The Nations 

Who are They? Boundary Line
Retrogression Apocrypha
The Gentiles and the Kingdom A Test Case
Psalm 96 In the Belly of the Fish
Ruth What Then?

Vasily Polenov, Limits of Tyre

Paul, whose letters comprise a considerable chunk of the New Testament, is a very controversial figure with contemporary Jewish critics of Christianity, because he said things like this:

“Therefore, having obtained help from God, to this day I stand, witnessing both to small and great, saying no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come— that the Christ would suffer, that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles.” (Acts 26:22-23).

Why did Paul think the time had come to include the Gentiles in the kingdom of God? Was this a novel idea, or, as he said, a lesson from the prophets?

Who are They?

The Bible speaks about the nations of the world:

  • “Now these are the generations of the sons of Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth: and unto them were sons born after the flood. . .By these were the isles of the Gentiles [goyim] divided in their lands; every one after his tongue, after their families, in their nations [goyim].”
  • (Genesis 10:1-5).

The word itself is not restricted by definition to the pagan or unbelieving nations; sometimes Israel itself is classed as a 'nation:'

"Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations [goyim] have I made thee. And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations [goyim] of thee, and kings shall come out of thee." (Genesis 17:5-6).

Take as example, Jeremiah 25:17: "Then I took the cup from the Lord’s hand, and made all the nations [goyim] drink, to whom the Lord had sent me: Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, its kings and its princes, to make them a desolation, an astonishment, a hissing, and a curse, as it is this day; Pharaoh king of Egypt, his servants, his princes, and all his people. . ." (Jeremiah 25:17-19). The 'nations' to whom Jeremiah here speaks specifically include Israel, as well as Egypt. However, often it is clear from context that the term refers specifically to nations other than Israel, which is how Israel itself tends to use the phrase:

"For from the top of the rocks I see him, and from the hills I behold him; There! A people dwelling alone, not reckoning itself among the nations." (Numbers 23:9).

In that case, the word is generally translated 'Gentiles,' taken from its form in the Latin Vulgate.

The same is true of the Greek word 'ethnos,' meaning nation or people; often the meaning is implied, 'nations other than the people of Israel.'

Other times the covenant people are included within this term,

"And he taught, saying unto them, Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer? but ye have made it a den of thieves." (Mark 11:17).

This does not mean the temple, in the Messianic age, is a house of prayer for the Gentiles but Israel is excluded! However, it is often clear from context that the 'nations' under consideration are those nations exclusive of Israel, i.e., the heathen. What did God's prophets see in store for these people? Death? Permanent exclusion? No, something quite different.


Boundary Line

Who belongs to the people of God, and who is looking in from the outside? There are not different perspectives on this issue in the scripture, there is really only one. When the children of God left Egypt, they were a mixed multitude; later on the rabbis decided that those who do evil are the descendants of the mixed multitude, and those who do well are the pure-bred race; but this has not been the perspective from the beginning. Faith is he dividing line, and always has been:

Jacob Singular Pronoun
Abraham's Seed John the Baptist

The people of God are those who place their trust in Him. The promises were never for one racial group; even the sacrifices which pointed to His final sacrifice were not exclusive:

"These seventy bullocks, for what purpose were they offered? Said R. Elazar: For the sake of the seventy nations which existed then. . .Said R. Johanan: Woe be to the nations, they have lost, and they do not know even what they have lost! When the Temple was in existence, the altar atoned for their sins, but now who shall atone for their sins?" (The Babylonian Talmud, edited by Michael L. Rodkinson, Volume VII, Section Moed, Tract Succah, Chapter V, Kindle location 30136).

The people offering a racialist interpretation of Judaism, like author Reza Aslan, are presenting a theory which cannot be reconciled with either the Bible or with tradition. Yet they treat it as if it were self-evident.



The Psalms of Solomon are a pseudepigraphic collection authored by a Jewish author who looked forward to a holy land purified of the defiling presence of foreigners:

  • “And he shall gather a holy people whom he shall lead in righteousness,
    and he shall judge the tribes of the people
    that has been sanctified by the Lord, his God.
  • “And he shall not allow injustice to lodge in their midst any longer,
    nor shall there dwell with them any person who knows evil;
    for he shall know them, that all are their God's sons.
  • “And he shall distribute them according to their tribes upon the land,
    and no resident alien and alien shall sojourn among them any longer.
  • “He shall judge peoples and nations in the wisdom of his righteousness.
  • “And he shall have the peoples of the nations to be subject to him under his yoke,
    and he shall glorify the Lord in the mark of all the earth,
    and he shall purify Jerusalem in holiness as it was at the beginning
  • “so that nations may come from the end of his earth to see his glory,
    bringing as gifts her sons who are exhausted,
    and to see the glory of the Lord with which God has glorified her.”
  • (Psalms of Solomon, Psalm 17:26-31).

The author of this pseudepigraphic work perceives the role of the nations in the Messianic era to be servile dependencies, though they are evidently allowed in, on tourist visas perhaps. This is one viewpoint. It is by no means an inevitable viewpoint, though this dislike of foreigners forms a deep and unmistakable strain in the Talmud, a sixth-century compilation which is the foundation of modern Judaism:

On the One Hand Fear-Mongering
Equal Justice Underground Railroad
Equal Protection Who is my Neighbor?
Salvation Plan The Virgin Mary
Jesus in the Talmud Contamination
The Crux of the Matter Eighteen
Daniel's Vision Philo Judaeus
Country of Origin Et Tu

Joshua at the Walls of Jericho

An entire school of Christian Bible prophecy, dispensationalism, seems to have followed the unbelieving Jews into this racialist dead end. Notice here how this prophecy teacher assumes Egypt has never turned toward the Lord, this event remaining for the millenium: "The prediction that Judah would rule over the Egyptians (vv. 16–17) may refer to the future millennium, as it does not seem to correspond to any event in history. Some of the cities in Egypt will use the language of Canaan (v. 18). In the time of the future kingdom, prophecy indicated that Egypt would turn to the Lord and worship Him. As a result, He would heal them from the plague (vv. 19–22)." (Walvoord, John F. (2011-09-01). Every Prophecy of the Bible: Clear Explanations for Uncertain Times (p. 97). David C. Cook. Kindle Edition.) To this author, "in the time of the future kingdom" means his future millenial kingdom; this is when he understands that Egypt would turn to the Lord, not before. At the time of the Muslim conquest of Egypt, that country was overwhelmingly Christian. The vast majority of the inhabitants of Egypt worshipped the God of Israel. To this day, approximately ten percent, a remnant who have survived appalling persecution, continue to do so. So it was foretold: "In that day shall there be an altar to the LORD in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar at the border thereof to the LORD. . .And the LORD shall be known to Egypt, and the Egyptians shall know the LORD in that day, and shall do sacrifice and oblation; yea, they shall vow a vow unto the LORD, and perform it." (Isaiah 19:20-21). Yet because the unbelieving Jews do not think Christians worship the God of Israel, therefore for prophecy purposes, the prophecy doctors must concede the point and accept their definition!

The people who wrote the Talmud had survived an attempted genocide, so their dislike of the enemy is scarcely surprising. It should not, however, be unthinkingly retrojected back into the period prior, where it does not necessarily belong. The Zealots do seem, however, to have held similar views, although their total failure,— they led the nation into catastrophe,— left few interested in conserving their writings. There is a tendency today for authors like Reza Aslan to assume xenophobia and racialism are inevitable features of Judaism, but these tendencies are, in point of fact, absent from the Bible.

The Bible viewpoint is the inverse of the xenophobic view, which was not even the only Rabbinic perspective:

"This organic unity of Israel and the Messiah explains how events, institutions, and predictions, which initially were purely Israelitish, could with truth be regarded as finding their full accomplishment in the Messiah. From this point of view the whole Old Testament becomes the perspective in which the figure of the Messiah stands out. And perhaps the most valuable element in Rabbinic excommentation on Messianic times is that in which, as so frequently, it is explained, that all the miracles and deliverances of Israel's past would be re-enacted, only in a much wider manner, in the days of the Messiah. Thus the whole past was symbolic, and typical of the future — the Old Testament the glass, through which the universal blessings of the latter days were seen. It is in this sense that we would understand the two sayings of the Talmud: 'All the prophets prophesied only of the days of the Messiah,' and 'The world was created only for the Messiah.'" (Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Kindle location 3511).

While it is possible to find anti-Gentile sentiments in the Talmud, there are plenty of counter-examples, of Rabbis who obediently swim with the gospel stream: "Thereupon the other stated that, in refutation of R. Eliezer's opinion, there was cited by his colleagues [the verse], All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered together unto Thee … they shall come up with acceptance on my altar; to which R. Eliezer replied: All these will become self-made proselytes in the time to come. Said R. Joseph: What is the scriptural authority for this? For then will I turn to the peoples a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the Lord. Abaye asked: perhaps this merely means that they will turn away from idolatry? And R. Joseph answered him: The verse continues, and to serve Him with one consent." (Babylonian Talmud, Tract Abodah Zarah, 24a.) The Talmud does not speak with one voice on this, or on other issues; Rabbinic Judaism can seem like quantum religion. While authors like Reza Aslan can find the xenophobes they seek, many of the Rabbis hewed the Bible line. The passage under consideration is, "For then will I turn to the people a pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the LORD, to serve him with one consent." (Zephaniah 3:9).



While some of the authors who put pen to paper in the era immediately before and immediately after the New Testament era were headed toward xenophobia, others retained the traditional emphasis on the ingathering of the Gentiles:

"And at that hour that Son of Man was named
In the presence of the Lord of Spirits,
And his name before the Head of Days.

"Yea, before the sun and the signs were created,
Before the stars of the heaven were made,
His name was named before the Lord of Spirits.

"He shall be a staff to the righteous
Whereon to stay themselves and not fall,
And he shall be the light of the Gentiles,
And the hope of those who are troubled of heart.

"All who dwell on earth shall fall down and worship before him,
And will praise and bless and celebrate with song the Lord of Spirits.

"And for this reason hath he been chosen and hidden before Him,
Before the creation of the world and for evermore."

(Book of Enoch, Chapter 48).

  • “Your light shall shine brightly to all the ends of the earth. Many nations shall come to you from afar, from all the corners of the earth to your holy name; they shall bring gifts in their hands for the King of heaven.”
  • (Tobit 13:11).

The sway of Israel's king will be over the whole world,

"All the nations of the world will be converted to the true worship of God; they will abandon their idols which led them astray into falsehood, and praise the eternal God according to his law." (Tobit 14:6-7).

The 'Sibyl' agrees, "And then, indeed, he will raise up a kingdom for all ages among men [βασιληιον εις αιωνας παντας επ' ανθρωπους], he who once gave the holy Law to the pious, to all of whom he promised to open the earth and the world and the gates of the blessed and all joys and immortal intellect and eternal cheer. From every land they will bring incense and gifts to the house of the great God. There will be no other house among men, even for future generations to know, except the one which God gave to faithful men to honor. . ."" (Sibylline Oracles, Book 3, 766-775).

While these authors are neither inspired nor authoritative, it's good to know that they kept the faith. While there is plenty of room left in these authors for interpretation and dispute,— were the Gentile God-fearers of the Messianic era a servile population of second-class citizens, or equal to the Jews?— there is no hint of Reza Aslan's imagined ideal, of a separatist Messianic kingdom for Jews only, unconnected to the rest of the world. It's possible this paradigm is borrowed from the unlettered Arabian prophet, Mohammed ibn Abdallah, who acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah, but failed to admit his universal reign. The Messiah is the king of the whole world, Jew and Gentile alike.

Philo Judaeus, an Alexandrian Jewish author of the first century, also looks for a king with an "irresistible power of dominion:"

"Some will even flee when no one pursues at all except fear, turning their backs towards the enemy, so as to afford a full mark for shooting, so that it will be very easy for the whole army to fall, being slain to a man; for a man will come forth [Numbers 24:7], says the word of God, leading a host and warring furiously, who will subdue great and populous nations, God sending that assistance which is suitable for pious men; and this assistance is an intrepid hardihood of soul, and an irresistible strength of body, either of which things is formidable to the enemy, and if both qualities are united they are completely invincible. Moreover he says, 'That some of the enemy will be unworthy of being defeated and of perishing by the hands of men,' to which he will oppose swarms of wasps [Exodus 23:28], who shall fight for the pious, so as to overwhelm their enemies with shameful destruction; and he predicts, that he will not only always firmly retain the bloodless victory thus gained, but that he will also have an irresistible power of dominion, so as to be able to benefit the people subject to him, who may become so, whether out of good will, or out of fear, or out of shame; for he will have in him three things of the greatest importance, all contributing greatly to rendering his authority indestructible, namely, dignity, and terror, and beneficence, by means of which qualities the ends above-mentioned will be gained; for dignity causes respect, and terror causes fear, and beneficence causes good will; which, when they are mixed together, and adapted, and united in the soul, render subjects obedient to their rulers." (Philo Judaeus, On Rewards and Punishments, Chapter XVI (95).)

This is the norm, to which any subsequent developments would be the exception.


The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple, William Holman Hunt
The Finding of the Saviour in the Temple, William Holman Hunt

The Gentiles and the Kingdom

Unlike some earthly kings who must fight to acquire a kingdom, the Messiah inherits His:

"O Lord, You are the portion of my inheritance and my cup; You maintain my lot. The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; Yes, I have a good inheritance." (Psalm 16:5-6).

The Gentiles are given to the Messiah as His inheritance:

  • I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.
  • Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.”
  • (Psalm 2:7-8).

Specifically, all who fear the name of the Lord belong to Him:

"For thou, O God, hast heard my vows: thou hast given me the heritage of those that fear thy name. Thou wilt prolong the king’s life: and his years as many generations." (Psalm 61:5-6).

However we understand the title and office of the Messiah, we cannot by any act of violence wrench the Gentiles out of His mighty hand; they are His. It is a strange corollary of the views of modern anti-Christian authors like Shmuley Boteach and Amy-Jill Levine, that the Gentiles must be pried out of the nail-scarred hand of Jesus the Jewish Messiah, where they now reside, into the hands of some other party who has not yet come. . .if they have not altogether negated this great Bible promise. These prophecies have been fulsomely fulfilled in the Jewish Messiah who has come:

"If the claims of Jesus have been rejected by the Jewish Nation, He has at least, undoubtedly, fulfilled one part of the Mission prophetically assigned to the Messiah. Whether or not He be the Lion of the tribe of Judah, to Him, assuredly, has been the gathering of the nations, and the isles have waited for His law. Passing the narrow bounds of obscure Judaea, and breaking down the walls of national prejudice and isolation, He has made the sublimer teaching of the Old Testament the common possession of the world, and founded a great Brotherhood, of which the God of Israel is the Father." (Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Book 2, Chapter VI, Kindle location 3899).

The futurist interpretation of the Messianic prophecies requires that the Gentiles be weaned away from the Jewish Messiah they currently follow, and their affections transferred to another of the same tribe! The prophecies are clear: the Messiah is not for one nation, but for all people.

In the view of the author of the letter to the Hebrews, Psalm 18 is a Messianic psalm, at least if Hebrews 2:13 is a quotation therefrom. This psalm rather succinctly states the deal:

"You have delivered me from the strivings of the people; You have made me the head of the nations; a people I have not known shall serve me. As soon as they hear of me they obey me; the foreigners submit to me. The foreigners fade away, and come frightened from their hideouts." (Psalm 18:43-45).

Certain Old Testament themes are struck throughout, such as the coming of the Messiah and the entry of the Gentiles into the Kingdom of God. The Messiah does not inherit Israel only as His portion, the nations as well are presented to Him. If anyone thinks it should have been possible for the congregation that gathered around the risen Lord to keep out the unwanted Gentiles, this really cannot have been done, as it would deprive the Messiah of the greater part of His inheritance:

"Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, After this I will return, and will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen down; and I will build again the ruins thereof, and I will set it up: That the residue of men might seek after the Lord, and all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, saith the Lord, who doeth all these things." (Acts 15:15-17).

The nations are specifically handed over to the Messiah: "Yes, all kings shall fall down before Him; all nations shall serve Him." (Psalm 72:11). The Book of Acts records a controversy in the early church over the conditions under which the Gentiles are to be admitted: must the men be circumcised, or not? But there can be no controversy that, however this may be accomplished, the believing Gentiles must be allowed into the kingdom. The apostle Paul observed the Gentiles lining up to make obeisance to the Messiah, and realized these prophecies were in process of fulfillment:

“‘It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, that You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.’” (Isaiah 49:6.)

“Then I will sow her for Myself in the earth, and I will have mercy on her who had not obtained mercy; then I will say to those who were not My people, ‘You are My people!’ And they shall say, ‘You are my God!’”” (Hosea 2:23)

“Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the LORD’S house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and peoples shall flow to it. Many nations shall come and say, ‘Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion the law shall go forth, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between many peoples, and rebuke strong nations afar off; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” (Micah 4:1-3.)

““Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey,a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the horse from Jerusalem; the battle bow shall be cut off. He shall speak peace to the nations; His dominion shall be ‘from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.’” (Zechariah 9:9-11).

“Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the LORD’S house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it. Many people shall come and say, ‘Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and rebuke many people; They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” (Isaiah 2:2-4).

“Behold! My Servant whom I uphold,
My Elect One in whom My soul delights!
I have put My Spirit upon Him;
He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles.
He will not cry out, nor raise His voice,
Nor cause His voice to be heard in the street.
A bruised reed He will not break,
And smoking flax He will not quench;
He will bring forth justice for truth.
He will not fail nor be discouraged,
Till He has established justice in the earth;
And the coastlands shall wait for His law.”
(Isaiah 42:1-4.)

“He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. Those who dwell in the wilderness will bow before Him, and His enemies will lick the dust. The kings of Tarshish and of the isles will bring presents; the kings of Sheba and Seba will offer gifts. Yes, all kings shall fall down before Him; all nations shall serve Him.” (Psalm 72:8-11).

“Look to Me, and be saved, all you ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. I have sworn by Myself; the word has gone out of My mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, that to Me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall take an oath.” (Isaiah 45:22-23).

“Indeed I have given him as a witness to the people, a leader and commander for the people. Surely you shall call a nation you do not know, and nations who do not know you shall run to you, because of the Lord your God, and the Holy One of Israel; for He has glorified you.” (Isaiah 55:4-5)

“Also the sons of the foreigner who join themselves to the Lord, to serve Him, and to love the name of the Lord, to be His servants — everyone who keeps from defiling the Sabbath, and holds fast My covenant — even them I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on My altar; for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.” (Isaiah 56:6-7).

“All nations whom You have made shall come and worship before You, O Lord, and shall glorify Your name.” (Psalm 86:9).

“And in this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all people a feast of choice pieces, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of well-refined wines on the lees. And He will destroy on this mountain the surface of the covering cast over all people, and the veil that is spread over all nations.” (Isaiah 25:6-7).

“All the ends of the world shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before You. For the kingdom is the LORD’S, and He rules over the nations.” (Psalm 22:27-28).

“Arise, O God, judge the earth: for thou shalt inherit all nations.” (Psalm 82:8).

“God reigns over the nations;
God sits on His holy throne. The princes of the people have gathered together,
The people of the God of Abraham.
For the shields of the earth belong to God;
He is greatly exalted.” (Psalm 47:8-9).

“God be merciful to us and bless us, and cause His face to shine upon us, Selah
That Your way may be known on earth, Your salvation among all nations. Let the peoples praise You, O God; let all the peoples praise You. Oh, let the nations be glad and sing for joy! For You shall judge the people righteously, and govern the nations on earth.” (Psalm 67:1-4)

“‘On that day I will raise up The tabernacle of David, which has fallen down, and repair its damages; I will raise up its ruins, and rebuild it as in the days of old; that they may possess the remnant of Edom, and all the Gentiles who are called by My name,’ says the LORD who does this thing.” (Amos 9:11-12).

“Therefore I will give thanks to You, O Lord, among the Gentiles, and sing praises to Your name.” (2 Samuel 22:50, Psalm 18:49).

“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His úpeople; for He will avenge the blood of His servants, and render vengeance to His adversaries; He will provide atonement for His land and His people.” (Deteronomy 32:43).

“I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13-14)

“And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious.” (Isaiah 11:10)

“The Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” (Isaiah 60:3).

“For then I will restore to the peoples a pure language, that they all may call on the name of the LORD, to serve Him with one accord. From beyond the rivers of Ethiopia My worshipers, the daughter of My dispersed ones, shall bring My offering.” (Zephaniah 3:9-10).

“Praise the LORD, all you Gentiles! Laud Him, all you peoples!” (Psalm 117:1)

“‘Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion! For behold, I am coming and I will dwell in your midst,’ says the LORD. ‘Many nations shall be joined to the LORD in that day, and they shall become My people. And I will dwell in your midst.’ Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent Me to you.’” (Zechariah 2:10-11).

“O LORD, my strength and my fortress, My refuge in the day of affliction, the Gentiles shall come to You from the ends of the earth and say, ‘Surely our fathers have inherited lies, Worthlessness and unprofitable things.’” (Jeremiah 16:19).

“Thus says the LORD of hosts: ‘Peoples shall yet come, inhabitants of many cities; The inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, “Let us continue to go and pray before the LORD, and seek the LORD of hosts. I myself will go also.” Yes, many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the LORD of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the LORD.’ “Thus says the LORD of hosts: ‘In those days ten men from every language of the nations shall grasp the sleeve of a Jewish man, saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.”’” (Zechariah 8:20-23).

“‘For from the rising of the sun, even to its going down, My name shall be great among the Gentiles; in every place incense shall be offered to My name, and a pure offering; for My name shall be great among the nations,’ says the LORD of hosts.” (Malachi 1:11).

The fulfillment of these promises is found in the New Testament. Jews and Gentiles become one body in Christ:

"For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles— if indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you, how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ), which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets: that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel, of which I became a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given to me by the effective working of His power." (Ephesians 3:1-7).

"There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise." (Galatians 3:28-19).

How can the Gentiles who put their faith in Him be severed from the Messiah? They are His possession; or are God's promises fraudulent? The anti-missionaries complain about 'replacement theology,' by which they mean this sort of thing: "Therefore know that only those who are of faith are sons of Abraham." (Galatians 3:7). But if God gave the Messiah the Gentiles as His inheritance, then they are His. That is all there is to say about that. It is surprising that, in light of the prophets' unbending insistence that the Gentiles belong to the Messiah, some people keep trying to claim it just isn't so:


A Test Case

To test out our definitions, let's look at an index case: Herod the Great. Was he a Jew? The modern 'Jesus' Publishing Industry thunders with one voice, 'No!' Why? Because of race. In their eyes, 'Jew' is, ever was, and ever will be a racial classification. He's an Arab so he can't be a Jew! An atheist can be a Jew, but no Arab. Even Christians join the chorus: "Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee, of Idumean or Edomite descent, was not really a Jew. He was an Idumean — that is, a descendent of the Edomites, Israel's bitter rivals for many centuries." (Ben Witherington III, What Have They Done with Jesus? p. 15). Got it? An Idumean, therefore not (really) a Jew.

Several generations prior to the New Testament period, Herod's nation had been incorporated into Israel:

"Hyrcanus took also Dora and Marissa, cities of Idumea, and subdued all the Idumeans; and permitted them to stay in that country, if they would circumcise their genitals, and make use of the laws of the Jews; and they were so desirous of living in the country of their forefathers, that they submitted to the use of circumcision, and of the rest of the Jewish ways of living; at which time therefore this befell them, that they were hereafter no other than Jews." (Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, Book 13, Chapter 9, Section 1, p. 827).

Long before Muslims ever thought of giving captives the choice of Islam or the sword, the Maccabaeans had used forcible conversion to enlarge, or rather re-establish, the borders of Israel, bringing in Idumaea and Galilee in the north, so that, even though the Israel of Jesus's day incorporated unassimilated populations like the Samaritans and Gentile idolaters, it looked on the map a lot like the country David and Solomon had ruled over. It was a 'reconquista' like that achieved by the Spaniards. Converts reaped by force can be open to suspicion, because force can only compel outward compliance, it cannot change hearts. However, I've yet to read a history of the Reformation which explains that the Northern Europeans were not really Christians, because many of their ancestors were baptized en masse in the course of military campaigns. The means by which the Hasmonaean triumph was accomplished would prove its ruin. The Maccabees had a friend: Rome. The successors to Alexander the Great were frightened by their big, powerful friend. But he was a friend whose embraces would prove carnivorous. So the 'Establishment' answer of the day, to the question, 'Is Herod the Great a Jew?' was obliged to take notice of basic equity. Is it fair to forcibly convert an entire population, ripping them away from the religion of their forefathers, only then blithely to inform them they'll never be anything but second-class citizens in the new religion they have been compelled to adopt? So the modern answer is defective on the most basic level:

"But Herod, the progenitor of this family along with his father, the Idumaean Antipater, as we have shown, is not a Jew. He was a foreigner. As explained, his father seems to have been of Greco-Idumaean background — what today in the region would simply be called 'Arab' and, if Acts is any measure, probably was then as well (or 'Ethiopian'). . ." (Robert Eisenman, James the Brother of Jesus, p. 626).

Herod of course married, among others, the Maccabean Mariamne, so these people are willing to make a (grudging) exception for her children:

"According to Rabbinic Law, Herod's children would have been Jewish if their mother was 'a Jewess,' unlike Drusilla in the next generation. . . ." (Robert Eisenman, James the Brother of Jesus, p. 629).

They can't fathom why Hillel's answer wasn't their answer. What is the New Testament answer? No! "But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God." (Romans 2:29). Herod, a mass murderer who did away with those nearest and dearest to him, is no true child of God. What is the Zealot answer? Realizing Idumaeans fought for liberty in the Jewish Revolt, it must be seen as mixed. By the time of the Bar Kochba revolt, race hatred is taking hold and the baleful habit of wartime, of demonizing the enemy, is already molding the racialist Judaism of the present day. Modern students of the New Testament era should be careful not to fall into the anachronism of back-dating the racialist definition of the congregation; the religious establishment of the day was willing to accept Herod and his descendants as Jews, not because they had been bought off by anyone, but because his people were circumcised and had taken on the yoke of the law. End of discussion. No doubt he was a bad apple, though, a lawless and terrifying man.


Psalm 96

Psalm 96 looks to the great day when the heathen of all the earth will worship the Lord:

"Oh, sing to the Lord a new song!
Sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, bless His name;
Proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day.
Declare His glory among the nations,
His wonders among all peoples.
For the Lord is great and greatly to be praised;
He is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the peoples are idols,
But the Lord made the heavens.
Honor and majesty are before Him;
Strength and beauty are in His sanctuary.
Give to the Lord, O families of the peoples,
Give to the Lord glory and strength.
Give to the Lord the glory due His name;
Bring an offering, and come into His courts.
Oh, worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness!
Tremble before Him, all the earth.
Say among the nations, "The Lord reigns;
The world also is firmly established,
It shall not be moved;
He shall judge the peoples righteously."
Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad;
Let the sea roar, and all its fullness;
Let the field be joyful, and all that is in it.
Then all the trees of the woods will rejoice before the Lord.
For He is coming, for He is coming to judge the earth.
He shall judge the world with righteousness,
And the peoples with His truth."

(Psalm 96:1-13).

If Reza Aslan is right and the highest aspirations of the Jewish people of the first century were fully fulfilled in xenophobia, then how were the conditions of this psalm ever to be met? "All the earth" is to worship the Lord; there is nothing plainer in the scripture. This is no innovation of Paul's. "No corner of the world is to be discordant, no race of heathen to be dumb. All the earth Jehovah made, and all the earth must sing to him." (Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, Psalm 96, Kindle location 51097)


In the Belly of the Fish

The Old Testament book of Jonah tells the story of a Hebrew prophet sent by God to preach repentance to the Ninevites, a pagan, Gentile people. Against all expectation, they repented, and God relented of His intention to destroy them for their sins. It is certain that Jesus found inspiration in this book, and a pattern for His own ministry:

“But He answered and said to them, 'An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here.'” (Matthew 12:29-41, Mark 16:4, Luke 11:29-30).

Most modern readers understand God's wondrous act in Jonah's case to be keeping him alive under very difficult and discouraging circumstances. A fish's belly is not an environment in which to find the free oxygen human beings need to breathe to survive. It's at least possible, however, that Jesus and His contemporaries understood the undoubted miracle differently: that Jonah did drown, but was revived. Notice the language in Jonah's prayer: “I cried out to the Lord because of my affliction, and He answered me. 'Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and You heard my voice.” (Jonah 2:2). As pointed out by this modern author, 'Sheol' is the realm of the dead: "First, when Jonah says that he cried out to God from 'the belly of Sheol' and the 'the Pit,' these are standard Old Testament terms for the realm of the dead (Psalm 139:7-8; Job 17:13-16; 33:22-30)." (Brant Pitre, The Case for Jesus, p. 187). Resurrection was a popular theme in the first century, at least with some audiences, such as the Pharisees. However the Old Testament evidence for it, while not lacking altogether, is somewhat sparse, leading to creative exegesis. Abraham was called as a witness in favor of resurrection, because, “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, 'In Isaac your seed shall be called,' concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.” (Hebrews 11:17-19). In such an atmosphere, it's conceivable some interpreters took Jonah's experience, of being dragged down to the bottom of the sea by a marine animal, not as a similitude to death and resurrection, but as an instance.

Another thing Jonah did is preach to the Gentiles, with complete success. It's noteworthy that Jesus also, after His own death and resurrection, experienced similar success with the same crowd. If indeed it were true, as the 'Jesus' Seminar alumni are always telling us, "All of Jesus's teaching was directed to his contemporaries living in a first-century Jewish world. He had no other audience in mind." (Marcus J. Borg, Jesus: Uncovering the Life, p. 167), then it is strange that He Himself chose to present a missionary to the Gentiles as His pattern and exemplar. With the whole cast of characters of the Hebrew Bible to choose from, why single out Jonah? Why not offer Moses as His fore-runner and guiding light, which is how Matthew's gospel presents Him? Why did the son of David not offer up David? Or His own name-sake, Joshua? He chose to present His contemporaries with the sign of Jonah, the preacher to the Ninevites. One might fairly conclude from God's expressed concern for the Ninevites in that book, a similar divine concern for the even more numerous inhabitants of Rome. Maybe Jesus said what He meant and meant what He said.

When He cleansed the temple, He quoted Isaiah 56:7, “And He said to them, 'It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’” (Matthew 21:13, Luke 19:46). The Lord was concerned that the temple at Jerusalem should be a house of prayer for all nations, Gentile as well as Jew, and He believed that the present management was impeding that development: “Then He taught, saying to them, 'Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it a ‘den of thieves.’” (Mark 11:17). Jesus the Messiah was by no means unaware that the Gentiles were His.


Jacques Joseph Tissot, "Lord, I am not Worthy."


Some verses of the law seem to rule out members of certain ethnic groups from following the Lord and joining with the people of Israel, like:

"An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD; even to their tenth generation shall they not enter into the congregation of the LORD for ever: because they met you not with bread and with water in the way, when ye came forth out of Egypt; and because they hired against thee Balaam the son of Beor of Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse thee." (Deuteronomy 23:3-4).

Because of the unrelenting hostility of certain groups, and their insistence upon paganism, even entrapping Israel into pagan practices, they were barred entry. Perhaps this is a case of 'you fooled us once, you won't fool us again;' some people seem open to monotheism, at first, but only as an opening gambit. This would seem a case of 'doomed from the womb,' as they say. Is this the final word?

It would seem not, because Ruth entered into the congregation of Israel, even into the family tree of King David and King Jesus. When the motivation for joining is not a desire for civil privileges but sincere devotion to Jehovah, that trumps even membership in an accursed lineage:

"Ruth was a foreigner, and in particular, a Moabitess, although the law of Moses prohibited such marriages and excluded Moabites from the assembly. (The text is: “Moabites shall not enter the assembly of the Lord to the third and fourth generation, and for ever”.) How did she enter the assembly, if not because the immaculate sanctity of her character put her above the law? If the law is laid down for the irreligious and for sinners, then certainly Ruth is an important example for us. She was outside the law’s prescription, but did in fact both enter the assembly and become an Israelitess, and deserved to be counted among the ancestors of the Lord’s family, chosen on the strength of a kinship of mind, not of body." (Ambrose, Commentary on Luke, Book 3, Section 30, excerpted in Eusebius of Caesarea, Gospel Problems and Solutions, p. 279).

That's got to be the final word, if even an explicitly cursed lineage can lead to a king of Israel.


What Then

It is perfectly clear from scripture that the Gentiles belong to the Messiah, they are His possession. But what then? Once He's taken possession of His inheritance, is it His will to transform them into Jews? Some people in the early church thought just so. But it's not the obvious conclusion, nor the inevitable one: "The world is to exist six thousand years; the first two thousand years are to be void; the next two thousand years are the period of the Torah, and the following two thousand years are the period of the Messiah." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Abodah Zarah, 9a). Notice the "period of the Torah" does not overlap the "period of the Messiah." The Lord is the new law-giver for His people.

There are other views of course: "Our Rabbis learnt: No proselytes will be accepted in the days of the Messiah. In the same manner no proselytes were accepted in the days of David nor in the days of Solomon." (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Yebamoth, 24b). Some of these other views are simply not scriptural! However even the pious Philo Judaeus hoped that the law of Moses would stand forever:

"But the enactments of this lawgiver [Moses] are firm, not shaken by commotions, not liable to alteration, but stamped as it were with the seal of nature herself, and they remain firm and lasting from the day on which they were first promulgated to the present one, and there may well be a hope that they will remain to all future time, as being immortal, as long as the sun and the moon, and the whole heaven and the whole world shall endure." (Philo Judaeus, On the Life of Moses, Book II, Chapter III).

The question of the status of Moses' law in the Messianic age is a disputed one. Paul was not alone in looking for a change, to reflect,

"Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: but this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people." (Jeremiah 31:31-33).

While it's true that some voices of antiquity, or as far back in antiquity as the Rabbis go, sound a similar note to today's 'counter-missionaries' in expressing not only hostility toward Gentiles as such but insistence on the permanency of Moses' law, in fact there are other voices that take views similar to Paul respecting a new law for the Messiah's reign, "Besides, the most zealous defenders of the Law admitted that the Gentiles were to receive laws in Messianic times. The smallest and most extreme section held that, the laws, as Israel observed them, would be imposed on the Gentiles (Chull. 92a); others that only thirty commandments, the original Noachic ordinances supposed to be enumerated in Lev. xix., would become obligatory, while some held, that only three ordinances would be binding on the new converts. . . In a very curious passage (Yalkut ii. 296, p. 46a), in which the final restitution of the sinners of Israel and of the righteous of the Gentiles who are all in Gehinnom, is taught in very figurative language, we are told of a new Law which God will give by the Messiah in the age to come — thanksgiving for which calls forth that universal Amen, not only on earth but in Gehinnom, which leads to the deliverance of those who are in the latter. . .The Midrash on Song ii. 13, applying the passage in conjunction with Jer. xxxi. 31, expressly states that the Messiah would give Israel a new law, and the Targum, on Is. xii. 3, although perhaps not quite so clearly, also speaks of a new instruction. . . .But the Talmud goes even further, and laws down the two principles, that in the age to come the whole ceremonial Law and all the feasts were to cease." (Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Appendix XIV, Kindle location 28556).

Jesus is the "light to the Gentiles" (Isaiah 49:6). There are various senses in which someone might be called upon to illumine others; we are all exhorted, by the song, to brighten the corner where we are. In what sense is the Messiah called a 'light'?: