God’s choice of Israel is based solely upon God’s love, not its merit.
It is possible for Israel to harbor feelings of smugness upon hearing that they had been chosen by God. They might assume that God’s choice was in response to some remarkable character that they already possessed. Worse yet, they might become complacent, resting upon their laurels and neglecting their covenantal obligations.
But God’s choice of Israel is no excuse for pride. Moses clearly articulates that God’s choice was not based upon any inherent goodness, merit, or strength in Israel. Rather, God’s choice of Israel was simply due to love. The emotive vocabulary is instructive in this regard:
- “Set his heart on you” (v. 7) might better be rendered “was smitten with you,” in that the Hebrew root (hashaq) depicts the desire Shechem felt for Dinah (Genesis 34:8). God is strongly attracted to Israel, but not because of Israel’s charms. Certainly not because of Israel’s greatness, as the disclaimer “you were the fewest of all” indicates, despite Deuteronomy’s own testimony that Israel was “as numerous as the stars” (1:10; 10:22; 28:62). God is drawn to Israel, but why?
- “Love” (v. 8). God’s love, here indicated with the normal word for love (ahavah), dispels any notion of erotic or lustful attraction the last verb may have suggested. This again stresses that God’s love has nothing to do with Israel’s attractiveness and everything to do with God’s grace.
- “Kept the oath” (v. 8). God’s love is faithful. We should not be surprised that God chose Israel in its weakness. This is exactly what God did in Genesis 12:1-3. The promise of children and a land made to an old, childless couple seemed impossible. Yet they conceived, and the promise of land is about to be fulfilled for Israel now, on the verge of the Jordan, attesting to God’s faithfulness.
- “Covenant loyalty” (v. 9) is an excellent rendering of the hendiadys “the A covenant is a promise or agreement. In the Bible the promises made between God and God's people are known as covenants; they state or imply a relationship of commitment and obedience. More and the loyalty.” (Hendiadys consists of two nouns joined by “and,” expressing a single idea.) The word for “loyalty” (hesed) is of the essence in covenantal situations, since it refers to the mutual commitments pledged by each of the parties. On the human side, it becomes synonymous with “obligations.” But here, it is God who pledges faithfulness to Israel.
The passage concludes with a stern reminder that though God’s love may be unswerving, relationship requires the response of a partner, a response demonstrated in the observance of “the commandment” (vv. 9-11). The singular “the commandment,” of course, refers to the whole complex of Torah.