In his excellent little book, Canon and Mission (Harrisburg: Trinity Press International, 1999), Dan Beeby has a section he calls, ‘The People and the Nations: Interfaith Relations in the Bible’ (pp.80ff.). Here are the headings that structure his discussion, which begins with the Old Testament and then applies a similar framework to the New Testament, while also adding a further dimension as well.
Israel Existed (Exists?) for the Nations
Israel’s Life was Lived Over Against the Nations
1. The nations as enemies.
2. The nations as God’s instruments of punishment.
3. The nations as witness to Israel’s rebellion.
4. The nations as a religious threat to Israel.
Israel as Debtor to the Nations
2. Cultural borrowing.
3. The nations as occasion for revelation.
4. The nations as instruments of liberation.
5. The good pagans.
Israel as Missionary to the Nations
1. Centripetal mission.
2. Other ways of doing mission.
Beeby is very quotable. What, I wonder, is the missional significance of what he says in his discussion about ‘good pagans’, under the third of the above headings?
In contrast to most of the Old Testament, some writers take pleasure – almost perverse pleasure – in pointing to the excellent in the nations as though Israel should be made aware of her debt to them for good examples. Esau, who was later regarded as symbolic of the Gentiles, is shown to be more of the gentleman than his chosen brother Jacob. Pharaoh shows up much better than the timid liar Abraham, who is prepared to sacrifice Sarah to save his own skin. The sailors in the Book of Jonah are splended fellows, and the people of Nineveh the most ready converts imaginable, once given a chance to believe. If we take note of Rahab, we see that even the harlots in Canaan are helpful and dependable, and when Israel wants to describe an ideal woman she turns to the Moabitess Ruth. In her better moments, Israel did not allow her sense of election to obscure the virtues in others, virtues that put her in the nations’ debt. (pp.88-89)