This paper will show biblically that Old Testament Israel was a body of believers in the true God, a called out “congregation,” who were not all of one race. To remain in the Body of Israel required obedience to the covenant, and any “stranger” (Gentile) who did so, was considered as “native born” and granted full privileges, including marrying into Israelite families and receiving an inheritance.
The Promise to Abraham–All the Families of the Earth Shall Be Blessed
Now the Lord had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen. 12:1-3)
Specific Gentiles in the Old Testament shown to be true worshipers of God and/or included in Israel:
Melchizedek was called “Priest of God Most High,” although he was the king of Salem, a Canaanite. (Gen. 14:18)
Abimelech, the king of Gerar, called God “Lord” and pleaded for his “righteous nation,” vouching for his own integrity in having taken Sarah, not knowing she was already married. God confirmed the man’s integrity and kept him from sinning. God gave further instructions to Abimelech, which he carried out obediently. (Gen. 20)
When Moses led the people out of Egypt, a mixed multitude went with them also (Exo. 12:38). Who was this mixed multitude?–Egyptians, and perhaps other nationalities who had been dwelling in Egypt, who now feared the Lord and joined themselves to Israel! As God-fearing people, they were included from that point on. They married into the family of Israel and their descendants were eventually given a portion of the Promised Land with everyone else.
Moses married Zipporah, the daughter of the priest of Midian, Jethro. Zipporah and her father were both Gentiles. Zipporah was resistant to the ordinance of circumcision at first, and for this reason, God almost killed Moses! But she did obey God, and He let Moses go (Exo. 4:24-26). Later her father Jethro confessed that Yahweh was greater than all other gods, and offered sacrifices to Him. He ate with the leaders of Israel “before God” in full fellowship with God’s people. (Exo. 18:7-12)
The Canaanite Rahab confessed the God of Israel was the Lord and gave aid to the spies (Josh. 2). She married into the family of Israel and was in the direct line of Jesus Himself (Matt. 1:5). (With such Gentile inclusion, the idea of a “pure race” of Israel after the flesh must be ruled out.)
Ruth the Moabite married an Israelite, and after his death, she joined herself to Israel and the Lord by declaring, “Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.” (Ruth 1:16) She then married another Israelite Boaz, and became the grandmother of Israel’s renowned king David, from whose line Jesus came. Were David and Jesus “pure” in race?
There were whole Gentile nations who were submitted to David while his own son Absalom was in full rebellion against him, including the Cherethites, Pelethites, and Gittites (2 Sam. 15:18). The Cherethites were Cretans who lived among the Philistines, and the Pelethites were most likely related to the Philistines. The Gittites–“men of Gath”–were Philistines. These are a picture of the Gentiles who in the future would submit to King Jesus (who now sits on David’s throne), while some of His own family would remain in rebellion.
Of David’s close band of mighty men, some were Gentiles. Ittai the Gittite was David’s commander of the Gittites, and called a “foreigner,” yet he determined to be with his king wherever he would go (Read 2 Sam. 15:19-21. Recall Rev. 14:4–“These…follow the Lamb wherever He goes.“) Uriah (the husband of Bathsheba) was a Hittite faithful to David, as was Ahimelech (I Sam. 26:6). Ithmah was a Moabite, and Zelek was an Ammonite (I Chron. 11:46, 49).
After Esther was used to save her people from the evil plot of Haman, Scripture records that “many of the people of the land became Jews.” (Esther 8:17) Became Jews?! But we are told Jewishness is a racial thing? Not according to Scripture, and Paul later confirmed that anyone with a circumcised heart to the Lord is a Jew in God’s eyes (Rom. 2:28-29).
Peoples God Was Dealing with in the Old Testament:
When God prepared to take Israel out of Egypt, He told Pharoah that His purposes were these:
1. That Egypt might know there is no one like Him in all the earth (Exo. 9:14)
2. That God’s name might be declared in ALL the earth (Exo. 9:16)
God’s heart was to save not only Egypt, but all the earth! I could end this section here, since “all the earth” includes every nation. The prophets gave warnings to surrounding nations of Israel, not just Israel. God wanted to save them all! This perfectly coincides with the promise given to Abraham in order that “all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” As stated previously, a mixed multitude followed Israel out of Egypt. Gentiles have been “going up to Zion” to worship the true God since the beginning (Isa. 2:3).
The book of Jonah tells the story of God’s love for Nineveh, a Gentile nation. Israel was “chosen” for the good of all the world, just as any Christian today is “chosen” for the good of the world, not for the good of himself only. Therefore God sent the Israelite prophet to warn a Gentile city to repent. Thus Jonah is sometimes called “the first apostle to the Gentiles.” The city was spared from judgment for a time because its king and people repented. I think it safe to assume, or at least hope, that some people in Nineveh remained true to the Lord after that, although the city was destroyed in a future generation for returning to its wickedness.
The book of Daniel records the story of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar, who, after being thoroughly humbled by God, magnified the Lord and His eternal Kingdom in Daniel 4:34-37. God was still trying to reach the Babylonians in Daniel 5, when He wrote a warning on the wall and slew Belshazzar for not turning to God although he knew better because of God’s previous dealings with Nebuchadnezzar.
Isaiah prophesied of a time when a portion of Egypt would “speak the language of Canaan and swear by the Lord of hosts,” and have an altar to the Lord in its midst. Assyria also would join with Egyptians in worshiping the Lord, and the Lord would say, “Blessed is Egypt My people, and Assyria the work of My hands, and Israel My inheritance.” (Isa. 19:16-26)
There are many more portions of Scripture in the Old Testament that declare God’s heart for all people, and intent to gather people from all nations into His congregation (Israel), but these will suffice.
Laws and directives for “strangers” (Gentiles) who were part of Old Testament Israel:
Directly after the Exodus from Egypt, God gave laws to Israel concerning the Passover feast. And when a stranger dwells with you and wants to keep the Passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and HE SHALL BE AS A NATIVE OF THE LAND. For no uncircumcised person shall eat it. (Exodus 12:48) Notice that the stranger was to be counted as a native of the land, so long as he participated in the true worship of God. (See also Num. 9:14)
And if a stranger dwells with you, or whoever is among you throughout your generations, and would present an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to the Lord, just as you do, so shall he do. One ordinance shall be for you of the assembly and for the stranger who dwells with you,an ordinance forever throughout your generations; AS YOU ARE, SO SHALL THE STRANGER BE before the Lord. (Num. 15:14-15) Do you see that?–No difference between the stranger and the native born. (Paul later asked, “Is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also.” Rom. 3:29)
And whatever man of the house of Israel, OR OF THE STRANGERS WHO DWELL AMONG YOU, who eats any blood, I will set My face against that person who eats blood, and will cut him off from among his people. (Lev. 17:10) If a stranger dwelling among the Israelites ate blood, he would be cut off from “his people”–Israel. The stranger (Gentile) was considered an Israelite with full rights and responsibilities unless he broke covenant with God.
In giving rules for the Feast of Weeks, the Lord commanded, “You shall rejoice before the Lord your God, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, the Levite who is within your gates, the STRANGER and the fatherless and the widow who are among you, at the place where the Lord your God chooses to make His name abide.” (Deut. 16:11)
And Moses commanded them, saying: “At the end of every seven years, at the appointed time in the year of release, at the Feast of Tabernacles, when ALL ISRAEL comes to appear before the Lord your God in the place which He chooses, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing. Gather the people together, men and women and little ones, AND THE STRANGER WHO IS WITHIN YOUR GATES, that they may hear and that they may learn to fear the Lord your God and carefully observe all the words of this law, and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God as long as you live in the land which you cross the Jordan to possess. (Deut. 31:10-13) Notice that the stranger living within Israel’s gates is considered part of the ALL ISRAEL, and was to continue obeying the Law when he later possessed the land.
The next passage makes it clear that Gentiles were given land among the tribes of Israel, and were considered as “native-born.”–Thus you shall divide this land among yourselves according to the tribes of Israel. It shall be that you will divide it by lot as an inheritance for yourselves, AND FOR THE STRANGERS WHO DWELL AMONG YOU AND BEAR CHILDREN AMONG YOU. THEY SHALL BE TO YOU AS NATIVE-BORN AMONG THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL; THEY SHALL HAVE AN INHERITANCE WITH YOU AMONG THE TRIBES OF ISRAEL. And it shall be that in whatever tribe the stranger dwells, there you shall give him his inheritance,” says the Lord God. (Ezek. 47:21-23)
The prophet Jeremiah wrote about how Gentiles could be established “in the midst” of God’s people Israel–And it shall be, if they will learn carefully the ways of My people, to swear by My name, ‘As the Lord lives,’ as they taught My people to swear by Baal, then they shall be established in the midst of My people. (Jer. 12:16)
Isaiah was equally clear–
Do not let the son of the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord speak, saying,
“The Lord has utterly separated me from His people”; nor let the eunuch say,
“Here I am, a dry tree.” For thus says the Lord, “To the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths, and choose what pleases Me, and hold fast My covenant, even to them I will give in My house, and within My walls a place and a name better than that of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off. Also the sons of the foreigner who join themselves to the Lord, to serve Him, and to love the name of the Lord, to be His servants—everyone who keeps from defiling the Sabbath, and holds fast My covenant—even them I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on My altar; for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.” The Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, says, “Yet I will gather to him others besides those who are gathered to him.” (Isa. 56:3-8)
Let’s unpack this powerful passage:
1. Any foreigner could join himself to the Lord, and was not to say he was separate from God’s people. So long as the foreigner served God and obeyed the covenant, he would be brought to God’s holy mountain (Heb. 12:22).
2. The man that loved God, but could not conceive children (eunuch), would be given an everlasting name that would never be cut off. This is significant because it shows that possession of the Promise was not based on producing heirs who could then claim land.
3. The house of prayer was for “all nations,” and God explicitly says He will gather people from other nations “to him”–to Israel. Israel would not be a “pure race,” but a people who served God from a pure heart.
Remain in Israel, or Be Cut Off
Any person living in Israel, whether native born or a stranger, could be cut off for disobedience. To be cut off was to be no longer an Israelite. This concept is all through the Old Testament and completely obliterates any notion that being in a certain bloodline was a guarantee of benefits (just look up “cut off” in any Bible search tool, and study how may ways an Israelite could be cut off). I have written previously about this here. Israel was always a congregation of people that worshiped the true God. To depart from true worship resulted in being cut off from Israel, from God’s perspective.
There were always “strangers” sojourning with Israel, and they were accepted as native born provided they worshiped the true God with obedient faith. Israel was not a “pure race” of people according to the flesh, even in the Old Testament. Some of the included Gentiles were purposely mentioned in the genealogies of King David and King Jesus, demonstrating God’s masterful sidestepping of man’s desire to mix racial supremacy with religion. God did choose one faithful man (Abraham) through whom to bless the world with the fulfillment of all promises–Jesus Christ. That family, which Gentiles could and did join, was the Old Testament family of God.
With the ratifying of the New Testament in Jesus’ blood, and the cancelling of the Old, that Old Testament family of God remained the foundation for the New Testament temple which is still being built. In Jesus, all the promises are yes and amen. All who are obedient to the terms of the New Covenant are grafted into the Israel of God. All people–whether Jew or Gentile–who disobey the terms of the New Covenant, are cut off from the Israel of God until such a time as they stop continuing in unbelief (Rom. 11:23).
God bless you as you seek the Truth!
Please see also:
The True Vine–Israel was a vine, Jesus claimed to be the true Vine (Israel that is true to God)
Out of Egypt I Called My Son–Jesus is the absolute fulfillment of Israel
Born in Zion–How can one be born in Zion?
Jesus, Door to the Promises— The promises are fulfilled in Christ
Named Israel, Named Sodom and Gomorrah–the significance of the name, and how God names us according to our works.
Who the Jews Are–How does God define a true Jew?
The Works of Abraham–Who are the children of Abraham, according to God?
The Unfolding Revelation of Salvation–There has only ever been 1 people of God