Community and Societal Development

How can cross-cultural development workers help communities and societies thrive by following godly principles?

Reflection: Development and the Old Testament

WCIU Journal: Community and Societal Development Topic

by Beth Snodderly

November 18, 2015

This Reflection is an excerpt from, “Shalom: The Goal of the Kingdom and of International Development,” in the WCIU Press book of faculty and student writings, The Goal of International Development: God’s Will on Earth as It Is in Heaven, pages 162-63.

November 18, 2015

When a society repents and turns to God, Scripture shows, He is willing to restore and bless the people with shalom (see Ps. 30:11; Jer. 33: 6, 9). A concordance study shows there seem to be two conditions for a society or person to experience shalom. One is the intention to follow God’s laws and principles. The other is acceptance of God’s provision of a substitute punishment for not following God’s laws and principles. In both cases opposition should be expected from the enemy whose goal is the opposite of God’s will.

The principle of keeping God’s requirements as a condition for blessing and shalom was specifically stated to Isaac shortly before he encountered Abimelech, king of the Philistines (see Genesis 26:1-5). It is through following God’s guidelines that a society can function well. In fact, all nations on earth willing to function according to the will of God as revealed through His chosen people, will end up being blessed materially and spiritually (shalom). This is seen in Genesis 26:4, 5 where God repeated the promise to Isaac that was originally given to Abraham: “through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because Abraham obeyed me and kept my requirements, my commands, my decrees and my laws.” Immediately following this promise is an illustration of one of the nations, the Philistines, being blessed by the presence of Isaac’s family, in spite of various problems, and sending him away in peace/shalom (Gen. 26:29, 30), without further quarreling or fighting.

When God’s principles are followed, peace results. This is also seen in the encounter between Moses and his father-in- law. Jethro showed Moses how to satisfy the peoples’ need for justice, without wearing himself out, by delegating some of the work to others. Jethro specifically stated that if “God so commands” that the principles of delegation be followed, and if Moses did follow them, then Moses would be able to stand the strain of leadership and the people would go home satisfied (shalom/“in peace”). (See Exodus 18:7-23.)

But shalom does not come easily. A spiritual enemy has it as his goal to prevent shalom; to prevent God’s will from being done. Broken relationships among people and with God characterize the activities of people and nations throughout the Old Testament. A pattern seen throughout the Major and Minor Prophets is the repeated description of God allowing one nation to punish another for their evil ways, with the focus on the people of Israel and Judah who had the most opportunity to know God’s expectations, yet failed to follow Him. As God would withdraw His presence and hand of protection, the evil one, the “ruler of this world” (John 12:31) would step in and create havoc. The Old Testament prophets recognized that God was somehow using or allowing one evil nation to punish another. Then the instrument of punishment of one group of people would in turn experience punishment for their own evil ways, in a seemingly never-ending cycle. (See, for example, Hosea 8:3-8; Joel 3:1-7.)

But a climactic statement by the prophet Isaiah points toward the possibility of a break in this vicious cycle. Speaking of the coming Messiah, Isaiah prophesied: “He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace (shalom) was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isa. 53:5). Jesus brought an end to the cycle of one society punishing another for the evils it commits in its rebellion against God. Jesus took the final punishment on behalf of any person or society that will accept his peace offering. This was the defeat of the evil one’s schemes against humanity (1 John 3:8—“the Son of God appeared to destroy the works of the devil”). By accepting Jesus’ willingness to endure the consequences of sin, people and societies can break out of a vicious cycle and experience healing of broken relationships with God, people, and nature.