Imitate Jehovah, Our Impartial God
“There is no partiality with God.”—ROMANS 2:11.
1, 2. (a) What was Jehovah’s purpose regarding the Canaanites in general? (b) What did Jehovah do, and what questions does this raise?
CAMPED on the Plains of Moab in 1473 B.C.E., Israel listened attentively to Moses. A challenge lay ahead, beyond the Jordan River. Moses declared Jehovah’s purpose to have Israel defeat the seven mighty Canaanite nations in the Promised Land. How reassuring were Moses’ words: “Jehovah your God will certainly abandon them to you, and you must defeat them”! Israel was to conclude no covenant with them, and they merited no favor.—Deuteronomy 1:1; 7:1, 2.
2 Yet, Jehovah spared one family from the first city that Israel attacked. People from four other towns also received God’s protection. Why was this? What do the remarkable events associated with the survival of these Canaanites teach us about Jehovah? And how can we imitate him?
Reactions to Jehovah’s Fame
3, 4. News of the Israelites’ victories had what effect on individuals in Canaan?
3 During Israel’s 40 years in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land, Jehovah protected and fought for his people. To the south of the Promised Land, Israel faced the Canaanite king of Arad. With Jehovah’s help the Israelites defeated him and his people at Hormah. (Numbers 21:1-3) Later, Israel skirted the land of Edom and journeyed northward to the northeast of the Dead Sea. In this area, formerly inhabited by Moab, there now were Amorites. Amorite King Sihon refused to allow Israel passage through his territory. Battle was joined at Jahaz, evidently north of the Torrent Valley of Arnon, where Sihon met his death. (Numbers 21:23, 24; Deuteronomy 2:30-33) Farther north, Og ruled over other Amorites in Bashan. Though Og was a giant, he proved no match for Jehovah. Og was killed at Edrei. (Numbers 21:33-35; Deuteronomy 3:1-3, 11) News of these victories coupled with stories of Israel’s Exodus from Egypt had a powerful effect on individuals living in Canaan.*
4 When Israel first penetrated Canaan after crossing the Jordan, they set up camp at Gilgal. (Joshua 4:9-19) Not far away stood the walled city of Jericho. What Canaanite Rahab heard of Jehovah’s actions stirred her to act in faith. As a result, when Jehovah brought destruction on Jericho, he spared her and those in her house.—Joshua 2:1-13; 6:17, 18; James 2:25.
5. What prompted the Gibeonites to act shrewdly?
5 Next, Israel ascended from the lowlands near the river into the central hills of the region. Following Jehovah’s direction, Joshua employed ambush tactics against the city of Ai. (Joshua, chapter 8) News of the ensuing rout prompted many of Canaan’s kings to assemble for war. (Joshua 9:1, 2) The inhabitants of the nearby Hivite city of Gibeon reacted differently. “They, even of their own accord,” relates Joshua 9:4, “acted with shrewdness.” Like Rahab, they had heard of Jehovah’s deliverance of his people at the Exodus and at the defeat of Sihon and Og. (Joshua 9:6-10) The Gibeonites realized the futility of resistance. So on behalf of Gibeon and three nearby cities—Chephirah, Beeroth, and Kiriath-jearim—they sent to Joshua at Gilgal a delegation disguised as though from a distant land. The stratagem succeeded. Joshua concluded a covenant with them that ensured their survival. Three days later Joshua and the Israelites learned that they had been tricked. Nevertheless, they had sworn by Jehovah to the covenant and thus held to it. (Joshua 9:16-19) Did Jehovah approve?
6. How did Jehovah react to the covenant that Joshua concluded with the Gibeonites?
6 The Gibeonites were allowed to become woodcutters and water carriers for the Israelites, even “for Jehovah’s altar” at the tabernacle. (Joshua 9:21-27) More than that, when five Amorite kings and their armies threatened the Gibeonites, Jehovah miraculously intervened. Hailstones killed more of the enemy than did Joshua’s troops. Jehovah even answered Joshua’s plea for the sun and the moon to stand still to allow for a complete rout. “No day has proved to be like that one, either before it or after it,” noted Joshua, “in that Jehovah listened to the voice of a man, for Jehovah himself was fighting for Israel.”—Joshua 10:1-14.
7. What truth acknowledged by Peter was demonstrated in the case of certain Canaanites?
7 Canaanite Rahab and her family, as well as the Gibeonites, feared Jehovah and acted accordingly. What happened to them clearly demonstrates a truth that the Christian apostle Peter later stated: “God is not partial, but in every nation the man that fears him and works righteousness is acceptable to him.”—Acts 10:34, 35.
Dealings With Abraham and Israel
8, 9. How is Jehovah’s impartiality shown in his dealings with Abraham and with the nation of Israel?
8 The disciple James drew attention to God’s undeserved kindness in His dealings with Abraham and his offspring. It was Abraham’s faith, not his ethnic origin, that made him “Jehovah’s friend.” (James 2:23) Abraham’s faith and love for Jehovah brought blessings to his descendants. (2 Chronicles 20:7) Jehovah promised Abraham: “I shall surely bless you and I shall surely multiply your seed like the stars of the heavens and like the grains of sand that are on the seashore.” But note the promise in the next verse: “By means of your seed all nations of the earth will certainly bless themselves.”—Genesis 22:17, 18; Romans 4:1-8.
9 Far from showing partiality, Jehovah demonstrated by his dealings with Israel what he can do for those who obey him. Such dealings are an example of how Jehovah expresses loyal love toward his faithful servants. Although Israel was Jehovah’s “special property,” this did not mean that other peoples were excluded from experiencing God’s benevolence. (Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 7:6-8) True, Jehovah repurchased Israel from slavery in Egypt and consequently declared: “You people only have I known out of all the families of the ground.” But through the prophet Amos and others, Jehovah also held out a wonderful prospect for people of “all the nations.”—Amos 3:2; 9:11, 12; Isaiah 2:2-4.
Jesus, the Impartial Teacher
10. How did Jesus imitate his Father in showing impartiality?
10 During his earthly ministry, Jesus, who is the exact representation of his Father, imitated Jehovah’s impartiality. (Hebrews 1:3) His primary concern at the time was to find “the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Yet, he did not hold back from witnessing to a Samaritan woman at a well. (Matthew 15:24; John 4:7-30) He also performed a miracle at the request of an army officer, apparently a non-Jew. (Luke 7:1-10) That was in addition to demonstrating by his actions his love for God’s people. Jesus’ disciples preached far and wide too. It became clear that the criterion for receiving Jehovah’s blessing was linked, not to nationality, but to attitude. Humble, honesthearted people who were hungry for the truth responded to the Kingdom good news. In contrast, the proud and haughty despised Jesus and his message. “I publicly praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth,” Jesus declared, “because you have carefully hidden these things from wise and intellectual ones, and have revealed them to babes. Yes, O Father, because to do thus came to be the way approved by you.” (Luke 10:21) When we deal with others on the basis of love and faith, we act impartially, knowing that this is the way Jehovah approves.
11. How was impartiality demonstrated in the early Christian congregation?
11 In the early Christian congregation, Jews and non-Jews were equal. “Glory and honor and peace for everyone who works what is good,” explained Paul, “for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For there is no partiality with God.”* (Romans 2:10, 11) What determined whether they benefited from Jehovah’s undeserved kindness was, not their ethnic origin, but their reaction upon learning about Jehovah and the prospects offered by the ransom of his Son, Jesus. (John 3:16, 36) Paul wrote: “He is not a Jew who is one on the outside, nor is circumcision that which is on the outside upon the flesh. But 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.” Then, using a play on words involving the term “Jew” (meaning “of Judah,” that is, lauded or praised), Paul added: “The praise of that one comes, not from men, but from God.” (Romans 2:28, 29) Jehovah extends praise impartially. Do we?
12. Revelation 7:9 offers what prospect, and to whom?
12 Later, in a vision, the apostle John saw the faithful anointed Christians depicted as a spiritual nation of 144,000, “sealed out of every tribe of the sons of Israel.” After these, John caught sight of “a great crowd . . . out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, dressed in white robes; and there were palm branches in their hands.” (Revelation 7:4, 9) Thus, no ethnic group or language is excluded from the modern-day Christian congregation. Individuals from all backgrounds have the prospect of surviving the coming “great tribulation” and drinking from “fountains of waters of life” in the new world.—Revelation 7:14-17.
13-15. (a) How can we overcome racial and cultural differences? (b) Cite examples of the benefits that showing friendliness can bring.
13 Jehovah knows us well, as a good father does his children. Likewise, when we come to understand others by taking an interest in their culture and background, differences tend to pale into insignificance. Ethnic barriers melt, and bonds of friendship and love are strengthened. Unity is enhanced. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23) This is well demonstrated by the activity of missionaries who serve in foreign assignments. They take an interest in the people who live there, and as a result, the missionaries soon find that they blend into local congregations.—Philippians 2:4.
14 The positive effects of being impartial shine forth in many lands. Aklilu, who hails from Ethiopia, found himself lonely in Britain’s capital, London. His feelings of loneliness were compounded by what seemed to him to be a general lack of friendliness toward people from other countries, something sensed in many large cities of modern Europe. How different Aklilu’s experience was when he attended a Christian meeting at the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses! Those present welcomed him, and it was not long before he felt at home. He made rapid progress in deepening his appreciation for the Creator. He soon sought opportunities to share in spreading the Kingdom good news to others in that district. Indeed, one day when Aklilu’s preaching companion asked him what goals he now had in life, Aklilu readily responded that he hoped someday to be part of a congregation that spoke his language, Amharic. When the elders of the local English-speaking congregation learned of this, they happily arranged for a public Bible discourse in Aklilu’s native tongue. The invitation to attend brought scores of foreigners and local people together to support the first Amharic public meeting in Britain. Today, Ethiopians and others in that area are united in a thriving congregation. Many there have found that nothing prevents them from taking a stand for Jehovah and symbolizing this by Christian baptism.—Acts 8:26-36.
15 Characteristics and backgrounds vary. They are no measure of superiority or of inferiority; they are simply differences. When watching the baptism of newly dedicated servants of Jehovah on the island of Malta, the local Witnesses’ joyful exuberance complemented the tears of joy that welled up in the eyes of visitors from Britain. Both the Maltese and the British groups expressed their feelings but in different ways, and their strong love for Jehovah cemented the bonds of Christian fellowship.—Psalm 133:1; Colossians 3:14.
16-18. Relate an experience that demonstrates how prejudice can be overcome in the Christian congregation.
16 As our love for Jehovah and for our Christian brothers deepens, we can more closely imitate Jehovah in the way we view others. Any prejudice we may once have felt toward certain nationalities, races, or cultures can be overcome. Take, for example, the case of Albert who served in the British Army during World War II and who was captured by the Japanese at the fall of Singapore in 1942. He later spent some three years working on the “death railroad,” near what became known as the bridge over the river Kwai. On his release at the end of the war, he weighed 70 pounds [32 k], had a broken jaw and nose, and suffered from dysentery, ringworm, and malaria. Thousands of his fellow prisoners fared worse; many did not survive. As a result of the atrocities that Albert had seen and experienced, he returned home in 1945 a bitter man, wanting nothing to do with God or religion.
17 Albert’s wife, Irene, became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. To please her, Albert attended a few meetings of the local congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. A young Christian in the full-time ministry named Paul visited Albert to study the Bible with him. Albert soon came to realize that Jehovah looks at individuals according to their heart condition. He dedicated his life to Jehovah and got baptized.
18 Paul later moved to London, learned Japanese, and associated with a Japanese-speaking congregation. When he suggested taking some visiting Japanese Witnesses to his former congregation, the brothers there called to mind Albert’s strong prejudice against people from that background. Since his return to Britain, Albert had avoided coming face-to-face with anyone from Japan, so the brothers wondered how he would handle the situation. They need not have worried—Albert received the visitors with unconditional brotherly affection.—1 Peter 3:8, 9.
19. What advice of the apostle Paul can help us if we have any trace of partiality?
19 “The showing of partiality is not good,” wrote wise King Solomon. (Proverbs 28:21) It is easy to feel close to those whom we know well. Sometimes, however, we tend to show little interest in those whom we do not know well. Such partiality does not befit a servant of Jehovah. Certainly, we would all do well to follow Paul’s clear advice to “widen out”—yes, widen out in our love for fellow Christians from different backgrounds.—2 Corinthians 6:13.
20. In what areas of life should we imitate Jehovah, our impartial God?
20 Whether we have the privilege of the heavenly calling or the prospect of living forever on earth, our being impartial enables us to enjoy the unity of one flock, one Shepherd. (Ephesians 4:4, 5, 16) Endeavoring to imitate Jehovah, our impartial God, can help us in our Christian ministry, within our families, and in the congregations, indeed, in all areas of life. How so? The following article will address this subject.
Here, the expression “Greeks” refers to Gentiles in general.—Insight on the Scriptures, published by Jehovah’s Witnesses, Volume 1, page 1004.
How Would You Answer?
• How did Jehovah demonstrate impartiality toward Rahab and the Gibeonites?
• How did Jesus demonstrate impartiality in his teaching?
• What can help us overcome any cultural and racial prejudice?
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Israel’s conquest of Canaan begins
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Jesus did not hold back from witnessing to a Samaritan woman
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An Amharic public meeting in Britain
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Albert’s love for Jehovah helped him overcome prejudice