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Israel Only: Valid or Not? (Part 2)

The following essay was written by Solomon Chikwe (from Owerri, Nigeria) and is used with his permission:

In the first part of this presentation (see Part 1 here), I showed how the “Israel Only” theological view is not valid, given that the (indisputable) inclusion of strangers or sojourners as eligible subjects of the old covenant violates the exclusivity condition upon which the “Israel Only” proposition lies. In other words, God’s recognition of non-Israelites as worthy participants in the socio-religious life of the old covenant system forces the “Israel Only” argument to lack validity. After all, “only” is “only”!

In recap, one of the notable points that I raised in that essay was that of the eligibility given to non-Israelites, for example, Egyptians and Edomites, to participate in old covenant community life (see Deuteronomy 23:7-8). Also, it was shown how the strangers who sojourned among the house of Israel were legitimately involved in presenting their burnt offerings and sacrifices to God, according to the old covenant religious law and tradition (e.g. Leviticus 17:8). Furthermore, it was exposed how the message in Genesis 18:18 imposes a universal, and not Israel-centric, scope upon the divine mandate placed in Abraham concerning mankind, saying, “Seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great nation (Israel), and all the nations of the earth (foreign nations) shall be blessed in him?”

But, interestingly, the said essay attracted a notable (two-item) rebuttal from one proponent of the “Israel Only” conjecture. And, more interestingly, a number of individuals, who hitherto had no objection to offer to the glaring evidences contained in the said presentation, just jumped on the reaction train—showing ‘Emoji-type’ support to the challenge offered by their belief’s courageous advocate. So, against this background, I wish to present the second part of that essay (as a rebuttal essay), which assures to deflate the objections raised by my “IO” friend and thus reinforce the lack of validity in the “Israel Only” proposition.

Now, permit me to treat the claims contained in the said rebuttal— item by item.

Objection One:

“This is what God thought of strangers that lived with the Israelites.

Leviticus 25:45-46 (NKJV) 45 ‘Moreover you may buy the children of the strangers who dwell among you, which they beget in your land; and they shall become your property.
46 ‘And you may take them as an inheritance for your children after you, to inherit [them as] a possession; they shall be your permanent slaves. But regarding your brethren, the children of Israel, you shall not rule over one another with rigor.

Strangers and their children would be permanent slaves of the Israelites and they would inherit them. How lovely.”

The above was the first objection that our friend raised against my presentation; one which does not disprove my submissions on how the old covenant included non-Israelite parties, in contrast to the “Israel Only” claim. At best, it was nothing but a (weak) rhetorical attempt that suggested God as unloving to the resident aliens who lived among the old covenant Israelites, in contrast to His (supposed) completely partial show of love unto Israel.

But was the resident alien among the house of Israel the only one that could, according to God, be a slave under the old covenant? No! The Israelite could also be a slave, even to a stranger that lived among the Israelites. As a matter of fact, my friend deliberately chose to ignore the context of the passage from whence he took his text—a context which pertains to God’s setting of conditions under which either a stranger or an Israelite could be a slave or servant within the old covenant community (see Leviticus 25:38-55). Concerning this matter, Leviticus 47-48 notably says,

(47) “And if a sojourner or stranger wax rich by thee (house of Israel), and thy brother that dwelleth by him wax poor, AND SELL HIMSELF UNTO THE STRANGER OR SOJOURNER by thee (house of Israel), or to THE STOCK OF THE STRANGER’S FAMILY:

(48) “After that HE (the Israelite) IS SOLD he may be redeemed again; one of his brethren may redeem him.”

It is quite clear, from the above scripture, that an Israelite could also be a slave (a bondservant), not necessarily a hired servant, to a stranger under the old covenant system: for a hired servant is not sold but hired (c.f. Leviticus 25:39-40). So, as it was with the stranger, so was it with the Israelite as concerning susceptibility to slavery; however, there was a (concessional) provision for the Israelite slave to be redeemed—a provision that thrived on the fact that the Israelites were considered by God as His own servants, the ones He had redeemed from Egypt (see Deuteronomy 24:18; Leviticus 47-55).

Very importantly, it should be noted that God did not give commandment that ALL the strangers who lived within the old covenant community should be made slaves by the Israelites; instead, His commandment was that “the heathen” among the strangers, who were poor and willing to become slaves, were to be dealt with according to the stated conditions. In light of this, Leviticus 25:44 says,

“Both thy bondmen, and thy bondmaids, which thou shalt have, shall be of THE HEATHEN THAT ARE ROUND ABOUT YOU; of them shall ye buy bondmen and bondmaids.”

Notably, the above verse (verse 44), which defines those who were to be made endless slaves, immediately precedes verses 45 and 46 that my friend cited. To this end, we can clearly see that his rebuttal has nothing on the truth that the old covenant was not an “Israel Only” covenant: for both the Israelites and non-Israelites could be bought as slaves under the old covenant system—with those who were regarded as “the heathen” having the possibility of serving their masters perpetually.

Moreover, those who (faithfully) served God under the old covenant were not regarded as “THE HEATHEN”— Israelites and non-Israelites alike. So, the issue of the nature of conditions given for servitude under the old covenant system can never imply an exclusion of those strangers whom God accepted into the old covenant system as bonafide members of that system. They were not illegal or despicable aliens, but strangers who sojourned among the Israelites in the latter’s ethno-religious day.

Contrary to my “IO” friend’s claim, the resident alien motif presented in the Old Testament discourse is not one of segregation and subjugation against them, but one of inclusion, welfare, and protection. For example, we see in Deuteronomy 24:14-17 how strangers were not to be oppressed or denied justice. Also, punishments followed the deviation of any Israelite from the commandments which restrained Israel from victimizing resident aliens (see Exodus 22:21; Exodus 23:9). In fact, it is written that such offenders were “cursed” (see Deuteronomy 27:19).

Also the grouping of resident aliens with such vulnerable members of the old covenant community as widows and orphans of the stock of Israel shows that they (the resident aliens) formed part of a constituency that was considered special —to God— and worthy of preserving. Consistently, God reminded the Israelites of the need to love and respect the resident aliens: for He saw the entirety of mankind, including Israel, as being in constant sojourning on earth (see Genesis 4:12-16; Genesis 20:1; Genesis 21:23; Genesis 28:32; Genesis 32:4; Genesis 47:4).

Objection Two:

“You missed the point. Those strangers living within Israel had to abide by the laws of Yahweh. It’s akin to resident aliens living within the US. They are required by law to abide by the laws of the US yet they are not full citizens. It was the same with the strangers that lived next to the Israelites. They never lost their classification as “strangers or foreigners.” They were not Israelites nor were they in covenant with God. They could have left Israel at anytime without any repercussions from God.”

The above was the second objection that my friend raised to my post. In one part of the above objection, he claims that the strangers who lived by the old covenant laws did so as a matter of abiding by civil laws in a society where they resided. And, the other part stresses that God was not in any covenant with the discussed old covenant resident aliens. But are these claims true? No, they are certainly not!

To the first part of the above objection, let me address it by stating that the old covenant laws were more of cultic laws than civil laws; so the argument that the resident aliens within the old covenant community had to observe those laws strictly, as a matter of civic obligation, is flawed. Remarkably, very significant religious implications followed the participation of the said aliens in the old covenant system and life. Those same people engaged in such practices as offering sacrifices and burnt offerings to the God of Israel (Numbers 15:4; Leviticus 17:8), partaking in the celebration of Passover (Deuteronomy 29:10-12; Joshua 8:32-35), and observing such days as the Day of Atonement and the Sabbath (Leviticus 16:29; Deuteronomy 5:14; Exodus 20:10). Clearly, such observances had far reaching implications for them, because in those practices were the spiritual and economic dimensions of their lives shaped.

On the argument that God had no covenant with the resident aliens, who were members of the old covenant system, we shall be looking at what the scriptures say concerning the matter. And, to begin, let us consider the covenant of God with Abraham as concerning the Promised Land. Genesis 13:14-15 says,

(14) “And the Lord said to Abram, after that Lot was separated from him, Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward:”

(15) “For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed forever.”

But, which land was this that God swore to give Abraham and his seed? Well, the answer to that question is found in the book of Joshua. However, before we turn to that scripture, I would want us to note that the said land was promised to Abraham and his SEED. Thus, whosoever, apart from Abraham, that INHERITS the said land must, of necessity, be part of this SEED of Abraham. In other words, those who would inherit the said land are/were the SEED of Abraham, with whom God made the covenant. We shall see how this projection was formalized as we proceed.

Now, Joshua 21:43 says,

“And the Lord gave unto Israel all the land which He sware to give unto their fathers: and they possessed it, and dwelt therein.”

Notably, the above scripture suggests that the said land was exclusively promised to Israel. But, that was not what Joshua meant in that scripture; instead, he was addressing his primary audience (the house of Israel) in a manner that was relevant to them. To drive home this point, I would need to discuss a very key character in the whole journey of the Israelites through the wilderness into the Promised Land; that is, Caleb. But, before I discuss Caleb, let us see what Ezekiel says concerning the inheritance of the Promised Land.

Ezekiel 47:21-22 says,

(21) “So shall ye divide this land unto you according to the tribes of Israel.”

(22) “And it shall come to pass, that ye shall divide it by lot for an inheritance unto you, AND TO THE STRANGERS THAT SOJOURN AMONG YOU: they shall beget children among you: and THEY SHALL BE UNTO YOU AS BORN IN THE COUNTRY AMONG THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL; THEY SHALL HAVE INHERITANCE AMONG THE TRIBES OF ISRAEL.”

Similarly, Isaiah 14:7 says,

“For the Lord will have mercy on Jacob, and will yet choose Israel, and set them in their own land: AND THE STRANGERS SHALL BE JOINED WITH THEM, and they shall cleave to the house of Jacob.”

Do you catch the power in the above scriptures? They reveal God’s mind concerning what He referred to as the SEED of Abraham. They expose the (deliberate) projection of God to include strangers in His covenant operations, through assimilating them into the commonwealth of Israel, such that the strangers would become unto Israel “as born in the country among the children of Israel.” And this is to the end that “they (the strangers) shall have inheritance among the tribes of Israel.” Notably, the above was a foreshadowing of God’s operations in the new covenant.

Now, does what we have seen above depict an “Israel Only” covenant? No! It rather reflects an inclusive covenant—one in which both Israelites and non-Israelites were yoked as one people under God’s administration. As a matter of fact, the classification of the resident aliens as “strangers” was not to degrade or relegate them as ineligible members, but to expose them to special love and protection, even the same as the widows and orphans of Israelite descent received (see Zechariah 7:10; Deuteronomy 14:28-29; Deuteronomy 24:17; Exodus 22:21-22).

Having set the above background, I believe it would interest the reader to also see this discussion in light of a mind-blowing truth: the truth about Caleb.

Interestingly, Caleb, who was one of the two most prominent characters that eventually led the people of God into the Promised Land, was not an Israelite. He was a Kenˊezite (also called Kennizite)—the son of Jepunˊneh (see Numbers 32:12; Joshua 14:6). His partner, and fellow leader in the movement, was Joshua—an Israelite. It needs not be discussed how Caleb and Joshua showed exceptional faith in God, and as such became the only men of their age who saw the Promised Land. So, in essence, though just two persons of that generation entered into the Promised Land, God ensured that they belonged to each of the two classes of sojourners; that is, one from the house of Israel and one from the host of strangers. What balancing; what fairness; what inclusivity!

Despite his exceptional role in the eventual entry of Israel into the Promised Land, given that Caleb was a stranger that sojourned among the Israelites, it wouldn’t have been expected — in light of the “Israel Only” view — that such a man would inherit the much he did of the Promised Land. And, by “the much he did,” I speak not about size alone, but also about the quality and special significance of the inheritance he got. Caleb inherited, arguably, the best piece of land during the sharing of the Canaan real estate among its beneficiaries. He got a beautiful place called Hebron— the place where Abraham received the promise (Genesis 12:6-7; Genesis 15:18); where he lived and built an altar unto God (Genesis 13:18; Genesis 12:7); where the patriarchs were buried (Genesis 25:8-10; Genesis 23:17-19; Genesis 49:29-30; Genesis 50:13). In spite of his “stranger” status among the Israelites, Caleb’s inheritance was at the center of God’s covenant with Abraham!

Joshua 14:13-14 says,

(13) “And Joshua blessed him, and gave unto Caleb the son of Jepunˊneh Hebron for an inheritance.”

(14) “Hebron therefore became the inheritance of Caleb the son of Jepunˊneh the Kenˊezite unto this day, BECAUSE HE WHOLLY FOLLOWED THE LORD GOD OF ISRAEL.”

Lastly, do you see that Caleb’s faith; a faith in the class of Abraham’s, was rewarded immensely, even with the blessing of Abraham? Do you also see that the promise did not gain expression in “Israel Only,” but also in strangers? How then was the old covenant for “Israel Only”? It wasn’t!

…to be continued.

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