And you shall make response before the Lord your God, “A wandering Aramean was my father. And he went down into Egypt and sojourned there, few in number, and there he became a nation, great, mighty, and populous. And the Egyptians treated us harshly and humiliated us and laid on us hard labor. Then we cried to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great deeds of terror, with signs and wonders. And he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. And behold, now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground, which you, O Lord, have given me.” And you shall set it down before the Lord your God and worship before the Lord your God.
Here we have an objective, past, corporate fact—the election and calling of Abraham, the Exodus from Egypt, and the conquest of Canaan.
But notice how it is all personal. God rescued me from Egypt and brought me into the Promised Land. This would be true of an Israelite even though it was generations later. It would even be true if his family had come in as Gentile immigrants and proselytes. As circumcised citizens they would have been required to make this same confession.
Corporate realities always have personal application. I tell my children that General George Washington led the continental army and won “our” freedom from the British—and that is true even though I have no idea if my ancestors came to colonial America or if they immigrated after the new nation was born. I can celebrate the Fourth of July regardless–just as an Israelite could celebrate the Passover regardless of whether his forefathers had been in Egypt or if he came from a line of proselytes who were adopted into a tribe much later. Each Israelite must confess God’s grace: the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great deeds of terror, with signs and wonders. And he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.
“‘By a strong hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery. For when Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the Lord killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man and the firstborn of animals. Therefore I sacrifice to the Lord all the males that first open the womb, but all the firstborn of my sons I redeem.’ It shall be as a mark on your hand or frontlets between your eyes, for by a strong hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt” (Ex 13.14-16).
“When your son asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the Lord our God has commanded you?’ then you shall say to your son, ‘We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. And the Lord showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes. And he brought us out from there, that he might bring us in and give us the land that he swore to give to our fathers. And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day. And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us.’” (Deut 6.20-25).
Read Esther, which ends with all those Gentiles all over the known world becoming Jews. They all had to follow these laws and say these things. It happened to other people but they were included in it. Thus they had the obligation to trust in God and him only. The First Commandment applied to them complete with the Prologue: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.”
But other aspects of the Exodus also had direct implications for the Israelites. For example, Moses told Pharaoh to send his people away so that they could hold a feast to him. And thus, when God delivered Israel, he set up several feasts for the regular worship of God. Likewise, in delivering them from being foreign slaves in Egypt, we find God telling the Israelites to enjoy their Sabbath rest and to treat foreigners and slaves with justice and charity.
For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, and repays to their face those who hate him, by destroying them. He will not be slack with one who hates him. He will repay him to his face. You shall therefore be careful to do the commandment and the statutes and the rules that I command you today (Deut 7.6-11).
Do not say in your heart, after the Lord your God has thrust them out before you, ‘It is because of my righteousness that the Lord has brought me in to possess this land,’ whereas it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out before you. Not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart are you going in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations the Lord your God is driving them out from before you, and that he may confirm the word that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. Know, therefore, that the Lord your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stubborn people (Deut 9.4-6).
So gracious election is fundamental to the OT story. And furthermore, it is an individual election. It is common to claim that the OT emphasizes corporate election and the NT emphasizes (or worse: alone teaches) individual election. But even without further exegesis or passages, we only need to think about it thirty seconds to know that is nonsense in the case of the OT. What was the attitude that Israelites were supposed to cultivate? Were they supposed to go around saying, “Wow, I sure am lucky to have been born an Israelite!”
Of course not! They were supposed to be grateful to God. He hadn’t just chosen a nation in the abstract. No, each Israelite, when he heard the story of Israel’s national deliverance, if he believed it, then he believed that God had loved and planned to reach him with his covenantal grace. Unlike the founding of America, which was done by finite creatures who only had a vague positive regard for future generations, Israel was formed by the sovereign and omniscient God. When Moses promised the people, “It is not with you alone that I am making this sworn covenant, but with whoever is standing here with us today before the Lord our God, and with whoever is not here with us today” (Deut 29.14, 15), God knew exactly who those future people would be because they were part of his plan as he superintended history. If the Israelites were supposed to be grateful, rather than feel lucky, then it could only be because that they knew In the land or in Abraham we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will (c.f. Eph 1.11). They could sing: Blessed be God the Lord, who has blessed us in Abraham with every blessing in the Promised Land, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him in love (1.3, 4).
So, just as the story of national deliverance from the gods of Egypt, meant each Israelite individually was free to serve God and appointed to glorify him at his sanctuary, so the story of Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension, as the head of the Church, means that each Christian has been the object of God’s special, sovereign love. Just as the Israelite was to confess “and the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm,” so Paul told Peter as recorded in Galatianins 2.20: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
God’s love is not impersonal. He doesn’t love an abstract entity (“Israel” or “the Church”) and leave it up to individuals to clamber into it on their own efforts. No, he provides not only grace for the Church but he works by providence and by His Spirit to draw specific people into the Church.
The doctrine of personal, eternal, unconditional election is absolutely necessary to avoid reducing the Gospel to some sort of rescue vehicle which some are lucky enough to find and while others are accidentally left out. No, the entire story of salvation happened because God loved those who he brought and brings to believe the story.