Why did God decide to choose some people, and promise them a land? Did he not have anything better to do?
Moreover, why did he not make a covenant with mankind, but did with Jews only? Can such a discriminatory God be anything good, needless to say the source of morality or such?
The answers are so simple, and here I will try to give them.
The Religious Environment
In the years around 1.500-1.000 BC (when Judaism was founded) and earlier, all around Levant and Greece (as well as parts of Anatolia and Egypt) there was a very simple belief which shaped the religious beliefs: God has his or her own city where s/he has his/her own throne (the temple), and sits there. S/he is all powerful there and s/he needs there for his/her glory.
God exists as long as the temple remains, and disappears if the temple is destroyed. This has been one of the main reasons that the temples were (and still are) untouchable, and they are destroyed all and only when there is a very deep enmity between the warring parties.
This is one of the two core points that we need to remember, so that we can find the meaning of being chosen and promised. This is also why the destruction of Jerusalem was more devastating than the Babylonian exile for Jews, and why Salomon’s Temple is still the biggest issue in Judaism.
The Identity of Moses
Who was Moses? Old Testament tells us some stories, yet they are nothing but the combination of a) stories from Sumer, Akkad, and Babel, and b) the creativity of latter “biographers”. So we need to draw our own conclusions from what we see in the Bible.
Sparing the lengthy argument for another post, I may say that Moses was an Egyptian, and probably one of the (at least) two heirs of the throne. He was not born Jewish, and he never was “Jewish”, but was an Egyptian. He knew, as all princes throughout history did, a lot – geography, history, religion, culture, economics… not only of his own country, but also around the country.
He knew about Sumerian religion, as he saw that Egyptian deities also had their own temples, and their seats at those cities where the temples are located. He knew about the geography of the surrounding world. He knew about the people living in and around Egypt.
(At least in my opinion) Old Testament tells us some truth about his life: he killed someone and needed to flee. I assume that he killed some high-level guy who was beloved by his father (the Pharaoh), and being the heir of the throne would not be enough to save him. He wandered for years, until he heard that his father passed away, and decided to return to the palace to claim his throne which was already claimed by the other heir.
We know about his fights with his brother. What, in the end, happened is that Moses, deciding to start a riot, found a group of people, who we call (and maybe who called themselves) the Jews. Yet losing again, he had to flee once more – this time with a number of people. As he told them before, he once more told them that God talked to him and they needed to follow Moses.
A very good ambitious liar, eh?
Now let us answer the questions: what do chosen people and the promised land mean?
The Chosen People and the Promised Land
How could Moses convince the Jews to follow him? Egyptian religion does not give him much space to give Jews some big and inspiring promises (or, rather, to tell lies). As Moses could not give them something big enough otherwise, (militarily, culturally, or economically) he gave them a big thing religiously: they were chosen by God. Which God? Well, YHWH whose name is not known by anyone but Moses. The God of Gods. The biggest one of the whole Elohim. The one at the top of everything.
Was there any evidence? Of course not. But this was, somehow, enough for the Jews to follow him. They really were chosen. But, well, not by God/YHWH but by Moses, as a group of potential soldiers and rioters.
What about the promised land?
Well, Moses needed to build a temple so that his God could have a throne, and come into real existence. He surely would not be able to build this temple in Egypt, as his brother would ruin it. He would not be able to go Westwards, as there was almost nothing there for them, and he did not know much about West (which is another reason that Egyptian Empire never could expand through West). North is bound by the sea, and to the south was the brother. He was forced by these limitations to go Eastwards first, and they “wandered in the desert” for years.
Where could they go in the end? If they went even further to the East, they would be lost in the desert. They were not much familiar with it. West? It was Egypt. South was the sea, so they had to go North. When the people started talking about going back, as they did not riot or anything and other than Moses, no one needed to be punished, Moses told them that they will go North – where there are “four rivers”, where there is abundance of food and cattle, where there are riches.
And most importantly, where there is no Egypt. Thanks to the Hittites, the Levant is never stable and there is no central authority.
So Moses marches them Northwards. He dies, according to the 5th and last book of Torah (Pentateuch), before the Jews founded their empire. He could not see either the Jewish country nor the temple of YHWH. Yet he died in more peace than in a prison cell for sure.
Therefore the promised lands were the only way out for Moses while they were in (or rather passing) Sinai. It was the promise of Moses, not YHWH or any such deity. In the middle of desert, can there be any better promise than a land where there are tons of rivers?
Moses followed his best interests, and managed to use Jews in this quest. When things got stuck, he told two of the biggest lies in human history, and they shaped a lot of things for more than two millennia. He chose Jews as a potential threat against (some part of) Egypt’s stability, and then somewhere where there are four rivers. It also is funny that Levant, in this sense, surely is not the promised land. They should have gone northwards if they wanted to reach to the promised land. Well, the biographers of Moses wrote a wrong line, that he died around the promised land, and we know the rest of the story.
I really wonder if anyone would believe me, no need of now, five hundred years ago if I told them that I talked to God and he is a burning tree, that God decided to choose them over the rest of humanity, that the rest of humanity exist all and only to serve them, and that God promised them a land to live which is the best ever land.
Were people more stupid millennia ago, or are we so skeptic about everything?