A Tale of Two Ibadah

Ibadah is the local word for religious ceremony. It’s a word we learned early and use often because the milestones in life on our island are commonly marked with the gathering of friends and neighbors for good food and a traditional ceremony. Each type of ibadah is specific to the circumstance: tujuh bulan (literally “seven months”) marks the seventh month of a pregnancy, and another ibadah follows shortly after the birth of the baby; traditional weddings are more like a series of ibadah involving various parties to the new marriage; and a death means not only the funeral, but ceremonies to mark seven days after death, forty days, one hundred days, and one thousand days. Events like these date back thousands of years and are steeped in the local cultural worldview. They provide a great opportunity for us to carefully and pragmatically participate in community life as language learners and observers.

But there is a fascinating nuance to these ceremonies as well: each ibadah is both cultural and religious at the same time. It reflects the traditional cultural worldview as passed down through the centuries, but also the religious worldview of the present. The two – the cultural and the religious – are so intertwined that the expression of one aspect necessarily reflects the other. A cultural ceremony cannot be merely cultural because the minds of the participants are not merely cultural – they are religious also. And a religious ceremony is never merely religious because the participant is not merely religious, but immersed in a cultural context as well. Here is an example:

In the past few months I received invitations to two events in different neighborhoods, one marking 40 days after the passing of a man in my neighborhood and one marking 1000 days after death of a man whose family attends a nearby church. These post death ibadah are very much particular to this island, rooted deep in the animism of ancient generations. And although the basic animistic, ancestor focused, foundation has long been replaced (or at least overtaken and obscured) by various more recently incorporated religious beliefs, the ceremonies themselves live on with their new faces. I had already observed several of these after death ceremonies in my neighborhood, all with families practicing the majority religion of the island.

The first event I attended, a forty-days ceremony was exactly what I have come to expect based on prior experiences. The neighborhood men filter in and find a spot on the rugs which have been spread out on the floor, and a family member makes an opening statement. Following this, a religious leader begins a prayer chant in Arabic and those who can join in do so. This goes on for a short time before a brief pause, and food is served (usually traditional snacks – various fried foods, fruit, etc.) and another round of prayers begin. When I asked what my neighbors were praying, they told me the prayers were offered in hope that the deceased person would be allowed into heaven. After fifteen to twenty more minutes of praying/chanting, everyone is given a small gift (usually food items or a meal for later) and the house slowly empties.

The second ibadah, a one-thousand-days ceremony, though derived from the same cultural bedrock,  was nothing like I was expecting. For this event I followed a local Christian pastor to the home where members of his church were gathering to remember a fellow believer and former member of the congregation. The event started with songs of praise to the creator. The pastor talked about the man’s love for God and his family, and the faithful testimony that had marked his life. Those who were present were given the chance to reflect on the hope that we have in the one who died for us – an assurance that cannot waiver – and to rejoice with one another at the life well lived and the One who gives life. There was no pleading for heaven, as the pastor explained, because we have a hope in the finished work of Christ who has already paid our debt. Finally we ate together and departed.

As I made my way home, I couldn’t believe what I had just witnessed. This was the same ceremony, and the two were nothing alike. Two ceremonies, two gatherings of people who share the same national identity and cultural heritage holding the same culture-derived event in incredibly different ways with vastly different themes. The sole difference was the gospel – not a gospel that eliminates the culture but penetrates it and reveals what it can be in the light of Christ. This is the impact the good news can have on a community.

And this is the reason we’re toiling away at language study right now: because hundreds of people groups (that use this national language as a second language) have never been given the opportunity to interact with the gospel. Proficiency in this national language will open up opportunities for us to dig in with one of those groups, learn their distinct language and culture, and eventually allow them to hear the Word of God for themselves in their own language and cultural context – and to glorify God within and through that context in new and exciting ways.

The Biblical Context for Missions – Part 4

The following text was originally intended as a short booklet with which we could communicate to our friends and partnering churches the basic Biblical context for missions that has helped to motivate us to take part in cross-cultural ministry. This is the fourth of a four part series.

In Part 3 of this series I made the argument that God’s program with Israel served a dual purpose: Israel was blessed as God’s special possession, and that blessing was ultimately to extend to the nations. We also looked at how, unfortunately, the nation of Israel up until the time of the gospels had so far failed this task. But then came Jesus…

Jesus Christ as Savior of the World

The gospels proclaim that Jesus was the anticipated Messiah, the Christ (lit. “anointed one”) of God.  He had come to fulfill all that the scriptures had predicted pertaining to Israel and the nations.  Unfortunately, the Christ turned out to be quite difficult for Israel to recognize.  The years of harsh and humiliating submission to foreign conquerors had led the nation into the expectation that he would come foremost as a military genius, marching on Jerusalem to overthrow Caesar’s grasp of their land.  He was expected to usher in the glorious kingdom of God with a rod of iron, reigning on David’s throne for eternity.

Yet when he arrived on the scene, it was not as the conquering king, but a suffering servant.  This was completely unexpected among Israel.  Despite the proclamation of angels (Luke 2:8-20), the affirmation of prophets (Luke 2:25-38), the appearance of John the Baptist as the forerunner (Matthew 3:1-12; Mark 1:1-8; Luke 3; John 1:15-31), the audible words of God (Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:32-34), Jesus personally identifying himself with messianic prophecies (Matthew 11:1-6; Luke 4:14-21), and hundreds, if not thousands, of validating signs and miracles, Israel failed to recognize her king.  It is easy to scoff at what appears to be so obvious, but Israel’s error was one we are equally capable of making.  Egocentric theology had led them to an unbalanced understanding of scripture.  They had focused for so long on what they would get from God that God’s heart for the nations gradually slipped out of view.  Like a horse wearing blinders, all they could see was their own redemption; but Jesus had arrived with the Father’s agenda, of broader scope and greater impact than they could imagine.  It was not the Jews only that needed redemption.  He had come as the savior of the world.

The result, as we know, was the rejection of Jesus by his own people.  Israel turned against her king, and then turned him over to the Romans to have him executed.  But to the glory of God, the atrocity committed by that generation of Israel was the same act that allowed God to pour out His grace on the world.  This was the plan all along!  Through his death, burial, and resurrection, Jesus Christ secured for all mankind the blessing spoken of to Adam – the chance to join men and women across the globe in worship around the throne of the glorious God.  The invitation was opened to all who will believe.

Numerous gospel passages illuminate the global aspect of Jesus Christ’s ministry.  The most recognizable are:

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.  For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” (John 3:16-17,NASB)

“Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.’” (John 8:12, NASB)

“And they were saying to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world.’” (John 4:42, NET)

The Christ who died is the one who paved the way for the nations to know God.  He is the savior of the world, the perfect mediator between men and God, and the fulfillment of the blessing to the nations.  But he is not done yet.  In the days following the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, he announced his departure.  He would return again, this time with a throne and a kingdom (God had not forgotten His promises, after all), but for now he was returning to heaven.  And in his absence from the flesh, he was leaving a gift and a commission.

The Global Mandate

I hope that by now you will agree that story of the Bible is a story of missions, but there is a final (and perhaps most challenging) piece remaining.  God has demonstrated through the pages of scripture that His heart is for all the nations of the earth to know him.  He blesses His people so that they can be a blessing.  But it is about to get personal.

In the waning days of Jesus’ earthly ministry he gave his church a prominent role in God’s mission.  Israel as a nation had faltered and was being set aside for a time (The Apostle Paul argues in Romans 9-11 that God has not rejected Israel, but due to their disobedience they have been set aside “until the full number of the Gentiles has come in” (Romans 11:25)). God was about to raise up this new body of people to stand in the gap – to pick up the banner as a constant and vocal promoter of the Most High God before the nations.  The four gospels and Acts each record statements made by Jesus to this end. For instance, Luke 24:44-49:

“Then he said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.’  Then he opened their minds so they could understand the scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it stands written that the Christ would suffer and would rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things.  And look, I am sending you what my Father promised.  But stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’” (NET)

I appreciate John Piper’s commentary on Luke 24 in connecting it to Abraham’s purpose:

“The context here is crucial.  First, Jesus ‘opens their minds to understand the Scriptures.’  Then he says, ‘Thus it is written’ (in the Old Testament), followed (in the original Greek) by three coordinate infinitive clauses that make explicit what is written in the Old testament: first, that the Christ is to suffer; second, that he is to rise on the third day; and third, that repentance and forgiveness of sins are to be preached in his name to ‘all nations.’

“So Jesus is saying that his commission to take the message of repentance and forgiveness to all nations ‘is written’ in the Old Testament ‘Scriptures.’  This is one of the things he opened their minds to understand.  But what is the Old Testament conception of the worldwide purpose of God (which we saw above)?  It is just what Paul saw: a purpose to bless all the families of the earth and win a worshiping people from ‘all nations.’”1

Like Luke 24, each of the following passages constitute a call to action:

Matthew 28:18-20 (NET) – “Then Jesus came up and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’” (This passage is often referred to as “The Great Commission”)

Mark 16:15-16 (NET) – “He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.  The one who believes and is baptized will be saved, but the one who does not believe will be condemned.’”

John 20:21-23 (NET) – “So Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. Just as the Father has sent me, I also send you.’  And after he said this, he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you retain anyone’s sins, they are retained.’”

Acts 1:8 (NET) – “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the farthest parts of the earth.”

The imperative command of Christ is for his people to make disciples among all the nations, to take his gospel to all the world, to give all the people groups of the earth the chance to join the crowd around God’s throne.  This was not a suggestion; it is a mandate rooted in the depths of God’s Word.

The missionary task did not begin with the church, it was given to the church as a continuation of God’s mission from the very beginning.  Further, though the church became the vessel by which the gospel goes forth, God remains the principal actor.  His gift of the Holy Spirit means Christ’s presence and power would remain with his people to enable them to do his work.  What seems a formidable task to us is imminently achievable to God.  And remember, the outcome has already been written:

“And they sang a new song, saying, ‘Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.’” (Revelation 5:9,10 ESV)

The Church on a Mission

From its inception with the apostles and the first congregation of believers, it has been the work of the church to expand the reach of the gospel until the task is finished. Yes, there are other important functions of the church – vital, necessary functions – but the chief mission of the church is to see God’s glory proclaimed to the nations. If you are a member of Christ’s church, then this task is your task.  Consider yourself called.

You have a role in the worldwide mission of the church.

It may be to pray – Jesus told his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.  Therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:37-38).  Andrew Murray, a preacher who spoke and wrote extensively about the church’s call to missions, said, “The man who mobilizes the Christian church to pray will make the greatest contribution to world evangelization in history.”

It may be to send – Paul said it best in Romans 10:15: “And how are they to preach unless they are sent?”  Senders support missionaries in the field by advocating for them, praying for them, and giving to meet their financial needs. 

It may be to mobilize – Men and women who have taken upon themselves the task of infecting fellow Christians with the vision of God’s global purpose and equipping them to take part in it have had a more profound impact on global missions than any missionary in the field could dream of.  Some have launched entire missionary movements.

It may be to go – Approximately 2200 people groups still have no scripture in their language.  Still more are isolated from the gospel for political, cultural, or religious reasons.  Unless someone is willing to transplant themselves into their culture to share the message of God, they will never have the chance to hear it.

Which role could you fill?  Not all members of the church have the same role, but all have a role. We have been blessed to be a blessing. The missionary impulse among churches in America can be traced back to a statement made by Samuel Mills to a group of his fellow students at Williams College in 1806. He implored them, “We can do this if we will.” How much more true is it today – the age of air travel, satellite communications, electronic banking, and malaria medication? There is nothing left to hinder us but our own willingness to take hold of our God given purpose and run with it!

Practical Steps

What now?  Here are a few ways you can get involved in missions.

Learn More:


  • Explore the Joshua Project and add a people group focused element to your personal prayer time.
  • Ask about the missionaries connected to your church and pray for them. Most missionaries send out regular prayer newsletters to give you specific ways to pray.


  • Support a missionary to an unreached people group. We would love for you to partner with us, or find a missionary connected to your church and include missions giving in your monthly budget.
  • Give toward a ministry project like printing new Bible translations, missionary aviation, or new missionary training programs.



  • Start to investigate sending organizations and find one that lines up with your goals. Unreached people groups are all over the world, but not every organization approaches them the same way. I’m obviously a fan of New Tribes Mission, but there are plenty of good organizations to choose from.
  • Get some training. How much training is enough?

  1. Let the Nations be Glad, 185. 

The Biblical Context for Missions – Part 3

The following text was originally intended as a short booklet with which we could communicate to our friends and partnering churches the basic Biblical context for missions that has helped to motivate us to take part in cross-cultural ministry. This is the third of a four part series.

I argued in Part 2 that the blessing God pronounced upon His newly created humanity also revealed the reason for their creation – their purpose – which was to ultimately become a globe full of God-glorifying humanity. And though the encumbrance of sin resulting from the fall necessitated a redemptive element within humanity’s purpose, the purpose none-the-less continued unchanged from Adam to the nation of Israel.

God’s Heart for the Nations

From Genesis 12 to the gospels, the narrative is dominated by Israel.  But as the pages of scripture reveal how an old man with no heir grew into a nation, was led out of Egypt, faltered in the wilderness, took possession of the promised land, endured cycles of prosperity, sin, judgment, and salvation, forfeited its place in the land under God’s disciplinary judgment, and received the promise of a future restoration, I want to highlight two aspects of Israel’s history relating to God’s original purpose: 1) Israel essentially failed in their task of blessing the nations; but 2) the coming Messiah (an Israelite) would be the fulfillment of that blessing.

The Failure of Old Testament Israel

I’m not trying to be overly harsh here. Most readers of the Old Testament would agree that Israel was in part a shining image of God worshiping, faithful devotion to the Lord, and yet at times the nation completely failed to live up to God’s requirement of them. Like Jekyll and Hyde (and me and you) they flip flopped between excellence and shameful rebellion; we observe God’s repeated calls for the nation to repent and return to Him.  What many readers may have neglected to notice, however, is that God’s ultimate purpose, for which He created Adam and Even in the first place and sent Abraham and his nation into motion, was a greater issue than Israel’s specific sin and idolatry. It is true that they transgressed the covenant and broke the law throughout their history, but to stop there is to miss the bigger picture of God’s heart for the nations. Israel’s sin cost them in their own relationship with God, but it also caused them at times to falsely represent their holy God before the nations – precisely opposite of their purpose.

As Israel reeled under the weight of exile, having been vomited out of the land and taken as captives to Babylon, God sent His prophet Ezekiel to speak on His behalf about the redemption and restoration that was to come.

Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you went.

“I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst.  Then the nations will know that I am the Lord,” declares the Lord God, “when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight.”’ (Ezekiel 36:22-23, NASB)

Israel’s sin failure caused them to neglect their greater task as a kingdom of priests.  Their harlotry with the false gods of their neighbors threw mud upon the exalted name of God.  They had failed to be a blessing.  God was about to act on His own behalf; His restorative action would bring incalculable blessing to Israel, but He would not allow them to be ignorant of His reason.  God’s redemption of Israel would accomplish what they were unable to accomplish: His name would be praised among the nations.

The Coming Messiah

The whispers of the Messiah (lit. “anointed one”) can be seen from the beginning.  Long before Israel existed (and needed a redeemer) he was identified in the protoevangelion of Genesis 3:15 as the “seed” of the woman who would crush the head of the serpent. ((Jim Hamilton wrote a lengthy, but excellent, article on this interpretation of Genesis 3:15 in the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology.  The author’s summary can also be seen here.)) Through progressive revelation he would eventually be identified as the anticipated savior of Israel.  The Apostle Paul saw him in God’s promise to Abraham (Galatians 3:15-18, exegeting Genesis 12:7), and Abraham’s grandson Jacob foretold the messiah would be a descendant of his son Judah (Genesis 49:10).  Much more would be revealed in time: he would be a king from the line of David, his reign would never end, and through him Israel would finally become all that they were meant to be, partake of all that was promised them, and enjoy eternity with the covenant blessings.  His kingdom would be the Kingdom of God, wherein Israel would finally and fully rest in the security and provision of their Lord.  This was great news for Israel, but Israel is only the tip of the iceberg.  Even in his direct association with Israel, the Messiah’s global purpose remained.

God affirmed through the prophets that Israel’s Messiah would be used of God to complete His program with the nations.  The following two passages in Isaiah demonstrate this point exactly.  Speaking to His anointed, he says:

“This is what the true God, the Lord, says –
the one who created the sky and stretched it out,
the one who fashioned the earth and everything that lives on it,
the one who gives breath to the people on it,
and life to those who live on it:

‘I, the Lord, officially commission you;
I take hold of your hand.
I protect you and make you a covenant mediator for people,
and a light to the nations,
to open blind eyes,
to release prisoners from dungeons,
those who live in darkness from prisons.’“ (Isaiah 42:5-7)

And later,

“He says, ‘Is it too insignificant a task for you to be my servant,
to reestablish the tribes of Jacob,
and restore the remnant of Israel?

I will make you a light to the nations,
so you can bring my deliverance to the remote regions of the earth.’” (Isaiah 49:6)

The Messiah would come to bring restoration to the broken nation of Israel, but he would be so much more than that.  He would be a light to the nations, one by whom God’s salvation would reach the ends of the earth.  And just like we saw in Revelation earlier, the prophet Daniel saw a glimpse of the Messiah in his future kingdom, a time when the worldwide mission is complete and the throne of the king is surrounded by men and women of all peoples, nations, and languages.

“I was watching in the night visions,
‘And with the clouds of the sky
one like a son of man was approaching.
He went up to the Ancient of Days
and was escorted before him.

To him was given ruling authority, honor, and sovereignty.
All peoples, nations, and language groups were serving him.
His authority is eternal and will not pass away.
His kingdom will not be destroyed.’” (Daniel 7:13-14)

 Continue on to the final post in the series, Part 4.

The Biblical Context for Missions – Part 2

The following text was originally intended as a short booklet with which we could communicate to our friends and partnering churches the basic Biblical context for missions that has helped to motivate us to take part in cross-cultural ministry. This is the second of a four part series.

In Part 1 I made the claim that the root of missions is not derived from a few New Testament verses, but is effectively revealed throughout the whole of Scripture, especially in the themes of God’s glory as His motivation and humanity’s combination blessing and purpose. This post picks up with the second theme: God’s combined blessing and purpose for humanity.

God’s Blessing and Purpose

We have seen how God chose at times to interact with the nation of Israel and the world at large in ways that displayed His power and spread His fame among the nations.  This was the theme of God’s glory.  Now we will look at a parallel theme seen in God’s declared blessing and purpose for His people.  I have chosen to treat these as a single theme because the blessing and the purpose are so closely intertwined in the pages of scripture that to consider one apart from the other would be inadequate.  Our egocentric cultural tendency is to focus on the blessing without ever seeing the purpose; the goal of this section is to reconnect the purpose with the blessing, and to show how foundational this intertwined concept is to understanding the Bible.

We can start right at the beginning, on day 6 of creation.  God made Adam and Eve in His image, then,

“God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply! Fill the earth and subdue it!  Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every creature that moves on the ground’” (Genesis 1:28, NET).

Notice that God’s pronounced blessing over his newly created couple also revealed the end result of their existence – not only would God presently have perfect fellowship with Adam and Eve in the garden, through their fruitfulness and propensity to multiply He would eventually have an entire globe full of men and women living with and relating to Him in perfect fellowship.  The blessing was not so much a gift or promise of prosperity as Western cultures typically think of blessing, this was something more like the Hebrew usage: a familial blessing linked to the conferral of a name and a responsibility to the family as well as the provision of benefits passed from father to son.  Adam and Eve were blessed because God was going to complete his purpose in creating the world through them; they would be fruitful and multiply because His blessing was to that end.  Their purpose was revealed in the blessing. Our purpose, as descendants of Adam and Eve, is the same.

But then the fall happened. Adam and Eve sinned and death entered the world. Incredibly, the combination of blessing and purpose for humanity was not affected by the fall.  So much changed when our ancestors ate that fruit, even the very relationship between man and God – curses were pronounced and life became exponentially more difficult. Mankind embarked down a path of corruption so completely that God eventually judged the world with a flood. But God’s first words to Noah fresh off the ark reiterated the very same blessing and purpose:

“God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Genesis 9:1, NET).

The purpose and blessing never changed.  The culmination of time will see this globe full of men and women worshiping God and enjoying Him fully.  His glory will be known worldwide, even if the path to this conclusion has become a little less straight.

The flood in Noah’s day was a judgment of world-wide sin (Genesis 6-9).  Years later, after a quick run through the families descended from Noah (Genesis 10), more sin lead to God’s judgment against those descendants at Babel and the effectual spread of mankind throughout the earth (Genesis 11).  But in Genesis 12:1-3 God initiated something new; He called out Abram to be the father of a nation called Israel, a people whose entire existence was rooted in the blessing and purpose of old:

“Now the LORD said to Abram,
‘Go forth from your country,
And from your relatives
And from your father’s house,
To the land which I will show you;

And I will make you a great nation,
And I will bless you,
And make your name great;

And so you shall be a blessing;
And I will bless those who bless you,
And the one who curses you I will curse
And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.’” (NASB)

Just like with Adam and Noah before him, Abram’s blessing was directly connected to his purpose.  God would make him into a great nation, he would be blessed, his name would be made great, and even those he interacted with would be blessed or cursed according to how they treated him.  But all of this was so that he would himself be a blessing, that through him and his descendants all the families of the earth would receive God’s blessing.  The mere propagation of humanity was no longer sufficient; the redemption of the lost families was added to the purpose. Israel was to be God’s special people, but the world remained in view.

From Abraham the blessing and purpose was passed to Isaac (Genesis 26:3-4), and from Isaac to Jacob (Genesis 28:14), with God confirming to each that He would fulfill His part just as He had promised their fathers before them.  From Jacob’s twelve sons grew the twelve tribes of Israel, and Israel, having grown into a nation during a 400 year bondage in Egypt, witnessed God’s power as He miraculously extracted them from slavery and lead them into the wilderness toward the land He had promised Abraham.

In the wilderness at Mount Sinai just before God delivered the ten commandments, the Lord said to Moses:

“Thus you will tell the house of Jacob, and declare to the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt and how I lifted you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.  And now, if you will diligently listen to me and keep my covenant, then you will be my special possession out of all the nations, for all the earth is mine, and you will be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’  These are the words that you will speak to the Israelites” (Exodus 19:3-6 NET).

God was promising to Israel a special, privileged place among the nations, but it was at the same time a responsibility to the nations.  Israel was to be a “kingdom of priests.”  The significance of this is clearly seen when viewed in light of the role of the Levitical priesthood of Israel.  At Sinai, God had ordained that the tribe of Levi would not be like the other eleven tribes.  They would be the ones that served the nation as priests by performing the ceremonial sacrifices and working in the tabernacle.  Instead of receiving their own tract of the Promised Land like the other eleven tribes, they would receive their portion of the inheritance through the tithes and offerings made by the rest of Israel.  They would be sanctified, or set apart and consecrated by God, for this role as mediators between the nation and God.  It is important to note that only the priesthood were qualified to make the various sacrifices and offerings on behalf of the people (The book of Leviticus goes into great detail about the specifics of each ordinance).  And all Israel, even the priests, were were only allowed to complete the sacrifices according to God’s design.  Anyone attempting to do it their own way would be rejected, and could even face death.  This was serious; apart from the ministry of the priesthood, no Israelite could make a sacrifice for his sins.  All Israel would remain at enmity with God.  The priests were set apart by God for a specific function – to serve the nation as intermediaries between the Holy God and sinful man.  It is not that they were more holy or more spiritually qualified (they needed the sacrifices for their own sins as well), but they were chosen to serve.

It is in this capacity of service that Israel was called to be a kingdom of priests.  They were set apart from the other nations of the world as God’s special possession, but that was not the end of it.  The nations had rejected God and were at enmity with him.   Israel’s position as the special possession of God designated them as servants to those who did not know Him as God.  Their obligation was to reveal who God was and what he required.  They were to proclaim his glory among the nations.  They were blessed to be a blessing to a world with no access to God.

Even looking past the Pentateuch (the five books written by Moses), the remaining books of the Bible are likewise full of scripture that support our thesis: Israel has been blessed with the ultimate goal of that blessing going through them to all the nations of the world. A sufficient example is Psalm 67 below (though David’s song in 1 Chronicles 16:7-36 and Solomon’s prayer in 1 Kings 8:22-43 are also excellent examples).

1“May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face to shine upon us,
2that your way may be known on earth,
your saving power among all nations.
3Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you!
4Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
for you judge the peoples with equity
and guide the nations upon earth.
5Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you!
6The earth has yielded its increase;
God, our God, shall bless us.
7God shall bless us;
let all the ends of the earth fear him!” (ESV)

These seven verses reveal an understanding of both the blessing and the purpose.  The psalm begins and ends with blessing – both a request for it and an expectation of it.  For Israel the blessing was evident – God had personally fought their enemies on more than one occasion, and at one time in their history they had been blessed with so much wealth that silver was almost worthless to them.  Solomon’s kingdom is purported to be the wealthiest the world has ever known.  But there is more: sandwiched between the statements of blessing is a clear statement of purpose.  The psalmist knew that Israel was blessed so that the earth would know God’s ways, all nations would know His power, He would be glorified by all peoples, and the nations would know the joy of worshiping the true God.  They were blessed to be a blessing.

Functionally speaking, the purpose – from Adam to Israel – is the same. The only difference is the implementation.  While God’s glory was revealed through His supernatural interactions among various people at various times, Israel was to engage the world in a parallel vein – as a kingdom of priests, a constant and vocal promoter of the Most High God whom they served.  They were blessed, and that blessing would be extended through them into the whole world.  These are two parts of one redemptive story.


Go back to Part 1, or continue on to Part 3.