The Inclusivity of God's Love in the Old Testament

Psalm 87Did God change His plan between the Old and New Testament? That’s how it can seem sometimes upon quick reading. The Old Testament, God seems focused on one people group, to the exclusion of all others. So, it can seem like a shift when in the New Testament Jesus starts talking about God’s love for all the world, and His desire that all should come to Him.

In reality, God’s story has always been that of His love for all the world. It was His people who were (and still are) at times confused about that fact.

His purpose for Israel was to be a light for the nations. At the same time as giving them commands that set them apart from their neighbors, He charged them to welcome strangers with open arms. They were to practice hospitality and show mercy and demonstrate His love to any who came across their path, not just their own people.

It was they who most often lost sight of this purpose, who hoarded the light for themselves, instead of sharing it with those lost in the dark.

The story does get jumbled and confusing when it comes to territorial invasion and God’s directives in times of war, let’s be honest. But, still, over and over, God shares His heart…

As God tells Abram, “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” – Genesis 12:3

As Moses encourages the Israelites to emulate their God, who “defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.” – Deuteronomy 10:18-19

As God says through Isaiah, “my justice will become a light to the nations.” – Isaiah 51:4

And perhaps no section of Old Testament Scripture emphasizes this inclusive heart of God more than Psalm 87. It is a Psalm written for the people to sing in celebration of Jerusalem, an outflow of the joy of being in God’s chosen city. It is a commemoration of Zion, as the city is often called in these types of hymns, the location of The Holy Temple, the place in which the presence of God resided in a special way.

The Psalm starts as one might expect.

He has founded his city on the holy mountain. The LORD loves the gates of Zion more than all the other dwellings of Jacob. Glorious things are said of you, city of God: –Psalm 87:1-3

This is a special city. But why? What are the glorious things that are said about it? What comes next may surprise the listener who has not heard God’s heart for all.

“I will record Rahab and Babylon among those who acknowledge me— Philistia too, and Tyre, along with Cush— and will say, ‘This one was born in Zion.’ Indeed, of Zion it will be said, “This one and that one were born in her, and the Most High himself will establish her.” The LORD will write in the register of the peoples: “This one was born in Zion.” –Psalm 87:3-6

Rahab is the poetic name for Egypt, where the Israelites were once slaves. Babylon was the empire that once held the Israelites in exile. This a list of Israel’s enemies, and a longing for the day they could be registered among God’s people in Jerusalem.

Zion is being declared beautiful because of the way it could one day welcome all people into God’s family. Zion was meant to be a place of reconciliation and love and inclusion and joy, not a different story from that of Christ, but a prequel. The same love, manifested in a different way.

Just as these desert people would celebrate the discovery of a spring, the people are jubilant at the thought of how Jerusalem could be an oasis of refreshment for all.

As they make music they will sing, “All my fountains are in you.” – Psalm 87:7

This world was, and is, parched in search for a love that pushes beyond barriers. That is the love of our God.

(Have you heard the Chris Tomlin song by that name? It seems only appropriate to link to it as the conclusion of this post.)

That was my reflection on Psalm 87. Add a link to your own post on it below. And stop by next week to continue our Psalms Journey into Psalm 88.

Have you ever been an outsider?

From the ages of 11 to 14, I hated Wednesdays. During that period of my life, Wednesdays meant one thing: Catechism class. It wasn’t the class itself that made me loathe 3 to 5 pm one day a week, it was the community. Or lack of it. You see, our church was in a different town. Which meant everyone else in that class was from the same school except me. There was one other girl from my school, actually, but she and I didn’t get along very well.

And so, I was alone.

Whenever the class had a break, I went to the bathroom first, hoping to delay as long as possible what would ensue during free time in the gym. When the others would play and laugh together, and I would sit in the corner by myself. When, on good days, I would be ignored. When, on bad days, I would be picked on.

I hated being the outsider. Sometimes, it left me frustrated, trying to do things to fit in, but just not getting it right. Other times, it left me angry, wondering who they thought they were to leave me out. Most of the time, it left me feeling worthless, thinking I was excluded for a reason.

In Jesus’ day, the Samaritans were the outsiders. The Jewish people considered Samaritans to be half-breeds and religious-compromisers. They shunned them. Yet, John 4 begins with,

So he [Jesus] left Judea and went back once more to Galilee. Now he had to go through Samaria… – John 4:3-4

Jesus didn’t actually have to go through Samaria to get from Judea to Galilee. Yes, it was the most direct route. But, many Jewish people avoided taking that route, in order to avoid Samaritans. But Jesus chose to go through Samaria. He ended up there around noon. He sent His disciples to get some food while He waited at the well. While Jesus was there, a Samaritan woman came to the well to draw water.

Noon was an odd time to come to the well.

Noon is the heat of the day. It is not the time to do such a physically taxing chore. This woman was obviously trying to avoid running into others.

She was an outsider among outsiders.

Yet, when she came, Jesus spoke to her. He did not avoid her. He engaged her in conversation. He revealed details He knew about her life. She could tell He was a prophet. She was curious, but confused. Until He revealed something amazing.

The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.” – John 4:25-26

To this outsider, Jesus revealed Himself to be the promised Messiah.

This woman was used to people ignoring her. She was used to sitting in the corner by herself. She was used to being scoffed at by Jewish men as they walked by.

But the very man who broke that trend, who treated her as if she was worth something, said “I, the one speaking to you- I am he.” I am the Messiah.

And so, this woman ran to town to spread the news. She ran with such haste that she left her water jar behind. She ran to the very people she had been avoiding.

Her response was not the response of a frustrated, angry, and worthless outsider. It was the response of someone who knew she had something of value to share.

And others listened. I wonder if it was her words that made the most impact, or what they saw behind the words. The change in her. The confidence. The hope. The love.

And so

Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers. – John 4:39-41

Jesus had to go through Samaria. He had to show that He does not respond to people the way the world does. He does not exclude. He does not segregate. He does not discriminate. He comes. He speaks. He says to all of us,

“I, the one speaking to you- I am He.”

I am the One who can bring you hope. I am the One who can satisfy your needs. I am the One who can remind you that you have something valuable to offer the world.

You are not an outsider in My eyes.

Have you ever been an outsider? What do you think this “I am” statement said to the Samaritan woman reveals about Jesus?

Read the post before this one, The Question No One Likes to Ask.

* Photo Credit: Tecfan on Flickr Creative Commons

Advent Series Day 25- come and worship

Merry Christmas! It has not been easy to get to today. We have endured long car rides and busy airports. We have baked, cleaned, decorated, and crafted. We have worked extra hours. We have navigated sticky family dynamics.

There has been a lot to do. Some has been beautiful. Much has been stressful. Yet, we do it every year. We do it because we think it is worth it. We think that seeing family, watching joy on kids’ faces, and celebrating with those we love is worth extra effort.

So, it is appropriate to wrap up the Advent series by looking at a group who also had a lot to overcome. Yet, they thought it was worth it.

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’”

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.  – Matthew 2:1-12

“Magi” comes from a Persian word referring to an expert in studying the stars. The Magi were worshipers of the heavens, not of Yahweh. Yet, when this star appeared, they recognized that it meant something more. They came to worship the Messiah.

The Magi likely came from Babylon, since that was a center for the study of the stars. A caravan would have to travel about 1000 miles to get from Babylon to Jerusalem. This was not a journey of days. It was a journey of months. Perhaps even a year. {The idea that this was a long journey is reinforced by 1) fact that the Magi came to a “child” at a “house,” not an “infant” at a “manger” and 2) because Herod kills all males age 2 and under in Bethlehem, “in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.” (Matthew 2:16)}

The journey would have taken much time, energy, and resources to complete. Yet, the Magi did it. They came to worship the Messiah.

This group of Magi, who had no connections to Israel or its prophecies, made an incredible journey to worship Jesus. They dropped their lives as they knew them before. They used their resources to collect gifts fit for a king. They used their time and energy to make a long journey. It took a lot, but they knew it was worth it. {This is in contrast to Israel’s own leaders, who tell the Magi where to find Jesus, but don’t even make the effort to investigate themselves.}

The Magi were outsiders. Yet, God welcomed them just as if they had been a part of His family their entire lives. God led them through a star. God spoke to them in a dream. God recorded their story in the Bible for future generations to hear.

Just as the light of the star led outsiders to Jesus when He was born, those who know this truth are called to be a light to lead outsiders to Jesus now.

As we celebrate, let’s share the story of God’s love and salvation come to earth. Let’s share the message of Christmas:

It does not matter where your journey has taken you before. What matters is where your journey takes you now. It may be difficult. You may have to give up some things. But it is worth it. Jesus came to this world to rescue you. He is Your Savior. Believe in Him, and your sins are forgiven. Believe in Him, and your relationship with God is restored. Believe in him, and your life has a new purpose.

The Messiah has come. The message is for all. Come and worship.