Thursday, December 28, 2017

Reading Through Theology of the OT: by Walter Brueggemann #6

BrueggemannThis post continues my reading through Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy, by Walter Brueggemann. Chapter 6 is entitled Nouns: Yahweh as Constant and focuses on the noun metaphors which became characteristic descriptions of God in the Old Testament. I have been posting quotes from the book on my Facebook page on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (NT is Mon-Wed-Fri) and we can discuss comments and questions about the passage there. As usual my comments are in black and quotes from the theology are in blue below. I am using the Logos version of the book.…

In Chapter 6, Brueggemann discusses the nouns the Old Testament writers use to "identify the constancy, substance, and graspability of YHWH and that "name and characterize Yahweh in this explanatory narrative of testimony." (229) Of course, one cannot characterize God because His Substance is far beyond human words, so these nouns must be understood as metaphors. One must meditate on how God is both like and not like the human terms (judge, king, warrior, father) used to describe YHWH. Human judges, kings, warriors and fathers have some correspondence but fall far short of what God is. Terms of governance like "Judge," "King," and "Warrior" describe God's earned right to actively implement and continue His rule over all people to bring about justice, order and well-being to those who recognize His rule, discipline those who sin against it, and actively protect it from those who would try to destroy it. The idea of "father" emphasizes God as the Creator who cares for and wants the best for His children, disciplines them to help them reach their divine potential and protects them from both natural and supernatural enemies. 

Metaphors, are nouns used to characterize the Subject, God. But because the metaphor does not fully match the elusive Subject, the Subject both “is” and “is not” made available in the utterance of the noun. Thus when Israel testifies, “Yahweh is my shepherd,” the noun shepherd gives Israel certain specific access to Yahweh. At the same time, Yahweh is not a shepherd. This is not because shepherd is a poor or inadequate metaphor, but because speech about the elusive Yahweh, in its very character, allows for this reservation. 231

Yahweh as warrior is the one who, as a judge committed to a rule of law, acts to stabilize, maintain, or implement that rule, over which the king will preside. As in the case of judge and king, the notion of Yahweh as warrior serves as a critical principle, in order to assert that Yahweh will fight against and defeat all the illicit claimants to public power. 241

In all of these images, Yahweh is known in Israel as an utterly reliable God, a father who cares, a judge who seeks justice, a king who provides order, a warrior who defends and protects. In all of these aspects, Israel bears witness to a good and generous Agent who makes life possible. The severity of Yahweh is an intentional severity that is understood as a function of the fundamental ordering of reality for which Yahweh is responsible and about which Yahweh cares intensely. Thus the actions of Yahweh that have a destructive dimension are sanctions and enforcements of an ordered regime that will brook no threat or fundamental challenge. 249

The rest of chapter 6 describes five "metaphors of sustenance which are not as stern or rigorous, but which represent Yahweh as one who nurtures, evokes, values, and enhances life." (250) YHWH is seen as an artist/potter who wants to create beauty and order in people, nations and the rest of creation. He is a Healer/Doctor who heals the diseases caused by the Fall when His people are willing to recognize their need and trust Him for help. He is a Gardener/Vinekeeper who enables his people to produce good works and represent Him well. Yahweh is a compassionate Mother who conceives and births Israel and thus has deep compassion that continues to forgive and reach out to Her people. YHWH is a shepherd who protects and sustains His people. These metaphors can also have a negative side (the potter may need to smash the fatally flawed pot or the doctor cannot heal the patient who refuses to admit sickness) but overall they are more consistently positive than the metaphors discussed earlier in the chapter. Brueggemann concludes by mentioning that there are many other metaphors used in the OT to describe God. Israel felt free to invent new metaphors to describe God, as they experienced His new actions in their lives. We should feel free to do this as well.

Yahweh has the will and capacity to rehabilitate persons, nations, and all of creation that are distorted. The healing is wrought through Yahweh’s pathos and depends on truth-telling about “the diseases of Egypt.” 255

Yahweh is said to have “carried (Israel) from the womb” (Isa 46:3; cf. 63:9). Yahweh is also portrayed as the mother who comforts Israel in Jerusalem...The motif of drawn into Yahweh’s motherly functions as the one who will feed, care for, sustain, and remember Israel in its time of exilic displacement and postexilic distress. Thus the image is one of enormous reassurance. 258
This field of noun-metaphors...means that the Subject of the verbs is decisively present in every phase of Israel’s life. Yahweh’s decisive presence, moreover, is not flat, thin, or predictable. It is, rather, as supple as metaphor can permit. Israel knows no other so alive, decisive, playing, caring, and demanding as the God who lives in and through this collage of nouns. None other!

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