Evangelism and Sovereignty (in the OT)

Peppered throughout the Old Testament we read of God’s plan to redeem sinners from every nation. Every knee shall bow and all the nations shall stream to the mountain of the Lord’s house (Isa. 2:2–3, 45:23). Yet in light of these promises, Israel was not commissioned to fulfill a missionary program or given an OT version of the great commission. Instead, Charles H. H. Scobie writes, the ingathering of the nations was defined by these three distinctives (Scobie 2003: 519–520):

(1) The ingathering fulfillment promises are eschatological, that is, forward looking [see Isa. 2:2; Jer. 3:17; Mic. 4:1, 7:12; Zech. 2:11, 3:9].

(2) The promised ingathering will be the work of God, not the work of Israel [see Isa. 56:7, 66:18, 25:6; Zeph. 3:9].

(3) The ingathering will happen as the nations pursue Israel, not the other way around [see Isa. 45:14, 60:3, 5, 14, 66:23; Mic. 7:12].

In light of God’s ingathering promises, the book of Jonah is quite startling. This book features a “pouting prophet” called to carry the news of the Living God to a corrupt pagan people. To say that Jonah marks a new missionary program for Israel would be unfair and overstated. However, Jonah’s commission—especially in light of the ingathering promises of God—stands in contrast to the alert OT reader, and in at least one important way. Jonah reveals that God’s sovereign sway over the nations and his eschatological promise to gather a people from every tribe and nation does not impinge upon the mission of God’s people. God’s sovereignty and the call to evangelism coexist within the structure of the OT.