Thursday, August 17, 2023

William P. Payne - How the Missional Hermeneutic Reveals the Missio Dei, Part II

Today’s post is by Rev. Dr. William P. Payne. Payne is the Professor of Evangelism and World Mission at Ashland Theological Seminary. The following exerts are from a soon-to-be-published book on missional theology.

Joseph and Moses

Having previously described what the missional hermeneutic is, I will demonstrate the missional hermeneutic by means of the Joseph and Moses narratives.

As I look at the missional direction of the story, I must ask myself a question.[1]Why did God call Joseph and then cause him so much hardship? Answer, even though Jacob and his family were situated in the Promise Land, they could not survive in it as a distinct nation because they were a small people. If they had remained in that land, they would have sustained intense social contact with the Canaanite peoples including bride exchanges, joint business endeavors, and participation in cultural events. In time, they would have been assimilated into the existing social lattice. When that happened, they would have ceased to be God’s special people (Lev. 18:24-30).[2] The story of Esau demonstrates this. He became compromised when he married a Canaanite woman and interacted with the local peoples. Afterward, he and his progeny were assimilated into the Canaanite world.

This concern is illustrated when the Jews began to return from Babylonian captivity. While in Babylon, the people intermingled with the nations and married their daughters. This diluted their Jewish identity and threatened to lead them into idolatry. That is why Ezra made them put away their foreign wives and rededicate themselves to their Jewish culture. As he read the Torah to them, they wept because they had all but forgotten it (Ezra 10:1-3).

Also, cultural assimilation threatened to destroy the Jewish witness when the Jews began to adopt the Greek culture in the time of the Maccabees. In particular, Jason the high priest tried to accelerate the process (2 Macc. 4:7-22). The miracle-filled Jewish uprising that freed the nation also purged the nation of Greek influences and restored biblical Judaism.

During the time of Jacob, Joseph, and Moses, the Bible says that the Canaanites were a wicked people who had defiled the land. They were so bad that the land wanted to vomit them out (Lev. 18:24-26). They practiced the worst forms of idolatry. Also, the Jewish spies said that giants lived in Canaan (Josh. 14:6-15). The giants point to genetic contamination from the Nephilim (Gen. 6:1-4). So, in order for the Jews to fulfill God’s purposes and fully occupy the Promised Land that God claimed for them (his portion), they had to leave Canaan and return to it once they were able to displace the peoples that did not follow God. This was their “manifest destiny.”

When God sent Joseph to Egypt by means of filial betrayal to prepare the way for his family and facilitate the move to Egypt, Joseph could not have imagined that God was working out God’s plan. After all, he was abandoned by his brothers, sold into slavery, and wrongly thrown into jail. However, after God put Joseph in a position of power, God drove his family to the land of Goshen by means of a great famine. When Joseph realized what God was doing, he told his brothers that they meant it for evil, but God intended it for good (Gen. 50:20). Furthermore, he knows that God will return them to the Promise Land at a later time. For that reason, he tells them to take his bones with them when they leave (Gen. 50:24-25).

The Jews were not assimilated in Egypt because they did not have routine social interactions with the Egyptians when they lived in the Land of Goshen. For this reason, the land of Goshen became the womb of Israel. While in Goshen, the people grew into a large nation. Hundreds of years later, God was ready to birth the nation. In order to do that, God needed a deliverer to lead the people through the birth canal (i.e., a narrow opening in the Red Sea) and into the Promise Land. God picked Moses.

Previously, when Pharaoh was killing the baby boys, God saved baby Moses from the reeds and placed him in Pharaoh’s home to prepare Moses for his mission. After Moses fled for his life, God caused him to learn pastoral skills while tending sheep in the wilderness because Moses would need to shepherd God’s people. At the right time, God revealed God’s plan to Moses and worked through him to defeat the gods of Egypt, free the Hebrew people from slavery, and displace the Canaanites from the Land of Promise.[3]

When viewed as individual stories, the narratives about Joseph and Moses do not fit together. However, when they are seen in light of the missional direction of the grand narrative, it is obvious that they participate in the same movement of God. The same process can be applied to the entire Bible.


This paper has made a case for the missional hermeneutic. It flows from the missio Dei and is employed by the New Testament writers. It posits that God has a plan and that God is pursuing that plan. Both Scripture and salvation history reveal that plan.

[1] See George Hunsberger’s the missional direction of the story in “What Is a Missional Hermeneutic?

[2] “For we have forsaken thy commandments, which thou didst command by thy servants the prophets, saying, ‘The land which you are entering, to take possession of it, is a land unclean with the pollutions of the peoples of the lands, with their abominations which have filled it from end to end with their uncleanness. Therefore give not your daughters to their sons, neither take their daughters for your sons, and never seek their peace or prosperity, that you may be strong, and eat the good of the land, and leave it for an inheritance to your children for ever” (Ezra 9:10-12).

[3] For a fuller understanding of this, see Henry Blackaby, Experiencing God, 51.

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