The judgment at Babel had closed the original revelation. With Abraham began a completely new age. The ancestor of Israel, he is at the same time the "father of all believers" (Rom. 4: 1l, 12). The blessing which those should receive who would be afterward won from the nations is indeed "Abraham's blessing" (Gal. 3: 14, with ver. 9). Also the church of the present age (Rom. 15: 27; Eph. 3: 6; 2: 11-19; Rom. 11:24), and even the future kingdom of God itself (Luke 1:72,73), right on to the New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:10; comp. Heb. 11: 16), rest on the basis of the promises to Abraham. Thus with Abraham begins the actual revelation of salvation and redemption. All that preceded was introductory and preparatory.
Abraham was not the first believer. Abel, Enoch, and Noah before him, and Melchizedek in his own time, had been men of faith (Heb. 11:4-7; Gen.14:18). Therefore the special element in his faith does not lie in the fact of it but in its nature. The faith of all beforehand had been mostly limited to themselves or their immediate surroundings, and had thus resembled in the main a point or a circle. Abraham's faith, on the contrary, had effects going beyond himself. It was a faith with significance for the whole history of salvation, a faith for the future, more to be compared to a progressing line. Abraham embraced the promise not only for himself but also for his bodily and spiritual descendants. Thus he became, though at first the "one" (Mal. 2:1; Ezek. 33: 24; Heb. 11: 12), nevertheless the ancestor of the "many" (Ezek. 33: 24), indeed, the "father of all believers" (Rom. 4: 11). Therefore he was the quarry, the rock, out of which the people of God are hewn (Isa. 51:1, 2), the first recipient of the preparatory covenant and Old Testament revelation which in a special sense led directly to Christ, and which is the "holy root" that bears the noble olive tree of the kingdom of God (Rom. 11: 16 - 24).
In the rebellion at Babel mankind had attempted in united strength to withstand the Most High. Therefore a divine principle of separation and division had to be introduced to counteract their ungodly confederacy. They had tried to conquer heaven by their united sinful efforts, and had tried this in vain; but God purposed to use dispersion as His counteractive in order to open heaven, and it did- this indeed. This came to pass in the cal1 of Abraham. Thus in the history of salvation it is the contrast to the building of the tower, and, at the same time, its necessary consequence.
(I) God's Freedom. That God chose Abraham and not any other believer of his time-as Melchizedek (Gen. 14-18-20)- was wholly an act of His free sovereignty. He is the Lord and Governor on the throne of the universe, and He distributes the figures on the chess-board of human history as He will (Rom. 9: 20). He does not, it is true, compel the believer to faith nor the unbeliever to unbelief, but leaves to each his freedom and self-determination (Matt. 23: 37; Rev. 22: 17). But out of the number of the wicked He chooses individual wicked men (for example, Pharoah of Egypt; Rom. 9:17), so as to show in them a special example of His power to judge; and out of the number of believers He chooses individual believers so as to make them special agents for tasks in the outworking of salvation (I Cor. 12:4-11, 29, 30). It was in this sense that even Abraham was called. He was, as it were, an official person, responsible to prepare for the mediating of salvation.
(2) God's Grace. It follows that the choice of Israel was not based on any special later superiority of this people. On the contrary God, who appointed Mary Magdalene, who had before been demon-possessed, to be the first announcer of the resurrection (Mark 16: 9; John 20:11-18), and Matthew the taxgatherer to be the first witness of the New Testament (Matt. 9:9), and Who always condescends to the lowly and insignificant (I Pet. 5: 5; Luke 1:52), has indeed described the people of Israel as a thorn bush as regards its character (Exod. 3: 2, 3; Mic. 7: 4), and as regards its numbers has already said in the Old Testament, "not because you were more than all peoples has Jehovah inclined himself to you and chosen you, for you are the least among all peoples" (Deut. 7: 7). Thus the choosing of Israel conforms to the lowly outward appearance of the divine revelation. Nowhere in the Old Testament is there any approbation or racial exaltation of the unregenerate Jew. On the contrary, it is precisely the Old Testament that is full of direct, glowing words of judgment denouncing the holy wrath of God against apostate Israel. In the sense of the Old Testament, "chosen people" (I Chron. 16:13; Exod. 19:5; Amos. 3: 2; Psa. 147:19,20) does not mean "selected, good people" (see Isa. 1:4; Rom.2:24), or "before-appointed to be the politically-dominating people unto world subjection and spoliation," but simply to be " a separate people unto service in the course of salvation." And here it is that the Jew in the most fearful manner has failed (I Thess. 2:15, 16). Not Jew-Glorification is the purpose of the whole plan (Ezek. 36:22,23,32), but the self-glorification of the grace and holiness of God as the God of Jews and non-Jews (Psa. 115:1; Isa. 44: 23; Rom. 3: 29).
(3) God's Honour. And in the fact? The plain view of Holy Scripture is again and again distinctly this, that in spiritual susceptibility the Jew has quite often been surpassed by the non-Jew; in faith, by the centurion at Capernaum, a Roman (Matt. 8. 10); in love, by the compassionate Samaritan (Luke 10: 25-37; 17: 16); in sacrificial striving after true wisdom, by the Queen of Ethiopia (Matt. 12: 42); in repentance, by the people of Nineveh, that is Assyrians (Matt.12: 41). " Many widows, ' said Christ, "were in Israel in the time of Elijah, but to none of them was Elijah sent, but only to Sarepta of the Sidonians, to a widow; and many lepers were in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian" (Luke 4: 25-27). "Woe to thee, Chorazin, Woe to thee, Bethsaida, had such works come to pass in Tyre and Sidon as are come to pass in thee, they had long ago repented in sackcloth and ashes.... And thou, Capernaum ... had such works come to pass in Sodom as are come to pass in thee, it had stood till this day (Matt. 11:21-24). And in Isaiah God said of Israel as His "slave," "Who is blind if not my slave, and so deaf as my messenger whom I send? who is so blind as my familiar friend, and so blind as the slave of the Lord ? " (Isa. 42:19). But if we inquire as to the ground why, in spite of it all, God made this precise choice, the answer runs, so that no flesh should glory before Him, but that " he that glorieth let him glory in the Lord " Gen. 9:23, 24; I Cor. 1:27-31). The more primitive the material the greater-if the same high standard of art can be reached- the honour of the master; the smaller the army the mightier- if the same great victory can be won-the praise of the conqueror.
And thus out of all the suns and stars of the universe God has chosen this tiny earth, and on it the small land of Canaan, and in it the people of Israel, the "smallest" of all peoples (Deut. 7: 7); and in Israel the town of Bethlehem, that was too small to be reckoned among the thousands of Judah (Mic. 5: 2), and in Bethlehem itself-the manger. And from the manger it went on to the cross! Thus God chooses always the insignificant: to be the first witness in the New Testament, Matthew the tax gatherer; to be the first announcer of the resurrection, Mary of Magdala, once demon-possessed (Mark 16: 9; John 20: 11-18); to be the most prominent apostle, Paul the "chief" of all sinners (I Tim. 1:15). But the whole results in the revelation of the Divine greatness. It is the "foolish" measure of His holy jealousy (I Cor. 1:2l,25,27). The very choice of the insignificant is the very method of the Divine honour.
(4) God's Wisdom. In addition to this there is a further Divine motive which originates from God's wisdom as to the instruction of the whole human race. In the history of Israel, as a "refractory" race (Acts 7: 51), shall all the peoples of the world be shown the fearfulness of sin, but also the glory of redemption, the seriousness of the crushing judgments, but also the depth of forgiving grace (Psa. 102: 14-16). Thereby Israel's history becomes an object-lesson on the stage of world affairs given that the nations of the earth should perceive what judgment is and what grace is (Isa. 52:10; Ezek. 39: 23-27). But for this, on account of the dullness of mankind, that is, of all men toward God, a quite impressive and obvious example was demanded. This was a requirement of the Divine wisdom in the education of mankind, and this is also one reason for the choice of the people of Israel.
(5) God's Righteousness. But in all this God's dealings remain just. In no way did Israel receive a preference. For to its higher privileges (Rom. 9:4,5;3:1,2) there was correspondingly greater responsibility. Rights and duties balanced each other. Standing brings obligation (Luke 12:48; I Pet. 1: 17). And upon no people has sin been so visited as upon the Jews (see Deut. 28:64-67). In Israel all things reach the climax; the privilege and the judgment, the blessing and the curse. And its very choice is the reason for quite special severity: "You alone have I chosen out of all the races of the earth. Therefore will I visit upon you all your iniquities" (Amos 3:2). And when Israel in times of great judgment appeals to its standing in grace, and would, as it were, wheedle the rod of chastisement out of the hand of God, saying "My God! We know thee still, we Israel," then the brief Divine answer runs: "Israel has rejected the good. Let the enemy pursue him" (Host 8: 1-3).
But outwardly the new limitation of revelation did not signify that God had cut off every kind of connexion with the peoples that had been set aside. On the contrary, there remained also to the nations a fivefold Divine self-witness, even if more indirect.
(1) The Symbolic language of Nature. From the beginning in the works of creation the "eternal power and divinity" of God had been perceived by the spiritual eye (Rom. 1: 19-21).
(2) The Conscience language of the Soul. Even the heathen "who have no law" are themselves a law, "in that their consciences bear joint-witness and their thoughts one with another accuse or else excuse" (Rom.2:14,15).
(3) The Spiritual language of lofty Wisdom. In the heathen world itself there is found so much lofty and profound thought that it can be explained only by an activity of the Divine wisdom, producing knowledge in the human mind in general, as with Socrates, Plato, Lao Tze, Zarathustra, and in general with so many poets and thinkers of the nations. Therefore the early church fathers spoke with right of the "seed-corns of the Word" in the heathen world (especially Justin of Sichem in the second century); and to this is to be added that, together with the natural moral qualities given to man by creation, certain general moral remembrances still survive among the peoples from the original revelation.
(4) The Authoritative language of Human Government. The human governing power is "God's servant" (Rom. 13: 4), an order instituted by God Himself, existing in history ever since the covenant with Noah (Gen.9:6). Without ruling authority human society would quickly become flooded with evil and sink into absolute devilry and religious, spiritual, and moral barbarism. But in rule God stretches forth His guardian hand. He stands behind the authority and works through it. The rulers of the earth are His tools. Therefore in the Word of God the eternal "Wisdom" speaks thus concerning itself: "Through me kings exercise the ruler's charge and regents publish righteous ordinances. Through me rule the rulers and princes, all authorities on earth" (Prov. 8: 14-16).
(5) The Language of Events in World History. Even after the choice of Abraham and Israel God's guidance in the history of the peoples continued unchanged. He turns the hearts of kings as water-brooks and leads them wherever He wills (Prov. 2l:1). He raises up Hadad of Edom (I Kings 11: 14), and Reson of Damascus (I Kings 11: 23), Tilgath-pilneser of Assyria (I Chron. 5:26), and Cyrus the Persian (Ezra 1: 1), and already in the Old Testament He named the last His "anointed," before whom He led the way so as to cast down nations before him, on behalf of Israel His servant (Isa. 45: 1-7; Jer. 51: 11). And to Babylon He says: "Thou art my hammer, my weapons of war: and with thee will I break in pieces the nations; and with thee will I destroy kingdoms" (Jer. 51: 20). And finally, concerning the external ordering of Israel's history, He says: "O children of Israel, are you not to me as the Ethiopians? Have not I led Israel out of Egypt, and the Philistines out of Caphtor, and the Syrians out of Kir?" (Amos 9:7). Thus the setting aside of the Gentile world was in no way an abandonment of their history by God. Even as the God of Abraham and Israel He remains indeed the "God of the nations" (Rom.3:29). The history of the human race entire was and remains "God's work" (Luther).
But this all came to pass that thereby "they might seek the Lord, if perhaps they might feel after him and find him" (Acts 17: 27). From the viewpoint of the record of salvation the individual nations are "folds" (see John 10:16), that is, Divinely ordered communities in preparation for the gospel l which should assure the peaceful, protected proclamation of the message of salvation, the maintenance of the individual in decency and morals and " civil righteousness" ( justivia civilis). In a word, World history is the scaffolding for the history of salvation. Not only has revelation a history but history is a revelation. It is not only a "work" but a stimulating "word" of God. It is a veiled self-unveiling of God, Who while revealing Himself, at the same time remains the "concealed" God, the "deus absconditus" [the hidden God] of Luther. It is a sphere of the power, grace, and judgment of the Lord of the worlds as ruler of the nations.
1 To this end also serve the Pauline figures of speech from the military, sportmg, and judicial life of the heathen world.
Nevertheless, in respect of the revelation of salvation, the Gentiles were set aside, and this was the chief matter. But here also their temporary, limited exclusion was only the way to their final re-acceptance and re-inclusion.
"In thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed" (Gen.12:3). Here at the very start the final end is mentioned. The singling out of Abraham was indeed necessarily to slow down the general advance of salvation, but so much the more would it with fulness of wisdom, facilitate it and all the more surely lead it to its goal. It was designed specially with a view to the universal aspect, the detail to the whole, the small to the areas. The limiting of the revelation at first to Abraham was only the Divine method to serve the ultimate universality of the salvation. The restriction was there, but its appointment had its own removal as its object. God turned away His salvation from the nations so as to be able all the more certainly to give it back to them glorified.
Thus the phrase "History of Salvation," in the full conception of the terms, does not indicate a limited circle within universal history, but contemplates and interprets the whole history of mankind in its relation to God and from the watchtower of faith. "The march of the gospel through the world is the proper theme of world history." This is the one meaning of all history. Therefore the history of salvation in its full range is a "Theology of World History." God Himself, as the Lord of all history, stands at its centre. In the midst of universal history, that of the "world," He begins a particular history, that of revelation, in which He makes Himself personally present to man. In the former He works especially as the "hidden" God, in the latter especially as the God who "reveals" Himself. But both world history and the history of revelation have Himself as their common central unity. Viewed from this standpoint both belong to the history of salvation.
This is the meaning and the soul of the Old Testament. Therefore is it from end to end full of promises of salvation for the whole human race, especially throughout Isaiah. Of all books of the pre-Christian times the Old Testament is the most universal, embracing all peoples more than any other literature of that earlier world. It is the only writing of the ancient Orient which has the idea of the unity of the human race and the hope of a united movement of mankind to a common goal.
The opening chapters of the Old Testament at once show this, and especially the so-called Racial Table (Gen. 10). For this is not only the "letter of dismissal" of revelation to the now repudiated nations, but also a written guarantee that later they shall be received again. For in the very place where the sacred history begins to restrict itself to Israel, once again all the peoples of the world are enumerated, and thereby is granted to them an enduring place in the Divine revelation of the future, and they are thus assured that they are not forgotten in the loving counsel of God and shall never vanish without trace from the horizon of redemption. "An invisible green of hope winds itself through the withered branches of this catalogue of peoples." And thereby this list of seventy original nations enters into the viewpoint of the world-wide mission, and proclaims like a "Missionary Wall Map" the great truth that "God has so loved the world."
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