Why did God choose Abraham and his descendants? In post-biblical Jewish tradition, the young Abram destroys the idols in his father’s workshop, which makes the youth a fitting candidate for accepting the call from the one God of Israel. However, Israel’s Scriptures offer no such justification. Instead, the Bible says that it was not the ancestors’ inherent worthiness that led to their election, but rather God’s own love for them that warranted the divine choice. The Torah describes God having a kind of magnetic love for Israel that impels the Lord toward the chosen people.
Moses says of the Israelites, “Only with your ancestors was the Lord compelled (חשׁק; hashaq) to love them and choose you, their descendants after them, out of all the peoples, as it is to this day” (Deut 10:15). Other translations of this verse present the Hebrew word for “compelled” (חשׁק) as God having “delighted” in the patriarchs (NKJV), “adored” the ancestors (CEB), or “set his heart” on them (ESV, NRSV). Yet, these renderings miss the depth of connection that חשׁק conveys between God and the people. The same verbal root (חשׁק; hashaq) appears during the construction of the tabernacle’s pillars in Exodus where it describes the binding of precious metals: “The bases for the pillars were bronze and the hooks of the pillars and their bindings (חשׁוקיהם; hashuqehem) were of silver… and the pillars of the court were banded (מחושׁקים; mehushaqim) with silver” (Exodus 38:17; cf. 27:17; 38:28). This imagery of metallurgy underscores the durability of the human-divine relationship: just as sturdy metals are welded together, the Lord’s infinitely strong love compels—literally, “drives together”—the bond between God and Israel.
Deuteronomy notes that such compelling love has nothing to do with the status of the people; rather, the divine draw towards Israel is a one-sided occurrence of God’s grace. Moses tells the Israelites, “It was not because you were more numerous than all other peoples that the Lord was compelled (חשׁק; hashaq) towards you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples; [instead] it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your ancestors” (Deut 7:7-8). God has an impassioned love for Israel that defies a clear rationale. Israel’s ancestors did nothing to merit divine favor, and Abram did nothing to be chosen. This scenario is not unlike the way we might refer to “love at first sight,” and it coheres with the definition of love in 1 John 4:10: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us.”