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A Constant Thread: The Big Story of Missions in the Old Testament

A Constant Thread: The Big Story of Missions in the Old Testament

Missions isn’t the one-hit wonder of the Old Testament. God’s plan to bring blessing to the nations is more than just a subplot or even a major theme. It’s THE big idea, from Genesis to Malachi.

God reveals His grand purpose to Abram in the opening chapters of the Bible, promising to bless him, and through him, bring blessing to all nations. While this promise looks ahead to the time when Jesus would walk the earth and make a way for all humankind to be reconciled to God, it wasn’t on pause in the millennia between Genesis and the Gospels.

In the early books of the Old Testament, Abraham’s descendants become a great nation just as God promised. Out of all the peoples of the earth, He set them apart for a purpose, as He proclaims in Exodus 19:5-6 (NIV):

“‘Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”

The Israelites were chosen to be God’s holy people—a role that was designed to bring blessing not only to them but to all nations. This idea runs as a constant thread through each chapter of Israel’s history. It’s embedded in familiar Bible stories, such as the account of David and Goliath, as David proclaims before the giant, “This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands … and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel.” (1 Samuel 17:46 NIV) Over and over, God gives Israel victory and pours out His blessing, communicating to the surrounding nations His sovereignty and power.

This purpose didn’t cease when Israel failed to be the people God had called them to be. Even during their exile, the Lord delivers those who remain faithful to Him, demonstrating His character to their captors. When Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were thrown into the fiery furnace for refusing to bow to the golden image King Nebuchadnezzar had set up, God put His power on display as these three men were left unscathed after walking in the fire that had killed others who merely got close to it. As a result, the king declared, “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! … for no other god can save in this way.” (Daniel 3:28-29 NIV)

The idea that the God of Israel is making Himself known among the nations is infused in every type of writing in the Old Testament, including the poetic and prophetic books. The Psalms are rich with declarations of the Lord’s goodness throughout the earth and promises that He will be glorified among the nations. For example,

“Be still, and know that I am God;
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46:10 NIV

“All the nations you have made
    will come and worship before you, Lord;
    they will bring glory to your name.” Psalm 86:9 NIV

“Declare his glory among the nations,
    his marvelous deeds among all peoples.” Psalm 96:3 NIV

Likewise, God’s desire to bring all nations to Himself through Israel is inextricably woven into the messages of the prophets. Isaiah, for instance, foretells that Jesus would be the savior not only of the Jewish people but of people from all corners of the world:

“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant
    to restore the tribes of Jacob
    and bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
    that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” Isaiah 49:6 NIV

Numerous other prophets proclaim God’s promise that He would be known among the nations: “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (Habakkuk 2:14 NIV)

In every book of the Old Testament, God is working to redeem all peoples of the earth. In spite of Israel’s failures, and even through their shortcomings, He reveals Himself to the nations; and the songs and prophecies that accompany the account of their history are rich with the message that He will one day be worshiped by all peoples.

As we participate in Jesus’ Commission to take the gospel to the nations, we’re part of this ancient and ongoing story. We go because we want to see God’s great promise of the Old Testament fulfilled:

“‘My name will be great among the nations, from where the sun rises to where it sets. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to me, because my name will be great among the nations,’ says the Lord Almighty.” Malachi 1:11 NIV

Are you exploring your role in God’s plan to bring blessing to all nations? We’d love to come alongside you! Email [email protected] to connect with us.

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