Missions in the Bible
Although God had given Abraham a clear mandate, blessing him and making him a blessing to all the families of the earth, nevertheless his descendents mainly forgot the second part of that mandate. They remembered over and over again throughout the exodus and the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness (Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy) that God had promised to bless them. They often rebelled, and were reminded again and again of the necessity of obedience if they were to be blessed. Yet it was hard for them to be willing to be a nation of people ministering to the other nations, as God had intended.
Week Nine March 2, 1980
DEUTERONOMY 32:20 21 JOSHUA
4:24. Although Deuteronomy portrays a people almost devoid of insight into God's purposes for it to be a missionary nation, here in this one passage we detect God's continuing interest in other nations. God had planned to be always gracious to Israel, but here in the song of Moses and Joshua, in view of their stubbornness and rebellion, He says, "Now I in turn will make them (Israel) jealous by giving my affections to the foolish Gentile nations of the world. Joshua repeats this interest of God in the nations when he says (Joshua 4:24) that the reason God parted the Jordan was not for the sake of Israel alone, but "so that all the nations of the earth will realize that Jehovah is the mighty God, and so that all of you will worship him forever."
Week Ten March 9, 1980
JUDGES and RUTH In these early years of inhabiting the promised land as recounted in Judges, when Israel is totally preoccupied with saving herself, one looks in vain for any sense of mission to win the surrounding heathen to the true God. And, although Israel is blessed over and over again, she falls into idol worship again and again, is punished by God, repents and is rescued miraculously. Even Sampson, especially chosen to be one of her rescuers, understands his connection to the Philistines (through his wife) as being only for his personal gratification or to administer judgment on them for their treatment of Israel. It seems out of place to ask if he ever tried to be a witness, even to his wife.
There is one outstanding exception to this self centeredness in this section of the Bible: the book of Ruth. Ruth was a Moab an idol worshipper, and her husband had clearly disobeyed God's command when he married her. Yet his family, especially his mother, Naomi, had been such a witness that when Ruth had to choose between leaving her family and friends and (the Bible explicitly points out) her gods, Ruth without hesitation chose the God of Naomi.
Naomi is not called a missionary, yet she was able to bring Ruth to a place of total commitment. Naomi did not allow compromise taking Ruth and Orpah and their gods back with her to Israel. To go with her meant they had to leave the gods behind. Ruth understood this implicitly.
One would not have expected a grieving widow to be the one shining example of a missionary during this whole period. But she was. And she discipled Ruth so well that God used her to become the grandmother of the greatest king of Israel (David) and indeed the ancestress of our Lord.
Week Eleven March 16, 1980
FIRST AND SECOND SAMUEL
These two books on the early history of Israel on the whole continue to portray a nation concerned chiefly about its own well being. There are only brief glimpses of the broader concern of God for the whole earth, as in Hannah's song: "For all the earth is the Lord's and he has set the world in order He judges throughout the earth." (I Sam. 2:8, 10) Even Samuel never mentions the second part of Abraham's covenant, though he remembers the part where Israel is to be blessed (I Sam. 12:22) and certainly is concerned that God's name not be dishonored before the nations looking on.
David is a bit more positive. Even as a youth meeting Goliath he is aware that it is important for the whole world to know that there is a God in Israel (1 Sam. 17:46) and that his name should be honored in all the earth (2 Sam. 7:23,24). Later on, in the book of Psalms, we will see that this awareness is constantly with David. Could it be that because his grandmother was a convert to Israel that he had a greater sensitivity to God's desire to win the nations?
Week Twelve March 23, 1980
I and II KINGS Part I Again
with Solomon we find intermarriage with unbelieving (idol worshipping) girls (I Kings II) and instead of their being won to the faith, as
with Ruth, they "encouraged Solomon to worship their gods instead of trusting completely in the Lord." (1 Kings 11:4). Solomon was making political alliances not for missionary reasons but for security's sake. How much better had he tried to win those nations to the one Lord of all creation!
There are two specific references to God's interest in the nations that can be found in these two books. Solomon's dedicatory prayer of the temple says: "May people all over the earth know that the Lord is God and that there is no other God at all." (1 Kings 8: 60). And later on Hezekiah prays "Oh Lord our God, we plead with you to save us from his (Sennacherib's) power, then all the kingdoms of the earth shall know that you alone are God." (2 Kings 19: 19)
Again there is no indication that either king senses a responsibility for the people of God to be witnesses, but only that God's name should be honored and that his power would be recognized as preeminent.
Week Thirteen March 30, 1980
I and II KINGS Part 2 In spite of the seeming scarcity of a sense of responsibility to witness to the nations around about Israel, Jesus shows us in the gospels that some direct witness was done. In Luke 4 Jesus infuriated his still self centered hometown people by referring to two instances in the book of Kings. Jesus asked why, when there were so many lepers in Israel, did God heal only a Syrian (2 Kings 5). The first witness in this case was a little Israeli slave girl. Elisha was the second. Jesus also referred to the widow of Zarephath a Canaanite town. He asked again why Elijah was sent to a Canaanite woman when Israel was so full of starving widows. (Luke 4:25 6, 1 Kings 17:10 16)
It is interesting to note that in both of these cases cited by Jesus the "heathen" were very responsive to the gospel Naaman saying, "I know at last that there is no God in all the world except in Israel (v. 15) and the widow exclaiming, "Now I know for sure that you are a prophet. .and that whatever you say is from the Lord."
As Christians today we may also wonder if the reason people remain tied to their idols is because we are unfaithful in reaching out to them. Elisha and Naomi were forced out of their ordinary paths by famines, and the little servant girl witnessed because she was a captive far from home. What will it take to make a self centered Christian America to reach out to the Hidden People of our time?