Saturday, January 27, 2018

Reading Through Theology of the OT: by Walter Brueggemann #11

BrueggemannThis post continues my reading through Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy, by Walter Brueggemann. Chapters 15-16 deal with the testimony in the Old Testament about YHWH’s relationship with humanity and with the Gentile nations. 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 15, The Human Person as Yahweh's Partner, discusses the Old Testament view of humanness. The OT never views humanity as autonomous, but only in dependence on and in covenant with YHWH. To be disconnected from God is to cease being human. As the "image of God" the human role is to respond to God's sovereignty with obedience, to His faithfulness with freedom and initiative, and to be his "transactional partners." Though God is wholly other, there is a kind of OT "kenosis" in which God lowers Himself to fully experience relationship with humanity in a way that provides for human freedom, and permits humans even to challenge God (as in the lament psalms), without yielding any of God's full sovereignty. Humans are responsible to use their brains to discover how God has ordered the world and live accordingly, to trust God's care even when circumstances seem to suggest otherwise, to use their God-given freedom and abilities to love and care for those with needs, and to manage creation as God representatives. 

Yahweh is not hostile toward humankind and does not work in enmity, but is positively inclined to sustain, heal, and forgive. Human persons are, by the very inclination of Yahweh, provided a sure life-space in which to exercise freedom, power, responsibility, and authority, in order to use, enjoy, and govern all of creation. 456

The discernment to which human persons are enjoined is not simply technical knowledge. It is, rather, a sense of how things are put together and how things work in God’s inscrutable deployment of creation. It is the delicate recognition that reality is an intricate network of limits and possibilities, of givens and choices that must be respected, well-managed, and carefully guarded, in order to enhance the well-being willed by and granted by Yahweh for the whole earth. 465

Humanness requires: listening and responding to the summons of the sovereign, discernment in wisdom in response to the hidden generosity of God in God’s world, trusting completely, without reservation, in the reliability of Yahweh and Yahweh’s world. These practices provide positive linkage to Yahweh, from whom life comes, and permit buoyancy for an effective life in the world. These three markings portray humanness at peace, in equilibrium, fully authorized for and entrusted with the fullness of life. 470

The rest of chapter 15 focuses on the human response to YHWH's sovereign actions. The human being is expected to be an active, engaged partner in the covenant relationship. He sums up this responsibility in three parts. When things are going well, the response should be obedience that acknowledges dependence on God, active discernment (wisdom) of God's revealed order and plan, and a trust in God's care and presence. When one is "in the pit," we should respond with "complaint," "petition," and thanksgiving that shows faith in God's goodness and care. Finally. we respond to God's deliverance with praise and hope. Our lives, thoughts and actions should reflect a desire to live in God's presence and a trust in His promised abundance even when those are temporarily hidden from us. 

Praise is a key marking of Israel’s discernment of humanness. To be human means to be willing and able to praise. We have seen that the drama of rehabilitation consists in complaint, petition, and then thanks, as an act of shrill self-assertion. Now we see the countermove in Israel: praise as a glad act of self-abandonment, the active gesture of accepting that life is ceded beyond self, that well-being is rooted in an Other, and that without any claim for self, the human agent is glad to defer to and rely fully on Yahweh, who can only be expressed in lyrical language. 478

Much human conflict is rooted in the conviction, born of greed and enacted in acquisitiveness, that there is not enough and one must seize what one can. Israel’s sense of human hope is grounded in Yahweh’s faithful intention of abundance, which liberates humans from the driving grip of scarcity in order that they begin to act, in hope, out of a conviction of abundance. 482–483

The amazing thing is that in the midst of the sanctions that Yahweh pronounces, in the face of guilt and in the face of mortality, in the face of both situations in which the human person is helpless, Yahweh is attentive. Full of steadfast love and compassion, Yahweh is like a father who pities, like a mother who attends. Yahweh is indeed for human persons, for them while they are in the Pit, willing and powering them to newness. It is the central conviction of Israel that human persons in the Pit may turn to this One who is powerfully sovereign and find that sovereign One passionately attentive. That is the hope of humanity and in the end its joy. Psalm 103, 491

Chapter 16, The Nations as Yahweh's Partner, focuses on the relationship between God and the Gentile nations. Again Brueggemann sees tensions in this relationship as the nations are viewed as both related to God in terms of Israel and related to God directly. God intends to bless the nations through Abraham and through submission to David, and yet the nations pre-date Israel and also are called to submit directly to God. Israel is called to destroy some nations and co-exist with others. Brueggemann does not deal with the issue of God turning over the nations to other gods at Babel, which resolves some of these tensions. I would agree with his main point that God deals with the nations, similarly to Israel, by judging them based on His standards of justice, righteousness, and care for the needy. Even with the texts that describe the destruction of these nations, there are also promises of the restoration and blessing of even the worst offenders in the end.

Yahweh holds sovereign authority over all the nations and that all the nations must come to accept that rule, which is characterized by equity (v. 10), righteousness, and truth (v. 13). This assertion, critically, is a rejection of any loyalty other nations may give to any other gods and a rejection of any imagined autonomy on the part of any political power. Positively, the assertion promptly brings the nations under the demands and sanctions of Yahweh’s will for justice. Psalm 96, 493

Without for an instant minimizing the cruciality of the negative tradition of the legitimated destruction of the nations, there is also evidence that as Israel kept the nations on its horizon, Israel could imagine that the nations could share willingly in the service of Yahweh, becoming a part of Yahweh’s community of praise and obedience. 499

The second part of the chapter deals with God's relationship with the superpowers: Egypt, Assyria, Babylon and Persia. These nations have abused the power which God has delegated to them and thus stand in judgment. Brueggemann sees each nation as a paradigm of how nations abuse power. Egypt is the oppressor from which God's people need to be delivered. Assyria is the arrogant nation that thinks it does not need to submit to any authority but its own. Babylon was the instrument of God's destruction and exile of Jerusalem, who, despite the repentance of Nebuchadnezzar, went beyond God's delegated authority and attributed their victory to their own power and to their own gods. Persia, who acted out of their own interests, was still God's instrument to restore and protect Jerusalem after the exile. God removes all these enemies as judgment for their arrogant use of power for selfish ends, but in the end the prophets see even the cruelest enemies to the North and South of Israel restored as chosen people of God in the age to come (Isaiah 19.23-25).

Because of Yahweh’s massive, overriding sovereignty, these oracles assert that the nations are subject to a governance, a requirement, and an expectation, no matter how secure and self-sufficient they seem to be or think they are. This governance, moreover, cannot be overcome, disregarded, or evaded. 503

Yahweh, not Nebuchadnezzar, is sovereign and is the one who establishes proximate sovereignty in the earth. All worldly power is provisional, derivative, and penultimate, and may be given and taken away by the authority of Yahweh. Indeed, Yahweh is completely free in actions concerning world power, and need conform to no worldly expectation. Daniel 3-4, 514

Brueggemann concludes, that just like with Israel, YHWH acts in freedom to raise up and remove nations as He wills according to His purposes. But, He also acts toward these nations with passionate love and is willing to forgive and restore them in the end. God's prophets spoke mainly to Israel, but also revealed His will at strategic times to the nations. The Old Testament's testimony is clear that God rules over all the nations and desires to make His blessings available to all peoples.

With the most recalcitrant of nation-partners, Yahweh acts in a characteristic rehabilitative way, moving beyond the harshness of rejecting sovereignty, in order to re-embrace the established enemy. In all of these cases, the move beyond judgment and nullification toward new national possibility is rooted in Yahweh’s freedom, freedom to restore an enemy. But more is at work in these instances than unfettered freedom. There is also, it appears to me, a predilection toward forgiveness, restoration, and rehabilitation, propelled by an old and enduring positive concern and not undercut even by resistance and rebellion. Amos 9:7, Isa 19:23–25, Isa 56:3–7, Jonah, 524–525

It is the characteristic urging of Israel’s prophets that arrogant nations, which overreach in imagined self-sufficiency, operate autonomously at their own peril. Yahweh, in this rhetoric, is a critical principle of restraint, which arrests both self-aggrandizement and brutality in the service of self-aggrandizement. 526

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