Establishing the Foundations (Old Testament and Missions)

The early chapters Genesis established certain truths that are reflected and amplified throughout Scriptural revelation. They become not only important starting points but also controlling themes that shape our understanding both of God and his mission. Therefore to ignore these early chapters of Genesis is to miss the point. Ken Gnanakan writes: “No theology of mission is complete without substantial reference to God’s eternal purposes as revealed right from the start…Hence, theologies of mission that start with the New Testament lack the firm and full foundation of God’s mission as it has been gradually revealed right from creation.”  

The very nature of God and, hence, the very nature of his purpose and mission to the world is found in the earliest recorded revelation of God to mankind in the creation poems of the Genesis. It may be said with reasonable accuracy that the biblical account of God’s creative activity and subsequent activities in the early chapters of Genesis become the backdrop of and sets the stage for the further unfolding of God’s magnanimous plan of redemption not only for mankind but for all of creation. Richard R. DeRidder observes: “Beginning with the creation of the world and of man in the image likeness of God, the Bible continually demonstrates the supreme importance of man to God both before and after man fell into sin.” God created man with his stamp of approval included under the reflective statement that his creation of man was “very good.” Mankind was created for the glory of God. He has a righteous, fulfilling purpose.” 

The first eleven chapters of Genesis are a point of departure for an understanding for the rest of the Old Testament and for the whole history of Israel and redemption. Johannes Blauw describes this section as confessional, a “confession concerning the pre-history of Israel as the people of God.” It gives meaning to all history and, in doing so, gives meaning to humanity’s existence and place in this creature of God. Blauw writes: “The whole of creation has been instituted upon man and for man (Gen. 1). Consequently, the center of creation is humanity (Gen. 2), but man misuses this centrality and does not understand his responsibility (Gen. 3).” As Christopher Wright observes: “Clearly, a full biblical theology and practice of mission must take account of a fully biblical account of sin.” 

So begins the tragic decline of mankind as a result of the Fall, sliding downward toward an inevitable confrontation with and the judgment of God. “Then there begins the guilty alienation from God which assumes even more catastrophic proportions, and which makes itself felt in the whole of creation (Gen. 4-6). Judgment, then, cannot fail to come (Gen. 7-8), but after this judgment, and through it, God still remains faithful to His creation and to man (Gen. 8-9).” 

The covenant of God with Noah emphasizes the theme of universality that is found in the initial chapters of the Bible. George Peters emphasizes the phrase “Noah and his sons” (Gen. 9:1, 8-9) to point to the fact that the covenant also included the sons of Noah. Covenanting with Noah and his sons meant that God was covenanting with the nations that were fathered by these men, and there is no nation that is excluded. 

It is true that from among the sons and the resulting nations of peoples, God selects Israel through Abraham for a special mission to the other nations, but salvation is in no way limited to Israel. Peters writes: “While there will be differences in social and cultural developments and in the granting of divine revelation and mediatorial position, the soteriological universality remains unaffected.” God was using a particular nation to reach the rest of the world. 

Specifically focusing upon Genesis 10, Johannes Verkuyl, in his essay entitled “The Biblical Foundation for the World Mission Mandate,” says that this particular chapter is “important for understanding the universal motif of the Old Testament.” He relates that Gerhard Von Rad described it as “the conclusion of the history of creation.” He continues: 

“All of the nations issue forth from the creative hand of God and stand under his watchful eye of patience and judgment. The nations are not mere decorations incidental to the real drama between God and man; rather, the nations-that is, mankind as a whole—are part of the drama itself. God’s work and activity are directed to the whole of humanity.”

Mankind then unites for the purpose of rebellion and desiring autonomy from God. Things seem especially dark and troublesome and the nature of God is tested. A new generation of men group up (Gen. 10), but these also turn away from God and presumptuously seek only themselves and look only to themselves. Again, the judgment of God strikes man, this time not in a flood but in the dispersion of mankind over the whole earth not only alienated from God but also from each other (Gen. 11). In a parenthetical section of his book, Johannes Blauw deals with the Table of the Nations in Gen. 10 and what it signifies: 

“In the Table of the Nations in Gen. 10 we have a consequence of the announcement in Gen. 9 regarding the new covenant with the earth. This covenant shows its effectiveness in the filling of the earth with a multitude of nations. The joy of the creation has won out over his sadness and wrath (cf. Acts 17:26). The world of nations is the result of the peace made with humanity after the flood.

The confusion of languages and the dispersion of peoples were signs of both peace and judgment. God’s judgment was creating the circumstances that forced them to do what he had originally intended for them to do. He desired that the nations disperse and fill the earth but instead they formed a community of rebellion. The nations become in Scripture the focus of God’s mission and, at the same time, a problem for Israel. 

Peters feels that Paul presents a “theological interpretation of the religious history of the nations” that took place following the dispersion of the nations (recorded in Gen. 11:1-9) in his treatment of the sins of the nations in Romans 1:18-32. We get a glimpse of the depth to which mankind fell: “Thus the world was sinking rapidly into idolatry, sensuality and mental depravity. Therefore religion, morality, and philosophy come under the judgment of God, and God gave up the nations to go their own ways and design their own cultures and religions.” 

In reflecting back on Genesis 1-11 by way of summary we are reminded of what we have learned from these chapters. Ken R. Gnanakan summarizes it this way: “when we are willing to get right back to creation, we are setting mission within its scope for all humanity. We see that man’s history commences with God’s interest in man as man and not just as a Hebrew. And in his widest interest in humanity in its fullest sense is not restricted to one particular race.” The scope of the narrative is universal because God is dealing with all mankind and, subsequently, “the offer of salvation” is “for all who would believe.” The first eleven chapters of Genesis point graphically to the universality of God’s purposes and mission. While later he selects one man and through him one people to become his representatives, the whole purpose and intention of God is to reach out and win the nations. It is in Gen. 1-11 that the “protevangelium is first announced” and this is shown to be universalistic in intent. This universalistic application of the promise of salvation becomes a theme throughout the Old Testament. The protevangelium or first promise of redemption is found in Gen. 3:15. It is also an affirmation that the suffering and persecution that God’s people will go through to accomplish God’s mission will eventually succeed.  

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