Suppose you’re an Egyptian woman who joined the Hebrew slaves during their victorious march out of Egypt after the ten plagues. Your husband was the firstborn male in his family, so he died during the final plague—that horrifying situation in which all firstborn males in Egypt died. Your husband was devoted to his gods, and if he was still alive, you’d never have scraped up the courage to leave Egypt with the Hebrew slaves. But his death gave you the final push you needed to embark on a whole new spiritual journey. The ten plagues threw you into a massive theological crisis which has resulted in you abandoning the Egyptian gods who you used to worship so that you could become a sincere Yahweh follower. You really want to please this new God…but is He only the God of the Jews? You’re not a Jew–does that mean you can never please this Yahweh as much as the Hebrews can?
When you reach the desert and the Jews get organized, the whole camp is divided up into twelve neighborhoods, with each one named after a Jewish tribe. Well, you’re an Egyptian. You’re not a descendant of Jacob. You don’t “belong” in any of the twelve tribal groups. So while everyone’s pitching their tents, you feel left out and awkward. Everything around you is Jewish. The group leader, Moses, is a Jew. The people around you talk to each other in Hebrew–not in your own native language–and a lot of them seem to enjoy snubbing you. It soon becomes very clear that the humans don’t think you belong in their special community. So when their God starts laying down a bunch of rules for how the Jews should function in their daily lives, you’re thinking, “This is hopeless. I’ll never be a part of this community. Why would their God even want me? He probably views me as some kind of unwanted intruder, just like these Jews so obviously do.” But then you hear Moses passing on this word from Yahweh:
“You must not exploit a foreign resident or oppress him, since you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.” (Ex. 22:21)
What’s this? Yahweh is talking about foreign residents—that’s you! And He’s ordering the Jews to be nice to you. He’s even telling them that they’ve got no justification for putting on their superior airs because they were the “foreigners” back when they lived in Egypt. How cool is this? The awesome Yahweh—that fearsome Deity who stomped all over the gods you used to worship and who has such mind-blowing power—He’s actually thinking about you. Suddenly you’re feeling encouraged. Then you hear Moses passing on this word from Yahweh:
“You must not mistreat any widow or fatherless child. If you do mistreat them, they will no doubt cry to Me, and I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will burn, and I will kill you with the sword; then your wives will be widows and your children fatherless.” (Ex. 22:22-24)
Wow, listen to this! You’re a widow, and here this God of the Jews is speaking up for you. He talks like He has a special place in His heart for widows and orphans. What kind of God is this? Usually the men are the favorites, but here Yahweh is promoting Himself as the Champion and Avenger of widows like you. He tells the Jews that if they mistreat you, Yahweh will listen to your cries, He will care about your distress, and He’ll go nail your persecutors on your behalf—even though they’re Jewish and you’re not. Now you’re really feeling encouraged. These Jews might be snubbing you, but their God is clearly reaching out to you, so you decide that you’re going to stop walking around with your eyes on the ground. You have a right to be in this Jewish camp—Yahweh says so. And the next time some Jew tries to imply that you don’t belong with them, you now have a perfect comeback, because Yahweh is inviting you to stay.
Now as time passes, the Jews start constructing a special Tabernacle which Yahweh Himself gave them the specs for. You eagerly watch the whole process and look for any opportunities to help. But you’re also worrying, because there’s so much talk about the Levites being Yahweh’s special people. It will be Levite men who get to serve as priests in the special Tabernacle, and their wives get to make their special robes and play other supportive roles. What do you get to do? Nothing, because you’re not a Jew. As the Tabernacle is completed, you’re getting depressed, because you figure this is going to be a Jews only club. They’ll all get to go inside the special courtyard and present offerings to Yahweh, while you’ll be excluded. Why wouldn’t you be excluded? The whole operation will be run by Jewish men who clearly don’t like you—first for not being a Jew, and second for being a woman. Maybe if your husband was still around, you’d get some respect. But as a childless widow, you feel like the loser amid this bunch of Jewish women who are so proud of their large families.
One morning, you’re feeling really down in the dumps when you hear people outside talking about how Moses is about to give another speech. So you get up and go out to hear what Yahweh has to say. As usual, you feel very alone in the crowd—the Egyptian loser who is surrounded by the people who Yahweh really cares about—the people who He trashed Egypt to rescue. What were you thinking to tell yourself that Yahweh could really be interested in someone like you?
Moses starts talking, and it’s all about how the sacrificial system is going to work. Moses’ opening line really drags you down:
“Speak to Aaron, his sons, and all the Israelites and tell them: This is what Yahweh has commanded: Anyone from the house of Israel who slaughters an ox, sheep, or goat in the camp, or slaughters it outside the camp, instead of bringing it to the entrance to the tent of meeting to present it as an offering to Yahweh before His Tabernacle—that person will be considered guilty. He has shed blood and must be cut off from his people.” (Lev. 17:2-4)
Yep, it’s just as you feared: it’s only Jews who Yahweh is talking to—only these proud descendants of Israel. Yahweh is adamant that all sacrifices be processed in the new Tabernacle. He says all other sacrifices are now banned. Great. So now you won’t even be able to make your own sacrifices to Yahweh away from everyone else because you’ll get in trouble with the Jews. Obviously He doesn’t want your sacrifices—why did you ever think He did? But wait—what is Moses saying now?
“Say to them: Anyone from the house of Israel or from the foreigners who live among them who offers a burnt offering or a sacrifice but does not bring it to the entrance to the tent of meeting to sacrifice it to Yahweh, that person must be cut off from his people.” (Lev. 17:8-9)
Foreigners living among the Jews—that’s you! Yahweh is talking about you again! He’s saying that you also must bring all of your sacrifices to Yahweh to the special Tabernacle. In fact, He insists on it. He says if you don’t bring your sacrifices to the Tabernacle, you’ll be cut off from your people—what people? The Jewish people? Does Yahweh really view you as belonging to this group of Hebrews? Like—really belonging?
“Anyone from the house of Israel or from the foreigners who live among them who eats any blood, I will turn against that person who eats blood and cut him off from his people. For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have appointed it to you to make atonement on the altar for your lives, since it is the lifeblood that makes atonement. Therefore I say to the Israelites: None of you and no foreigner who lives among you may eat blood.” (Lev. 17:10-12)
Yahweh keeps making a special point to include you in His commands. You’re the foreigner. And here again He’s threatening that if you disobey His commands, you’ll be cut off from your people. But what people? You don’t have any people. You’re a childless Egyptian widow living among a bunch of Jews. Does Yahweh really view you as one of them?
Moses gives very long speeches, but you’re listening intently to every word. Your favorite parts are when Yahweh makes a point to emphasize that His commands apply to both the Jews and the foreigners. You find His inclusive language so inspiring. One time Moses is talking about commands that Yahweh is giving for how He wants the Jews to behave when they reach their special Promised Land. How you’ll survive in that place is a whole new worry that you try not to think about. But then you hear Yahweh say:
“When you reap the harvest of your land, you are not to reap to the very edge of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You must not strip your vineyard bare or gather its fallen grapes. Leave them for the poor and the foreign resident; I am Yahweh your God.” (Lev. 19:9-10)
Wow, really? Yahweh is already thinking of you so far ahead. When you hear comments like this, you stop feeling so afraid of how you’ll survive in a Jewish country. If the great Yahweh wants you to be there, then somehow it will work out. And the longer you listen to Yahweh’s speeches, the more confident you become that He really does want you living in the special land that He’s going to give the Jews. Not only that, but Yahweh views you as their equal.
“When a foreigner lives with you in your land, you must not oppress him. You must regard the foreigner who lives with you as the native-born among you. You are to love him as yourself, for you were foreigners in the land of Egypt; I am Yahweh your God.” (Lev. 19:33-34)
Wow, really?? Yahweh says you’re just like one of these descendants of Jacob. He says they’re to treat you as their equals, and some of the Jews around you are starting to take Yahweh’s commands to heart. One night a Hebrew woman invites you to come have dinner with her family. Then a nice Jewish man comes along and insists that you permanently join his family’s compound for protection and companionship. You’re finally starting to make real friends, and it’s all thanks to Yahweh commanding the Jews to treat you like one of them.
The more Yahweh says, the happier you feel. Back when you first started this journey, you felt like Yahweh was only talking to the Jews, and that all of His special rules and invitations were only for them. But now you know that when Yahweh gives a command, He’s talking to you as well, because He says that all of His followers are to live by the same laws.
“The assembly is to have the same statute for both you and the foreign resident as a permanent statute throughout your generations. You and the foreigner are equal before Yahweh. The same law and the same ordinance will apply to both you and the foreigner who resides with you.” (Num. 15:15-16)
As for the Levite priests and their families who you used to be so jealous of—you’re not jealous anymore, because it’s not just Jews who get to do special things for Yahweh. Yahweh has made a way for you to do special things as well, by inviting you to participate in a special Nazirite ritual. The Nazirite laws were for both men and women—Yahweh was quite clear about that (Num. 6:1). He invented the laws to give you a way of publicly demonstrating your personal devotion to Him. It was essentially a form of worship—a voluntary ritual which came with a lot of special behavioral rules which you could get involved in for a time period of your choosing. And while you are going through this special act of worship, Yahweh says that you are holy to Him (Num. 6:8). You’re set apart. You’re special in His eyes. He says that you don’t have to participate, but He’s giving you the opportunity in case you want to. So it’s not just the Jews who Yahweh loves. And it’s not just the Levite priests and leaders like Moses and Aaron who get special invitations from Yahweh. You get them too, because Yahweh wants you just as much as He wants the Hebrews. He says you’re equal to them in His eyes. He says you belong. And once you’ve got the approval of the mighty Yahweh, no human can take it away.
Learning from Yahweh: What It Means To Be Holy
More Lies from Paul: God Loves Jews More Than Gentiles (Romans 11)
Understanding Divine Election: Jacob I Loved, Esau I Hated (Malachi 1 & Romans 9)
Know Your Bible Lesson 79: Tolerating Gentiles