Sunday, July 12, 2015

An OT Theology of City and Nation

IGoldingay3 am continuing to work through Volume 3 of Goldingay’s, Old Testament Theology, Israel’s Life. In this volume Goldingay is looking at how Israel was to live, “not the life Israel actually lived”, but “the life the First Testament reckons it should have been and should be.” I continue to post quotes from Volume 3 on my Facebook page on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturdays. There will be a link to this blog post on my Facebook page where you can comment. Please comment there. The issue in this section (society and government) was so different in the ancient world that it can be hard to see how it applies in the 21st century. So we will continue to wrestle together with the biblical text and can have a good discussion of this post on Facebook.

Section 1 deals with what the Old Testament says about the City. The Bible is somewhat ambivalent about urbanization. The original move to the city (Cain's family and Babel) is seen as a way of being independent of God and a part of the process to make Israel a "nation like other nations," yet God takes Jerusalem as his holy city and the eternal state is portrayed as a New Jerusalem. The city offers an opportunity for wealth but tends to create a greater economic disparity than agricultural life. Wealth then becomes a "moral issue" as the well-off have responsibility to help the poor. Those with insight and faith realize that there are dangers to being wealthy and try to avoid them by using wealth to help others. Too much focus on wealth can make one waste their life and destroy relationships. Better to use wealth to live well and include others in one's happiness.

Proverbs does not imply that the mere existence of economic disparity between different people is an evil. "The Old Testament does not present equality of wealth as an ideal." Its emphasis lies on the wealthy being generous and the faithless stopping being faithless. The social ideal the prophets project is that of a benevolently hierarchical society, indeed a benevolently patriarchal society. 482

There really is such a thing as moral evil, and causing or allowing needy people to remain hungry and thirsty is not merely, for instance, one of those regrettable features of life that result from the fact that everyone has to accept responsibility for their own destiny. 485-6

Wealth makes it possible to have a really good time. And the First Testament likes the idea of people having a really great time. It enthuses over festivals where people enjoy and eat their fill of the good things God has given them (Deut 26.11-12). It is less enthusiastic about the idea of some people having a great time while others are excluded. 489

The city is a place of trade and opportunity for wealth. This often leads to a loss of reliance on God, loss of accountability for honesty and justice, and a refocusing of religion on "what makes me feel good." The temptation is to use people instead of serve people. The city then becomes a place of exploitation, greed and dishonesty as condemned in many of the prophetic books. To make wealth the rich exploit the weak and needy instead of helping them. Corruption grows as the government and the wealthy connive rather than defend and enforce God's principles.  The biblical system was designed to provide freedom to make wealth while at the same time protecting the workers' rights within the relationships in the community. This, of course, was all based on the individual's and community's righteousness in submitting to God's instruction.

There is nothing inherently wrong with prestige, plenty of food and security - these are God's good gifts. But they put a temptation before people who receive them. They can tempt people into self-centeredness. The test of whether they have done so is the community's behavior toward the weak and needy. 496

It is a very challenging task to combine a concern about profitable business dealing with devotion to God, humanness and honesty, as both capitalist and socialist systems show in contrasting ways. But corruption has the most devastating affect on a society. In the Two-thirds World it is  decisive factor in holding back the development of well-being. In the West it is a decisive factor in the ongoing collapse of society. 498

The key to understanding the biblical model is that the production and sale of goods is almost entirely left to the unfettered operation of market forces, while the laws governing the use of labour, the allocation of land and the role of finance are tightly drawn so as to ensure a minimum level of income and wealth for all...the rough equality of wealth, income and opportunity are encouraged without the need for a large centralised state; and that the interests of "finance" are made subservient to those of interpersonal relationships. 501

The 2nd section is focused on what it meant for Israel to be a Nation. Israel existed to be a distinctive, unique nation through its trust in Yhwh, and the compassion and integrity that would result from that. Abraham's blessing, in his calling out to be a nation, was to come as Israel became an example of commitment to God within the nations of the world, which God loved. So they were exclusive, but not superior. Israel was to be different from other nations because of their trust in Yhwh and their care for their people. So the nation was based on trust in Yhwh. Israel was not a powerful, rich, conquering power. They were the "losers" in the global power game. They only "won" when they totally depended on God without playing the political power games of the nations around them. The nation fails because it does not learn from its history that only Yhwh delivers.

Israel was thus designed to be an alternative community...it then embodied a social revolution that reasserted the autonomy of a decentralized community in which power was diffused, carrying on their life so as to do for themselves what states claimed to do for them and thus free from paying taxes, rent or interest on loans when they were in need. 511

Even Zion and the temple can become falsehood and deception, in the absence of an attitude of steadfast trust in Yhwh...Judah thinks that strength and deliverance depend on taking responsibility for its destiny and taking sensible political action. Isaiah says it lies elsewhere, in an irresponsibly relaxed trust in Yhwh that things will turn out all right 518-520

A marker of folly is the incapacity to see when one is acting against one's own interests. 525

Israel went into exile because of self-deception. They believed Yhwh's promises of blessing for faithfulness, but not the promises of judgment for rebellion. Their worship did not reflect what they truly desired in their hearts and did not extend to their daily lives. Israel was only fooling themselves that they could control their success through military might or clever alliances. They were subject to the superpower nations that God had called them to minister blessing to, and these nations were used by God both to bless and discipline Israel. Israel's safety and success was entirely dependent on their adherence to their covenant God. After the exile, their success depended on accepting their role as an underling (Jer. 29.7) and disperse God's blessing as they were dispersed among the nations. This is the same mission as the church has. The oppressive superpower nations are a result of sin and will be removed by the hand of God. Our role is to pray for them, work to bless them and be a voice for witness to and for Yhwh (Jesus) and his ethic.

Pride means a majesty that can express itself in self-confidence and self-assertiveness rather than submission to God and to other people... The problem with their attitude is not pride in the sense of self-congratulation and an expectation that others will acknowledge them, but a sense of having the means to control their destiny. 530

Israel must not fall into the trap of trusting other nations as resources, but neither must it fall into the trap of thinking that Yhwh is interested only in Israel or that it can despise them. It is invited into compassion for them and anticipation of their coming to worship Yhwh. Alongside and standing in tension with the will to exclude is the will to embrace. 533

Our task is not to think that by taking the helm of international history we can contribute to bringing in God's kingdom, but to witness to the fact that a superpower will never do this. 540

Section 3 of chapter 5 discusses Israel as a Kingdom in the Old Testament. Interestingly Israel existed as a nation before it had a centralized government, or really could be classified as a "state." Kingship was a relatively short blip in the history of the nation. The kingship came into being because of the chaos of the Judges period and for defense against the encroachment of the Philistines into Palestine. Of course the problem is that when a people amass a strong central government and army for defense, that can be turned into an army of conquest or the state's power can be turned against its own people (as Solomon did). "The more power grows, the more values disintegrate, so that there is a tension between the state's vocation and its necessary way of operating." (545) Having centralized states naturally leads to war, or at least makes the wars bigger and more devastating. The OT pretty much assumes the reality of war (and God sometimes wages war) and gives instruction about how to manage it rather than encourage or ban it.

There was thus little correlation between the state structure and the reality of Israel, as there is little correlation between the separate denominations that we call "churches" and the Church. 542

A major reason why states exist is so that the people who belong to them can maintain themselves and assert themselves over against other states. War is the means whereby they do so. 548-9

It is doubtful if the dynamic of any of the wars of, say, the past six centuries involved peace-inclined peoples suddenly realizing that the scriptures encouraged war and therefore deciding to start one, or even feeling free to fight a war they would otherwise have hesitated to fight. 556

The reality of war is taken for granted in the Old Testament. It is seen as something God will remove in the age to come, but something we just need to deal with in this age. Goldingay says that we need to be careful evaluating what the Bible says about war within the Enlightenment categories our culture uses to discuss the question today. The Israelite monarchy under David and Solomon used war to extend the (little) Israelite empire, with God's seeming approval (See Psalm 2). However, at no time did either king pursue their conquests according to the limitations of the Deuteronomic covenant - this Kingdom of God methodology did not work. In fact, one could say that they started Israel down the path that led to exile and perhaps this is why Jesus was reluctant to use, and redefined, the title "Messiah." Pacifism also does not seem to be advocated even in the New Testament. Jesus says "blessed are the peacemakers" but does not counsel soldiers, even from the occupying Romans, to lay down their arms. War seems to be a necessary evil in this age. Perhaps Christians need to be a prophetic voice (Separation of church and state is not a biblical concept. This doesn't mean it is a bad idea in the modern world, it just isn't in the Bible like the morality of organ donation is not in the Bible) within their nations reminding their rulers that going to war is not something that should be done if there are other options. Goldingay advocates the Mennonite proposal for peace, "Let the Christians of the world agree that they will not kill each other." 568

Society and rulers have different destinies; the former is to be transformed, shaped in conformity to God's purpose; the latter are to disappear. renouncing their sovereignty in the face of his. In a sense they have no alternative; their subjects have already withdrawn their recognition from their rulers. 558

Neither Moses nor Jesus rejected the state. Both rejected - in the sense of refusing to acknowledge the authority of - the empire...The Christian church and Christians individually in the United States or Britain are not in a position analogous to that of 1st century churches in relation to the Roman state, because they are themselves citizens of a past or present superpower. Further, because their countries are democracies, they share in responsibility for its actions. 562

We might well see the church as having a prophetic role in relation to the state, but the church would have to become prophetic in its life. 563

The remainder of the chapter deals with the thorny issue of "But What About the Canaanites?" How could a good God order the destruction of all the Canaanites? Goldingay points out the important fact that Israel never carried out herem on the Canaanites the way they were told to in Deuteronomy, and never were rebuked or condemned for failing to do that. This could mean that they knew that they were to understand to understand that command as "hyperbole" for the destruction of the evil moral and religious lifestyles of Canaan, which they adopted and ended up being destroyed in the same way as the Canaanites. Perhaps it is best to see the stories of Rahab and Jericho as paradigms of the way things could always have been in this situation. Nevertheless they did apply holy war in some instances. This needs to be seen as a "one-off," "non-repeatable" event, not as a paradigm for how nations should act. God does have a right to judge the nations (including the "innocents" that are caught up in that judgment). Perhaps what we see in this case is a prophetic perspective on how God judges all oppressors of history and a warning of how our nations will be judged. The New Testament is quite clear that judgment is coming for all nations and all individuals, and both testaments are quite clear that God knows how to separate the good from the wicked in His judgment.

Deuteronomy sees the nations as responsible to God for their behavior, reckons there are certain sorts of behavior that every nation should know is wrong, and presupposes that God cannot be assumed simply to tolerate wrongdoing, but may act in judgment on it. Perhaps this is one reason why Western Christians do not like the story of Yhwh using Israel to put down the Canaanites...We are more in the position of the Canaanites than in that of the Israelites. 577

The New Testament also affirms frequently how Jesus is prepared to act violently as well as being concerned to bring peace and forgiveness...There is a tough side to God and to Jesus as well as a merciful side. That is again bad news for major power such as Britain and the United States, but good news for many peoples, as Mary's song assumes (Lk 1.51-55) 578-9

Scripture is not merely a revelation concerning what are the right things for human beings to do and the wrong ones for them to avoid; to a great extent, people know that. Scripture is a revelation concerning what God has been doing in events, which can help us see what God might be doing now in events and align ourselves with it. 581

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