The Sent Story
The “giving away” of the church begins in Genesis 12. Although many scholars point out that the church was not formally born until the New Testament, all would agree that God begins the work of sending a redemptive people on mission in these early chapters of Genesis. Up to this point in the biblical story, God has had an intimate relationship with just a few families. He spends most of these years straightening out the evil of humanity. Sin enters in the world through Adam and Eve, family troubles spread with Cain and Abel, and eventually the world is filled with human sin and rebellion. When enough is enough and God can’t take it anymore, he wipes the world out, redeeming a few people in the family of Noah.
Yet the evil of the human race continues, and in the story of the Tower of Babel God responds to human evil by dividing people from each other, spreading them throughout the world. After Babel, human beings are now separated — not only from God, but also from one another. Strife, war, brutality, and dissension rule the day, and God begins a master plan to redeem the world, setting in motion a cross-cultural community that will bring his blessing to this messed-up world. It’s a rescue plan to save sinful humanity.
In Genesis 12:1, God says to a man named Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.” Abram (later to be called Abraham) is the start of God’s plan of salvation. With these words we see the Father sending his redemptive community out into the world. God the Father is starting to give his baby away on her wedding day.
In Genesis 12:2 – 3, God continues:
I will make you into a great nation
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all the peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.
The people of God are being sent to live in a pagan land. Why? So they may bring the blessing of God wherever they go.
Although God’s call to Abraham is a beautiful send-off, like many marriages, things don’t always go so well. Before too long, Abraham’s missional community is thrust into chaos again. His descendants end up living as slaves in Egypt. Again, God “gives away” his people, releasing them from the slavery of Egypt through the leadership of Moses. More than a grand escape story, God is once again moving his people into a position where his larger plan of blessing the world can continue. Moses is a good leader, and he gets the people close to accomplishing God’s purposes, but he too falls short.
God, thankfully, does not give up. Though the missional community of Israel has been rebellious and unfaithful, God continues to work through them and their leaders. He calls a new leader, Joshua, who brings the people across the Jordan into the Promised Land. Joshua sends two spies to check out the walled city of Jericho, the last stronghold of the Canaanites. They wisely find refuge in the home of the harlot Rahab (so no one will notice them). After staying for some time in her home, built into the wall of the city, their cover is blown and Rahab hides them from the authorities, sending the king’s envoy on a wild goose chase. As the spies escape, they make a promise to this pagan prostitute that they will protect her and her entire family from the coming destruction of the city. Just as the red blood of the sheep was spread over the doorposts during the Passover, she’s instructed to let a scarlet rope hang from her window to set her apart for redemption. While the city is destroyed, Rahab and her family are saved.
The blessing of God, given to Abraham for the purpose of blessing the world, is here given to a pagan lady and her family. What is amazing about this story is that Rahab is not only engrafted into the missional community of God’s people, her story will eventually become an example to Jewish believers in the formative days of the New Testament church. In the New Testament letter to the Hebrews, Rahab is held up as an example of faith. In the letter of James she is celebrated for combining her faith with deeds. The story of Rahab is yet another instance of God’s mission rolling on through the Old Testament, and her life reminds us that from the days of his call to Abram, God has intentionally used his people to reach across cultural lines, saving anyone willing to trust him.
Although an obscure story to most of us, this Rahab commercial break is a critical reminder to the Hebrew people that the God they follow and worship isn’t just their God. It’s also a great reminder to us today in the church. Like Jonah, who doubted that God would really want to save the evil Ninevites — the enemies of Israel — we may be tempted to see God’s exclusiveness with the Jews as proof that he really doesn’t care that much for the pagan nations, those outside the ranks of God’s people. Throughout the Old Testament, God calls the Jews to be separate from the culture in which they lived. Several times he even tells them to slaughter anyone who is not of Hebrew origin! It’s natural that some might be tempted to ask, “Doesn’t that mean that God wants his people to avoid contact with outsiders?” I’ll admit that these passages seem to contradict the missional purposes of God. When God tells his people to destroy the Canaanites, it doesn’t sound like he wants them to connect with, live among, or bless them.
To unpack this seeming contradiction we need to go back to the bigger picture of what God is trying to do. Remember the “father of the bride” story? For those of us who have children, we know that you can’t just send your kids out into the world without some sort of foundation being laid. A good father knows when his little girl is ready to date, and as she matures and grows, he trusts that that someday she’ll be ready to be given away in marriage. Right now, my older daughter, Alli, is fifteen. She’s 5 ft. 8 in., gorgeous like me and her mother (okay, gorgeous like her mother), and soon she’ll be pulling into her high school parking lot in my Jeep Wrangler. She’ll be the catch of the school. We all know that boys like an attractive girl who drives a jeep.
I often watch the young vultures (teenage boys) gawking at her, and I picture the type of lads who will soon be asking her out. Given the world we live in today, I assume that just about any young man who wants to date my daughter will have spent hundreds of hours surfing easily accessible porn sites, will have learned that many girls are easy to exploit for their own sexual purposes, and will probably expect the same from my baby. Alli and I have spent quite a bit of time talking about dating. I’ve told her that when she’s thirty-eight, I’ll let her begin taking phone calls! Since that probably won’t work, I figure I’ll have to begin trusting her with boys this next year, although I did make sure she knows that any boy who even wants a shot at taking her out must call me to ask my permission. I’m not sure exactly what my parameters will be yet, but at the very least it will include a personal interview with me and a hand-written application with essay questions about the value of women — especially how he intends to value my women! You can be sure that I’ll have on my dirty old white tank top and my twelve-gauge shotgun clearly visible for the little punk who decides to court my girl.
I think this example illustrates the tension that God was dealing with as well. His goal for the Hebrew people was that they would be a unique community, extending God’s blessing to every culture. But like a teenage girl, there were times when their immaturity was so apparent that he had to pull them back and remind them of their vulnerability.
Consider God’s words to his people in Ezekiel 16:1 – 15:
The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, confront Jerusalem with her detestable practices and say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says to Jerusalem: Your ancestry and birth were in the land of the Canaanites; your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. On the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to make you clean, nor were you rubbed with salt or wrapped in cloths. No one looked on you with pity or had compassion enough to do any of these things for you. Rather, you were thrown out into the open field, for on the day you were born you were despised.
“ ‘Then I passed by and saw you kicking about in your blood, and as you lay there in your blood I said to you, “Live!” I made you grow like a plant of the field. You grew up and developed and became the most beautiful of jewels. Your breasts were formed and your hair grew, you who were naked and bare.
“ ‘Later I passed by, and when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness. I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign Lord, and you became mine.
“ ‘I bathed you with water and washed the blood from you and put ointments on you. I clothed you with an embroidered dress and put leather sandals on you. I dressed you in fine linen and covered you with costly garments. I adorned you with jewelry: I put bracelets on your arms and a necklace around your neck, and I put a ring on your nose, earrings on your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. So you were adorned with gold and silver; your clothes were of fine linen and costly fabric and embroidered cloth. Your food was fine flour, honey and olive oil. You became very beautiful and rose to be a queen. And your fame spread among the nations on account of your beauty, because the splendor I had given you made your beauty perfect, declares the Sovereign Lord.
“ ‘But you trusted in your beauty and used your fame to become a prostitute.’ ”
Here we see the loving heart of a Father, nurturing his people through adolescence and preparing them to carry his name proudly through the world.
We find a similar message in Isaiah 62, as God expresses his commitment to his people:
For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet,
till her righteousness shines out like the dawn,
her salvation like a blazing torch.
The nations will see your righteousness,
and all kings your glory;
you will be called by a new name
that the mouth of the Lord will bestow.
You will be a crown of splendor in the Lord’s hand,
a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
No longer will they call you Deserted,
or name your land Desolate.
But you will be called Hephzibah,
and your land Beulah;
for the Lord will take delight in you,
and your land will be married.
As a young man marries a maiden,
so will your sons marry you;
as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride,
so will your God rejoice over you . . .
They will be called the Holy People,
the Redeemed of the Lord;
and you will be called Sought After,
the City No Longer Deserted. (Isa. 62:1 – 12)
In both these passages we see God’s desire to care for his people, calling them out from the world. But we must also note the context: God takes pleasure in his people so that they will make his name and his ways renowned throughout the nations. In Exodus 19:4 – 6 we also find this combination of God’s calling his people to exclusive loyalty, but given within the context of influencing the world as they bring God’s blessing:
You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
Though the majority of the Old Testament focuses on God’s work with the Jewish people, spaced strategically throughout are windows to God’s larger redemptive plan with outsiders. Persian King Darius, Jonah and the Ninevites, and even whacko Nebuchadnezzar show us how peasants and pagan kings not only acknowledged the God of the Hebrews but actually turned to him at times.
As the saga of the Old Testament fades, there are three hundred years of uncomfortable silence for God’s missional people. This gap of revelation and the lack of God’s guiding voice leaves the Hebrew nation with a tenuous skepticism about their purpose — perhaps God’s national calling for them has been revoked. Maybe his anger at their adolescent-like immaturity and their failure to finish the story of redemption will leave them without a home, without a purpose — without anything. The Hebrew people remain vigilant in their traditions as they become a marginalized subculture within the dominant Roman shadow. They stay together, living out the patterns of the past, but despondency rules the land. Where is God?
Priests still make sacrifices for the people, and the people continue to pray for God’s help, but their faith is faltering. Then, God does something new. The story picks up again, with a barren Jewish woman named Elizabeth. She’s married to a man named Zechariah. They are old, but they’ve been faithfully hoping for a son, as well as for Israel’s God to show up again.
Taken from AND by Hugh Halter. Copyright © 2010 by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay. Used by permission of Zondervan. Zondervan.com