Saturday, December 06, 2014

Reading Through Joshua to 1 Kings with Goldingay

Chapter 8 of Goldingay’s, Old Testament Theology, volume 1, Israel’s Gospel is entitled God Accommodated: From Joshua to Solomon. This is the period in which Israel develops into a monarchy and builds the temple in Deuteronomic HistoryJerusalem. Goldingay sees both of these developments as “not part of Yhwh’s plan, but were incorporated into it as an accommodation to human desires and needs.” Again, he takes the Old Testament text seriously as it unfolds the relationship (almost always dysfunctional from Israel’s side). The Old Testament portrays Yhwh as truly lowering himself and entering into relationship with people and allowing them to exercise their “God image” by making decisions and experiencing the consequences of those decisions and having to work, himself, with the damage that those decisions bring about.

This is the way God works throughout the ages ….

First Testament history and church history thus turn out to be analogous. Both involve a story whose beginning looks triumphant. All God's promises have come true; God's reign has arrived. Both stories subsequently show that matters are much more complicated than that, and a further look at the beginning of their story enables one to see that the initial naive reading was oversimplified. 529-530

The first section, One People, One God?, traces the development of the identity of Israel as a distinctive people with a distinctive religious commitment to Yhwh. The state was to see itself a “servant of Yhwh.” Under Joshua and the Judges, Israel acts politically more as a collection of clans than a nation. The disorder leads people to do “whatever is right in their own eyes” which leads to chaos, violent disorder and rejection of Yhwh and his laws.

Grace thus (Judges 4-5) involves God treating people with generosity or mercy when they have deserved nothing. Sometimes God takes an initiative that one could not have expected, such as the astonishing long-term commitment to David and his household... Sometimes God holds back from punishing people who deserve punishment. Sometimes God restores people after punishing them. 537

The egalitarian (social-political) arrangement does not work, internally or externally... this presses Israel itself toward being not just a people, a nation and a country, but a monarchic state with an increasingly urban focus and the same capacity for oppression. And Yhwh goes along with that. The story from Judges to Solomon displays the perils of disorder and the perils of order. 539-540

The 2nd section, Leadership, discusses the transition from the clan leadership in the Judges to the monarchy under Saul and David. He pictures the judges as people who lacked consistency, relational ability (acted violently) and insight. Kings were supposed to solve this problem, but they demonstrated the same deficiencies as the Judges. The kings follow the Gideon model and are just as dysfunctional as the worst of the Judges. They never come near the task of kings as seen in Hannah’s prayer.

They (the Judges, which Goldingay translates "leaders") are people who mostly lack spiritual insight or moral principle. The achievements reported in Judges 3-5 may illustrate this, but it is more overt as the stories continue their downward path. This is a story with no heroes. 542

The vocation of monarchy according to Judges, then, is to work against the dynamics that appear in its stories and instead to see that the people expresses its faithfulness to Yhwh in a way that recognizes the true dynamics of relationship with Yhwh and to see that these dynamics affect the rest of life. 545

Hannah is also the first prophet to speak unequivocally of a king...she perhaps implies that the king's task is to be the means of implementing the vision for the people and for the world that her prayer expresses. That involves a multi-faceted reversal of human priorities and practices whereby people confident in their position, strength, resources, and wealth find that these disappear, while people lacking status, strength, resources and wealth find themselves changing places with them. 549

Section 3, Monarchy, discusses the three kings of Israel’s United Kingdom. All of them start well but end their reigns with disorder, violence and chaos. Though all do some things well, the word Goldingay often uses to evaluate their actions is “ambiguity.” Though God chooses them, all three come to power through human deceitful manipulation. David will become the symbol of unity, but even the Davidic Covenant implies that Israel will not be able to rely on the family in the future. The future of Israel will not be guaranteed by the king or the Davidic family, but by Yhwh’s commitment to the covenant with them.

The first three kings... all are destroyed by leadership. It is difficult to determine whether (Saul) or David pays the bigger moral and religious price for being king. In each case the second half of their story is one of religious and moral collapse, with a terrible price paid in family relationships. The same is true of Solomon. 550

Yhwh is unconditionally committed committed to David's line. David's successor must be uncompromisingly committed to Yhwh if the promise is to be fulfilled. Yhwh's commitment must not be allowed to take away from the reality of human obligation, and the necessity of human obligation must not be allowed to take away from the reality of divine sovereignty. 559

Solomon's story presupposes an interweaving of divine promise and historical event, with the historical event not at all the kind we might have expected to fulfill a divine promise. It is a sordid tale, yet through the sordid tale Yhwh's promise finds fulfillment... It is not that by a synergism human beings do precisely what Yhwh wants but that Yhwh leaves them to do what they want and works that into the pattern. 562

Section 4 deals with the significance of Temple. The replacement of the movable tabernacle with the ornate, stationary temple happened at the initiative of David and was a royal project. Again Goldingay sees the portrayal of God’s evaluation of the project as ambiguous. God chose the place and the building reflects (God’s footstool) God’s rule over Israel, but it is clear that adherence to the Mosaic Law is more important than proper temple ritual. In one sense Yhwh is there, but in another no building can contain him.

Solomon's own prayer recognizes that Yhwh's dwelling among the people depends on king and people's walking in Yhwh's ways - not on their offering the right sacrifices in the right building. 568-569

The reality of Yhwh's presence makes the house a kind of extension or outpost of the heavens...(but) Yhwh will not entirely submit to the domestication that David's temple project implies... God is accommodating to Israel, all right. 570-571

Yhwh's commitment may graciously persist beyond human commitment, but it cannot be assumed to do so. In the absence of human response, the relationship may collapse. 572

Section 5, Israel and Other Peoples, sets the story of Israel “against the background of God’s involvement with the whole world.” It is not just about David and the nation. “The nations are Israel's destiny, temptation, problem, threat and victims.” (572). Alternately, the Israelites fight the Philistines and other nations around them, and are partnered with them. The peoples conquered by David are made vassals and subsidize the wealth of the nation. Solomon makes alliances through marriage with the nations, and, though this brings great wealth and blessing, it leads inevitable to the division and exile of the nation.

In the two sides of Solomon we can see the two sides to government as these emerge in Romans 13 and Revelation 13. Government is the divinely authorized means of safeguarding order, and a means of oppression that recalls the beast and is inspired by the dragon. 576

In the first testament marriage and politics are subordinate to religion. Solomon's commitment to Yhwh is compromised by the commitment to those international and interreligious marriages. The listening and discerning mind of 1 Kings 3.9 has become a mind that wanders and listens without discernment. 578

Section 6, Being Human, are the Old Testament’s “most profound wrestlings with questions about what it means to be a human being.” The main characters often treat those around them in despicable ways, act foolishly and violently and cause their own lives and the nation to unravel. Ultimately God uses these people, with their bad decisions and scandal, to accomplish his purpose. People can do good things but there is always a pull to do evil that is exacerbated by power.

The narrative from the "judges" to Solomon contains the Scriptures' most harrowing sequence of stories about humanity's inhumanity to humanity. It also explores the tragic dimension to human experience, the ways we can be victims of drives within ourselves and forces from outside that bring dissolution and death to others and to ourselves. It leaves readers with a discouraging understanding of human nature and human experience - or gives them opportunity to face facts about human nature and human experience. 579

Pharaoh, Moses, Jepthah and Saul are chiefly significant in the story not so much as individuals, but as people who play a part in the purpose Yhwh is pursuing through the negative experiences that come to them... They are people who do not get away with what other people get away with, and that because of the position they are in. 585-6

Saul does not provide us with an example for our own lives, any more than, for instance, Abraham and Sarah or Isaac and Rebekah do. The First Testament does provide us with a moral portrait of God, and if it offers us someone to imitate, it is God, who relates to these characters with generosity, forbearance, compassion and the other characteristics that God claims in a passage such as Exodus 34.6-7. 587

Section 7, Being Men, provides a reflection on masculinity and “what men have to do.” The society is definitely patriarchal and operates with a violence that uses others (especially women) as objects and destroys families and societies. Women are used by all three kings as bargaining chips to gain power. David, in his sexual objectification of women and the other people around him, sows the seeds of the destruction of the nation. This is a “how not to do it” lesson.

Machismo then (in Judges from beginning to end) gradually but comprehensively collapses. 588

In these stories politics and sex interweave, as they often do. "Politics and sexuality, in a macho society, represent twin possibilities for domination." This is especially so in the story of David, who manifests a deep ambiguity running through all of his life and achievements. 591

If the myth of masculinity inscribed in the David story reflects the cultural norms of men of the author's time, the story also does much to subvert that construction of masculinity. It has the potential to cause some discomfort to men whose culture constructs masculinity in ways that overlap even if they are not identical. 596

The next section, Being Women, provides a “series of portraits of women living in a man’s world.” The women in these stories work within their patriarchal stereotypes but are constantly “pushing the boundaries.” These stories show the roles women are forced to play (mother, wife, whore, lover, victim) in this environment, and yet also their ability to influence (for both good and evil), do ministry and approach God.

The story of Samson and Delilah is a story about power, a classic account of the way political powers can use a woman to bring about the downfall of a man who loves her. It invites us to note how male power can take advantage of women and how male stupidity can make oneself the victim of them. 599

The story of the brutal assault of the Levite and his concubine is a story of meaningless suffering. God neither ordains their brutalization nor does it serve a higher purpose. The cruelty of the text shocks and forces the reader to confront the absurd destructiveness of violence. 601

Deborah, Jael, Jepthah's daughter, Manoah's wife and Michah's mother are all assumed to play roles in the community's religion and worship. Naomi and Ruth would have more to talk about with Samson's mother and his lover. They are women who know how to get around in a man's world. 606

The final section, Yhwh’s Acting, shows the variety in the ways that God “interacts with human experience and decision-making.” Sometimes God’s act is a response to human initiative and action. Other times God initiates the act through humans or God acts directly. We need to be much more humble when talking about “why” God did something or assuming that we know God’s end game in specific events.

The stories... open up possibilities for our thinking about how Yhwh acts and why Yhwh acts, about the relationship between God's acts and human acts or "natural" causation, about the distinction between events that are especially significant and the general run of events, and about the moral implications of Yhwh's involvement in human acts. 606

There is variety in the ways Yhwh is active, and also variety in the intelligibility of Yhwh's acts. 611

The presence of both versions of the story (of David's census) invites us to see insight in both. Kings reassures readers by affirming Yhwh's sovereignty even behind events that have negative consequences. Chronicles reassures them by affirming Yhwh's fairness even behind events that have negative consequences. 612

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