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Book: Mission in the Old Testament

Book title: Mission in the Old Testament: Israel as a light to the Nations
Author: Walter C. Kaiser, Jr.
Grand Rapids, Baker, 2000
Number of pages: 101

This book came up in discussion in a recent Facilitating the Mission podcast episode. Jonah the Prophet was the topic, specifically, but Israel’s role in God’s plan for reaching the world was as well. Walter C. Kaiser’s treatment of this topic in his book Mission in the Old Testament: Israel as a light to the Nations is excellent. For some of you more scholarly types, the book may be too short. But for the rest of us, it’s perfect. Kaiser’s book is neatly divided into six chapters:

chapter 1. God’s Plan for Missions in the Old Testament
chapter 2. God’s Purpose for Missions in the Old Testament
chapter 3. God’s Use of Individuals to Reach Gentiles in the Old Testament
chapter 4. God’s Call to Israel to Be a Light to the Nations
chapter 5. God’s Persuasion of Jonah to Be His Witness with Other Prophets from Israel
chapter 6. God’s Call to the Missionary Paul Based on the Old Testament

In the chapter called “God’s Call to Israel to Be a Light to the Nations”, Kaiser examines the Hebrew word for justice. “The debate over the proper translation of the word mispat is enormous, with few in agreement,” Kaiser writes. “But only the missionary interpretation seems to solve all exegetical considerations the best way. Mispat is ‘instruction in judgement or the right.'” All nations on the planet are waiting for this kind of justice is what Kaiser is saying. It’s not so much that God is simply going to annihilate wicked men. God is going to rule the world with wisdom and kindness, putting thing right. This is the kind of government the world is longing for. This is what’s coming. This is justice ALL creation craves. This is the message of the prophets in the Old Testament and these are the truths embodied in Jesus. These are the concepts that launched Paul’s outreach to Gentiles. It wasn’t new truth for Paul. It was Paul jumping in with both feet in to the mission God established in ancient days. What was new is that it was in Paul’s day, among his contemporaries, that the world was turned upside down by the truth God kept safe through His prophets and faithful followers in Israel. Paul and the other apostles recognized, in their generation, that the time is now.

It’s tough to argue with Kaiser. And he’s not crafting an argument. He simply unearths truths and presents a narrative that has not been popularly presented as originally intended: to show God’s love and plan to reach the Nations and be their King.

The time is now in your generation, too, Kaiser seems to be saying.

As one who loves missions, you can see that this book is informative, encouraging, and stocked with affirmation for those with a missionary call. It proves that you are part of a bigger plan; that your story has been co-opted into an epic and ancient story.

Chapter five, “God’s Persuasion of Jonah to Be His Witness with Other Prophets from Israel”, is by far my favorite chapter. Jonah is both a metaphor for Israel and the modern church in America. That is a tough critique, but when you read Jonah after thinking through Kaiser’s commentary of the book, not only will you see your church in another light, you’ll see you in a mirror. It is such sweet, healthy conviction. Let it work you over.

The short glossary in the back of the book is where I tuned to to get these two helpful words for providing two methods of sharing the gospel we see in modern churches (despite the Great Commission of repeated in all four gospels and the Book of Acts):

Centrifugal – “Outward-moving.” This is the word used to describe the active work of Old Testament believers to aggressively take the message of the Good News about the coming Man of Promise to the Gentile world around them.

Centripetal – “Inward-moving.” A term used to describe the more passive attitude many think they observe in the Old Testament obligation to witness to Gentiles. Instead, the burden rested on the unreached to take the initiative to become converts to the faith according to this view. —p. 83

The scripture index in the back of the book is an awesome tool for building missions centered Bible studies.

This book is for serious students of the Bible. And it is a must read for missionaries as further evidence that God’s missionary project did not start in the New Testament, it starts in Genesis. Missions has been God’s idea since the Garden of Eden. You can read this book from cover to cover in about two hours and you’ll be amazed at what you learn. If you’re anything like me, you’ll borrow information from this book for years to come.

Here’s where you can listen to the Jonah podcast mentioned above.

For related reading, take a look at this book reading list.

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