Today’s Reading: Isaiah 43:14-45:10, Ephesians 3:1-21, Psalm 68:1-18, Proverbs 24:1-2
Just yesterday, I started writing about the exclusive claims of the Bible and promised to continue alongs these lines in the future. So I be watching for language regarding exclusion and inclusion in our daily readings in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament.
At the start of Isaiah 44, the prophet speaks words for God about His relationship with Israel, using familiar terms from earlier in the Hebrew Bible.
1 “But now, listen to me, Jacob my servant,
Israel my chosen one.
2 The Lord who made you and helps you says:
Do not be afraid, O Jacob, my servant,
O dear Israel, my chosen one.
Later in chapter 44, Isaiah warns people against worshiping idols, even calling it “stupidity and ignorance.” In the Hebrew Bible, the relationship seems exclusive in two ways – the people of Israel are the chosen ones and there is only one God who should be worshiped.
The idea that Israel was God’s chosen people is fleshed out quite a bit in Deuteronomy 7, and the idea that God has chosen people in an exclusive way continues throughout the New Testament, perhaps most clearly in 1 Peter 2:9.
9 But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.
However, as we look at Paul’s writing in the New Testament, he clearly is making this less exclusive – opening up to the Gentiles in Ephesians 3.
1 When I think of all this, I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus for the benefit of you Gentiles. . . 2 assuming, by the way, that you know God gave me the special responsibility of extending his grace to you Gentiles.
Later in that same chapter, he expands on this perspective, grouping Jews and Gentiles together at God’s children.
6 And this is God’s plan: Both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children. Both are part of the same body, and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus.
I have always understood the phrase “Jews and Gentiles” to include every human being – nobody is excluded from this group – so in that sense God, as described by Paul in Ephesians, is completely inclusive. However, toward the end of Ephesians 3:6, there is a clear exclusionary statement, “because they belong to Jesus Christ.”
So in two days of reading with a focus on inclusion and exclusion, the Hebrew Bible points to Israel as God’s chosen or special people, who are to worship only Him. It appears that God in the New Testament welcomes everyone, but only those who belong to Christ are fully connected to Him. I think there will be lots to read and write about inclusion in God’s Kingdom in the days to come.