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Isaiah 56:6-7

“Also the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, To minister to Him, and to love the name of the LORD, To be His servants, every one who keeps from profaning the sabbath And holds fast My covenant; Even those I will bring to My holy mountain And make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar.” ‭‭

Questions: Who were these foreigners who joined themselves to the Lord? What did it mean for the aliens to minister to Him, and under what circumstances were they allowed to serve Him?

Verses like Leviticus 19:10 show that some foreigners were allowed to live among the Israelites, and there are other OT passages mentioning foreigners in relation to slavery (Lev 25:44-46, Deut 23:15, among others) but I can’t seem to find passages pertaining to foreigners “joining” themselves to Him.

Note: These verses were brought up once on SE in ‘14 here: (Could foreign peoples (non Israelite) serve as priests in the temple?) but there was only one answer and I didn’t think it addressed the above questions. Would be grateful if anyone has thoughts!

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In the Old Testament, the nation of Israel was God’s chosen instrument for witnessing about God’s saving grace. It was in this sense that Israel became the “chosen nation” (Ex 19:5). Specifically:

  • Israel was to be a kingdom of priests to teach all nations (Ex 19:5, 6, Isa 61:6).
  • Israel was to be a light to the world (Isa 42:6, 49:6, 60:3).
  • Israel was to be a blessing to all nations via both their spiritual example and teaching, and the promised Messiah (Gen 12:2-3; 18:18; 22:18, Ps 67:1-2, Isa 2:2-4, 55:5, 61:9-11, 66:19-20, Jer 3:17).

Note that while Israel was chosen as the instrument to tell and show the world of God’s saving grace, salvation was always available to all people. Indeed, the Old Testament contains many examples of foreigners becoming part of Israel, indicating that the Israelite Covenant was open to all and was never exclusive. For example:

  • Abraham’s own household must have consisted of perhaps 2000 people just to be able to raise an army of 318 men to liberate Lot, Gen 14:14. Indeed, Abraham’s chief servant (from Damascus) was clearly a believer and very devout as shown in Gen 24.
  • When Jacob entered Egypt, his family numbered 75 people (Acts 7:14, Ex 1:5). Some of these were not direct descendants of Abraham such as the wives of the 12 patriarchs, notably Joseph’s own wife. 215 years and four generations later at the exodus, Israel’s army had over 600,000 men (excluding women and children) suggesting a total population of several million people, requiring many additions. This included a significant mixed multitude (Ex 12:38) showing that Israel obviously consisted of many non-biological Jews had joined.
  • Moses married a Midianite (Ex 2:16-21).
  • Caleb, who represented and led the tribe of Judah was a Kennizite (Num 32:12).
  • Rahab was a Canaanite (Josh 2:1, 2, Matt 1:5)
  • Ruth was Moabite (Ruth 1:4 16, 17, Matt 1:5) – these last two make King David descended from foreigners (Ruth 4:13-16).
  • Uriah was a Hittite (2 Sam 11:3)
  • King David’s elite personal regiment was Gittite, Philistines (1 Chron 18:17)
  • The Rechabites were Kenites (Jer 35:1-19)
  • Many other foreigners lived in Israel (1 Chron 22:2, 17, 2 Chron 30:25)
  • In Esther’s time “many of the people of the land became Jews” (Esther 8:17, 9:27)
  • Even in NT times, many Jewish synagogues were attended by godly gentiles converted to Judaism (Acts 13:16, 26, 16:14, 17:17)
  • Many Jewish proselytes came to worship in Jerusalem (John 20:20, Acts 2:9-11)
  • Jesus quotes Isa 56:7, “My house shall be a house of prayer for all nations”, Mark 11:17.
  • Further, biological Israelites could opt out of the covenant and be cut-off (Ex 30:33, 38, 31:14, Lev 7:20, 21, 25, 27).

Thus, it is abundantly clear that membership of Israel was always open to all and voluntary. The same is true under the New Covenant, Matt 26:28, Mark 14:24, Luke 22:20, 1 Cor 11:25, 2 Cor 3:6, Heb 8:6-13, 9:15, 10:16, 29, 12:24, (Jer 31:31, 33).

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