Thursday, February 22, 2018

Reading Through Theology of the OT: by Walter Brueggemann #15

BrueggemannThis post continues my reading through Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy, by Walter Brueggemann. Chapters 23-24 continue the section of the theology on Israel's Embodied Testimony, showing how the religious rites/temple system and wisdom tradition mediated God’s presence to Israel. Chapter 25 summarizes the section. 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 23, The Cult as Mediator, discusses how the temple, the tabernacle and Mosaic feasts, regulations and sacrifices that went with it, the religious liturgies in the Psalms and other religious practices contained in the OT ministered the real Presence of God to the nation. These practices provided revelation beyond abstract words and involved concrete sights, smells, and actions to bring both God's and the people's active participation in the relationship. This also brought tension into the theology of the practices which Brueggemann sees as Deuteronomic, "low church" practices which characterize God as omnipresent and beyond human understanding and Priestly, "high church" practices which made Him available in a temple. This tension is left unresolved in the Old Testament. People need a way to make God accessible, but these can be taken for granted by selfish people and religious practices are often selfishly perverted (the temple needed to be reformed by several kings) or become empty ritual (as vehemently criticized by the prophets). Nevertheless, God provided a very concrete way for the people of Israel to connect with His real Presence in the Old Testament system.

There was in the Jerusalem temple, presumably in some regularized way, great joy in the awareness that Yahweh is a sovereign who has established governing control, who has enunciated policies of justice and well-being (shalĂ´m), and who will be “in residence” and available for those who come there. Worship in the Jerusalem temple is something like a royal drama, and entry into “the place of Yahweh” is something like a royal audience with a monarch who in generosity and mercy can enact well-being for his adherents. 655–656

Yahweh’s own self is being mediated, made graciously accessible and available to Israel in these cultic arrangements..In these texts, Israel is dealing with the God who is sovereignly glorious, holy, and jealous, but who intends relatedness that puts Yahweh’s own life at risk in the midst of Israel. The cult is concerned with nothing less than and nothing other than such presence, and therefore we may well understand the extreme care taken with these arrangements. 663

So Israel’s sacerdotal traditions must continue to trouble over and adjudicate the delicacy of the matter of cultic presence. Yahweh must be in the temple, if Israel is to find wholeness and assurance there. Yahweh must not be bound to the temple, if Yahweh’s true holiness is to be fully recognized...The canonical testimony of Israel provides ample evidence for both a “catholic” sacramentalism and a “protestant” protest against a controlled, controlling sacramentalism. 675

Chapter 24, The Sage as Mediator, discusses the role of wisdom teaching in the revelation of YHWH in the OT. That is, the presence of God is revealed through creation in a "natural theology" gained through observation and experience of the way creation works. As this developed in the later stages of Israel's history it was more closely tied to the Torah and its interpretation. Because it is based on observation it continues to develop as new information becomes available. It is important to get this right because living within the boundaries God has set in creation is the key to success. Apocalyptic literature in the OT is clear that God has a plan that will be accomplished and wise people will live in accordance with that plan. The tension in this is to maintain the Mosaic traditions in the Torah while being creative in applying them to the new situation. This is the environment and tension within Judaism when Christ came. This is always a tension within Christian exegesis and interpretation as well.

Thus “natural theology” as revelation does indeed mediate Yahweh, who is seen to be the generous, demanding guarantor of a viable life-order that can be trusted and counted on, but which cannot be lightly violated. The wisdom teachers, for the most part, do not speak directly about God, but make inferences and invite inferences about God from experience discerned theologically. 681

Wisdom teaching is an ongoing, developing process. Therefore, to halt the process by refusing to consider new experience is not “right,” for it misrepresents Yahweh and Yahweh’s reality in the world. It is one thing to acknowledge that the initial deposit of wisdom has arisen from experience. It is quite another thing, with the deposit of experience firmly in hand, to acknowledge new truth—new revelation carried in new experience. Job’s friends could not. Job 42.8, 687

Wisdom understands that Yahweh has a resolute will and a hidden purpose that cannot be defeated in the workings of historical vagaries. That is, Yahweh’s hidden purpose, intrinsic to the processes of creation (logos; sophia) cannot and will not be defeated. Apocalyptic is the categoric assertion of Yahweh’s wise and resolute sovereignty and wisdom. In its appeal to the sovereign creator, wisdom teaching provides material for the fashioning of an apocalyptic articulation of faith. 693

Chapter 25, Modes of Meditation and Life with Yahweh, closes and summarizes the section on how the presence of YHWH is mediated in and to Israel. Brueggemann emphasizes that all these ways of mediation originate with God and are a gift of God, but they operate within the "real-life circumstances" of the people. They make God presence available to the people, but God takes a risk in doing so because people can pervert the revelation they have received and we see this happen in the OT over and over. Torah, kingship, prophecy, worship, and wisdom were intended to be God's presence lived out in Israel in its communal practices, its worship, its history, and its just communities. Israel's speech and action were to be mediation of God's very real presence within Israel to its neighbors.

Idolatry, however, is not a vacuous religious idea. In practice idolatry (hatred of the true God) comes down to oppression (hatred of the neighbor). Thus the Torah binds Israel singularly to Yahweh in the two practices of love of God and love of neighbor. Without Torah, Israel would disappear, and life would be handed over, without protest, to the brutalizing, oppressive ways of life known elsewhere, rooted in the worship of wrongly discerned gods. 697

If it were not for these forms of mediation, Yahweh, as known in Israel’s testimony, would not be available to Israel. When the mediations are distorted, the Yahweh given in the mediation is to that extent distorted. Yahweh is not some universal idea floating around above Israel. Yahweh is a concrete practice in the embodied life of Israel. For that reason everything depends on faithful, sustained, intentional mediation. 701

Israel as a community has access to Yahweh, because it is a community that regularly, in disciplined ways (and also in ad hoc ways), comes to be addressed, to listen, to respond, to enact a world out loud, construed with Yahweh at its center. 702

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