Skip to main content

'Why Foreign Missions?' 3, God, Israel, and the Nations


‘Why Foreign Missions?’ 3. God, Israel, and the Nations


The previous section answered the question, ‘Why foreign missions?’ with the Old Testament and Jewish texts that speak of a future blessing of the nations.  This section offers several answers as to why God is concerned with the nations.  The Old Testament presents God’s concerns and Israel’s role as universal in scope.  God and his people are involved in a redemptive plan that is inclusive, not exclusive.  Here is the Old Testament basis for Jesus’ commission of his disciples to go and make disciples of all nations (Mt. 28.19).

Reasons for Including the Nations/Gentiles in Israel’s Eschatological Blessing

1. Abraham was called out from the nations and becomes the father of many nations: Gen. 17.4-6, 16

Genesis 17.5 No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations.

2. Israel will be a blessing to the nations:

Genesis 12.2-3 I will make of you [Abraham] a great nation [Israel] …. in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

3. Monotheism stands at the heart of Old Testament eschatology: God's status as sole God demands that the nations will ultimately acknowledge His sovereignty: Ps. 22.27; Zeph. 2.11.  (This point will be expanded later.)

3a. Subjugation of the Nations: Zeph. 3.8; Zech. 14.16.

Zephaniah 3:8  For my decision is to gather nations, to assemble kingdoms, to pour out upon them my indignation, all the heat of my anger; for in the fire of my passion all the earth shall be consumed.
                               
3.b. Salvation of the Nations:

3.b.i. Zephaniah 3:9 At that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call on the name of the LORD and serve him with one accord.

3.b.ii. Isaiah: 2.2; 9.1; 25.6; 56.7; 49:6: "It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth."

3.b.iii. Zechariah: 2.11; 8.22-23; Is. 60.11; 61.11; 66.12, 18, 22; Jer. 3.17; 16.19.

4. Israel's prosperity and blessing depends on the surrounding nations, and its magnificence may be described in terms of its rule over or influence on these nations.  Thus God's ultimate victory for His people means an eternal kingdom which establishes justice over all the nations (Dn. 7.14).  Stories about Joseph, Daniel, and Esther indicate the type of blessing the Jews will ultimately be in the whole world.
               
5. Israel's punishment comes at the hands of surrounding nations; they are thus brought into God's plan of judgment and salvation (e.g., Is. 10.5, 11).

6. God's punishment of Israel through other nations shows them what kind of a God He is: on the one hand, one who will not tolerate sin; on the other hand, one who appears to be too weak to save His people from those serving other gods.  Thus God both punishes and restores His people, and the nations understand what kind of God He is.  God does this for His own name, i.e., to show that He is just, more than He does for disobedient Israel (a theme most clearly seen in Ezekiel).

7. Israel's dispersion among the nations means that they come into God's plan of salvation: they     bring punishment on Israel, are where God's people dwell, and play a part in the return of God's  people.  To the extent that they participate in the return of God's people they too come to share in    God's salvation (e.g., Is. 66.18-22).

Conclusion

Israel’s role among the nations in the Old Testament does not usually come across as one of mission.  Jonah sums up this attitude rather well.  After God saves Nineveh from destruction through Jonah’s preaching, Jonah is upset: a doomsday message that does not come to pass is embarrassing.  He knows that God is a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing’ (Jonah 4.2).  Yet such a God knows no boundaries for His love.  It does not stop at Israel’s borders but works through Israel to reach all nations.  If God is not a local deity but the only God, if His character is to love and forgive, if Israel exists to extend God’s blessing to the nations, then mission for us, too, as God’s people will to foreign fields.  We might well ask not ‘Why foreign missions?’ but ‘Why not foreign missions?’  Instead of asking, ‘Why go?’ we might rather ask, ‘Why stay?’