By Jamie Harms
One of my favorite stories in the Bible is found in Genesis 32 in which Jacob wrestles with God all night in hand-to-hand combat. I imagine their bodies intertwined, struggling against one another with no rest until the sun appeared on the horizon. In the midst of the struggle, God touched Jacob’s hip, and it was wrenched in the socket. Jacob then grabs ahold of his opponent and demands that he be blessed. As Jacob limped away from this encounter, he would never be the same because he had wrestled with God. Although we may not physically wrestle with God like Jacob did, we have opportunities to take the things we read in God’s Word and don’t like or understand and bring them to Him. In doing so, we will be changed just like Jacob.
As I have been reading through Joshua, I have wrestled with the question, “Why did God chose Israel?” It seems unfair to pick just one people group to bless, especially if that group is then commanded to wipe out others, possess land, and receive benefits. This question and ones like it have caused me to dig deeper into Scripture to look for answers, and what I have found — after taking the time to read, to pray, and to dig — is a better understanding of who God is. Let me explain.
If we go all the way back to the very beginning, we see our creator God make the form and function of everything in our universe. As He spoke each thing into existence, He declared it “good.” The only thing He did not declare “good” was mankind, saying instead that mankind was “very good.” You see, mankind was made in His image to display His character and take care of His creation, which brings Him glory. As His image bearers, Adam and Eve demonstrated to the rest of creation who God was, and in order to do so well, they walked with Him intimately. From the very beginning, God used mankind to declare who He was to His creation.
But God’s original intent to display His nature through mankind was thwarted because as a God of love He gave them a choice. Adam and Eve had to decide if they would trust Him to set the boundaries for good and evil or if they would do it themselves. In choosing themselves, they broke with the designed intentions of the Creator. As a God of justice and mercy, He immediately set into place a rescue plan to redeem His creation. The amazing thing about this rescue plan was that God continued to use mankind to show others who He was. They would not miss out on Jesus, His Son who would save the whole world.
God chose Abraham and promised him in Genesis 12 that he and his descendants would become a great nation, be given land, and would be a blessing to all nations. God might have chosen Abraham for this task because he was willing — he had faith — but Abraham was not perfect. God could have chosen others, but the point is that God uses people to display who He is and point to Himself. He has done so since the garden and continued to use a willing Abraham and his descendants to show Himself to those around them.
Sometimes it is hard to read Joshua and think that God is not favoring Israel or loves Israel more than the rest of the people groups being conquered in the Promised Land. What we see is this snapshot of a time where Israel is commanded to — and then does — wipe out entire people groups. The social justice part of me bristles on the inside, but what has helped me in my wrestling of why God chose Israel has been to step back and look forward. You see, in stepping back, we learn that Israel’s movement into the Promised Land came at a time when God needed to judge the sin of the land.
The Israelites weren’t entering the land and conquering it primarily for their own gain, but as agents of God’s justice. It is easy to then turn around and accuse God of not giving these people groups a chance to turn and to repent, but even as we see in Joshua 2, the people of Jericho knew of the God of Israel and had two different responses. One woman waiting for the God of Israel as her deliverer was saved with her whole family during the conquest, and she is found later in the lineage of Christ Himself. On the flip side, the king of Jericho and the rest of the people knew of this God of Israel, but instead of waiting for Him as deliverer, they did not want any part of Him, choosing to defer to themselves and their idols.
Looking forward into Scripture, we also see God shows no partiality to Israel because of individual or corporate sin. When Achan sinned in Joshua 7, his sin brought punishment and death to himself and his family — and defeat to Israel. His sin had the same result as that on the king of Jericho and his people. We also hear shouted loud and clear through the prophets that if the people of Israel would not turn from their sin they would be sent into exile. With plenty of fair warning, Israel did not turn from sin, just like the people of Jericho failed to do, and the nation was wiped out by Assyria and Babylon and carried into exile — just as Israel was called to do with the people native to the Promised Land.
Because of God’s promise to Abraham, a remnant was saved, a group of people who chose to reestablish Him as their God, who would point them to Jesus. The fulfillment of His faithful promise to Abraham to bless all the nations would come. Thus, Israel’s sin and the sin of the nations of the Promised Land had the same result, for God is a God of justice, following through on the warning that the wages of sin is death. Yet, God also is a God of mercy, saving each man, woman and child who confesses He is God and chooses to make Him Lord — Israelite or not.
At this point, I am humbled that God uses people at all for His glory, for we are all sinners deserving of death. Yet He used Israel in mighty ways to reflect Him as He revealed Himself to them, so the world would not miss His rescue mission. Jesus came and defeated death and took the death penalty for our sins, so we can become His people — His children — and find victory and rest in Him.
Thus, the wrestling of “Why did God choose Israel?” has helped me see that God in His infinite justice and mercy pursues mankind, using each of us to reflect His character and to point others to Him — just as He did with His chosen people Israel. Even though I don’t have all the answers, I can walk away from the struggle praising God that He is working out His bigger plan of justice and mercy because He is infinite in love toward the whole world. And I am changed.