by A. Philip Brown, II
Advanced Old Testament Theology, Spring 1998
Bob Jones University
The Semantic Domain of Election
The Objects of Election
The Grounds of Election
The Purposes of Election
The Consequences of Election
The Preservation of Election
While the Psalmist extols the enviable happiness of the man God chooses to dwell in His courts (Psa. 65:4), theologians have stood at the temple gate for centuries arguing over the nature and grounds of God's choice. Though dogmatically motivated treatments of this doctrine abound, few have paid much heed to the OT data.1 Many systematic theologies interpret the OT data in the light of their understanding of the NT,2 and even some biblical-theological treatments evidence a strong systematic bias in their handling of the evidence3. Nonetheless, election is a significant aspect of OT theology,4 deserving a biblical-theological examination of its semantics, objects, grounds, purposes, consequences, and preservation.
The Semantic Domain of Election
The primary term for election in the Old Testament is bachar "to choose."5 Contrary to English usage of "to elect," bachar has common currency in non-theological contexts. For example, men chose wives (Gen. 6:2), Lot chose the valley of the Jordan (Gen. 13:11), Joshua chose men to fight (Exod. 17:9), and David chose five smooth stones for his slingshot (1 Sam. 17:40). Nonetheless, bachar denotes a discriminating selection from among the available options regardless of its context.6 Key among the other terms7 associated with election are bha 'ahab (Deut. 7:7; 10:15; Mal. 1:2-3)8 and yada' (Gen. 18:19; Job 34:4; Amos 3:2; Hos. 13:4-5).9 Several common appellative phrases also imply election: 'My people' (Exo. 3:7, 10; 7:4; Isa. 1:3; Amos 7:8), 'servant of Yahweh' (Deut. 32:36; Jer. 25:9), 'people of Yahweh' (Deut. 32:36, 43; Jud. 5:11), and a 'people of Yahweh's special possession' (Exo. 19:5; Deut. 7:6; 14:2; 26:18; Psa. 135:4; Mal. 3:17). Beyond the words or phrases associated with election, certain relationships in Scripture picture God's choice of His people: marriage (Hosea, Jer. 2:17; 3:11-22; Eze. 16, 23; Isa. 50:1; 54:5, 8, 10; 62:4-5) the father-son relationship (Exo. 4:22; Deut. 14:1; Hos. 11:1; Isa. 63:16; 64:7-8), and the potter and clay imagery (Jer. 18:1ff; Isa. 64:8). On the discourse level, the passages that develop the OT doctrine of election most fully are Deuteronomy 7:6-8, 9:4-6, 2 Samuel 7:8-16, and Isaiah 41:8-16, 42:1-9, 43:1-3, 44:1-5.10
The Objects of Election
The objects of divine election fall into three categories: things/events, individuals, and corporate entities. God chose Aaron's rod (Num. 17:5), a specific kind of fast (Isa. 58:5-6), and the punishments for those who have chosen their own ways (Isa. 66:3-4). The most frequently mentioned, non-personal object of God's election is the location where God would choose to place His name. Out of thirty-one occurrences of ba£ar in Deuteronomy, twenty-one have "the place" as their object.11 Early in Israel's history that place was Shiloh (Psa. 78:60; Jer. 7:12). Other places of God's choosing include the city of Jerusalem (1 Kgs. 8:44, 48; 11:32, 36; 14:21; 2 Kgs. 23:27; 2 Chr. 6:34, 38; 12:13), the temple (2 Chr. 7:16; 33:7), and Mt. Zion (Psa. 78:68; 132:13).
Numerous individuals, some of which may be grouped by classes, are the objects of God's choice: Abram (Neh. 9:7), Isaac (Gen. 17:19), Moses (Exo. 3:4-10; Psa. 106:23), Aaron (1 Sam. 12:6; Psa. 105:26); judges: Gideon (Jud. 6:11-15), Samson (Jud. 13:3-5), Barak (Jud. 4:6-9), Samuel (1 Sam. 3:4ff); kings: Saul (1 Sam. 9:16; 10:24), David (1 Sam. 16:1, 12), Solomon (2 Chr. 28:5, 6), Jeroboam (1 Kgs. 11:29ff); prophets: Amos (Amos 7:15), Hosea (Hos. 1:2), Jeremiah (Jer. 1:410); national leaders: Pharaoh (Exo. 9:16), Cyrus (Isa. 45:1), Nebuchadnezzar (Jer. 26:6ff), Zerubbabel (Hag. 2:23). Of particular theological significance is Yahweh's choice of the Messiah or Servant of Yahweh (Isa. 28:16; 42:1, 6; 49:1, 5, 6).
Within the category of corporate entities, two kinds of sub-groups may be distinguished: non-genetic groups and genetic-groups.12 God's choice of non-genetic groups includes any "nation or kingdom" (Jer. 18:7-10), the Persian army (Isaiah 13:3), and Assyria (Isa. 10:5-6). God's choice of genetic-corporate entities encompasses six specific groups: all humanity as Noah's seed in the Noachian covenant (Gen. 9:9-17); (2) the nation of Israel - elected in God's choice of Abraham's seed (Gen. 17:7-8), Isaac's seed (Gen. 17:19), and Jacob's seed (Gen. 28:13-15); (3) the tribe of Levi (Num. 3:12ff; 16:5, 7; Deut. 18:1-5; 21:5);13 (3) the Aaronic line (Exo. 28:1-2; Num. 16:40; 17:5; 2 Sam. 2:28, 30); (5) the house of Phinehas (Num. 25:11-13); and (6) the Davidic line (2 Sam. 7:8ff).14
The Grounds of Election
The basis for God's choice is frequently unmentioned in the OT, however, those grounds of divine election that are revealed fall into two categories: merited and unmerited election. To designate election as merited means that God's choice was based on some good found in the elected person. Examples of merited election are Noah who "found grace" in God's sight (Gen. 6:8),15 Phinehas, whose righteous deed in killing Zimri and Cosbi was the ground of his election (Num. 25:11-13),16 and the Levites, whose steadfast loyalty to the covenant during the golden calf incident, appears to be the grounds of God's choice (Deut. 33:8-10).17 With regard to the place where Yahweh was to set His name, its merit lay in its serviceability, that is, the centrality of its location.18
The clearest examples of unmerited election involve Abraham, Jacob, and Israel.19 God's revelation that Abraham was an idolater highlights the unmerited nature of his election (Jos. 24:2). God's choice of Jacob prior to his birth excludes all possibility of merit (Gen. 25:23).20 The grounds for God's choice of Israel were, negatively, not because of their numbers (Deut. 7:7) or righteousness/uprightness of heart (Deut. 9:5) and in spite of their smallness (7:7), stubbornness (Deut. 9:6), and rebellion (Deut. 9:7). Positively, God chose Israel because of love for them (Deut. 7:8; 13:5), for their fathers (Deut. 4:37), and because of His oath to the fathers (Deut. 9:5).
The Purposes of Election
The OT reveals four purposes for which God elects individuals or groups: service, salvation, blessing, and reflection of God's character. First and foremost, OT election is God's choice of an individual or group to fulfill His purpose or accomplish a task.21 God chose various individuals to be judges, prophets, leaders, or kings. God chose Aholiab and Bezalel and filled them with His spirit to make the tabernacle furnishings (Exo. 31:1-6). Aaron and his seed were chosen to serve as priests (Num. 16:5; 17:20). According to Isaiah Israel was chosen, in part, to praise the Lord (Isa. 43:21). Cyrus' election was to fulfill God's promise of Israel's restoration to the land and the rebuilding of the temple (2 Chr. 36:23; Ezra 1:2; Isa. 45:1ff). God refers to the Persians as those He has consecrated (vdqm) to bring the Day of Yahweh upon Babylon (Isa. 13:3), and the Assyrians were elected "to capture booty and to seize plunder, and to trample [a godless nation] down like mud in the streets" (Isa. 10:5-6).
Service and salvation, as purposes of election, blend in the election of Abraham and his seed.22 Abraham was chosen to be a blessing to all nations (Gen. 12:3; 18:18)23 and in order that he should instruct his children to walk in Yahweh's way (Gen. 18:19).24 The nation of Israel was the elect instrument through which God intended to mediate the promised Abrahamic blessing (salvation) to the whole world; thus Yahweh calls them "a kingdom of priests" (Exo. 19:6), "witnesses" (Isa. 43:10, 12), and "My servant" (Isa. 44:1). Isaiah 43:10 contains the most explicit statement of God's salvific purpose in the election of national Israel: "Ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD, and my servant whom I have chosen: that25 ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he." Election's salvific purpose climaxes in the person of the Servant of Yahweh. He is chosen to bring Jacob back to Yahweh (Isa. 49:5), to be a light to the Gentiles (49:6), to be a covenant for the people (49:8), to set captives free (49:9) and to suffer for man's salvation (Isa. 52:13-53:12).
Divine election may also have as its purpose the bestowment of blessing. Jeremiah 18:9-10 speaks of God's choice to build, plant, and bless a nation or kingdom without any specific task attending that choice. Reflection of God's character is the final purpose for election that is explicitly mentioned in Scripture.26 God chose Israel to be a holy nation (Exo. 19:6; Deut. 7:6; 14:2) and to show forth His glory (Isa. 43:7).
The Consequences of Election
The consequences of election may be summarized in terms of privilege and responsibility. To be chosen by God, whether merited or not, is to receive one of the highest conceivable honors. David expresses the magnitude of this honor in his prayer acknowledging God's election of him and his seed (2 Sam. 7:18-29; cp. Psa. 65:4). Though all the elect are necessarily honored, not all receive the same privileges. The prophet was privileged to receive divine revelation (Jer. 1:9). Elect judges and kings were empowered by the Spirit (Jud. 3:10; 6:34; 14:6; 1 Sam. 10:10; 16:13). The privileges attending Israel's election were many: they became God's special possession (segulah: Exo. 19:5; Deut. 7:6; 14:2; 26:18; Psa. 135:4; Mal. 3:17), they were the recipients of God's law (Deut. 4:8), God's special presence dwelt in their midst (Exo. 40:34-38; Lev. 26:11ff.; Deut. 4:7), they were God's "inheritance" (Deut. 4:20; 32:9), they received God's unique care and protection (Deut. 32:10-11), and God promised to bless them (Deut. 28:1-14).
Privilege brings responsibility, and one of the responsibilities attending divine election is the obligation to respond to that election in faith and obedience (Deut. 4:37, 40; 7:6, 11). On several occasions Israel is summoned to respond to God's election by choosing to serve the Lord (Exo. 19:4-8; Deut. 10:15-16; 30:19; Jos. 24:14, 22) and to love Him (Deut. 10:15; 11:1). Election demands righteousness of conduct (Amos 3:2; 9:7; Jer. 18:7-10), loyalty to God's law (Lev. 18:4ff.), and "resolute non-conformity" to the surrounding world (Lev. 18:2; 20:22; Deut. 14:1ff.; Eze. 20:5-7).27 Failure in the responsibilities of election had two observable results in the OT: chastisement (Lev. 26:14-39; Deut. 28:15-68; Amos 3:2) and/or revocation of the election. Examples of God's reversal of His election span all three types of election: things - the chosen place of His dwelling: Shiloh (Psa. 78:60), the temple (Jer. 7:14; 26:6), and Jerusalem (2 Kgs. 23:37); individuals - Saul (1 Sam. 15:23, 26), Jeroboam (1 Kgs. 14:7ff), and Baasha (2 Kgs. 16:2); corporate entities - Eli's house as part of the Aaronic priesthood (2 Sam. 2:31-33),28 Northern Israel (2 Kgs. 17:15-20; Jer. 3:8; cp. Hos. 11:8), and the "nation or kingdom" of Jeremiah 18:7-10.29
The Preservation of Election
The first explicit reference to God's preservation of a select group within national Israel is 1 Kings 19:18, "I have been reserving in Israel 7,000 men, all those whose knees have not bowed to Ba'al and all those whose lips have not kissed him." Among the prophets, Micah prophesied that Yahweh would cause the remnant to reign in Mt. Zion forever (4:7). It is Isaiah, however, who develops this theme more thoroughly than the other prophets,30 and he is the first to refer to this remnant as "elect" (Isa. 65:9).31 Other remnant passages include Joel 2:32; Jeremiah 6:9, 31:7; Ezekiel 9:8; 11:13-17; Micah 2:12; and Zephaniah 2:9; 3:13.
The Jews, encouraged by the false prophets, misconstrued God's promised preservation of His elect as an unconditional guarantee of their national security (Mic. 3:11; Jer. 23:9ff.). Jerusalem was God's chosen place; therefore, it was safe (Jer. 7:1-15). Amos' response was that Israel's election and special relationship with God demanded that she be judged for her sin (3:2). The possession of election through birth into the covenant community did not automatically make one part of the remnant. Only those who had called upon Yahweh in saving faith were members of the elect remnant (Joel 2:32).
Two aspects of the OT's development of election seem to support the conclusion that OT election is "primarily a corporate concept" and that "references to elect individuals find their significance" within the covenant community:32 (1) the shift in focus from individual to corporate election with the progress of revelation, and (2) both Deuteronomy and Isaiah, the primary books in which the nature and ramifications of election are expounded, focus on the corporate aspect of election. However, it should be noted that God's choice of individuals, whether singly or as heads of an elect family, runs throughout OT revelation.
In conclusion, at least two parallels between OT and NT election suggest
themselves for consideration. First, election that brings men into a covenant
relationship with God always involves holiness (Gen. 17:1; Exo. 19:6; Eph.
1:4 - "He chose us in Him to be holy and blameless"). Second, Isaiah's
statement that the Servant of Yahweh would see his "seed" suggests that
the Servant is himself the elect head of a genetic-corporate entity (Isa.
53:10). If this is true, Paul's repeated "in Christ" phraseology would
find its parallel in the genetic-corporate election of the OT: Christ is
the chosen head, and all His offspring are elect.
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