The Mission of Israel in the Old Testament
God destined Israel to be a nation with a mission, to be a blessing to all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:1-3). For Israel to fulfill that mission, she had to:
Repudiate all that was contrary to God’s truth;
Remember that she had embarked on a new life with God;
Reflect, through her history, institutions and lifestyle, the reality that God intended at creation for all mankind. Genesis looks back to Israel’s pagan past, repudiates that past, and substitutes the truth about God and his creation.
The first Hebrew, Abram, was a Chaldean. He had grown up in a pagan environment full of myths about struggling gods who fought horrendous sea monsters in order to create the universe. Later, Israel found herself among other nations who held to similar myths and whose ways of thinking threatened to undermine her faith. In presenting the truth about God and Creation, Genesis 1 deliberately disavowed the paganism that was Israel’s past.
Major Contrasts Between Pagan Myths and the Bible
|The Uniqueness of God|
Pagan thought: Sea monsters were rivals to be conquered by the gods.
Bible revelation: Sea animals were created by God (Genesis 1:21), who is unequalled in power.
Parallel Scripture: “To whom, then, will ye liken me, or shall I be equal? saith the Holy One” (Isaiah 40:25).
|The Power of God|
Pagan thought: The gods struggled tremendously in creating the world.
Bible revelation: God created effortlessly, by his word. “And God said, Let there be light: and there was light” (Genesis 1:3).
Parallel Scripture: “Let them praise the name of the LORD; for he commanded, and they were created” (Psalm 148:5).
|The Supremacy of God|
Pagan thought: In Egyptian myths, the gods created through magic utterance, a means of controlling higher forces in order to bring about a desired result.
Bible revelation: God created through his own power, not by appeal to anything higher. “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).
Parallel Scriptures: “Who hath wrought and done it, calling the generations from the beginning? I, the LORD, the first, and with the last; I am he” (Isaiah 41:4). “I am the LORD: that is my name; and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to carved images” (Isaiah 42:8).
|The Worship of God|
Pagan thought: The sun, moon and stars were worshiped as gods.
Bible revelation: Genesis (1:16) simply called the luminaries the “greater and lesser lights” because “sun” and “moon” were pagan names for deities. “He made the stars also” came almost as an afterthought in the creation account, to contrast with the significance given to the stars in pagan astrology.
Parallel Scripture: “I form the light, and create darkness…” (Isaiah 45:7).
|The Reason for Man’s Existence|
Pagan thought: The gods created man as an afterthought in order to relieve them of work and provide them with food.
Bible revelation: Man is the crown of God’s creation. God provides man with food. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for food” (Genesis 1:26-29).
Parallel Scripture: “Who giveth food to all flesh…” (Psalm 136:25).
Scholar in Residence, Missionary
Rich has been on staff since 1978. He has served at several Jews for Jesus branches and was a pianist and songwriter with their music team, the Liberated Wailing Wall. He is now at the San Francisco headquarters, where he conducts research, writes and edits as the senior researcher. He is author of the books Christ in the Sabbath and The Day Jesus Did Tikkun Olam: Jewish Values and the New Testament, and co-author of Christ in the Feast of Pentecost. Rich received his M.Div. from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in 1978 and a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies and Hermeneutics from Westminster Theological Seminary in 1993.