Theology Thursday: Diversity and the Old Testament - The Pentateuch

Two women and a baby reading the Bible

Diversity. Inclusion. We hear these words often in today’s culture. But what should be the response of the church? Are diversity and inclusivism acceptable, or are they antithetical to the Bible? The following two-part blog answers that question. Not only are they acceptable but pivotal to the story (and survival) of Israel, starting in Genesis 38.

Diversity in Israel’s Beginnings

Genesis 38 is the story of Tamar, a Canaanite. Tamar’s husband dies without an heir. So Tamar must protect the family line through an ancient custom called Levirate marriage. She accomplishes her task against the will of her father-in-law Judah (who also married a Canaanite).

By the narrative’s conclusion, Judah has declared that Tamar acted more righteously than he for protecting her husband’s lineage. By extension, she also protected the Abrahamic Covenant at the heart of Israel’s identity and claim to the Promise Land (Genesis 15, 17). Consequently, all of Judah descend from this mix of the Hebrew and Canaanite races, including David and Jesus. These meager beginnings of diversity foreshadow something much greater in Exodus.

Diversity and Moses

In Exodus 2:21, the author introduces Moses’s wife, Zipporah, who is a Midianite. This Midianite, however, saves Moses’s life in Exodus 4:18-26 when she circumcises their child according to the Abrahamic covenant. Once again, a gentile acts more righteously than a Hebrew hero, enabling him to live and later lead Israel in the Exodus.

Inclusion and the Exodus: Passover

The Exodus is central to Israel’s identity. Even today, Jews celebrate Passover, which God instituted before Israel left Egypt (Exodus 12:43-49). In that passage, however, God commands the Israelites to allow foreigners to take part in the Passover if circumcised. Perhaps the reason is that foreigners also participated in the exodus.

Inclusion and the Exodus: “An Ethnically Diverse Crowd”

In Exodus 12:38, “an ethnically diverse crowd” left Egypt with Israel. Except for one possible reference (Numbers 11:4), there is no other mention of this group. Instead, they became a part of the nation of Israel, as evidenced by Caleb, the Kenizzite.

Caleb the Kenizzite

The Kenizzites inhabited Canaan and Arabia during the time of Abraham (Genesis 15:19). So, although a foreigner, the tribe of Judah designated Caleb as their representative, sending him into the promised land alongside spies representing the eleven other tribes (Numbers 32:12). The picture painted here is a foreigner who had risen to a position of importance in Israel. And he was not the only one as we’ll see next week.


As for this week, diversity and inclusiveness began in Genesis with Judah’s wife and daughter-in-law. It continued in Exodus with Zipporah before increasing exponentially by including “diverse nations” in the Exodus, as seen with Caleb. The only thing non-Israelites needed to share was a devotion to YHWH. And that is the lesson for churches today: Jesus’s church must be open to diversity and inclusiveness while maintaining unity in a singular devotion to Jesus Christ. To fail at either is to fail at being the church.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.