Missions in the Bible
Imagine a German tribal chieftain in the early centuries having read to him out loud the first five books of the Bible. What impressions would he get?
The unfolding story would describe man's fall and then introduce the main subject of the Bible ¬a missionary God chooses a missionary nation to reach "all the families of the earth." (Gen. 12:2)
In Exodus he would see the chosen nation grumbling and complaining even after being liberated from slavery and being given sensible laws and the reasonable demand that its people be faithful to God. Leviticus would then spell out the need to deal with sin.
In Numbers the chieftain would discover how rebellion and jealousy and fateful faltering in response to God's call to the promised land would temporarily thwart God's intention for that nation. (See especially Numbers 12 through 16.)
Week Five February 3, 1980
NUMBERS 13, 14 Here the crisis of obedience is detailed. God offered his people a major missionary base at the crossroads of the African, European and Asia land mass. But they pulled back. Yet God's purpose is still clear: "I vow by my own name that just as it is true that all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord so it is true that not one of the men who has seen ray glory and the miracles I did both in Egypt and in the wilderness and ten times refused to trust me and obey me shall even see the land I promised to this people's ancestors"
(Numbers 14:21 23). So, it is clear that God still wants all of the earth to taste of His glory. He does not forget His purposes even though His chosen people do, being constantly overwhelmed by their own anxieties for food, protection and security.
Week Six February 10, 1980
EXODUS NUMBERS Unlike the chieftain in the forest, our modern small Bibles allow us to page through this whole section in a few minutes. It is astonishing to note the near total absence of vision among the people God has chosen, freed, protected. The Bible faithfully records their complaining and reluctance to believe.Yet God did not ask them to do something He would not help them accomplish. They simply did not "seek first the kingdom of God" but worried about how "all these things would be added to them" ¬food, shelter, security (compare Matt. 6:33). Their minds are on themselves. They seek to be blessed, not to be a blessing. As a result they find themselves telling God that what He asks them to do is impossible. Their hearts are hardened to the reality of all the "impossible" things God has already done for them.
This year we will devote one page in each monthly issue of Mission Frontiers to this theme. Why? Many people, perhaps most Christians down through history, have handled the Bible without being aware that the theme that ties it all together is the relentless, redeeming love of God for "all the families of the earth."
We hope these once a week paragraphs will give extra sparkle to each of 52 weeks this year, and make your Bible "light up" from Genesis to Revelation on the subject of missions. Devotions at home, Sunday School classes, even sermons can spring from these studies by our General Director.
Week Seven February 17, 1980
DEUTERONOMY (Part 1) This is a summarizing book as the new generation steps to the fore. Forty years it took the nation to get to a point which could have taken only 11 days, had their fathers obeyed (Deut. 1:2,3). Page through this book, too, and you will find little awareness of missionary vision. The closest thing is a continued sense of destiny, 7:6 8: "You are a holy people, dedicated to the Lord your God. He has chosen you from all the people on the face of the earth to be His special treasure just because He loves you and kept Hispromise to your ancestors." Alas, however, that "promise" had always involved a clear mandate as well (Gen. 12:1 3).
So a sense of destiny, yes; but a missionary vision, no. Here we see rehearsed only the first half of the mandate to Abraham: "He will love you and bless you.. You shall be blessed above all the families of the earth" (7:13,14). But "be a blessing to all the families of the earth" (Gen. 12:3)? No reference to that!
How could they know but not acknowledge the missionary mandate? It is said that to this day Bedouins in the desert repeat the passages of Genesis with the same 318 servants in Gen. 14, for example after 4,000 years of purely "oral tradition." We too have this mandate in our Bibles. Yet how often do we refer to it in our sermons, Sunday School classes, at home around the table?
Week Eight February 24, 1980
DEUTERONOMY (Part 2) This book portrays a renewal of obedience and allows us a glimpse of a people which at least understood that obedience and survival went together. The book reverberates with duty, obedience, blessings and curses. If they obey, "all the nations shall see that you belong to the Lord, and shall stand in awe," (28:9,10).
But the book actually predicts the opposite. In one of the longest chapters in the Bible (Deut. 28), we see the horrifying truth that this nation redeemed from captivity would be taken captive once more (v. 26) because, apparently, only that way could God "scatter them among the nations from one end of the earth to the other." God had to drive the believers out of Jerusalem at a later date, too. We shall see further on in the Bible more examples of God doing extreme things in order to get His blessings spread out across the earth. Note that when exiled, it would be "to a nation to whom neither you nor your ancestors gave a second thought," (v. 36, LB).
Somehow in this book duty and obedience do not seem as joyful and hopeful as they might have been had the people had vision and purpose clearly in their minds had they been giving the nations of the world "a second thought." If obedience is merely a means of saving ourselves rather than a challenge to save others, we fail not only to save others but even ourselves.
America, America, so blessed of God, so reluctant, increasingly reluctant to obey God! A nation characterized today more and more by pornography, homosexuality, drugs, divorce, alcoholism, etc. Yet the mandate to reach "all the families of the earth" we carry in our expensive, thin¬paper, leather covered Bibles, in multiple translations that make the text ever clearer. But do we handle it as a book principally guiding us to a God who strives with relentless love to bless all nations? Do we ourselves not tend to specialize (just as Israel did) on the verses that speak merely of His blessings to us? Do we think enough about the 16,750 Hidden Peoples? If not, nations to whom we have scarcely "given a second thought " unless they threaten us may indeed someday make themselves known to us as our conquerors. Must we, like Israel, be captured or scattered to force us to witness to the remaining peoples of the earth?