Lessons from Israel: No.18 : Inclusive God
Ex 12:48,49 “An alien living among you who wants to celebrate the LORD’s Passover must have all the males in his household circumcised; then he may take part like one born in the land. No uncircumcised male may eat of it. The same law applies to the native-born and to the alien living among you.”
I find again and again as I read the Bible, I come across verses that I have surely seen before but have never really taken in. Our two verses above are a little like that. They appear quite inconsequential until you start thinking about them. Indeed these verses might give the unthinking unbeliever grounds for shouting, “See, a contradiction!” because a few verses earlier we find, “The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “These are the regulations for the Passover: “No foreigner is to eat of it.” (Ex 12:43) which appears to convey the oft believed statement that everyone less than a Jew is excluded by God, which is, in reality, as far from the truth as you can get!
So how do we reconcile these verses? Well verse 43 clearly indicates that the Passover is only for God’s people to remember; it would be meaningless for anyone else. But then, when we come to our verses today, we see the Lord making an allowance for, “An alien living among you who wants to celebrate the LORD’S Passover.” i.e. if there are foreigners who want to become part of the community of God, then they may join that community, but it will be on the terms of the community. So, a sign of community membership, if we may put it in this way, was for all males to be circumcised (Gen 17:10) and so if the foreigner wanted to join Israel, then they would need to show their commitment by doing this. All this is somewhat painful for adult males, so it was not something they would do lightly. They wouldn’t do it for superstitious reasons; they would only do it if they really did want to join the people of God and really become part of them.
Now when we go through the Old Testament for the first time, we may be tempted to think that God is just concerned with the nation of Israel and that the rest of the world don’t matter, but that is very far from the truth. Going right back to Israel’s origins, right back with grandfather Abraham, we find God’s first recorded words to Abraham declaring, “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Gen 12:3). That was God stating His intention that through this family He was going to bless the whole world, or at least the part of it that would respond to Him. What is interesting, when we refer back to the Passover is that we find, “Many other people went up with them.” (Ex 12:38). We have already commented in a previous meditation that the nature of the plagues meant that there were already two groups of people in Egypt: those who believed the Lord and those who didn’t: “Those officials of Pharaoh who feared the word of the LORD hurried to bring their slaves and their livestock inside. But those who ignored the word of the LORD left their slaves and livestock in the field.” (Ex 9:20,21). Thus we find that along the way the Lord was attracting many people by what was happening already.
Later on through Israel’s history we find lots of interaction with non-Israelites (see the lives of David and Solomon in particular) During the time of Elijah the widow of Zaraphath in Sidon (1 Kings 17:9 – see also Lk 4:25,26) was an example of God and a Gentile, as was the instance of Elisha and Naaman (2 Kings 5 – see also Lk 4:27). Later Isaiah was to prophesy in the ‘servant songs’, “I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles.” (Isa 42:6) and “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” (Isa 49:6) i.e. not merely the Jews but to all the earth.
In the beginning of the New Testament, we find Jesus’ family tree including: “Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth.” (Mt 1:5) Rahab and Ruth were both Gentiles who joined the family of God. In Jesus’ ministry we see him interacting with a Canaanite woman (Mt 15:22) and a Roman Centurion (Lk 7:1) among others. As the church began to grow, it soon included more Gentiles than Jews and the word spread around the whole world.
The simple lesson that is here in Exodus, and seen throughout the Bible, is that God uses His people as a light to the rest of the world, for it is His intention for the rest of the world to hear about Him and people from all nations to come to know Him. His intent is not that just one small group should know Him, but the whole world. No one is excluded, no one is substandard, no one is beyond God’s love; all can come as He calls them.