Our Missional God 14

Any reading of the Old Testament immediately confronts a significant “missional” problem: the OT is not “missional”. Chris Wright, however, argues that the great covenant moments of the OT have within them the missional theme. So today we look at chp 10 of The Mission of God, where Wright looks at the covenants with Noah, Abraham, Sinai/Moses, David, and the New Covenant.

First, with Noah: the covenant is to preserve the earth and humans, Eikons, are exhorted with this to continue their role to steward the earth (Gen 1; Gen 9).
Second, with Abraham: the covenant involved blessing the nations (Gen 12).
Third, with Sinai/Moses: this is the focus of this chp, and he lays out the themes of Israel as God’s priesthood to the nations (Exod 19:4-6), Israel experience the presence of God as a witness to its holy distinctiveness as a witness to the nations (Lev 26:11-13), and of a prognosis of the eventual inclusion of Gentiles (Deut 27–32).
Fourth, with David: here Wright delves into David as a king for all nations and how the early churches captured a universal promise in the fulfillment in Christ, the Son of David.
Fifth, with the New Covenant … and this leads to the New Testament teachings on the missional extension to Gentiles.
I wasn’t convinced of his understanding of “priesthood” as having a missional thrust, since I don’t see that priestly extension to others, but that specific point doesn’t overturn the big picture he here sketches. But there’s a lingering question that deserves asking: Does this missional reading of “covenant” imply either that most of Israel didn’t understand this or that Israel simply failed in its missional task? Or, is this a hermeneutical issue? Namely, do we learn to see the missional theme because of what we see in the Church?

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  • “Does this missional reading of ‘covenant’ imply either that most of Israel didn’t understand this or that Israel simply failed in its missional task?”
    If this question is intended as an either/or, I think it may be a false dichotomy. Rather, it could be argued that their failing in their missional task led to lack of understanding and vice versa. Moreover, isn’t their failure in this task a reason for their condemnation (e.g., of the Pharisees) in the NT? They understood their ‘election’ not as election to service to the nations but rather as election in the sense of an exclusive relationship with YHWH.

  • Rick

    D C #1-
    Good thoughts and question.

  • What were Jesus’ expectations about what Israel should have done? It seems to me that Jesus keeps pressing the point that Israel missed the boat.
    Could it be that in the beginning that all God intended was faithfulness from Israel? As Israel remained faithful over an extended time, other nations would see Israel and be drawn to God. In the process, the missional nature of God would become more transparent to both Israel and the gentiles. The missional nature was not made transparent in the beginning.
    I can think of many examples where parents, bosses, teachers, or coaches instructed me to behave certain ways without making explicit the purpose of the instruction. Only once I was faithful did it begin to unfold to me what the importance of the activity was.
    Not only had Israel become unfaithful but they had twisted the narrative so that it was about how God had chosen them against all other nations rather than for all other nations. Jesus arrives to set the record straight.
    Just a few speculations.

  • Scot, I’m a little surprised at this, “the OT is not ‘missional’.” God leading His people out of oppression and into the Promised Land is not missional?

  • Jonathan,
    It’s a rhetorical set-up. One approach is to say the OT is not missional and then have someone like Wright show that the seeds are there.

  • T

    Another thought for the mix: The Psalms seem to have a common refrain of not only praising God, but telling others, even other nations, to do the same. Just from the Psalms, it seems that Israel had some understanding that God wanted all nations to worship him alone. I’ve always been moved by the fact that some Egyptians left Egypt with Israel after the plagues (and I was glad the makers of Prince of Egypt included that). And there seem to be several instances in Israel’s history where folks in other nations were either directly confronted by God, or by a prophet, or some similar situation. Also, looking at Egypt, and the other world powers throughout Israel’s history, God had a way of using whatever human power-that-be as a podium (even the ‘Roman’ cross served this purpose) from which he would announce himself to the world. God clearly had his reputation with the nations in mind (even in punishing Israel), even if Israel didn’t always or ever have a proper appreciation for what God was doing.
    Maybe Jonah serves as a microcosm of Israel regarding God’s mission to the (God-less) nations. Not only does Jonah resist the mission and cause great loss to himself and others in doing so, he never seems to embrace or understand it–even after doing what God commands. What is the point of this aspect of the story if not to correct Israel’s similar refusal of mission and undervaluing of the nations?

  • John O.

    I wonder whether Israel understood the OT texts that we (in our post-apostolic viewpoint) call ‘missional’ to be at least partially fulfilled in the Davidic kingdom. In a society in which religion and politics were inseparable, would it not have seemed that, as the nation of Israel came to dominate and exercize influence over the surrounding nations, this was the meaning of YHWH’s promises concerning the relationship between Israel and the nations?