Theology Thursday: Diversity and Israel in the Old Testament - Part 2

Dr. Christian Wilder

Diversity in the church with African-American man pointing in Bible to children

Last week, we left off with diversity in the Pentateuch and the importance of key non-Israelites in Israel’s life. This week, we start again in the Pentateuch, move through Joshua, Judges and Ruth, and then jump ahead to Isaiah.

Jethro, Moses’s Father-in-law

Jethro (also called Hobab) appears in Exodus 18:1 right before Israel receives the Sinaitic covenant. Here, he counsels Moses on governing the people, and then he appears again after the Sinai narrative (Numbers 10:29-31). The author has bracketed the Sinai covenant not with the great feats of Hebrew men, but with a Midianite priest and counselor to Moses. Gentile help does not end with Jethro, however.

Rahab and the Spies of Israel

In Joshua 2, two Israelite spies visit Jericho and fall under the protection of a Gentile named Rahab. Consequently, Rahab and her family are saved when Israel destroys Jericho. It seems she then fades into history until her name appears again as Boaz’s mother in Jesus’s genealogy (Matthew 1:5). Once again, a Gentile woman becomes the link for the promise of the Abrahamic covenant. But this is not the only story of diversity before Kings reigned in Israel. Three other examples occur as well, with the first one being the story of Othniel.

Othniel the Gentile Judge

Othniel becomes the first listed judge of Israel (Judges 3:9). He is Caleb’s younger brother (Judges 1:13), meaning that he is a Gentile in the land of Israel. And yet, God raises this gentile to deliver Israel from the hand of her oppressors. (Judges 3:9).

Jael the Kenite

The second story of diversity involves a woman named Jael. Jael was a Kenite who drove a stake through the head of Sisera (Judges 4:21). In the following chapter, Jael is called, “Most blessed of women” for her actions (Judges 5:24) that delivered Israel from oppression.

Ruth the Moabite

The third story occurs in the book of Ruth. Much like Tamar, Ruth must motivate Boaz to obey the laws of Levirate marriage. In doing so, she preserves the Abrahamic promise and introduces Moabite blood into David’s and Jesus’s royal line. Consequently, that line now contains blood from both the Canaanites and Moabites. The next Gentile, however, is recognized by God as a king over the Jews.

Cyrus the Great: God’s Messiah?

Isaiah 45:1 begins, “Thus says YHWH to his anointed one, to Cyrus…” ‘Anointed one’ is an English translation of the Hebrew messiah. In the Greek version (the LXX), the word for ‘anointed one’ is Christ. This term designates someone God has anointed into the office of a king or high priest through a prophet. Thus, Cyrus, the gentile king of Babylon and the larger Achaemenid empire, was God’s chosen king over the Jews.

Conclusion

Diversity is at the heart of Israel’s survival, beginning with Tamar and her mother-in-law, then extending to Zipporah, Jethro, Caleb, Othniel, Rahab, Jael and even a Persian king. This diversity brought Gentiles who saved the Abrahamic promise, counseled Israel’s leaders (or led Israel themselves), and entered the ancestry of David and Jesus Christ. God does amazing things, and He chooses the most diverse people to do it. He even chose a Persian as His last Christ-king (or ‘anointed’ king) before the coming of the final and complete king, Jesus Christ. Looking forward to today as Christians, we embrace the tapestry of diversity and inclusion as a testimony of our heritage as well as recognition of the unity in Christ’s present and future kingdom.

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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.

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