17–23 March 2019.
No matter which country or culture we come from, sadly one thing all people are good at is making divisions. We divide up our societies in so many ways. We divide between men and women, young and old, rich and poor, city and country, educated and uneducated, believer and unbeliever, bosses and employees – just to name a few! We divide ourselves off from one another using whatever random measure we think is most important that day. Why do we do this? Often it’s simply to find a way to tell ourselves that we are more special than others, more valuable than others, more important or more deserving than others.
No matter which country we come from, one of the most common ways we divide ourselves up is by separating between locals and foreigners. A few years ago I was speaking to an elderly missionary who had served in Taiwan for over 30 years. He complained that when he went to the museum, the ticket lady still made him buy a ticket for foreigners. He told her (in Taiwanese!) that he had lived and worked in Taiwan most of his life, but she just tapped the sign and said, “You are a foreigner, you have to pay the foreigner price.” Of course we find this attitude in many countries all around the world.
But sadly, we even find this attitude in much of the Old Testament. In many places the laws of Moses made a clear distinction between Israelites and foreigners, demanding the Israelites treat locals one way but allowing them to treat foreigners in another, poorer way.
But one of the lovely things we see in Numbers 15 is the appearance of another tradition and another way of understanding God’s will. Verse 15 declares to the people that “Native-born Israelites and foreigners are equal before the Lord and are subject to the same decrees. This is a permanent law for you, to be observed from generation to generation.” Here we see a first flicker of the wonderful light of the gospel truth to come with Jesus. That truth is that even though we human beings make divisions, as Romans 2:11 and Acts 10:34 tell us: “God himself shows no favoritism.”
In the Old Testament, in Ezekiel 18:4, God again speaks this wonderful truth through the prophet Ezekiel, teaching Israel that all lives belong to him. We are all equal before the Lord. That’s because our God is not just the Lord of some people, he is the loving God of all humanity – of the whole world. And that’s great news! God doesn’t care what your nationality is, he loves you. No matter what your culture or gender or background or age may be, no matter what other ways people may label you or treat you, know today this good news and hold it in your heart: that God truly is your God and you truly do belong to him!
Pastor Stephen Lakkis