Israel and the mission of God
Clearly Jonah on his own (discussion continued from ‘Holiness and vocation) does not constitute much of an argument for the view that Israel had some sort of missional role, so I have very briefly listed a few more points below. The important thing to keep in mind, however, is that the success of Israel’s ‘mission’ (not a particularly good word in this context because ‘sending’ is not a dominant metaphor) to the nations is dependent on Israel’s obedience to the covenant: Israel will be a blessing to others only insofar as she is herself a recipient of blessing, and the precondition for this is ‘holiness’. Most of the Old Testament is taken up, in one way or another, with the failure of holiness. Mission, as a result, gets marginalized and in the end shifted to the level of eschatological expectation: it’s clearly not going to happen in the present but it will happen when God restores Zion.
1. Abraham will be a blessing to the nations of the world (Gen.12:3; 18:18; 22:17-18; 26:4; 28:14). Blessing is a mark of divine favour that is expressed in material and social terms: to be blessed is to prosper (cf. Gen.1:22, 28; 9:1, 26-27; 17:20). Kings such as Melchizedek and Abimelech prosper because of the way they treat Abraham.
2. If the people keep the covenant, Israel will be ‘a kingdom of priests and a holy nation’ among the nations of the world (Ex.19:5-6). If the role of the priest is intrinsically a mediatory one, then we may suppose that Israel as a priestly nation in some sense mediates between God and the nations of the world.
3. The holiness of the people is the prerequisite both for God’s blessing of Israel (eg. Deut.28:2) and for the ‘missional’ impact of the nation’s presence in the world:
4. Isaiah envisages a day when Egypt and Assyria will not only be blessed by God but called ‘my people’ and ‘the work of my hands’ (Is.19:24-25).
5. The servant of Yahweh, who is not less than a righteous and obedient Israel, will be a ‘light to the nations’ and will ‘bring forth justice to the nations’ (cf. Is.42:1, 6; 49:6). This is also an eschatological vision, but it is the consequence of the renewal of a sinful people: the implication is that Israel would have been a light to the nations if it had not sinned.
6. Jeremiah says that God will have compassion on Israel’s ‘evil neighbours’ and will ‘bring them again each to his heritage and each to his land’ if ‘they will diligently learn the ways of my people, to swear by my name’ (Jer.12:14-17).
7. Jeremiah also urges the exiles to pray for the welfare of Babylon, ‘for in its welfare you will find your welfare’ (Jer.29:7).
8. God’s compassion towards the people of Nineveh (‘should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons who do not know their right hand from their left?’) is not a trivial matter. Many would argue, moreover, that Jonah in this story is (in some way) representative of the nation as a whole.
9. There is a strong eschatological vision of the nations coming to mount Zion to acknowledge the God of Israel and learn his ways (eg. Micah 4:1-2).