Name for the Jewish people expressive of the idea of their having been chosen by God to fulfil the mission of proclaiming His truth among all the nations. This choice does not imply a superior claim, but a superior duty and responsibility on the part of the Jewish people, inasmuch as they have been pledged by the covenant which God concluded with Abraham, their ancestor, and again with the entire nation on Sinai, to testify, by precept and example, to the truth revealed to them, to lead a holy life as God's priest-people, and, if needs be, sacrifice their very lives for the sake of this truth. In this peculiar sense they are called God's own people; their religious genius, as manifested in their patriarchs, prophets, inspired poets, sages, and heroes, having rendered them the chosen people of religion to a far greater extent than the artistic and philosophical genius of the Greeks made that nation the chosen people of art and philosophy, or the juridical and political genius of the Romans made them the chosen people of law and politics.Consciousness of Selection.
Unlike any other nation, the Jewish people began their career conscious of their life-purpose and world-duty as the priests and teachers of a universal religious truth; and their whole history, with all its tragic sternness, was and to the end of time will be devoted to the carrying out of this purpose and the discharge of this duty. This view is expressed in all the Biblical and rabbinical passages referring to Israel as the chosen people, or to Abraham as their ancestor. "For I have singled him out [A. V., "have known him"] to the end that he may command his children and his house after him, that they may keep the way of the Lord to do justice and judgment" (Gen. xviii. 1, Hebr.; compare Neh. ix. 7, "Thou art the Lord, the God who didst choose Abram").Conditions of Choice.
That Israel's character as the chosen people is conditioned by obedience to God's commandments is stated in the very words of the Sinai covenant: "Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people; for all the earth is mine: and ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation" (Ex. xix. 5, 6). "The Lord did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people; but because the Lord loved you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your fathers" (Deut. vii. 7, 8). The great obligation imposed upon Israel as the chosen people is especially emphasized by the prophet Amos (iii. 2): "You only have I singled out [R. V., "known"] of all the families of the earth: therefore will I visit upon you all your iniquities." Compare Deut. xiv. 2: "Thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God, and the Lord hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all peoples that are upon the face of the earth," and ib. xxiv. 18, 19, R. V.God's Witnesses and Their Inheritance.
Particularly is the world-mission of the chosen people dwelt upon by Deutero-Isaiah, the seer of the Exile (Isa. xli.; xlii. 1-7; xliii. 10. "Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen"; ib. verse 21, R. V., "The people which I formed for myself that they might set forth my praise"; compare xliv. 1, 2; xlix. 6, 7).
As God's chosen people, Israel is also called His "inheritance" (Deut. iv. 20; ix. 26, 29; xxxii. 9; Ps. xxxiii. 12: "The people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance"; I Kings viii. 53, Jer. x. 16; and elsewhere). As the children of the Patriarchs they are His chosen ones (Ps. cv. 6).—In Rabbinical Literature:
According to the Rabbis, Israel has not been chosen as the people of the Law on account of its racial superiority. "Israel is of all nations the most wilful or headstrong one , and the Torah was to give it the right scope and power of resistance, or else the world could not have withstood its fierceness" (Beẓah, 25b). "The Lord offered the Law to all nations; but all refused to accept it except Israel" (Mek. Yitro, Pes. R. K. 103b, 186a, 200a). "A Gentile who consecrates his life to the study and observance of the Law ranks as high as the high priest," says R. Meïr, by deduction from Lev. xviii. 5; II Sam. vii. 19; Isa. xxvi. 2; Ps. xxxiii. 1, cxviii. 20, cxxv. 4, where all stress is laid not on Israel, but on man or the righteous one (Sifra, Aḥare Mot, 86b; Bacher, "Ag. Tan." ii. 31). Israel is likened to the olive. Just as this fruit yields its precious oil only after being much pressed and squeezed, so Israel's destiny is one of great oppression and hardship, in order that it may thereby give forth its illuminating wisdom (Ex. R. xxvi.). Poverty is the quality most befitting Israel as the chosen people (Ḥag. 9b). Only on account of its good works is Israel among the nations "as the lily among thorns" (Cant. R. ii. 2), or "as wheat among the chaff" (Midr. Teh. i. 4; Weber's "System der Altsynagogalen Theologie," etc., pp. 59-69, is full of glaring errors and misstatements on the subject of Israel as the chosen people).In the Liturgy.
In the Jewish liturgy, praise is frequently offered to God for having chosen Israel from among all thenations of the earth: in Ahabah Rabbah, in the benediction before the reading from the Law, and in the seven benedictions of the holy days and New Moon; concerning which see Geiger's "Jüd. Zeit." vii. 55; and Einhorn, in "Protocolle der Zweiten Rabbinerversammlung," p. 75, Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1845.
"The character of Israel as the chosen people," writes Güdemann ("Das Judenthum," 1902, p. 44) "does not involve the inferiority of other nations. The universality of Israel's idea of God is sufficient proof against such an assumption. Every nation requires a certain self-consciousness for the carrying out of its mission. Israel's self-consciousness was tempered by the memory of its servitude in Egypt and the recognition of its being 'the servant of the Lord.' It was the noblesse oblige of the God-appointed worker for the entire human race."