It is very easy for us to see life and the world from our own perspective. It is also easy for us to see God from our own perspective. But ultimately, it is God’s perspective, not ours, that is most important.
The Heartbeat of God
By Neil I.
But seeing things from God’s perspective is not always easy. Everything in life directs us to view God, the world, and our life through our own lenses. This then affects how we understand God’s Word and His plans for us and the world.
But God is much bigger than we are. His ways and plans are beyond our limited perspectives. Let’s look at how truly big and universal God’s plans are.
As we try to understand the world and life from God’s perspective, it is wise to start from the beginning of history. If we understand God’s heart and purposes for the world and for us from the beginning, then we can begin to see how truly big and universal God is.
Sections in this Article
- The Old Testament
- The early trouble
- God’s response
- God’s strategic placement
- The convenant continued
- To the next generation
- The covenant distortion
- The heart of the distortion
- The distortion corrected
- The covenant pattern
- God’s global heart in Exodus
- God’s global heart in the law
- The God of all the earth
- An example to the nations
- Two areas of misunderstanding
- The covenant conditions
- The consequences of failure
- God is still at it
- The Psalms
- The Messiah
- The whole story or part of it?
- The minor prophets
- Daniel and Jonah
- There is much more
- Old Testament Summary
- New Testament
- Paul’s understanding
- Jesus’ teaching
- Jesus keeps preaching
- Jesus doesn’t stop
- Jesus on the end times
- Jesus spells it out
- The book of acts
- God’s ultimate desire
The Old Testament
The early trouble
Let’s start with creation. In the first two chapters of Genesis, God establishes himself as the Creator of all people. As such, only He can claim mankind’s full allegiance. This fact remains throughout all of Scripture.
Moving into chapter three we see that the dynamics of God’s creation changes. Adam and Eve sin. This act creates a new ballgame. But this rebellious act is just the first of three cataclysmic events that happen in the first 11 chapters of Genesis.
In chapter six we see that people had become so corrupt and evil that God grieved that he had made them. So, the God of all peoples exacts judgment on all people. He brings about a flood that destroys virtually everyone on earth.
(Gen 6:11-13) Now the earth was corrupt in God's sight and was full of violence. God saw how corrupt the earth had become, for all the people on earth had corrupted their ways. So God said to Noah, "I am going to put an end to all people, for the earth is filled with violence because of them.
This is only the second of three calamitous events. In chapter 11 we find the Tower of Babel. Here rebellious people once again directly disobey a continuing, clear command of God and instead try to make a comfortable life for themselves. So, the God of all peoples once again exerts His power over all peoples. He judges them and divides them into many different people groups. These groups then spread over all the earth.
(Gen 11:9b) …the LORD confused the language of the whole world. From there the LORD scattered [the peoples] over the face of the whole earth.
Only a few chapters into the Bible and we see that man has consistently been disobedient and rebellious. Three times God had to bring about strong forms of judgment. The issue is always the same: People choose to disregard God’s commands and instead make decisions that seem more appealing or comfortable.
So history is off to a bad start, but how does God respond? We have these three huge failures by mankind. How does God’s kingdom strike back? What is his plan to straighten things out?
Let’s look at the first chapter that follows these three big failures. Read Genesis 12:1-4.
The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you.” “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” So Abram left, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran.
What happens here? God makes a covenant. And this isn’t God’s first covenant. He had made a covenant with Noah also. God is showing Himself to be a God of covenants. Let’s look at this covenant with Abram closely. Let’s break down the covenant into two parts. The get and the give. The inflow and the outflow. What flows into Abraham? What flows out of Abraham?
In short, there is a get and give in this covenant. Abram is blessed by God, but also supposed to be a blessing to “all peoples on earth.” God gives Abram the mission of being a blessing to all the peoples that God had just scattered all over the earth.
- Great name/nation
- Promised Land
- To be a blessing
- To be a blessing to all the nations of the earth
God’s strategic placement
Let’s also look at one more subtle detail in this event. We didn’t read it (verse five), but do you know where Abram was sent?
Canaan, or present day Israel. Why did God send Abram there? It took Abram many months to reach this destination. Can you think of anything strategic or unique about this spot?
It is the only place in the world where three continents come together (Asia, Africa, Europe). These are the most populated continents in the world. Also, this area was the major crossroads of the ancient trading world. This area was the most prime location in the world. God literally sent Abram to the most strategic place in the world to be a blessing to “all peoples on earth.”
(Ezekiel 5:5) This is what the Sovereign LORD says: This is Jerusalem, which I have set in the center of the nations, with countries all around her.
(Jer 22:8a) People from many nations will pass by this city…
(Jer 33:9a) … this city will bring me renown, joy, praise and honor before all nations on earth…
In Ezekiel 26:2, a foreign nation calls Jerusalem “the gate to the nations.”
The covenant continued
Back to the covenant. Does God only mention this covenant once and then forget about it? Absolutely not!! This covenant is the cornerstone covenant of the Jewish and Christian faiths. Let’s look at Genesis 17:1-7.
When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless. I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.” Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.”
Here God reconfirms the covenant and tells Abram that this covenant is not only with Abram, but with the “descendants after him.” But not only that, God changes Abram’s name from Abram (which means “exalted father”) to Abraham (which means “father of many”).
Just a few verses later God institutes circumcision. He instructs Abraham that every male in his community, both family or foreigner, must be circumcised. Thus, God allowed, actually required, foreigners to have the same sign of the covenant.
One chapter later, God once again visits Abraham.
(Gen 18:1-2) The LORD appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried … to meet them and bowed low to the ground.
After the meeting, while the Lord and the men are leaving, something interesting happens.
(Gen 18:16-17) When the men got up to leave, they looked down toward Sodom, and Abraham walked along with them to see them on their way. Then the LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?”
This question had always seemed very strange to me. Why does God ask that? Does God need to tell Abraham what he is about to do? Does God need Abraham’s council to act? Does God report to Abraham? Of course not!! Then why does God think it is important for Abraham to know that he was going to judge these people living in rebellion and sin? Does Abraham have some part in this? Does Abraham have something to learn in this? Let’s see what God continues to say.
(Gen 18:17-18) Then the LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do? Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him.”
You see, it was through Abraham that the nations were going to be blessed, but here the inhabitants (probably Canaanites or Amorites) were going to be destroyed in judgment. But Abraham was called to be a blessing to the nations. Is God testing Abraham? What is Abraham going to do?
(Gen 18:22-25) The men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the LORD. Then Abraham approached him and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in the city? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing — to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”
Do you see what happened? Abraham is a mediator between these lost nations and God. Abraham plays a role of blessing between God and these people. Abraham is faithful to his role. Look, though, what is written at the end of their discussion.
(Gen 18:33) When the LORD had finished speaking with Abraham, he left, and Abraham returned home.
Notice that it doesn’t say, “When Abraham had finished speaking to the Lord…” Abraham might have thought he was the one approaching God and questioning Him, but God was in control. God was the one speaking to Abraham. And God had gotten Abraham to see that his covenant relationship with Him included being a blessing to the nations and a mediator between God and man.
God doesn’t stop there. Only a couple of chapters later, in Genesis 22, what do we find? God once again stating to Abraham this common refrain that he will be a blessing to all nations.
(Gen 22:18) … through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed….
To the next generation
Finally we get to chapter 25 and Abraham dies. We have skipped other passages that show the global nature of God, but for now we are only focusing on the covenant given to Abraham. However, now that Abraham is dead, is God going to stop talking about being a blessing to the nations? Let’s look just one chapter later.
(Gen 26:2-4) The LORD appeared to Isaac and said, “Do not go down to Egypt; live in the land where I tell you to live. Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you. For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham. I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed…”
We again see God making this same covenant to establish His covenant people in the most strategic place in the world and to have all nations on earth be blessed. However, this time God is speaking to Isaac.
The covenant distortion
God emphasizes this covenant numerous times in the first 25 chapters of Genesis, but now flip to Genesis 27:27-29. The background here is that Isaac is nearing the end of his life. He has a son to whom he passing on an “end-of-the-life” blessing.
So Jacob went to his father and kissed him. When Isaac caught the smell of his clothes, he blessed him and said, “Ah, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field that the LORD has blessed. May God give you of heaven's dew and of earth's richness — an abundance of grain and new wine. May nations serve you and peoples bow down to you. Be lord over your brothers, and may the sons of your mother bow down to you. May those who curse you be cursed and those who bless you be blessed.”
Did you notice anything here? Isaac knows the covenant. God had told him directly. In short, “be blessed and be a blessing.” But is this what Isaac passes onto his son? Certainly Isaac passes on the wish for his son to receive many blessings. This was certainly part of the covenant God had given to Abraham and Isaac, but did God also say, “May nations serve you and peoples bow down to you?” Or did God say, “May all the nations of the earth be blessed through you?” Let’s break down the get and give of Isaac’s blessing.
- Heaven’s dew
- Earth’s richness
- Abundance of grain and new wine
- Nations serving him
- Peoples bowing down to him
- Being lord over his family members
The heart of the distortion
We have stumbled upon a huge problem we find in Scripture. Unfortunately, this problem is not limited to the pages of Scripture. This problem finds its way into the heart of every person who has covenanted with God. And the problem is this. We like to be blessed by God and blessed by God and blessed by God and blessed by God, but we shirk our responsibilities to be a blessing to the nations of the earth. We are glad to receive all the blessings God gives us, but when we are required to turn around and bless others, we hesitate. We like the get part of the covenant, but we don’t like the give.
The distortion corrected
Does God just let that slide? Let’s go back to Scripture. In Genesis 27 Isaac gives this slightly distorted blessing to Jacob. He actually does it again in Genesis 28:3-4. But God is not silent. Just nine verses later, God sets things straight. He straightens out the get and the give of relationship.
(Gen 28:13-15) [The Lord said to Jacob]: "I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you."
So what have we seen so far? We have the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob establishing a covenant with them and their descendants. He tells them that he will bless them and they are to be a blessing to all the nations of the earth.
The covenant pattern
The continuation of this covenant can be seen through many passages of Scripture, but let’s just look at only few of them to show the continuation of this theme to be a blessing to all the nations.
(Ps 67) May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine upon us, (Selah) that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations. May the peoples praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you. May the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you rule the peoples justly and guide the nations of the earth. (Selah) May the peoples praise you, O God; may all the peoples praise you. Then the land will yield its harvest, and God, our God, will bless us. God will bless us, and all the ends of the earth will fear him.
(Zech 8: 20-23) “Many peoples and the inhabitants of many cities will yet come, and the inhabitants of one city will go to another and say, ‘Let us go at once to entreat the LORD and seek the LORD Almighty. I myself am going.’ And many peoples and powerful nations will come to Jerusalem to seek the LORD Almighty and to entreat him.” This is what the LORD Almighty says: “In those days ten men from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.’”
We can see even later in history, after Israel had fallen into deep sin, that God tries to call them back into being a blessing to the nations.
(Jer 4:1-2) “If you will return, O Israel, return to me,” declares the LORD. “If you put your detestable idols out of my sight and no longer go astray, and if in a truthful, just and righteous way you swear, ‘As surely as the LORD lives,’ then the nations will be blessed by him and in him they will glory.”
Look how simple this last passage is. It is like God just keeps repeating it and simplifying it for His people. It’s like, “Look guys. Here is my plan. You faithfully follow me. Then the nations get blessed.”
But as powerful as these verses are, God shows something even more incredible to Isaiah.
(Isa 19:19-25) In that day there will be an altar to the LORD in the heart of Egypt, and a monument to the LORD at its border. It will be a sign and witness to the LORD Almighty in the land of Egypt. When they cry out to the LORD because of their oppressors, he will send them a savior and defender, and he will rescue them. So the LORD will make himself known to the Egyptians, and in that day they will acknowledge the LORD. They will worship with sacrifices and grain offerings; they will make vows to the LORD and keep them. The LORD will strike Egypt with a plague; he will strike them and heal them. They will turn to the LORD, and he will respond to their pleas and heal them. In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria. The Assyrians will go to Egypt and the Egyptians to Assyria. The Egyptians and Assyrians will worship together. In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth. The LORD Almighty will bless them, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.”
Do you get what God is saying here? God is foretelling the day when He will call into covenant other nations. Here He says that the Egyptians and the Assyrians too will be in relationship with Him. In this relationship too, there is the get and the give.
- Relationship with God
- To be a blessing on the earth
God’s global heart in Exodus
Let’s go back to where we left off. The covenant had been given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This occurs in Genesis. Throughout Genesis, we see the establishing of the covenant and its continuation. By the end of Genesis God’s covenant people had migrated to Egypt. In the next book of the Bible, Exodus, we see God’s covenant people being oppressed by the Egyptians. God shows His dominion by judging Egypt and freeing His people.
(Ex 9:13-16) Then the LORD said to Moses, “Get up early in the morning, confront Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, says: Let my people go, so that they may worship me, or this time I will send the full force of my plagues against you and against your officials and your people, so you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth. For by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth. But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’”
I had often wondered why God waited for 400 years to free His covenant people. But earlier in Scripture God had revealed that, and I just hadn’t noticed.
(Gen 15:13,16) Then the LORD said to Abraham, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. … In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”
God is not only the God of all peoples, but He is a just God. By having His covenant people live in the Promised Land, they would be displacing the people who were living there. As Creator of the Amorites (and therefore sovereign over them) God was going to use the coming of the Israelites as judgment against the sinful Amorites.
So, as God promised, He brings the Israelites out of Egypt. He brings them into the desert and renews and reestablishes the covenant with them.
(Ex 19:5-6a) 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.
In the renewing of this covenant, God reminds His people that the whole earth is His, but God has specially chosen them to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. But don’t overlook exactly what this is saying. What is the role of a priest?
A priest is a mediator between God and man. Hence, Jesus is our high priest. So if a priest mediates between man and God, what does a holy nation that is a kingdom of priests do? Who do they mediate between?
God’s global heart in the law
After God reestablished this covenant with Abraham’s descendants, God begins to teach them. All throughout Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy these teachings are recorded. Let’s look at some of these common themes. Look how they show God’s global nature. Let’s first look at the “alien” theme. An “alien” was a non-Israelite who came to live among the Israelites.
(Ex 23:9) Do not oppress an alien…
(Lev 19:33-34) When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself … I am the LORD your God.
(Lev 22:17-19) The LORD said … “If any of you — either an Israelite or an alien living in Israel — presents a gift for a burnt offering to the LORD, either to fulfill a vow or as a freewill offering, you must present a male without defect from the cattle, sheep or goats in order that it may be accepted on your behalf.”
(Lev 24:16) Anyone who blasphemes the name of the LORD must be put to death. The entire assembly must stone him. Whether an alien or native-born, when he blasphemes the Name, he must be put to death.
(Num 9:14) An alien living among you who wants to celebrate the LORD's Passover must do so in accordance with its rules and regulations. You must have the same regulations for the alien and the native-born.
We see in these passages that God allows an alien to be circumcised, to make offerings, to live by the same covenant rules as the Israelites, and to participate in the Passover. On top of that, we see that the Israelites are supposed to love the alien as they love themselves.
God talks a lot about these non-Israelites. God tells His people to care for them so frequently that He reminds the Israelites that they need to treat each other as well as they do the alien.
(Lev 25:35) If one of your countrymen becomes poor and is unable to support himself among you, help him as you would an alien or a temporary resident, so he can continue to live among you.
Let’s look closely at two more “alien” passages.
(Num 15:15-16) The community is to have the same rules for you and for the alien living among you; this is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. You and the alien shall be the same before the LORD: The same laws and regulations will apply both to you and to the alien living among you.'"
(Isa 56:3a, 4, 6-8) Let no foreigner who has bound himself to the LORD say, “The LORD will surely exclude me from his people.” For this is what the LORD says: “Foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to serve him, to love the name of the LORD, and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant — these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” The Sovereign LORD declares — he who gathers the exiles of Israel: “I will gather still others to them besides those already gathered.”
What is God continuing to say here? He is the God of all peoples. His standard is the same for the Israelite and non-Israelite alike. All of this shows God’s heart and desire for the world. All of this lays the foundation for the missions basis of the Bible.
What is interesting is how easily we miss this. God talks about the alien many times, but often we don’t stop to think who an alien is. This happens for so much of Scripture. God’s missionary heart is all throughout Scripture, but we frequently miss it.
The god of all the earth
Let’s go back to where we left off earlier. After the Exodus, God teaches the Israelites many things. He teaches them more about who He is and what He expects from His people. God reveals Himself as the one and only true God. It was critical for Israel to understand this. If they didn’t understand this then they would never be kingdom of priests or a blessing to the nations of the earth.
So literally just ONE chapter after God renews the covenant in Exodus 19, God tells His covenant people in the 10 Commandments that there are to be “no other gods before Him” and no one should worship idols. God says that He is a jealous God. Just like no father wants His children calling another man “Dad,” God doesn’t want anyone calling anything or anyone else “God.” This is true both for Israel and all the nations of the earth. Deut 32:39 says, “See now that I am He! There is no god besides me.”
This theme continues throughout Scripture.
(Ps 47:7-9) For God is the King of all the earth; sing to him a psalm of praise. God reigns over the nations; God is seated on his holy throne. The nobles of the nations assemble as the people of the God of Abraham, for the kings of the earth belong to God; he is greatly exalted.
(Jer 10:7) Who should not revere you, O King of the nations? This is your due. Among all the wise men of the nations and in all their kingdoms, there is no one like you.
God is passionate about this. Listen to how the prophets declare this message.
(Isa 45:22-24) “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. They will say of me, ‘In the LORD alone are righteousness and strength.’” All who have raged against him will come to him and be put to shame.
(Jer 32:26-27a) Then the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah: “I am the LORD, the God of all mankind.”
An example to the nations
There are other themes that God teaches to this young community in order to show His global and missionary nature. God tells the Israelites that they need to be pure and holy, and that they cannot adopt the ways of the sinful nations. If they failed to be pure, then they would fail to be a light and blessing to the world. They could never be a kingdom of priests if they didn’t remain pure.
(Lev 18:1-5) The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘I am the LORD your God. You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices. You must obey my laws and be careful to follow my decrees. I am the LORD your God. Keep my decrees and laws, for the man who obeys them will live by them. I am the LORD.’”
(Lev 18:24-28) Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. But you must keep my decrees and my laws. The native-born and the aliens living among you must not do any of these detestable things, for all these things were done by the people who lived in the land before you, and the land became defiled. And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you.
We could keep looking at numerous passages, but we are only in the fourth book of the Bible. Let’s quickly look at two more passages from the fifth book of the Bible, Deuteronomy. These verses are a great summary of what we have seen so far.
(Deut 28:9-10) “The Lord will establish you as his holy people, as he promised you on oath… then all the peoples of the earth will see…”
(Deut 4:5-8) See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the LORD my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?
Do you see what Moses is teaching? He is saying, “Look everyone. You are the light to the nations of the world. By following God’s ways, you are going to draw the nations to God.”
Only five books into the Bible, we can already see the global and missionary nature of God. We can also see that God wants those who are in relationship with Him to be a blessing to all the nations of the earth.
Two areas of misunderstanding
Before we move forward, we need to look at two issues that are real stumbling blocks for many people. From this point on in Scripture, we begin to see two things that often make people erroneously question God’s heart for the world. First is the fact that God “judges” the nations. Second is what I call the “conflict” theme. It is critical to rightly understand these two issues, or else you can easily come to inaccurate conclusions.
First, when we read about God judging a nation, we need to remember these five points.
1. God is a judge! 2. He is the judge of all peoples! 3. Everybody in the world is going to face judgment. 4. God judges His own covenant people frequently throughout the Old Testament. His own people get judged just as frequently as the nations do.
5. (Jer 9:25-26) “The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will punish all who are circumcised only in the flesh — Egypt, Judah, Edom, Ammon, Moab and all who live in the desert in distant places. For all these nations are really uncircumcised, and even the whole house of Israel is uncircumcised in heart.”
6. We also need to remember that these nations are not innocent. God is judging them justly.
7. (Jer 12:17) “… if any nation does not listen, I will completely uproot and destroy it,” declares the LORD.
(Jer 25:12b-13) “I will punish the king of Babylon and his nation, the land of the Babylonians, for their guilt,” declares the LORD, “and will make it desolate forever.”
(Mic 5:15) “I will take vengeance in anger and wrath upon the nations that have not obeyed me.”
When we read that God is judging the nations, we should never assume that He doesn’t have a heart for them. That is like saying a father doesn’t love his children because he punishes them. God is the Creator of all nations. He is sovereign over all nations. Every time God judges a nation, He shows His sovereignty over the nations. God is a righteous, holy judge. There comes a point in time when God is going to judge. That is what a judge does!
This global nature of God is all throughout the Old Testament. I believe that people often struggle to understand it because they struggle with their view of God—of God as a judge.
The fact that all nations are going to face judgment only gives us more impetus to reach them. However, if you don’t see God as an almighty judge, you probably won’t take too seriously His command to be a blessing to the nations.
The second issue people struggle with is what I call the “conflict” theme. This is the fact that we often see Israel and God in conflict with other nations. But we need to remember that these were nations aligned against God, nations against His redemptive plans, nations against His covenant people. Certain nations wanted to completely eliminate God’s people. God wasn’t going to stand by and let evil nations thwart his plans to have “all nations on earth blessed.”
(Zeph 2:8-9b) “I have heard the insults of Moab and the taunts of the Ammonites, who insulted my people and made threats against their land. Therefore, as surely as I live,” declares the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, “surely Moab will become like Sodom, the Ammonites like Gomorrah- a place of weeds and salt pits, a wasteland forever.”
So we can see a battle mentality as God and His covenant nation war against those who would stand in the way of God’s plans. The covenant God of Israel is seen waging war against those forces which try to thwart and subvert his plans for creation. He battles false gods, magic, astrology, idol worship, and every form of social injustice. Implicit in all of this, once again, is that God has dominion and authority over all nations.
With these two things addressed, we need to keep moving. But we must look at a couple of more verses from Deuteronomy. I don’t want you to think that God is only passively concerned about the peoples who came to Israel. God is much bigger than that. He cares for and provides for all the nations. Look what God said to the Israelites as they made their way from Egypt to the Promised Land.
(Deut 2:2-5) Then the LORD said to me, “You have made your way around this hill country long enough; now turn north. Give the people these orders: ‘You are about to pass through the territory of your brothers the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir. They will be afraid of you, but be very careful. Do not provoke them to war, for I will not give you any of their land, not even enough to put your foot on. I have given Esau the hill country of Seir as his own.’”
(Deut 2:9) Then the LORD said to me, “Do not harass the Moabites or provoke them to war, for I will not give you any part of their land. I have given Ar to the descendants of Lot as a possession.”
(Deut 2:17-19) The LORD said to me, “Today you are to pass by the region of Moab at Ar. When you come to the Ammonites, do not harass them or provoke them to war, for I will not give you possession of any land belonging to the Ammonites. I have given it as a possession to the descendants of Lot.”
We need to move quickly now. It would be easy to skip much farther ahead--closer to the New Testament, but the theme of the Creator of all peoples using His people to be a light to the nations just doesn’t go away. This theme pops up all over.
Let’s move into Joshua, the sixth book of the Bible. Look how Joshua explains to the Israelites why God did a certain miracle.
(Josh 4:24) He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the LORD is powerful and so that you might always fear the LORD your God.
We need to start moving quickly. We are only in the sixth book of the Bible. So understanding that this skips a bunch, let’s jump to the eleventh book. Look what happens when God richly blessed one of His covenant people.
(1 Kings 4:30-34) Solomon's wisdom was greater than the wisdom of all the men of the East, and greater than all the wisdom of Egypt. He was wiser than any other man, including Ethan the Ezrahite-wiser than Heman, Calcol and Darda, the sons of Mahol. And his fame spread to all the surrounding nations. He spoke three thousand proverbs and his songs numbered a thousand and five. He described plant life, from the cedar of Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of walls. He also taught about animals and birds, reptiles and fish. Men of all nations came to listen to Solomon's wisdom, sent by all the kings of the world, who had heard of his wisdom.
Let’s change pace now. Look what God says just two chapters later. The word of the LORD came to Solomon: “As for this temple you are building, if you follow my decrees, carry out my regulations and keep all my commands and obey them, I will fulfill through you the promise I gave to David your father. And I will live among the Israelites and will not abandon my people Israel.”
What is God saying here? God is reminding Solomon that this covenant has a conditional aspect. It requires Israel to be faithful. God had told Israel this before. If Israel wasn’t faithful, then there would be consequences. God wants Israel to understand that His utmost concern is with His will and His plans. Now, taken in context with the rest of Scripture, God is not saying that He doesn’t care about Israel. God loves Israel. But He is saying that God has a purpose for His people. Their purpose is to live according to God’s covenant plans.
The covenant conditions
This conditional aspect is important. God wants His people striving after Him and His heart. God wants His will done. If His people fail to do His will, they fail to be useful to His Kingdom.
(Jer 7:5-7) If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers for ever and ever.
(Jer 11:3-4) Tell them that this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: “Cursed is the man who does not obey the terms of this covenant — the terms I commanded your forefathers when I brought them out of Egypt, out of the iron-smelting furnace.” I said, “Obey me and do everything I command you, and you will be my people, and I will be your God.”
This conditional aspect is important. God had tried to get Israel to understand this from the beginning.
(Lev 18:24-28) Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. But you must keep my decrees and my laws. The native-born and the aliens living among you must not do any of these detestable things, for all these things were done by the people who lived in the land before you, and the land became defiled. And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you.
(Deut 9:4-5) After the LORD your God has driven out [the nations] before you, do not say to yourself, “The LORD has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness.” No, it is on account of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is going to drive them out before you. It is not because of your righteousness or your integrity that you are going in to take possession of their land; but on account of the wickedness of these nations, the LORD your God will drive them out before you, to accomplish what he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
God wants His people to understand something important: It is not only about you!! God does not do all of this because of how good people are. God does this because that is who He is. It is consistent with His nature. He is a judge. He is faithful to His covenant plans. He is determined to “accomplish what he swore” to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Back to the story. We left off in 1 Kings. We need to look at another big point. One of the most critical events in the history of Israel was the establishing of the temple. The temple had a dramatic impact on Israel. In 1 Kings 8 the temple is dedicated. King Solomon says a public prayer at the dedication of the temple. Look at part of this dedication prayer.
(1 Kings 8:41-43) As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name- for men will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm-when he comes and prays toward this temple, then hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name.
Don’t miss what King Solomon is saying? Let’s keep reading. Right after this prayer Solomon turns to the people and says:
(1 Kings 8:59-61) [M]ay these words of mine, which I have prayed before the LORD, be near to the LORD our God day and night, that he may uphold the cause of his servant and the cause of his people Israel according to each day's need, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other. But your hearts must be fully committed to the LORD our God, to live by his decrees and obey his commands, as at this time.
The consequences of failure
In order to really move forward in the story, we need to recall the conditional nature of the covenant. God told Israel many times that they must be faithful. He warned them that if they broke the covenant there would be consequences. Over time, Israel had seriously and consistently failed to live up to her end of the covenant. So what did God do?
(2 Kings 17:22-23) The Israelites persisted in all the sins of Jeroboam and did not turn away from them until the LORD removed them from his presence, as he had warned through all his servants the prophets. So the people of Israel were taken from their homeland into exile in Assyria, and they are still there.
God did what He said. His people had failed to be faithful to God’s covenant.
(Ps 106:35-40) …but [the Israelites] mingled with the nations and adopted their customs. They worshiped their idols, which became a snare to them. They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to demons. They shed innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan, and the land was desecrated by their blood. They defiled themselves by what they did; by their deeds they prostituted themselves. Therefore the LORD was angry with his people and abhorred his inheritance.
(Is 2:6) You have abandoned your people, the house of Jacob. They are full of superstitions from the East; they practice divination like the Philistines and clasp hands with pagans.
These are very sad verses to read. God’s people had failed Him. They had failed to be faithful to Him. They had failed to bring His blessing to the nations. Isaiah 26:18 is a very sad verse. Here Isaiah reflects on the failure of his people. I pray that this can never be said about us.
(Isa 26:18) We were with child, we writhed in pain, but we gave birth to wind. We have not brought salvation to the earth; we have not given birth to people of the world.
Israel had failed. They failed in their task of being a blessing to the nations. Because of this failure to live faithfully, God sent them into exile. God does not change. God still wants His people to do His will. The life of any nation is limited if it fails to faithfully walk before God.
God is still at it
The Israelite exile is recorded in 2 Kings 17. However, God’s heart for the world doesn’t end with the exile. He ensures that we know this. Look at the passage immediately following the exile.
(2 Kings 17:24-28) The king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath and Sepharvaim and settled them in the towns of Samaria to replace the Israelites. They took over Samaria and lived in its towns. When they first lived there, they did not worship the LORD; so he sent lions among them and they killed some of the people. It was reported to the king of Assyria: “The people you deported and resettled in the towns of Samaria do not know what the god of that country requires. He has sent lions among them, which are killing them off, because the people do not know what he requires.” Then the king of Assyria gave this order: “Have one of the priests you took captive from Samaria go back to live there and teach the people what the god of the land requires.” So one of the priests who had been exiled from Samaria came to live in Bethel and taught them how to worship the LORD.
Is that awesome or what? Even though God’s people had failed to bring Him glory among the nations, God was still committed to the task. Even if he had to use lions to accomplish it.
We are only in the twelfth book of the Bible. There are many more things I wish we had time and space to look at. We have skipped as many passages as we have looked at, but let’s now skip to the Psalms.
We could spend all day focusing on the all-nations theme in the Psalms. Let’s just read a sampling of what we would find. Does anyone know Psalm 46:10? Let me help. It starts out “Be still and …..”
“Be still, and know that I am God;”
Have heard that verse before? Most people have. But do you know the rest of the verse?
Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.
Why do we know the first part of the verse, but not the last part? Is it a little bit of the get versus give contention?
Let’s read a few more samples from the Psalms.
(Ps 57:9-11) I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples. For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth.
(Ps 65:5-8) You answer us with awesome deeds of righteousness, O God our Savior, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas, who formed the mountains by your power, having armed yourself with strength, who stilled the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, and the turmoil of the nations. Those living far away fear your wonders; where morning dawns and evening fades you call forth songs of joy.
Both of those passages (and many more like it) were written by David. No wonder David was called a man after God’s own heart. David probably writes more about the global nature of God than any other writer in the Old Testament. That reminds me of an earlier passage that we skipped. We are all familiar with David and Goliath, right? Are you familiar with the missions nature of the battle?
(1 Sam 17:45-46) David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the LORD will hand you over to me, and I'll strike you down and cut off your head. Today I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel.”
Let’s go back to Psalms and read some other verses.
(Ps 66:1-4) Shout with joy to God, all the earth! Sing the glory of his name; make his praise glorious! Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds! So great is your power that your enemies cringe before you. All the earth bows down to you; they sing praise to you, they sing praise to your name.”
(Ps 96) Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth. Sing to the LORD, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples. For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the LORD made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and glory are in his sanctuary. Ascribe to the LORD, O families of nations, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering and come into his courts. Worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness; tremble before him, all the earth. Say among the nations, “The LORD reigns.” The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity. Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy; they will sing before the LORD, for he comes, he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his truth.
(Ps 108:3-5) I will praise you, O LORD, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples. For great is your love, higher than the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies. Be exalted, O God, above the heavens, and let your glory be over all the earth.
A little after the book of Psalms we come to Isaiah. Though the global nature of God is shown in every book of the Old Testament (expect possibly Song of Songs) Isaiah is at the top. From almost any chapter of Isaiah, the global nature of God can be seen.
In chapter six, Isaiah was shown a vision of heaven. There he saw the heavenly beings declaring:
(Isa 6:3) "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory."
Isaiah contains incredible prophetic passages about the future. Isaiah talks about God’s will being accomplished in these future days.
(Isa 18:7) At that time gifts will be brought to the LORD Almighty from a people tall and smooth-skinned, from a people feared far and wide, an aggressive nation of strange speech, whose land is divided by rivers — the gifts will be brought to Mount Zion, the place of the Name of the LORD Almighty.
(Isa 25:6-8) On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine — the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove the disgrace of his people from all the earth. The LORD has spoken.
(Isa 51:4-6) Listen to me, my people; hear me, my nation: The law will go out from me; my justice will become a light to the nations. My righteousness draws near speedily, my salvation is on the way, and my arm will bring justice to the nations. The islands will look to me and wait in hope for my arm. Lift up your eyes to the heavens, look at the earth beneath; the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment and its inhabitants die like flies. But my salvation will last forever, my righteousness will never fail.
(Isa 60:2-3, 6-7) See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you [His people] and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. … Herds of camels will cover your land, young camels of Midian and Ephah. And all from Sheba will come, bearing gold and incense and proclaiming the praise of the LORD. All Kedar's flocks will be gathered to you, the rams of Nebaioth will serve you; they will be accepted as offerings on my altar, and I will adorn my glorious temple.
(Isa 62:1-2a) For Zion's sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem's sake I will not remain quiet, till her righteousness shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch. The nations will see your righteousness, and all kings your glory.
(Isa 66:18-21) “I (God) will … gather all nations and tongues, and they will come and see my glory. I will set a sign among them, and I will send some of those who survive to the nations — to Tarshish, to the Libyans and Lydians (famous as archers), to Tubal and Greece, and to the distant islands that have not heard of my fame or seen my glory. They will proclaim my glory among the nations. And they will bring all your brothers, from all the nations, to my holy mountain in Jerusalem as an offering to the LORD — on horses, in chariots and wagons, and on mules and camels,” says the LORD. “They will bring them, as the Israelites bring their grain offerings, to the temple of the LORD in ceremonially clean vessels. And I will select some of them also to be priests and Levites,” says the LORD.
Isaiah also speaks a lot about the Messiah. Let’s read what Scripture says about the Messiah.
(Isa 9:1-2,6-7) Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan — The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. … For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
(Isa 11:9b-10) … the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious.
(Isa 40:3-5) A voice of one calling: “In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
(Is 42:1-12) “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his law the islands will put their hope.” This is what God the LORD says — he who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and all that comes out of it, who gives breath to its people, and life to those who walk on it: “I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, to open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness. I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols. See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you.” Sing to the LORD a new song, his praise from the ends of the earth, you who go down to the sea, and all that is in it, you islands, and all who live in them. Let the desert and its towns raise their voices; let the settlements where Kedar lives rejoice. Let the people of Sela sing for joy; let them shout from the mountaintops. Let them give glory to the LORD and proclaim his praise in the islands.
(Is 49:1,5-6) Listen to me, you islands; hear this, you distant nations: Before I was born the LORD called me; from my birth he has made mention of my name. … And now the LORD says — he who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself, for I am honored in the eyes of the LORD and my God has been my strength — he says: “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 you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”
(Hag 2:7) I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,” says the LORD Almighty.
(Mic 5:2-5a) “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor gives birth and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites. He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And he will be their peace.
(Zech 2:10-11) “Shout and be glad, O Daughter of Zion. For I am coming, and I will live among you,” declares the LORD. “Many nations will be joined with the LORD in that day and will become my people. I will live among you and you will know that the LORD Almighty has sent me to you.”
(Zech 9:9-10) Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the war-horses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.
(Dan 7:13-14) In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.
The whole story or part of it?
I love reading Messianic passages. God has such an incredible heart. God wants all the nations restored and redeemed. From His covenant nature to the work of the Messiah we can see God’s heart for all the nations of the world. Let’s read another well-known prophecy in Scripture.
(Ezek 36:25-29,33) “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God. I will save you from all your uncleanness. I will call for the grain and make it plentiful and will not bring famine upon you.” …. This is what the Sovereign LORD says: “On the day I cleanse you from all your sins, I will resettle your towns, and the ruins will be rebuilt.”
How many of you have heard that passage? It is a commonly quoted part of Scripture about God giving us a “new heart” and a “new spirit” and a “heart of flesh.” But what didn’t you see in this passage? Not a huge amount about the nations, huh? That’s because this is the part of the passage we normally read. Let’s go back and read this passage in context. God is explaining why He had judged His people and sent them into exile. Let’s go back and start in verse 18.
So I poured out my wrath on the Israelites because they had shed blood in the land and because they had defiled it with their idols. I dispersed them among the nations, and they were scattered through the countries; I judged them according to their conduct and their actions. And wherever they went among the nations they profaned my holy name, for it was said of them, “These are the LORD's people, and yet they had to leave his land.” I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel profaned among the nations where they had gone. Therefore say to the house of Israel, “This is what the Sovereign LORD says: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Sovereign LORD, when I show myself holy through you before their eyes. “For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God. I will save you from all your uncleanness. I will call for the grain and make it plentiful and will not bring famine upon you. I will increase the fruit of the trees and the crops of the field, so that you will no longer suffer disgrace among the nations because of famine. Then you will remember your evil ways and wicked deeds, and you will loathe yourselves for your sins and detestable practices. I want you to know that I am not doing this for your sake, declares the Sovereign LORD. Be ashamed and disgraced for your conduct, O house of Israel!”
What a difference!! Why are we familiar with the first part we read, but not the second? Do we like reading about what we get from God, but not like to read what he expects us to give? Could it be that we face the same get verses give contention that the people of Scripture faced?
It is amazing how we completely miss so many passages of Scripture that talk about the nations. We have already talked about a few passages, such as, “Be still and know that I am the Lord” and David and Goliath. But we could add many more passages to that. Think of all the Messianic passages we just read—the Bethlehem passage, the Galilee passage, the donkey passage, etc. We hear these every Christmas, but what about the fact that this Messiah is for the nations? What about the fact that you are one of the nations? What about the fact that at some point in history a person of God came to our forefathers to share the blessing?
Let’s look at another passage that many people only know partially.
(Hab 1:5b-5ff) … watch- and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told. …
This verse is used many times in books and in sermons, but we really have to chop this verse quite a bit to get away from the nations aspect of it.
(Hab 1:5-6) Look at the nations and watch- and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told. I am raising up the Babylonians, that ruthless and impetuous people, who sweep across the whole earth to seize dwelling places not their own.
We don’t have to limit this partial understanding to only specific passages. Let’s go back to the Abrahamic Covenant. There are three main parts to it: 1) the Promised Land, 2) blessings, 3) and the call to be a blessing to the nations. Why do we so readily accept two of these three? Who doesn’t believe that the Jews were given the Promised Land? Who doesn’t believe that God blesses His people? We readily accept these two, but we rarely talk about being a blessing to the nations. The first two allow us to get from God; the last requires us to give our lives back.
We need to keep moving along. We still have a decent amount of the Old Testament left. I hope that you are catching this all-nations, global theme so far. God is the only God. He is the God of all peoples. He wants His people to go the nations living in darkness and to proclaim His name. In short, He wants us to be a blessing to the nations. We have seen this same wish from Genesis 12 on.
Let’s now move into Jeremiah. We need to fly through Jeremiah. Just like in Isaiah, you can turn to almost any chapter and see the global nature of God. Let’s briefly look at Jeremiah’s calling.
(Jer 1:4-5) The word of the LORD came to Jeremiah, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”
How many of you knew that Jeremiah was a prophet to the nations?
Now we could move chapter by chapter through Jeremiah, but let’s just look at two passages that summarize much of what is written.
The first passage shows God’s desire for all nations to be gathered to Him. The second shows that even though God is going to hold all nations accountable, that He sees beyond the judgment and desires a time that the nations can be restored.
(Jer 3:16-18) “In those days, when your numbers have increased greatly in the land,” declares the LORD, “men will no longer say, ‘The ark of the covenant of the LORD.’ It will never enter their minds or be remembered; it will not be missed, nor will another one be made. At that time they will call Jerusalem The Throne of the LORD, and all nations will gather in Jerusalem to honor the name of the LORD. No longer will they follow the stubbornness of their evil hearts.”
(Jer 48:7, 13, 26, 35, 42, 47) “Since you [Moab] trust in your deeds and riches, you too will be taken captive, and Chemosh [the Moabite idol god] will go into exile, together with his priests and officials. … Then Moab will be ashamed of Chemosh, as the house of Israel was ashamed when they trusted in Bethel. … Make [Moab] drunk, for she has defied the LORD. Let Moab wallow in her vomit; let her be an object of ridicule. … In Moab I will put an end to those who make offerings on the high places and burn incense to their gods,” declares the LORD. … “Moab will be destroyed as a nation because she defied the LORD. … Yet I will restore the fortunes of Moab in days to come,” declares the LORD.
Let’s keep moving forward. I hope you understand that we are skipping a bunch. I would like to just pick up and start reading the Bible from Genesis 1:1, but that would take a very long time. Let’s quickly look at Ezekiel. This book too is just filled from beginning to end with the heart of our missionary God. Let’s look at a few sample passages.
In Ezekiel God speaks frankly to the exiled Jews. He reminds them of their origins.
(Ezek 16:9-14) I bathed you with water and washed the blood from you and put ointments on you. I clothed you with an embroidered dress and put leather sandals on you. I dressed you in fine linen and covered you with costly garments. I adorned you with jewelry: I put bracelets on your arms and a necklace around your neck, and I put a ring on your nose, earrings on your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. So you were adorned with gold and silver; your clothes were of fine linen and costly fabric and embroidered cloth. Your food was fine flour, honey and olive oil. You became very beautiful and rose to be a queen. And your fame spread among the nations on account of your beauty, because the splendor I had given you made your beauty perfect, declares the Sovereign LORD.
Not only does God remind the Israelites of their origin, but God explains His actions and behaviors towards His covenant people.
(Ezek 20:9, 14, 22) For the sake of my name I did what would keep it from being profaned in the eyes of the nations that [the Israelites] lived among and in whose sight I had revealed myself to the Israelites by bringing them out of Egypt. … But for the sake of my name I did what would keep it from being profaned in the eyes of the nations in whose sight I had brought them out. … But I withheld my hand, and for the sake of my name I did what would keep it from being profaned in the eyes of the nations in whose sight I had brought them out.
In Ezekiel, God also announces judgment on a number of different nations. God explains what He hopes will come from the judgments.
(Ezek 25:10a,11) I will give Moab along with the Ammonites to the people of the East as a possession … and I will inflict punishment on Moab. Then they will know that I am the LORD.
(Ezek 25:17) I will carry out great vengeance on [the Philistines] and punish them in my wrath. Then they will know that I am the LORD, when I take vengeance on them.
(Ezek 30:19, 26) So I will inflict punishment on Egypt, and they will know that I am the LORD. … I will disperse the Egyptians among the nations and scatter them through the countries. Then they will know that I am the LORD.
This next passage is incredible to me. It shows that God knows what all the nations are doing, even down to the smallest activities. Look at how many peoples are mentioned in the following passage. It is all these following nations that God has his eye on and whom he desires to see blessed.
(Ezek 27:1-24) The word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, take up a lament concerning Tyre. Say to Tyre, situated at the gateway to the sea, merchant of peoples on many coasts, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: “‘You say, O Tyre, "I am perfect in beauty." Your domain was on the high seas; your builders brought your beauty to perfection. They made all your timbers of pine trees from Senir; they took a cedar from Lebanon to make a mast for you. Of oaks from Bashan they made your oars; of cypress wood from the coasts of Cyprus they made your deck, inlaid with ivory. Fine embroidered linen from Egypt was your sail and served as your banner; your awnings were of blue and purple from the coasts of Elishah. Men of Sidon and Arvad were your oarsmen; your skilled men, O Tyre, were aboard as your seamen. Veteran craftsmen of Gebal were on board as shipwrights to caulk your seams. All the ships of the sea and their sailors came alongside to trade for your wares. “‘Men of Persia, Lydia and Put served as soldiers in your army. They hung their shields and helmets on your walls, bringing you splendor. Men of Arvad and Helech manned your walls on every side; men of Gammad were in your towers. They hung their shields around your walls; they brought your beauty to perfection. Tarshish did business with you because of your great wealth of goods; they exchanged silver, iron, tin and lead for your merchandise. Greece, Tubal and Meshech traded with you; they exchanged slaves and articles of bronze for your wares. Men of Beth Togarmah exchanged work horses, war horses and mules for your merchandise. The men of Rhodes traded with you, and many coastlands were your customers; they paid you with ivory tusks and ebony. Aram did business with you because of your many products; they exchanged turquoise, purple fabric, embroidered work, fine linen, coral and rubies for your merchandise. “‘Judah and Israel traded with you; they exchanged wheat from Minnith and confections, honey, oil and balm for your wares. Damascus, because of your many products and great wealth of goods, did business with you in wine from Helbon and wool from Zahar. Danites and Greeks from Uzal bought your merchandise; they exchanged wrought iron, cassia and calamus for your wares. Dedan traded in saddle blankets with you. Arabia and all the princes of Kedar were your customers; they did business with you in lambs, rams and goats. The merchants of Sheba and Raamah traded with you; for your merchandise they exchanged the finest of all kinds of spices and precious stones, and gold. Haran, Canneh and Eden and merchants of Sheba, Asshur and Kilmad traded with you. In your marketplace they traded with you beautiful garments, blue fabric, embroidered work and multicolored rugs with cords twisted and tightly knotted.’”
For those of you who have studied end times Scripture, one of the commonly quoted passages comes from Ezekiel, but have you ever noticed the global, missions nature of it?
(Ezek 38:16, 23) You will advance against my people Israel like a cloud that covers the land. In days to come, O Gog, I will bring you against my land, so that the nations may know me when I show myself holy through you before their eyes. … And so I will show my greatness and my holiness, and I will make myself known in the sight of many nations. Then they will know that I am the LORD.
The minor prophets
Let’s keep moving forward. Let’s skip Daniel (we will come back to it) and quickly look at a sampling of verses from the Minor Prophets.
(Amos 9:7) “Are not you Israelites the same to me as the Cushites?” declares the LORD. “Did I not bring Israel up from Egypt, the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir?”
Do you see what God is saying? He is telling His people, “Hey, it is not only about you!!” God wants His people to see things from His perspective. He is still trying to get His people to understand this. Let’s keep reading some more verses.
(Mic 4:1-3) In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and peoples will stream to it. Many nations will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He will judge between many peoples and will settle disputes for strong nations far and wide. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.
(Hab 2:14) For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.
(Nah 1:5-6) The mountains quake before him and the hills melt away. The earth trembles at his presence, the world and all who live in it. Who can withstand his indignation? Who can endure his fierce anger? His wrath is poured out like fire; the rocks are shattered before him.
(Hab 2:18-20) Of what value is an idol, since a man has carved it? Or an image that teaches lies? For he who makes it trusts in his own creation; he makes idols that cannot speak. Woe to him who says to wood, “Come to life!” Or to lifeless stone, “Wake up!” Can it give guidance? It is covered with gold and silver; there is no breath in it. But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.
(Zeph 2:11) The LORD will be awesome to them when he destroys all the gods of the land. The nations on every shore will worship him, every one in its own land.
(Zeph 3:9) The whole world will be consumed by the fire of my jealous anger. Then will I purify the lips of the peoples, that all of them may call on the name of the LORD and serve him shoulder to shoulder.
(Zech 2:10-11) “Shout and be glad, O Daughter of Zion. For I am coming, and I will live among you,” declares the LORD. “Many nations will be joined with the LORD in that day and will become my people. I will live among you and you will know that the LORD Almighty has sent me to you.”
(Zech 14:16-17) Then the survivors from all the nations that have attacked Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the LORD Almighty, and to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles.
(Mal 1:11) “My name will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to my name, because my name will be great among the nations,” says the LORD Almighty.
(Mal 1:14) “I am a great king,” says the LORD Almighty, “and my name is to be feared among the nations.”
The theme continues. God wants all nations of the world to worship and know Him. It is the task of His people to go out and fulfill His will.
Daniel and Jonah
Let’s now go back and look at Daniel and Jonah. These two books capture so much of what we have been talking about. Let’s first look at Daniel. As we read these passages, always ask the question, why? Why did God make it happen this way?
(Dan 1:1-3, 6, 17, 19-20) In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the articles from the temple of God. These he carried off to the temple of his god in Babylonia and put in the treasure house of his god. Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring in some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility- … Among these were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. … To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds. … The king talked with them, and he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king's service. In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.
Hmm… I wonder why God’s people were given special gifts and talents when in the presence of a king that was ruling over many, many nations?
(Dan 2:5-6,10-11, 26-30, 46-49) The king [of Babylon] replied to the astrologers, “This is what I have firmly decided: If you do not tell me what my dream was and interpret it, I will have you cut into pieces and your houses turned into piles of rubble. But if you tell me the dream and explain it, you will receive from me gifts and rewards and great honor. So tell me the dream and interpret it for me.” … The astrologers answered the king, “There is not a man on earth who can do what the king asks! No king, however great and mighty, has ever asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or astrologer. What the king asks is too difficult. No one can reveal it to the king except the gods, and they do not live among men.” … The king asked Daniel (also called Belteshazzar), “Are you able to tell me what I saw in my dream and interpret it?” … Daniel replied, “No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries. He has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in days to come. Your dream and the visions that passed through your mind as you lay on your bed are these: “As you were lying there, O king, your mind turned to things to come, and the revealer of mysteries showed you what is going to happen. As for me, this mystery has been revealed to me, not because I have greater wisdom than other living men, but so that you, O king, may know the interpretation and that you may understand what went through your mind. … [then Daniel explains the dream] … Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell prostrate before Daniel and paid him honor and ordered that an offering and incense be presented to him. The king said to Daniel, “Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery.” Then the king placed Daniel in a high position and lavished many gifts on him. He made him ruler over the entire province of Babylon and placed him in charge of all its wise men. Moreover, at Daniel's request the king appointed Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego administrators over the province of Babylon, while Daniel himself remained at the royal court.
Hmm… I wonder for what purpose Daniel was able to explain the dream?
(Dan 3:22-30) [The king was angry that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego would not worship his idol, so the king is going to punish them] The king's command was so urgent and the furnace so hot that the flames of the fire killed the soldiers who took up Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and these three men, firmly tied, fell into the blazing furnace. Then King Nebuchadnezzar leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, “Weren't there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?” They replied, “Certainly, O king.” He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” Nebuchadnezzar then approached the opening of the blazing furnace and shouted, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!” So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire, and the satraps, prefects, governors and royal advisers crowded around them. They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them. Then Nebuchadnezzar said, “Praise be to the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who has sent his angel and rescued his servants! They trusted in him and defied the king's command and were willing to give up their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God. Therefore I decree that the people of any nation or language who say anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego be cut into pieces and their houses be turned into piles of rubble, for no other god can save in this way.” Then the king promoted Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the province of Babylon.
Hmm… I wonder why Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were saved?
(Dan 6:11-16, 19-23, 25-27) Then these men went as a group and found Daniel praying and asking God for help. So they went to the king and spoke to him about his royal decree: “Did you not publish a decree that during the next thirty days anyone who prays to any god or man except to you, O king, would be thrown into the lions' den?” The king answered, “The decree stands-in accordance with the laws of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be repealed.” Then they said to the king, “Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you, O king, or to the decree you put in writing. He still prays three times a day.” When the king heard this, he was greatly distressed; he was determined to rescue Daniel and made every effort until sundown to save him. Then the men went as a group to the king and said to him, “Remember, O king, that according to the law of the Medes and Persians no decree or edict that the king issues can be changed.” So the king gave the order, and they brought Daniel and threw him into the lions' den. The king said to Daniel, “May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!” … At the first light of dawn, the king got up and hurried to the lions' den. When he came near the den, he called to Daniel in an anguished voice, “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?” Daniel answered, “O king, live forever! My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, O king.” The king was overjoyed and gave orders to lift Daniel out of the den. And when Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God. … Then King Darius wrote to all the peoples, nations and men of every language throughout the land: “May you prosper greatly! I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel. "For he is the living God and he endures forever; his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end. He rescues and he saves; he performs signs and wonders in the heavens and on the earth. He has rescued Daniel from the power of the lions.”
Hmm… I wonder why God saved Daniel from the lions?
Despite all of what we have read so far, God’s people were resistant. They liked the blessings and privileges of relationship with God, but they didn’t want to share that blessing with the nations. They were just fine with keeping the blessings to themselves.
(Jonah 1:1-3, 3:1-2, 3:4-4:3, 4:10a,11) The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah ran away from the LORD and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the LORD. … [the whole big fish incident] … Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.” … On the first day, Jonah started into the city. He proclaimed: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.” The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. Then he issued a proclamation in Nineveh: “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let any man or beast, herd or flock, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.” When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened. But Jonah was greatly displeased and became angry. He prayed to the LORD, “O LORD, is this not what I said when I was still at home? That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, O LORD, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” … [Jonah then laments the fact that God is showing compassion to another people] But the LORD said, “… Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?”
It is easy for me to throw stones at the Israelites for their selfish and rebellious ways, but I need to examine myself. What part am I playing in being a blessing to the nations? Or am I too being like Israel and keeping all the blessings for me and my people?
There is much more
There are so many more things I wish we could read, but we just don’t have the time or space. We need to move into the New Testament. However, there are a few other areas that I encourage you to look at on your own later.
For example, we could talk about the many missionaries in the Old Testament. Elijah in 1 Kings 17:8-24, Elisha in 2 Kings 8:7-9, Esther in the book of Esther, Jeremiah in Jeremiah 1:4-5, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego all through the book of Daniel, and Jonah in the book of Jonah.
We could also talk about the many times that God uses Gentiles and foreign people as examples of faith to the Israelites: Melchizedek in Genesis 14:18-20, Jethro the priest of Midian in Exodus 18:9-27, Rahab in Joshua 2:3-12, Ruth throughout the entire book of Ruth, The widow of Zarephath in Sidon in 1 Kings 17:13-15, Naaman and the king of Aram in 2 Kings 5:1-10, all of the Recabites in Jeremiah 35:1-19, Ebed-Melech the Cushite in Jeremiah 38:7-13 and 39:15-18, Nebuzaradan in Jeremiah 40:1-3, King Darius in Daniel 6:25-27, and the shipmates of Jonah in Jonah 3:1-2,4-10.
We could talk about the many times that God speaks to a foreign people or foreign person: Melchizedek, king of Salem, in Genesis 14:18-24; Abimelech, king of Gerar, in Genesis 20:1-3; Balaam in Numbers 22-25; Neco, pharaoh of Egypt, in 2 Chronicles 35:21; Cyrus, king of Persia, in Ezra 1:1-4; and King Artaxerxes in Ezra 7:21-26.
I would love to keep going through the Old Testament to better understand God’s heart, passion and character, but this overview should be enough to help us see things more from His perspective. We have skipped some very important things. There are questions that would have been raised had we had more time to read, but one thing comes through clear--God is the God of all peoples.
The last verse we will read from the Old Testament is Isaiah 54:5. Here God reveals one of His many names that characterize Him. What a great summary of what we have read.
For your Maker is your husband — the LORD Almighty is his name — the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth.
Old Testament Summary
God has clearly stated His global plans for world redemption from the beginning. God’s desire has been clearly stated from then until now. He calls people unto Him, makes a covenant with them, blesses them, and then wants them to turn around and be a blessing to the nations.
However, His people love to receive the blessings. They love to be in covenant relationship with Him, but they usually either directly or indirectly rebel against His command to be a blessing to the nations.
So far we have used the get verses give comparison. But let’s change the terminology. Being in relationship with God has three dynamic aspects that we need to understand. They are blessings, responsibilities, and consequences.
Blessings: These are all the things that Got gives us such as, the knowledge of Him, His forgiveness, love, direction, etc.
Responsibilities: These are all the things that God expects us to do with those blessings.
Consequences: These are what result from either faithfulness or lack of faithfulness to our responsibilities.
These three aspects can be clearly seen in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, we see that God’s people love their blessings, shy away from the responsibilities, and therefore both God’s people and the nations pay for it. I hope that my people don’t walk in this same pattern.
If we understand these three aspects of covenants, then we have a solid footing to understand God’s desires. Now, let’s move to the New Testament.
We are not going to spend as much time in the New Testament as we did in the Old Testament. Even with only a casual reading, most people readily acknowledge the global and missions nature of Jesus and the New Testament. The global theme is all throughout the New Testament. However, let’s look at how God divinely begins the New Testament?
(Matt 1:1) A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham:
This verse says a lot. God’s stated desires in the Old Testament continue right into the New Testament. Jesus came to fulfill the role of the Messiah (the son of David) and to accomplish the covenant role of Abraham (son of Abraham).
Before we move through the New Testament, let’s see how well the Jews understood the whole premise of the covenant first given to Abraham. We saw all throughout the Old Testament that the Jews continually struggled to understand that they were blessed with the expectation that they would be a blessing to all the nations of the earth. But the question remains, Did they ever begin to get it? We will begin our New Testament study with this. Let’s read Matthew 23:15.
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.
Here, Jesus is really coming down hard on the Pharisees and teachers. But look at the context that Jesus was speaking in. The Jews had finally begun to go to the nations, but instead of being a light to the nations they were going with a corrupt teaching. Jesus was rebuking them for this.
Over time though, some of the Jewish missionaries were successful in their efforts.
(Acts 2:1-11) When the day of Pentecost came, the disciples were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. Utterly amazed, they asked: "Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs-we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!"
So the Jews eventually began to understand it. They began to see that God wanted more from them than to just simply be hoarders of His blessings.
Let’s look at what Paul says about this. Remember that Paul was very Jewish, very educated, and very familiar with Scripture. Jump to Galatians 3:8. He writes, “The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you.’”
Before we look closely at this passage, I am going to guess that mostly likely you are not of true Jewish lineage. That means you are a Gentile. You are one of the nations. Our forefathers used to live in total darkness. Our people lived in ignorance of God. But someone took seriously God’s mandate to be a blessing to the nations and brought the Gospel to our people. We should be incredibly grateful and be willing to now share those blessings with the unreached nations.
Now, let’s go back to Galatians 3:8. Paul is saying something important here. Let’s read it again.
(Gal 3:8) The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.”
What? What is Paul saying here? I thought that the Gospel was that Jesus died for my sins. I thought it was all about me. But look how Paul defines the Gospel: “All nations will be blessed…” This is something we should not take lightly. The Gospel is more than just Jesus died for my sins. That is way too small and way too self-centered. That is the Gospel from our perspective, not God’s. The Gospel is much, much bigger than we are. The Gospel is that our God is a good God. He is a missionary God. He wants all nations to be restored to Him. Not only does He want that, but He has provided a way for that. That is the good news.
Let’s now back up in the story. Let’s start at the beginning of the New Testament. On the eighth day after Jesus was born he was taken to the temple. Here an old, devout believer named Simeon saw Jesus and, moved by the Spirit, declared:
(Luke 2:28b-32) Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.
About 30 years later Jesus begins His ministry and is baptized. After His baptism He went to the desert and fasted for 40 days. There Satan came and tempted him.
(Matt 4:3-10) The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”
Satan hoped that this tactic just might get Jesus to stumble. Satan knows that God longs for all the nations to be saved. God has a plan for the nations, but it doesn’t include compromising with Satan.
We could look at many passages that show the missions message of Jesus, but let’s just look at a few. How strong was Jesus going to present the missions message? He was living among an extremely nationalistic people. If He presented a message strongly focused on people other than Israel, He was sure to be hated by many of the Jews.
Let’s read Matthew 21:33-46.
“Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and went away on a journey. When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit. “The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said. “But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let's kill him and take his inheritance.’ So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,” they replied, “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.” Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “‘The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?” “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.” When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet.
Jesus strongly challenged the Jews on their perceived exclusive hold on God. He says that the Kingdom of God will be given to a people other than the Jews who will actually produce fruit for God. The word “people” in Greek is the word for nation or people group. This is strong warning to any people who feel that they have a hold on God, regardless of how well they follow His commands. Did you notice the reaction of the Jewish leaders?
If you continue into chapter 22, you will see another great parable. On your own time read Matthew 22:1-10. Here, once again, the blessings of God are shown to spread well beyond the Jewish nation.
Jesus keeps preaching
Let’s not stop here. Read Luke 13:24-30.
Jesus said to them, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’ “But he will answer, ‘I don't know you or where you come from.’ “Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ “But he will reply, ‘I don't know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’ “There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God.”
Jesus is once again strongly challenging the Jews on the thought that God was only for them. Jesus was passionately proclaiming God’s message, “I will bless you and you will be a blessing to all the nations of the earth.”
We can certainly go on and on. Look who Jesus uses as the good person in His parables. Think about the good Samaritan (a non-Jew). Remember the ten lepers Jesus healed. It was only the non-Jew who came back and thanked Jesus. How about when Jesus used the strong faith of the Canaanite woman to demonstrate true faith to the disciples in Matthew 15:21-28? Who was the first person to proclaim Jesus as the Son of God after his death? A Gentile. Oh, and how could I almost forget the Roman centurion? We must stop to read this.
(Matthew 8:5-12) When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering.” Jesus said to him, “I will go and heal him.” The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Jesus is speaking strongly here. He declares, “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.” His disciples must have been stewing that Jesus declared that a Gentile has greater faith than anyone Jesus has seen in Israel! He even goes on to say that the subjects of “this kingdom” (read the Jewish people) will no longer be God’s exclusive people. No wonder the Jewish people wanted to kill Him.
Jesus doesn’t stop
(John 10:14-16) I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me- just as the Father knows me and I know the Father-and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.
Jesus was continually reminding His listeners about the bigger nature of God’s plans. There were more “sheep” out there.
Jesus backed up his teachings with his actions. Jesus traveled into Gentile and Samaritan territory. He traveled to the regions of Tyre, Sidon, Idumea, and Decapolis. Jesus was on a mission.
(Luke 4:42-43) At daybreak Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them. But he said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.”
Jesus on the end times
Even though Jesus keeps teaching on the topic, we need to move forward. Jesus gets near the end of His life, and He needs to make sure that His disciples have the message.
When asked when the end will come, Jesus tells His disciples in Mark 13:10 that the “gospel must first be preached to all the nations.” Matthew records Jesus in 24:14 as saying, “This Gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to the nations and then the end will come.”
Did you catch that? Let’s read it again.
(Matthew 24:14) “This Gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to the nations and then the end will come.”
Jesus spells it out
This isn’t all though. Jesus doesn’t just vaguely or tacitly mention the Gospel must be preached to all the nations. No, He makes it real clear. Not only does He make it clear, He makes clear who is to do it. In fact he commands it.
(Matthew 28:16-20) Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
The command was clear. It was given to His followers. Those who follow Jesus must preach the Gospel to all the nations/people groups of the world. Many people think the Great Commission is mentioned only once in Scripture. But Jesus was clear. He knew that if we were to understand it, that He had to say it more than once.
Let’s also read Mark 16:15-16 and Luke 24:45-48.
(Mark 16:15-17) He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”
(Luke 24:45-49) Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”
Let’s move on. Let’s see how Jesus prayed.
(John 17:18) As you sent me into the world, I have sent [my disciples] into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.
(John 17:20-21) My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
But Jesus doesn’t just pray it. He tells his disciples the same.
(John 20:21) Again Jesus said, “… As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”
The book of acts
I would love to stay in the Gospels. We could spend days discussing the heart of our global God as shown in the Gospels. But we must move on. It is worth seeing though, how the book of Acts begins.
(Acts 1:8) “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Just one chapter later we read about the Spirit being poured out upon the disciples on the day of Pentecost. Here the disciples proclaimed the Gospel to many different nations from Asia, Africa and Europe. God allowed them to proclaim the Gospel so that each person was able to hear in their own language. God really wanted this message to get to the nations. God just doesn’t let missions go away.
I really wish we could stay in Acts for hours. It is an incredible book. God made sure that Acts was a book of missions. But we need to move along to the next book of the Bible, Romans. Here Paul lays out a beautiful theological treatise. Let’s look at his summary of it in chapter ten.
(Romans 10:9-15) If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile-the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
God’s ultimate desire
There is so much more that we could read, but we must draw all of this to a close. Let’s look at a two scenes John saw in his vision of heaven.
(Rev 5:9-10) And they sang a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”
(Rev 7:9-10) After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
The Bible is a book of missions. Our God is a missionary God. The theme of Scripture is the God of all nations working His blessing to all the nations of the earth. Missions is not some segment of God’s plans for the world, it is His plan for the world. God’s covenant with Abraham still reflects His heart today: "I will bless you and you will be a blessing to all the nations of the earth."
Matthew 24:14 says that when the Gospel has been preached to all nations, then the end will come. Revelation shows us that somehow the Gospel ultimately gets to all the nations of the earth. In the meantime, the command to complete the task has been given to us. We are called to finish the work—the very work that God has said from the beginning.
How are we doing? Of the roughly 17,000 pure, distinct people groups or nations in the world, about 6,400 of them are still waiting to hear the Gospel.
Let us and our people remember the warning of Jesus, "I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit."
All of this might seem overwhelming, but if God isn’t overwhelming it is because we don’t understand Him in His entirety. God is so much bigger than we are. His plans and desires for this world are huge. We don’t have to understand everything, we just need to be faithful to what we do understand. God loves to see His people faithfully seeking after Him.
We should desire to be like Jesus. Let’s listen to His words:
Jesus gave them this answer: "I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does."
My prayer is that we too will do as the Father does.