In The Mission of God Christopher Wright talks about how the living God made himself known to Israel.
In the foundation story, God showed them his grace in the Exodus. The Song of Moses in Exodus 15:11 says, ” Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you? – majestic in holiness, fearful in praises, working wonders?” (NET Bible). God showed his mercy and power in liberating Israel from slavery. This is a very old text and grasps Israel’s lasting perception of God’s identity.
A kind of second Exodus that happened centuries later reinforced this understanding. God returned them from the Babylonian exile. This expanded Israel’s understanding of God. Not only could he work wonders like opening the sea, but he could appoint kings in other lands (Cyrus of Persia). So God worked through historical events as well as through extraordinary shows of power.
There was another side to this. God showed his identity when he delivered Israel, but also when he judged Israel. This shows up in the Exodus story when a whole generation gets excluded from the promised land. And it shows up in the reason Israel was in exile in the first place. God had used his sovereignty over the other nations to give Israel into the hands of foreigners.
The Lord God of Israel who rules over all says to give your masters this message. “I made the earth and the people and animals on it by my mighty power and great strength, and I give it to whomever I see fit. I have at this time placed all these nations of yours under the power of my servant, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. I have even made all the wild animals subject to him.” (Jeremiah 27:4-6)
The bottom line for Wright is that God reveals himself to be both sovereign and universal. God gives Israel knowledge of himself through acts of “revelation, redemption, and judgement” (p. 104).
I mentioned previously that Wright’s line of thought began with his study of Ezekiel. Ezekiel, preaching during the exile, says that God shows his glory through both the creation of the nations and the judgement of the nations. Israel is God’s special concern, but he made and rules all the nations. Thus he shows his glory.
So God’s mission, as I understand Wright so far, consists of revelation. He reveals that there is none like him. He reveals that he is free and sovereign over the whole universe and all the nations. He reveals that his purpose is merciful, especially toward Israel.
I worry sometimes about the concept of the sovereignty of God. Some have tried to be too logical with this. They have used the fact that God is in control to make human free will meaningless. The Bible never says that we have no free will. That is just a conclusion some have drawn from the biblical portrayal of God as all powerful: predestination. Yet, read another way, the Bible is about how God frees us from fate and destiny. So does God imprison us by predestining us to a certain unchangeable fate, or does God free us from an oppressive fate? Which one is gospel?
Karl Barth understood the sovereignty of God as God’s freedom. We do not control or constrain God. This gives a better perspective, I think. It is not about the crushing weight of God’s control over every little thing. It is about the fact that we cannot use magic or anything else to control God.
One analogy that I have tried to get people to see is from the Garden of Eden story. God told the couple they could eat from any tree in the garden. There must have been a lot of trees. Their free will must have governed a multitude of choices. God did not try to micromanage them. But they were not supposed to try to force God’s hand by eating from magic trees to get the gifts of knowledge and immortality on their own terms. This would have offended against the freedom of God.