Does God have mercy on those that try but just don’t know? Many people peruse a relationship with the Creator but through faulty doctrines and a lack of understanding fall short of the goals outlined in Torah. Sadly, many of us, at one time or another, fell into this camp. Maybe this explains our strong feelings of betrayal when we broke through those chains of religion. Still, what about those still left behind (excuse the pun).
There is no better example than 1 Samuel 5:1. Here the Philistines captured the Ark of the Covenant from the Israelites. In 1 Samuel 5:2-9 we see that the possession of the Ark caused the Philistine idols to be destroyed and the Philistines to be cursed. Fearful, the Philistines beseeched their rulers to return the Ark to the Israelites (1 Samuel 5:11). The Philistine Priests concocted a ritual method of returning the Ark that was certainly short of the Levitical Laws (1 Samuel 6:2-18). It is possible that God had mercy on the Philistines because although they did not know the standard, they were successful in returning the Ark. There are three important points to ponder in this excerpt from the Tanakh (Old Testament).
Three Major Bullets:
- The Philistines gave reverence to God
The Philistines feared the one and only God over their own gods (1 Samuel 4:5-8). Fearing God certainly means acknowledging Him. Remember fear is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 1:7, 2:5, 9:10, 111,10, Job 28:28). In Genesis 42:18 Joseph said to his brothers ““Do what I say, and stay alive, for I fear God…”.
- The Philistines strived to understand God.
The Philistines tried to resolve things but they did not have Torah. To the best of their knowledge, their Priest attempted to respectfully return the Ark. They didn’t just put a token effort into understanding Adonai, they approached the task with determination. Micah 6:8 tells us that God says for all of us “O man, what is good, and what the Lord demands of you; but to do justice, to love loving-kindness, and to walk discreetly with your God.”
- Those that knew God were held at a higher standard
The Philistine Priest placed the Ark on a new cart pulled by cows. This method of transporting this Holey article was in direct violation of Torah (Exodus 25:12-14; Numbers 7:9), something Israel would be punished for 70 years later (2 Samuel 6:3-6). Regardless, the return of the Ark was a success. Conversely, the receiving Israelites were punished for not treating the Ark in a way commensurate to Torah (2 Samuel 6:19). God appears to hold those that know His word at a higher level.
The People of Nineveh:
Three centuries later this same blueprint with these three bullet points would fall onto another group, the people of Ninveh. Here God tells Jonah that He cares for Nineveh even though the people did “…not know their right hand from their left…”. The Book of Jonah does speak to how God has mercy on people who do not know. Importantly, just like Psalm 34:18, 51:19 and Isaiah 66:2 tells us, all people’s salvation comes from true repentance.
Held to a Higher Standard:
Some might feel that it is a little unfair for those of us that are closer to Torah to be held at a higher standard. Yet, God did tell Israel that they are a nation of priests (Exodus 19:6). For God’s people the Tanakh repeatedly tells us since they are teachers of His Word, they are held at a higher standard. The Prophets ensure that teachers are held to a higher standard and will suffer the consequences of not being in His Word (Jeremiah 8:8-13, Daniel 11:33-35). God put in many of us a passionate for His Word, if He intended to use us as a beacon, He would want His message to be pure.
Yes, God had mercy on other people without Torah. But, Torah is essential for the long haul. For example, the demise of the Philistines was forecasted by Jeremiah in his book, chapter 47. Also Ninveh, which might have escaped destruction in 760 BCE, would face its ruin 63 years later as reported in Nahum 1. You see, although God might have mercy on those that adhere to our first two bullet points (fearing God and perusing a relationship with Him), we need to embrace Torah for longevity. When people first start to desire a relationship with the Creator, they start in a stage of immaturity. This may last for many years. Although it is the first step towards understanding, we need to desire to grow from this level. One knows that they are growing when the no longer become satisfied with the teachings of others but would sooner bask in a direct relationship with His Holey Word. Just ponder what king David told us “I have more understanding than all my teachers, because I meditate on your instruction” – Psalm 119:99.