The First Half of the 4,000 Year Story
The story of the “strike back” as we see it in Genesis 12 begins in about 2000 BC. During roughly the next 400 years, Abraham was chosen, and moved to the geographic center of the Afro-Asian landmass. The time of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph (often called the Period of the Patriarchs) displays relatively small breakthroughs of witness to the surrounding nations even though the central mandate to restore God’s control over all nations (Gen 12:1-3) is repeated twice again to Abraham (18:18, 22:18), and once to both Isaac (26:4) and Jacob (28:14,15). Joseph observed to his brothers, “You sold me, but God sent me.” He was obviously a great blessing to the nation of Egypt. Even Pharaoh recognized that Joseph was filled with the Spirit of God (Gen 4l:38, TLB). But this was not the intentional missionary obedience God wanted. Joseph’s brothers, for example, had not taken up an offering and sent him to Egypt as a missionary! God was in the missions business whether they were or not.
The next four periods, roughly 400 years each, are: 2) the Captivity, 3) the Judges, 4) the Kings and 5) that of the Babylonian Exile and dispersion. During this rough and tumble, the promised blessing and the expected mission (to extend God’s rule to all the nations of the world) all but disappear from sight. As a result, where possible, God accomplished His will through the voluntary obedience of His people, but where necessary, He accomplished His will through involuntary means. Joseph, Jonah, the nation as a whole when taken captive represent the category of involuntary missionary outreach intended by God to force the extension of the blessing. The little girl carried away captive to the house of Naaman the Syrian was able to share her faith. Naomi, who “went” a distance away, shared her faith with her children and their non-Jewish wives. On the other hand, Ruth, her daughter-in-law, Naaman the Syrian, and the Queen of Sheba all “came” voluntarily, attracted by God’s blessing relationship with Israel.
Note, then, the four different “mission mechanisms” at work to bless other peoples:
- going voluntarily,
- involuntarily going without missionary intent,
- coming voluntarily,
- coming involuntarily (as with Gentiles forcibly settled in lsrael-2 Kings 17).
Thus, we see in every epoch the active concern of God to forward His mission, with or without the full cooperation of His chosen nation. When Jesus appears, it is an incriminating “visitation.” He comes to His own, and “His own receive Him not” (1 John 1:11). He is well received in Nazareth until He refers to God’s desire to bless the Gentiles. At that precise moment (Luke 4:28) an explosion of homicidal fury betrays the fact that this chosen nation - chosen to receive and to mediate the blessing (Ex 19:5, 6; Ps 67; Isa 49:6)-has grossly fallen short. There was indeed a sprinkling of fanatical “Bible students” who “traversed land and sea to make a single proselyte” (Matt 23:15). But such outreach was not so much to be a blessing to the other nations as it was to sustain and protect Israel. They were not always making sure that their converts were “circumcised in heart” (Deut 10:16, 30:6, Jer 9:24-26, Rom 2:29). In effect, and under these circumstances, Jesus did not come to give the Great Commission but to take it away. The natural branches were broken off while other “unnatural” branches were grafted in (Rom 11:13-24). But, despite the general reluctance of the chosen missionary nation-typical of other nations later-many people groups were in fact touched due to the faithfulness and righteousness of some. These groups come to mind: Canaanites, Egyptians, Philistines (of the ancient Minoan culture), Hittites, Moabites, Phoenicians (of Tyre and Sidon), Assyrians, Sabeans (of the land of Sheba), Babylonians, Persians, Parthians, Medes, Elamites and Romans.