Saturday, November 29, 2014

Reading Through Leviticus-Deuteronomy with Goldingay

I am continuing to read through volume 1 of John Goldingay’s Old Testament Theology, Israel’s Gospel and posting quotes from it on my Facebook page. I continue to appreciate his fresh perspective and commitment to what the text itself says. Chapter 7 of volume 1 is entitled GOD GAVE: The Land, and it focuses on the journey/wandering of the nation of Israel from Sinai to Canaan and the preparation of the people to inherit the land, mainly from Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.

The journey should have been one of a few months but, unexpectedly it turned into 40 years of wandering. Sometimes Israel seems like a people blessed and at other times like a people cursed. The text keeps a tension between the sovereign promises of God and the necessity for the people to respond faithfully to God. As Goldingay concludes the chapter…

The tensions embodied in the narratives provide mirrors in which they may find themselves. They invite people to consider how far their experience is one of fulfillment and how far of fulfillment or shortfall. Awareness of fulfillment invites them to trust God for complete fulfillment. Awareness of nonfulfillment invites them to look for reasons or for what God wishes to achieve through it. Awareness of their own commitment invites them to challenge God to fulfill the promises. Awareness of their failure to commitment invites them to change. 528

The first section of the chapter is entitled The People of God: Sustained, Disappointed and Protesting. Goldingay comments that the “wilderness experience” seems to be a necessity to prepare God’s people for blessing. The wilderness is sometimes portrayed positively as the place of God’s blessing and at other times negatively as a place of chastisement. Israel’s wrong response in the wilderness should be a challenge to us when God takes us through our “wilderness experiences.”

Perhaps a "wilderness experience" is a sort of spiritual necessity and a people does not grow to maturity without it, through the First Testament shows it is possible to have the wilderness experience in spades without growing to maturity. 452

Yhwh uses natural resources (manna, quail, water, rocks and trees) but heightens their potential or capacity or significance. The people are invited to look to the natural but to expect God to do something supernatural through it. 457

The purpose of the trek through the wilderness was to meet God, receive his law and be prepared for entry into the land. This was to be the “honeymoon period of the relationship” with God. Instead, despite their spoken commitment, the people rebelled. Even the leaders, including Moses, were drawn into the rebellion. The people continually commit to God and continually disappoint Him. This seems to be the pattern for God’s people throughout time.

The church is, in Luther's famous statement, "at the same time right with God and sinful." If it does not own the second facet of its nature as well as the first, it risks behaving as if its own publicity were true and then becoming an agent of sin and oppression rather than that of freedom - as it has indeed been. 468

Section 3 of chapter 7 is entitled The People of God: Chastised and Mercied. One of God’s purposes in the wilderness experience is the testing of the faithfulness of His people. The wilderness experience can also result from chastisement. But neither of these stop God from fulfilling his plan to bless the people in the land and the people experience blessing even in the midst of chastisement. This pattern of testing, chastisement and re-commitment (with God adjusting his plan to meet the situation and fulfill his ultimate purpose) is typical for all of God’s people.

(The church's) wilderness experience tests the nature of its own commitment to God and reveals it to be a people characterized by rebellion and thus often subject to discipline, so that a whole generation or whole churches may be allowed virtually to die out...But God never casts off the people as a whole. It is on a journey to a land of promise. 474

In section 4 Goldingay deals with the issue of War, Its Nature and Rationales. He states that for Yhwh to give the land to Israel he must take it from someone else. Israel made war for a variety of reasons. Sometimes God fought a was of liberation for his people without them even having to fight themselves. God also commissioned Israel to fight punitive wars against nations who attacked them or who were a danger because of their violent natures. There is also a recognition in the text that war is a necessary evil from which the combatants must be cleansed. The war against Canaan was a “herem” in which Israel was told to cleanse the land from the perverse practices of the people there. Sadly, the most effective herem almost wipes out the tribe of Benjamin from the nation.

(The Old Testament) does not view war-making as in ideal state of affairs but it does assume it as a necessary way of reaching stasis. It looks forward to a day when Yhwh will bring war to an end. 480

Section 5 discusses War as the Means of Receiving God’s Gift. It is clear from the text that God gave Israel the land be means of war/conquest. However, how it happened is not very clear. Some texts imply a quick conquering of the land (Joshua) and others a gradual conquering (Judges). Some (Genesis) imply gradual migration and cultural differentiation from within. Goldingay would resist (and I agree) using the conquest story as a pattern for modern warfare. Ultimately, God gave Israel the land, Israel did not take it for themselves.

As ethnic groups, we are attached to our peoples, and as landed peoples, we are attached to our countries. Yet migration shows that neither is an absolute. It may be the rule rather than the exception that the current occupants of a land have not occupied that land from the beginning of time... That has the potential to make us less determined or exclusive in our attachment to our land or our ethnic group. These relationships are not timeless universals. 488

If we are serious about understanding the text, the realization that our question has not yielded all there is in the text will stimulate the exercise of imagination and reason to attempt to formulate another question that will yield more. Our eschatological aim is that eventually our questions and the text's answers for concentric circles rather than merely overlapping ones. Then we will need no more questions. 491

Israel did not come into possession of the land by its own effort. Yhwh handed it over to Israel, through leasehold rather than freehold, or lending it rather than giving it, and therefore Israel may not appropriate the contents of the land, which it must give back to Yhwh. 495

In Section 6, Goldingay presents “herem” as The Crusade for Holiness. The main purpose of herem is to devote things to destruction to avoid the “negative influence of other religions.” There were exceptions to the herem order (Rahab) when the objects confessed Yhwh. The focus was on pure worship of Yhwh. The Canaanites and Midianites threatened that.

The Ten Words forbid murder, unlawful slaying, not killing in general. Yet even when people are fighting a war that they believe is prosecuting a right cause, they are aware of guilt for killing people... War necessarily is a defiling activity... The enemy is after all human; the shedding of human blood tears the whole fabric of the cosmos. 495

The exclusion of Rahab and her family from herem shows that defilement can be overcome by confessing Yhwh. Rahab is a woman and a prostitute as well as a foreigner. She embodies "otherness" in the fullest sense, in ethnicity, gender and social status. It is thus the more significant that "hers is the first story which treats the issue of Israel's social definition." 498

The religion and wisdom of Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece and even Canaan can be a danger to be avoided with rigor and a resource to be mined with discernment. 505

Section 7 shows that The Acknowledgement of God is an alternative to defeat and destruction to the other peoples Israel comes in contact with. Gibeon and Rahab make the right choice and are blessed. Balaam and most of the Canaanite cities make the wrong choice and are defeated.

Moses' various prayers have presupposed that Yhwh does relent and have a change of mind, but Yhwh does not do so randomly, as a human being might. Both having a change of mind (about abandoning) and not doing so (about blessing) reflect the same fact: God's commitment to Israel. 508

In principle Canaanites must be eliminated, but Canaanites who behave like Israelites may take their place within the people of God. Israel's national boundaries are critically important, but flexible.... For people of unquestionable pedigree too, real membership of Israel involves choice, the decision to serve Yhwh rather than the gods of Canaan. Israel is "a people who chooses the God who has called them into being." 511

The next section, The Gift of God: The Land, sees Israel’s gift of the land  as a step in God’s purpose to “complete the creation project of subjugating” all the created world. The land becomes a place of blessing when it is the place of relationship with God. God owns all the land and gives it to his people to “possess.” As long as the people live in it according to torah they will “live long” in it and enjoy it.

It is not the land that carries a blessing to the people, but faithfulness to the God of justice, righteousness and mercy. But Yhwh chose to create humanity in bodily form and thus relates to Israel in a way that involves land and is not merely a matter of the spiritual, moral or theological. The story of Yhwh's involvement with Israel thus intrinsically involves the land. 512

From time to time the First Testament continues to emphasize that the land belongs to Yhwh, and the idea of gift and possession carries no implication of absolute rights to the land over against Yhwh... In relation to God, the Israelites remain in the position of resident aliens or migrant workers (Lev. 25.23). 517

If they turn to Yhwh when they have been cast off the land, Yhwh will restore them to possession of it (Deut. 30:1-5). Precisely because the land remains Yhwh's and Yhwh remains theirs, there can again be hope. 521

The final section of the chapter focuses on the end of the book of Numbers and describes the anticipated fulfillment of the land promise: The Giving of God: Fulfillment and Shortfall. Goldingay points out that when the land is seen as a gift of God there is blessing. But when the conquest is seen as a human achievement it leads to trouble. He also points out the tension between the promise to get the land and yet their inability to fully possess it. Ultimately it all depends on God.

Fulfillment of the promise is not earned by obedience. Obedience is vital, but fulfillment issues from God's purpose and God's faithfulness. Fulfillment when people are disobedient and failure of fulfillment when they are obedient highlight the fact that ultimate significance does not attach to human obedience. 527

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