What was the Status of the Gentiles During the Mosaic Period?
Scripture reveals three major epochs or ages in which God has dealt with humanity. We identify them as the Patriarchal Age which began with Adam and the Mosaic Age which began at Sinai which and the Christian Age which began on the Pentecost following Christ’s resurrection.
The Patriarchal age ended for the Hebrews when God gave them a new law and covenant on Sinai. The Gentiles continued under the Patriarchal system that had been in force from the beginning. This we conclude from Paul’s letter to the Romans.
“For where there is no law, neither is there transgression” (Rom. 4:15).
But the Gentiles were sinners. Romans chapter 1 is the indictment of their many sins against God. Hence they were under some law from God but not the law of Moses (Rom 2:14).
Paul, speaking of Gentiles, says that “they show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience, bearing witness therewith, and their thoughts one with another accusing or else excusing them…” (Rom.
2:15). This we sometimes call the law of the conscience. There is in all human beings an innate sense of right and wrong. Thus in every society of man, even the most primitive, there has been a moral code of what was right and wrong. Such codes always include laws against certain killings, incest, respect for parents, stealing, blasphemy, etc. They may be distorted or mere shadows of God’s written law, yet their existence shows that somewhere in the ancient past they received such instruction from God.
Note that when Gentiles kept the law written in their heart, their conscience “excused them” “in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men…by Jesus..” (Rom. 2:15-16). Also in every society of men there is an impulse to worship and offer gifts and sacrifices to some higher power.
This too is a remnant of the early code that God gave to humanity.
A careful reading of the Old Testament reveals numerous people who were not Hebrews but were considered righteous before God.
· Melchizedek was a priest of God Most High. Yet he was a Canaanite. He blest Abraham who in turn gave him tithes (Gen. 14:18).
· Jethro Ruel, the father in law of Moses, was a priest of God (Ex. 2:16; 18:10). He offered acceptable sacrifices (Ex. 18:12) and Moses and Aaron fellowshiped him.
· Balaam was a prophet of God who had intimate communication with Jehovah (Num. 22:1-20). He sold his soul for money, but before that he was evidently a prophet of Jehovah.
· Job was a righteous man who offered sacrifices to God (1:1,5). Yet there is no evidence he served God under the Law of Moses.
· Such men as the above were leading God’s people in his worship and service, but not according to the Law of Moses. The only other system they could have observed would be that of the Patriarchal Law.
Another insight is found in God’s concern for the Gentile people.
· He sent Joseph into Egypt to bless them as well as to provide a haven for his family.
· He saved Rahab and put her into the family stream of Christ.
· He saved Ruth and did the same.
· He was concerned to heal Naaman the Syrian.
· He sent Jonah to preach to the Ninevites that they might escape judgment Note that the Gentile sailors who tried to save Jonah from death, prayed to Jehovah and offered sacrifices unto him (Jonah 1:14-16)
· He placed Daniel in high places in both the Babylonian and Persian governments as a blessing to those people. Note that Nebuchadnezzaar praised and worshipped the God of Daniel (Dan. 4:34-37).
· He scattered the Jews among all the nations of the world to be beacons of light offering a ray of hope and direction to their Gentile neighbors.
· There was a Court of the Gentiles in the temple complex at Jerusalem.
· There Gentiles could draw nigh to the worship of Jehovah. This was the portion of the temple Jesus charged the Jews with making a den of thieves (Mark 11:15-18).
Gentiles had two options. They could serve God under the patriarchal system, or they could proselyte to Judaism. There were two categories of proselytes. A full proselyte renounced his Gentile name, culture, dress and even his old diet. He took upon himself the full responsibilities of the Law. The males were circumcised. Such were thenceforward considered Jews. In Luke 7 we read of a Roman centurion who begged Jesus to heal his servant. His Jewish neighbors urged Jesus to do so because the man “loveth our nation, and himself built us our synagogue” (7:2-4).
A second group were known as “proselytes of the gate.” These Gentiles were attracted to the God of the Hebrews, their Scripture, their elevated system of worship, their more wholesome and pious lifestyle. They hesitated however to break their ties with their families and culture, etc. They were allowed to come to the doors and widows of the synagogues and observe the worship from without. Hence they were called proselytes of the gate. In the book of Acts we repeatedly read of people referred to as “ye that fear God.”
(Acts 13:16). This is a reference to these proselytes of the gate. They were commonly referred to as “God-fearers.”
When Christ spoke of having other sheep, not of this fold (John 10:16) he was referring to Gentiles who along with the Hebrews would be brought together in the one fold of his coming church. Some were worshiping God as best they could with the their limited knowledge, others other “standing outside the gates” of the synagogues hoping to hear some word of encouragement. But he almost certainly included all of us among the Gentiles whom he knew would one day embrace him as Lord and Savior and thus be added to his fold.. In prophetic literature we call such predictive statements spoken of as a present reality, “the prophetic perfect tense.”
Cornelius was either a God-fearer or else he was serving God after the Patriarchal way. We know he was yet an uncircumcised man, with whom Jews normally would not fraternize. Since the inauguration of Christ as King and the issuance of his New Covenant, Cornelius needed to come under that covenant just as the Hebrews did. He needed to hear words whereby he could be saved (Acts 11:14).
Both the Law of Moses and the Law of the Patriarchy were superceded by the New Covenant of Christ which was extended to “every creature”(Mark 16:15)of all nations (Matt. 28:19).
–John Waddey (Fortify Your Faith)