Mission in the Old Testament: Israel as a Light to the Nations

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Mission in the Old Testament: Israel as a Light to the Nations. By Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000, 101 pp., $9.99 paper.

"Probably the last thing a person is likely to think about in connection with the Old Testament is a missionary message to the Gentiles" (p. 7). Kaiser addresses such a view, arguing with characteristic clarity and concision that the OT should indeed be read as a missionary message to the nations.

Two fundamentally different views of mission are at issue here. Kaiser distinguishes them as "centripetal" and "centrifugal" witnessing. The former view understands Israel to have a passive, Zion-centered view of mission. It is, one could say, "come-and-see" witnessing. The latter view understands Israel to have an aggressive missionary mandate, an outward-moving mission that one could term "go-and-tell" witnessing. Kaiser's thesis is that "Centrifugal witnessing ... is the role assigned to Israel in actively sharing with others the Man of Promise who was to come" (p. 9).

Chapters 1 and 2 unpack God's plan and purpose for mission in the OT. Special attention is paid to the Abrahamic covenant (especially Gen 12:3), which Kaiser suggests could be considered a "Great Commission" of the OT (p. 7). The plan is that all of the nations will be blessed through the Seed, the Man of Promise who is to come. The purpose is best seen by examining some key missionary psalms (e.g. Psalms 67, 96, 117). Here Israel prays for the nations, proclaiming Yahweh to the nations, in order that Yahweh might receive praise from the nations.

Chapters 3 and 5 constitute case studies, as it were, of Kaiser's thesis. In short order he recounts the stories of individual Gentiles who trusted in the Man of Promise. Jonah's reluctant witness to Assyria is also retold as an example of centrifugal witnessing. Kaiser continues to build his thesis by looking at the centrifugal motif in the other prophets of Israel.

Chapter 4 examines the Isaianic call of Israel to be a light to the nations. …