National Israel was to set a godly example, by which it would teach the nations the value of God's way of life. This was a basic role of ancient Israel, and indeed remains a key job of the Israel of God (Galatians 6:16). Members of today's true church bear the responsibility to be exemplars, as the apostle Peter asserts in I Peter 2. Peter, echoing Paul's comments in Philippians 3:20 that we have our citizenship in heaven, not in this world, reminds God's people that they are pilgrims in this world. As real as our alien status is, however, it does not abrogate our responsibility to walk morally before the peoples of this world.
Today's Christianity (Part One): Christianity Goes Global
God chose ancient Israel out of all the nations of the earth and determined that they would be a holy nation. He ordained that they would be a people set apart from the rest of the world. The Old Covenant was intended not only to be a schoolmaster to teach Israel how to live in such a way that they would recognize the Messiah when He came (Galatians 3:24), but it was also intended to set Israel apart—to make them holy. In so doing, He intended the entire nation to be a witness of Him. This passage demonstrates this.
God proposed the Old Covenant to Israel on the day of Pentecost. Israel accepted the terms of the agreement and thereby signed up to be a light to the rest of the world. God had given them the most superior set of laws that mankind had ever encountered, which would leave the rest of the world in awe due to the beneficial effects that would come from it.
We know from the New Testament that the only problem with this covenant was the heart of the people entering into it (Hebrews 3:10-12; 8:7-8). The God-given terms of the agreement were absolutely perfect for what He wanted to accomplish. One of His main purposes was for Israel to be an example, a witness, to the rest of the world of the right way to live. Incidentally, the Tabernacle that Israel carried with them in the wilderness was even called "the Tabernacle of witness" (Numbers 17:7; Acts 7:44).
If Israel had been faithful to the covenant, they would have received blessings beyond belief. In the blessings portion of Deuteronomy 28, God was prepared to set Israel high above all the nations of the earth. Their cities and farms would be prosperous; their children would be healthy and strong; their herds and flocks would be numerous; they would have an abundance of food; and they would have protection from their enemies. They would have rain in due season, and everything they put their hands to would be blessed. They would have enough that they could lend to other nations and not borrow. God intended them to be a holy people whose behavior and prosperity would make it obvious to the rest of the world that God had set them apart. The effect would be so dramatic that Israel would be feared!
However, as we know, Israel failed. The accounts of the Old Testament prophets show the great lengths to which God went for Israel in cleaning her up and taking her under His wing. Yet, once she caught a glimpse of her God-given beauty and wealth, all she did was play the harlot with the surrounding nations, rather than being a witness to them (see Ezekiel 16).
Today, the United States is the richest nation on earth, which seems to coincide with God's promise of blessing until we realize that America is also the greatest debtor nation. Parts of the nation suffer drought, and other parts are practically floating away. Much of our food is either imported or grown from genetically mutated seed. Our cities are filthy, crowded, and corrupt, and our family farms are dying through environmental regulation and corporate buyouts. We live in abundance yet cannot afford our lifestyles, plunging further into personal debt. The nation's churches are pathetically weak, barely standing to fight the onslaught of secular culture—and, in fact, accepting much of it in a misguided spirit of tolerance. In short, America is the farthest thing from being a kingdom of priests or a holy nation. Our entertainment industry shows, like nothing else, what sort of "witness" we are making to the world.
Israel failed because her heart was not right. Biblically, the word "heart" is synonymous with "mind" and "spirit." We know that God desires that all Israel be saved (Romans 11:26; II Peter 3:9) and that in the future He will replace Israel's heart of stone by pouring out His Spirit (Ezekiel 36:26-27). However, for a few—known as the remnant, the church, the Body of Christ, spiritual Israel, the Israel of God, or the firstfruits—God decided to do this ahead of time.
He gave His Spirit on the Feast of the Firstfruits, the day of Pentecost, AD 31, so that a remnant of Israel would have a heart of flesh and not of stone. God gave His Spirit so that spiritual Israel could obey God both in the letter and in the intent of His law. In addition, just as He gave Israel His law so she would be a witness, God gave the church His Spirit so that Christ's disciples would be witnesses. By receiving a portion of the Spirit that proceeds from the divine Lawgiver, the firstfruits are able to understand the intent behind God's laws. More than this, by yielding to the promptings and motivations of God's Spirit, they can begin to take on His character and actively do good rather than merely avoid sin.
David C. Grabbe
The Pentecost Witness
Gentiles' observing the results of Israel's obedience to God's law would be drawn to reject their pagan belief system in favor of God's true religion. There is no reference to God's calling these people. Rather, conversion is treated as a fully rational and voluntary choice made when thoughtful pagans recognize the superiority of God's way over their own satanic practices.
In other words, Israel's role was to be an example. God did not command missionary activity on the part of ancient Israel. Israel's proselytism was to be non-verbal, as distinct from the overt verbal action of preaching through the written or spoken word.
Not proselytism through words, but through works, is the God-sanctioned method for ancient Israel. Israel was not so much to preach as it was to obey and to teach. Obeying God's law was an individual responsibility; teaching that law was a parental duty. Notice verse 9, which stresses both roles.
The Old Testament is replete with examples of Gentiles who were won over to Israel by witnessing the unquestioned superiority of God's way of life, and subsequently becoming convinced that His way was for them. One early example may be "Eliezer of Damascus" in Abraham's day, the chief servant in his household. Other examples, certainly, are Ruth in the period of the judges, Uriah the Hittite in David's day and Ebed-Melech in Jeremiah's time. All these quickly come to mind as Gentile converts.
Later on, however, Hellenized Jews caught missionary fever and discarded the approach sanctioned by God. Active—and far-flung—evangelism became the order of the day. Indeed, the first New Testament occurrence of the word proselyte appears in Matthew 23:15 where Christ chastises the scribes' and Pharisees' for their hypocritical approach to spreading their corrupt religion.
Proselytism Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow (Part One)
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Deuteronomy 4:7: