Genesis 12:1-3, 15, 17, Exodus 19:4-6, Psalm 2:8, Psalm 67, Isaiah 6:8-13, along with the book of Jonah, are foundational Old Testament texts pregnant with missiological force. In Genesis 12:1-3, 15:1-6, and 17:1-8 we read of the call and reconfirmation of Abram as a prototypical missionary who leaves his land and crosses both boundaries and barriers in bringing a full-bore, Yahweh-centered, mission-focused worldview into Abram’s life and world. Walter Kaiser has noted the contemporary importance of the Genesis passages, along with Exodus 19:4-6 and Psalm 67, stating that:
It is impossible for us to understand the Old Testament accurately without examining these texts in their missionary context … lest we think that these three Old Testament texts provide a mandate only to the people of that time and thus have no relevance to those of us who live in the Christian era, let it be made plain that they are also God’s call to us. Arranged in outline form, we can see that God’s message to them is God’s call to us: to proclaim His plan to bless the nations (Gen. 12:3), to participate in His priesthood as agents in that blessing (Ex. 19:4-6), and to prove His purpose to bless all the nations (Ps. 67).
Exodus 19:4-6 represents the so-called “Eagle’s Wing” speech from God to Moses for the Hebrews preceding the giving of the law, a fact that must not escape notice: before God begins instituting the covenant, He reminds the Hebrews of the missionary nature of that relationship. These few verses have been termed by some as the Great Commission of the Old Testament for their inward relationship with God and an expected outward look upon the nations that will eventually surround the Israelites and to whom they are to be a light and covenant example. These verses find their counterpart in 1 Peter 2:9-10 in the New Testament. Individual priestly mission to the surrounding nations was an expectation of God in the Old Testament era.
Psalm 2, a Messianic Psalm of David, resounds with missionary emphasis when God speaks to David, a type of the coming Messiah, and says to “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage.” This desire of God to bless David, and ultimately Jesus, with the commitment of the representatives of the nations, reverberates in both Psalm 22:27-31 (typically limited by some dispensationalists to an idea of blessing during the millennial reign of Christ, thus missing the missionary implications expected of King David and Israel and eventually the Church), as well as Psalm 67:7 (“that all the ends of the earth may fear Him”).
During the past generation, Psalm 67 has experienced resurgence in scholarship seeing it as primarily missiological in focus, largely due to the writing of John Piper as a Calvinistic yet warmly missional and evangelical leader. Echoes of the Aaronic blessing ring out in this psalm but for a different purpose, and certainly not one that is inward-looking or retentive of the blessing exclusively for the people of Israel. The purpose clause in verse two (“that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations”) calls upon Israel, and now the Church, to be conduits and channels of blessing to all the ethnolinguistic people groups on our planet by proclaiming God’s goodness to them. This proclamatory missionary expectation reflects in the following desired active ways in this Psalm:
- The desire for God’s way to be known on the earth (v. 2)
- The desire for God’s saving power to be known among all nations (v. 2)
- The desire for all people groups to praise God (vv. 3 and 5)
- The desire for the people groups to be glad and sing for joy because of God’s equitable judgment and guidance of all people groups (v. 4)
- The desire for God to bring bounty to the Israelites’ crops as a witness to the people groups for them to fear God (vv. 6-7)
Our next blog post will continue looking at other parts of the Old Testament that portray the mission heart of God.