The foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, ministering to him, loving the name of the LORD, and becoming his servants—all who keep the Sabbath free from profanation and hold to my covenant, them I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be acceptable on my altar, for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.
This beautiful text recounts very powerful words to people who believed themselves to be exclusive. This sense of separateness built up in Israel over time – but this was not God’s way or instruction to Israel.
When Israel was constituted as a nation, a concern for resident aliens and foreigners was built into its legal system. The alien peoples received special protection under the law and were to be loved as native Israelites.
They came to or dwelt in Israel for various reasons including for the specific purpose of knowing God. All foreigners sojourning in Israel were counted as its people under the care and protection of God. Those who were joined to Israel through circumcision could join in the Passover. All were expected to honor and follow the laws of the Lord including the Sabbath rest. No foreigner was to be vexed or oppressed. They were to be loved, helped in distress, and have justice in all disputes.
Of all nations only Israel’s law, given by God, contained legislation for the resident alien. When Israel received the Promised Land she was required to purge it of its foreign population. But, foreigners in this context represented those hostile to her – it did not mean complete exclusion. Israel’s entire existence was bound up with being a blessing to all nations.
Various scriptures including Solomon’s prayer at the inauguration of the temple implied that God’s house was a house of prayer for all peoples. Israelite and foreigner could both pray to the Lord. Today’s words from Isaiah re-speak those words as instructed by God.
By the time of Jesus’ coming Israel had become extremely exclusive, and forgot God’s words – to be a blessing and mission to the nations. Jesus’s life is replete with His reaching out to foreigners – they were present at His birth, during His ministry where He interacted, preached to, and healed them. Paul clearly states that in Christ all are called and there is no negative racial, linguistic, or ethnic difference. We are gifts to each other.
Jesus’ call is never to separateness, to dissolution, or hopelessness – but to hope for all people in all circumstances. May God be praised for choosing and loving all!