Last time we learned that God gave Israel his law so that Israel could learn to walk in God’s ways for God’s glory in sight of the nations around them—this was Israel’s missional calling. The law was the means for Israel to live in a way that challenged the idolatry of the culture surrounding them. Israel was also to take seriously the task of instructing the next generation to know God and to walk in his ways. Idolatry would not be the only threat to Israel's faithfulness— the danger of forgetting God’s mighty acts and his way of life was also a threat, especially the danger of failing to teach the torah to their children, and to their children after them (Deut. 4:9-10). It was essential for Israel to train the next generation to walk in the way of the Lord and to live in holiness—different and distinct—in their everyday lives. Thus, God’s law was good news for Israel—and, ultimately, good news for the nations as they observed Israel’s obedience to God and heard the invitation to join the covenant community. However, Israel struggled to fulfill their missionary role in being a light to the nations (Isaiah 49:6). Instead of pointing the nations to God, Israel became engulfed by idolatry and chose to follow the nations around them. The book of Judges tells the tragic story of Israel’s cycle of idolatry (see Judges 3-16)—Israel sins, God’s brings his judgment, Israel cries out to God, God sends a deliver (Judge), and the land has peace. Over and over again, God demonstrated his mercy, love and judgment on Israel in order to restore them to their missional calling. Yet, Israel continued to disobey God’s law and chose to walk in the darkness of idolatry (see Judges 17-21). The refrain that ends the book of Judges demonstrates how far Israel had succumbed to darkness; however, it also suggests what God will do in the future to enable Israel to be a faithful missional people: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit” (Judges 21:25). The book ends with the cry for a king.
But would a king enable Israel to fulfill it’s missionary role? The people’s cry for a king is answered by God in the story of Samuel, but there seems to be little hope that an earthy king will solve Israel’s problem. Israel’s desire for a king was motivated by their desire to be like the nations that surrounded them: "But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, 'No! But there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.’” (1 Samuel 8:19-20). Israel desired to be just like the pagan nations around them—this was not God’s purpose for Israel!
God continues to show faithful love to Israel and provides them with a king who would be a man after God’s heart—King David (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22). God is Israel’s true King; David would be the earthly king who would mediate God’s rule over Israel. David was called to mediate God’s blessing and rule over the people and to encourage Israel in her missional identity and calling as a light to the nations. God allowed this monarchy for Israel so that they would become a people reflecting God’s social order among the nations, living all of life under God’s torah. As David committed to living under God’s rule and covenant, Israel would be formed into a missional community that reflected God’s will for every area of their lives: social, political, economic, legal and religious. King David would also have the task of defeating idolatrous nations that threatened Israel, encouraging the people to live in holy conformity to God’s law.
In 2 Samuel 7:11-17, God makes a covenant with David, promising that one day a king would arise from David’s line who would rule over a universal and everlasting kingdom. This promise anticipated God’s continued mission though Israel—that all nations would be blessed through them and called into covenant with God. Israel’s earthly king would play a vital role in nourishing Israel’s missional identity and role.
Next time we’ll look at how God used the temple and his prophets to shape and form Israel into his missional community. We’ll also begin to look at how well Israel’s earthly king—and the kings after him—did in their missional task of fostering Israel’s missional identity and role.