Saturday, April 18, 2015

Goldingay on the Old Testament View of “The Nations”

Goldingay2I am continuing to work through Volume 2 of Goldingay’s, Old Testament Theology, Israel’s Faith and posting quotes from the book on my Facebook page on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturdays. This chapter is the last for volume 2. We will begin working through volume 3 on Tuesday. There will be a link to the blog posts on my Facebook page where you can comment.

Chapter 8 of the 2nd volume of Goldingay’s OT Theology is entitled The Nations, and focuses on how Yhwh deals with the world as a whole and especially the political entities that surrounded Israel. Israel was the unique people of God but they were also deeply effected by the “superpowers” that arose throughout their history such as Egypt, Assyria, Babylon and Persia. They also interacted with smaller nearby nations such as Philistia, Moab, Ammon and Edom. God’s plan was to bless all the nations and the OT provides many lessons for both the superpowers and oppressed nations of our modern world so that they might experience the blessing of God.

Any nation can learn from Israel, though perhaps especially little nations that are insignificant in the world, as Israel was. But when great world powers claim this and see themselves as heirs to Israel's position in God's purpose, their posturing becomes demonic. There is much material in the First Testament that offers self-understanding to nations such as Britain and the United States, but it lies more in the way the First Testament talks about the nations in general than in the way it talks about Israel. 732

First, all nations are Belonging to Yhwh. Though Israel was chosen, the other nations were not rejected by God. In fact, the purpose of Israel being chosen was to show God’s love and bring his blessing to the rest of the nations. All nations were created by God, and allotted their territories by God, and they also had  mission to “worship Yhwh, to recognize Yhwh as deliverer, sovereign and provider.” All nations, powerful and weak, are to acknowledge that God is involved in their lives and that they are dependent on Him.

On the part of the earthly powers, such recognition of the power that Yhwh exercises in the heavens implies a yielding of their own power... But as the nations give it to God, they find their true selves in relationship to God. 734

The Psalm's (67) framework wish, then, is that God's demonstration of grace and blessing to Israel may be the means of the nations coming to revere God. 739

The way the nations acknowledge Yhwh is by Acknowledging God’s People. Psalm 2 calls on the nations to submit to God by submitting to his “son” the Israelite king who was to extend God’s benevolent rule throughout the earth. Of course this was never fully realized in the OT age because of the faithlessness of Israel and the arrogance of the nations. However, the prophets make it clear that God will put a righteous king on the throne of Israel and the nations will enjoy his just rule. His judgments, especially on the superpowers, will justly give them what they deserve, although they are also seen as restored alongside Israel in the final kingdom.

(Psalm 2) does confront the pacifist strand in Christian (and non-Christian) thinking. The First Testament consistently assumes that God does not abjure the use of force and violence and accepts the place of these in the affairs of the nations and thus of Israel as a nation. Perhaps it is a judgment call when we must love our enemies by lying in front of their tanks and when we must love the oppressed by taking to the tanks in order to put down wrong. 742

Back at the beginning Yhwh had announced the intention so to bless Abraham so that all the families of the earth would pray to be blessed as Abraham had been blessed (Gen 12.1-3). That had reached a form of fulfillment in David; it will now reach a fuller form in the experience of the community as a whole (Is. 55). That will be the way they fulfill their vocation to be witnesses to Yhwh's activity (e.g. Is. 43.8-13). 751

It is when the superpower is put down that its prisoners are freed...Putting down war-making peoples is still a condition of peace...Putting down the oppressors is part of restoring order in the universe... Faced with the faithlessness of different peoples, Yhwh does not favor either Israel or the other peoples. All are treated the same way. 757

God’s Judgment begins and mainly focuses on Israel but the OT also focuses on the judgment of The Superpower and Its Failure. The superpower was often raised up to be the tool of God’s judgment on his people and on the surrounding nations, but instead of acknowledging God’s sovereignty over them, they gave credit to other gods or, often at the same time, deified themselves. Instead of seeing themselves as God’s servant or agent they made their own plans and praised themselves. Thus, much of God’s judgment is putting the superpower into back into its place to give God glory and to save and protect his faithful remnant. God usually does this by raising up another superpower to put down the previous one. God’s intervention in this way is often called the “Day of the Lord.” Powerful nations are responsible to use their power to preserve life and justice. When they don’t do that they receive a more severe retribution.

The First Testament sees the superpower as Yhwh's servant, summoned by Yhwh, and having both a negative and positive role in relation to Israel and the world. The problem is that it does not see itself as Yhwh's servant, and it has to be put in its place. It thus finds itself on the receiving end of Yhwh's retributive fury, expressed via the next superpower; which at least means deliverance for its victims. 759

The superpower can easily think it is the Superpower, but it is not...In due course Yhwh will formulate a plan to put the superpower down (Jer. 50.45). That is Yhwh's plan for the world. Yhwh will declare it well ahead of time as a sign of determination to fulfill it and as subsequent evidence that events indeed issued from this plan (Jer. 50.45, Is. 46.10). 767

Yhwh is quite capable of making the policies of the superpower's leader serve the destiny of the people of God, for chastisement or for restoration. 784

What about the Ordinary Nations? The smaller nations also seem to have inflated views of their own importance and need judgment and correction but the prophets also hold out hope for many of them in God’s future kingdom. Goldingay points out that the greater part of the judgment that these smaller nations receive (and this is true for us as well I think) is just the natural consequences of their own stupid decisions. They don’t like the oppression of the superpower and complain about their injustices, but they really desire to be like them. Then they also participate in the cycle of violence which ultimately brings destruction and death to nation and people, rather than trust in God’s desire to bless them.

Egypt was a famous repository of insight. Israel respected and learned from it in the same way that Christians respect and learn from secular insight about philosophy or sociology or psychology. But when the world's insight leaves Yhwh out, it converts itself into stupidity. 789

"Scatter the people who delight in wars," Psalm 68.30 prays. Nations regularly provide rationalizations for engaging in war: it is fulfillment of a mission, or in defense of freedom. The psalm calls the bluff of these claims. 797

Yhwh (apparently) wails, cries out, moans, weeps... suffering with people such as Moab as well as Israel, and doing so irrespective of whether the suffering was deserved. 798-799

The result of this is that the present World of Nations will be Devastated. “Their rebellion and refusal to respond to God’s covenant could mean the day of Yhwh’s wrath falling on them.” Throughout history the wicked actions of the nations have polluted and wasted God’s world. They have failed to keep God’s covenant (preserve and respect life!) and have soaked the earth with bloodshed and violence. Creation “groans” and is under a curse because of the actions of human beings. Thus, Yhwh’s Day of wrath is just because the fury, devastation, and death they have dealt out will be returned to them, and mostly in the same way. But this will be good news for the righteous and for the world as the new creation will rise from the flames of the old one. We need to heed the often repeated warning in the prophets to be ready for the Day of the Lord.

Genesis presupposes that the world as a whole knows the fundamentals of God's expectations of it...It knows that God has made a commitment to the world and that it is expected to fulfill a reciprocal commitment to God. It knows that we should care for the world and for one another. It knows that things have gone wrong when humanity declines to live within the constraints God has set and when the world comes to be characterized by violence. 801

You do not need a special revelation to know it is wrong to engage in slave trading or ripping open pregnant women or forbidding someone a decent burial. It is the kind of thing that is built into being human. We are hardwired that way. Amos' condemnation of Edom makes the point vividly: Edom "destroyed its compassion" (Amos 1.11). It had the natural human compassion that members of a family have for one another, and in order to act as it did, it had to "kill" that compassion. For failing to behave in accordance with the way they are wired, the nations will suffer calamity. 813

The world is building up to one final day for Yhwh, but Yhwh's day keeps coming for different peoples as decades and centuries pass. It came for the United States in the Civil War and twice for many European nations and some Asian nations and others in the two great twentieth century wars (it is typical that the so-called victors suffer almost as much as the vanquished). The horror of such events gives us a little idea of what the final day will be like, as the prophets describe it. It will be an even more frightful expression of divine anger at the sin of human tyranny. It will bring desolation and massacre. 817

But there is Hope for the Nations. All the nations are invited to enjoy God’s kingdom banquet along with the faithful of Israel. Isaiah's invitation to Babylon and Jonah’s preaching to Assyria are typical of the prophetic theme that God will forgive even the worst oppressor who repents. They just need to listen to and learn from God’s messengers. Ultimately, life triumphs over death and good over evil and all nations share in Israel’s kingdom blessings. The picture of all nations assembled to worship and praise God in Revelation agrees with the picture of the end in the OT prophets.

It is clear here (Is. 19.24) that Yhwh has in mind not merely that Israel will be a standard of blessing to which the world will aspire, but a standard of blessing that Yhwh will apply to these other nations. They will be treated in the same way as Israel is treated, and that because they have analogous status to Israel. Israel is "my people," "the work of my hands," "my possession." Here those terms are applied equally to Egypt and Assyria.  829

To that end - the fact that all nations will come to worship and that Yhwh intends to reign over the nations and that the Christ event is a further guarantee of that - the nations need to be appraised of the good news about Jesus so that they can start becoming his disciples. (Mk. 13.10, Mt. 28.19). 833

Goldingay’s conclusion to Volume 2 of his Old Testament Theology….

What emerges (from the OT) is an account of a God who is sovereign but flexible, faithful but tough. It is an account of a people chosen by God to enjoy a special relationship that will also make it possible for God to reach out to the rest of the world. It is an account of a nightmare future that lies ahead of this people because of its relentless refusal to walk God's way. It is also an account of the glorious renewal of this people in all aspects of its life because God is never finished with it. 834

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