Israel’s Calling?

(Posted by Paige)

A friend and I have started a lively conversation about N. T. Wright’s writings, and of course part of the landscape we’ll be galloping through will be Wright’s understanding of Israel’s calling or mission to “bless the nations.” Wright reads Gen. 12:3b (“and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed”) as the commission that Israel failed to achieve, leaving it up to Jesus (as a sort of “Plan B” [meaning simply “the next step”]) to fulfill the calling of the obedient son. (Of course, Jesus fulfilled this largely by his death; it is unclear how Israel ought to have fulfilled its calling to save the world in the first place.)

What do you make of Wright’s reading of the “mission” of Israel? (I have some ideas, but maybe yours are better.) Here are a few representative passages from Justification (IVP, 2009):

“…the unfaithfulness of the Israelites is not their lack of belief. The point is that God has promised to bless the world through Israel, and Israel has been faithless to that commission.”(67)

“God has made a plan to save the world; Israel is the linchpin of this plan; but Israel has been unfaithful. What is now required, if the world’s sin is to be dealt with and a worldwide family created for Abraham, is a faithful Israelite.” (68)

“…the task of the Messiah, bringing to its appointed goal the single-plan-thru-Israel-for-the-world, was to offer to God the ‘obedience’ which Israel should have offered but did not.” (104) [Wright immediately goes on to talk about Jesus’ obedience as “unto death.”]

“Israel had let the side down, had let God down, had not offered the ‘obedience’ which would have allowed the worldwide covenant plan to proceed. Israel, in short, had been faithless to God’s commission…What is needed…is a faithful Israelite, through whom the single plan can proceed after all.” (105)

“The problem with the single-plan-thru-Israel-for-the-world was that Israel had failed to deliver…Israel had failed to deliver on the divine vocation…Instead of the nations looking at Israel, listening to God’s word and learning his wisdom, they have looked at Israel and said, ‘We don’t want a god like theirs.’” (196)