Prophets to the Nations

The word of the LORD came to me, saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.’”

- Jeremiah 1:4-5

Having established that the Old Testament prophets were spokesmen for God, we will now consider the peoples to whom they spoke. Understanding this important topic will help us better interpret the meaning of the prophets’ words and draw some important connections to the current ministry of Christ’s church.

Today’s passage narrates Jeremiah’s call, which we will consider in greater detail as it pertains to his ministry when we study that prophet’s book in a few months. For now, we want to highlight the importance of his call as “a prophet to the nations” (Jer. 1:5). Although he was sent primarily to the covenant people of Israel, Jeremiah was also appointed to deliver the oracles of the Lord to the Gentiles, to those who were not a part of God’s covenant with Israel through Moses.

To a greater or lesser degree, this was true of all the prophets of Israel. Some prophets had messages that focused more specifically on nations other than Israel, such as Obadiah’s words for Edom and the ministry of Jonah and Nahum to Nineveh (Assyria). Other prophets, such as Haggai and Ezekiel, spoke primarily to the Israelites and less to the Gentile nations. But all of the prophets had words that could be applied both to Israel and to the other nations. What John Calvin said about Jeremiah could well be said about all the prophets of God: “Though he was given as a Prophet especially to his own people, yet his authority extended to heathen nations.”

That God would speak to the Gentiles during the old covenant era should not surprise us. Since He is the only true God, He is the Lord of all mankind, even of those who do not recognize His authority. The implications of this basic truth are profound. Certainly, we do not believe that the gift of prophecy continues in the church today. Still, the church of Jesus Christ is the heir of the prophets and their message; thus, although we do not receive new revelation like they did, we are still called to proclaim God’s message to the world. We fulfill this calling first by preaching the gospel—the oracle of salvation—to the world (Matt. 24:14). But we also heed this dictate by calling the ruling authorities to account for their failure to uphold God’s moral order. We do not call the state to be the church and to administer Word and sacrament. Yet we can—and must—call the state to be the state and follow God’s revelation about the state’s responsibilities.

Coram Deo

Ministering prophetically to the state is complex, and sometimes it can be difficult to know exactly how it should be done. However, we can be sure that the church cannot be silent when the state is in gross violation of the Lord’s standards of justice. We do not preach the Word of God only within the four walls of our church buildings but also to the world, including all officials who are called to protect life and property.

Passages for Further Study

Genesis 12:1–3
Isaiah 34
Zephaniah 3:9–10
Matthew 28:18–20

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