Israel and the Nations--Part 3
Mar 30, 2009
The gospel writers were careful to include teaching that was relevant to the people among whom they ministered later in the first century. It is for this reason they were careful to record how Jesus had opened up the path to God which had previously been blocked by the obstructionist temple authorities in Jerusalem. It is important to see that Jesus was NOT contradicting the Old Testament, but was establishing its true meaning and purpose that had been misunderstood by the rabbis of the day.
The Covenant was made with Israel as a nation, but in no way did this exclude individuals from other nations. In fact, they were encouraged to come under that same Covenant, for Isaiah 56:3 says,
"Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say, 'The Lord will surely separate me from His people'."
The prophet implies that some Israelites had kept those foreigners separate. They had been marginalized and were considered second-class citizens. As time passed, it became an established view that foreigners could join with the Covenant only if they were willing to become Israelite slaves.
This was the outcome of thinking that Israelites were qualitatively better than everyone else, and that God loved Israel more than others. While it is certainly true that God made His Covenant with Israel exclusively, this did not mean that all foreigners as individuals were excluded from the Covenant. In fact, there was a great "mixed multitude" that left Egypt with them. Ex. 12:38 says,
"And a mixed multitude also went up with them, along with flocks and herds, a very large number of livestock."
These were present at Mount Sinai when Israel was formed into a nation. They became Israelites by nationality simply by repudiating their Egyptian religious beliefs and joining with the Israelites in the Covenant that God was making. In later biblical history, we find no evidence that they were anything but Israelites, having joined themselves with whatever tribe of Israel they saw fit.
In coming under God's Covenant, they entered the same marital relationship that God made with the rest of Israel. The quality of that marital relationship had nothing to do with their genealogy; it had everything to do with their faith (Passover experience), their obedience (Pentecost), and their desire to come into full agreement with the mind of God (Tabernacles).
This is the intent of God that Jesus proclaimed in the New Testament. He treated Canaanites, Samaritans, Greeks, and Roman soldiers with the same respect as any Judean. After Pentecost, Philip went to Samaria and preached the gospel there (Acts 8). The Samaritans received Christ and also the baptism of the Holy Spirit. This was startling to most of the disciples.
Then God gave their traditionalism another severe blow through Cornelius, the Roman Centurion. An angel of God appeared to Cornelius and told him to send for a man named Peter, who was staying at the house of a man named Simon in the city of Joppa. He sent two soldiers to find Peter.
Meanwhile, Peter himself had a vision of a sheet full of unclean creatures, and a voice said, "Arise, Peter, kill and eat" (Acts 10:13). This happened three times. When the vision had concluded, Peter wondered what this meant. At that moment the two soldiers knocked on the door, and Peter went with them to Caesarea. When the Roman soldiers and others received the promise to Israel (i.e., the baptism of the Holy Spirit), Peter understood the meaning of the vision. It had nothing to do with "food," but with the fact that the Jewish exclusive attitude needed to be corrected. Peter explained this in Acts 10:34-35
" (34) And opening his mouth, Peter said: "I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, (35) but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him."
When Peter returned to Jerusalem, some believers criticized him (11:3),
"saying, you went to uncircumcised men and ate with them."
Peter then told the full story, saying in Acts 11:9,
"But a voice from heaven answered a second time, "What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy."
God did not change the law here but corrected their interpretation of it. He was telling Peter and the other Judean Christians that their traditions of men had been nullifying the Law of God. In verses 17 and 18, we read,
" (17) If God therefore gave to them the same gift as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God's way? (18) And when they heard this, they quieted down, and glorified God, saying, Well, then, God has granted to the Gentiles [ethnos] also the repentance that leads to life."
Many people think that God's law was partial toward Israel. The fact is, men's interpretations of the law were partial. God's law itself was impartial and demanded impartiality. The rabbis were wrong; Jesus was right. Exodus 23:1-9 speaks of righteous, impartial judgment. Verse 3 says, "nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his dispute." A few verses later, we read in verse 9,
"And you shall not oppress a stranger, since you yourselves know the feelings of a stranger, for you also were strangers in the land of Egypt."
This is confirmed in Lev. 19:33, 34,
" (33) When a foreigner resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. (34) The foreigner who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God."
Finally, Num. 15:15, 16 confirms,
" (15) As for the assembly, there shall be one statute for you and for the alien who sojourns with you, a perpetual statute throughout your generations; as you are, so shall the alien be before the Lord. (16) There is to be one law and one ordinance for you and for the alien who sojourns with you."
The law, then, is impartial and non-discriminatory. There is equal justice for all. Israelites were never to think of other people as inferior or even as unclean or unholy simply by their race or nationality. Their uncleanness was instead based upon their lack of faith in the true God, which is defined in the New Testament as faith in Jesus Christ.
Although most of the Israelites in the Old Testament were genealogical descendants of Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel, not all citizens of Israel were genealogical Israelites. In other words, "Israel" was a national term indicating citizenship, not mere genealogy. The Old Testament Church was the assembly (kahal) or citizens of Israel. In the New Testament the Church came to be more diverse after Jesus was rejected by the chief priests in Jerusalem and the believers were scattered into other parts of the world. This resulted in many converts from all nations.
Though the Church became more diverse than in previous times, it was due to the fact that the disciples came to reject the traditions of men taught in the temple, while accepting in its place the impartiality of the law. The correction of men's biblical worldview allowed this to occur, and thus the divine plan went out unrestricted. This is what allowed Christianity to flourish, whereas Judaism made conversion as unattractive as possible.
This is the third part of a series titled "Israel and the Nations." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones