Study Guide: Does God Play Favorites?

Sunday April 30, 2017 | David Morrow

Focus Scripture:

Brief Summary:

A surface level reading of the Old Testament gives the appearance that God has chosen Israel as a favorite nation, and has therefore discriminately blessed and protected them in and against other nations. Just as we discovered during the cross centered series, if one looks below the surface there actually is much more than is first apparent about the cultural understanding of God’s interactions with His people, the Israelites’ hearts, and God’s true calling and intention for their nation.  

Extended Summary:

There are many pictures of God represented in the Old Testament that look less than Christ-like. As we did with Old Testament violence in the ‘Cross Centered’ series, we have to be careful not to project on to God our human images of favoritism and what it means to be chosen. Whether in a family system, within friendships, or at work, many of us have experiences being on the hurting end of a favoritism contest. Upon reading the Old Testament, a legitimate question can be asked as to whether or not God plays favorites. There is no shortage of scripture to support this idea, but we also find glimpse of the true God as revealed in Jesus shining through.

Deuteronomy (7:6, 14:2) and Amos (3:2) among other books in the Old Testament speak of the Lord choosing Israel, seemingly at the expense of other people groups or nations. These passages paint a very nationalistic image of God playing favoritism as we would think of it nowadays. But it is important to remember where these encounters are in the overall narrative of Israel’s history, and to ask oneself how cloudy is this picture when compared with the full revelation of God in Christ (Heb 1:1-3). In the Old Testament, deities were very much understood in regional geographic context. As shown in 1 Samuel (26:18-20) the people believed when one left a region, so also he was leaving the presence of the God of that region. So the fact that God is described in these very tribal, nationalistic terms is not surprising given that’s what they were expecting.

In contrast in Jesus we see him not only interacting with Jewish people, but also we read stories like the Samarian woman at the well, the Roman centurion, and others where He is specifically confronting this regional geographical concept of God. In fact the great commission itself instructs taking the message of the gospel to the ends of the earth. This idea is further expanded in passages like Galatians (3:28) where Paul breaks down all the dividing walls that man has constructed to keep God on one side or the other (Jew vs. gentile, male vs. female, slave vs. free). In Acts (10:34-35) the author shares that “God does not show favoritism.” When keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus the conclusion can be drawn of the Old Testament that images the Israelites had of God were cloudy when it came to their purpose in being chosen.

There are at least 3 trains of thought in the Old Testament in which the proverbial sun breaks through the clouds and we get a better picture of what God is really like:

1. There are dozens of cased in the Old Testament where it actually states explicitly that God doesn’t show any partiality.

2. The point of Israel’s being chosen is explained multiple times. It was never meant as an end in of itself. The gifts and blessings were meant to be brought to the entire world. God told Abraham He was partnering with him to bless the entire world. Israel was meant to be a bonfire around which the world could warm itself, but instead to keep the blessings to themselves at the expense of nations around them. They didn’t understand that being chosen isn’t about exclusivity.

3. As shown in Amos (9:7) the Lord did bring Israel out of Egypt, but He also rescued the Philistines and Arameans in other geographies from their oppression. God has always been about breaking down the binary of choseness. There is no favoritism in the heart of God. He’s always been saying “you’re all in.” His purpose was always that all would find Him (Acts 17:27).

A few key takeaways were shared:

1. Fix your eyes on Jesus – to the degree we focus on the border, or the exclusivity, is to the degree we are missing Jesus and missing our calling. There are no borders in the Kingdom of God.

2. Ask yourself who you feel superior, or inferior to. What if you found out God was helping your enemy? Would this cause the love you feel from God to diminish?

3. The cross as the ultimate revelation of what God is like, and has always been like, breaks down all the barriers that divide us. It’s no longer “us vs. them,” it is now “us for them.”

Reflection Questions:

  1. Were there any sections of scripture discussed that need more clarification? What parts did you not understand?
  2. Were any of the principles or ideas new or challenging to how you’ve viewed God’s relationship with Israel?
  3. Reflect on the question asked about superiority and inferiority. What did this prompting stir in you? Which side of judgment do you struggle more with?
  4. Which of the three takeaways were most impactful for you? What steps are you going to take to start implementing it?