3.55 Deuteronomy -- The Preeminence of Israel
This one, universal, all-powerful God has condescended to make one nation His special possession in all the earth, and to set them apart from the rest of humanity.
a. No other people has experienced God directly:
Has any other people heard the voice of God speaking out of fire, as you have, and lived? Has any god ever tried to take for himself one nation out of another nation, by testings, by miraculous signs and wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, or by great and awesome deeds, like all the things the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes? You were shown these things so that you might know that the Lord is God; besides him there is no other (Deut 4:33-35).
This verse destroys the basis of religious relativism, the popular idea that all religions are equal, that there are many paths up the mountain of God. Indeed, here is the basis for Jewish exclusivity. "There is no other" God besides the One who spoke to Israel out of the fire and acted with a "mighty hand and an outstretched arm."
b. Israel is unlike the other nations:
For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession (Deut 7:6-8).
For the Lord's portion is his people, Jacob his allotted inheritance (Deut 32:9).
See also Deut 4:20, Deut 10:15, Deut 14:1-2, Deut 14:21. This is a major theme of Deuteronomy, and indeed of the entire Exodus account.
c. God dwells in Israel:
But you are to seek the place the Lord your God will choose from among all your tribes to put his Name there for his dwelling (Deut 12:5).
The place of His Name was the location where the tabernacle was to reside, and later the Temple. This location was first Shiloh (Josh 18:1), later Gibeon (1 Ki 3:4), and then Jerusalem. No other nation in history besides Israel can claim this distinction.
And this is likewise the essence of the "offense" of the Jews: the God of the entire earth (Deut 10:14) established His headquarters in a single Israelite town. It is much like the Catholic understanding of the Vatican as the site of the rule of God's earthly representative -- except there was no human figure occupying the throne of authority. Multi-culturalism (and its latent anti-Semitism) rebels against the bold exclusivity of this claim, which is at the foundation of Jewish religion and identity. "What? Are we not all children of God? Isn't there a spark of the divine in all humanity, and in all religious expression? Certainly there is truth and wisdom in the Jewish religion, but to claim that universal divinity resided only in one country, and just in one city in that country, is preposterous."
But to subtract the element of supremacy from Judaism is to distort it, and to ignore or deny a primary teaching of the Pentateuch. The heart of Judaism is that God dwells uniquely and preeminently among the people of Israel.
d. God exalts Israel:
He has declared that he will set you in praise, fame and honor high above all the nations he has made (Deut 26:18-19).
If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth (Deut 28:1).
This exaltation is a consequence of the placing of His Name in Israel. As God continually reminded Israel in the Pentateuch, it was not because of any natural superiority that He chose Israel. They were not stronger, more numerous or more righteous than other peoples (Deut 7:7, Deut 8:17-18, Deut 9:4-6). Rather, it was due to His love for their forefathers and the promises He made to them. Yet there was an honor, a reflected glory, a derivative holiness, that came from being closely associated with the Most High. Just as Moses' face glowed after He left the mountain, and as sanctity was communicated to the vessels and garments used in the tabernacle, so God's glory was intended to radiate throughout Israel. Israel was the bearer of God's Presence among the nations, and in fulfilling this task, they would be transformed in character and destiny.