear such fruit (Romans 11:17–24).
True, God’s plan is to stir unbelieving Israel to jealousy. But once they come to their senses and turn to their true Messiah, God will not discard the Gentiles. On the contrary, God will use Israel as the witness they were created to be. And what an effective witness they will be! This is why Paul asserts, “If Israel’s failure still brought about spiritual riches for the world, how much more will the fulfillment of their divine purpose bring about such riches? … If Israel’s rejection of the Messiah still brought about the reconciliation of the world, what will be the result of their acceptance of the Messiah? It will be like life from the dead” (Romans 11:12, 15).
Israel’s future role as God’s witness to the nations may be that which is described in Revelation 7:2–17. But until that time comes, God’s blessings will continue to pour into the lives of those who are willing to be His channel of grace and mercy to world. God will continue to reveal His word to those who are willing to be His witnesses to unbelievers. If, however, His people begin to view themselves as an exclusive club, as a sponge rather than as a channel of God’s blessings, then He will cease to bless. “Give and it shall be given to you,” was Christ’s promise (Luke 6:38).
God is not behaving as a jilted lover. He doesn’t pour out love on one group of people to make another jealous. God is interested in saving humanity (Ezekiel 33:11; Luke 15:1–10; John 3:16–17; 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9). And He will pour out His grace and blessing on anyone who is willing to channel them to others.
Dear Father in heaven, please make me a witness to those around me. Make me a channel of Your blessings to the world. Open my eyes to Your love for humanity and deliver me from an attitude of exclusivity, I pray. Amen.
In article photo: Marines qualify as scout swimmers during course [Image 3 of 17] by DVIDSHUB licensed under CC BY 2.0