Who Are God’s People?

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Center for Tanakh Based Studies

By William Jackson

Moses states in Deuteronomy 29:8 “…you shall observe the words of this covenant and fulfill them, in order that you will succeed in all that you do…”.  This certainly was meant for God’s people, but who is really Moses’ target audience, the “you”? He tells us directly after this statement, it is the tribes of Israel but if we skip down to verse 11 we find that it is also the “Gers” or non-Israelites.  The covenant Moses is talking about was given 40 years earlier at Mount Saini (Exodus 20 – 23).  As a side note, many get focused on God’s top ten list, the ten commandments, but if we continue our reading we see that there are at least 30 additional commandments beyond the ten.  I have broken them down into three parts below:

  1. Where do I stand? Pertaining to God’s Civil Laws – Part 1, Intentional Crimes

 

  1. Where do I stand? Pertaining to God’s Civil Laws – Part 2, Neglect Crimes

 

  1. Where do I stand? Pertaining to God’s Civil Laws – Part 3, Unintentional Crimes

 

Many say that only the Israelites were at Mount Saini but we know there were others beyond Israel that were present when God spoke.  The Torah places these non-Israelites their before (Exodus 12:38) and after (Numbers 11:4) the law was given.  This group was called “rāḇ ‘ê·reḇ” or mixed multitude.  These were basically people that did not belong to any of the tribes of Israel.

One stellar example of this would be Caleb.   Caleb’s father was Jephunneeh (Deuteronomy 1:36) a Kennezite (Numbers 32:12). The Kenizzites are mentioned earlier in Genesis 15:19 as one of ten tribes that occupied the promise land before Abraham’s descendants.   Still others say that the Kenizzites could have been descended from Kenez. Kenez was a son of Eliphaz one of Esau’s sons (Genesis 36:11). In either case, that would make Caleb a non-Israelite.  Interestingly, only him and Joshua were the only two from the original exodus that were allowed to enter into the promise land “…because he (Caleb) has completely followed the Lord” (Deuteronomy 1:36).  Another way of saying this is that half of the God’s people from the original exodus that entered into the promise land were Israelites and the other half non-Israelites with the qualifier being both followed the laws of God.

When we read the Torah we need to understand that there are two different type of foreigners in relation to the Israelite1.  There was the “zarim” or “nokhrim”, these were outsiders that did business with Israel kind of how we look at somebody on a work visa. They are not Americans but are subject to our laws while in our community.  The other type of foreigner is a “Ger” this is somebody who follows the commandments given to Israel. This would be something like a legal alien to us.  Basically, somebody who is not indigenous but who belongs to our community.

Nonetheless, what is the true qualification to being God’s people?  Isaiah 50:10 and Malachi 3:20 is pretty clear, anyone who fears God’s name is His. The word for fear here is “yirah” and can also mean respect.  We must admit that we cannot fear or respect someone if we do not know them.  Knowing God’s laws and the consequences for not following them is a huge part of the reverence we need to have towards God to be His.  Proverbs 1:7 tells us “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge…”.  Conversely, the knowledge of God is the beginning of our fear.  Ecclesiastes 12:13 states “…fear God, and keep his mitzvoth (commandments); this is what being human is all about”.  Here, King Solomon used the word “adam” to represent human or mankind in this statement.  This means not just Jews or Israelites but all people have the duty of following His commandments.  In Ezekiel 18:4 God states the “…all souls belong to Me…”.  God than in verses 5 through 32 talks about how we may save our souls.  God even took mercy on Nineveh after they turned from evil (Jonah 3:10), because they were His.  In summation Malachi 3:16 says it best by saying that those who feared God will have their name in His book of remembrance.  Verse 17 tells us those will be His, God’s.

 

References

  1. “Strangers and Gentiles.” Jewish Virtual Library, N.p., n.d. Web. 18 June 2016

 

 

 

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