Mag. Claudia R. Wintoch
Old Testament Theology
World Revival School of Ministry
Wide sectors of the church today reject much of the Old Testament as not being relevant for today, and certainly not for the Gentile church. They claim that the Old Testament was a different dispensation where God acted differently and where He was only concerned with the people of Israel, while Jesus brought in a new dispensation where the church replaces Israel and takes its role. However, there are no biblical grounds whatsoever for such a position and biblical interpretation. Yes, we follow the people of Israel through history in the Old Testament, however, again and again it becomes clear that God is not only concerned with that one chosen people, but all of His creation. As 2.Peter 3:9b states, He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (emphasis mine). God longs for all of His creation to turn to Him, be saved and know their Creator intimately, to advance His kingdom on this earth and spend all of eternity with Him. God does not choose one, and rejects another. Every human being has a free will to either choose or reject Him, and that has always been the case, from the very first humans in the garden of Eden to the end of the age. The purpose of this paper is to show that throughout the Old Testament God's invitation to Gentiles was always present, with some responding and many rejecting it.
God created Adam and Eve and commanded them to multiply and fill the earth. They were His creation, His masterpiece, in perfect union with their Creator. God's intention was for the earth to be full of men and women in communion with Him, loving and serving Him with all their hearts. That desire did not change when they fell and were expelled from the garden of Eden. Cain and Abel both offered sacrifices to the living God, and Abel was accepted while Cain was rejected. Even then, God's desire was for all to know Him, and He communicated with His creation.
Time passed, and wickedness started filling the earth. People did not care about their Creator, except one: Noah. Noah walked with God and was blameless before Him (Gen 6:9). God told Noah to build an ark to save himself, his family and animals of all kinds, while he would blot out the rest of humanity. Yet, Noah did not just fulfill that task. In 2.Peter 2:5 we read that Noah was a preacher of righteousness. God did care about His creation and wanted to save as many as possible. Yet, although Noah preached for many years, no one would listen as their hearts had been hardened too much by their wickedness. After the flood, God makes a covenant with Noah and his sons – the rainbow being its sign for all generations. All humanity on the whole earth can see that sign of the covenant to this day. That covenant included all of creation, no one is excluded. It was made long before a Jewish nation existed, and even Jews acknowledge that people can be saved by the Noahic covenant. Cohen (1949:65f) states:
“To the Gentiles who were not prepared to enter the fold of Judaism, a moral code, known as the seven commandments of the sons of Noah, was offered. … By righteous conduct, based upon these fundamental laws, they would earn the divine approval … That the righteous of all peoples will inherit the bliss of the Hereafter is the accepted doctrine of Rabbinic Judaism”
One of the most significant passages on the salvation for all Gentiles is found at the calling of Abraham. Abraham is seen as the first patriarch by the main monotheistic religions, Jews, Muslims and Christians. God started the nation of Israel with the family of Abraham. Yet, the promise Abraham received went far beyond just one people from his grandson Jacob/Israel. God said to him, all peoples on earth will be blessed through you (Gen 12:4b) (emphasis mine). All peoples on all the earth – 70 nations at the time – would be beneficiaries of the promise. That does not exclude anyone. Every person of every time has access to the promise of Abraham and can appropriate it for himself.
We see that practically displayed in the chapters following the promise in Genesis 12. In chapter 14 Abraham encounters Melchizedek, the king of Salem, who is a Canaanite and is remarkably called a priest of God Most High (Gen 14:18). Melchizedek blesses Abraham, who then gives him a tenth of all his possessions. Surely we would not debate that Melchizedek was a true servant of God, included in His kingdom, even more so as he is frequently quoted in the New Testament as a type of Christ.
In chapter 18 we see God's heart for the wicked Gentiles in Sodom and Gomorrah. Lot had moved into the city of Sodom where he tried to be a good ambassador for the Lord Most High, sitting in the citygate where the town council members would meet. 2.Peter 2:7 states that he was a righteous man, who was distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men. If God wasn’t concerned with the Gentiles why should the great and grievous sins of those cities (Gen 18:20) be of any concern to Him? Yet He decided to take action. Abraham intervenes and we read about God's great mercy and love for the people as He is willing to spare them even for 10 righteous men. However, they could not be found and God has to proceed with judgment on His beloved creation.
In chapter 20, Abraham moves to Gerar and king Abimelech takes his supposed sister Sarah to be his wife. God could simply have judged Abimelech, but He chooses to warn the king in a dream. Remarkably, Abimelech calls Him “Lord” and has a dialogue with Him. Abimelech submits to the Lord and is saved. A whole nation was spared because one Gentile king acknowledged the Most High God.
We are all very familiar with the account of the Exodus and see it as the great deliverance of Israel out of the wicked nation of Egypt. Millions of Israelites marched into the wilderness after the Pharaoh finally let them go. We think that all the plagues were meant to punish the Egpytians as a judgment against their oppression of the Hebrews, and that God enjoyed taking vengeance on them. After all, they were the most occult nation on the earth. However, every single plague countered and defeated one of the Egyptian gods. The purpose was therefore to display the power and supremacy of the Almight God Yahweh. However, that in itself must have a purpose. We read in Exodus 9:14, 16 what the Lord is saying to Pharaoh: I will send the full force of my plagues against you and against your officials and your people, so you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth … I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth (emphasis mine). God's purpose was to not only save His people Israel, but to show Himself to Pharaoh, the most powerful nation on earth. Pharaoh had a chance to turn to Almighty God, be saved, and display God's glory to all the earth – that’s what God had raised him up for. Unfortunately Pharaoh’s heart was hardened and full of hatred for the Hebrews he finally let go, so that his fate was not salvation and a testimony of God's glory, but death and destruction.
Moses was not only saved out of a Gentile nation, he married into one. He married Zipporah, daugher of Jethro, who was the priest of Midian. After the exodus, Jethro brings Moses’ family to him into the desert, and before he returns to his country, it is recorded that Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and other sacrifices to God, and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat bread with Moses' father-in-law in the presence of God (Ex 18:12). What a picture of covenant! It might very well be that it was the signs and wonders of God in Egypt that reached the heart of Jethro who then turned to the living God. Jethro went home a new man, part of God's kingdom on the earth.
The hundreds of years following Moses are all filled with examples of Gentiles being included in the people of God, which should make it impossible to make a case for the salvation of Jews only in the Old Testament. The Law not only makes place for Gentiles, but many years later God speaks to Isaiah saying,
foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to serve him, to love the name of the LORD , and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant-these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations." The Sovereign LORD declares-he who gathers the exiles of Israel: "I will gather still others to them besides those already gathered." (Isaiah 56:6-8).
These are very clear words that leave no room for interpretation. God's wants a house of prayer for all nations, gathering others to the Israelites, besides those foreigners already gathered to them. He never stopped gathering Gentiles, and He will never do.
Let’s consider some of the examples of Gentiles that were included into Israel in the Old Testament:
Joshua leads the people of God across the Jordan into the Promised Land. Thanks to one woman, a prostitute named Rahab, the city of Jericho is taken. Rahab not only protects the Hebrew spies from her own people, but she confesses the Lord with her mouth, saying, I know that the Lord has given this land to you … the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below (Joshua 2:9, 11). Rahab was heroine. She joined the people of Israel, and the Lord honored her beyond what she could have dreamed. Because of her confession and demonstrated love for God, she was included in the genealogy of the very Messiah Himself (see Matthew 1:5).
The book of Ruth records the story of Ruth and Naomi. Naomi was a Israelite whose husband and sons died in the foreign land of Moab. Both her sons had married Moabite women, and while one of their wives stayed in Moab, the other – Ruth – followed Naomi back to the land of Judah. Not only that, but following Hebrew customs, she married the kinsman redeemer Boaz (whose mother was Rahab) and was not given a whole book in the Bible, but became the ancestor of Christ (see Matthew 1:5).
The whole book of Jonah is dedicated to the salvation of a Gentile city – the people of Nineveh. God is not only concerned with His people Israel, but He decides to act because of the wickedness of Nineveh. He does not simply destroy the city, but because of His great mercy He decides to warn them and give them an opportunity to repent. Jonah, His chosen mouthpiece, is well aware of God's character and refuses to go to Israel’s enemies. God could have let Jonah go, executing the planned judgment, saying, “I tried”, as many of us would have done. However, Jonah’s life was even nearly lost, but God preserved him until he finally gave in and obeyed. And against all odds, one of the most wicked people truly repented and was spared for the time being. Jonah is a great testimony of God's love for all people, and should be an encouragement to us Gentiles, that He reached us and that we are to reach others, even the worst enemies of God.
We have seen that God has included Gentiles in His kingdom in all generations, from the very beginning to this day, and in the days to come, as John describes, I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb (Revelation 7:9) (emphasis mine). Not only has He accepted and redeemed prostitutes (Rahab) and other wicked people (e.g. Ninevites), but some of them even became ancestors of the promised Messiah. If God rejected all Gentiles and only desired His people Israel in the Old Testament, He would surely have kept the genealogy of the Messiah “pure”. Yet, God's love and mercy are far beyond our understanding, and He longs for all of His creation to come to an intimate knowledge of Him and then advance His kingdom to the ends of the earth. Jesus commanded His disciples to go and preach the gospel to all nations, even being more specific before His ascension, when He says, you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). There is no restriction for salvation, no condition, no border between Jew and Gentile, and contrary to what many believe, there have never been any. His invitation today is the same as has ever been: let him who hears say, "Come!" Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life (Revelation 22:17).
Cohen, Abraham, Everyman’s Talmud, Schocken Books: New York 1949
Kaiser, Walter C., The Christian and the “Old” Testament, William Carey Library: Pasadena, CA 1998
Power, John, History of Salvation. Introducing the Old Testament, Gill and MacMillan: Dublin 1967
VanGemeren, Willem, The Progress of Redemption, Academie Books: Grand Rapids, MI 1988
Westermann, Claus, Prophetic Oracles of Salvation in the Old Testament, Westminster/John Knox Press: Louisville, KY 1991