Saturday, December 20, 2014

Reading Through Kings and Chronicles with Goldingay

Chapter 9 of Goldingay’s, Old Testament Theology, volume 1, Israel’s Gospel is entitled God Wrestled: From Solomon to the Exile. It takes us through, mainly, Kings and Chronicles although it also brings in something from the First Kings Chartmessages of the prophets who were ministering at that time. These books record the decay of Israel and Judah into being just like the nations that did not know God and thus, their destruction and exile. And yet, God never gave up. He continued to fight for his relationship in covenant with the nation…

"Israel" designates a body with which "God struggles." and God does so especially during Israel's time as a state... Yhwh is wrestling to be recognized as the one true God, lord in the realm of religion and politics, work and family life, social life and personal life. It is a rather unpostmodern claim. 613

The first section, Where Yhwh is Active, describe God’s quest to be recognized by the people as the One True God to whom all worship and loyalty is directed. The prophets, kings, temple and religious regulations were all designed to build on the law of Moses to teach this. All the prophets agreed with Elijah that there could be no compromise on this issue if Israel was to remain as a chosen nation. Yhwh was the real king who cared for his people and would lead them so that he would rule over all the nations.

So what is the difference between Yhwh and El, Baal and other gods? One difference is that Yhwh is one, whereas it is intrinsic to Canaanite theology that there are a number of gods, with some ranking between them but no totally stable pecking order...Thus, when it applies "elohim" to beings other than Yhwh, these are subordinate entities whom we might term heavenly beings rather than divinities. Yhwh has an unqualified supreme position in relation to them. Yhwh's power cannot be overcome. Yhwh's sphere of activity covers all reality; divine activity in the world is not divided among various powers. 617

No doubt the average Israelite, like the average Christian, thought of God as a supermale, and the fact that in Hebrew as in English the masculine gender is the default gender will have encouraged this...Yhwh has female as well as male characteristics. Yhwh gives birth, nurses and comforts like a mother. The combination of male and female ways of speaking would encourage Israel to think of Yhwh without gender, unlike El or Athirat who belong to one sex or the other. 618

Second Kings ChartThe second section, What Yhwh Expects, focuses on God’s expectation that Israel would give exclusive commitment to him as David did. This especially focused on proper worship centered in the Jerusalem temple. Israel continually violated this by setting up an alternative worship system in the Northern Kingdom, bringing in Canaanite “worship aids” like images and fertility symbols that sexualized Hebrew religion and consistent, outright idolatry. The king and priests were supposed to stop this, but often were enthusiastic participants.

Corresponding to Yhwh's being the one God is the expectation that Israel should give an exclusive commitment to Yhwh, like that involved in marriage to one person. 624

This three-sided covenant is an extraordinary and creative innovation. The people make a commitment to the king, but the king also makes a commitment to them - and to Yhwh. The arrangement perhaps implies that the people stand in covenant-like relationship with one another. Priests mediate the covenant but are not party to it. The three-way covenant provides a suggestive model for the life of communities. 626

The 3rd section, How Yhwh Reacts, discusses how God responds to this lack of exclusive commitment. His actions are quite complex and do not always appear to be consistent to the people involved. Sometimes God acts as an angry, jilted husband. But there is always the possibility of forgiveness because of His continued commitment to the covenant. Even God’s rejection of his people is tempered by grace, pity, patience and mercy. But, sometimes even the mercy runs out and Israel experiences his burning anger in defeat and exile. Even then, the purpose is to purify.

The Sinai story promises that Yhwh's stance in relation to Israel is dominated by mercy rather than punishment. Jonah's story presupposes that Yhwh takes the same stance in relation to the archetypal foreign oppressor as to Israel. It shows that there is no sin that cannot be forgiven. 638

We might analyze the problem of Judah in terms of structural sin. Wrongful attitudes and practices in the realms of power and religion are embedded in the society in ways that go beyond what an individual king or prophet can change. The structures themselves have to be demolished in order to build new ones. 642

1 Chronicles chartSection 4, How History Works, shows how Kings and Chronicles offer complementary perspectives on the historical events. Historical lessons are not simple. God is not locked into one way of responding to human events. What people do does have consequences, but God can act in different situations in very different ways. There is not a simple one-to-one correspondence between a right act and blessing or a wrong act and punishment. God is truly working with us in relationship.

The stories (Kings) offer a range of insights on possible interpretations of events, but rule out any inference that they offer formulas by means of which history can be infallibly explained or the outcome of events be predicted. The serendipity of human and divine freedom plays a role in events. Alongside that, Chronicles safeguards against the possible inference that Yhwh is not really involved in events in a fair way and assures readers that Yhwh behaves in a way that is honorable and trustworthy, and it challenges every generation to assume it has responsibility for its destiny. 643

God exercises sovereignty in letting humanity in general and Israel in particular have their own sovereignty whether or not they exercise it God's way. God thus accepts human frustration of the divine purpose and accepts being shoved out of the world... God thereby pays the price for humanity's willfulness in order to bring it to an end. That is the First Testament story, finding its logical conclusion at the cross (Rom. 3.21-26), though God still waits for the world and God's own people to respond. 648

The fifth section, How Yhwh Works, explores the different ways God acts in the lives of people in the stories in Kings and Chronicles. He may use natural or human processes to accomplish his purpose. He may be working “behind the scenes” to move pagan kings and nations to bless or discipline his people. He sends prophets, often with seemingly crazy messages or missions to warn Israel. He often works through “chance” events, the supernatural, miraculous means (death of 185,000 Assyrian soldiers) and violent human or natural events. Again, there is no formula for this.

Yhwh works by direct action, uses heavenly forces, speaks via prophets, inspires human decision making, makes independent human decisions work to this end, harnesses "chance" events and utilizes the "natural" way human decisions can have an outworking beyond their original context. The narrative gives people the opportunity to take the marks of God's footsteps traced in this story as an aid to seeing what God may be doing in their day. 648

Each time the narrative knows there is more involved in the battle than meets the eye, but it does not pretend to know precisely how things work - which is noteworthy because in other connections Chronicles is confident in knowing how Yhwh works. 656

2 Chronicles ChartSection 6, How Kings Exercise Leadership, discusses the role kings played “in this story of Yhwh’s struggle with Ephraim and Judah.” Kings sometimes were a positive influence on the religious life of the nation, but more often “shaped it for evil” and these stories placed the responsibility for this squarely on their shoulders. The role of the king was limited by the Mosaic law and their responsibility was to serve the people. But often they were manipulated by queens (Ahab and Solomon), false prophets, plotting generals or ministers or foreign nations. Instead of trusting God they often pursued personal empire. Though there were revivals the inexorable direction of the nation was descent into exile.

The story continues to illustrate how a position of leadership can destroy a person who might well have lived in trust and commitment if he had not been a leader. It is frightening to find yourself in a position of leadership. This imposes overwhelming religious and moral demands. 658

The attempt by the elites in power in Israel and Judah to safeguard this power by skillful maneuvering between the great powers of their time and if possible even exploiting them thus proved quite ruinous. It led not only to an undermining of political morality but also to immense burdens for the population in the wake of wars. 665

The consequences of having no central government were horrendous, but monarchy is as fundamentally flawed. 668

The next three sections discuss the key role of the prophets. Section 7 sees the Prophets as Men of God. These strange men brought attention to the word of God and provided God’s critique of society and revelation of his plan. They tended to withdraw from society and were seen as powerful men who had been with God and were sent by him. In some ways, when they acted God acted. Once a prophet was shown to be from God he spoke with the authority of God.

A man of God (in Kings) is an austere and frightening figure with mysterious powers. He is one who utters words of fearful significance that may be followed by signs that can be both destructive and constructive, someone who can control the weather, cause healing or illness, bring death and restore life, multiply food, part rivers, call down fire, purify water and see things happen far away. 671

These men of God come on the scene with the advent of the monarchy...(and) represent an incursion of destructive and frightening divine power set over against the destructive and frightening power exercised by the kings. Yhwh is involved in a struggle for the life and soul of Israel and will continue this struggle for three centuries or so before recognizing defeat and giving up. 677

Section 8 discusses the Prophets as Seers and Sentinels. This focuses on the prophets’ role to announce (warn) people about what God intends to do. God gives them supernatural capacity to see things about God or about the world around them. They are then given the “word of God” announce Yhwh’s intention. Mainly this involves warning about coming danger and urging repentance.

A prophet's task is to admonish the people or testify against them...Their task is to point out the wrong the people have done and to urge them to turn from their wrong ways and to Yhwh. So the point about prophecy is not to declare an inevitable fate but to turn people round so that warnings need not come about. 683

The prophet's authority and power depends on their being able to carry conviction with people, by their words and/or their acts. Generally they fail. Their exercise of religious and moral power is ineffective. They do not get people to follow them. So it is by means of them that Yhwh puts into effect the intention to destroy Samaria and Jerusalem. And at the same time the fall of Samaria and the fall of Jerusalem issue from their failure. But the survival and renewal of the community is also a fruit of their work. 685

The ninth section focuses on the prophet’s role from the kings’ perspective: Prophets as Troublemakers. Prophets are servants of the king, but, even more so, servants of Yhwh. Thus they often had to speak negative truth to those in power. As aides of Yhwh their job was to bring God’s perspective into national affairs. When kings agreed with God they could work within the political system. However, this was often not the case.

As Yhwh's aides, prophets are agents who stand under and execute the heavenly king's authority. Like Yhwh's supernatural aides, prophets operate as people who have been admitted to Yhwh's court in heaven, and they return to earth to give promises and warnings about what court has determined and thus to implement those decisions. 688

Confrontational prophecy comes to be a key force in Israel in connection with the monarchy and fades when the monarchy fades out. This is no coincidence. The prophets represent a claim to speak for God that is not under the control of state power structures and that assumes the authority to confront these. 690

The final section, Is There a Future, deals with the question of whether the end of the Jewish state means the end of God’s relationship with the people of Israel. As Jeremiah points out, the people in exile are God’s people, not those who stayed behind. The kingship would never be restored in Israel but both Chronicles and Kings offer hope that God is not done with His kingdom plan for the nation.

The point (of the final chapter of Kings) is understated, but it offers an indication that Yhwh may not have finished with the people yet. Yhwh has not finished with David's line...Jehoiachin's release might be a small sign that Yhwh has still not forgotten this commitment. The story's challenge is then, will you keep hoping in Yhwh's promise? Surely calamity will not be Yhwh's last word for this people. 694

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