In the beginning, God made a wonderful world. But before long, we make a tragic mess of it. God’s solution is to call one family to know him and to make him known to the peoples of the earth. From the twelfth chapter of Genesis (ESV) we read:
Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (emphasis mine)
These are the opening words of the plan of history, and the theme of the rest of the Bible. The promise is repeated frequently in Genesis, again and again to Abraham, then to his son Isaac, and then to his son Jacob, to whom God gives the new name Israel. Don Richardson notes that this promise to Abraham is referenced 395 times in Scripture.
Have you ever wondered why God keeps referring to himself as “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob”? Why not the God of Moses, David, and Elijah? It’s because he is the God of this covenant, and his people are those of this promise: “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
The Exodus and Every Nation
When God sends Moses to deliver his people from slavery in Egypt, what is God doing? Rescuing his people? Yes, but so much more!
Twelve times in his contest with Pharaoh, God repeats “…that you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth…for this purpose have I let you live, to show you my power, that my name may be declared throughout all the earth.” (Exodus 9:14-16; 7:5, 17; 8:10, 22; 9:29; 10:2; 11:7; 14:4, 18, 31)
Each plague relates to one of the gods of Egypt, demonstrating the power of the God of Israel over all other gods. As the plagues come, Egypt watches the God of Israel prove himself greater than the gods of Egypt, even greater than Pharaoh, who was himself proposed to be a great god. What a display of the glory of God for the people of Egypt!
And did you know that “a mixed multitude” left Egypt with Israel?! (Exodus 12:38) God is doing more than caring for his people. As has been his plan from the beginning, God is bringing people from every nation into his family.
As has been his plan from the beginning, God is bringing people from every nation into his family.
Daniel and Proclaiming to the World
Babylon has conquered most of the known world. King Darius decrees that no one may pray to anyone but himself—or they will be thrown into the lions’ den (i.e., eaten alive). Daniel, undeterred, keeps praying to God and is thrown to the lions. But God rescues him.
What’s the lesson? Trust God, be faithful to him, and he’ll take care of you? At first glance, perhaps. But listen to what happens because of Daniel’s faithfulness in a hostile foreign land:
Then King Darius wrote to all the peoples, nations, and people of every nation throughout the land: “May you prosper greatly! I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel.”
God uses a foreign king to proclaim him to the whole world! Imagine: you’ve been conquered by Darius, your people subsumed by the Persian Empire. Yet this emperor has just posted on his Facebook page that he’s come to fear the God of the Jews, a tiny foreign people the empire had decimated a while back!
Yes, God is faithful to his people. He’s more powerful than threats to our lives, and sovereign over those in positions of power. And that should be tremendously comforting to us! But let’s not make God too small. God has always been for all the peoples of the world. He’s always been all about using our relatively small acts of faithfulness to proclaim and demonstrate his glory to the world waiting in darkness.
Jonah and Blessing the Nations
God sends Jonah with a warning for Israel’s mortal enemy—the notoriously violent and evil people of Ninevah—but, Jonah refuses and hops on a boat going the opposite direction. A treacherous storm and a few days in a fish later, God gets Jonah to Ninevah, and Jonah’s worst nightmare comes true. What Jonah wouldn’t do (have mercy on his enemies) God does anyway. All the people of Ninevah repent and get welcomed into the grace of God. All of them!
At the very end of the story, God asks Jonah, “Should I not have compassion on that great city?” and he asks us the same question today. Will we share the heart of God for those beyond our circles, who don’t know him, who aren’t like us, even for those who don’t like us, who mistreat us?
Recently (as reported on Voice of the Martyrs radio) a Middle Eastern Christian with a gun to his head told an ISIS fighter, “I know you will kill me, but I give to you my Bible.” The soldier shot him, but then he picked up the Bible, and began to read about the Jesus who had been coming to him in dreams, telling him, “You are killing my people.” Now he wants to follow Jesus.
This is who God has always been. This is what God has always been doing. And this has been God’s perpetual question for his people, throughout the Scriptures: Will we be the blessing to the nations he has always intended us to be?