Mission and the Psalms – liturgy is not play acting

Israel and the Nations by James Chukwuma OkoyeI’ve been thinking ahead to a module on Redcliffe’s Applied Theology in Intercultural Contexts degree programme called, ‘Missional Texts: Psalms and Genesis 1-11’. Here is a nice quote from Okoye found in his wonderful book, Israel and the Nations: A Mission Theology of the Old Testament. It is part of a chapter on Psalm 96:

The psalmist calls on Israel and the nations to be united in the worship of the one God, Yahweh. The gentiles may be restricted only to the “courts,” that is, the courtyards of the temple, which are open to non-Jews, yet the “wall of separation” has begun to crumble, if not in fact, surely in the religious imagination.

The praise and worship of the nations, which the prophets predicted of the eschatological future, are transferred to the present in our psalm (Gunkel and Begrich 1998, 25).

The coming of Yahweh is, first of all, liturgical: the royal glory and power of Yahweh are made manifest to the worshipers, who accordingly prostrate in obedient submission to their King. The very assembly of praise enacts the reign of God, for the assembly thereby recognizes itself as servants coming into the presence of their lord to acknowledge Yahweh’s rule and to declare the dealty to Yahweh (Mays 1994a, 64). As Walter Brueggemann affirms, “liturgy is not play acting, but is the evocation of an alternative reality that comes into play in the very moment of the liturgy” (1984, 144). The alternative reality is that of a society that has been made right under God – true worship leads to true society. Liturgy is the beginning of the dismantling of the old order of injustice and faithlessness (ibid., 146). Insofar as Israel and the families of nations participate in the worship of Yahweh they are sharing in the dismantling of the old order and the emergence of the new order under Yawheh.

But the coming of Yahweh is at the same time eschatological. Cultic gatherings at the temple anticipate the gathering of the nations and peoples of the earth to the shrine of Israel’s God, who is over the nations (Willis 1997, 302). The eschatological promise is that all the earth will also enjoy the just effects of the rule of Yahweh.

In a subtle manner, Psalm 96 merges the praise of “all the earth” and that of Israel. The Israelite who makes such an “oratorical outreach” (Marlowe 1998, 451) is being invited to pull down the wall of separation that continued to keep apart fellow worshipers of Yahweh. (pp.106-107)

If you’d like to look into the Psalms and mission in more depth, have a look at issue 33 of Redcliffe’s Encounters Mission Journal, which was on the theme of The Psalms and Mission.

Mission in Robin Routledge’s Old Testament Theology

Like many Old Testament Theologies (e.g., Brueggemann, Preuss, Goldingay) Robin Routledge’s Old Testament Theology: A Thematic Approach contains a chapter on the nations.

As it came out in 2008 Routledge notes works such as Chris Wright’s The Mission of God and James Okoye’s Israel and the Nations (both published in 2006).

It would make an interesting study to look at how different OT theologies deal with the ‘nations’ or ‘mission’ question. Why, for example, do the chapters tend (but not always) to be at the end of the book? Could this be read as the nations as an afterthought? What, I wonder, would an Old Testament Theology look like if a treatment of the nations came first?

Anyway, in the meantime, here’s a breakdown of Routledge’s chapter on ‘God and the Nations (ch. 10, pp. 334). (nb. He has also contributed a very helpful chapter on ‘Mission and Covenant in the Old Testament’ in Bible and Mission: A Conversation Between Biblical Studies and Missiology – see my review in Redcliffe’s mission journal, Encounters).

God and history
– The divine purpose in history
– God and non-Israelite nations (Condemnation of national pride; Oracles against the nations; Divine guidance of national destinies)

Salvation for all nations
– Mission in the Old Testament
– God’s universal covenant
– Mission: at the heart of a narrative substructure of the Old Testament
– Universalism (Israel as witness to the nations, Israel and the nations: equal partners in salvation?)

Dan Beeby on interfaith relations in the Bible

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
1. Egypt.
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)