In part one of our short series, we saw how God had called Israel to be his missional people, living in the sight of the nations as a priestly kingdom and holy nation. Israel was to be a community on display—a missional community who would live in God’s ways for God’s glory and for the blessing of the world. God gave Israel his law, which would form and shape them to be his missional people who would reject the destruction of idolatry and walk in the paths of righteousness. As Israel lived in this way, they would be an attractive community of God’s love and blessing, drawing others to God. In order to understand the missional calling of Israel—and the church—we need to recognize the connection between the law and creation. Since Genesis 3, God’s mission had been to restore humanity and all creation from the ravages of sin. God made this promise to Adam, and then began his rescue mission of redemption. Traveling through Exodus, we see God redeem Israel from slavery to Egypt, and begin to form his people to be the conduit of his missional promise. Israel is to embody God’s promise to renew the whole world. The life of Israel is to point backward to God’s original intent for creation and human life. Their life is also to point forward, looking to God’s promise to restore creation.
When God gives the law to Israel, his intent is that the law’s instruction would govern all of Israel’s life. Israel now serves and worships God in a covenant relationship. This relationship involves Israel submitting every area of their lives to God. God’s law would remind Israel that there is no area of human life outside of his rule; for Israel must consecrate their social, personal, financial, familial and cultural lives to him. Thus the law is intended to shape the lives of God’s people so that their lives will reflect his character. Only as God’s law shapes their whole lives will they fulfill his calling to be a missional people who mediate his blessing to the world.
God’s law is good news! The law tells Israel how to live in God’s ways for God’s glory…for their own good! The law also calls Israel to live in a way that challenges the idolatry of the culture surrounding them. As we’ve mentioned already, Israel is to look backward and forward as a contrast community; but they area also to look outward against the idolatry that hijacks and pollutes human life. Because of this, we see the law expanded in the book of Deuteronomy in order to address the dangers Israel will encounter as they make the journey to the promised land. God desires that Israel will conform to his law, so that they will live in a radically transformed way in the sight of the nations around them. As they walk in God’s law, the nations will see that God is the one, true King of all creation.
There is much more to be said regarding Israel’s conformity to God’s law and their carrying out of God’s missional purpose. In fact, the remainder of the Old Testament is a commentary on just how well Israel lives out their God-given role. Israel is to be a light to the nations; however, instead of living over and against the idolatry of the pagan nations, Israel succumbs to the darkness of idolatry. Yet, God acts in mercy and judgment to restore them to their missional calling. God gives Israel everything they need to carry out their vocation: the law, the sacrificial system, priests, a temple, kings and prophets. But Israel continues to walk in rebellion against God. Because of their sin, Israel is judged and banished from the land that God had promised them.
Is there any hope left for Israel? Can they ever hope to live out their missional calling to be a blessing to the nations? Next time we’ll look at how God begins to answer these questions.