Does God approve of prejudice? In the Old Testament, it seems the Lord was very biased in favor of the Israelite. He separated the Israelites from the Gentiles because of their sin and he didn’t allow the Gentiles to join the Israelites; at least, he made it very, very difficult.
What is prejudice?
It is perhaps important to define exactly what it means to be prejudiced since this term is used today as mostly a derogatory description of someone. To say a person is prejudiced is almost the same as saying he is evil. The word itself shows its primary meaning: to prejudge. So, a person who is prejudiced with respect to someone or something is one who judges without having sufficient knowledge about the person or thing with regard to the quality in question. For example, I may meet a stranger and immediately decide that he or she is very intelligent. Intelligence is a personal attribute that is not shown by the color of the eyes or hair or the style of clothes. So, I have pre-judged the person with respect to intelligence. More generally, I might believe that everyone who wears a polo shirt is a Nerd. Notice that prejudice may be for the better or worse. Following the question asked above I will only consider the negative aspect of prejudice.
Many passages in both the old and new Testament declare that God is not partial and insist that His followers be impartial also (Jas. 2:1–4). These verses in James show the error of showing partiality to the rich in a positive way and to the poor in a negative way. We can extend this principle in many ways. It is the person himself who we need to value not his position in life. Leviticus 19:15 and Psalms 82:2 establish the same principle in the Old Testament.
Israel A Favored People
So, we need to examine the favor shown to Israel and the separation of the Israelite from the Gentiles to see what the conditions of favor and separation are and what that is intended to teach us.
To begin, we can go back to the very first expression of faith after Adam and Eve. Abel offered a blood sacrifice thereby acknowledging the death penalty that he was under. This showed he was appealing to God’s grace for acceptance. Cain, on the other hand, appealed to God on the basis of his own effort, the fruit of his own labor. God therefore could have respect for Abel’s sacrifice because by it he recognized that only that which was of God could satisfy God.
In Deuteronomy 7:6–8, we read that God chose Israel because he loved them, not because they were superior in some way.1 The source of favor was God Himself. Yet, this does not conflict with the necessity for faith. We read that “Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness.” (Rom. 4:2; Gen. 15:5–6) We have a more pointed example in Esau. In Romans 9:13, we read “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” The apostle quoted this from Malachi 1:1–2, the very last book of the Old Testament after the animosity of Esau toward Jacob had been fully shown. Looking at the history we see again that the favor shown to Jacob was not based on personal goodness, but his faith and God’s grace. Esau was obdurate in his rejection of God’s grace. In Esau we have a picture of the Gentiles and mankind (the “natural man”) in general.
Gentiles Blessed Too
Nevertheless, the Scriptures record many Gentiles being accepted. Several even find their way into the genealogy of the Lord Jesus. (Matt. 1:3,5) In each case, they were received based on their individual faith. The New Testament even shows us that the Gentiles have now become the special object of blessing (Eph. 2:11–15; Rom. 11:29–32; etc.). So, why were restrictions placed on receiving Gentiles in the Old Testament?
The Gentiles are associated in Scripture with idolatry and evil of various kinds (1 Pet. 4:3). Similarly, Scripture mentions the wickedness of a number of different Gentile nations. So, a primary lesson is the necessity for the children of God, represented by Israel, to be separate from evil. This is a persistent teaching in Scripture, Old and New Testament (2 Cor. 6:17). However, I would like to end this post with a reference back to Jacob and Esau.
Esau went his own way and was stubborn in that path. Jacob personally was not better, except that he humbled himself and trusted the grace of God, at least at the end. (Gen. 47:31, Heb. 11:21) This very much reminds me of the apostle’s words to Titus with which I will close this post.
As always, I welcome additional comments. (Please remember the comment guidelines.)
For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.Titus 3:3–7
1. The example given was whether they were greater in number as a people. But, the principle applies generally.