Mission in the Old Testament | A Book Review 

Mission in the Old Testament” is a fascinating read. From my perspective, dispensational theology, and its necessarily corresponding hermeneutic, has colored the lenses of American evangelicalism to such a degree that many Christians in America have become unable to see much at all in the direction Kaiser calls his reader to look in this volume. I am not a dispensationalist, and yet I still found myself surprised to learn that so much of the Old Testament reveals a gracious God who has been reaching out to Gentiles long before the days of the Apostle Paul. Kaiser points to the Great Commission of Matthew 28 as an appropriate and expanded restatement of something God had already been saying.Kaiser states his these in the introduction when he says, “It is my hope that the formative theology of Genesis 12: 3 may once again be seen for what it is and has always been in the discussion of mission: a divine program to glorify the Lord by bringing salvation to all on planet earth.” Kaiser believes Genesis 12:3 is the “formal” statement of the “Commission mandate” in Scripture. 

Summary

Below I have provided a brief summary and overview of the book. I have placed the eight chapters of the book into four sections – Foundation, Design, Examples, and Instruments.

Foundation – Chapters 1 and 2

Kaiser began to make his case by trying to demonstrate the foundational and integral nature of God’s promise to Abram/Abraham in Genesis 12. However, before he did that, Kaiser showed how the first eleven chapters of Genesis lead the reader to such a crucial and articulate promise. In these chapters, the Genesis record tells of three major crises – the fall, the flood, and failure at the Tower of Babel – and three subsequent promises of blessing from God (2). Immediately after the fall, God promised a seed or offspring that would right the wrong that had been done. After the flood, God promised to once again make His dwelling with man. After the failure at the Tower of Babel, God promised to give Abram a “great name.”

In Genesis 12:1-3, Kaiser claimed, we may find the succinct statement of promise that encompasses all three of these and more. He argues that the promise of Genesis 12 is the height of the universal promises God had already made. Rather than thinning the previously wide promises of blessing, Kaiser believes that God was designating Abram as the one through whom He would ultimately bring these wide promises to fulfillment. Kaiser stated that the key purpose of the blessing Abram enjoyed was (according to Genesis 12:3) “so that all the peoples on earth may be blessed through you (through Abram).”

Kaiser summarized his conclusion by saying:

“The whole purpose of God was to bless one people so that they might be the channel through which all the nations of the earth might receive a blessing. Israel was to be God’s missionary to the world— and thereby so were all who believed in this same gospel” (12).

Kaiser said that Israel (the people of God) were to be a “treasured” people, a “kingdom of priests,” and a “holy” people (14-15). In this way, with these designations, Israel would serve as a “light to the Gentiles” or “agents of God’s blessing to all on earth” (16). Of course, Kaiser points out that the Scriptures place Christ as the apex agent of such blessing, but this is not to separate Christ’s ministry from the ministry of the people of God. The two are interrelated – distinct, but not separate.

Design – Chapters 3 and 4

Chapter three builds upon the idea that Christ is the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise to bring blessing to all peoples of earth, and Chapter four runs to the end or purpose of God’s promise in order to bring the full picture into view. Climbing toward the ultimate Messianic “seed,” Kaiser demonstrates incredible similarities between the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants, and argues that such things draw the two together (23). In fact, Kaiser claims that David himself understood the significance of God’s covenantal language in His promise to David in 2 Samuel 7:18-19 (25). God had promised a “seed” through Abraham that would be a blessing to all peoples, and God was reiterating that promise to David. In conclusion at the end of chapter 3, Kaiser says, “The plan of God had from the very beginning the central figure of the ‘Seed’ who was to come in the person of the Man of Promise, the Messiah” (26).

The purpose for such marvelous blessing from God is His glory. In fact, Kaiser notes that the worship of God is as compelling to unbelievers as it is informative. His claim is that the Psalms are a hymnbook with a missional perspective. The psalmists call for proclamation and singing of the deeds and nature of God, and the psalmists themselves “offer to sing God’s praises among the nations” (35). Kaiser said that the inevitable result would be that Gentiles would join in celebratory song when they were exposed to such a thing, and this is exactly the form of missional approach Kaiser argues that the Old Testament calls for.

Examples – Chapter 5

In this section, Kaiser sought to show that the plan of God was the same from the beginning by demonstrating that God has been active among the “Gentiles” all along. He phrased it this way, “The ‘nations’ and ‘Gentiles’ were envisioned as equal recipients of that same good news from the very beginning of time along with Israel itself” (pp. 37-38).

Melchizedek was a “priest of God Most High” and a king (Genesis 14:18), and yet he was also a Canaanite or Gentile. This is compelling, because it not only informs the reader of Gentile believers during Abram’s day, but it also strongly implies that there were a number of believers represented by this singular (though admittedly enigmatic) character. Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, was a “priest of Midian” (Exodus 18:1). Jethro praises the name of Yahweh (the covenant name of God) and offers a burnt offering to God, both of which were specific things that only believers in the promised blessing of God actually did. This too is a demonstration that Gentile believers were in existence outside of the focus of the Old Testament narrative.

Rahab the prostitute is also added to the list of Old Testament Gentile believers, but she provides us with both a Scripturally supported example (she is listed in the Hebrews “chapter of faith”) and a more general example (many people, like Rahab, would have likely come to “fear” God in light of His demonstration of power during the days of Joshua). Ruth is another unlikely and seemingly quite unimportant convert to belief in the covenantal God of promise. While Ruth enjoys the benefit of being grafted into the physical line of king David and the Messiah, she also serves as a simple example of Gentile exposure to Yahweh’s missionary people and subsequent trust in Yahweh. It is impossible to deny that there would have been at least some number of others like Ruth and Rahab (probably many), and it is likely that there were even others like Jethro.

Instruments – Chapters 6, 7, and 8

This last section, and nearly the second half of the book, delves into the various individuals and groups God has used in the Scriptures as witnesses or missionaries to the peoples of the earth. Kaiser argues that Israel, generally, was to be God’s missionaries to the world. He includes both a plural and a singular object of focus in the “Servant songs” of Isaiah (especially 42 and 49). On the one hand, Kaiser notes (along with the majority interpretation) that the Servant songs of Isaiah are speaking of the Messiah. However, Kaiser also shows that there is a relationship between the Messiah and Israel (God’s people) that cannot be brushed aside. The Messiah does not replace Israel, Kaiser argues, but the Messiah brings the missionary task originally given to the people of God to its ultimate fulfillment.

Next, Kaiser points to Jonah as an example of God’s instrumental use of an individual to bring His message to Gentiles. God’s message was reluctantly delivered by Jonah, and the Gentile people of Nineveh were repentant. These Gentiles stood in stark contrast to the people of Israel of that day, for they heeded the word of the Lord and submitted themselves to Him. Additionally, the prophets Joel, Amos, Micah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Zechariah all speak of God’s extended blessing to the Gentiles (the peoples of earth) as well as Israel. Therefore, not only were God’s people (Israel) supposed to be “lights to the peoples of the earth,” but God also sent prophets from among them to the “peoples” in order that they would “hear the good news of the coming Man of Promise and the blessing that God intended for all to hear” (74).

Lastly, Kaiser looks to the Apostle Paul as a case study in both missional efforts as well as a missionary with Old Testament grounding for such efforts. Kaiser said that Paul believed himself to be no innovator of missionary strategy or targets. He said, 

“The case for evangelizing the Gentiles had not been a recently devised switch in the plan of God but had always been the long-term commitment of the living God who is a missionary God. This is the same case that is consistently, even if at times only rudimentarily, found in the entire corpus of the Old Testament” (81-82).

In this concluding statement, for both the last chapter and the entire book, Kaiser summarizes his main point throughout. He did indeed work to demonstrate a divine program, spanning from Genesis to Revelation, to glorify the Lord by bringing salvation to all peoples on planet earth.

Critical Interaction

This book was an eye-opening and interesting read. I believe that the author successfully argued his case, and I believe that his thesis is accurate. I was impressed and humbled by the sweeping and deep knowledge of the Scriptures (especially the Old Testament) the author demonstrated. I was also quite surprised by the significant scholarship interaction that the author made available in the pages of this book. 

The walk through the various covenantal promises of God and the plethora of Old Testament examples of God’s active work to bless “to the ends of the earth” was great. I believe the grand narrative of the Scriptures was mapped out well. The numerous citations of the biblical text, and the detailed interaction with them was marvelous. No reader could argue that the author merely invented a system to superimpose upon the text. The author’s mention and critique of scholarly deviations from his own view were interesting and important to the discussion of the topics at hand.

However, I have one negative to mention here. In my opinion, the book is not easily accessible for the average reader. There were a number of instances that the author went into greater scholarly depth than necessary to argue his point. On the authorship and dating of Jonah, for example, the author did not need to prove the historicity of this prophetic book in order to argue the remainder of his point. Jonah was a prophet to Gentiles, and this is evident from the text presented by the author. Another example is the discussion on “justice” and “judgment” (59). It was quite technical, but that was not necessary in my view.

Conclusion

I am glad to have read this book, and glad to review it. It has been an enlightening walk through the promises of God and the reality that God is a missional Savior for all peoples from the beginning. I believe this subject needs more time and investigation, but I may simply be unaware of the greater body of work available. I hope to read and think more on the topic in the future.

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