Saturday, January 20, 2018

Reading Through Theology of the OT: by Walter Brueggemann #10

BrueggemannThis post continues my reading through Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy, by Walter Brueggemann. Chapters 13-14 move into the 3rd part of the book, which discusses the character of YHWH from the subjective perspective of His partners in relationship. 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.…

Chapter 13 is entitled Israel's Unsolicited Testimony. Previously Brueggemann has looked at Israel's testimony of how God's acts upon them, but here God's partners, mainly Israel function as the subjects acting upon God. This immediately creates tension because God sovereignly acts, as witnessed in the core testimony with its active verbs, to create and maintain the relationships and yet is affected and changed by the relationships. God responds to Israel with love, passion, regret, anger etc. Brueggemann frames this dichotomy by saying that God is committed to the partner relationship "in freedom and passion." That is, God is in complete control of the relationship and yet He commits Himself, with strong feeling, to stay engaged in the partner relationship. I think this is a very important observation about how God is presented in the OT. How can an "omni" Being be in relationship with beings He created? Words are inadequate. I like to say that God "lowers Himself into relationship with us so that He truly experiences relationship, with all of its joys and pains, while still remaining sovereign." The incarnation, in which the 2nd person of the Trinity "empties Himself," would be the supreme expression of this. That God does this is clear in scripture. How God does this is beyond human understanding.

Yahweh’s person and character are indeed fully available in the relationship, that nothing about Yahweh is held back or kept immune from this relationship. This does not mean that in this fully available relationship, where Yahweh is accessible for being impacted, Yahweh is “like any other.” Indeed not. And so the Old Testament continues to ponder and puzzle over the character of Yahweh, who is fully available to Yahweh’s partners, but in such ways that it is always the Yahweh of the transformative verbs who is available. 410

Yahweh is committed to the partner in freedom. This assertion means that Yahweh’s connection to the partner is undertaken as sovereign, unfettered choice on Yahweh’s part. Yahweh makes a commitment of care, fidelity, and obligation to the partner that Yahweh did not need to make. In the end, Israel can give no reason for this act of Yahweh’s freedom. It is simply a given that is available in Israel’s discernment of its life in the world. In freedom, Yahweh surely retains sovereignty over the relationship, evidenced in the continuing control of the decisive verbs. 410

Yahweh is committed to the partner in passion...It refers, first of all, to powerful and strong feeling. Yahweh does commit to the partner with powerful and strong feelings of concern, care, and affection...And so it is, on occasion, that Yahweh surprisingly does not exercise sovereign freedom to terminate a dysfunctional relationship, even when Yahweh clearly has the right to do so. Yahweh, on occasion, stays with the partner, seemingly because Yahweh is so engaged in the relationship that Yahweh is unable or unwilling to terminate it. 411

In chapter 14, Israel as Yahweh's Partner, Brueggemann discusses the testimony of Israel regarding their origins and covenant with YHWH. Israel's origin is entirely due to God's sovereign choice of the nation. Because God "loved," "chose" and "set His heart" upon them, Israel became His special nation with a special mission. God placed them in covenant relationship with Him, which obligated Israel to "hear" His commands and do justice and righteousness in God's world, and to "see" Him in worship, which drew Israel into a personal relationship with YHWH and obligated them to holiness. Israel was to love God and "be a light to the nations" by living as a just community and worshiping God in beauty and holiness.

From the outset there is something odd, enigmatic, and inexplicable about Israel’s origin and continued existence...It is important to remember that as Israel pondered and spoke about its existence, it offered no explanation for its existence. What appear to be explanations are in fact articulations of wonder, awe, astonishment, and gratitude, all addressed back to Yahweh. 414

Israel is to “listen” to the command of Yahweh and to respond in obedience...we may say in sum that Israel’s obligation is to do justice. Israel is a community put in the world, so the testimony suggests, for the sake of justice...Israel understands itself, in its unsolicited witness, as a community of persons bound in membership to each other, so that each person-as-member is to be treated well enough to be sustained as a full member of the community. 421–422

The obedience of Israel as Yahweh’s partner concerns the demanding practice of neighborliness and the rigorous discipline of presence with God...the Israelite with integrity is the one who fully practices neighborliness and who lives with passion the disciplines of holiness. 429

The last part of the chapter deals with Israel's experience with God as they respond to Him with faithlessness (exile) and with repentance (forgiveness and regathering). The faith of Israel that Christ fulfilled and the church inherits comes largely out of the exile. The majority of the nation had rejected God and failed to obey covenant, so they experienced His rejection, divorce and abandonment. In exile, many in the nation turn to God with repentance, grief for sin and their present situation, practice of Torah, trust in God's presence, and trust in His promises for regathering. God responds with the destruction of the Babylonian empire and the approval, by the Persians, for Israel to return to Jerusalem, rebuild the temple and resume the OT religious system. The reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah begin the process of solidifying the content of the OT canon and creating the Jewish community into which Christ would be born. This brought about the "fullness of time" to prepare Israel for the promised full restoration that Christ would bring, that would be experienced as the church was birthed at Pentecost and in subsequent church history, and is still awaited to be completed at His return.  

Repentance in itself is an act of hope. A return to Yahweh, and to land and to well-being, is possible. Any such return, however, will be on the terms of the sovereign God who waits to be merciful (Deut 4:31). The repentance entails the very issues that were the causes of Israel’s condemnation: remembrance, holiness, and justice.  436

While Israel’s judgment is a function of Yahweh’s sovereignty, Israel’s grief and protest are a complement to Yahweh’s faithfulness and pathos. The grief and protest permit Yahweh to move beyond sovereign anger and rage to rehabilitation and restoration. It is evident, moreover, in the ongoing life of the exile of Israel, that grief as candor and protest as hopeful insistence are effective. For Yahweh is indeed moved toward Israel in new, caring ways. 437–438

Obedience gives sharpness and urgency to Israel’s existence. But it is the promises of Yahweh, in which Israel hopes, which keep this community from turning in on itself, either in despair or in self-congratulation. Israel as a holy people refuses to give up on the commandments of Yahweh as the anchor of its significance in the world. Israel as a holy people refuses to doubt the promises, which assert that the future is dependent on nothing in this world, not even on Israel’s obedience, but only on Yahweh’s good intention, which is more reliable than the world itself. 447

No comments: