Home > Biblical Theology, New Testament, Old Testament > God’s Purpose for the Nations, Part 2

God’s Purpose for the Nations, Part 2

In my previous post I discussed some things we need to keep in mind when looking at the text.  I spoke on those issues because we can often neglect important things in the text if we are not reading and understanding our Bible’s correctly.  With that said let us look at Genesis and some other Old Testament texts that help us understand God’s purpose for the nations.

1.) In the opening chapters of Genesis we clearly see God as king over his creation (Gen 1:1-2:25).  He is also king over Adam, his created son (cf., Luke 3:38).  Adam, as the first human, is the representative for all of humanity.  Adam’s purpose is to enjoy fellowship with God and bring him glory by bearing his image (Gen 1:26-27; 3:8). 

2.) The command to Adam and the woman is to be fruitful and multiply (Gen 1:27-28).  This commandment demonstrates that God desires all the peoples that come from Adam and the woman to be under God’s rule and part of his plan.  However, Adam and the woman disobey God’s commandment.  Sin is introduced into the world and God’s purpose for humanity is skewed (Gen 3:1-24).

3.) Because of sin, death and disorder enter the world (both for the creature and the creation).   Adam and the woman are banished from the garden (God’s sanctuary) and, despite their continued existence in God’s world, their relationship with him as been distorted by sin.  Despite the apparent victory of Satan, God promises to bring about redemption (Gen 3:15).  God will put enmity between the woman’s seed and the serpent’s seed. Two respective kingdoms will rise up, a godly kingdom and an ungodly kingdom, a kingdom of light and a kingdom of darkness, a kingdom of people who love God, and a kingdom of people who love themselves, a people who are ruled by God, and a people who are ruled by self (cf., Gen 3:22-24).   The seed of the woman will produce faith, but the seed of the serpent will produce unbelief.  Ultimately, there will come a seed or offspring of the woman that will crush the serpent, but not without suffering, struggle, and affliction.  What begins to take shape in human history is that having faith in the promises of God is the way in which people stand in right relationship to him (Gen 3:21; 4:3-5; cf., Heb 11:4).  The ability to stand in right relationship to God is extended to all people because sin affects all in the same way due to Adam’s sin (cf., Rom 1:18ff; 5:12).

4.) Adam’s first act of faith is naming his wife Eve. By naming her Eve (the mother of all living) Adam shows his restoration to God by believing the promise that the faithful woman will bear offspring that will defeat Satan (Gen 3:20; cf., 1 Tim 2:12-15).  Likewise, Eve demonstrates her faith in the promise when she declares that she has received a man-child with the help of the Lord (Gen 4:1).  Eve trusts that God will bring about life and the promise of redemption for humanity even in the midst of tragedy and death.  

5.) The first son to continue the seed promise is Abel.  Abel is killed by his brother Cain. Abel and Cain are the first demonstration of two opposing kingdoms, a kingdom of faith and a kingdom of unbelief (cf., Heb 11:4; 1 John 3:12). Adam and Eve have another son Seth (Gen 4:25), so the seed successfully continues.  Again, we see that right relationship to God is based on faith in the promise. 

6.) The genealogies in Genesis, as well as the rest of the OT become a vital part of Israel’s history, as well as human history, as they record the promise of seed from creation to the NT and demonstrate the global nature of God’s purposes by showing that just as all peoples have been subjected to sin, so all peoples are in need of redemption.

7.) God is grieved over the sin of humanity and decides to blot out man from the land (Gen 6:1-7). However, God will preserve the promise he made to Adam and Eve through a righteous man named Noah (Gen 6:8-9). God instructs Noah to make an ark. Noah builds this ark in faith believing God’s word that he will destroy the earth. God destroys the earth with water. Noah, as a righteous man (along with his family), is preserved through the flood and upon exiting the ark God makes a covenant with Noah (Gen 8:20-9:17). God gives Noah the same divine imperative he gave to Adam, “to be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 9:1). Perhaps by “starting over,” humanity will be restored to God, but Noah pleases himself and brings shame by becoming drunk; therefore, he does not fulfill the divine imperative as he should.  God’s purpose for humanity is not fulfilled by Noah and so the promise remains, which is available for all peoples. 

Ham exposes his father’s shame and, consequently, he and his descendants are cursed by his father (Canaanites; Gen 9:25; Egypt and, consequently, all those who oppress God’s people, Psa 78:51; 105:23).  However, Noah blesses Japheth and Shem. His blessing is especially noteworthy as Japheth and his descendants (Greece, Asia Minor) will find their salvation in the tents of Shem, who is directly identified with God (Gen 9:26-27).  However, this does not mean that only the descendants of Japheth are able to find blessing in Shem for the Canaanites will as well (Psa 87; Isa 19:19-25; 66:19-20).  The theological structure of the text employs the idea that the Gentiles (nations) will find their salvation in the “name” of God (Shem means name) and that those who oppose Shem are like the Canaanites, cursed of God.  It is now through the person of Shem that we find God carry forward his plan of redemption.  Although God continues his plan for humanity through a particular name, the promise of restoration is still for all peoples who will call on the name of the Lord.

8.) Humanity once again becomes desperately evil and now is going to create their own kingdom and rule in opposition to God’s kingdom and rule.  The way in which their pride is expressed is that they seek to make a “name” for themselves (Gen 11:4) in opposition to the name of God.  God will not destroy them, since he has made a covenant promise to Noah, but instead he confuses their language.  The significance of this event is the birth of the nations.  Instead of one united “nation” or humanity, now there will be many nations and many tongues, and these nations will war with one another.  In other words, because of humanities desire for an untied kingdom and self-rule, peace and dominion will not come, but rather conflict, disunity, and servitude. Moreover the nations will rise up under the dominion of Satan and seek to destroy the seed promise.  The nations will rage against God’s people even though God’s people are to be a light to the nations. Despite the distortion of language and the scattering of humanity, God will continue his promise through Abraham.  Abraham and the covenant God makes with him becomes the foundation and connection between the story of Israel and the history of the world.  It will now be through one man and one nation that salvation will come to the families of the earth.

9.) We now enter into the formal history of Israel. God calls Abraham (at first his name is Abram) to a foreign land (Gen 12:1ff).  It is important to recognize that Abraham is a pagan prior to God calling him (Josh 24:2; Neh 9:7; Acts 7:2ff).  In other words, the Jewish nation was one of divine election, not ethnicity; thus, giving us insight into God’s purposes, namely that salvation is based on promise, not flesh (cf., Rom 9:1ff; Gal 4:21ff).  God comes into covenant with Abraham and promises him three things: land (Gen 12:1), seed (a great nation, Gen 12:2), and blessing (Gen 12:2).  God’s covenant with Abraham is unilateral (Gen 15:1-21), which means God’s plan is not dependant on what Abraham did or did not do.  In other words, it was solely dependant on God’s promise (cf., Heb 6:13-18) and no matter what Abraham or his descendants did, God would bring about his purpose for humanity.  Abraham believed the promises of God prior to receiving circumcision and it was credited to him as righteousness (Gen 15:6; Rom 4:1-25).  It is through Abraham’s seed that God will bring blessing to the nations.  Abraham believed these promises and in doing so believed in the final fulfillment no matter what form or shape they might take.

The early chapters of Genesis highlight that God’s purpose for humanity is that they might enjoy fellowship with him.  Moreover, despite the continued rebellion of people God remains faithful to bring about this purpose and carries it out through the means of one man, Abraham.  However, we must not lose sight of the big picture, which is God’s global and cosmic restoration.  I will now look at two events from the kingship era to help support the idea that God’s purpose for the nations continued even during the height of Israel’s history.

10.) In 2 Samuel 7:8-17 (cf., 2 Sam 23:1-7) God comes into covenant with David. David wants to build a house for the Lord, but God tells David that he will build a house (or kingdom) for him instead.  The promise given to David is that your house and your kingdom shall endure forever and your throne shall be established forever (2 Sam 7:16).  God promises four things to David and his descendant: This king will secure a permanent place of God’s people (2 Sam 7:9-11); this king will establish your kingdom forever (2 Sam 7:12-13); this king will build a house for the Lord’s name sake (2 Sam 7:13); and this king will be a son of God and His lovingkindness will be with him forever (2 Sam 7:15).

The Davidic covenant is an essential event for two reasons.  First, it recalls the promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob of God blessing all nations; however, the idea of kingship is now tied to these promises. In other words, God will appoint a descendant of David to have an everlasting kingdom in which this descendant will bless and rule over all the nations of the earth.  Second, we recall that God called Israel to be his firstborn son (Exo 4:22-23). The designation of sonship is now transformed to include the king (cf., Psa 2:7-8; 89:1-37). With the covenant made with David the idea of sonship is applied to the king. The king is to be a faithful son of God. In response, David offers a prayer of thanksgiving (2 Sam 7:18-29).

In David’s prayer he makes a curious statement in 7:19. He says that the establishment of his house in the future is the custom of man. Three proposals have been made here.

a.) David is asking a question. God’s dealing with David is unusual and David simply states this point (see the NIV translation).

b.) David means it as a statement; something that is to be a law or teaching for his people, namely that God will establish his throne forever (see the NRSV translation).

c.) David is making a statement, a statement of the law of man or the charter of man. In other words, the deed of man or his lot in life is determined by and through God’s promise to carry out the Davidic promise.  In other words, the law, the governing principle or procedure for man will be established, realized, or executed only when this king, his kingdom, and his house is established. The way in which we must think of this phrase is that David is making an oracle.  David understands that the future of mankind is keenly tied to the establishment of this king and his kingdom. In other words, David understands that humanities future and destiny will be restored and completed in this coming king.  Again, we see that God’s restoration is for all of humanity, but now that restoration is going to be realized through a future king and kingdom.

11.) Solomon, in accordance with the promise given to Abraham, even becomes a blessing to the rest of the world through his encounter with the Queen of Sheba (1 Kings 10:1-29).  With this visit from the Queen of Sheba we see that God’s restoration is not just for one nation (Israel), but for all peoples and that this restoration is tied to the office of king.  However, Solomon like his father disobeys the Lord and brings chaos and disaster to the kingdom (1 Kings 11:1-13).  Despite the glory of David and Solomon’s reigns, neither are the forever king, nor is their kingdom the forever kingdom God promised.  None of the successive kings or their kingdoms are the promised forever king or kingdom; thus, God’s purpose for humanity remains unfulfilled.  Moreover, the promises given to Abraham, though fulfilled in an immediate sense, still remained unfilled.  The message of the prophets is that God will still remain faithful to his promises, but not before terrible judgment for sin.  In order to bring about his promises and purpose for humanity, God will enact a new covenant in the future, unlike the old covenant.

There are numerous texts from the Old Testament that speak of God’s plan to restore all humanity and not just Israel.  For example, several of the Psalms speak of God’s salvation among the Gentiles (Psa 18, 117; cf., Rom 15:9-13).  Moreover, the prophets provide for us clues of God’s purpose to restore all who will trust in him by faith (e.g., the book of Jonah) and they teach us that God’s restoration is both global and cosmic (e.g., the books of Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah).  For now I will stop and confine our study to the passages I originally stated, but I close this post with an illustration to better understand God’s plan for all of humanity.  A good way to illustrate God’s purpose for humanity is to consider an hourglass.  At the top of the hourglass is humanity.  As the hourglass draws closer to the center the means by which God will fulfill his promises for humanity is through Israel, but at the center of the hourglass is Jesus.  As the hourglass expands out to the other end we see God’s purpose go first to the nation of Israel, but eventually broaden out to all of humanity (I modified this idea from Stephen Dempster’s book, Dominion and Dynasty).  In other words, God’s purposes and plans have always included all nations through Jesus Christ.  In the final post we will see God’s purpose for humanity come to fulfillment in Jesus Christ. 

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