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Dr. Barrick began our series on missions discussing its relationship to Christ’s resurrection. This article seeks to evaluate missions in the Old Testament context between the Lord and Israel. When using missions, we mean to communicate evangelizing the nations about the grace of our Lord. Hudson Taylor, going to a foreign land, learning the language, and preaching the Gospel exemplifies missions. But is this a NT concept?
Like fingers running down a chalkboard is the concept that God did not have a heart for the nations until after Jesus’s resurrection. Yet, I also understand why people think and teach this. The modern concept of missions did not exist in the OT. Israel did not spread around the world to evangelize. Instead, they put up a wall and bunkered down. If we do not see Israel spread around the world, like we do, then it seems God had no heart for the nations until after the Messiah’s mission. This is a false dichotomy. The mistake here fails to distinguish God’s will for Israel and Israel’s actions. So, we need to separate God’s will and his child’s actions. The short explanation, Israel disobeyed God.
However, highlighting Israel’s sin is not the point of this article. Instead, observe how God’s intended will for Israel to be a light to the nations. First, God placed Israel in the perfect spot to reach the world. Second, He commissioned them to evangelize. Finally, He wanted the nations to know Him!
In our History of Israel, Dr. Michael Grisanti points out Israel’s location is perfect to magnify the Lord. There is always someone at the party who likes to be the center of attention. Brian Regan calls him the “me-monster.” This person shows up wanting to be the center of attention. Israel was placed in the middle. Look at them on a map. To the southwest lives mighty Egypt. If I wanted financial wealth, I’d have traveled to Egypt for trade and resources. Coming from any other major nation would require me to go through Israel.
Traveling through Israel us to meet, learn, reside with them, and know their character. Time with a believer will reveal his or her godly attributes. God’s transforming work will be seen. Of course, in learning their culture, one would hear the Gospel too. The blessings of being in the center of the world is being in the center of the world. The gas station on a long toll road stands to profit because of its ideal location. Israel was the world’s gas station.
Looking at a map is helpful, but God’s Word provides definitive evidence our Lord wanted Israel to evangelize the nations. Hear what He says to Israel,
See, I have taught you statutes and judgments just as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should do thus in the land where you are entering to possess it. “So keep and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ “For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the LORD our God whenever we call on Him? “Or what great nation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole law which I am setting before you today. (Deuteronomy 4:5-8)
This paragraph addresses Israel, her responsibility to obey the law, and why it’s important. Moses reminds Israel of the Law before she enters the Promise Land. He issued the Law, His covenant with them informing them how they should live in His presence. He desires their obedience. Why? Because their obedience would be noticed “in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes.” The Hebrew word for “peoples” comes from Goyim — a word commonly used to reference the nations. God acknowledges Israel’s obedience will draw the nations attention.
The Lord knows the nations will observe and hear the Law and be amazed at His wisdom and understanding. They will hear and see Israel’s obedience and discern the greatness and righteousness of Yahweh — Lord God. This is what God’s revelation communicates: God is holy, righteous, and pure. Romans 1:20 affirms a similar message. God’s creation reveals His divine attributes and power. When God communicates, He reveals His righteousness, sovereignty, and holiness. In Deuteronomy 4:5ff God reveals His will to Israel [my summary], “You’re obedience to me will draw the nations to me.”
The Law, Israel, and her location were designed to draw the nations to our Lord. Her failure has nothing to do with a lack of God’s love for the nations.
God has a heart for the nations. This is evidenced in multiple places in the OT. Our Lord sent Jonah to Nineveh to preach the Gospel (Jonah 1:2). This story provides a unique look regarding the difference in perspective between Jonah and Yahweh. Jonah was upset when Nineveh repented. But God had compassion for a large number of lost men, “Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?” (Jonah 4:11). Our Lord cares for the nations.
Often we talk about the New Covenant being directed to Israel. But God equally intended the nations in the New Covenant. Speaking to His Son, the suffering Servant, God says, “And I will appoint You as a covenant to the people, As a light to the nations” (Isaiah 42:6). Later the Father says to His Son, “I will also make You a light of the nations So that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6). During OT times the Lord wanted the nations saved and He knew the Son needed to rescue them. He would send the Son to do what Israel failed to do.
For a fun study, go look up the sojourner and aliens and why God tells Israel they need to have compassion on them. Israel was overwhelmingly informed of God’s heart for the nations and why they needed to pursue the nations. Israel’s lack of obedience never usurps God’s faithfulness. Before Adam fell, God desired the nations to be His children. Our Lord is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.