By Asher Intrater
Most of us as born-again believers in Jesus (Yeshua) do not have a problem with racism. That is a gross sin that we left behind along with lying and stealing. However there are subtler dimensions of racial prejudice and ethnic pride that have more of a negative influence on us than we are aware.
Recently I took part in a week-long hike in the desert around Mt. Sinai. The trip was sponsored by Musalaha Reconciliation ministries, and involved a group of Israeli Messianic Jews and Palestinian Arab Christians. At one point, after traveling on camels and climbing down some cliffs, we arrived at the biblical site of Hazeroth.
I was asked to give a brief teaching on location. As I opened my Bible, the first verse of Numbers 12 jumped out at me, in which Aaron and Miriam complain about Moses because his wife was a “Cushite”. I looked at our dark skinned Bedouin guide, and realized that Moses’ wife was Black!
God came down in a cloud of fire and fury to rebuke Miriam and Aaron. There are many ways to look at this passage, but I saw it then from a new angle. God was saying, among other things, “How is it in the midst of this great prophetic event, when I am speaking to Moses face to face, raining Manna from heaven, doing signs and wonders; that you are focusing on the color of the skin of Moses’ wife?”
1. Ethnic pride can cause us to miss major prophetic events.
Yeshua had a similar encounter with the woman at the well of Samaria. There He began to speak with her about receiving eternal life, and her response was, “How can you who are a Jew speak with me a Samaritan?” (John 4:9). Her cultural background was blocking her from being able to hear what He had to say about salvation.
Israeli Messianic Jews and Palestinian Arab Christians face similar obstacles to the gospel in our peoples. Both Arabs and Jews have a cultural wall, built up by thousands of years, against the gospel. When we try to share with our people, they call us Gentiles, even Nazis. When the Palestinians try to share with their people, they are called, “Suheina” – Zionists, about as dirty a word as you can get in their culture.
2. Cultural walls can form a strong obstacle to the gospel.
Finally Yeshua overcame her first objections to salvation. Then she immediately switched to a rare form of religious debate as to whether temple rituals should be performed in Jerusalemor in Samaria (John 4:20). She almost started quoting Bible verses to Him. She may have had the right verses, but her understanding of the meaning of the verses was carnal. She couldn’t see the true spiritual meaning, because her worldview was being colored by her racial prejudice.
Our theology is affected by our worldview, which in turn is affected by deep-seated ethnic and racial prejudices that may have been shaped by historical events that we are not even aware of.
3. Racial Prejudice causes wrong interpretation of biblical texts.
While everyone has prejudice in one way or another, the teachings of Yeshua challenge us to repent of our own wrongs before pointing out the wrongs of others. We are called to take the beam out of our own eye, before the speck in the other’s eye (Matthew 7:3-5).
The problem is that it feels just the opposite to us. “They’re the ones with the beam, while mine is really just a speck.” The other side’s prejudices are so big and bothersome, compared to our own delicate and discreet imperfections. I don’t want to confess my very minor racial discriminations because it might appear to be condoning the enormous racial sins of the other group. But that’s not Yeshua’s way.
The Palestinian brothers are sometimes shocked at our inability to feel the suffering of their people and the burden they have to share the gospel to the several hundred million people in the Muslim world. We Israeli believers are often shocked at their inability to see the enormous fulfillment of prophecy in God’s bringing back our people from the four corners of the earth, and of the importance of Jewish people coming to salvation as a pre-requisite for the second coming of Yeshua.
Each side has to deal with their own sins and ethnic failures. The problem for us as Jews is that our sins are written in the Bible, for goodness sake. The Hebrew prophets were replete with descriptions of our people as stiff-necked, stubborn, rebellious, hard-hearted, idolatrous, adulterous and murderous.
In the New Covenant period, we are described as the very “enemies of the gospel” (Romans 11:28 ); not only have we rejected our own Messiah, but we have done everything we could to keep others from coming to Him (Luke 11:52). In addition, we have long interpreted the biblical concept of being the “chosen people” in a racist way, which misses the point of the biblical covenants. Finally, instead of being a “light to the nations”, we became offended at the thought of the gospel being spread to the Gentiles (Acts 22:21-22).
As we go to present the good news of salvation to a lost and dying world, we need to have the humility to know that all peoples have sinned and that we have forgiveness by the grace of God. Ethnic pride must be removed from each one of us if we are to see the fullness of the kingdom of God.
It is God who created us in different racial groups. In each group we have a certain destiny. In our fallen nature, our races reflect something ugly. As born-again believers, we are to redeem the beautiful treasures that God has hidden in each ethnic group.
God’s international kingdom is pictured as a rainbow; each people group is a strip of color in that rainbow. We are to maintain our distinctives, yet live in harmony, respecting and appreciating the gifts and calling in every nation, tribe and tongue.
Asher Intrater, director of Revive Israel ministries, serves in evangelism, pasturing and leadership training in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem