It is tempting for some people to seek to restrict evidence of faith to the small group of faithful believers with whom they identify.
But, the evidence of Scripture consistently bears testimony to the fact that God’s activity is not restricted to any one group of people.
Even in the Old Testament where God is primarily viewed as working among the chosen people of Israel, there is evidence of God’s work in the faithfulness and righteousness of peoples’ lives far beyond the narrow confines of the direct descendants of Abraham.
Here are few examples that portray God crossing boundaries and working in the lives of people outside the tribe of Jewish faith:
Genesis 14 recounts the curious story of the “priest of God Most High” and king of Sodom, Melchizedek paying homage to Abram.
17After Abram’s return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the king of Sodom went out to meet Abram at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). 18And King Melchizedek of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High. 19He blessed him and said,
‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
maker of heaven and earth;
20 and blessed be God Most High,
who has delivered your enemies into your hand!’
And Abram gave him one-tenth of everything. (Genesis 14:17-20)
Jethro was “Moses’ father-in-law” and a “priest of Midian.” Jethro praises God and brings “a burnt-offering and sacrifices to God.” He is said to have eaten bread with “all the elders of Israel… in the presence of God.”
1Jethro, the priest of Midian, Moses’ father-in-law, heard of all that God had done for Moses and for his people Israel, how the Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt…5Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, came into the wilderness where Moses was encamped at the mountain of God, bringing Moses’ sons and wife to him. 6He sent word to Moses, ‘I, your father-in-law Jethro, am coming to you, with your wife and her two sons.’ 7Moses went out to meet his father-in-law; he bowed down and kissed him; each asked after the other’s welfare, and they went into the tent. 8Then Moses told his father-in-law all that the Lord had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel’s sake, all the hardship that had beset them on the way, and how the Lord had delivered them. 9Jethro rejoiced for all the good that the Lord had done to Israel, in delivering them from the Egyptians.
10Jethro said, ‘Blessed be the Lord, who has delivered you from the Egyptians and from Pharaoh. 11Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods, because he delivered the people from the Egyptians, when they dealt arrogantly with them.’ 12And Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought a burnt-offering and sacrifices to God; and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat bread with Moses’ father-in-law in the presence of God. (Exodus 18:1-12)
Rahab the Canaanite prostitute hides two Hebrew spies at great risk to her life. In Psalm 87:4, God is reported to have said, “Among those who know me I mention Rahab.” The Letter to the Hebrews says, “By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient.”
1Then Joshua son of Nun sent two men secretly from Shittim as spies, saying, ‘Go, view the land, especially Jericho.’ So they went, and entered the house of a prostitute whose name was Rahab, and spent the night there. 2The king of Jericho was told, ‘Some Israelites have come here tonight to search out the land.’ 3Then the king of Jericho sent orders to Rahab, ‘Bring out the men who have come to you, who entered your house, for they have come only to search out the whole land.’ 4But the woman took the two men and hid them. Then she said, ‘True, the men came to me, but I did not know where they came from. 5And when it was time to close the gate at dark, the men went out. Where the men went I do not know. Pursue them quickly, for you can overtake them.’ 6She had, however, brought them up to the roof and hidden them with the stalks of flax that she had laid out on the roof. (Joshua 2:1-6)
Judges tells the story of a non-Hebrew Kenite woman about whom “the angel of the Lord,” says,
‘Most blessed of women be Jael,
the wife of Heber the Kenite,
of tent-dwelling women most blessed. (Judges 5:24)
Sisera was the commander of the Army of the murderous Cannanite King Jabin. His encounter with the non-Hebrew Jael is not a pretty tale. But for the writer of Judges the murder of Sisera was clearly a heroic act:
17 Now Sisera had fled away on foot to the tent of Jael wife of Heber the Kenite; for there was peace between King Jabin of Hazor and the clan of Heber the Kenite. 18Jael came out to meet Sisera, and said to him, ‘Turn aside, my lord, turn aside to me; have no fear.’ So he turned aside to her into the tent, and she covered him with a rug. 19Then he said to her, ‘Please give me a little water to drink; for I am thirsty.’ So she opened a skin of milk and gave him a drink and covered him. 20He said to her, ‘Stand at the entrance of the tent, and if anybody comes and asks you, “Is anyone here?” say, “No.” ’ 21But Jael wife of Heber took a tent-peg, and took a hammer in her hand, and went softly to him and drove the peg into his temple, until it went down into the ground—he was lying fast asleep from weariness—and he died. (Judges 4:17-21)
The Persian King Cyrus, though a non-Jew, is justifiably viewed as a hero of Jewish history and an instrument of God’s will, for graciously allowing the Jews to return to Jerusalem in 539 BCE to rebuild the Temple.
22In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, in fulfilment of the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord stirred up the spirit of King Cyrus of Persia so that he sent a herald throughout all his kingdom and also declared in a written edict: 23‘Thus says King Cyrus of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may the Lord his God be with him! Let him go up.’ (2 Chronicles 36:22-23)
This expansive inclusive vision of God’s work finds its strongest expression in Jesus who said,
I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. (John 10:16)
Jesus constantly stepped across the borders and boundaries erected by people who sought to restrict God’s work to their own tribe. The church exists to be a model of this open, inclusive, welcoming community. We are not a tribe. We are a manifestation of God’s universal work.