In a post-9/11 world, in a suspicious world, in a world where we hide what we have incase a stranger might take it, in a country where we are nervous of immigration, God can remind us of our duty and the standard which we are set in relation to “us” and “them”.
Within the Bible we can find guidance, examples and truth about what God expects of us, and sometimes it might surprise us, especially those of us who have got comfortable in our church, doing things our way, hoping that we shall not be intruded upon.
“Moreover, concerning a foreigner, who is not of Your people Israel, but has come from a far country for the sake of Your great name and Your mighty hand and Your outstretched arm, when they come and pray in this temple; then hear from heaven Your dwelling place, and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to You, that all peoples of the earth may know Your name and fear You, as do Your people Israel, and that they may know that this temple which I have built is called by Your name.”
2 Chronicles 6:32-33, NKJV
This is a small excerpt from a prayer of dedication upon the completion of the temple in Israel. First speaking to the whole assembly of Israel, and leading in prayer to God, King Solomon is setting out the purpose of the temple to glorify God and know His presence.
What seems surprising to some people is how Solomon speaks about the foreign people in his land, and the purpose of the temple in relation to them. He admits they are not of the chosen people of Israel, but points out that some have come because of the reputation of God’s name. He asks that God will embrace them as they come to him (not unlike the prodigal son or lost sheep image given by Jesus) so their prayers might be answered.
He is not assuming the foreigners have suddenly converted and become one of the Hebrew people. The temple was not originally meant to be exclusive; in fact it was intended to be a house of prayer for all. Many different people with many different beliefs and gods would come to pray, but Solomon is asking God to answer their prayers anyway.
Solomon has great wisdom gifted to him and here it is being used in a missionary capacity. He prays for, and hopes that, whilst each man, woman and child prays they will come before the one true God of Israel, know Him and understand. He is asking for God’s blessing on them so as their lives might start to be more full of God’s goodness whilst they are in Israel. He has built a house of prayer, not simply to let everyone in, but to embrace everyone and show them love and truth.
“these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.”
Isaiah 56:7, ESV
It was perfectly well-understood within the Bible that a foreigner, a Gentile, could fear (believe in or respect is probably a better way to look at it) God whilst not quite converting into the faith. There were often Greeks, Romans, Babylonians, and many others who felt there was something special about the ancient wisdom of the Hebrew people. The chosen people of Israel were not meant to hold their faith as a hidden object, but instead had the responsibility to bear it for the whole world. This becomes more evident within the New Testament as the disciples finally understand God’s will for the Gentiles amongst them.
“And Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”
Acts 10:34-35, NKJV
“If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?” When they heard this they were silenced. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance unto life.””
Acts 11:17-18, NKJV
These foreign people were to be given the same treatment as God’s chosen people, all being allowed to pray within the temple, all being blessed by a merciful, loving God. And God would love it. In fact He asked for this type of relationship to Him:
“Thus says the Lord of hosts:
‘Peoples shall yet come,
Inhabitants of many cities;
The inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying,
“Let us continue to go and pray before the Lord,
And seek the Lord of hosts.
I myself will go also.”
Yes, many peoples and strong nations
Shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem,
And to pray before the Lord.’
Zechariah 8:20-22, NKJV
So, in relation to right now, in a society where politicians warn us against immigration whilst also asking for equality, where churches feel threatened by a multicultural society, where there seems to be an inherent distrust of anyone not fitting the mould we’d like, what does this mean?
Do we just allow anyone into pray in our churches? Why not! Do we pray with those of other faiths and ask for their prayers to be answered? Would be a good start!
But what else? Is that it? No!
Loving treatment of others is not just about tolerating them in our spaces. Solomon hints that there is more to be done, the foreigners are coming to God’s “mighty hand and… outstretched arm”. They are coming for help, they are in need. Many of those who might want to pray with a Christian or in a church when they are from neither background are, to put in bluntly, desperate. They might be desperate to hear from their own God, be needing help, healing, or simply rest. Solomon understands they come because they feel they need to, and those in need should not be turned away.
This is possibly another reason why Jesus’ explodes with anger in the temple at Jerusalem (Matthew 21:13). The areas meant for the Gentiles to pray, for those people to be welcomed in and have time with God, those areas are instead full of sellers, money-changers, and noise. This House of Prayer, this place for all nations, to feel God’s embrace, our Father’s presence was distorted and corrupted. He did not stand for it, nor should we.
They may not be Christian, believe in our God, or have much idea of why they came, but when we have the opportunity to welcome in a stranger, pray with them, pray for them, or simply allow them the space to pray alone, we should take it, protect it, and praise God that He’s a loving God.
We have a responsibility, because now we are without a temple, but we have been given the Spirit, and we are in the world as God’s temple. If we do not respect this responsibility to the foreigner as well as our own people, we have forgotten our purpose.