The last two chps of Chris Wright’s excellent book, The Mission of God, concern the most pressing topic of anyone who wants to examine the Old Testament through the lens of “mission.” I tend to think most either ignore what the OT says or distort what the OT says. Wright gets this right.
This is no small problem and so I want to sort some of this and see where we can land and see what you think…
The hopeful view: “The nations are the matrix of Israel’s life, the raison d’etre of her very existence” (here Wright quotes Duane Christensen; p. 454). Wright: “It is God’s mission in relation to the nations, arguably more than any other single theme, that provides the key that unlocks the biblical grand narrative” (455).
The problem: First, reality: Israel did almost nothing to bless other nations in any missional sense. Second, individuals: if the narrative eventually ends up with Israel — through Jesus and the Church — “missioning” to all the nations (and most of us are beneficiaries of this), it took a long time and what about all those who never heard? Why did God wait so long? Third, hermeneutics: Is it the case that we are hoping to find more Gentile blessings in the OT than are really there? And this leads us to finding such blessings.
The strategy: God chooses Israel. “It was a much more exalted and universal claim — a claim that would be the grossest arrogance if not true. The claim was that YHWH was in fact the sovereign God of all the earth, ruling the histories and destinies of all nations. And in that context of universal involvement with all nations, YHWH had a unique relationship with Israel” (463). God’s unique relation with Israel involved a mission to the nations.
The sharp edge: “…. the covenant demands two sides: Israel belongs to YHWH, and YHWH belongs to Israel … . But in the case of the nations we may say that the nations belong to YHWH, but YHWH does not yet belong to the nations” (466).
So, the themes of the OT unfold into these four ideas:
1. The nations are witnesses observers of what YHWH does in and to Israel (Exod 15:14-16). They observe God’s covenant obligations, God’s judgments on Israel, and God’s restoration of Israel.
2. The nations can be beneficiaries of the blessings inherent in Israel’s covenant (Ps 67:1-3).
3. The nations will come to know and worship Israel’s God (Ps 86:8-10; Isa 66:18-23).
4. The nations will ultimately be included within the identity of Israel as God’s people (Ps 47). But here is Isa 19:16-25, and this one text can stand for a variety of others that anticipate redemption for all nations…
16 In that day the Egyptians will be like women. They will shudder with fear at the uplifted hand that the Lord Almighty raises against them. 17 And the land of Judah will bring terror to the Egyptians; everyone to whom Judah is mentioned will be terrified, because of what the Lord Almighty is planning against them.
18 In that day five cities in Egypt will speak the language of Canaan and swear allegiance to the Lord Almighty. One of them will be called the City of Destruction.
19 In that day there will be an altar to the Lord in the heart of Egypt, and a monument to the Lord at its border. 20 It will be a sign and witness to the Lord Almighty in the land of Egypt. When they cry out to the Lord because of their oppressors, he will send them a savior and defender, and he will rescue them. 21 So the Lord will make himself known to the Egyptians, and in that day they will acknowledge the Lord. They will worship with sacrifices and grain offerings; they will make vows to the Lord and keep them. 22 The Lord will strike Egypt with a plague; he will strike them and heal them. They will turn to the Lord, and he will respond to their pleas and heal them.
23 In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. 24 In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth. 25 The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, ?Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.?