GENTILES AND THE COVENANT:
THE PLACE OF JEWS AND GENTILES IN GOD’S PLAN
For some strange, mysterious reason, Paul of Tarsus believed it necessary to invent a complicated, convoluted theology to make non-Jews think that they had been ‘grafted’ onto the stock of Israel in order to benefit from ‘the Covenant’. Perhaps he thought they couldn’t be ‘saved’ otherwise? Perhaps he thought they couldn't be blessed by God otherwise? Perhaps he thought that God wouldn’t love them otherwise! Whatever the case, his theology shows that he either didn’t understand what ‘the Covenant’ was (in which case he could not have been a Pharisee), or he deliberately chose to misrepresent it (in which case he was a habitual liar).
Paul seems to have wanted all of the benefits of the Covenant for his Gentile Believers, but none of its obligations – think ‘Covenant’, think ‘obligations’. He made it necessary for Gentiles to think that it was essential for them to be grafted onto the stock of Israel in order to receive God’s blessings and receive His salvation, when this was utterly and completely unnecessary. He even made people think that ‘Christ’ had done away with the obligations.
What the Covenant is - a clarification
Let me go through a few fundamental statements:
• YHVH is God of Israel and of all the Nations
• YHVH loves Jews and Gentiles equally and unconditionally
• Jews and Gentiles have an equal right to salvation at YHVH’s hand.
Read these statements carefully, and take them in. Fix them in your mind.
Now I want to make another statement about what a covenant is:
It’s an agreement between two or more parties, with obligations on ALL sides.
Now a statement on what THE Covenant is:
YHVH’s obligations: to be Israel’s God, to give Jacob’s descendents the land of Canaan forever, to keep them as a people and a nation forever, and to protect them forever.
Israel’s obligations: to worship YHVH alone, and to follow His laws and teachings alone, forever.
Now my final statement, referring to Gentiles who observe neither Torah nor Jewish customs and traditions:
“Gentiles are not part of the Covenant.”
Now, when many Christians hear this, they don’t hear those 7 simple, unambiguous words. Because they don’t know or understand what the Covenant is, what they hear is, “Jews always claim that God loves them more than Gentiles,” or, “Jews always claim that they will be saved, and Gentiles won’t,” or, “Jews always claim that YHVH is only God of the Jews, not of Gentiles”. This misunderstanding – that of making Gentiles feel excluded – is Paul’s fault, his deliberate doing.
In actual fact, nothing of the sort was said or intended. Christians seem to think that the covenant is this:
‘If we worship Christ alone, and follow his teachings alone, we will be saved, and he will bless us’.
This may be A covenant – whose existence is dubious – but it is not THE Covenant which God cut between Himself and Israel. Let me restate the Covenant in simpler terms:
YHVH says, “If Israel will worship me alone, and follow my laws and teachings forever, I will give them the land of Canaan forever, and preserve them as a people forever, and protect them securely in their land forever.”
That in essence is it. Everything else is blessings and benefits, terms and conditions, stipulations, provisos and addenda. If you don’t grasp this, then you will never be able to understand the warnings of the prophets. (The question naturally follows, what part of this Covenant did Paul think that Gentiles had to be a part of or grafted into)?
In light of this, perhaps it would help to restate and clarify the original statement:
“Gentiles are not obligated under the terms and conditions of the Covenant.”
The Covenant is not about us, it’s about God. A Gentile should not say, ‘I want the blessings of the Covenant’; rather, ‘I want to join the Covenant because I want to help spread the fame and renown of YHVH, and to help YHVH’s reputation to increase and spread’. Belonging to the Covenant is a job; Covenant-holders are there to be a vehicle of witness to YHVH’s holiness and reputation throughout all eternity.
The only things that YHVH requires of Gentiles is to follow a decent and moral way of life. Although YHVH dearly wishes Gentiles to know Him, they are not obligated by any covenant to worship YHVH alone, nor to follow all His laws and teachings forever. God’s love and salvation for the Nations is not conditional on adherence to His Covenant with Israel.
However, Gentiles are free to CHOOSE to follow Torah, and live as Godfearers (Hebrew: yirey elohim = ‘those who revere God in awe’), attaching themselves to the Covenant that way. There have always been gerim (or ‘resident foreigners’) living among the camps and towns of Israel, from the time of the mixed multitude who left Egypt with the fleeing Israelites, right up to the present day.
Most people might be content to remain Godfearers forever. However, if someone has lived as a Godfearer for some time, that person might grow into an Israelite identity, and come to feel part of the House of Israel. Such a person might then feel ready to take the next step and take on all the obligations and duties that form part of the Covenant, and undergo a process of conversion, when they will be considered no different to a native-born Israelite.
Both Israelites and Godfearers adhere to the Covenant with the aim of being witnesses to God’s active presence. Circumcision and full conversion for Godfearers, attaches and binds them to the Land.
This was the ancient way – to either live as a Torah-observant Godfearer, or convert fully and become an Israelite; both options are equally valid.
Jews are not intrinsically, genetically, or intellectually better than anyone else. We are not more worthy than anyone else. We are not more special or more unique, but what God did give us was a special and unique insight into His nature, what He is, what His purpose is, and what His future for humanity is. WE are not special; but what God gave us IS.
It’s not about us, it’s all about God. If YHVH could take the most stubborn, rebellious and stiff-necked people on earth, and turn them into a nation, and preserve them as a nation forever, then all humanity would see the power of YHVH, the one true living God.
In addition, God did not expect us to keep what He gave us to ourselves; it was God’s intent that we should pass on what we have learned. God could have tried an immediate revelation to all of humanity all at once, but that wouldn’t have worked – not because of God, but because of us and what we are like as human beings.
So instead, YHVH chose to plan out a slow, gradual revelation. First He chose one man to reveal Himself to – Abraham. Then knowledge of YHVH would be spread to a handful of nomadic tribes – the descendents of Jacob’s twelve sons. Then knowledge would be carried over to a nation – ancient Israel. The next step was to carry the knowledge of YHVH to all the Nations.
This was all part of God’s great plan, to work in stages. Through the people of Israel, YHVH’s message of spiritual holiness and moral decency, of religious piety and civil justice, would be taken to all Nations.
No, YHVH does not want everyone to become Jews; Yes, YHVH DOES eventually want humanity to acknowledge Him, know Him and love Him, and follow His moral and ethical ways.