By Dr. Kenneth Cuffey
A common quandary for believers is to know what God felt about the rest of the world while he dealt with Israel in the Old Testament. He seemed to focus on the descendants of Abraham until the New Testament, right? As a Gentile, I want to know . . . what did God feel about the rest of us back at the start? Was reaching the nations of the world a change of plans that the Father initiated with Jesus coming to earth and the early church?
This semester, Urbana Seminary offers the chance to delve into this question in a study that will be exciting and delightful! There are two entire, but short, books of the Old Testament that highlight this theme. These will be the focus of our study in God and the Nations: Ruth and Jonah, a seminary course for Spring semester.
- Ruth follows the story of a beleaguered Moabite widow and her mother-in-law. Ruth embraces Israel’s God and is not only welcomed into the community of God’s people, but becomes part of the line of descent that leads to King David, and then from there on to Messiah! God’s arms are open wide to welcome the Gentile as much as the Israelite, even during the days of the judges.
- Jonah tells of an insider’s struggle with God’s outrageous generous grace towards a whole population of Gentiles. And these Gentiles are even the inhabitants of Nineveh, the capital of Israel’s deeply despised enemies, the Assyrians. Oh my! This book reminds us that God is bigger than any one nationalistic viewpoint. He has always had a heart for the nations! In a startling and powerful way, the story draws on God’s revelation of himself as the Savior of Israel at the Exodus and applies that to a people beyond Israel.
It turns out that God’s loving compassion for all peoples is a firm strand that goes all the way through the Old Testament accounts. God keeps noticing the nations. He cares, he seeks, he brings people to himself–whether individuals as was the case with Ruth, or a whole population like the Ninevites. We see it throughout: A promise to Abram that blessing will reach all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:3); a mixed multitude fleeing Egypt (Exodus 12:38) incorporated into Israel at Sinai; Rahab of Jericho; Gibeonites in Joshua; all the way to the repeated prophetic visions of Gentiles who will come streaming to the one true God to worship him and learn his ways (e.g., Micah 4:1-8).
Won’t you join us in this adventuresome study of two books of the Old Testament that anticipate the Great Commission to go to all the nations (Matthew 28:16-20) by centuries? Both books treat this theme of God’s heart for the world, but from very different angles. And this is a theme that’s worth our study because it touches every one of us as we see God’s open embrace to welcome people into his family.
Class begins this Thursday, January 17th, at 6-8 PM, meeting at University Baptist Church (corner of 4th and Daniel in Champaign) in the 2nd floor classroom. Parking either on 4th Street or Daniel (to the East of 4th); or for free at the two parking garages nearby (at 5th and John and at 6th and John). Its not too late to register! (Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information)