“For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life.” Isaiah 43:3-4
My God said this about Israel, the tree into which we are grafted by faith in Christ. This love is no-holds-barred. God makes his preference known, unmistakable: when it comes down to it, we do not have to wonder who he prefers. These verses bring to mind what God says about himself, that he is a jealous God.
I remember reading these verses six years ago at a time when I was in a season of… well, depression— not the clinical kind, but grim none the less. A question had been circulating in my mind… The god we usually hear about that “loves everybody” was not comforting to me. What does it really mean if God or someone human claims to love everyone? How is that supposed to please me or be reassuring? [It’s quite possible I have inherited some of his jealous nature!] My heart was restless, looking for a place to land, and before the question was firm in my mind, there was the answer in these verses: God is love, but not in the sense that he loves everyone. He himself is the definition of love. But I needed to know that this love was specific. Can you even call it love if it is not?
The exclusivity of His affections is one of the aspects of his character that makes his love meaningful to me. To put it in human terms, I would not place much value on a relationship with a family member or a friend or a spouse that did not prefer me over, if not everyone else, at least nearly everyone else on the planet. God had covenanted with Israel, and throughout the Old Testament, he acted on their behalf, often at the expense of other peoples whom he did not love and reacted strongly when he was betrayed.
The book of Hebrews assures us that now, we live under a new covenant, where God’s preferential love is not limited to a people group, a blood line and “He will be merciful toward their iniquities and… remember their sins no more (8:12).” This is true for everyone who believes. But God’s character is none the less consistent, even under this new covenant. The image we have of God’s son at the conclusion of the book of Revelation is that of a wedding with bridegroom who loves his bride. And marriage is nothing if not an exclusive relationship.