Getting to Know God Meditations: 18. God of Inclusion (1)
Isa 56:3 Let no foreigner who is bound to the Lord say, “The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.” And let no eunuch complain, “I am only a dry tree.”
Whole World: Back in the earlier studies about God of Purpose we noted that God called Israel into being to act as a means of revealing Him to the rest of the world, and then as a background into which He would bring His Son, both objectives of which were designed for the whole world. Again and again this message seeps through the whole narrative – God loves the whole world! Now it may be, and I am sure it is, that some people, either by ignorant misunderstanding of perhaps the way a Sunday School conveyed things when they were little, think the whole thing about God is ‘Jewish’. To refute that, we have to reiterate the ‘for the whole world’ thing and add the reminder that after the first century or so, the collective growing worldwide Church was more and more Gentile, i.e. non-Jew. We might add that although the whole of the Old Testament is important, as Gentiles we are no longer required to follow the specifically Jewish commands; Jesus has fulfilled the Law in every aspect and neither that nor Temple worship is a requirement for the believer since Jesus.
Excluded Groups: The amazing thing about the Bible is that as you read it through, yes it may be a different culture, a different historical period, a different area of geography, but nevertheless in the midst of the language that fits all those things, comes truth that is heart churning. The danger for the world in this respect, when Israel were at their peak (say in Solomon’s day perhaps) was to think what I said above – this God is Jewish, He’s the God only of Israel, but our verse above today challenged that: Let no foreigner who is bound to the Lord say, “The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.” And let no eunuch complain, “I am only a dry tree.” Foreigners and eunuch’s were two classes of people who might have felt that, and we’ll see why in a moment. The Message Version paraphrase puts it, “Make sure no outsider who now follows God ever has occasion to say, ‘God put me in second-class. I don’t really belong.’ And make sure no physically mutilated person is ever made to think, ‘I’m damaged goods. I don’t really belong.’” Wow!
Foreigners? These are any people who come from a different background or a different culture. If you were an observer of Israel back in their good days, you might have thought, “Wow, these people are different from me – I am different from them. Their God wouldn’t be concerned for me for if He exists and if He is really there for them, it is obvious that He is only for this little clique or nation.” And isn’t that what people say today? “Oh, I went to that church once; they are different from the rest of us. They meet in strange old buildings, they sing strange songs and chants, they use formulated prayers and swing incense and their leaders dress strangely and their top leaders dress in such strange finery that they make me feel an inferior being. A God who wants all this wouldn’t want me.” Wrong! It’s not about the trappings, the strange behaviour and strange dress that parts of the church need to prop up their faith, it’s all about heart, as we shall see soon.
Eunuchs? Whoever talks about eunuchs today, what do men who have been castrated (probably to work in a hareem – see Esther 1:10-) have to do with religion? Well, yes, that’s the point, that’s what they would have thought, especially if they had been told that by an Israelite quoting the Law: “No one who has been emasculated by crushing or cutting may enter the assembly of the Lord,” (Deut 23:1) which the Message Version has as, “No eunuch is to enter the congregation of God,” or as the old King James Version quaintly puts it, “He that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord.” Right! Ha, I hear a critic leaping into the fray, a contradiction! Didn’t we say the Bible was full of contradictions!
Let’s note two thing about this. First, the Deuteronomy exclusion was not nationalistic but was designed to point out an attitude that was to be held, that God is holy and if you want to be part of the ceremonial, nothing and no one less than a legitimate and whole Israelite could do that. It was part of the ‘God is holy’ teaching. The ‘assembly’ or ‘congregation’ meant a specific gathering in the presence of holy God to be witnessed by the world. The second thing is that simply because someone was excluded from the ceremony that does not mean they were excluded from God’s love. Perhaps Isaiah’s word was to counter the false assumption that might have arisen that only the worthy, only the perfect, could encounter God. Quite often later scripture clarifies earlier scripture or corrects erroneous thinking about earlier teaching. The latter simply clarifies the former. We might note that Isaiah (and later Jesus) was particularly good at this. A little later in chapter 58 he castigates those who follow a form of religion, apparently seeking God, fasting and praying as if that was all that needed. No, says Isaiah, a right heart before God is what He wants.
Moving On: So Isaiah is bringing God’s word that neither someone from a different culture nor someone who, for whatever reason, feels they are less than perfect, is excluded from entering into a relationship with God. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you are from, whatever your background, whatever your history, you are not excluded by God. But notice the wording: “Let no foreigner who is bound to the Lord say, “The Lord will surely exclude me from his people.” Strange words – “bound to the Lord”. The Message paraphrase speaks of the, “outsider who now follows God,” while the modern NLT says, “foreigners who commit themselves to the Lord.” The clear indication is this refers to people from other places who have heard of God and find their hearts knit with His. Put most simply, anyone who desires to follow and serve the Lord and enter into a relationship with Him will not be pushed away by Him. A similar description was given of eunuchs who sought to follow the Law as much as they could, to seek to please God, they too would not be pushed away from Him.
And So? There is much more to say here so we will continue it in the next study but let’s note what we have seen so far:
- a common (but wrong) attitude that if you were not a Jew you were therefore excluded from a relationship with God,
- that may arise in those who come from a different culture or those who for whatever reason feel they are disqualified,
- but God’s word of inclusion comes to both groups.
In the next study we will examine this some more and see examples of people in the Scripture that this was applied to.