Election and Herem – an Excerpt from Old Testament Theology

Cover ArtThe following is an excerpt from Old Testament Theology, by Walter Moberly.


We have explored two facets of Deuteronomy’s presentation of what it means that Israel should be YHWH’s chosen people. On the one hand, we have seen that the particularizing logic of election is an expression of the particularizing logic of love.

When there is a dynamic that elicits a wondering sense of “Why us/me?” we can see more clearly the relational nature of call and response that characterizes Israel’s election.Although the particularizing focus of love can be puzzling in relation to understanding how God can care for the whole of creation, I have argued that the tension here is constitutive of both Jewish and Christian faiths (mutatis mutandis) more generally.

On the other hand, we have seen how Israel’s election is closely related to the need to practice ḥērem. Although at first sight this seems to justify contemporary anxieties about the likelihood that biblical belief in the one God and a chosen people will generate violence toward others, I have argued that this is most likely a misreading of the text. Rather, the practice of ḥērem, apparently originally a battlefield practice involving killing, has been retained, and indeed highlighted, by Deuteronomy only because it was seen to be amenable to metaphorical reconstrual in terms of practices that enhance Israel’s covenantal faithfulness to YHWH in everyday life.

When these two facets are taken together and understood in relation to Israel’s confession in the Shema of YHWH as “the one and only,” we see Israel as a people called to a loving covenantal relationship with God that entails strong responsibilities, especially in terms of practices that will prevent that relationship becoming diluted.

©2013 by R.W.L. Moberly. Published by Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.


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