In Deuteronomy 7:7-11, Moses explains why God chose the Israelites. The choice occurred when they “were the fewest of all peoples.” The Israelites were numerous when Deuteronomy 7 was written, so this poses an inquiry that one of two options may satisfy. Option 1: “fewest” does not refer to numeric value, but strength. The text would mean, then, that Israel was not the strongest or most prosperous nation. This option does not seem grammatically plausible because the text says, “did not…choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples…” That appears to be explicitly numerical. Option 2: “fewest” refers to a numeric value. In this case, the choice being referenced must be God’s choice of Abram in Genesis. We will move forward under the supposition of Option 2.
Moving into verse 8, “but because” sets a contrast. The contrast is not between two possible reasons for God choosing Israel. The action of God in verse 8 is not the love-setting and choosing of verse 7. In verse 8, God is loving and keeping, and the result is different. This rather explicitly shows us that the situation has changed from verse 7 to verse 8.
Verse 7: God did not set-love on and choose Israel because of her number.
Verse 8: God brought Israel out of Egypt because He loved her and kept His oath.
Moses is not saying that the reason God loved Israel was because God loved Israel (as is often proposed). This passage often becomes an example of how God chooses someone simply because of His good pleasure. While this may be theologically correct, it is not what this passage teaches.
We see two principles in verse 7:
1) God set His love on and chose the Israelites.
2) This love-setting and choosing had nothing to do with Israel. Why? Because when God set His love on and chose Israel, they were of small number – not standing out among the nations.
It seems uncanny to suggest that Israel in her Deuteronomic or even Exodus state could fit this bill. They were a numerous people (in Numbers 2, Israelite armies totaled over 600,000). Also, where in Exodus or Deuteronomy has God made a choice of Israel? Were they not already God’s people, by God’s choice? Indeed they were: “I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings,” (Exodus 3:7, emphasis mine). Israel was already God’s people: the love-setting choice of Deuteronomy 7:7 occurred before Exodus. What else could this love-setting choice be but that of Abram in Genesis 12?
Verse 8 gives two more principles:
3) God redeemed Israel from Egypt.
4) God did this because He loved them and was keeping an oath.
Verse 8 clearly speaks of a different scenario than verse 7. Here, God’s action is the redemption of Israel from Egypt. One may ask, why did God redeem Israel from Egypt? Why would He rescue Israel from slavery and not other nations from the same fate? What made Israel’s plight unique? The uniqueness of Israel was this: God loved them. The love is in context of the oath: God had covenanted with her “forefathers” (Abram, Isaac, Jacob) to love her. He had made a promise to love Israel and so He kept the promise. So the logical flow is this: God chose to love Abram and thereby Israel – Israel finds its way into slavery – God redeems Israel from slavery, because He is faithful to all whom He loves. That is what verses 7-8 teaches.
“But what of the contrast at the beginning of verse 8? What, then, does this say of the relationship between the two verses?” The “but” here is meant to draw attention to the substance of the Abrahamic covenant. The substance of God’s faithfulness – the reason for it – is not in Israel’s faithfulness or stature. The reason God redeemed Israel from Egypt was solely because of His faithful love – the same characteristic mentioned in Exodus 34:6, “abounding in lovingkindness.”
Understanding these things, it is fairly clear this text does not teach that God unconditionally elects individuals or even groups of people. The only thing we may say of God’s selection is that His calling of Abram was not because his household stood-out numerically among the people of his time. In Deuteronomy 7, Moses implies to Israel that God chose Abram simply because of His good pleasure. Moses then says that this choice of God is the reason that He delivered them from Egypt. The point of this passage is the faithfulness of God. Verse 9: “Know therefore that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments.” In light of God’s faithfulness and justice, Israel is called to be faithful (vv.10-11).
What does this teach us regarding the covenants of Scripture? God delivered Israel from Egypt before the Mosaic covenant. Exodus 34:28: the Mosaic covenant is the “ten commandments.” The Law is the Mosaic covenant. The nation which God chose to love, He then made a new promise – this promise did not cancel out the old, but provided a new relationship. What remained was this: Israel was a people loved by God. What came was this: God would now dwell among His people in the tabernacle. In accordance with this new thing, Israel was to prescribe by new rules. Now: the whole purpose for this was not substantive, but as a foreshadow. The Mosaic Covenant gave a context in which the gospel could be understood. Yet in Deuteronomy 7:7-11, we understand that the Mosaic Covenant is not addressed. God’s choice in verse 7 is the beginning of the Abrahamic Covenant, and His action in verse 8 is in faithfulness to it.
Another thing this passages teaches us about the covenants is that God is faithful in them. When God makes a promise, He always keeps it. This sets the stage for God’s call for faith in Christ. If anytime we had reason to question God’s faithfulness in the New Covenant, we need only look to the countless times God remained faithful to the Abrahamic Covenant.
If Deuteronomy 7:7-11 had to be summarized into one principle, it would be this: God is always faithful.