Mission of God’s People
"How odd of God to choose the Jews" was echoing in my head when I awoke in a hospital bed in Bangkok, Thailand. Evidently, while jogging that morning, I had been struck by a vehicle and had hit my head on a curb when I came to several hours later in the hospital, not knowing where I was or what had happened, that rhythmic refrain kept reverberating through my head, "How odd of God to choose the Jews."
It does seem odd for God to choose the Jews, or anyone else, as his partners in world redemption. Why, oh, why did God limit himself to establishing his kingdom through the voluntary cooperation of man? As sovereign Lord he created the vast universe with its whirling galaxies of billions of stars. He stooped down on a small planet in a medium-sized solar system, breathed life into a mound of dust he had gathered, and called it "man."
God could have controlled all man’s actions, but he chose to make him free to do good or to do evil. Man abused his freedom and disobeyed God. Relationship and fellowship with God were broken, and Adam’s descendants marched resolutely away from God.
No doubt Satan and his cohorts danced with glee each time man failed. They thought the battle was won at Eden. Then at the Flood. Then at Babel. Each time, however, God found a way tic continue his purpose. But after Babel when he was forced to divide man into races and scatter them over the face of the earth, it appeared God was out of options. What would he do now?
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______1. Destroy man and forget it all. Who needs him?
______2. Scatter man and let sin destroy him.
______3. Start over with a man who is incapable of sin.
______4. Take the risk of continuing with the original plan of complete freedom of choice for man.
______5. Modify the original plan so that man can be directed through subconscious mind control.
God continued with his original plan. But he needed a new strategy. How could he get man to be a full partner voluntarily in establishing the heavenly kingdom on earth?
GOD’S ELECTION OF A PEOPLE
God’s new strategy was to select one individual as his friend and partner. From all possible options, God elected Abraham and his descendants as the key to establishing his kingdom throughout the earth. It is odd that God would choose one person or people as his representatives on earth, but this special relationship required a special response and responsibility. God’s relationship with Abraham marks a new era.
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1. How did God get Abraham’s attention? _________________________________________________
2. What trait did Abraham have to exercise to obey? _________________________________________________
3. What inducement to obedience did God give to Abraham?________________________________________
4. What was God’s purpose in calling Abraham? _________________________________________________
After you have answered these questions to your own satisfaction, read on.
God got Abraham’s attention by calling him and commanding him to leave his father’s house, his relatives, and his country. Abraham exercised faith because he believed the promises of God. God’s inducement was a vision of being a blessing to all nations. God involved man in his purpose by forming a partnership with Abraham through election, covenant, and the response of faith.
The conflict between God’s unchanging purpose and man’s changing will shaped succeeding history. The key to understanding the Bible and what God is doing in this age is this-man is free to do as he wills, but God works in all situations to lead men toward God’s ultimate purpose (Rom. 8:28).
An illustration of this is God’s dealing with Israel. The descendants of Abraham had lost most of the sense of calling that Abraham had. It was during the Exodus event that Israel became conscious of her election. God’s miraculous acts during the Exodus revealed that God actually had intervened and had acted in history. For the first time God’s Chosen People knew that history was moving toward a goal instead of in endless cycles as their pagan neighbors believed. The Bible is an account of the acts of God for and through his Chosen People and therefore was written only after the Exodus.
God reveals himself by his acts. The Creation, the Flood, and the confusion of tongues at Babel helped early man know that God was powerful, righteous, and involved with man’s daily life. Israel became aware of her chosen status because she experienced God acting in her behalf.
Genesis 12:1-3 is pivotal to an understanding of God’s plan. He chose Abraham in order to bless all the families of the earth. When God chose Abraham, he was on his way to the world. Every person in God’s election chain is a link to the rest of the world. Even when they forgot, God did not.
The Hebrew word for election-love (ahabah) means unconditioned love. The Old Testament writers agree that God’s love, not Israel’s faithfulness, was the reason for her election (Deut. 9:4-5; 7:7-8; Hos. 11:1-3; Jer. 3:4; Ex. 16:6). We do not elect God; he elects us. Election is God’s initiative. The Hebrew word for election (bahar) means "God decides on means and ways of choosing from what is possible."² God makes the choice, and we have no right to question it (Rom. 9:8-24).
The question should not be, Why did God choose the Jews or us? but, For what purpose did he choose us? As a boy, I liked to play baseball. The two biggest boys automatically became captains. After tossing the bat to determine who got first choice, the captains would choose teams. When I first began to play, I was always chosen last. I was thrilled even to play. But I shall never forget the day I was chosen first. I proudly stood beside my captain and beamed as he chose the rest of the team. Many years passed before I realized that the captain had chosen me not because he liked me better than the other boys but because he felt I could help his team win the game. God’s election is like that.
When God’s election acts are misinterpreted, his chosen people miss their designated purpose. For example, the extreme Calvinistic interpretation of predestination has resulted in many peoples interpreting election as God’s decision to favor some and to damn others. The fact is that the saved are elected to help bring the lost to a knowledge to God. The Calvinistic doctrine became antimissionary when its followers said, "If God wants to save the heathen, he can do it without us." This same feeling of superiority plagued Israel and prevented God’s missionary purpose from being fulfilled through them.
Have you viewed your salvation as favoritism or as a call to be involved in God’s establishing his kingdom on earth? We are elected as responsible partners of God to help win the victory over Satan.
Missions is God’s choice. Missionaries go at the command of the sovereign Lord, not because of their own whims or desires. No one becomes a volunteer before God elects him. This does not limit the number of missionaries. In fact, it opens the way for all God’s people to be on mission. God elected a missionary people when he elected Abraham and then Israel, and then Israel’s spiritual heirs.
GOD’S COVENANT WITH HIS PEOPLEElection is not enough; man must respond. God illustrated his relationship with Israel as a marriage. Election is God’s proposal. Marriage occurs only when the second party accepts the terms of the proposal. As marriage is the consummation of proposed love, so the covenant was the consummation of election.
Recall that the Hebrew word for election-love (ahabah) means that it is an unconditioned love. The Hebrew uses a different word for covenant-love (chesed). It is a word that means no covenant exists until both parties meet the conditions. God’s election choice was not based on Israel’s goodness; however, the continuing relationship depended on their faithfulness to the covenant. God’s covenant and man’s response of faith initiated a new relationship between God and man. They were bound together in the common purpose of blessing all the families of the earth.
Immediately after Israel was elected out of Egypt, God took them to Sinai to reaffirm the covenant he had made with Abraham.
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Read Exodus 19:4-6. Write in your own words the conditions of God’s covenant and the promises he made to Israel prior to the giving of the Ten Commandments.
The covenant proves that election is for service. God reminded Israel that he delivered them from Egypt so they would be a nation of priests to the world. Israel did not always acknowledge that God’s call was for service. She certainly did not serve the nations. From generation to generation, God tried to mold his people into a nation of servant-priests.
God’s pattern for making man his partner in world redemption is clear: election, covenant, and man’s responsible obedience by faith. When man fails to respond, God remains faithful to his promise and purpose. He uses man’s disobedience and Satan’s craftiness to bring praise to his name.
God accomplishes his purpose in spite of man’s sinfulness. At times man willingly follows God’s commands. At other times he willfully refuses to do God’s will. Israel sorely tried God’s patience and purpose. But God faithfully ordered events to call her to repentance and faith.
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1. Abraham forsakes the Promised Land and lies about his wife (Gen. 12:10-20).
2. Abraham fails to believe God for the promised descendants (Gen. 16:1-3).
3. Jacob schemes and cheats to gain first place in the line of Abraham’s descendants (Gen. 27:36).
4. Joseph is sold by his evil brothers into slavery in Egypt (Gen. 45:4-8; 50:20).
5. Moses tries to deliver Israel by his own power and plans (Ex. 2:11 -1 5).
6. Israel refuses to enter the Promised Land according to God’s time schedule (Num. 14:1-10).
You, as a Christian, are elected in Christ and inherit the promises (Gal. 3:13-16). God has called you and selected you to be one of his children. He expects you to walk in obedience to his commands and to serve him through serving the world. He is not content to have only a few select leaders but desires an entire people to be his holy servant-priests to the world.
When he saves us, God places in our hearts a desire to serve. A small-town church in Tennessee conducted a survey asking how many of its members would like to be engaged in some special service for God. Of 204 who responded to the survey, 196 said they wanted to be involved in service. They did not mean they wanted to be pastors but that they believed God had something special for them to do. Often God’s people have a desire to serve but do not know what they ought to do or how to do it.
GOD’S ROLE FOR HIS PEOPLE
God intends for his people to be a disciplined people, holy priests, and suffering servants to the world. Both the Old and New Testaments emphasize that God is forming a holy nation of servant-priests.
A Disciplined People
The Old Testament sketches God’s efforts to form a holy people. Holy means to be separated unto God. God called Abraham to leave home and family and live a life of loneliness. His descendants became a pilgrim people. Israel’s history is a saga of God’s efforts to keep her true to her distinctive calling instead of her drifting in the direction of other peoples. She was to represent God’s holiness to the other nations of the world. She soon learned that the righteousness of God demanded a disciplined, obedient people. Since God’s righteousness brings his wrath upon sinners, Israel was to be a parable and a proclaimer of God’s holiness.
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To understand God’s intent, read Deuteronomy 7:6-11 and list the who, what, why, and how of God’s relationship with his people.
Because they were his children, God had both the right and the obligation to discipline Israel. This discipline involved nurture for motivation, training for obedience, and punishment for correction in righteousness. How often God despaired at the refusal of his people to become his holy possession and fulfill his will! And he punished them each time.
More than anything else, God wanted to rule his people in righteousness. Soon after they arrived in the Promised Land, the children of Israel forgot their covenant with God to be a holy, separate nation. They demanded, "Make us a king to judge us like all the nations" (1 Sam. 8:5). An unhappy Samuel prayed to God, who answered, "They have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them" (1 Sam. 8:7). Israel’s desire to be like other nations caused them to reject God’s rule over them and to subject themselves to an earthly king.
Even this extreme act of defiance did not thwart God’s purpose ultimately. God changed his strategy again, this time to work through the king. After Saul, he chose David, a man after his own heart, and made a covenant to establish his kingdom forever.
Israel mistook God’s blessings for his approval and thought her kingdom was synonymous with God’s kingdom. She saw herself as a reservoir of God’s grace to which the rest of the world must come. Her mistake was basically the same as the mistake God’s people make today. We seem to think the world must come to us rather than our proclaiming the kingdom of God to the world.
Because Israel failed to understand her role in establishing God’s kingdom, God destroyed her earthly power. He sent prophets to proclaim her decline and fall because she interpreted election as privilege rather than as service. God refused to allow a warped concept of his election to survive indefinitely.
The Exile in Babylon was a seventy-year object lesson to teach Israel that God alone was God and that she must obey his Law. She learned to obey the Law but failed to understand the larger lesson that she was to be a disciplined, holy people to be a blessing to others. By the beginning of New Testament times over four hundred years later, the Law itself was hardened into a legalistic mold, and the idea of Israel as God’s favored people had emerged in great force. Other nations were not allowed to worship God unless they became Jews
The purpose of discipline is to make one responsible. Israel perverted her responsibility for the nations by concentrating on herself To be holy and separate does not mean a lack of love and contact with others. God, the most holy and separate one, is the most concerned for all people.
According to the Old Testament prophets, the hope of the kingdom would be a faithful remnant, cleansed in fiery judgment and made amenable to God’s purpose. The hope was not the remnant of an earthly kingdom but the beginning of an eternal one composed of obedient children of the king.
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Read Exodus 19:3-7 and Isaiah 61:4-6. Answer in your own words the question, What did God mean when he said Israel would be a nation of priests?
A Nation of PriestsAt the beginning of the covenant with Israel, God promised that they would be a kingdom of priests. Again at the close of the age, God has decreed that they shall be called "priests of the Lord" and "ministers of our God." God never wavered in his --purpose (2 Pet. 2:9-11; Rev. 1:6).
God chose the tribe of Levi to be priests. They were to be models of what the whole nation was to become. The Old Testament priests brought the nation of Israel before God to worship and to learn about his holiness. Although priests had many duties, they had two main functions. First, they represented God to man. Second, they represented man to God. God intended Israel to perform these same two functions in relation to the nations.
If the entire nation was to function as priests, to whom would they be priests? Certainly not to themselves only but also to the nations. Goerner says:
They were to become a holy priest nation to whom God would reveal himself that they, in turn, might transmit the revelation to the other nations (for all the nations belonged to God). They were to perform the sacrifices and render the service on behalf of all nations which would make possible God’s mercy and propitiousness toward all.³
God’s intention in retrospect seems clear and obvious to us; but Israel misunderstood, misinterpreted, and rejected it. God did not intend for the Israelites at this stage to take the initiative in converting the nations to God but to be faithful and to become his people. When the right time came, they were to proclaim salvation to the whole world.
A Servant People
The Lord of heaven and earth serves us and expects us to be a servant people. We are to love like God, serve like God, and minister to all people like God. The four servant passages of Isaiah clearly express the servant role of Israel and ultimately of Christ.³
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The first servant passage (Isa. 42:1-7) states that the servant will bring justice to the nations (v. 1), that the isles wait for his law (v. 4), and that the Lord will give the servant "for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles" (v. 6).
The second servant passage (Isa. 49:1-12) alerts the isles that God has called Israel. To Israel he says, "Thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified" (v. 3). God says that it is too light a thing to raise up the tribe of Jacob for its sake alone because, "I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth" (v. 6). As a result kings shall arise and princes shall worship God (v. 7), and the servant will be a covenant to the people to establish the earth and inherit the people of it (v. 8).
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Read Isaiah 50:4-11 and 52:13 to 53:12, the second two servant passages, and answer the question: What is the primary requirement of the servant for the nations?
There is no way a people can become a holy nation of servant-priests without suffering. Most Jews say these Scriptures predict the suffering that they have experienced throughout the centuries and particularly at the hands of the Nazis. Note that the servant does not suffer for his own sins but for other people’s sins. Israel rejected the idea of being a suffering servant. She also totally rejected the idea of a Suffering Messiah and, by New Testament times, could not accept Jesus when he fulfilled this prophecy.
Christ embraced the role that Israel rejected. He passed it on to his people as a prescribed experience. God’s people must be willing to suffer if they are to be links to bring men to God. To reject the role of a suffering servant is to reject the destiny of bringing salvation to the nations.
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Old Testament Today
CONCLUSIONA serious question has been raised as to whether missions is taught in the Old Testament. Missions, in the sense of God’s chosen people going out to the nations to take the message of salvation, was not practiced in the Old Testament. The best example in the Old Testament of missionary activity is Jonah’s going to Nineveh. Yet Jonah, like Israel, refused to be God’s chosen messenger to the nations. The conclusion of the Jonah episode leaves him pouting because God forgave the Ninevites instead of punishing them (Jonah 4:2). Jonah was more concerned about his gourd vine than about the repentance of the thousands of Nineveh.
The prophets and the psalmists spoke of the nations around Israel. They proclaimed God as the God of all the earth and pronounced his judgment on sinful nations. They usually restricted their prophecies relating to mission activity to the coming of other nations to Israel, and in particular to Jerusalem. Clearly, Israel cannot be our example of the missionary people. However, if you look at the acts of God as revelations of his purpose, the Old Testament is intensely missionary. The entire story of the children of Israel is the story of the missionary God preparing a people to be missionaries. God is the missionary in the story of Jonah. God continually acted in Israel’s history to reach beyond her racial borders. Ruth, a native of Moab, and Rahab, from heathen Jericho, are examples. The Old Testament concludes with the prophetic promises of future glory. Yet, the Chosen People failed utterly to fulfill God’s purpose. The four hundred silent years between the Old Testament and the New Testament are mute testimonies that man was incapable of doing God’s will and establishing his kingdom. Israel was more God’s contrary people than his missionary people.
NOTES1. For continuity I am using Abraham, the name God later gave to Abram.
2. G. Quell, Collection in the Old Testament, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol 4, ed. Gerhard Kittel (Grand Rapids William B. Eerdmans Publishing company, 1967), p. 146.
3. Henry Cornell Goerner, "Thus It Is written": the Missionary Motif in the Scriptures (Nashville Convention Press, 1966), p. 14.
BIBLIOGRAPHYBerkouwer, G. C. Divine Election. Grand Rapids William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1960.
Goerner, Cornell. "Thus it Is Written": the Missionary Motif in the Scriptures Nashville: Convention Press, 1944.
Quell, G. "Election in the Old Testament," Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. 4. Edited by Gerhard Kittel. Grand Rapids William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967.
Rowley, H. Hl. The Biblical Doctrine of Election. London: Butterworth Press,1964.
_______.Israel’s Mission to the World. London Student Christian Movement Press, 1939.
_______.The Missionary Message of the OId Testament. London: the Carey Press, 1944.
Wright, G. E. God Who Acts,. Chicago A. R. Allenson, Inc., 1952