Wednesday, February 18, 2015

An Old Testament Theology of “Israel”

Goldingay2I am continuing to work through Volume 2 of Goldingay’s, Old Testament Theology, Israel’s Faith. I am continuing to post quotes from the book on my Facebook page on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturdays. There will be a link to the blog posts on my Facebook page where you can comment.

Chapter 3 focuses on an Old Testament theology of “Israel, mainly focusing on the prophetic books. Goldingay emphasizes that Israel is more a people than a political, ethnic or geographical entity. Yhwh is the God of the whole world but the story of the first Testament is about God and Israel. Yhwh is the God of a people.

The First Testament suggests a number of ways of thinking of Israel. It is a family, a nation, a congregation; it is a son, a servant, a disciple, a rebel; its vocation is to be and to stay in being, to acknowledge and to worship, to pass on the story and to witness; it is chosen, covenanted, critiqued, rejected, restored.  173

The first section of the chapter focuses on the idea of Israel as Yhwh’s Family. Unlike other nations of the ancient world focuses on a people, not leaders, chosen by God, in kinship with one another. Yhwh most often plays the role of father or occasionally, mother. The people are his children. He has begotten them and given birth to them. God chose them based on grace (they were not better than other peoples) and others (like Rahab) are added from outside. If fact all actualize their membership in the family by a faithful confession. There is diversity within the family but they are one people. The family is a safe place to learn and be challenged to grow.

As a family the people of God is not defined by its leadership. It has a hierarchical structure... but the individual members of the family themselves relate to God, and in origin there are no kings and no priests. The being of Israel is not defined by its leadership. Power and authority are diffused rather than centralized. 178

Insight is indeed revealed from heaven as well as acquired by observation on earth and attentiveness to teaching. 181

Secondly Israel is Yhwh’s Covenant People. God placed himself in a relationship with his people that places demands on God himself and on the people to respond. It is a gracious relationship, initiated by God and places God in charge and with the largest demands (promises) placed on Him. Israel’s response should be to “guard themselves” to do what God says. The covenant is fragile because, although God does his part, Israel does not meet their obligations. God’s laws reveal who God is and instruct Israel in what they are to be. The covenant was there to shape the faith and life of Israel.

The hierarchical nature of the covenant means that Israel's relationship with Yhwh rests on the immense security of its having come into being because of Yhwh's sovereignty. It does not rest on Yhwh's sentiment nor on the fickleness of Israel's choice of Yhwh. 189

The narratives are not the results of divine communication but of true human witness and reflection and divine sanctification, and they have supreme authority for the community because they tell the true and divinely sanctified story of God's dealings with Israel. It is this story that shares with the words of God and the words of Moses the authority definitively to shape the faith and life of Israel. 192

Section 3 discusses Israel as Yhwh’s Chosen. They are God’s precious and loved instrument to reach out to the whole world. Though they may be rejected for a time, their election guarantees their continued existence as a people. God owns them and treasures them as a valued servant. He loves Israel, which explains the strong feelings of God when he is rejected by Israel for “other lovers.” Israel is especially chosen to be part of God’s kingdom plan to bless the whole world. Goldingay points out that their election is a “gospel plan,” making them unique in the world, to draw others into God’s blessing. Their uniqueness was not meant to exclude foreigners but to draw them in to a confession of Yhwh and access to Him.

To be chosen is to be summoned, separated out, seized, desired, acknowledged, restored, purchased, acquired, grasped and found. It is to be taken as God's bride, to be drafted as God's army, to be adopted as Yhwh's son, to be purchased as Yhwh's servant, to be planted in Yhwh's vineyard, to be acquired as Yhwh's sheep,to be formed as Yhwh's vessel, to be separated as Yhwh's special possession. 194

So election is not the means of leaving out other people but the means of drawing them in...Election is thus a gospel idea. Not only is God's rejection subordinate to God's election with regard to Israel itself; with regard to the world as a whole, God's election of one people does not imply God's rejection of others. 201

Section 4 focuses on Israel as Yhwh’s Kingdom. God promised to make Israel a great nation because “God wants to be involved in the world, and the world is a world of nations. It is therefore logical for God to form a nation through which to reach nations (209). Israel became a landed institution with the benefits and temptations that entailed. When Israel forgot that God owned the land and quit depending on Yhwh they could be dispersed from it. Nevertheless, Yhwh still owned the land and was in covenant with Israel. Yhwh delegated his kingship to human kings by covenant, who failed in their obligations. Eventually, Yhwh himself will need to fulfill this covenant and sit on the throne himself in the New Jerusalem

Yhwh's ownership of the land is an encouragement when Israel's possession of the land seems imperiled. Sometimes Israel experiences invasion and loss of part of the land, and sees this as evidencing Yhwh's rejection. But it can then remind itself of Yhwh's self-determination with regard to ownership and control of the land (Ps 60). 215

It is surprising neither that Israel (or the church) sometimes experiences God's blessing and the signs of God's deliverance, and sometimes walks God's way, not that it sometimes does not. The former is a sign that God is taking it to its destination, to the age to come; the latter is an indication that it is not there yet, that we still live in this age. 221

Section 5 explores the idea of Israel as Yhwh’s Servant. This figure implies that Israel is to act with God’s authority as a witness and example to the world. Israel is subordinate to God but is given status because of the honor of their boss. God restores and empowers Israel so that they can fulfill his commission to be God’s aide to establish his just kingdom on earth. This happens as God “restores” Israel to be his witness (they fail by being “deaf and blind”). God’s use of such a weak witness becomes a witness in itself.

In Yhwh's case. "I am with you" is not a statement made from the security of the CEO's office on the top floor. It means Yhwh is present and active, strengthening, helping, and upholding. The boss does not just leave the servant to get on with it and go off to the beach, especially when opposition hits the fan, When the servant is under attack, the boss stands alongside and acts in a faithful fashion (sedeq). Yhwh is committed to restoring this servant. 223

It is thus through being called to be a witness that Israel hears the good news to which it testifies. There is then a reciprocal relationship between its giving its witness and its enjoying that to which it witnesses. Only because it is called to witness does it enjoy; only through its enjoying does it witness. 228

Israel is also called Yhwh’s Disciple, implying that this “restoration” is an ongoing process in which Yhwh teaches his people. “Yhwh's servant is someone who has a disciple's tongue, someone whose ear Yhwh continually opens (Is 50.4-5). He is someone to whom God's word comes.” (228). Despite Israel’s failings God promises to continue to speak through his spirit inspired prophets. Eventually this was written and became a fixed deposit of God’s Word to Israel. This allowed the Word to be consulted and applied as authoritative revelation.

The oral delivery of prophecies has strengths and limitations. It has the power of the oral word, but also its transience. Because of this transience, we often like things to be put in writing, and Jeremiah's putting his prophecies into writing gives Yhwh's word ongoing tangible existence. 234

The story in Jeremiah 36 points to another significance of putting prophecies into writing. While an oral word is bound to be fulfilled, that is even truer of a written word. 235

Finally, Israel is Yhwh’s Home. Yhwh has chosen to make his earthly home there. It is holy because God has chosen to locate his presence there. Though it does not function this way in the early history of the nation it becomes the capital under David, God’s chosen human king. After David it becomes the recognized place where God speaks and acts, and hears within his temple. Zion is the place of God’s sanctuary, a place of security, served by God’s delegated priests. The ark symbolizes his presence there. Even when God abandons his “daughter” his choice of her implies a future restoration.

The city of God is not a place in heaven or even a place on earth insulated from its pressures, but a place within history and its conflicts where God is at work pulling down opposition. The challenge to the people of God is to believe that this is so and to live in history with confidence, yet without thinking that we are responsible for fixing the world's destiny or for bringing in the kingdom of God. 241-242

Worship is a human instinct (cf. Gen 4) and one that needs to be harnessed to a proper relationship with Yhwh. So Israel is to worship at the place Yhwh chooses...And its sanctuaries are to be built as Yhwh says. 245

Goldingay’s application of this theology to the church…

The church's task is to learn from the First Testament understanding of what it means to be Israel, not on the assumption that it replaces the Jewish people but on the assumption that it has come to share its vocation, and it lives looking forward to the day when the Jewish people comes to recognize Jesus. 252-253

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