Citizen or Foreigner, God Welcomes You!
“He made out of one man every nation of men, to dwell upon the entire surface of the earth.”—ACTS 17:26.
1. What predicament exists in many places today as to acceptance of people from foreign cultures?
PRESS reports indicate that in many lands concern is growing about foreigners, immigrants, and refugees. Millions are desperate to move from parts of Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas. Perhaps they seek relief from crushing poverty, civil war, or persecution. But are they welcome elsewhere? Time magazine stated: “As Europe’s ethnic mix begins to change, some countries discover they are not as tolerant of foreign cultures as they once thought they were.” Of the 18,000,000 “unwanted” refugees, Time said: “The challenge they present to stable nations will not go away.”
2, 3. (a) What refreshing assurance does the Bible offer in connection with acceptance? (b) Why can we benefit from examining what the Scriptures present about God’s dealing with peoples?
2 Whatever develops in this regard, the Bible shows that God welcomes people of every nation—whether a person be a natural-born citizen, an immigrant, or a refugee. (Acts 10:34, 35) ‘Yet,’ some might ask, ‘how can you say that? Did not God select only ancient Israel as his people, to the exclusion of others?’
3 Well, let us see how God dealt with ancient peoples. We can examine also certain prophecies that bear on what privileges are available to true worshipers today. Reviewing this prophetic material can bring to light a fuller understanding that you may find most encouraging. It gives indication, too, of how God may deal with individuals “of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues” following the great tribulation.—Revelation 7:9, 14-17.
‘All Nations Will Bless Themselves’
4. How did the problem of nationality develop, but what steps did God take?
4 After the Flood, Noah’s immediate family made up all of mankind, and all were true worshipers. But that unity soon changed. Before long, some people, ignoring God’s will, began to build a tower. This led to humankind’s breaking into language groups that became scattered peoples and nations. (Genesis 11:1-9) Still, true worship continued in the line leading to Abraham. God blessed faithful Abraham and promised that his offspring would become a great nation. (Genesis 12:1-3) That nation was ancient Israel.
5. Why can all of us take heart from God’s dealings with Abraham?
5 Jehovah was not, however, excluding people other than Israel, for his purpose extended to cover all mankind. We see this clearly from what God promised Abraham: “By means of your seed all nations of the earth will certainly bless themselves due to the fact that you have listened to my voice.” (Genesis 22:18) For centuries, though, God dealt in a special way with Israel, giving a national Law code, arranging for priests to offer sacrifices at his temple, and providing the Promised Land in which to reside.
6. How would God’s arrangements with Israel benefit all?
6 God’s Law to Israel was good for people of all nations in that it made human sinfulness plain, showing the need for a perfect sacrifice to cover human sin once and for all. (Galatians 3:19; Hebrews 7:26-28; 9:9; 10:1-12) Yet, what assurance was there that Abraham’s Seed—through whom all nations would bless themselves—would arrive and meet the qualifications? Israel’s Law helped here too. It forbade intermarriage with the Canaanites, a people notorious for immoral practices and rites, such as the custom of burning children alive. (Leviticus 18:6-24; 20:2, 3; Deuteronomy 12:29-31; 18:9-12) God decreed that they and their practices had to be eliminated. That was to the long-term benefit of all, including the alien resident, as it would serve to keep the line of the Seed from being corrupted.—Leviticus 18:24-28; Deuteronomy 7:1-5; 9:5; 20:15-18.
7. What early indication was there that God welcomed strangers?
7 Even while the Law was in effect and God viewed Israel as special, he showed mercy to non-Israelites. His willingness to do so had been demonstrated when Israel marched out of Egyptian bondage toward its own land. “A vast mixed company also went up with them.” (Exodus 12:38) Professor C. F. Keil identifies those as “a swarm of foreigners . . . a medley, or crowd of people of different nations.” (Leviticus 24:10; Numbers 11:4) Likely many were Egyptians who accepted the true God.
Welcome for Foreigners
8. How did the Gibeonites find a place among God’s people?
8 As Israel carried out God’s command to rid the Promised Land of debased nations, he protected one group of foreigners, the Gibeonites, who lived north of Jerusalem. They sent disguised ambassadors to Joshua, suing for and winning peace. When their ruse was discovered, Joshua ruled that the Gibeonites would serve as “gatherers of wood and drawers of water for the assembly and for Jehovah’s altar.” (Joshua 9:3-27) Today many immigrants also accept humble service positions in order to become part of a new people.
9. How is the example of Rahab and her family encouraging as respects foreigners in Israel?
9 It may encourage you to know that God’s welcome was not just for groups of foreigners back then; solitary individuals were welcome also. Today some nations welcome only immigrants who have social rank, wealth to invest, or higher education. Not so with Jehovah, as we see from an event just prior to the episode with the Gibeonites. This involved a Canaanite who was hardly of high social rank. The Bible calls her “Rahab the harlot.” Because of her faith in the true God, she and her household were delivered when Jericho fell. Though Rahab was a foreigner, the Israelites accepted her. She was a model of faith that is worthy of our imitation. (Hebrews 11:30, 31, 39, 40; Joshua 2:1-21; 6:1-25) She even became an ancestress of the Messiah.—Matthew 1:5, 16.
10. The reception of foreigners in Israel depended upon what?
10 Non-Israelites were accepted in the Promised Land in accord with their effort to please the true God. Israelites were told not to fellowship, especially religiously, with those who did not serve Jehovah. (Joshua 23:6, 7, 12, 13; 1 Kings 11:1-8; Proverbs 6:23-28) Still, many non-Israelite settlers obeyed the basic laws. Others even became circumcised proselytes, and Jehovah fully welcomed them as members of his congregation.—Leviticus 20:2; 24:22; Numbers 15:14-16; Acts 8:27.*
11, 12. (a) How were Israelites to treat foreign worshipers? (b) Why might we need to improve in following Jehovah’s example?
11 God directed the Israelites to imitate his attitude toward foreign worshipers: “The alien resident who resides as an alien with you should become to you like a native of yours; and you must love him as yourself, for you became alien residents in the land of Egypt.” (Leviticus 19:33, 34; Deuteronomy 1:16; 10:12-19) This provides a lesson for us, even though we are not under the Law. It is easy to fall prey to prejudices and hostility toward those of another race, nation, or culture. So we do well to ask: ‘Am I trying to rid myself of such prejudices, following Jehovah’s example?’
12 The Israelites had visible proof of God’s welcome. King Solomon prayed: “To the foreigner, who is no part of your people Israel and who actually comes from a distant land by reason of your name . . . and he actually comes and prays toward this house, may you yourself listen from the heavens . . . in order that all the peoples of the earth may get to know your name so as to fear you.”—1 Kings 8:41-43; 2 Chronicles 6:32, 33.
13. Why did God make provision to change his dealings with Israel?
13 While Jehovah was still using the nation of Israel as his people and thus protecting the Messiah’s line of descent, God foretold significant changes. Earlier, when Israel agreed to be in the Law covenant, God granted that they could be the source of “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:5, 6) But Israel showed unfaithfulness for centuries. So Jehovah foretold that he would conclude a new covenant under which those making up “the house of Israel” would have their error and sin forgiven. (Jeremiah 31:33, 34) That new covenant awaited the Messiah, whose sacrifice would really cleanse many from sin.—Isaiah 53:5-7, 10-12.
Israelites in Heaven
14. What new “Israel” did Jehovah accept, and how?
14 The Christian Greek Scriptures help us to understand how all of this was accomplished. Jesus was the Messiah, whose death fulfilled the Law and laid the basis for full forgiveness of sin. To gain that benefit, one did not need to be a Jew circumcised in the flesh. No. The apostle Paul wrote that in the new covenant, “he is a Jew who is one on the inside, and his circumcision is that of the heart by spirit, and not by a written code.” (Romans 2:28, 29; 7:6) Those who put faith in Jesus’ sacrifice gained forgiveness, and God approved of them as ‘Jews by the spirit,’ who make up a spiritual nation called “the Israel of God.”—Galatians 6:16.
15. Why is fleshly nationality not a factor in being part of spiritual Israel?
15 Yes, being accepted into spiritual Israel did not depend upon a certain national or ethnic background. Some, such as Jesus’ apostles, were natural Jews. Others, such as the Roman army officer Cornelius, were uncircumcised Gentiles. (Acts 10:34, 35, 44-48) Paul correctly said regarding spiritual Israel: “There is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, foreigner, Scythian, slave, freeman.” (Colossians 3:11) Those anointed by God’s spirit became “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for special possession.”—1 Peter 2:9; compare Exodus 19:5, 6.
16, 17. (a) What role do spiritual Israelites have in God’s purpose? (b) Why is it appropriate to consider those not of the Israel of God?
16 What future do spiritual Israelites have in God’s purpose? Jesus answered: “Have no fear, little flock, because your Father has approved of giving you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32) Anointed ones, whose “citizenship exists in the heavens,” will be joint heirs with the Lamb in his Kingdom rule. (Philippians 3:20; John 14:2, 3; Revelation 5:9, 10) The Bible indicates that these are ‘sealed out of the sons of Israel’ and “bought from among mankind as firstfruits to God and to the Lamb.” They number 144,000. However, after giving the account of this number being sealed, John introduces a different group—“a great crowd, which no man was able to number, out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues.”—Revelation 7:4, 9; 14:1-4.
17 Some might wonder: ‘What about the millions who are not part of spiritual Israel, such as those who may pass through the great tribulation as that great crowd? What role do they have today in relation to the few remaining ones of spiritual Israel?’*
Foreigners in Prophecy
18. What led to Israel’s return from Babylonian exile?
18 Turning back to the time when Israel was under the Law covenant but unfaithful to it, we find that God determined to let the Babylonians desolate Israel. In 607 B.C.E., Israel was taken into captivity for 70 years. Then God repurchased the nation. Under the leadership of Governor Zerubbabel, a remnant of natural Israel returned to their land. The rulers of the Medes and the Persians, who had overthrown Babylon, even aided the returning exiles with provisions. The book of Isaiah foretold these developments. (Isaiah 1:1-9; 3:1-26; 14:1-5; 44:21-28; 47:1-4) And Ezra gives us historical details about that return.—Ezra 1:1-11; 2:1, 2.
19. In connection with Israel’s return, what prophetic indication was there that foreigners would be involved?
19 Still, in foretelling the repurchase and return of God’s people, Isaiah made this startling prophecy: “Nations will certainly go to your light, and kings to the brightness of your shining forth.” (Isaiah 59:20; 60:3) This means more than that individual foreigners were welcome, in line with Solomon’s prayer. Isaiah was pointing to an unusual change in status. “Nations” would serve with the sons of Israel: “Foreigners will actually build your walls, and their own kings will minister to you; for in my indignation I shall have struck you, but in my goodwill I shall certainly have mercy upon you.”—Isaiah 60:10.
20, 21. (a) We find in modern times what parallel to the return of Israel from captivity? (b) How were ‘sons and daughters’ thereafter added to spiritual Israel?
20 In many respects, Israel’s going into and returning from exile has found a parallel in modern times with spiritual Israel. Prior to World War I, the remnant of anointed Christians were not fully in line with God’s will; they held to some views and practices carried over from the churches of Christendom. Then, during the wartime hysteria and partially at the instigation of the clergy, leading ones among the remnant of spiritual Israel were unjustly imprisoned. After the war, in 1919 C.E., those anointed ones in literal prison were freed and exonerated. This evidenced that God’s people were released from captivity to Babylon the Great, the worldwide empire of false religion. His people went forth to build up and occupy a spiritual paradise.—Isaiah 35:1-7; 65:13, 14.
21 This was indicated in Isaiah’s description: “They have all of them been collected together; they have come to you. From far away your own sons keep coming, and your daughters who will be taken care of on the flank. At that time you will see and certainly become radiant, and your heart will actually quiver and expand, because to you the wealthiness of the sea will direct itself; the very resources of the nations will come to you.” (Isaiah 60:4, 5) In the following decades, ‘sons and daughters’ continued to come in, being anointed with spirit to fill out final places in spiritual Israel.
22. How have “foreigners” come to work along with spiritual Israelites?
22 What about the ‘foreigners who will actually build your walls’? This too has occurred in our time. As the calling of the 144,000 was coming to completion, a great crowd out of all nations began flocking to worship with spiritual Israel. These newer ones have the Bible-based expectation of everlasting life on a paradise earth. Though the eventual location of their faithful service would be different, they were delighted to help the anointed remnant in preaching the good news of the Kingdom.—Matthew 24:14.
23. To what extent have “foreigners” assisted the anointed?
23 Today, over 4,000,000 who are “foreigners,” along with the remnant of those whose ‘citizenship is in heaven,’ are proving their devotion to Jehovah. Many of them, men and women, young and old, are serving in the full-time ministry as pioneers. In most of the over 66,000 congregations, such foreigners are carrying responsibilities as elders and ministerial servants. The remnant rejoice in this, seeing a fulfillment of Isaiah’s words: “Strangers will actually stand and shepherd the flocks of you people, and the foreigners will be your farmers and your vinedressers.”—Isaiah 61:5.
24. Why can we be encouraged by God’s dealings with Israel and others in the past?
24 So in whatever nation of earth you are a citizen, an immigrant, or a refugee, you have the grand opportunity to become a spiritual foreigner whom the Almighty heartily welcomes. His welcome includes the possibility of enjoying privileges in his service both now and into the everlasting future.
As to differences between “alien resident,” “settler,” “stranger,” and “foreigner,” see Insight on the Scriptures, Volume 1, pages 72-5, 849-51, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
Over 10,600,000 attended the annual memorial of the Lord’s Evening Meal held by Jehovah’s Witnesses in 1991, but only 8,850 professed to be of the remnant of spiritual Israel.
Did You Note This?
□ How did God offer hope that people of all nations would be accepted by Him?
□ What shows that peoples other than God’s special people, Israel, could approach Him?
□ In prophecy, how did God indicate that foreigners would join themselves to Israel?
□ What has paralleled Israel’s return from exile in Babylon, and how have “foreigners” become involved?
[Picture on page 9]
King Solomon prayed about foreigners who would come to worship Jehovah