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. Prophet who led Israel out of Egypt to the Promised Land and received the law at Sinai More 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 was the daughter of Jacob by Leah. More (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 is the unmerited gift of God's love and acceptance. In Martin Luther's favorite expression from the Apostle Paul, we are saved by grace through faith, which means that God showers grace upon us even though we do not deserve it. More.
- “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.
- “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 loyalty” (v. 9) is an excellent rendering of the hendiadys “the covenant 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 The Torah is the law of Moses, also known as the first five books of the Bible. To many the Torah is a combination of history, theology, and a legal or ritual guide. More.