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. (Note that it is biologically impossible for Israelite numbers to have grown from 75 to several million biologically without many outside additions.)
- 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.
This idea is stated more carefully several times in the Torah. To illustrate I quote from a comment made in How do you reconcile Nehemiah 13:1-3 with the fact that King David's great-grandmother was Moabite?
In Exodus 12:48-49, God tells Moses: "A foreigner residing among you
who wants to celebrate the Lord’s Passover must have all the males in
his household circumcised; then he may take part like one born in the
land. No uncircumcised male may eat it. The same law applies both to
the native-born and to the foreigner residing among you." The
instruction is specific to males, and to the Passover, but it still
states a principle that a foreigner who converts is to enjoy the same
"rights" as a native Israelite. This is echoed in Lev 19:34, Lev
24:16, Lev 24:22, Num 9:14, & Num 15:29-30 – JDM-GBG Aug 6 '18 at
Foreigners were excluded from the sacred rites of Israel (Deut 23:3) but they could participate if they became Jews which was available to anyone. Ruth did this in her touching speech in Ruth 1:16, 17
Ruth replied: “Do not urge me to leave you
or to turn from following you.
For wherever you go, I will go,
and wherever you live, I will live;
your people will be my people,
and your God will be my God.
Where you die, I will die,
and there I will be buried.
May the LORD punish me,
and ever so severely,
if anything but death
separates you and me.”