In part 3 of our series we learned that God had granted Israel an earthly king whose role in leading the people would help nourish Israel’s missional identity and role in being a blessing to all nations. God had promised this earthly king, King David, that another King from David’s line would someday come and 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. As the earthly king ruled over God’s people, he was to lead the people in God’s power in defeating idolatrous nations, encouraging righteous conformity to God’s law among Israel. Additionally, the king was to promote temple life among Israel. God had established the temple as a symbol of his presence among his people. The temple was to help nourish Israel’s missional identity and role in spreading God’s holy presence among the nations (see 1 Kings 8:27-43).
We see in 1 Kings 8 and in Isaiah 56 that the temple was also to be a place of worship and sacrifice. Both would be essential for Israel’s missional identity and role. God had initiated the sacrificial system so that there could be restored relationship between God and Israel when they broke God’s covenant. We see a beautiful picture of this in Leviticus 9 as Aaron, the high priest, offers multiple offerings unto God: the sin offering, the burnt offering, and the fellowship offering (Leviticus 9:15-17, 22).
The sin offering was a sacrifice that secured forgiveness when sin was transferred to an animal as the priest placed his hands on it and killed it in place of the sinful individual. The burnt offering was a sacrifice that was to be completely burned and dedicated to the Lord. This sacrifice was a picture of the total consecration and dedication following forgiveness. The fellowship offering was a sacrifice that served as a celebration of the restored communion between God and the sinful individual. The emphasis on sacrifice was an important act of worship for Israel, for it was God’s way of making the unholy pure again and restoring fellowship in the presence of God. If Israel was to be a missional people in the sight of the nations, she would need to know and experience God’s forgiveness, renewed commitment to God, and fellowship with God.
The temple also nourished Israel’s missional identity and role by pointing Israel to the goal of God’s redemption: to fill the whole earth with God’s glorious presence (see Habakkuk 2:14). The temple was a place of sacrifice that provided a way of restoration for the people when they failed to keep God’s covenant, thus setting them on the right road of holiness. The temple was a place of worship that nourished Israel’s faith in God as the one, true Lord over all creation. The temple would be a place of exhortation for Israel to embrace God’s universal mission to restore humanity and all creation from the ravages of sin.
God also used his prophets to help nourish Israel in her missional identity and role. The prophets in the Old Testament challenged Israel when they forgot their missional calling and failed to keep covenant with God. We see Israel time and again be engulfed by the darkness of idolatry and fail to be the holy nation God had called them to be. Israel’s earthly kings fail in their calling to lead Israel as well (read 1 and 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles!) Over and over the prophets would call Israel to remember their true identity and purpose for existence. As Israel continued to rebel against God’s rule over their lives, they experienced judgment and banishment from the promised land. The prophets proclaimed that Israel was being judged for their sin against God.
The Old Testament story ends with both failure and hope. Israel fails to be a light to the nations that God had called them to be as they succumb to the darkness of idolatry. God judges his people and sends them into exile. But in God’s mercy, he sends his prophets to encourage the people that all is not lost. The prophets tell of a time when Israel’s sin would be paid for (Isaiah 40:1-2) and a time when Israel would be gathered and renewed to fulfill their missional calling (Ezekiel 36:22-32). This would happen as the climax of God’s Story when his kingdom is finally restored through an anointed king in David’s line and by the power of the Spirit (Joel 2).
For centuries Israel lives in fervent hope that God will keep his promise to gather and renew Israel and establish a worldwide kingdom. Israel longs for God to send his Messiah and Spirit to rescue them from bondage and sin. Israel had a sick and wicked heart (Jeremiah 17:9) and needed a new heart—a new spirit. Israel needed God’s law written on their very being in order to live out her missional identity and role.
Would God be faithful to his promise to gather and renew Israel? Would the promised Messiah finally come and fulfill God’s mission that Israel failed to live out? How does the Story continue?