All the Nations
“For then I will change the nations [to speak] a pure language so that they will all proclaim in the Name of the Lord to worship Him with a united resolve.” (Zephaniah 3:9)
The prophets looked forward to a time when all the nations of the world serve the Creator of the universe shoulder to shoulder with the people of Israel. This does not mean that the nations will convert to Judaism. The prophets made it clear that the various nations will maintain their own identity and they will be serving God as gentiles; not as Jews (as an example see Zachariah 14:16).
The picture that emerges from various historical texts is that during the Second Temple Era there were many gentiles who joined the Jewish people in their worship of God but did not join the covenant community through a complete conversion. The Ibn Ezra explains that when the Psalmist makes reference to “those who fear God” (Psalm 116:11; 118:4) he is referring to these gentile worshippers of the God of Israel.
With the rise of Christianity and Islam this phenomena went into decline. No longer were there gentile individuals associating with the Jewish communities on the level of worship or religious devotion in any way. As a consequence of this historical fact the Jewish community no longer has a clear precedent of such interaction that could guide us in a practical way. The general attitude of the Jewish community as it relates to the spiritual state of gentiles is “either in or out”. We don’t seem to have a clear cultural model that would guide us in relating to a gentile who loves and reveres the God of Israel but does not see it as their calling to join the covenant community.
This has had another sad consequence. The entire relationship that is possible between a gentile and the God of Israel is seriously underappreciated. Both Jews and gentiles tend to look at a relationship with the Creator as a “Jewish” thing. But it is not. The prophets taught us that a relationship with God is a “human” thing.
In recent decades this trend has started to reverse. Many gentiles have let go of the false teachings of the church and have come to embrace a relationship with the God of Israel. These people generally use names like Noachide or Bnei Noach to identify themselves and their beliefs.
This is certainly a positive development in this area but there still is much to accomplish. Perhaps it is the Jewish community who needs to develop and build both an appreciation for the gentile relationship with God and a practical community structure to be able to interact with these gentiles.
The relationship that is possible between every human being and the One Creator of all is deeply meaningful and fulfilling. This relationship has the breadth to encompass every aspect of life and imbue it with holiness and purpose. It is important that both Jew and gentile develop an appreciation for this relationship. The gentile benefits from the study of this relationship because this is the gentile’s calling in life. The Jew benefits from the study of this relationship because it is the calling of the Jew as well. The Jew is not exempt from developing a relationship with God as a human being. The covenantal relationship of the Jew does not cancel out the Jew’s relationship with the Creator as a human being. The covenantal relationship is built on the foundation of the Jew’s relationship with God as a human being. A building cannot be stronger than its foundation.
By developing a stronger appreciation for the gentile’s relationship with the God of Israel we can make our world a holier place.