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A. Thornhill’s The Chosen People: Chapter 2: “God Chose Whom?”

Summary by C. P. Davis

In this chapter, Thornhill, after drawing out the distinction between what he terms “individual” and “corporate” election, discusses individual election in Second Temple thought. He begins by first noting that there is a touch of artificiality to these two terms, inasmuch as neither of them is used within Second Temple literature. This, however, should not overshadow the fact that there is a distinction between these two concepts, whatever one might call them. The chapter is divided into four major sections and a summary. We will briefly overview each of the major sections.

The first section, “The Character of the Elect,” is devoted to showing that Jews from the Second Temple period did not necessarily think of election in terms of salvation. The evidence seems to indicate that salvation, though an important corollary, was still just a corollary to the main thrust of election. But if salvation is not the main point, what is? Thornhill argues that the character of the elect fills this spot. In regards to salvation as election, our author writes, “Jews did not necessarily think in those categories” (28). The first bit of evidence comes from Wisdom of Ben Sira, which is clearly not focused on “otherworldly” notions, but rather has an eye to the practical life here and now. Ben Sira is largely concerned with displaying the magnificent qualities of the elect before God. In a telling section of his work (Sir 44:1–50:29), Ben Sira highlights God’s choice of famous Israelites, all of whom have been selected because of some inherent quality each possessed. Moses, in particular, is said to be chosen because he was faithful and meek. Character clearly plays a role for Ben Sira, but what about others?

The idea that character is relevant to election is also found in a number of additional psalms of David, some of which were discovered at Qumran. Psalm 152 and 153 portray David as one that is holy and elect, the two terms being linked. This seems to indicate that election has to do with David’s character before God. This is supported further by Psalm 155 where David is seen pleading with God to save Israel, on the basis of the faithful whom God has chosen. All of these psalms share the common theme of linking personal piety with God’s choice. But there is even more evidence for this concept in 1 Enoch. In fact, it is frequent that one finds election attached to personal disposition in this work. Like the psalms, 1 Enoch links the terms “elect,” “holy,” and “righteous,” in such a way that it is hard to separate the notion of election from an individual’s piety.

51djmwg4wpl-_sx331_bo1204203200_  “Chosen for a Purpose” is Thornhill’s second section, and here the focus shifts from character to function. That is, election deals not only with the piety of an individual, but with the role that person is to fulfill here and now. For Ben Sira, Moses was clearly chosen. Now, if one stops there the picture is not complete; one must ask what Ben Sira had in mind with this choosing. Moses was not simply chosen for salvation, but was chosen “so that he might teach Jacob the covenant, and Israel his decrees” (Sir 45:5). Again, the additional psalms of David tell the same story, only here David, not Moses, is the chosen. David is actually said to be chosen against the natural choice of man. God had a preferred choice, and this choice was for the purpose of leading the flock of Israel. As Thornhill points out, this passage is eminently “office-oriented” (37). The situation is no different in the Psalms of Solomon. Here the focus is once more on David and God’s choice of him to rule Israel. Interestingly, Israel is rebuked in this psalm because its sin had effectively cast off blessings that come through submitting to the Lord’s chosen. The only way to fix the problem is to look for one in the line of David to rule Israel.

In the third section, “Corporate Representation,” Thornhill unpacks one final aspect of individual election. Though coming close to corporate election, the concept of representation focuses on the individual as a reflection of the masses. Under this aspect of election God might treat a group in accordance with the stance of an individual. Jubilees offers a number of examples. This retelling of the book of Genesis casts God’s choice of Jacob in terms of obedience and righteousness. It might be noted that character is once again brought to the fore. However, a new development can be seen here: Jacob becomes the paradigm for the covenant community. A similar insight may also be gleaned from Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs. Specifically, the Testament of Simeon 5:1-6 indicates that Levi and Judah represent the remnant of God’s faithful, and both the Testament of Dan and the Testament of Naphtali, though not clearly making the same identification, elevate Levi and Judah in such a way that the same type of picture seems to be present. But perhaps the clearest instances of this corporate representation can be seen in 1 Enoch. Thornhill notes a number of locations that house this idea, among which 1 Enoch 39:6 makes clear that the “Righteous/Elect One ensures the salvation and blessing of the righteous/elect ones” (49).

The final section, “Paul and Chosen Individuals,” seeks to evaluate the writings of Paul in light of the preceding material. Again, the focus is upon Paul’s doctrine of individual election. In Galatians 1:15­–16, one finds Paul speaking of himself as one that was chosen for a specific task. Romans 16:13 portrays Rufus as one who had been chosen as a prominent member of the local church. Adam and Jesus are then presented as the paradigmatic individual representatives (in this case of the entire human race!) in 1 Corinthians 15:20–24. And in the case of Jesus, this issue becomes even more acute when thinking of the atonement (2 Cor 5:18–21). Needless to say, each aspect of individual election, as articulated above, can be found in numerous segments of Paul’s material.

 

Image: King David in Prayer By Pieter de Grebber (circa 1600–1652/1653) – Web Gallery of Art:   Image  Info about artwork, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15144058

 

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