Act 17:24-27 The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of Heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands, (25) nor is served with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives life and breath and all things to all. (26) And He has made all nations of men of one blood to dwell on all the face of the earth, ordaining fore-appointed seasons and boundaries of their dwelling, (27) to seek the Lord, if perhaps they might feel after Him and find Him, though indeed He is not far from each one of us.
This past week in Israel we have witnessed large and very angry, emotional demonstrations – even riots – by the Israeli Ethiopian community. These were triggered by a senseless attack by a policeman and volunteer upon an Ethiopian Jewish soldier in uniform. Years of pent-up frustration were vented by the demonstrators, calling upon the government and the people to stop the discrimination and racism against the large community of Jewish immigrants from Ethiopia.
Racism is a sin, is not new, and the Jewish people during the last 2000 years have suffered from it under the term anti-Semitism. People are people, and the Jewish people are not different in that respect: we can also be racists in our attitude and acts towards other people groups. Even within ethnic groups, there is discrimination and racism: among Jews, it can show up, like now, against Jewish Ethiopians; it can be by Ashkenazi Jews towards Sephardic Jews. Once, an Ethiopian brother in Messiah told me that even among the Ethiopian people – who are all ‘black’ – there are those who are considered the “whites”, and those who are the “blacks”; and the ‘whites’ discriminate against the ‘blacks’, treating them with less value and dignity.
Sinfulness does not recognize boundaries, and the hearts of all people are wicked and deceitful, as YHVH spoke through the prophet Jeremiah, and as Yeshua also taught. We need a new heart and a new spirit, both given by YHVH God when someone is born-again by the Holy Spirit from Above, becoming a new creation. But then we find that the flesh and Spirit war one against the other, and we may still struggle with sin in us, even though God considers us righteous by our faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord! Not all believers are free from the sin of racism in our daily lives, or in our reactions when we hear that a Jew, or an African, or an Arab did some terrible thing.
What does the Bible have to teach us about God’s view of humanity, especially to us who have been saved by grace through placing our faith in the Son of God, who is also the Son of Man?
First of all, what is not racism? Do you remember the story of the Gibeonites in the book of Joshua? (Josh 9:1-27) The Children of Israel were conquering the Land of Canaan. YHVH God had strongly spoken to the Israelis that they were to make no covenant with those who dwelt in the land, because it would weaken their faithfulness and loyalty to Him alone as their God. (Ex 23:32-33; Dt 7:2) While all the other people groups within Canaan prepared to fight the Israelis, the Gibeonites realized that they could not defeat the chosen people of God. So what did they do? They deceived Joshua and the other leaders into thinking that they had come from a far land, and they wanted to make a covenant of peace with Israel. Joshua and the other leaders agreed, and only afterwards did they realize that the Gibeonites were actually from within the land. But since the covenant had been made with YHVH as a witness, Joshua had to let the agreement stand, but, the Gibeonites had to agree that they would always be woodcutters and water carriers for the Israelis and for the needs of the sacrifices on the altar to God. The Gibeonites were glad to live! They would praise and thank the God of Israel for both mercy and justice!
As an ethnic group, there was no hope or expectation that Gibeonites could ever advance in the society. There would not be social equality. There may have been individuals, who by the favor of God, “broke the mold”; but as a group, their price for being allowed to live at all, and live in what had been their own country, but was now to become the Land of Israel, was to be menial laborers for the Israelis and for the service of YHVH. This is not racism, nor unfair social justice. However, if either side forgot, or does not know the history regarding the how and why of the relations between the two groups, the enemy of our souls can exploit the situation to turn it into a racist issue.
To say the Jews love money is not necessarily racist or anti-Semitic: most people love money and what “being rich” means in this world. The love of money is a sin. To accuse the Jewish people specifically for their love of money can be understood as racist or anti-Semitic. To be born with “black” skin is not a sin, nor a mark of inferiority. To think of “black people” as a lower level of being human is racist and sinful.
What is racism? As we read in the verses from Acts, God has made every nation of men from one blood: human beings are equal before God in dignity and value, having all been created in His image. Therefore, racism is prejudice, discrimination, or hostility towards people from another race because of pride in your own race or nation as being superior to theirs. Pride and fear are roots of racism. Not loving your neighbor as yourself is its fruit.
Since the time of the Tower of Babel and the days of Peleg, God separated the nations in judgment, and brought division, even by establishing boundaries. Again, as we read in Acts, this is so that people would seek the Lord, in the hope that they might find Him, though He is not far from each one of us. Different people groups do have a destiny: God has given purpose in life to all. No one can change God’s Word which He promised to His people Israel. No one can change God’s Word that He spoke to Babylon. No one can change God’s Word that He spoke to Ishmael. Yet, from among each of these people, God is calling out a people for Himself by saving them out from their own “people and their fathers’ houses”, bringing them into His House, and becoming their Father in Christ.
As believers in Jesus, we are to know no man according to the flesh, but according to the spirit.
“For the love of Christ constrains us, judging this, that if one died for all, then all died; (15) and [Jesus] died for all, that those who live may live no more to themselves, but to Him who died for them and rose again. (16) So we now know no one according to the flesh; even if we have known Christ according to flesh, yet now we no longer know Him so. (17) Therefore, if any one is in Christ, that one is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (18) And all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given to us the ministry of reconciliation; (19) whereas God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and putting the word of reconciliation in us. (20) Then we are ambassadors on behalf of Christ, as God exhorting through us, we beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (21) For He has made Him who knew no sin, to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
What does all this say to us in this matter of racism? The Word of God examines the thoughts and intents of the heart. We may keep our opinion to ourselves, knowing that it may not be appropriate, or even acceptable, to express them on some issues. Yet Jesus and the Holy Spirit know us from within and from without. Racism is a sin against God who has made all human beings in His image; and His judgments as to how He has determined the multitude of ethnic groups and nations are past finding out.
While YHVH God calls for people to love each other, and to treat the stranger with respect, the devil makes our differences as people a basis for sowing division and fear and hatred, even among believers.
Yeshua has said that we will always have the poor with us, and sin will, sadly, also always be with us in this life. Our congregation here is a little picture of the Kingdom of God, made up of persons from different tribes, tongues, people, and nations – each redeemed to God by the blood of Jesus. The gospel message which we carry gives people true hope for having their ‘heads lifted’ from suffering humiliation and shame and sinful attitudes, or from having been a racist who caused such anguish of soul in others. The gospel is the same message of salvation for all persons from whatever race of men, because Jesus died for all. He forgives and heals – giving peace in place of fear and shame and arrogance. In Christ, we not only know God the Father and the Son because the Holy Spirit lives within us, but God knows us, and fully accepts us, whatever others may think of ‘my people’, or whatever ‘my people’ think of Jesus. We overcome the world by faith in the Lord, and can relate to all others with humility and love for Yeshua’s sake. As His disciples, it is sin to humiliate any group or person because we think ourselves superior to them.
We need to each examine and judge our own hearts as to our attitude toward the ‘other’ or the ‘lesser’. We are ambassadors for Christ to help each other be reconciled to God on this issue of racism, and on any other issue which the Scriptures speak about from the Lord’s perspective. When we love one another and have respect for people from all races and nations, the truth of Jesus/Yeshua being Messiah will be seen.